Posts Tagged ‘nature photography’

Beavertail Bloom

Beavertail Bloom © SR Euston

Besides some phenomenal birding, the last few weeks have heralded the beginning of the Sonoran desert’s cactus blooming season. The median strip of La Cañada, our main north/south drag, has been awash in lovely pink beavertail prickly pear plantings, so amazing as to make me wonder if the oddball accident I saw last week wasn’t caused by a driver attempting to simultaneously drive and take a picture.

Our neighborhood has a wonderful cactus garden which has come spectacularly into its own, mostly with horticultural varieties of Argentinian Trichocereus whose stems are covered with blooms ranging from scarlet to apricot to yellow to white. I wonder: How do these Argentinians recognize it’s spring and time to bloom on the opposite side of the equator? Another botanical mystery.

Prickly Pear

Prickly Pear © SR Euston

Hedgehog Bloom

Hedgehog Bloom © SR Euston

Still to me, most impressive really are the shows the local species put on as they go about their business of welcoming this Sonoran desert spring. Our Santa Rita prickly pear are covered with bursting chartreuse blossoms, some yellow with red interior lines. Beavertail pinks peek out from beneath yellow blossom-covered creosote. Pink and red hedgehogs hide behind rock outcrops. Ocotillo are tipped with orange-red tassels, great forage for hummingbirds and tiny yellow verdins. On a birding expedition last week to Buenos Aires National Wildlife we spotted a tiny cluster of rainbow mammillaria.

But Saturday was the prize. On a trip through Tucson Mountain Park we came on large numbers of blooming buckhorn cholla. Not an especially beautiful cactus (it’s rangy and oh so spiny), it makes up for it in flowers in a remarkable diversity of colors from almost burgundy, through scarlet, to bronze to yellow. See for yourself in the montage below (all photos © SR Euston):


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It is said rather obviously that the photographer works creatively with light.  After all, exposure meters measure light, film chemicals and pixels respond to light. The “quality of light” that attracted and still does attract so many fine photographers to the southwest, particularly those working in black and white, has created a sort of mystique around qualities of natural light scattered and reflected off of adobe, mesas, distant ranges, badlands, thunderheads.

Of course, it can equally be said that photography is as much about the absence of light. No shadows, no picture. Southwest landscape, for instance, is all about strong shadows, as well as the subtlest shadow gradations from faintest light to darkest dark. Hence, the yin and yang of expressive picture taking—sol e sombra, light and dark, the day and the intimations of night.

Shadows can be extraordinarily expressive, and sometimes become the real subject of the shot (for me, this is oftentimes). Shadows often convey a feeling of the hidden behind the obvious, of a question mark. This is the evasive, emotion-laden impact of shadows, so expressively demonstrated in some still and motion picture photography of the mid-twentieth century. Shadows can also emphasize bright, crisp architectural geometry, intricate organic traceries of nature, complex abstract design and a hundred other esthetic and emotional states and qualities.

Of course, muddy or totally black shadows can ruin a picture. That is, in emphasizing shadows and given expressive intent, exposure is the great leveler. And if my experience is at all common, always will be the great challenge!

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