Monthly Archives: August 2006

Vertical Lips

In winter time, Yosemite Falls is framed by snow and ice. At least if you get to the falls early enough in the morning, before the sun has spent much time warming the valley’s walls.

This photo of Yosemite Falls reminds me of vertical lips, that is, one side of a mouth turned on its side. Put this way, it seems like a very sensual image, but it was cold being there!

Using LAB Color

I’ve been reading Dan Margulis’s masterful Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace. I thought I’d give some of the techniques he explains a try, starting with this image. I’m admittedly a piker with LAB color, but after this experience I’ll be using it more, and learning more about it.

You select LAB color on the Photoshop Image>Mode menu as an alternative to RGB (for computer monitors) or CMYK (for printing). You can’t really output anything in LAB, so a final step in any workflow in which you’ve converted to LAB is likely to be a conversion back to RGB or CMYK (depending on what you plan to do with the image).

The LAB color model consists of three channels. The L channel stands for luminance. Actually, this channel controls the contrast in the image, and appears in Photoshop as black and white. There’s some additional technical complexity in the way the A and B channels work, but essentially A controls the magenta to green spectrum and B controls the yellow to blue spectrum (both channels using a mechanism called the “opponent-color scheme”).

LAB color was originally specified by a standards body, the International Commission on Illumination (CIE). As the Wikipedia puts it, the LAB color model “is the most complete color model used conventionally to describe all the colors visible to the human eye.”

With the photo above, I converted to LAB color pretty early in my workflow. I was able to use the Curves dialog in Photoshop to easily color correct both the canyon area and the sky. By way of comparison, and to show what an excellent correction this is, here’s a link to a similar image from the same set that I processed a while ago without using LAB.

Arrested Decay

It was Julian’s idea to go back to the ghost town of Bodie. It seems to be one of the traditions of our trips to the Eastern Sierra. (Here are some photos from last year’s visit to Bodie.) Along with photographing Julian under the mamoth statue at the ski lift in Mammoth Lakes. (Here’s last year’s Julian and mamoth in Mammoth photo, this year’s still to come.)

On this trip I was mindful that I didn’t need (or want) to document Bodie. I already have plenty of photos of the place on file, and anyhow, I am not a documentary photographer.

I also noted that from a curatoral perspective Bodie is in a state of arrested decay, as much as possible left as it was in 1962. This means there are weird artifacts and surfaces all over the place. So I tried for compositions that showed the unusualness of conditions at Bodie, rather than portraying things as they are (or attempting to portray things as they might have been when Bodie was the second largest city in California).

Above, a photo of the Bodie school room through a mesh protective grill (you can see the classroom globe in the background). Below, through a store window looking at pressed tin walls and a dusty hunting trophy. Did I imagine that the deer turned a red and baleful eye upon me as I snapped the photo?

Trophy

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Mono Lake Sunset

On Flickr, Nadine comments about this photo “I don’t know if you had a chance to witness such beauty or whether you created this awesome image…”

It’s not at all unreasonable to suspect me, as Nadine does, of partially concocting imagery. After all, I believe that any interesting digital photograph is created using one part photography and one part post-processing tools. Nadine herself aptly summed up a recent essay of mine, A Pixel Is a Pixel, about digital manipulation as folows: “ALL digital images are manipulated.”

Point granted. Even the act of creating a JPEG using an automatic point-and-shoot involves digital manipulation, although the manipulation is performed by software, and most of us don’t think about it as manipulation. At a different level, most professional digital photographs have been at least routinely balanced and sharpened.

Along with the premise that all digital images are manipulated, I have two related hobby horses. First, I don’t want to see basic photography skills, and ways of seeing, lost in the oncoming rush of all things digital. And finally, it is clear (at least for me) that digital photography is now a bifurcated craft, blending the job of the photographer with that of a digital technician.

For myself, though, the scene I photograph needs to contain the seed of the final image, in the sense that the child is the father of the man, or what I create ultimately is some kind of Platonic ideal of what I saw when I photographed. There’s always a connecton between my subject matter and the final image, even if I do use digital techniques to fix flaws and make the scene grander.

Here’s the backstory of this photograph of sunset at Mono Lake. Julian and I were hanging out at the South Tufa Area around sunset. Julian was playing on the beach and I was taking pictures.

The light was beginning to fade, and I was just about to pack it in. I looked up and saw a large cloud start to glow with the sunset. I grabbed Julian, my camera, and tripod, and ran for the car. I figured I’d get to higher ground where I could capture the light from the cloud reflected in the lake.

This plan worked although as it turned out by the time I got to a good vantage point I only had a few seconds before the sunset faded, so I was only able to snap a couple of quick photos. This one was handheld at 1/20 of a second, which I only got away with because it was a wide angle view, and thanks to the len’s Vibration Reduction (image stabilization) feature.

How vast Mono Basin seemed in the oncoming night alone with my nine-year-old as I took this picture! How wonderful, savage, lonely and beautiful.

Back at the computer, I multi-processed the RAW original, “painting in” varying exposures using layer masks and the Photoshop Paintbrush tool to increase the vibrancy and the cloud and the water color, and to make the photo look more like the scene the way I remembered it.

Tufa Towers

Nature created the tufa towers in Mono Lake by combining the carbonates found in salty lake water with the calcium found in nearby freshwater springs. The tufa towers are composed of calcium carbonate, and formed when a freshwater spring wells up through the salty Mono Lake, which is highly alkaline and rich in carbonates.

Julian and I visited the South Tufa area at sunset. From a distance, Julian thought that the fantastic knobs and spires of the tufa towers were some giant’s sandcastle. Closer up, Julian wanted to build his own sand structures on the beach of the inland sea that is Mono Lake while I took photos.

Starting in 1941, the city of Los Angeles began draining water from Mono Lake for its lawns and swimming pools. By the 1980s, water levels had become so low that the ecosystem was seriously in danger. For example, islands used by nesting birds were now connected to the mainland, and could be accessed by predators.

In 1994, after 16 years of court battles, an agreement between Los Angeles and environmental organizations was reached that stabilized the water level at 6,392 feet above sea level for twenty years (until 2014 that is).

In light of this recent history, it’s good to see that the heavy snowmelt of the last two seasons has raised the level of the lake, so that waves now lap over the boardwalks and the information signs in the South Tufa area. Although of course there is a great deal of work still to be done to preserve the wonders of this very special place.

This photo was triple processed from the RAW, once for the sky and tufa, once for the foreground, and once for the reflection in the puddle. I used layer masks and the Paintbrush tool to combine these different exposures in Photoshop.

Mount Conness Sunset

A sunset in the mountains may be a cliche, but I can’t resist the beauty. For this one, my tripod and I were positioned on the ridge above the Glen Aulin High Sierra camp. Here’s the view facing the other direction from the ridge.

Currents of Light

I sat by the banks of the Tulomne River in the wilderness of Yosemite’s backcountry. Julian played on the beach, building castles and roadways. Sunlight reflected on the river, blown hither and thither by the wind. Currents of light, patterns of happiness.

Campfire in the Wilderness

If you climb the ridge to the west of the High Sierra camp at Glen Aulin, there’s a great view down the Tuolomne River. On the topo maps, this area is called the Grand Canyon of the Tulomne.

At sunset, we saw a wilderness campfire in the trees between Wildcat Point and the Tulomne River. How wonderful and solemn to camp in such a grand place!

By the way, this photo is looking west towards Hetchy-Hetchy and the central California valley. You can see the haze of pollution in the distance at the horizon.

Starry Night

Julian, my nine year old son, and I spent some time at the Glen Aulin High Sierra camp last week. At close to 10,000 feet, the nights were clear and cold.

Getting up to head for the bathroom facilities at about 2AM I saw the vast display of stars twinkling in the sky, as bright as they only are in the mountains where they seem so close one could reach up and touch them.

It was cold (did I say that before?), and I was glad to have carbon-fiber legs on my Gitzo tripod. (Carbon-fiber is light weight and strong, and unlike other materials used in tripods it does not conduct cold.)

I set my Nikon D200 so it could compensate for a long exposure (here’s more info about this setting). Looking up, I could see the stars swirling through the pine trees, but I couldn’t see much of what I was doing at the ground level. Having my headlamp on would obviously ruin the exposure. There was absolutely nothing to be seen through the viewfinder.

In programmatic mode, the camera didn’t register any light, and wouldn’t make a capture. I set the camera for a manual thirty second exposure with the lens wide open.

The LCD screen showed a completely black capture. I couldn’t tell, either when I took the photo or afterwards by daylight, whether I had anything. In fact, I kind of doubted it. But a photographer’s hope springs eternal.

Back home, on the monitor, I could see the smudge on the left representing dark silhouetted pine trees in motion, and the stars in glorious color. The stars don’t look quite like they did to my naked eye, because the sensor of a digital camera picks up UV and IR frequencies of light not visible to us.

I triple-processed the RAW with slightly different exposures for the trees, the background sky, and some of the individual stars.

Sacred and Profane Love

Wet Poppy Bud

Wet Poppy Bud, photo by Harold Davis. View this photo larger.

It amazes and delights me that flowers can serve as metaphors for both kinds of love: purity and innocence (the white rose), and lust (the wet poppy bud).

Both photos are from my archives. (Click here for the original white rose blog post, and here for the wet poppy bud.)

Ghosts of Alcatraz

The tour of Alcatraz last night was loaded with tourists. The rock is indeed a eerily beautiful, spooky place.

Inside the main cell block, I wondered how to take a photo with all the people, not to mention other photographers, wandering about. Finally, I decided to take a long time exposure, with the hope that the people would show faintly like ghosts. For surely if ever a place is haunted, this place is.

I took this exposure at thirty seconds, and even managed to get myself in faintly as one of the “ghosts.”

Sea of Drops

Here are a pair of water drop photos, my last for a while.

I’m taking Julian (he’s nine now!) up to the mountains next week, and I expect to be putting water drop and garden photography on hold for a while.

Different Planets

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Golden Gate from Middle Earth

The trees are of the ancient Old Forest, but the trail leads to modern-day San Francisco. You can see the Golden Gate small in the distance.

In fact, this photo was taken from Grand View Park above San Francisco’s Sunset district. Part of the thought behind Grand View is to preserve a little bit of the original ecology of San Francisco’s flora.

Sunflower

The center of a flower is a wonderful sensuous thing. If I were a bee, I’m sure I would be seduced. (Click here for my Bee’s Eye View set on Flickr.)

This sunflower was double-processed using a layer mask and Paintbrush tool for the flower center versus the petals.

This Venidium fastuosum, known as “Zulu Prince,” shows a wonderful pattern in its center:

Zulu Prince

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Two Heads Are Better Than One

Just what are these dragonflies up to? Photographed at Blake Garden by a decorative pool the other day…