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Caught on Camera: The Queen of the Night

Tips & Tricks for Low-Light Photography

“Pictures, or it didn’t happen.” Right or wrong, it’s the sentiment of our time. To their credit, plant people (more than most) know the magic of simply being present for a miracle of nature, without the need to watch it through a lens. Yet we also know the power of documenting nature’s beauty—not to mention, the joy of sharing it with others. Oh, the pictures we take.

No wonder, when we witness, say, a night-blooming cereus open before our eyes, we feel compelled to reach for our cameras. Yet, how these pictures often disappoint! After all, the so-called “Queen of the Night” has an inconvenient habit of blooming only after dark, in the worst possible lighting conditions.

I was recently confronted by this conundrum while writing an article about Eudora Welty and her Night-Blooming Cereus Club for the forthcoming issue of Magnolia. When it came to sourcing photographs to accompany the piece, many an image fell dreadfully short. Too washed-out, too blurry, too flat. Then, there were the glorious exceptions.

Fortunately, whether you are a first-timer wielding a mobile phone, or a seasoned photographer armed with the latest equipment, a stunning shot is within your reach. It just takes a little know-how. 

Scroll down for nifty tricks (and resulting photographs) from your fellow SGHS members. For even more in-depth advice, tips on camera settings, and equipment recommendations, check out this thorough article by expert photographer Karen Wright of Creative Exposures. 

Now, when the next bloom comes, you’ll be ready. And you’ll come away with a photograph to treasure and share long after the blossom fades away.

Night Blooming Cereus at the home of Brent Labatut, New Roads, Louisiana.  Photographer: Brent Labatut



Randy Harelson:“These two photos were taken by Brent Labatut with natural light on his iPhone. I seldom use the flash (although sometimes I try it). But I have rarely thought the results were as good. The flash seems to wash out an otherwise good photo. The amazing camera in the iPhone just does an outstanding job of gathering natural light. The less light there is, the steadier you must hold the camera. So a tripod, or a surface to help you hold the camera steady, is a good idea.”


Aimee Moreau: “Lighting the flower with a flashlight, from behind or from the side, often works better than using a flash. It makes the flower appear to glow from within, while creating a dark background and highlighting the subject. Usually, the idea is to avoid showing the flashlight in the shot, but this picture shows how to do it.
Jessica Russell: “They say the best camera is the one you have with you. For me, that’s my trusty iPhone 8. While I’d say using a flash is not ideal, stepping away from the flower can reduce the flatness that often occurs when shooting with flash up close.

My favorite trick? Wait for daybreak. I’ve found if I shoot right at first light, there’s enough natural light to show the detail of the flower, while keeping the white shades soft and milky. Just one word of caution: Don’t sleep on this! My flowers are usually wilted by sunrise.”


Photographer: Jessica Russell


Follow Jessica Russell:
Jessica Russell grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, and graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Southern Mississippi with a B.A. degree in Communications. She worked as a copywriter, graphic designer, public relations specialist beginning in 2006 and in 2016 became Associate Creative Director of Godwin, an integrated marketing firm headquartered in Jackson. Her passion for writing, art, and nature led her to the Eudora Welty House & Garden in 2019, where she served as Garden Projects Specialist. In July of 2022, Russell became director of the historic site, which is operated by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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