Visually desert plants can be difficult to “see”. They have odd shapes and sizes, and the backgrounds tend to be ugly brown dirt. I happen to love photographing succulents, it plays to my passion for natural abstracts and my preference for photographing in the middle of sunny days. We recently spent some time in the Desert Garden at Balboa Park in San Diego. Here are some tips for photographing this unusual types of plants.
Tip 1: Isolate. You hear this a lot in photography, but in desert gardens you really have to isolate down to the essence of the plant, often focusing on a portion of the plant and eliminating the entire background.
Tip 2: Focus on shape. Many succulents are fractal in nature and have repeating patterns. Decide what it is about the shape of a particular plant that appeals to you, and make that the subject.
Tip 3: Emphasize texture. Sometimes the plants are unorganized, but have great textures. Zoom in and create an abstract with just the textural shapes.
Tip 4: Think in black and white. Often color is not the “story” when photographing desert plants, and their true nature is accentuated in black and white. Look for tonal differences between bright areas and dark areas and the shapes they create.
Tip 5: Look past the obvious image and take a unique perspective. Try an off-center composition, or sideways perspective. Again focus on the fundamental design elements that intrigued you about the plant in the first place.