Cactus Blossoms & Macro Photography

Sara Goodnick

Cactus_Flowers-2-6The Sonoran Desert is the only place I have lived that has a truly magnificent springtime. The air is cool and refreshing, and color is bursting out in a normally pale and dusty landscape. It usually begins in mid-February, and goes on in stages until late May.

My favorite flowers are the cactus blossoms because they appear on such an unlikely source. The delicate petals and amazing colors invite closer inspection, where the pistils and stamens reveal massive amounts of pollen and usually an insect exploring the inner parts.Cactus_Flowers-2-7

This March, during the late afternoon nearing sunset, I took my tripod, a stool, a reflector, my camera, a Nikon D700, with a Nikon 105 mm Micro lens, and a cable release, out around our home which is surrounded by the desert. I had decided to use a process called photo stacking to give detail throughout the photograph in the areas i felt were important. This entails making a series of 5-25 images focusing on different parts of the flower. Using the software Helicon Focus, I generated the final images.Cactus_Flowers-2-3

It is important to use a tripod and to stay organized. The differing focal lengths must go in order. This cannot be random or the software will not work well. So I set it all up, then perched comfortably as possible on my stool, and focused, clicked, focused 1/8th” closer, clicked, etc. as many times as I needed to cover the blossoms.

Cactus_Flowers-2-8I uploaded them into Lightroom, made a few adjustments to each image (all in each sub-group were synchronized), then uploaded each set into Helicon Focus. It always takes some experimenting to decide which of the 3 stacking methods works best with which set of images. The flattened composite is saved as a tiff, and taken back into Lightroom or Photoshop for final minor adjustments and cropping.


Sara Goodnick is a nature and portrait photographer and a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.