Frosted Camellias

– Posted in: Garden Musings, Garden Photography

Frosty flowers on Camellia sasanqua ‘Cleopatra’

Even in California, frost causes problems.  And when it comes in early December it causes big problems.

Almost every gardener I know here in the Northern part of the state pushes the limits of their garden.  It’s California ! – it is our birthright to grow tropicals and tender succulents, plants that are barely hardy in a good year.

This had been an extraordinarily cold December, and it’s only the 10th.  Four days in a row now where the temperature in my garden has been between 22 and 25 at dawn.  The water bottle in my car stays frozen all day.

Frosty car window

Frosty car window

I suppose those of you in colder climates take no pity on us.  You who enjoy ice fishing and snow probably don’t expect to grow Fuchsias and Ginger outdoors and think a tough succulent is a prickly pear, when we want to show off our Aloes.  Well don’t take pity on us but please say a prayer for our plants, they are dying back everywhere.  We may be in zonal denial but it is our plants that are taking the beating.

However; there are photo opportunities to be had in cold still mornings.  There is a cold beauty in frost, and the air is clear and very still.  My Camellia sasanqua shrubs are at peak bloom and while the frost turned the older flowers to mush, the fresh ones look like sugar dusted confections, frozen and preserved until the thaw.

frosty camellia kanjiro

Frosty flowers of Camellia sasanqua ‘Kanjiro’

I decided to experiment with a depth of field focus stack on a Camellia flower.  This is a way to achieve remarkable death of field in macro photography by taking multiple frames of the same subject, camera on tripod, while slowly changing the focal point, probing into the depths of the flower.

I have been experimenting with this focus stack technique in the studio where there is no wind and controlled light. But it was so still the other morning I wanted to try the technique in situ, in the garden, en plein air.  There is a special thrill and special challenge of doing my photobotanic illustrations in the garden, as opposed to the studio where most botanic illustrations come to life.

See the shallow depth of field in this shot of my frosty Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ ?

frosty camellia yuletide

And then this one with great depth?


It is a result of 17 frames that the computer put together.


Working in the garden may be cold but it’s the only way to get the photo, it could not have been done in a warm studio.  The frost makes it special.

The real triumph of the day though, was the illustration of a branch.  Making a photobotanic illustration, as an extraction from an actual garden scene, gives a sense of authenticity and realism that gives me great pride.

camellia branch illustration

It is tedious and I am still struggling with the masking tools in Photoshop that make the cutout silhouettes possible, but they become works of art. I will explain in more detail to those who are interested in the e-book, but with a little care in creating the background and paper color, these illustrations are worthy of hanging on a wall.

Frost on Camellia sasanqua 'Yuletide'

Frosty Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’

This is my first one I offer for sale, here at Fine Art America.  If anyone orders a print and frame, please let me know how the order process worked.  You guys are the guinea pigs….


Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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20 Comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Judy Tillson December 11, 2013, 9:32 am

Beautiful, but sad, photos of your camellias. Where do we find out about the eBook? Good luck with FineArt America, I’ve successfully sold pieces through my web site there & ordered one, and no problems.

Bracey December 11, 2013, 11:27 am

Wow, Saxon, these are exceptionally clear and sharp with this technique. And the frost really makes the photo look really really cold! I’d love to see some warmer plants too. 🙂

Cindy Hewatt December 11, 2013, 2:29 pm

Beautiful photos of your camellias.

Kelly December 11, 2013, 2:33 pm

I live in Sacramento and have kept my succulents covered with towels. So far, so good. This weather is freezing for those of us not used to it. My daughter slipped and fell in the icy driveway yesterday. My son fell today. Good luck to the rest of your plants!

Saxon Holt December 11, 2013, 2:50 pm

Judy – Only the flowers are damaged on the Camellias. My Rhododendrons and Fuchsia are another story.

Once the book is done I will be doing plenty of celebrating and posting here. You can join my mailing list through my Facebook Fan page
Thanks for your interest

Saxon Holt December 11, 2013, 2:51 pm

Hi Bracey – They look cold because …. they are. So were my fingers by the time I was done

Saxon Holt December 11, 2013, 2:52 pm

THanks Cindy – Making lemonade out of lemons with all this cold.

Saxon Holt December 11, 2013, 2:55 pm

Hope your succulents survive. Many are more hardy than we realize, but we here on Gardening Gone Wild get teased and tempted to try the tender ones every time Debra Lee posts on her wonderful plants in Southern CA.

Marilyn Cornwell December 11, 2013, 2:59 pm

What an exquisite portrait!

Donna December 11, 2013, 7:28 pm

Masking can be a real chore, especially in fine details like wispy hair. I guess you are using the refine edge command which makes it a little more precise with a slightly softened edge detail. It is sad when the weather throws in a wrench like that. Poor plants laden with blooms.

Saxon Holt December 11, 2013, 8:52 pm

Thanks Marilyn. The best portraits reveal something special; I love seeing how many future flowers are hidden close under the blossoms.

Saxon Holt December 11, 2013, 8:57 pm

Hi Donna – I am still learning the tools and struggling with edge halos in delicate photos like this. The minute edges of the frost crystals at the edges of the leaves seem to shrink too much with the refine edges adjustment. I just need more practice….

Donna December 11, 2013, 10:43 pm

Did you try Smart Sharpen? You can control edge halos with a slider adjustment. I will sometimes use one of the blur tools to soften the halo also. That or go into Nik Software tools. There are so many ways to make these little tweaks.

ks December 11, 2013, 11:34 pm

Oh the fuchsias-DOA.Citrus-DOA. Scented Pelargoniums..corpus delecti..One can only speculate what the December PG&E bill might be.

Saxon Holt December 12, 2013, 12:05 am

Thanks again Donna, I will take all of this into my next “extraction”. I did not think about the sharpening tools with the selection ones. Onward…

Saxon Holt December 12, 2013, 12:07 am

And it’s a spare the air cycle.. I cant even have a fire

ann December 12, 2013, 5:39 pm

OH NO, frost does ugly things, but these pictures are beautiful

Marlene simon December 13, 2013, 6:08 pm

Beautiful pictures! There is beauty in all seasons.

PlantPostings December 15, 2013, 7:59 pm

I do feel for you, even though the temperatures you describe would be very normal for me. I push zones a little, too, and I know how frustrating it can be when nature takes a turn for the bitter cold or the exceptionally dry. But your Camellia photos are exquisite! I hope all the plants snap back after this cold spell.

Nathalie January 7, 2014, 10:49 am

This *below* freezing weather is awful!! I use a Brolly ( in my pots and then put a large garbage bag over it and tie the bag around the pot – it has really been great at preventing my plants from frosting. Just sharing something that has helped me…hopefully this weather will end soon! Love the photos

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