Floristic fireworks

Posted on 19 April 2023 By Tsoku Maela

As chief executive of the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), Andrew Baxter is not only dedicated to the preservation of nature, but he is also determined to share its beauty in extraordinary ways. His latest photographic project is a celebration of fynbos unlike any other.

Captured with supplemental torchlight at night, the spectacularly bright inflorescences and the long styles of the Leucospermum cordifolium – or pincushion resemble an explosive fireworks display.

Exposed under delicate torchlight, the colourful flower spikes of the krantz aloe (Aloe arborescens) stand out like ethereal candelabras in the gloom of the night. Ranging in colour from deep orange to bright yellow, these are a delight to photograph.

A symphony of fireball explosions lights up Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden when the Leucospermum tottums come into bloom. Endemic to parts of the Cederberg and the Western Cape mountains, these “ribbon” pincushions are my favourite “floristic fireworks”.

Pollinated by the Cape sugarbird and several species of sunbird, the attractive colour and the sweet nectar of the Leucopsermum vestitum, or silky-haired pincushion, make it universally popular. For this lowlight shot I used a subtle magenta filter in front of a stopped-down flash for a creative effect

The sugar bush, Protea eximia, makes for a great low-light floral portrait. The colourful inner flower bracts are
covered with delicate hairs which appear to shimmer under the light. I often use backlighting to “pop” these shots and to enhance the natural colour of the crimson bracts.

The “scarlet ribbon” is a cross between Leucospermum tottum and Leucospermum glabrum. First propagated in South
Africa in 1974, this popular hybrid can be found in gardens and nurseries across the world. In this shot the orange styles and yellow tips (stigmas) resemble flaming matches radiating out from the magenta tepals at the centre.


Multiple lift-offs. Leucospermum reflexum rockets appear to take off in unison in this low-light, shallow-depth-of-field portrait. This is a handheld shot (it’s often impossible to get a tripod into awkward spaces) and I’ve used soft light from multiple sources to light-paint the “rockets” without highlighting the background.

Multiple orange tracers appear to rise up in unison from this Leucospermum glabrum. It is challenging to determine the most appropriate focal point and since these are mostly handheld shots, focus stacking is not an option. I shoot as slow as possible (shutter speed) and as low as possible (ISO) but this does tend to limit the depth of field.


‘There are so many ways to capture the beauty of the fynbos, and I was looking for a different way to highlight the incredible symmetry and structure of the flowers, particularly the Leucospermums (pincushions) and other proteas. I’ve been experimenting with low-light photography for a while. I couldn’t help but think that when the pincushions and proteas were gently illuminated with supplemental light, they resembled fireworks.

To capture these portraits (which are of actual flowers growing in situ, either in the mountains or in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden), I choose dull days or low-light conditions, and I select very dark backgrounds to enhance the contrast. I then apply supplemental light – this requires some experimentation – and further underexpose the background. I don’t use Photoshop, but Lightroom enables me to tease back some light and apply contrast. In this way, I’ve tried to showcase the spectacular natural beauty of the fynbos in a different light… and it really seems to have resonated.’ – Andrew Baxter


This article was adapted from a version that appeared in our February 2022 magazine issue.

Follow us on social media for more travel news, inspiration, and guides. You can also tag us to be featured. 

TikTok | Instagram Facebook Twitter

ALSO READ: Extinct & Endangered: world’s rarest insects captured in microscopic detail

yoast-primary - 1004417
tcat - Photography
tcat_slug - photography
tcat2 - Photography
tcat2_slug - photography
tcat_final -