Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Cholla cactus near sundown

with 40 comments

How about this backlit cholla cactus in Tucson Mountain Park near sundown two years ago today?

© 2018 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

November 7, 2018 at 5:01 AM

40 Responses

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  1. Despite the defensiveness and passive-aggressive prickliness of this character, its body language makes me want to wave back! The backlighting really emphasizes those spines

    Robert Parker

    November 7, 2018 at 6:12 AM

    • So you’ve anthropomorphized the cactus into having its “arms” wave to you. Seems only appropriate, then, that you should wave back, which in turn would coordinate with the backlighting.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2018 at 6:23 AM

  2. There is something very appealing about back-lit thorny cactii. Nicely done.


    November 7, 2018 at 6:46 AM

    • Thanks, Tom. In Austin I’ve often enough taken pictures of backlit leaves. Arizona gave me an opportunity to apply that approach to something else that stands to gain from it.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2018 at 7:06 AM

  3. I enjoy the effect of the backlit thorns, always have.


    November 7, 2018 at 8:27 AM

  4. The beautiful golden glow makes the plant seem to be haloed, despite there being very little (or anything) that’s angelic about its behavior. The backlighting shows off those spines to good effect; every one of them should have a tiny ‘Warning!’ sign attached to it.


    November 7, 2018 at 8:51 AM

    • You can imagine me moving around from spot to spot at that location, quickly looking for ways to take advantage of the low and soon-to-be-gone sun—all while being careful of where I bent and knelt. I don’t know what species of cholla this was, but one of them that’s found there is called jumping cholla because of the ease with which joints break off and “jump” onto an animal or person that has brushed lightly against them. It happened to me a few times on that trip. Definitely not angelic, except from the cactus’s point of view.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2018 at 9:23 AM

  5. You must be very pleased with this image. It is really striking. One could even say sharp. 🙂


    November 7, 2018 at 9:28 AM

  6. Fantastic glow! I can’t wait to some day see these and the Joshua trees you’ve shared. Some day!


    November 7, 2018 at 1:13 PM

  7. Nice shot!


    November 7, 2018 at 2:08 PM

  8. Very pretty picture 🙂 Watch out, some of those chollas throw spike balls. It hurts!

    M.B. Henry

    November 7, 2018 at 4:34 PM

    • Yes, I learned about the so-called jumping cholla on our visit to Arizona a couple of years earlier.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2018 at 4:58 PM

  9. Beautiful, stunning, great photography of a very evil subject. Isn’t their other name ‘jumping cactus’? Oh, silly, and there is my answer! I just read the comment right above. I’ve collected more than a few samples of this cactus as a kid. 😉


    November 7, 2018 at 7:33 PM

    • I don’t think of cacti as evil, but I do have to watch myself around them. Here in Austin the most common kind by far is the prickly pear, whose glochids (small spines) are insidious: they easily get into your skin and don’t easily come out.

      It’s interesting that you say you “collected” samples of cholla as a kid. I gather it was an involuntary kind of collecting, at least in some cases.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 7, 2018 at 8:01 PM

      • Does anyone know where that name originated? To me, they look as if they are jumping upward with their arms up. Others say that when you crouch down to get a picture of one, and you accidentally back into another, you will most certainly jump!


        November 8, 2018 at 8:46 AM

        • My understanding is that a joint breaks off easily and “jumps” onto the fur of an animal or clothes of a person who brushes against one of these cacti.

          It seems your second conjecture would apply to any kind of cactus, not just a jumping cholla. I’ve certainly had occasional run-ins (back-ins) with prickly pear cacti in Texas.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 8, 2018 at 9:34 AM

          • “…a joint breaks off easily and “jumps” onto the fur of an animal or clothes of a person who brushes against one of these cacti.”

            That is exactly how it happens! Seems you’ve barely brushed it and there you are; stuck and in pain!


            November 8, 2018 at 3:52 PM

            • If I remember right, the piece that jumped onto me in Arizona didn’t penetrate my skin, fortunately. I always wear jeans and a long-sleeve shirt in nature, even in hot weather. I need all the protection I can get.

              Steve Schwartzman

              November 8, 2018 at 6:18 PM

          • Whatever it does, it is nasty and mean!


            November 8, 2018 at 10:18 PM

      • It was in every instance involuntary. I once had to throw out a favorite sweatshirt. I fared better off than some of my friends, and their dogs especially! Too many four footed hiking buddies ended up in the vets office getting the needles removed from faces and feet. 😯 As for evil cactus, I don’t think of cactus as evil in general, but the Cholla is in a class of its own.


        November 8, 2018 at 3:48 PM

        • Definitely involuntary: I can’t see anyone letting one of these joints “jump” onto them on purpose. I can see, though, why your experience would lead you to make an exception and think of cholla as evil. I’ve rarely had to deal with it, so for me it still has the novelty of a great photographic subject. I feel that way about the Southwest as a whole.

          Steve Schwartzman

          November 8, 2018 at 6:23 PM

  10. Almost 3D – rim lighting that picks out each individual branch and spine. A stunning image, Steve.


    November 9, 2018 at 2:27 AM

    • Four decades ago I used to make 3D images. Now I wonder how this rim-lit cactus would’ve looked in 3D. I’m glad you still like its appeal in 2D.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 9, 2018 at 7:56 AM

  11. Another great shot Steve … that lighting is amazing!


    November 12, 2018 at 12:17 AM

    • Many nature photographers favor the first and last hour of daylight. This picture shows one reason why.

      Steve Schwartzman

      November 12, 2018 at 7:08 AM

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