On top of Petrinske Sady (Petrin Hill) in Prague, Czech Republic is a tower built to replicate the Eiffel Tower at 1/5 scale. From the top of the tower, it is one of the best views of Prague, and apparently the place in Prague to take a romantic date for a kiss. Next to the foot of the Petrin Tower is a maze and House of Mirrors.
Hall of Mirrors, Prague © Harold Davis
Within the House of Mirrors, a technical problem for photography is the low light, since tripods are not permitted (flash is also obviously impractical, even if it were allowed). I resolved this issue by boosting my ISO to 2,000, with the intention of processing the image to make the resulting somewhat noisy aspect of the photo an attractive part of the final look. In other words, this was never intended to be a highly sleek image, but rather one with a bit of grunge in its DNA.
Rather more trying of my patience, the Hall of Mirrors was full of people on a rainy Sunday, and the mirrors picked-up all the kids and families running through the maze, and replicated them over and over again even when I thought they were out of sight, and magnified their presence.
I found a location and position within the mirror maze in which I wasn’t reflected (more difficult than you might think!) and then lurked. It took a while as I waited for a split instant in which no people were apparent in the system of mirrors, but finally it happened. I was ready, and quickly made the exposure before another reflected person came into the frame.
Exposure data: Nikon D810, 28-300mm lens at 32mm, 1/40 of a second at f/4.5 and ISO 2,000; handheld using Vibration Reduction.
These are the wonderful participants in my Black and White Masterclass in Heidelberg, Germany. We all survived the record high temperatures, photographed in Heidelberg, and made and processed high dynamic range monochromatic images with a wide variety of styles and subject matter. Special thanks to Michael Verhoelen of LifeFoto, who represents Moab Paper in Germany, who brought his printer and a van load of special Moab papers (some of the prints he made from the work of the participants are shown here)!
Black & White Masterclass with Harold Davis © Harold Davis
Sometimes the beautiful things are all around us, like this group of fruit in a reflective bowl. This version was processed on my iPhone with Plastic Bullet, Lo-Mob, and Snapseed:
Still Life in Silver Bowl © Harold Davis
This version of my image was made using the Waterlogue app:
Still Life and Watercolor © Harold Davis
The other evening I strolled along Heidelberg’s Philosopher’s Walk with my camera and tripod. I stopped to make several photographs, including this exposure blend looking down on the Alte Brucke. Today I used the image in my Black & White Masterclass to demonstrate a fairly complete high dynamic range black and white (“monochromatic HDR”) workflow. I think the class was great at following along as this workflow involves a non-trivial effort and is definitely not for the faint of heart!
Oh, Heidelberg! © Harold Davis
Exposure information: 135mm, seven combined exposures (at shutter speeds between 1/160 of a second and 0.5 of a second), each exposure at f/9 and ISO 64, tripod mounted; exposures combined and processed using Nik HDR Pro, Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop, Nik Color Efex, Nik Silver Efex, Topaz Adjust, Topaz Simplify, and Perfect B&W.
Of course, this leads to a grammatical question: Is the implied subject female or fabric? Methinks it could be either, or maybe both.
Incredibly Attractive Highly Repellant © Harold Davis
The iPhone is probably the best camera there is for quick sketches. For one thing, it is pretty much always with me. For another, it is quick and easy to use, and surprisingly capable. But the best part is the “digital darkroom in the little box”—the fact that I can creatively process my photos right on the iPhone. There are hundreds of wonderful post-production apps, but one of my favorites is Waterlogue. Waterlogue doesn’t work for all images, but when I am looking for a dreamy final image that resembles a water color painting it is certainly my go-to app. Here are some recent sketches by Harold and Waterlogue, from top to bottom: Path in the Park and Stairs, both photographed in the Little Town of Prague; Bicycle 1 and Bicycle 2, photographed in the Old Town of Heidelberg, Germany; and Banks of the River, the Nekkar River where it flows through Heidelberg at the end of a warm summer’s day.
Path in the Park © Harold Davis
By the way, if you are curious, this effect can be achieved in Photoshop also with images made on a real camera, most commonly using the Topaz Simplify and Impression plugins. But it’s hard to quarrel with the immediacy of an iPhone app.
Stairs © Harold Davis
Try to consider when creating this kind of image: how will it look when blanketed with softness? Is this truly a water-color-like image, or is it something that needs harder edges? If harder edges are better, then you should be aiming for a more photographic look rather than something painterly.
Bicycle 1 © Harold Davis
It is good to be back in Heidelberg, where I am teaching a workshop. Coming back to a city I already know a bit where I have some friends is a little like coming home!
Bicycle 2 © Harold Davis
Banks of the River © Harold Davis
Reinhard Heydrich was the second-in-command of the Nazi SS. Heydrich was charged with enhancing the Czech contribution to the Nazi war machine, and did his best in a terrible reign of terror. He was eventually assassinated by two members of the underground, who were parachuted into Czechoslovakia in a suicide mission by the Czech government-in-exile from Great Britain. Although somewhat faded, like this rose in a plastic bottle, flowers still mark the memorial to the victims of Heydrich on the busy Prague street where the church crypt in which the patriotic assassins met their end is located.
Flower at the Memorial to Heydrich Terror © Harold Davis
To capture the nostalgia and sadness of the place and what it memorializes, as well as the faded nature of the flower and bottle, I photographed the image wide-open with my Zeiss 135mm f/2 lens for shallow depth-of-field, and converted the image to black and white, leaving only a little splash of color in the dried-up rose.
This is a view of the southern Bohemia resort and touristic town of Cesky Krumlov, where I spent a few hours photographing. By the way, “Cesky” means a “bend in the river” in Czech. Many old towns in the Czech Republic are named beginning with Cesky, because these oxbow bends in a river lent themselves to natural fortification back in the days when defense against literal robber barons was required.
Cesky Krumlov © Harold Davis
Inside Prague’s Old Town Square Tower they’ve constructed an elegant spiral ramp, with an elevator in the middle. Other than Prague’s TV Tower (I heard one guide call the TV Tower “the second ugliest building in the world,” and it certainly is very ugly and dominates the Prague skyline, for some reason it has grotesque statuary of babies climbing up the circular pillars holding up this hyper-modern structure, don’t ask me why because I haven’t a clue, and I also don’t really know what building is the “first ugliest,” there must be many candidates, but I digress), other than Prague’s TV Tower it is the only high-up viewing spot I’ve found in Prague you don’t have to climb. It certainly is nice riding the elevator in the core to the top, then strolling down the spiral ramp enjoying the somewhat unusual view, shown looking down from the top of the spiral, and from the bottom watching the elevator rise.
Inside the Old Market Tower – Looking Down © Harold Davis
Inside the Old Market Tower – Looking Up © Harold Davis
I found this cabinet containing the Prague Golem at the entrance to Prague’s Old Jewish Cemetery. Fortunately, the cabinet appears locked. I hope it stays that way, at least while I am still in the Czech Republic. Although the single, small padlock may be a little puny to restrain a Golem, such as the famous and notably nasty Golem created according to legend by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel back in the late 1500s.
The Prague Golem © Harold Davis
There are six towers that I know of in Prague to go up with my camera. I’ve been up four out of six so far. Mostly, they are an issue of climbing several hundred narrow steps, but this one—the Old Town Square Tower—has an elevator in addition to a spiral ramp (more on this in a later story). Anyhow, ascending the elevator rather than climbing up left me feeling chirpy. So in contrast to the somewhat somber Spires of Prague I shot this nice, bright canonical city view with my extreme wide-angle Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 lens. Two towers to go!
Prague from Old Town Hall Tower © Harold Davis
I’ve never seen such a veritable cacophony of spires in a European city as in Prague. These wonderful spires, or towers, help to impart Prague’s unusual and distinctive flavor. What is it about upright towers reaching for the sky that appeals to the engineers among humanity? Wait, hold that thought!
Spires of Prague © Harold Davis
This view is photographed from the Powder Tower, which I climbed today. Prague boasts more towers you can climb than is generally the case. Each tower has a circular spiral staircase, seemingly hewn out of the stone. It can be very interesting encountering a party coming the other direction in one of these small, claustrophobia inducing staircases!
With Prague’s grand castles and elegant squares overflowing with happy visitors and marquee shopping it is easy to forget that this is also the city of Franz Kafka. Metamorphosis happens here, whether it is a human turning into a bug, or the curved shapes of a nearly empty street altered in the reflection in a traffic mirror. The outer world is unaltered, but inside the metamorphosis the lone pedestrian wanders down a twisted street towards an uncertain end.
Metamorphosis © Harold Davis
Getting to Prague from the Bay area took a bit of travel time. I know, less than in covered wagon and sail ship times, but still it was into the next day, and the seat on the airplane was truly lived in. Alas, I made the change of planes in Frankfurt, but my suitcase did not—and flew on with Lufthansa into the unknown. So I arrived on a new day on a Prague afternoon with the clothes on my back and a single camera. Which I took out to explore right away. As I neared the Charles Bridge I saw clouds and maybe a rainbow forming, so I dashed up the spiral stairs in the bridge tower, added a polarizer, and snapped a few frames before my rainbow disappeared.
Prague Rainbow © Harold Davis
Transparency means something one can look through with clarity, like a sheet of glass or plastic. So what we are interested in is really translucency—the state or condition of being translucent, or partially transparent. But translucency is essentially an optical illusion, or trick of the human eye. When a light color contrasts with a dark color, and the light color is apparently “above” the darker color, then the human eye is trained to perceive degrees of translucency.
Degrees of Translucency © Harold Davis