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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Palouse Farmhouse

One thing that I find myself consistently drawn to when photographing is the presence of strong lines and shapes. In fact, I have a small series I call "Geometry", which consists of images that are more about lines and shapes than about what the physical subject actually is. This photograph is part of that series.

 
Palouse Farmhouse    ©Howard Grill

Palouse Farmhouse    ©Howard Grill

 

Lone Sailboat

It has been some time since I had the opportunity to visit and photograph in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The one time I did go, it was a trip filled with many photographic opportunities. I hope to be able to return there to make more photos!

This was on eof my favorites from the trip. To me, it imparted a real sense of loneliness and being one against the world.

 
Lone Sailboat    © Howard Grill

Lone Sailboat    © Howard Grill

 

Super Natural

I had the good fortune to visit Phipps Conservatory last weekend for their "Super. Natural." show of mammoth sized glass art by Seattle glass artist Jason Gamrath. Here are two cell phone shots of some of the glass sculptures. This first piece of pink orchids I would estimate is about 8 feet tall!

 
phipps1.jpg
 

Below is another cell shot of pitcher plants mounted in a pool of water, like they grow naturally.

 
phipps2.jpg
 

What attracted me to the pitcher plants, beyond the obvious wow factor since they were probably 4-5 feet tall, was actually the abstract shapes and colors. Yeah, I do tend to see things weirdly. For that I got out the 'real camera'!

 
Glass Abstract    © Howard Grill

Glass Abstract    © Howard Grill

 

I took several like this of varying composition. It was too good to pass up. In addition to being stand alone art (sort of like my mural project), they might be fun to use as textures to blend in to other photos!

Cactus Flower

This past winter I spent quite a bit of time photographing at a local botanical garden. After all, it's warm in there. I was constantly drawn to the cactus room, not because I am particularly interested in cactus horticulture, but because I was intrigued by the lines and shapes of the plants, as well as their unusual appearances.

And it's always a treat to see cacti in bloom!

 
Barrel Cactus In Bloom    © Howard Grill

Barrel Cactus In Bloom    © Howard Grill

 

Google Abandons The Nik Collection

A bit of bad news in the world of image editing software. The highly acclaimed and widely used Nik software bundle is to be abandoned by Google, the company that purchased it in 2012. While Nik software will still be made available, it's not going to be updated moving forward and may well find itself incompatible with Photoshop, Windows, or Mac in coming years.

It is really a pity considering how good the bundle is and how many photographers, myself included, use it regularly. Silver Efex Pro is my 'go to' black and white conversion software. I suspect it will be some time before it is no longer compatible with Photoshop or Windows, but almost assuredly it will be rendered so at some point.

The full details of the Nik demise can be read in this article on the PetaPIxel website.

 

Callaway Gardens Iris

Some time ago, I posted an image of an iris that I took at Callaway Gardens on a workshop with Linda Torbert. I used the lake behind the flower to produce a clean background. But I wanted to try to do something more with the image, something to make it a bit more than just a picture of the flower. So I decided to play a bit, and this is what I came up with. 

The building in the background is the chapel at Callaway Gardens. The iris was growing right in front of it at the edge of the water. You can just see the reflection of the chapel itself in the water.

Playing and experimenting can be a good way to give a new twist to images!

 
Iris and Chapel    © Howard Grill

Iris and Chapel    © Howard Grill

 

Canon ImagePrograf 2000 Review - Part 5

Way back in August and September of last year I wrote a four part review of my new Canon ImagePrograf 2000 wide format printer. I had bought the new printer following three print head failures in two Epson 7900 wide format printers over several prior years. Therefore, I think it is only fair that I provide a follow up to my Canon review (you will see what I mean shortly).

The print quality of the ImagePrograf 2000 has been excellent, both in black and white and in color. I have not done formal testing of any sort comparing Canon to Epson, but I can say that, to my eye, the print quality of the Canon is every bit as good as the Epson. If one reads reviews on the internet you can learn how one machine handles a specific color a bit better than the other and vice versa. But the bottom line is that both brands make professional level printers that are capable of producing excellent quality prints in both color and black and white. 

I could quibble a bit with the method of loading sheet paper in the Canon. The Epson method is easier (at least in their wide format models) but it's no big deal really. I also find that if one is using thick art paper in roll form that the auto paper load for rolls often fails.....but, no matter, you can still load it manually quite easily.

But here is why I thought I needed to add a part 5 to my review of the Canon ImagePrograf 2000. I had an early head failure after approximately 8 months of using the machine. There was loss of small segments in the nozzle check pattern of the yellow channel that would not come back with multiple cleanings, though I have to admit it was hard to tell there was a problem in the prints. Nonetheless, I could not restore a completely normal nozzle check pattern. Shades of the Epson 7900, though head failure in the Epson's always led to visible banding on prints.

Here is the difference though. With the Epson (once off warranty), the cost to replace the head by an authorized repair person (which was only guaranteed for 30 days post replacement if I recall correctly) was enough that you might as well toss the whole machine and buy a new one. Plus, besides the frustration, I also needed to pay a mover to get a new replacement machine where it needed to get to. All in all, an expensive proposition.

The Canon experience was different though. First of all, the machine was still on warranty and Canon had no problem sending me a new print head. So no scheduled repair people, no need to be home, no need to see your printer dismantled and lying in pieces. If the machine wasn't on warranty the replacement would cost a not insignificant $675, but still dramatically less than a replacement printer. And forget the inconvenience of needing a mover like I did when the Epson needed a new print head and I had to replace the whole thing.

And here is the best part.....replacing the print head was EASY. It took about fifteen minutes without having to undo as much as a screw. Just set the menu to replace, open two latches, pull the old print head out, drop the new one in, close the two latches and you are good to go once the machine does an auto adjustment and color calibration. Problem solved. 

Yeah, it was a little discouraging that it occurred so soon, and I did choose to redo my paper profiles (which cost me some time), but I'm back making beautiful prints again without having had to experience major hassles!

Quilt Mural Abstract: Bloomfield

Today I thought I would post another image from my "Mural Project", where I make photos of small parts of an urban mural that, to me, looks like a piece of 'stand-alone artwork'. In the past, when I have posted images from this project, I have only shown the photo of the final small segment of the mural that is my stand alone piece (a molecule of art as I like to call it, since it is just a tiny piece of the whole). For this one, I took a quick shot of the entire mural, as I thought people might be interested in seeing the type of mural that I am picking the pieces from.

Mural Abstract     © Howard Grill

Mural Abstract     © Howard Grill

Below is the entire mural, which is on the side of a building in Bloomfield. The mural was so large that I couldn't fit the entire thing in a single photo with the 50mm lens I had on because I couldn't back up any further. The molecule of art  above is about half outside the image below. The green and purple portion of the quilt on the lower right make up the top half of the 'molecule'. 

By the way, three or four storefronts down is Taste Of India, my favorite Indian restaurant in Pittsburgh!.

Mural in Bloomfield    © Howard Grill

Mural in Bloomfield    © Howard Grill

How To Make Custom Black And White Printer Profiles

Yes, this is going to be a bit esoteric, but I am hoping that it will be useful to some folks that are stepping into the confusing endeavor of generating black and white profiles for use with their printer's black and white only mode. However, I don't want to imply that any of this is original. It's not. I got most of my instructions from Keith Cooper's tremendously useful website, Northlight Images. In particular, this article was very helpful in learning how to generate these profiles using the iOne Pro 2 and the Quadtone RIP. While the QuadTone RIP can only be used for printing to Epson printers, it nonetheless comes with a nifty little tool to generate icc profiles that can be used with any company's printers. I myself print with a wide format Canon ImagePrograf 2000.

So why, then, am I writing this post? As great as Keith's article is (and it is), someone like myself, who is just reaching an intermediate level in color management, found that there were details missing. These details would be apparent to someone well versed in color management but not to someone at my level. It took me a bit of time to work these details out and I am therefore writing this post to fill in those gaps for people that are at a beginner/intermediate level in generating profiles. It will also serve as a personal reference for me, so I don't forget how I did things.

By the way, if there are any errors here (though I don't think there are), I am hoping that someone will point them out so that I can correct them for myself and for anyone else who might read this.

OK, here is what you will need to get started:

  • The not-inexpensive iOne Pro 2
  • The QuadTone RIP ($50)
  • Keith Cooper's black and white reference charts (free) which can be downloaded from the link in this article
  • And of course you will need a printer that allows an all black and white printing mode (any brand) and a supply of  the papers you want to print on

Here, then, are the steps. They are presented in detail:

1) Download Keith's targets, as noted in the link above.

2) Decide which of the targets you are going to use and write it down so you don't forget (or simply delete the others....but make sure you keep the .txt data document for the target you choose. I used the N1-51STEP-K-A4P.psd target.

3) You will need to load that .txt reference target data (these are the known parameters for the black and white target squares) into the iOne profiler software. To do this copy the .txt file that is named with the same name as the chosen target into the appropriate folder in the iOne software. I believe you can also load this from within the software, but I found it easier to have it there at the ready. I should add that I use Windows 10, so there might be some variability in the folder sequence depending on your operating system, be it Windows or Mac. At any rate, here is the location of the folder you need to put the .txt file into for Windows 10: \ProgramData\X-Rite\i1Profiler\ColorSpace CMYK\MeasureReferenceWorkflows.

Don't let the CMYK thing freak you out. The chart is made of varying degrees of black only....just go with this for now

4) Time to print the target. With most profile making you want to print the target with no color management. However, for this endeavor to be used with your printers black and white only mode, you want to print the target exactly like you will be  printing your real images. The target is in a grayscale Gamma 2.2 space. The long and short is to keep the target in the gamma 2.2 grayscale color space and print it on your paper of choice with the media settings that you would normally use for that paper while using your printers black and white only mode. I personally printed one using the relative colorimetric rendition and one using the perceptual rendition, mainly because I wasn't quite sure which would be better. Go ahead and let the targets dry overnight.

5) Open your iOne Profiler software:

Note that the software is opened in the "Advanced Mode" and using an RGB printer. Note also that since my software is licensed for RGB mode only that everything has a green check mark except for CMYK (which has a red question mark).

Remember from earlier that the chart data was in CMYK because it is composed of varying levels of black? You are going to have to change the printer type to CMYK to get the profiler software to accept the chart data. So lets go ahead and do that via the drop down device selection menu:

When I make that change the colored RGB square indicators turn to CMYK and almost all the workflow selection choices go into demo mode since I don't have the software licensed for CMYK use. That's OK, because we are going to use the Measure Reference Chart choice, which is conveniently not put into demo mode. 

6) Let's click on the "Measure Reference Chart"  choice, which brings us to the screen below. See that "Load" button?

Go ahead and click on Load. When the dialogue box opens you will have to navigate to the folder where you put the target data .txt file and go ahead and choose that file.

The target has now been loaded. Note that even if you had the 'Device Setup" drop down menu set to i1Pro2 before loading the target it will default back to the iOne. So if you are using the 2 go ahead and reset the software to your device using the drop down menu.

Clicking next will bring you to the actual measurement page:

7) If you have used the software before (and if you own the iOne Pro 2 device you likely have) it is very familiar from here.

a) Set the measurements to Dual Scan if you want to make M0, M1, and M2 measurements (red #1) 

b) Calibrate your device (red #2) 

c) scan your printed target with the iOne Pro 2 

d) save the data with the name you would like to give your profile (red #3). The software will save 3 versions (M0, M1,M2) and append the M0,M1, or M2 to the appropriate versions.

It is important to know that the data is saved in (for Windows 10) : \ProgramData\X-Rite\i1Profiler\ColorSpace CMYK\MeasureReferenceMeasurements and that, very importantly, the data can be saved in various formats. You need to save it in the i1Profiler CGATS CIELab (*txt) format.

8) OK, now you have your target data and it is time to make the icc profile. Let's take a trip to the Quadtone Rip icc maker tool.

Hmmm, yeah, I know, where is that??? It isn't very obvious is it?

Here we go (Windows 10): C:Program Files (x86)\QuadToneRIP\Eye-One. In that folder you will see QTR-Create-ICC.  That's what you're looking for. 

So what to do with that? Yeah, I didn't know either.

Open a second explorer window and navigate to that folder \ProgramData\X-Rite\i1Profiler\ColorSpace CMYK\MeasureReferenceMeasurements where you saved your data from the iOne. Grab your saved data .txt files one at a time and literally just drop them onto that QTR-Creat-ICC we found above. Each time you do so a data file will be made (click save) and an icc profile will be created in that folder (I personally found it easier to move each data file to my desktop and drop it onto the RIP tool from there). You can then go ahead and install the profile by either copying it to the folder where it belongs in your OS (for Windows this is C:\Windows\system32\spool\driver\color) or just right click on it and click on Install Profile.

9) OK, we are all ready to print. Take your black and white image. Convert it to gray gamma 2.2 in Photoshop (I think it will also work if you are in a gray gamma 2 based color space like Adobe RGB, but I haven't tested this). If your printer allows you to use an icc profile in its black and white only mode you can just go ahead and choose the black and white profile you just made for the particular paper you are printing on.

If your particular printer doesn't allow you to choose a printer profile in its black and white only mode (mine does not) convert the image again directly using 'Convert to Profile' in Photoshop, choosing the black and white icc profile you made for that particular paper. Then simply print using black and white only mode with 'Printer Manages Colors' and the appropriate media type chosen (the one you used to print the target) and the appropriate Perceptual or Relative Colorimetric choice.

You should be good to go!

Disclaimers:

1) Any errors are my own

2) If you are advanced in color management and find any errors I have made please, please comment.....it would help me as well as any readers.

3) I am very pleased with the black and white images I am making and with the accuracy of the soft proofing in Photoshop with these profiles.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Heceta Head lighthouse, on the coast of Oregon, is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the USA. It was built in 1864 and is the 'strongest' lighthouse on the Oregon Coast in terms of light intensity, with its beam visible 24 miles away. It is also a bed and breakfast.

I have previously posted a photo of the lighthouse during the 'blue hour', but here is one earlier in the day. Did I mention it can get quite foggy? Now you can see why the lighthouse might be needed! This particular image was made during the Oregon Coast workshop that Linda Torbert and I gave last August!

Truth be told, the fog was so dense that in order to give some variation to the gray sky I blended a few textures into the image as well.

heceta head lighthouse.jpg

Earth Day Quick Quote: Albert Einstein

" A human being is part of the whole, called by us the universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest - a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

Albert Einstein


Yes, I know it's a few days late in terms of Earth Day, but I didn't run across the quote in time for the actual event. But I think it really expresses a lot of what Earth Day is about, so I am sharing it now!

Life On The Road

Who doesn't have dreams (at least at certain times and at certain ages) about living a portion of their life traveling and experiencing the world. But, for how long? And for what reasons? What kind of life is it? It's pretty easy to think about the positives, but what are the negatives? There is a lot I could try to say about photographer Jimmy McIntyre's heartfelt and wonderful (I think so anyway) article entitled "Why I'm Giving Up Life On The Road". I found it a very interesting and worthwhile read and wanted to share it. I do find that I like his current idea of two week trips!   

Of course, seven years on the road is quite a long time and I would think that one probably has to give up such a lifestyle at some point in time and at some age, no matter how good the reasons for adventure are. So in many ways I take it as an article that would encourage me to travel were I younger. The tough thing is knowing exactly "when the party is over".  

Image Fatigue

There was a time in the not too distant past when a photograph of a beautiful sunrise seen through fog surrounding a mountain range, complete with alpine glow on the tips of the mountains, would be an image that one would ponder for a bit of time. One could well imagine it hanging in a gallery. As a stock photograph it could be expected to draw two to three hundred dollars per sale. Maybe more. That time has seemingly come and gone.

One need only direct their browser (you don't even have to leave the house) to Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, or Google Plus to see hundreds, no, thousands, of photographs like the one described above. True, some are better composed, better processed, or convey feeling better than others.....but there is no denying that there are still many thousands that can be reached with a click that, frankly, are really, really good!

And as one  browses through such images they might find themselves scrolling through them faster and faster and faster. I believe it's image fatigue.......we get used to seeing so many images, photographs that in another era, before the internet was able to feed us image after image after image, we would have spent time pondering...... that we now just zip through spending a second here or two seconds there. Even photo genres that wowed us just a year or two ago (think milky way across a navy blue sky with a well light-painted foreground) are now available in profusion.

It seems that the strategy for some is to go photograph in ever more exotic and hard to get to places. I'm not saying that this is a 'bad' strategy, it's just that one has to have a good deal of time, money, and good health to make it happen. And, of course, while everyone wants to see something or someplace they haven't seen before, rare or unusual or far away doesn't necessarily make the images 'good'; it just makes them images of someplace most people haven't been to (think Antarctica or Iceland). And the more these destinations catch on, the harder it is to be original, even in distant locations. How many pictures of ice on an Icelandic beach have you seen, for example.

Image fatigue.

Others try to photograph from more and more precarious and dangerous viewpoints (think of those photos shot by folks standing on a wall at the edge of a skyscraper with no tethering or protection from a fatal fall). Yes, everyone wants to look at them, but doing these sorts of things to get more 'likes' is just plain stupid.

Lets face it, everyone with a cell phone is now a photographer. And I don't mean that in a negative way. "iPhoneography" has become a medium in and of itself, and there is an incredible array of apps and post-processing possibilities that enable one to make art (as opposed to snapshots of your lunch - I still don't get why people do that and why they think others care about it - but maybe that's just because I'm old). 

So......what is one to do to avoid having their work get lost in a sea of images, in order to try to maintain some artistic individuality, and to have one's work seen, and, dare I even say, to stand out from the crowd? I certainly don't have all the answers, but have been thinking about this quite a bit lately. Here are some of my thoughts on this, but please feel free to comment and chime in with some further suggestions. In fact, I would love for you to do so. Here are some thoughts and ideas:

  • Not to state the obvious, but shoot what you love, not the hot subject of the day. Only by shooting what you love will you make images that might move people
  • Shoot projects - I'm not implying that one shouldn't take 'best of' images that are meant to hang on a wall, but also do some 'project photography' - examine a person, place, topic, or subject in depth. I think that by photographing projects you are more likely to make meaningful images that reveal more of yourself
  • Consider learning a new technique to see where it takes you - for example, extreme macro, very shallow DOF, long exposure, stop-action, etc
  • Don't fret about having a huge audience - worry about having an audience that really cares about your work
  • Think about trying to have your work published - I think that we tend to look longer and harder at images that are in print, as opposed to flipping through those on Instagram and Flickr. Well, at least that's true for me, though I'm not sure about millenials who grew up with the internet. Images that are published also seem to carry more 'weight' 
  • Learn the art of making prints - yes, I know it's somewhat last century :), but the fact is that it is an art unto itself and, in my opinion, more difficult than making an image look good on screen. It gives the image a physical presence. Holding a print made on a fine art paper is a very different experience than viewing the image on a monitor. And it does set you apart from the many that don't make prints (or don't make them well). I believe it is an art worth learning

Please chime in.....

Still Awesome After All These Years

A Musical Interlude To The Usual Programming

Traffic just happens to be one of my favorite bands and Dear Mr. Fantasy just happens to be one of my favorite Traffic songs and one of my all time favorite songs in general.

Talk about still having it!!!  I watched this and couldn't believe that this version by Steve Winwood from the Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2007 is as fantastic as it is.....a full 40 years after its release in 1967!  Dare I even whisper the heresy that this might even sound better than the original?

Enjoy Steve Winwood, here in 2007, at age 59.

And just for completeness......Winwood doing the same in 1972 at age 24, five years after the song was released.

Something's Fishy

I can't help it....I love murals. I have written before about my "Molecules Of Art" project, where I make abstract photos from very small segments of urban wall murals. Sometimes, however, it's equally fun to photograph a large enough segment of a mural or sign that retains 'subject recognizability' even though the entire mural isn't in the photograph.

I couldn't resist this segment of a colorful painted sign on the exterior of a seafood restaurant in Bandon, Oregon.

Something's Fishy    © Howard Grill

I know people are sometimes interested in how a certain effect was achieved. In this instance the mural itself was painted onto the wall. You can see that in some areas behind the head of the fish there is actually some peeling of the paint. But I wanted the photo to really transmit the feeling that this was brightly painted with loose strokes by an artist. For this reason, once I totally processed the image in Lightroom I brought it into Photoshop, duplicated it onto a new layer, ran it through Topaz Simplify using the BuzSim setting (in order to obtain a more painted appearing version), and then decreased that layer opacity back to about 40% to just get a bit of a blend of the two. This gave me the effect I was after.

I then added a curve or two, a Hue/ Saturation layer to pull back the blues just a bit, a color balance layer with a radial gradient mask to warm the tones on the head, and a quick trip to Color Efex Pro to use the 'Lighten/Darken Center' filter to place a very subtle vignette around the head of the fish.

Quick Quotes: Ira Glass

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still a killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.

A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal, and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take awhile. It's normal to take awhile. You've just gotta fight your way through.

Ira Glass


I recently wrote a post called "Creative Doubt", and my friend Mark Graf made a comment on that post which introduced me to Ira Glass via the videos he linked and which I have inserted into this blog entry. The whole situation came full circle since I am reading an exceptional new book called 

by Claire Rosen (more on this book in a separate post) and the Ira Glass quote that started this post (and which came from the videos) was right in the book I was reading!

At any rate, Ira Glass has some very interesting things to say about creativity and the development of one's art. His words apply as much to photography as they do to his chosen media of broadcast and reporting. Well worth a listen!!

And remember, if you get this blog entry by email the video links don't, for some reason, come along with it, so you will need to go to the blog itself in order to view the short videos. 

Dreaming In White

At the end of March, I had the opportunity to photograph at the local botanical garden that my friends and I often to during the winter. Though it was still pretty chilly outside, Spring had begun in the indoor garden. This was the first day of the Spring Flower Show!

What most caught my attention was a display of white tulips. When I got down to 'tulip level' and looked through my macro lens all was a soft white. Right then I realized that the image I wanted to make was one that would convey the feel of a dream surrounded in white haze.

 
 

The flower itself had some minimal tinges of yellow coloration around where the stem connects to the petals. I couldn't appreciate this looking through the viewfinder, but you could see it when enlarging the file. My vision was white....so I converted the image to a high key black and white photo and then restored color to the stem. I have a version that is totally black and white as well, but I think I prefer this one.

More Cacti

The "Cactus Project" continues, in black and white of course!

The focus stacking that I talked about in my last cactus image has gotten me thinking much more carefully about the idea of focus in a composition. Is the image really one where I think selective focus with a limited depth of field would best portray what I am trying to convey, or would front to back sharpness better convey what I am trying to transmit? I had previously been 'bothered' when I wanted to use front to back sharpness and things were 'almost' all sharp. It's not easy being compulsive :). Now, I am more apt to use focus stacking when I seek true front to back sharpness, with the caveat being that compromise is necessary in some situations, such as where there is subject motion. I think my photo buddies and I would be willing to pay Phipps to just turn those fans they use to ensure air movement off for two hours on Sunday mornings :)

In this first photograph of Senecio talinoides flowers, I wanted the depth of field to be limited so as to have the stems and background fade away.

The Flowers of Senecio talinoides    © Howard Grill

On the other hand, in the image below I wanted sharpness throughout, at least for all the spines. That couldn't be achieved in one shot this close up because the angle the cacti were growing at precluded the option of getting the camera parallel to the surface of the 'stem'. Therefore, this image is a blended focus stack of probably 10 or so shots, each made two mm apart without adjusting the focus of the lens.

 

Opuntia 'Pricckly Pear' Cactus    © Howard Grill