Assignment to Self: Chain Fruit Cholla

I think it’s human nature to take the path of least resistance. Why not walk over here where the terrain is less rugged and you don’t risk turning your ankle every third step? But sometimes the effect is more subtle, and you find yourself walking the same path over and over without realizing where you are treading. While preparing some work for a client, I noticed a pattern in my work. In virtually all my recent desert shoots, I have some really fine images of the Teddy Bear Cholla, (as chronicled in previous posts Ruxpin’s Halo and Ruxpin’s Realm), but none of the larger and more prevalent desert cholla, the Chain Fruit.

As I sat there contemplating this phenomenon, the reason was as clear as the nose on my face. Teddy Bear Cholla are much smaller and very often grow in clusters in regular, if not repeating, shapes. These shapes grow close together in groups, lending themselves to back-light. The Chain Fruit Cholla is named for the strings of fruit that hang from it branches, and can grow up to 12 feet high, like a small tree. It is much less regular in size and shape as its branches seemingly grow in random directions. Chain Fruit Cholla often presents itself as a large thorny tangle and seems to prefer growing in desert occupied by Palo Verde and Ironwood trees. In the wild these trees will grow up to maybe 20 feet tall, and will often resemble a large tangle in their own right. The problem with the trees is that they are just big enough to block the views of the mountains, making it difficult to find places where I could show the cactus as part of the surrounding landscape.

So, the reason I lack significant pictures of a desert cactus that literally grows in my backyard is because it is hard to do. Overall, its a lot easier to find images when I’m hanging over there with Ruxpin and the rest of the Teddy Bears. I’ve apparently been walking the path of least resistance. So this winter I gave myself an assignment to make some Chain Fruit Cholla pictures that were worthy; images that might be portfolio-worthy. I picked a spot where the chain fruit dominate the desert, growing into massive trees up to 10 feet and higher. My goal was to make images of just the cactus as well as to show it in the surrounding landscape. After a month of this on mornings and evening, some cloudy and some not, I had completed my assignment. Decide if they are portfolio-worthy and let me know below!

Chaninfruit Cholla Tangle

Canon 5DMark iii, 24-70 F2.8 Mark ii L @28mm; F11 @ 1/60th second; iso 100

This image demonstrates how random the Chain Fruit Cholla can grow. This is what I was often dealing with. If our goal as photographers is to make sense of the chaos, then my work is cut out for me.

And the Prophets Smiled

Canon 5D Markiii, Canon 24-70 F2.8L mark ii @ 50mm; F16 @ 1.3 seconds; iso 100

On this particular morning, I finally found a spot where I found two large cholla without the ubiquitous Palo Verde tree interrupting the view of the mountain. Harder to do than to say; I looked for a shot like this most every morning for a week. And after a boatload of high pressure and sunshine, I finally got some clouds to show, so I call this “And the Prophets Smiled”.

Fruitily Delicious

Canon 5D Markiii; Canon 24-70 F2.8 Mark ii @ 58mm; F16 @ 1/30th second; Iso 100

Obviously, here is the same location a few minutes later when the first sunlight of the day strikes the scene, delineating the wonderful detail of the hanging fruit. I actually think I might prefer the version with the light. I’m calling this one “Fruitily Delicious”.

Cholla Thicket

Canon 5DMark iii; Canon 24-70 f2.8 Mark ii @ 65mm; F22 @ 1/15th second; iso 100

Close-ups in this landscape are surprisingly difficult, most likely because of the overwhelming tangle the Chain Fruit Cholla tend to grow in. However, the allure of the back-light is a powerful force where cholla is concerned. This is “The Thorn Forest”.


Canon 5D Markiii; Canon 24-70 F2.8L Markii @ 24mm; F11 @ 1/125th second; iso 100

Again, I found a patch of desert that was reasonably clear of the cluttering Palo Verde trees like the one just behind the foreground cholla, which was about 3 feet high. My clouds were clearing out, making this much less dramatic than it might have been. Still, a good example of Chain Fruit in the landscape. I’m calling this one “If You hang Around Long Enough, Eventually You’ll Find Something.” Actually, I like the way the foreground cholla on the left balances the cloud and cholla on the right side.

Canon 5D Markiii; Canon 16-35L Markii @ 21mm; 1/60th second @ F11; iso 100

Canon 5D Markiii; Canon 16-35L Markii @ 21mm; 1/60th second @ F11; iso 100

To some degree, I had been guilty of  “picking the low hanging fruit,” and my modest self-assignment helped me expand and diversify my portfolio.

George Stocking

Author: George Stocking

George Stocking is a professional freelance photographer, residing in Phoenix, AZ. He works regularly as a contract photographer for Arizona Highways, and his work often graces the pages of Arizona Highways Magazine, Calendars and Books. His work has appeared in numerous other national publications. You can see more of his work on his website.

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