Agave jab – succulent plant photography in black and white

It is hard to believe that so much political  upheaval has happened because of a vaccine, but it has. In the botanical world, Agave plants also seem to have their version of a jab, and that’s what the featured image is about. I don’t really know how it happened that the plant is poking itself, but since it is, I thought I had a good opportunity for a photo. I took it at the UC Davis arboretum ( f/16, 1/5s, iso 320), from the top of a tripod, using my awesome Nikkor Z 24 mm 1.8. The photo is a welcome addition to my GeoGalleries leaf” portfolio, where you can also find a few other examples of my succulent plant photography.

Succulent plants are a joy to photograph for a variety of reasons. In the central valley of California, their primary advantage is that they do not wiggle too much in the wind. They are also drought-resistant and will look nice even in the heart of summer, California’s driest season. Practical reasons apart, I particularly enjoy photographing the curves of the leaves of Agave americana. They yield interesting compositions in monochrome, which are more abstract in essence and present strong graphic elements.

On a more personal note, the morning I took this photograph, I was freezing! It is possible that 37 F (2.7 C) is like summer for some of you, depending on where you live, but for me, it was really challenging. The tripod was like a piece of ice. It was hard to maneuver the camera settings with gloves on, and my glasses were fogging while I tried to protect some of my face with a scarf. Perhaps it was an amusing scene to watch! And although I was working really hard and managed to concentrate on what I was doing, a lot of the Agave photos I took that morning with another lens, my 105mm 2.8 macro, turned out blurry or simply not sharp enough. I am still trying to figure out what happened.


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23 thoughts on “Agave jab – succulent plant photography in black and white

  1. Steve Schwartzman says:

    Agaves are great for photographic abstractions. Not only are the leaves appealingly shaped, with “hooks” along the edges and a “spear” at the tip, but the broad surface of each leaf may bear a bas-relief pattern that mimics the larger leaf. Your agave’s self-inflicted wound adds an unusual point of interest.


  2. jodifrye says:

    These are such fun plants. I wish they would survive Winters here like my succulents know as hens and chicks. I see these plants for sale in small pots every Spring at Lowes. Maybe I’ll get one and try to keep it alive indoors after the warmth of Summer ends. Your photograph really has me wanting one now. My favorite part of this photograph is the lighting. Like a spotlight on the main actor. It’s all about the light. Always.


    1. Alessandra Chaves says:

      Now that you mention, I don’t recall having seen them in Maryland when I lived there. Agave, I mean. I think it’s possible to keep succulents inside but make sure they get plenty of light and don’t water then too much. I’m glad you like the selective lightening, it was hard to do!


  3. jim hughes says:

    A fine b&w subject where the interest is in things other than color. As a Minnesota native I can’t give you much empathy on 37 degrees above zero. But I know what you mean about motion. I like to shoot insects and the first thing you learn is that every plant is in near constant motion if you look close enough.


    1. Alessandra Chaves says:

      I would love to photograph insects mire consistently but here in California they are not easy to find for some odd reason. And it is a difficult type of photography, as you gave mentioned, with things flying or walking about!


    2. Cary Wasserman says:

      True enough about the motion, but in other than constant wind there are always intervals of calm, that longer exposures (assuming a tripod, of course) can even out. There are also steadying techniques that can help, not unlike the old devices used to hold head in position for early long exposure portraits.


  4. Cary Wasserman says:

    A couple of tips, Alessandra. Living and photographing in the intense Boston area cold drove me to the warmest down filled gloves I could find, which were clumsy for handling cameras. Had to temporarily remove them all the time. A Boston sculptor who worked outdoors recommended rip-stop nylon mittens from EMS. They look almost shapeless but are amazingly warm, and flexible enough to be able to handle camera controls, though presetting as much as possible is always best.

    And second, an antique style wooden tripod for icy temps is much easier to deal with and handle than metal. Probably not as common as they used to be but want ads might turn one up, or they could also be made by a woodworker. I needed the platform head for my LF, but it also worked well for small cameras even if only as a portable resting perch.


    1. Alessandra Chaves says:

      Thank you. I will try next winter, at least the mittens. When I run, I use socks on my hands rather than gloves, keeping the fingers together really helps keep them warm. I feel sorry for the Boston sculptor who worked outside!


  5. Steve Gingold says:

    Nice find although the poked leaf may not feel that way. If I remember correctly, Native Americans used the points of agave leaves for sewing. I may be remembering the specific plant incorrectly though.
    Adding to Cary’s comment above, there are gloves available that come with liners or you can buy them separately like those he mentioned.. Some of the gloves have ends that flip open so you can adjust your dials with ease then flip them back for warmth. Also, some have pockets for heat packs. Even though I live in WMass, even 37° makes my fingers unhappy too. I have Raynaud’s disease so cold really causes my fingers to be painful after a while. For that reason I now have battery heated gloves but still use liners and hand warmers. It’s love/hate for me in the winter.


  6. shoreacres says:

    I follow a bird photographer who lives and works in Utah, in all seasons. He was fussing about blurry photos in cold weather, and he eventually discovered that it had to do with his lenses. I can’t quite remember what the problem was, or how he solved it, and I couldn’t find the blog post where he talked about it, but I’ll ask him to point me to it when he posts again.

    I’m a great fan of agaves, and you certainly ‘got to the point’ with this photo. I like the multiple layers very much, although all those spines make me quiver a bit.


      1. shoreacres says:

        Here’s the link to Ron’s post. Look for the photographer’s note at the bottom. I think you can find more about it in the previous post, or maybe even the next one. He provides a lot of information in all of his posts, and they’re fun to read, too. I’ve learned a lot from him — and drooled over some of his photos!


      2. Alessandra Chaves says:

        ” I strongly suspected the soft shots were caused by some kind of heat wave distortion but that could come from atmospheric heat waves further away from my lens or the temperature disparity between my warm lens inside my pickup interacting with the cold air when I stuck my lens out my window. ” This was interesting thanks for finding it for me. When I shoot succulents, I’m often less than a foot distant, so air waves are not likely to explain my problem. Perhaps, however, the lens being warm from the car and not yet at outside temperature could explain the problem… will test next year when it gets cold again. Yes, he’s got a sense of humor.

        Liked by 1 person

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