Tips for Photographing Desert Plants

Pink flower on cactus

Recently Peter and I have been able to make a few visits to the Huntington Gardens in San Marino, CA.  One of my favorite spots is the Desert Garden; it is other-worldly with it’s wild shaped and unusual plants.  Spring is a magical time there when there are vibrant colors and flowers.  Desert gardens are a wonderful place to experiment with macro photography, just be careful, getting too close can really hurt.

Tip 1:  Look for abstracts and patterns

It’s easy to get caught up in trying to capture the layers of an unusual desert landscape, so many shapes and forms, you want to include them all.  I find that I like to focus in on a particular aspect of a plant.  For example, the black and white photograph of the cactus below  accentuates the lines and highlight the patterns.

Black and white lines on cactus
Lines on Green Cactus

Tip 2:  Be aware of your “ground” and backgrounds

At the Huntington Desert Garden the plants grow in brown soil or they are layered in such a way that that it is difficult to find a contrasting or complimentary color to show off your subject.  I often use macro photography in desert gardens to fill the frame with the subject and eliminate distracting or boring backgrounds.  In this photograph of a pink cactus bloom, I tried many different angles to eliminate the dirt ground.

Pink flower on cactus

Tip 3:  Watch out for bare spots

Some desert plants are a profusion of blooms, or have a fractal quality to them.  Search the patch carefully to find a section that does not have any bare or black spots.  Take a look at these images of  yellow and pink flowers.  Which one do you prefer?  I prefer the photograph of pink flowers, while there is a “thin” spot in the upper right, it is not nearly as prevalent as the bare spots in the photograph of the yellow flowers.

Yellow desert flowers
Pink desert flowers

General tips when photographing and processing flower and plant images:

  • Put the center of the flower or plant “off-center”
  • Convert to black and white if color is not part of the story
  • Ask yourself these questions:
    • Is the subject interesting?
    • Is the quality of light good?  (I usually bring a lightweight jacket that I use to shade the plant from direct sunlight)
    • Does the background enhance, or distract, from the subject
This close up image of a hens and chickens plant was taken on an overcast day under diffused light and I placed the center “off-center”.  I preferred the color version of the image because I like the interplay between the pink and green.
Close up of hens and chickens

For more tips you can check out my blog post How to Photograph a Flower.  To see more of our photographs, go to

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