How to Capture Sonoran Stunners With Your Camera
Story and Photography by Lori A. Johnson
Spectacular cactus blossoms are nature’s counterpoint to otherwise harsh and unforgiving plants, delighting the senses of gardeners—and the imagination of photographers. With a few tips in mind, you can capture these ephemeral beauties for posterity, printing or posting on social media.
Choose a focal point, whether it’s the flower’s center or an insect perched on a petal or gathering pollen. If shooting an insect, focus on its eyes and make sure you have a sufficiently fast shutter speed to freeze any movement. Otherwise, ensure that the flower’s center is sharp and allow the rest to drift out of focus by choosing a wider aperture (f-2 to f-8) for a soft look. Conversely, use a smaller aperture (f-11 to f-22) to pull more of the flower into focus from front to back. Don’t be afraid to experiment with various focal lengths and apertures to achieve desired aesthetics—memory cards are inexpensive, and unwanted photos can easily be deleted.
Compose your photo carefully to avoid any unwanted background distractions. Wider apertures will help blur the background, but often just a small adjustment in camera position can mean the difference between a flower backed by distracting dirt or lush foliage. Observe color and texture variations nearby that might be used as a backdrop, such as an aqua pool to contrast with a cluster of pink blooms, a terra-cotta tile to pick up the color variations in a peach flower, or a black tablecloth behind a red blossom for added drama. Move potted cacti around to experiment with different background options.
Try photographing your cactus blossom under different lighting conditions. Shoot night bloomers against the low morning sun to set the edges aglow, or move potted cacti to a shaded area for softer light. Overcast skies allow for soft, even lighting over cacti planted in the ground, but on sunny days, replicate the effect by using a collapsible diffuser to soften harsh contrast. Above all, get to know your cacti and each species’ bloom cycle and soon you’ll have your own cactus blossom portfolio.
Lori’s Top 10 Tips
1. Any camera will get you started, from smartphones to expensive DSLRs.
2. Macro lenses allow closer focusing and wider apertures for a softer look.
3. For a safe distance from sharp spines, a zoom lens will capture minute detail.
4. Try a variety of faux backgrounds for potted plants, such as sheets of colored cardboard, tablecloths or a T-shirt draped over the back of a chair.
5. Use long-handled tweezers to safely remove distracting debris, such as leaves, from cacti.
6. Experiment with different lighting conditions, such as backlighting to highlight spines or overcast skies for a softer look.
7. Using a collapsible diffuser can soften harsh contrast on sunny days.
8. Use reflectors or fill flash to open up shadows.
9. Stabilize your camera with a tripod to try various settings with the same composition.
10. Document various bloom stages, from bud to wilt.