Cactus Bloom Close-ups

When I was out shooting cactus blooms and getting covered with chigger bites from ankles to waist, I grabbed a 20mm extension tube and tried to get a few close-ups of the blooms. I saw a lot of bees in the flowers and I thought that would make for some nice pictures.

Extension tubes dramatically reduce the minimum focus distance of your lens allowing you to get up close to a subject. The main issues with extension tubes are the very shallow focus depth, the unreliability of the auto-focus system, and less light on the sensor. I ended up manually focusing and then trying to hold as still as possible hovering over the flower. In the picture below, you can see that the center part of the flower that sticks up is in focus but the parts deeper inside the flower are out-of-focus. Sorry I don’t know the names and anatomy of a flower.

Orange Prickly pear cactus bloom close up in Austin Texas

In the next picture, I caught a bee in the flower getting pollen all over himself. It was actually more difficult to find a flower without a bee in it. As they are facing down toward the pollen, I generally only got bee butts in my close-ups. You can also see that using the extension tube gives you a very blurred background that really isolates the subject.

Yellow Prickly pear cactus bloom close up with a bee in Austin Texas

The above picture was shot hand-held at 120mm focal length, at f/4, using the 20mm extension tube. A hand-held photo at 120mm and 1/200s shutter speed would ordinarily not be a problem, but it takes concentration to hold the camera still doing a close-up as any movement is magnified. The little bee butt is pretty sharp.

Tip: my technique for getting focus with the extension tubes is to select my focus point using the focus point indicator in the view finder, and then watch the focus indicator dot in the viewfinder while slowly adjusting the focus ring. This can take a bit of time as it is difficult to hold still while doing this and any slight movement noticeably moves the plane of focus. I am not sure about other cameras, but the Nikon D750 has a little circle that lights up in the bottom of the view finder when you are focused or arrows to tell you which way to turn the focus dial if out of focus.

While most of the flowers I saw were yellow, there were several beautiful orange blooms as well. I think that the orange blooms contrast better with the green cactus and really stand out.

Orange Prickly pear cactus bloom close up with a bee in Austin Texas

It was very cloudy today and as I drove by the cactus again, I saw that more are in bloom. Now I have to debate whether or not I should brave the chigger infested cactus and get a few more pictures.

Thanks for reading and please leave a comment below.


5 thoughts on “Cactus Bloom Close-ups

  1. Nice closeups. Have you tried a mono pod to rest the camera on for these shots? I find that it does help with the stability. Mine is a normal trekking/walking pole ( by Leki I think ) where the top unscrews and lets you use the pole as a mono pod.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t have a monopod, but I agree that would help with holding the camera steady. This was very spur of the moment when I saw all of the bees in the pollen. I just happen to have my extension tubes in my camera bag.
      I have set up a tripod when I am planning something as it does make focusing easier. I find the toughest part is getting enough light on the subject as I don’t have any external flashes.
      I may buy an actual macro-lens some day, but not very soon. Nikon makes some very nice expensive macro-lenses. My next eventual purchase is a wide zoom, like maybe the Nikon 16-35mm f4 lens for landscapes or maybe a 20mm prime. Sometimes the 24-120mm lens I have doesn’t go wide enough for me. Still kicking that around.


  2. Your photos including formifable, we even see the little bee who comes to eat
    It is always with pleasure that I await the opening of the flower buds of cactus. This year mine have bloomed but have not withstood the winter period much colder than in previous years. I’m trying for the moment to save the strongest


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