Dale Chihuly glass – Desert Botanical Garden – The Nature of Glass show

Desert Botanical Garden Dale Chihuly Show
Desert Botanical Garden Dale Chihuly Show

The Desert Botanical Garden Dale Chihuly Show, The Nature of Glass, at night, using digital night photography techniques.

“The Nature of Glass” show of Dale Chihuly glass art works at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona is a successful blend of organically inspired artworks installed within an organic setting.

In addition to this post , I plan a companion piece, covering some of the digital camera techniques I used, and a bit about the digital darkroom cool Photoshop layer editing I used.

Dale Chihuly glass installation at the Desert Botanical Garden
Dale Chihuly glass installation at the Desert Botanical Garden

I was able to attend the recent “Chihuly Photography RSVP Workshop” after hours night photography shoot. (Thank you goes to Steen Lawson, the Desert Botanical Garden Onsite Public Programs Manager)

The shot above should give you a sense of how some of the Chihuly glass pieces are set in and among the cactus and succulents in the Desert Botanical Garden collection.

Dale Chihuly - detail from the Nature of Glass show
Dale Chihuly - detail from the Nature of Glass show

Dale Chihuly’s glass work is colorful, often nearing the point of over saturation, but not exceeding it in my view. The intense color will put your film, or digital camera chip to the test, though. (I will be posting more of the ‘how-to shoot public art at night’ in a future post. Subscribe to keep on top of the updates.)

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Chihuly also likes to incorporate his large, and therefore heavy, glass works into local environments as seen above.

Some of the strong pieces are set off by themselves, supported on a post, or hung from a structure as seen below.

Single Chihuly glass work suspended from the ceiling of an outdoor pavilion
Dale Chihuly glass work suspended from an outdoor pavilion ceiling

For the above ‘centerpiece’ shot, I wanted to isolate the glass work from its surroundings. In the shot below, I specifically wanted to include the set up and the shadows cast by the lighting.

Chihuly glass work suspended in the Desert Botanical Garden
Chihuly glass work suspended in the Desert Botanical Garden

I liked the interplay of form, flora, and shadow in this installation and so included them all in my composition.


To give you a sense of the scope of some of the installations, I’m including a wide panoramic image of one of the more popular areas of the show.

Desert Botanical Garden Chihuly installation panoramic photograph

Scroll sideways to see the entire panoramic image

This pano was taken using my homemade panoramic tripod head attachment with exposures ranging from 1/2 second up to 8 seconds. Since I conceived of, and made the image during the “Chihuly Photography RSVP” photo session, I decided to include other photographers who were also shooting this one scene.

I used a similar technique in shooting the panoramic night photograph on this page, 13th ASU Museum Short Film and Video Festival.

Some of the glass sculptures seemed to call out for simple compositions, as below.

A detail of a lovely sculptural handlike form
A detail of a lovely sculptural hand like form

Other of the Chihuly pieces were seemingly intended, and most successful, in groupings.

A surreal landscape vision of Chihuly and succulents
A surreal landscape vision of Chihuly and succulents

This grouping succeeds more than some others in the show in giving a sense of an organically derived copse of native flora in a surreal yet aesthetically pleasing landscape.

A few pieces came off to me as almost anomalous; that is, they didn’t seem to go with the rest of the show.

A little 'undersea' installation
A little 'undersea' installation

I really liked this piece, shot it in several different ways, but I don’t feel that it fit in the overall context of the show. This one seems like a little ‘undersea’ octopus, not really a ‘desert’ piece, but was very attractive to me in it it’s own right.

I really liked the opportunity to shoot in the garden at night with other photographers drifting around doing the same thing. It had a surreal quality in that most of the photographers were quietly going about their business, drifting from area to installation, carrying tripod mounted cameras, without speaking, in the dark, like silent photo phantoms.

To get a sense of closure, as I was leaving after the event, I paused and turned around to shoot the entrance to the Desert Botanical Garden when it was completely empty (not a usual state) showing a large centrally located Chihuly glass work inside the garden.

The Desert Botanical Garden entrance after closing
The Desert Botanical Garden entrance after closing

I hope you like these pix of Dale Chihuly’s glass work, and the fine installation at the Desert Botanical Garden.

Comments welcome below.


Ken Storch

Author: P U

11 thoughts on “Dale Chihuly glass – Desert Botanical Garden – The Nature of Glass show

  1. Beautiful work as usual…..love the pop and intensity of colors, and the pano gives an especially good rendering of how it would have felt to have actually stood there………..

  2. I don’t know, I think the octopus one goes with the theme, reminiscent of “the octopus’ garden in the shade.”

  3. Great work Ken. I think the stuff looks even better at night, but especially the way you captured it. The surreal landscape shot is fantastic. I also really like the pano.

    1. Thanks Steve. Some of the pieces were quite well lit at night. Contrast was very high of course. On some, I had to combine bracketed exposures to get the look I wanted.

      The ‘surreal landscape’ one was actually a single careful exposure.

      The pano, of course, was several.


  4. Terrific shots, nice write-up. The nature of glass that makes it so compelling as an art form–the way it bends and shapes light–is also what makes it so hard to photograph. Even professional photographers often flatten the images and make them look little better than the typical tourist snapshot. You’ve exceeded that handily. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for the nice comments.
      Glass is a tough photographic subject. Transparent objects are difficult. Night shots present challenges.

      Put them all together and it stretches the medium and the massager;> }

  5. These are all fantastic shots. I saw the exhibition during the day but didn’t ever get the chance to go back at night. The sculptures pop that much more at night. Love it.

    1. HI Lee-ann,
      Welcome back.

      Thanks for the appreciation. Shooting these sculptures at night was a challenge as all illuminated structures can be.
      They’re bright, often unevenly lit, against a dark surround, thus a very high contrast scene.

      Glad you like ’em.


  6. Nice shots Ken. I’m going there shortly and don’t know what settings to us. Polarizing filter? I have a Canon 60D, have never shot art at night. I know there will be hundreds of folks there so am reluctant to take the tripod (trip hazard for all of us) but monopod may work – I know I risk blurring with longer exposures….any help would really be appreciated!

    1. Totally take the tripod Carol! With a cable release and/or mirror lock up or shutter dely, all for maximum camera steadiness.
      Exposures will be long, but a monopod, in the right steady hands might work also.

      The biggest risk for me was getting all set up, and then someone else insensitively stepping in front. 😉

      A polarizer won’t do much except extend your shutter times. It relies on polarized light sources (like the sun) for it’s effect.

      Good luck, and have fun.

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