How to Photograph Cactus

Close-up of a XXX
Close-up of a Prickly Pear

We fashion ourselves as photographers’ of the southwest.  As such, we often times have the opportunity to photograph cactus.  Cactus comes in all shapes, sizes, and even colors.  Here are some tips to get your best cactus shots.

Saguaro in Scottsdale, AZ
Saguaro in Scottsdale, AZ

When we think of cactus, I think many of us first think of Saguaros.  They are the arch- typical cactus in the southwest.  In California, we also think Joshua Trees.  I also include in here smaller ground cactus.  Mary and I go to the Huntington Gardens in San Marion, CA often.  They have a very large, varied, and beautiful dessert garden.

The Cholla Garden at Joshua Tree National Park, CA
The Cholla Garden at Joshua Tree National Park, CA

Sunrise and sunset are still the best time to photograph cactus.  If you are shooting in the middle of the day, think black and white and convert your photos when you get home.

Sunrise in Saguaro National Park, AZ
Sunrise in Saguaro National Park, AZ

There is nothing like seeing a magnificent cactus in the context of its habitat.

Joshua Tree near Hidden Valley Campground
Front lit Joshua Tree near Hidden Valley Campground
Sagauro with side lighting
Saguaro with side lighting

Not only should you pay attention to the light at sunrise and sunset, but also during the day, so that you can use it for different effects – front lit, side lit, and back lit.

Saguaro back lit
Saguaro back lit
This is a skeleton of a Saguaro after it dies.  This was taken on an overcast day.
This is a skeleton of a Saguaro after it dies. This was taken on an overcast day.

Macros, abstracts, shapes, and patterns

Queen Victoria Agave Cactus
Queen Victoria Agave Cactus
The Queen Victoria is a favorite
The Queen Victoria is a favorite
Don't get too close
Don’t get too close
Remember that they do flower
Remember that they do flower

A few final hints.  We carry a Swiss army knife with tweezers and a Gerber tool with pliers.  We use these to clean up the cactus.  I can not tell you how many times I have been stabbed when trying to get a leaf or twig out of a cactus macro shot.  The worst cactus of all is the Cholla.  It sticks to everything.  If you get some on your clothes or shoes, do not touch it, you will never get it off with your hands.  You must use pliers or tweezers.

We like cactus for macro shots on windy days, since they do not move like flowers.

Finally, practice good composition like the Rule of Thirds and using the power points (see our popular blog).  We also seem to do a lot of portrait orientation, rather than landscape.  Since the cactus are usually much taller than us, this seems to work as it isolates them better.

To see more of our dessert southwest photos, please go to www.pamphotography.com.

5 Comments

    1. pamphotography

      Hi – I’ve often considered buying some at a local gardening center to practice my macro shooting. I am not sure if that is an option where you live or not. We really appreciate your following our blog, it’s great to “see” you every week.

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