Creative Exposures Photography/Karen Wright: Blog en-us (C) Creative Exposures Photography/Karen Wright [email protected] (Creative Exposures Photography/Karen Wright) Sat, 10 Sep 2022 20:07:00 GMT Sat, 10 Sep 2022 20:07:00 GMT Creative Exposures Photography/Karen Wright: Blog 96 120 Weaving a Tale of Culutre Explore the art of Oaxacan hand-woven rugs. This article, which was written to highlight the beautiful work of Alex and his family, is featured on Tohono Chul's website:



Weaving a Tale of Culture

On a crisp morning, a tapestry of color appears as the rugs are lovingly placed one by one on display. Visitors to Tohono Chul stop to admire the beautiful hand-made designs, while some greet Alex and his sister, Nancy, as old friends, welcoming them back for another season. The ritual of sharing their family’s culture has been repeated each November and February for more than 10 years at Tohono Chul.

_MG_7871_MG_7871 In his native town of Teotitlán del Valle, Oaxaca, Mexico, Alex met a man who would change his life. Entranced by the beauty and quality of the rugs Alex and his family created, Al Kogel, an art professor from Arizona, invited Alex to come to Tucson to share his art and culture with his students.  He sponsored Alex to return each year and introduced him to a favorite place of his, Tohono Chul Park. Here, Alex and his sisters have been offering their handmade 100% wool rugs for sale twice a year.

Alexandro Eliseo Martinez Ruiz and his sisters, Nancy, Socorro, Lorena and Fanny, are part of a large family of Zapotec weavers. Their grandfather, Eliseo Martinez, founded Casa Martinez in 1936 and became well-known for the quality of his craft. His large family of 14 children all helped in the workshop, weaving on looms with foot pedals, just as the Spaniards used 500 years ago.

Alex learned the art of weaving from his father, and continues to create rugs on his father’s 100-year-old loom, incorporating some of his original designs. The entire family participates in the process – from raising the sheep and washing and dyeing the wool, to designing and hand weaving the final product.

A variety of wools are used to create the rugs. The primary type, Churro, comes from Oaxacan sheep originally brought from Spain. Other wools used include Mohair, Merino from New Zealand, and the more expensive Lincoln from England.

The dyes come from plants, minerals and even insects. Mosses provide the green, pecan shells yield brown and pink comes from pomegranate peel. The mineral indigo (from the anil plant) results in a beautiful rich blue after reacting with oxygen. The yellow hues come from zacatlaxcalli, a natural plant in Oaxaca similar to the Manzanita flower, and the oranges and golds are from marigolds collected after the Day of the Dead celebrations. The vivid red is a carmine dye derived from the cochineal, an insect that is found on the Opuntia, or prickly pear cactus.

021_crop021_crop 006_crop006_crop 020_crop020_crop

Variations in the intensity of colors is achieved by using different shades of wool or different reacting agents (mordants) such as alum, baking soda, vinegar, salt, lime juice, and cream of tartar.

The rugs are a labor of love. Once the wool has been cleaned and dyed, hand weaving can take 2-3 weeks for a small rug and up to 4-5 months for a larger, more intricate piece. Factors such as size, materials used and complexity of design all contribute to the price of the finished product.

Alex is passionate about weaving and keeping his culture alive. His love for the craft and desire to maintain the ancient traditions of his ancestors are evident in the heirloom quality of his products.

Article and top 2 images by Karen Wright, remaining images by Alex Martinez.






[email protected] (Creative Exposures Photography/Karen Wright) Alex Martinez art article hand-made Karen Wright Oaxacan Tohono Chul Park wool rugs Tue, 08 Feb 2022 21:20:19 GMT
Discovering the Art of Chip Thomas In an article for the DesertLeaf published January 2022 (, I shared the story and art of Chip Thomas.

DesertLeaf 2page spreadDesertLeaf 2page spread

While driving through Northern Arizona, I caught glimpses of faces pasted on dilapidated buildings along the way. It piqued my curiosity and I made sure to stop at one on the way home.

My journey of the discovery of Chip Thomas had begun. I soon learned more about this physician, photographer and activist-artist who has chronicled the lives of the Navajo people in his larger-than-life photo murals.

I returned several times to find these hidden gems along the highways of the Navajo nation. Each trip has proved to be a new experience, as the landscape of his art undergoes change over time. i hope to continue to discover his work as it evolves.

Meeting Chip in person was a special experience. My friend Paula and I sat down with Chip in his home. He has a vast knowledge and respect for the Navajo land and people that he loves. We were so engaged in discussing the evolution of his art and future plans that I didn't take a photo of him - it seemed like an intrusion into the energy of the moment.

Chip's enthusiasm about his use of sheer fabric in his recent installations was palpable. When I later saw it in person at the Fort Garland Museum in Southern Colorado, I was mesmerized by its eerie effect in filling the space with unspoken emotions.

To learn more about Chip Thomas (aka jestonorama) and his art, visit, justseeds.ort, and Instagram: @jetsonorama.

Other images not included in the DesertLeaf article:

Image 4_Blue BirdImage 4_Blue Bird"Blue Bird" - The black and white photographs of Chip Thomas draw attention to the faces and people of the land. Some include iconic symbols - the ubiquitous sheep or a mask made from a common material, the Blue Bird flour sack (the most popular brand of flour used by Navajos). Here, J.C. Morningstar holds two of her bunnies. Located at Black Mesa Junction on Highway 160.

"Blue Bird" - The black and white photographs of Chip Thomas draw attention to the faces and people of the land. Some include iconic symbols - the ubiquitous sheep or the Blue Bird flour sack (the most popular brand of flour used by Navajos). Here, J.C. Morningstar holds two of her bunnies. Located at Black Mesa Junction on Highway 160.

Image 6_GenerationsImage 6_Generations

"Generations" - Edzavier is depicted with his great-grandparents Rose and Paul Hurley on a roadside stand located near Bitter Springs o Highway 89A. As a favorite image of his, Chip Thomas plans to apply a new copy when needed.


Image 5_Believe_TsegiImage 5_Believe_Tsegi

"Believe" - Using the early wheat-pasting process, images took on the texture of the material and weathered in place. The tannin of the wood caused yellowing of the whites in the photos and the rough surface of the old wood made it difficult to apply the prints. A newer technique helps ensure the longevity of the images. Image of Jordan Nez, at the abandoned Anasazi Hotel, near Tsegi.


Created May, 2020, when the Navajo Nation had the third highest COVID rate in the U.S. This image depicts grass dancer Ryan Pinto with text by Shi Buddy.





[email protected] (Creative Exposures Photography/Karen Wright) Chip Thomas Jetsonorama murals Navajo Northern Arizona photography Mon, 03 Jan 2022 04:37:03 GMT
Tohono Chul Interview A recent interview by James Schaub, Tohono Chul Curator of Exhibitions highlighted my photography of the Queen of the Night and other creative endeavors. 

KWright_TC interviewKWright_TC interview

Karen Wright has shared a lot of images with me over the past several years. Each one offers something interesting, something solid, something good. Each one demonstrates her intense interest and appreciation for her subject. Like many photographers she tries to capture a defining light, and she does. On top of that, when her images work ‘best’ there is an additional light present, a light that hints at a sort of magic. She instinctively knows that these images work ‘best’ and they do; but, you know – the word ‘best’ is not something I have ever heard her say. And, I don’t ever think I will.

Wright works hard to make her images work. Karen’s continual advancement of her creative practice is driven by a natural curiosity that finds her discovering fantastic things – it is tempered by a relaxed modesty that stops her from declaring any one image as the ‘best.’  Karen’s approach always pushes forward.  Learning with every step and from every subject – she is unsparing in her efforts to share whatever she can toward the creation of “The Best Photograph I Ever Took.”

But, you will never hear her say that. We will leave that bold declaration to everyone else.

James Schaub: Karen – One year you set up an open air studio out on the North Trail during Tohono Chul’s annual Bloom Night. The idea was to assist visitors in capturing the magic of the Queen of the Night by giving them instructions to best capture an image of a blooming Peniocereus greggii. The guidance you provided was tremendous.

Pretty much all the people you worked with that year photographing the blooms with their phones, having little to no luck at all – until they ran into you, over by Emerald and Ruby. The tutorial you presented to each person was so exacting and informative – You were not giving a demonstration per se, you were working with each person directly – a line would develop, and one by one they would step up, listen, take several images, and after a minute or two – leave absolutely mesmerized! Mesmerized by the stunning image they took and the beautiful flower it captured. An abundance of “Thank Yous” and a profusion of smiles that never stopped.

Back in the Exhibit House people told me that they could not get over how effortless you made it seem, the resulting images so immediately better than what they previously had.  For some, you were a magician. They couldn’t have been happier – they each had something of their own, that they created, to remember Bloom Night by.

“The best photograph I have ever took!”

Can you walk me through your instructions and how you got results?

Karen Wright: It is so wonderful to hear that feedback, thank you. I really love to share tips and tricks that I have learned from experience and from other photographers.

Over the years when I have attended Bloom Night, I noticed that when inexperienced photographers – some who didn’t even know how to use their cell phone camera – tried to capture the beauty they saw in front of them, they often were either satisfied with what they got – a washed out flower surrounded by a metal cage – or frustrated that they couldn’t get a picture like they had seen professionals take. The images were the result of doing what many commonly did: Aim straight at the flower with the camera’s automatic flash on. When I offered to hold my light for them, they were thrilled at the difference it made.

So one year during Bloom Night, I decided that instead of getting pictures for myself of the various flowers, I would stay at one bloom with my constant LED light to help others get better pictures. I gave them three simple tips to improve their images:

  1. Use off-camera lighting: Turn off your on-camera flash and light the flower from above or to the side (with a flash, flashlight or LED light), and only light what you want to see in your picture.
  2. Check the background – Avoid anything directly in the background of the flower (so you will get the white flower on a black background).
  3. Bring your camera parallel to the flower (rather than shooting straight on or down). This will help you see the details of the stamen rising above the petals. Of course you can move around the flower for different perspectives.

I also taught a couple of classes for Tohono Chul on “Capturing the Queen” that went into more detail on camera settings.

JS: Can you share your motivation? – Volunteering to be out in the hot desert all night long interacting and working with hundreds of people. All the while, sacrificing your own creative endeavors during that special night – Were you able to get any images for yourself?

KW: I really enjoy sharing the Queen with others – the wonder of her change from a dead stick into one of the most beautiful cactus flowers, to the mystical reasons of why the plants tend to bloom all at once.

Most of the time, I am able to get some of my own pictures, but if I am volunteering at Bloom Night, I am usually helping others get good pictures by holding a light or giving them some guidance. Of course, many who already know how to photograph the Queen are happy to be left alone.

One year, after swearing that I had plenty of cereus pictures, I went to Bloom Night to “just take a look”. Well, several hours later, I was closing down the place at midnight and ended up stopping by a neighbor’s on the way home to photograph their Queen in their driveway.

JS: How long have you been photographing the Queen? What attracted you to her?

KW: I’m not really sure, but probably as long as Tohono Chul has had a Bloom Night. This is where I was first introduced to the Queen. I loved the mystique of coming to Tohono Chul after dark and seeing these beautiful flowers emerge over a few hours.

JS: What have you learned about the plant? And, in the process, what have you learned about photography?

KW: With my own observations, reading and talking with others, I have learned so much about the Peniocereus greggii, most of which is included in my book. I can now tell just by looking at a bud if it will be ready to bloom that night.

For the photography, I’ve learned to keep it simple. I’ve learned which camera settings to use for the desired effect and usually just use a constant light.

JS: I see so many images of the Queen. During and after each Bloom Night people are sharing so many images, sometimes hundreds of them. I love how everybody becomes a photographer on that night. You cannot help but take an image of what is in front of you – it is magical. Even cooler than that, there are so many photographers that return every year– the experience never gets old for them– they are super engaged – each one going after their very own thing. Some have the latest, greatest I-phone or high resolution camera with lenses and lights – what kind of gear do you work with? What is the thing you are after on that night?

KW: Since I have taken so many cereus photographs, I want to capture the unique qualities of the bloom I am seeing, or to try a different lighting technique or style.

As for equipment, in the past I used my Canon 6D, usually with a 24-105 lens. I started with a single flashlight then added a second one after another photographer shared his tip of backlighting the blooms. We also experimented with colored gels over the lights to get different effects. Now, you can do all that with an app on your phone!

I love meeting other photographers on these nights and sharing lighting tips or even holding lights for each other. One year I met a photographer who was struggling with getting a good image of a bloom with his flash on the camera. He also had a Canon camera, so I lent him my flash cable and held the flash above the flower as he took the shot. Two years later, I saw him again during Bloom Night and he couldn’t thank me enough, as he claimed that was the best shot he ever got of the flower!

The best equipment I bought for photographing the blooms was an LED video light. It allowed me to see what effect the light was making so I could previsualize my image. It also had the unintended effect of making me the Pied Piper of Bloom Night. When people saw that light, they followed me around so they could benefit from the light and get great shots, too!

I am now using Fuji mirrorless cameras (X-T2 or X-T4); they are lighter weight and easier to use with one hand as I hold the light with the other. I tried to keep it simple with a 35mm lens (50mm equivalent). But I also wanted to get a time-lapse of it opening, so I had a second camera set up with a flash and took images about every 5-10 minutes. I also took some images with a macro extension tube added to the lens to get some dreamy, soft close up images.

My full set up and settings are reviewed in a blog post on my website:—tips-to-create-beautiful-images-of-the-night-blooming-cereus

JS: I remember the first time you showed me the images you had of the Queen – they had dreamy quality that captured the mystery of the plant and its bloom. It was clear to me that with the abundance and variety of images you have taken – you really know your subject. How did you get to know the Queen? How well do you know Queen?

KW: I got to know the Queen by studying the details and differences that each flower exhibits. I am fascinated by the variety of the blooms – the shapes of the leaves, the colors of the outer sepals, and even the scents.

I am also very curious, so I have talked with the Tohono Chul groundskeepers and friends with much more botanical knowledge than me to learn about the variety of cereus and other cacti. I have also attended several classes for Tohono Chul volunteers. I’m always learning something new and amazing about these plants.

JS: Your work has been part of the Tohono Chul exhibition Queen of the Night past three years – with each exhibition you have portrayed the Queen at various stages of blooming. For you, what is the most interesting stage?

KW: Honestly, I love to watch the bloom as it opens over several hours, transforming from a bud to a crown of stamen above the white petals. It is such a magical process – I am amazed every time I see it.

Once the flower is open, I like to experiment with moving the light around and getting different vantage points or details of the flowers, sometimes lighting from behind to see the luminescence of the petals or side lighting to highlight the shape and form of the blossom.

JS: You have your own Peniocereus greggii at your house. When it blooms does it coincide with the plant at Tohono Chul? Is your Queen the model for your book?

KW: I have two Peniocereus greggii plants, both of which seem to bloom the same time or within a week of Tohono Chul’s.

My newest cereus, which I bought a couple of years ago at Tohono Chul as a fairly mature plant, bloomed last year. I almost missed it, since I was out of town. Thankfully, I made it home the night it bloomed, and was able to take pictures to include in my book.

The plant that I have had the longest, which turned 5 this year, was given to me by my friend, Debra, who is a docent at Tohono Chul. It was a gift when I was recovering from cancer surgery. This year I was 5-years cancer free, and my wonderful cereus, which I have named “Hope”, bloomed for the first time. The significance was not lost on me.  

JS: Your book Queen of the Night: A Rare Beauty is wonderful – How did that come about?

KW: I have taken many pictures of the Queen over the years and have absorbed a lot of information about it from the staff and docents at Tohono Chul. As I helped visitors photograph the blooms, I also enjoyed teaching them what I had learned.

I discovered that there were no books showing the life span of the bloom paired with photographs. Linda Wolfe, Director of Retail for Tohono Chul, was very interested in having such a book to help showcase the park’s iconic image.

I started compiling the images that I had, and noted the ones that I needed to fill in the bloom’s story. I took additional images at Tohono Chul as their cereus developed buds, and at other locations around town. When my cereus bloomed, I photographed its full cycle, including turning to fruit.

I wanted the images to speak for themselves, so I kept the text spare, but informative. I included the Tohono O’odham story of “Old Mother Whitehead” and tips on how to know when the bud is ready to bloom.

After sending my book idea to several publishers, I decided to work with Steve Jones at Arizona Lithographers. He was very helpful in guiding me to develop and finalize my book and became a fan of my work.

The book was met with very positive responses. It has been picked up by several bookstores and gardens around the state, including Tohono Chul, Tucson Botanical Gardens, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and Boyce Thompson Arboretum. In a recent review in AZ Daily Star, Christine Wald-Hopkins declared that my “close-ups of this remarkable flower – iridescent, waxy white against a glossy black background – are exquisite.”

JS: You had Tucson based artist and Tohono Chul favorite, Susan Libby contribute a drawing of a hawk moth. It added something different, extremely subtle, her painting with your photography. A very nice touch. Did the hawk moth prove too difficult, too elusive to photograph?

KW: For me, getting a picture of the hawk moth on the cereus seems to be my Holy Grail. The only photo I have of a hawk moth is blurry!

One year as I was photographing the cereus during Bloom Night, a hawk moth landed on the flower right in front of me. I was excited to witness it, but unfortunately, the only light I was using to photograph the flower was a small flashlight, which didn’t have enough power to freeze the motion of the wings. I was thrilled to experience the close encounter, but very disappointed in “the one that got away”.

I wanted to include the hawk moth in my book, so I asked Susan Libby to paint one for me. It’s so realistic, that many didn’t realize it was not a photograph!

JS: Did you work with anyone else in creating it?

KW: I talked with several staff at Tohono Chul, including Lee Mason, Paul Hannan, and Leith Young, to get their insight into the growth of the bloom and tips on how to tell when it is ready to bloom. I also verified my observations with them to come to consensus on the text.   

JS:  A few years ago you had three photographs in the Arizona Otherworldly exhibition that were fantastic, and again very dreamy – peaceful yet suspenseful – nighttime images of the desert. How did you get into photographing at night?

KW: I originally got interested in photographing the Milky Way when I saw a presentation by Sean Parker, a wonderful local photographer. I later took a small-group class with him that introduced me to night photography and chasing the Milky Way at all hours of the night (that first class started at 11 pm and I got home around 3 am). I was amazed that I could see the Milky Way with my naked eye, and soon learned its seasons and where best to photograph it.

I joined a local group of photographers, the Tucson Milky Way Chasers, who get together to photograph and share tips in taking and processing the images. I have met many wonderful friends in this group and am constantly inspired by the very talented photographers in Tucson.

Most of these same photographers are also in the Tucson Storm Chasers group. Photographing the Milky Way can be calming and contemplative, as you wait in the dark in the desert for several hours watching the Milky Way rise in the sky. Storm chasing is the opposite: a frenetic adrenaline rush as you chase the ever-changing storms and cheer the capture of an epic bolt. The awe of witnessing nature as the arch of the Milky Way reveals itself or storms develop before you is equally amazing.

JS: Have you done more work along those lines? More work with the landscape? More work photographing at night?

KW: Some of my favorite recent images have been landscapes or desert scenes at night. The challenge is in finding a new location or unique composition. I’ve been experimenting with light painting the foreground (sometimes with the aid of other photographers) or keeping it simple with silhouettes.

JS: How much do you do “in camera”? How much do edit on the computer? Which editing program do you use?

KW: I try to get the best exposure and composition in camera, but of course, the image can be enhanced with post-processing. I use Adobe Light Room or Adobe Bridge to initially process the raw files, then Adobe Photoshop to finalize any touch ups. Milky Way images take more processing than others, but I usually make only minimal changes to my cereus images.

JS: Does the camera ever get in the way – or is it part of you?

KW: My husband would tell you that it is welded to my hand! My photographer friends understand when we get the itch to take a picture – it’s hard to see a beautiful scene and not capture it, to share it with others. Sometimes, I have to slow down and enjoy the beautiful sunset without photographing it, knowing that there will be another one.

JS: Are there any other projects you are working on?

KW: I was proud to be asked to participate in a project last fall titled “Don’t Look Away” which honored the grace of aging. These portraits of several elders at St. Luke’s Home highlighted their beauty, wisdom and contributions to their community.

As a photographer and former RN, I have combined my passion and skills as the Tucson Area Coordinator for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Volunteer photographers in this non-profit organization provide the gift of remembrance portraits to parents experiencing the death of a baby (

In my portrait photography, I also celebrate the uniqueness of each individual. I often use similar lighting techniques as with the flowers, a single soft light to highlight person in their environment.

Upcoming Projects: I would like to explore video to tell personal short stories or explore life stories of others.

JS: Where can we see more of your work?

KW: I currently have two images, “Cereously Beautiful” and “The Sky’s the Limit”, on display at the Shemer Art Center in Phoenix as part of their Garden Musings virtual exhibition, which has been extended to July 16th.


“Whether photographing in distant lands or in the desert around me, I love to focus on the small details: a single light highlighting an elusive bloom, the contrast of colors in nature or the simple beauty of a small boy’s smile.”

My image of “Ruby” is on the cover of the current 2020 Tohono Chul calendar. My image “Sunset Blossoms” will be included in Arizona Lithographer’s 2021 calendar. 

Karen’s artwork has been exhibited at the Tucson Museum of Art, De Grazia Gallery in the Sun Little Gallery, Tucson Botanical Gardens Porter Hall Gallery, and Tohono Chul.

I have regularly participated in the SAACA La Encantada Fine Art Show each January and the Art in the Garden shows each March and December, which includes metal prints, giclees, archival pigment prints, and pendants featuring my images.

Several of my Night Blooming Cereus images will be included in Tohono Chul’s Queen of the Night virtual exhibition. In addition to my book, pendants and cards with my photographs are available at Tohono Chul’s gift shops.




[email protected] (Creative Exposures Photography/Karen Wright) Mon, 15 Jun 2020 20:47:45 GMT
Capturing the Queen - Tips to create beautiful images of the Night Blooming Cereus Camera equipment and settings

I have photographed the Queen, or Night Blooming Cereus, for many years, starting at Tohono Chul’s Bloom Night. I have enjoyed learning tips from other photographers and sharing my knowledge with others to help them get that “perfect shot”. I’m often asked how to photograph the blooms, so here are some tips that might help you.


It doesn’t really matter what camera you use. I have seen great images taken with an iPhone and poor ones taken with the latest most expensive professional camera.

I have used a Canon 6D for a long time, but mainly use my Fuji mirrorless cameras now (X-T2 and X-T4). They are much lighter weight and therefore easier to hold in one hand, while I hold a light in the other.

Camera settings

  • I usually shoot RAW with auto white balance (or you can set custom white balance to match your lights).
  • ISO - I try to keep the ISO low, to avoid grain. Many newer digital cameras can operate at higher ISOs without any noticeable problems. In general, I try to keep ISO under 400.
  • Shutter speed - a couple of things will determine what shutter speed I use: if I am hand-holding the camera or if it is windy. It’s often breezy in the evenings, so a faster shutter speed is needed to prevent blurry subjects (unless you like an ethereal look – then use very slow shutter speeds while using a tripod and let the flowers move during the exposure).
  • Aperture – The size of the lens opening affects both the amount of light and the depth of field. I used to shoot wide open (f/2.8) to get shallow depth of field. This allowed me to highlight only one spot of the flower. However, I found that if either I or the flower moved, my focus was not on what I had intended. I reserve the shallow depth of field for the macro shots and often use f/8 to get a little more in focus.

Here are some sample images with settings I used for each:

"Cereously Beautiful"

f/5.6, 1/125, ISO 400, 73mm

WRightK_CereouslyBeautiful_InkjetOnAluminum_24x16x1Cereously Beautiful

"Prima Donna"

f/5, 1/80, ISO 250, 35 mm with macro extension tube



I don't usually use a tripod - mainly because I often work around the flower to get different angles, and when I photograph at Tohono Chul during Bloom Night, there often is not enough room to set up a tripod. When photographing my own flowers and if I am creating a timelapse, then I will use a tripod for the camera and probably a light stand for the light.


Different lenses create different effects. Your vision of how you want your image to look will determine which lens you will use. I love using a 35 mm (50mm equivalent) because it is so light and very sharp.

  • Wide angle lens will give you more depth of field, and you can include more background to give a sense of place. However, if there are wire cages around the plants, then you might want to use a less-wide lens.
  • Telephoto – longer telephoto lenses (i.e. 55 – 200 mm) will compress the scene, allowing less depth of field, which can make flowers appear closer than they are. This can be used to great effect if you want to show several flowers with one as the main focus in front and others out of focus in the background. But, you might need to use a higher shutter speed to avoid blurry images. Another option would be a mid-range telephoto (i.e. 24-70 mm).
  • Close-up/macro – Getting in closer to the subject isolates a part (the stamen, a leaf, the bud tip). Be careful with aperture – if you use wide apertures (i.e. f/2.8 or wider), then there will be very little in focus. Consider using a narrower aperture such as f/8 to get more than just one stamen in focus. I added a macro extension tube (MCEX-11) to my 35 mm, which allows me to get very close to the flower to get macro shots.
  • Fixed lenses (i.e. 50mm)often have wider apertures (f/2.8 or wider) and are very light.

KWright_DSF4414Floatingf/2.8, 1/125, ISO 400, 23mm (35 equiv) with macro extension tube



f/2.8, 1/125, ISO 400, 23mm w/ macro extension tube













I have used flash to light the flowers, but I prefer a constant LED panel light, so I can see the effect of moving the light. It’s helpful to have one that has adjustable power and color temperature. A bonus is adjustable colored lights, if you want to play with different looks. It’s best to have a diffusion panel to create a soft, even light. The larger the light and the closer it is to the subject, the softer the shadows will be.

Key points about lighting:

  1. Use off-camera lighting – whether that’s flash, flashlight or LED light – just don’t use your on-camera flash.
  2. Only light what you want to see in your picture. Angle the light away from the background so it’s not visible behind the flower. Also, try to avoid having anything close to the flower directly behind it.
  3. Bring the light close to the flower to provide enough light and to create softer shadows. Using a diffusion panel on the light (or just a single layer of white t-shirt) also is suggested.

Tohono Chul Bloom Night photographersTohono Chul Bloom Night photographersLighting with LED, directed away from the background

  Here, I am holding a light for another photographer.

















  • Lighting to get a white flower on a black background – underexpose the background until it goes black, then add your light. When I use the light panel, I usually have it at or near 100% to get the most light output, then I can keep my shutter speed high enough to hand-hold the camera.
  • Lighting to get a bloom against the sky or sunset - the bloom probably won’t be fully open yet when the sun sets, but getting the darker or colorful sky as a backdrop can be very dramatic. Underexpose the sky by 1 stop or more (to your liking). You will probably need to use a flash to get enough light when doing this. I like to isolate the bud against the sky so there are no other structures or distractions behind it.


    "Heaven Sent"

    f/8, 1/320, ISO 200, 80mm (100 equiv.)














  • Lighting for a time lapse (several pictures over period of time to show the flower opening up).
  1. You must use a tripod for the camera, and for best results, have the light on a stand as well. It is important to set up so you have constant settings and lighting throughout the time lapse.
  2. Use a flash with a diffuser, set to manual, starting at 1/8 power. Attach to a light stand with an adjustable bracket so you can angle your light exactly where you want it. Set the light as close to the flower as possible without it being in the picture.
  3. Use a flash trigger or cable attached to your camera.
  4. Since the flower will start to open before it gets dark, if you want the background to be similar during the entire time lapse, then you will need to set the shutter speed very high to cut out the ambient light. Then, the only light source will be your flash. It will need to be set to High Speed Sync (HSS) if the shutter speed is set higher than the camera's sync speed.
  5. As it gets darker outside, the light from your flash will be constant and you should get the same exposure over time. You can decrease the shutter speed (the shutter speed affects the ambient light, not the flash output) to equal the sync speed, so the flash is not working so hard to put out the same amount of light.



         "The Transformation II" f/8, 1/500 - 1/1000, ISO 200, 35 mm (53 equiv)



 Camera and flash set up for time lapse.
















  • Back light, side light, up light - Try moving the light around the flower to get different effects or to highlight various parts of the flower. Similar to photographing people, having the light straight on to the subject isn't very flattering. Try holding the light 45 degrees up and 45 degrees over to get nice light fall-off and interesting shadows. Lighting from directly overhead can also be very dramatic.
  • Using more than one light - Two lights can be used at the same time (this is where teamwork and collaboration with another photographer comes in handy). Use one as the main light (see above) and the second as an accent light from behind or below the flower. This second light could also be a color to add some interest.


Delicate Dancer_14x14_WrightDelicate Dancer_14x14_Wright

    "Delicate Dancer" f/8, 1/60, ISO 800, 55 mm

















Look for leading lines and consider the rule of thirds when composing your image. Look at the branches of the cereus plant - do they bend in an interesting way? Would a certain perspective add more interest to your image? Do multiple flowers complement each other with repetition of pattern or shape? Consider having your camera parallel with the flower to see the details of the stamen rise above the petals. Try to find what makes that flower unique and highlight that with lighting and or composition.


aglow_rule of thirdsaglow_rule of thirds Jewel of the Desert_perspectiveJewel of the Desert_perspective

















"Suspended" f/13, 1/60, ISO 200, 50 mm                                        "Jewel of the Desert" f/8, 1/13, ISO 800, 60 mm


I hope this information has been helpful to you. Now go out and capture beautiful images of the Queen!




[email protected] (Creative Exposures Photography/Karen Wright) cereus flower greggii Peniocereus photography Queen of the Night Thu, 11 Jun 2020 22:11:51 GMT
Don't Look Away


St. Luke’s Home Newsletter article for December, 2019 issue

By Karen Wright

“I don’t like smiling on command.” That was the response I received when I asked George if he would be interested in participating in the Don’t Look Away photo exposition. When I assured him that I would prefer to capture him naturally, George grudgingly said, “Check back with me tomorrow.”

Little did I know that it would be the beginning of a wonderful experience. Returning the following day to photograph other elders, I found George in the hallway sporting a bright yellow shirt (“so you could find me”), more than ready for his turn in front of the camera. Unfortunately, his day had not started out so well, but the more we chatted, the more he relaxed. Of the hour we spent together, only about 15 minutes were spent photographing him, the rest was spent getting to know George. He acknowledged that having his picture taken was best thing that had happened to him in a long time.

When the event announcement featured his picture, George became an instant celebrity in the community.  He told me that he had slyly taken a couple to share with his nephews.

It was my pleasure to meet and photograph several elders in St. Luke’s Home, to highlight their uniqueness and give them a chance to tell their stories. Sometimes just taking the time to listen can make a person’s day. KWright_George_bw1_20x24KWright_George_bw1_20x24 KWright_BertaM_20x24KWright_BertaM_20x24 KWright_Audrey2_20x24jpgKWright_Audrey2_20x24jpg KWright_Gretchen1_24x20KWright_Gretchen1_24x20 KWright_Lucky2_20x24jpgKWright_Lucky2_20x24jpg KWright_Ozelle_20x24KWright_Ozelle_20x24

[email protected] (Creative Exposures Photography/Karen Wright) community Elders environmental Luke's photography portraits Thu, 02 Jan 2020 16:45:00 GMT
Queen of the Night I was about to be a proud parent! Having received constant updates from my daughter while I was on vacation, I realized that the very first bloom on my night blooming cereus (also know as "The Queen of the Night") might not wait for me to make it's debut.

It had started to bud the week before I left on my trip, and I hoped that it would bloom in just a few days. But as usual, the Queen had her way with things and went into stall (where she mysteriously just stopped). My plans to photograph the bloom process seemed doomed. You see, I was in the middle of writing a book about the life-cycle of the Queen, which would include photographs of my own plant, in addition to others I had taken over the years, and I desperately needed a few key images to complete the text.

I gave explicit instructions to my daughter to measure the stalk and take a photo every day while I was gone. She dutifully reported the first few days (complete with out of focus cell phone pictures), but seemed to lose interest when there wasn't much activity. The day we were scheduled to come home, I received a picture from her that definitely looked like it was ready to open. The race was on!

We ran into the house that evening, and I went straight out the back door to check on the bloom to find it starting to open. I couldn't believe it, but it had waited for me!

I called my friend to come see and photograph it for herself. She helped me measure and document the gradual opening of the bloom. Two hours later, we had exhausted all angles and ourselves.

All this waiting and eventual flurry of activity resulted in the last of the images I needed for my book. It was finally completed. And now, I am very happy to announce that it is finally printed and published. Titled Queen of the Night: A Rare Beauty, it is an 8x8" soft-cover book with 36 pages of beautiful images paired with information about the life cycle of the elusive Peniocereus greggii, also know as "The Queen of the Night". It is for sale at Tohono Chul Park and other gifts shops to come, in addition to my website ( and art shows that I participate in. I hope you enjoy this labor of love!

Wright_Queen of the Night_Pg 00a_titleWright_Queen of the Night_Pg 00a_title

[email protected] (Creative Exposures Photography/Karen Wright) book cereus flower photography Queen of the Night Wed, 20 Nov 2019 06:59:16 GMT
End of the Monsoon Season Byron's first visit to Tucson was by accident. Encouraged by an uncle to "come out to Arizona to go to college", the young man got himself a scholarship to the university and contacted his relative after he arrived. "What are you doing in Tucson?!" was the reaction. "You're supposed to be in Phoenix at ASU!" But Tucson had made its mark on the student - he was in the right place.

This is but one of many stories Byron Achenbaugh shared with a small group of local storm chasers. We had met him and his son on a small dirt road while running after the only show in Southern Arizona that night. He's been traveling to southeast Arizona with his son every year to photograph lightning during the monsoon season. "I've been photographing storms for 67 years," he shares. He and his son, David, spend about a month every summer near Sunsites, AZ, "where the greatest monsoon activity occurs" they claim. In his late 80's, the elder fears this may be his last year. "I'm not sure if I'll make it back next summer." We hope to see the father and son team again next storm season.

As the monsoon season has drawn to a close, we remember the camaraderie of old friends, chance meetings in the middle of nowhere, sharing a passion for photography and dramatic weather, and in the end just sitting around telling stories of conquests and the ones that got away.



_MG_7669Desert Drama

[email protected] (Creative Exposures Photography/Karen Wright) lightning Monsoon storm chasing Mon, 14 Oct 2019 06:09:22 GMT
Colorful Cuba In preparing for a new project, photographing the elder residents of St. Luke's Home to celebrate their lives and contributions to the community, I was reminded by a friend of a photograph that I took while on a trip to Cuba a few years ago. Los ancianos de cubano were at the community center outside of Havana, where people of all ages met to create art, play games or share a meal together.

IMG_3947Los ancianos de cubano. Here are some of my first impressions of Cuba, when we arrived in Havana in May, 2015:

The people, the culture, the music: everything was colorful, loud and exciting! Our first taste of Cuba started in the airport - hit by the heat and humidity as we waited on the jetway for the bus to take us the 20 yards to the terminal, we knew we weren't in Arizona any more. We were reminded of our mantra, "Esto es Cuba" - "This is Cuba" - as we waited an hour and a half for our luggage in a small, packed room, bustling with tourists from all parts of the world and Cuban-Americans visiting family accompanied by big screen TVs and  huge bundles wrapped in blue plastic. Walking out of the airport into a chaotic sea of people waiting to greet family members, we were plunged into the time warp that is Cuba.

Candy Colored CarsCandy Colored Cars Cuban BluesCuban Blues



The streets of Havana were bursting with color as vintage cars of all makes roared by.


To see more images from Cuba, click on one of the pictures.


To learn more about St. Luke's Home, visit their website:

I will be posting pictures from the "Don't Look Away" project in a few months.

[email protected] (Creative Exposures Photography/Karen Wright) Thu, 22 Aug 2019 00:48:19 GMT