Monthly Archives: March 2007

Christmas at the end of March

No wonder this Leucospermum in my garden is called “Scarlet ribbons”. I think it looks like a (very, very early) Christmas present.

Related link: my Leucospermum set on Flickr.

Maserati and Mount Diablo

But for Maserati of America and their badly misguided promotion I never would have taken this photo.

Here’s the story. I got a mailing from Maserati suggesting that if I test drove one of their cars I would get a $100 gift certificate. What marketing list did they get me from? I mean, with a love for wild and rugged places, and three kids with car seats, bikes, trikes, scooters, friends and fellow travelers, do I look like a viable candidate for a $150,000 sports car described as an “affordable” Ferrari that compromises between race track and road? 450 horse power under the hood is a great rush, but inquiring minds think, “Nyet!”

Something was terribly off-track with this marketing campaign, but Nicky, our five-year old has watched the movie Cars an infinite number of times and is sports car mad. If Maserati wanted to pay me $100 to take Nicky sports car driving, who was I to say no?

So I called Maserati of San Francisco in Mill Valley (now there’s an oxymoron!) and made an appointment. And a couple of days later picked Nicky up at his pre-school and showed up at Maserati Nicky and car seat in tow, where “Alessandro” was snooty as all get out and basically told me to forget it.

So I went next door to the Ferrari showroom (it turns out that Maserati and Ferrari are both owned by Fiat) and Nicky got to jump in and out of Ferraris, and a nice salesman named Evan, with three kids of his own, took us for our test drive in the Maserati. For a minute there I felt like a power stud sports car king gunning those 450 horses on the short on-ramp to 101 at the Sausalito entrance under the shadow of the Golden Gate, and Nicky had a great time.

Nicky had such a great time, in fact, that I figured we should do it again, even without the gift certificate. So I tried to think about what kind of vehicle might actually sort of qualify as a sports car and that I might realistically take into the back of beyond. Anyway, Nicky and I ended up driving a red Porsche Cayenne at a dealer in Walnut Creek. (Nicky’s verdict: “Good, but not as good as the Maserati.”)

Since we were already out in Walnut Creek, after we had driven the car I took Nicky to the Jungle and then for dinner to an Elephant Restaurant. My not so devious photographer’s plan was to end the day at sunset on top of nearby Mt Diablo.

What I didn’t know then that I know now was that Nicky was coming down with an intestinal virus that would knock out 15 of the 24 kids in his pre-school class, reduce the teachers to wiping all surfaces down with bleach, roll through my family, and present me with another sick child vomiting in another restaurant a few days later.

All this doesn’t really come into the story of the image of Mt Tamalpais from Mt Diablo, nor does the fact that Nicky took a couple of bites of his Mac-and-cheese, said, “Daddy, my tummy doesn’t feel too good,” and proceeded to vomit. More vomit than I could image coming out of the body of this small five year old, filling bowls, plates, and the entire banquette seat of the booth we were sitting in.

We paid a belated cleanup visit to the bathroom, I scooped out my loose bills to partly pay for the damage, and you can imagine we got out of there fast.

Nicky said he felt better, and I didn’t really know what was to come, so I suppose as a parent I don’t need to feel too bad that I took Nicky at his word and headed up nearby Mount Diablo to photograph sunset. It’s a pretty quick, although winding, road from the Elephant Restaurant to the top of Diablo, and it is a sign of how unwell Nicky was feeling that he didn’t even take much interest in the little bit of snow at the top. In fact, Nicky’s contribution to the top of Diablo was a little more vomit.

I took a look at the view reversing my normal view of Mt Tamalpais and Mt Diablo, saw how sick Nicky was, snapped this photo, and headed home.

And that, in somewhat the same spirit as Arlo Guthrie’s conflation of his ticket for littering with avoiding the military draft in his song Alice’s Restaurant, is the story of why I owe this photo to Maserati.

Photography is Poetry

Photography is poetry. A movie is a story, but a photograph is a poem.

Robert Frost is not ee cumming is not Andrew Marvell. Just so: Henri Cartier-Bresson isn’t Ansel Adams or Galen Rowell.

What kind of poem is my photograph of dawn reflected in the Merced River in Yosemite Valley’s winter?

Wave

I got an email from Eduardo Agilera, the creator of the labyrinth on Lands End, telling me that he was going to use candles to light the paths of his labyrinth just after sunset on the spring equinox.

So on March 20 I dutifully toddled over to Lands End. Actually, I drove over the Richmond Bridge, south on 101, and then over the Golden Gate Bridge, leaving Phyllis to pick up the kids.

Parking below the Palace of the Legion of Honor, it was clear but very windy and bitter cold. I bundled into my cold weather gear: wool undies top and bottom, down coat, pink balaclava, gloves, and hiking boots. I fancy I look a little like an Easter Egg, but the outfit does keep me warm.

As I neared the top of the steps down to Lands End, I could hear the roar of the surf in the wind.

Eduardo was waiting at the top of the stairs with a bag full of candles. “It’s too windy to even try to light them,” he said.

I wondered what to do next. My theory of life is that if you are given lemons, you make lemonade. For me, photography is a quest, in the knight errant sense. If you take on a photographic quest, you are going on an adventure. By definition, you never know what an adventure will bring. Quite likely it is not the photographic goal you started out with. The best photographs happen along the way, and are the product of prepared serendipity. In other words, it is the journey and not the destination that counts.

It was a little hard to figure out how to make lemonade in the cold wind and with the noise of the breakers crashing against Lands End.

I asked Eduardo if he would come back down to the Lands End platform and his labyrinth, so I could take a picture of him with his creation. I think he was a little reluctant, which I could understand as the full force of the gale struck me out on the point. Even in my rather portly person, with massive hiking boots, I felt in danger of being swept over the cliff to the churning waters of the Golden Gate at any moment. Eduardo squinted into the wind, his photo done, and returned up to the top of the stairs to warn off any others come to celebrate the equinox with his maze and candles.

What now?

I looked down at the little rocky beach to the north and west of Lands End. It seemed like it might be a little sheltered, and the action of the waves might be of interest.

As I explored the beach, I kept my camera gear and tripod on my back (for a quick getaway), and a careful eye towards the ocean. The sheer force behind these wind-driven breakers was enough to make anyone nervous.

From one angle, looking around the corner of the rocks below Lands End, I was surprised to see part of the Golden Gate Bridge. As a big wave crashed on the shore, I snapped this photo of the wave crashing around, under, and apparently above the bridge, with Lands End on the right of the image. I used a long lens to isolate the waves and bridge (at 200mm, which given Nikon’s 1.5 factor is 300mm in 35mm terms).

Since I am working on a publication project involving 100 Views of the Golden Gate, after the Japanese artist Hokusai, I am pleased to have captured an image that echoes Mt Fuji seen through a giant wave:

Kid Break



Nicky, photo by Harold Davis.

Taking a break from photographing sea coasts, the Golden Gate, Yosemite, and flowers, yesterday I photographed my kids. They were on and off their scooters and in and out of play houses up at Step One.

Nicky (shown above) is 5 1/2. Julian (immediately below) is 9 1/2, and Mathew (far below) is 2 1/2.

Julian

Mathew

Papaver Danebrog

This Papaver danebrog, or Poppy Danish Flag, is a species of Poppy Somniferum, or opium poppy, that I got from Annie’s Annuals.

The flower is pretty nice, and I photographed it with my shortest macro lens, a Sigma 50mm f/2.8 DG macro D.

Moon Glyph

The first time Mark and I hiked the Tomales Point Trail, we saw Tule Elks, but we didn’t get to the bluffs at the end of the trail. By the time we got back to the trailhead, the stars were out and I exposed a thirty second image of the old trees near Pierce Farm with the stars behind.

This first starry night image was underexposed. I salvaged it by boosting the exposure during the camera RAW conversion, then heavily processed the image for noise.

In life, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. But in photography you can sometimes have a second chance to make the right exposure.

When we hiked the trail a second time a week later, it was late and the stars and moon were out by the time we returned past the gnarled old trees at the abandoned Pierce Farm. I exposed the image properly at three minutes, with the crescent moon and Venus showing through the outline of the tree on the right. The three minute exposure was long enough that the motion of the earth added light-path tails to the celestial objects, and many stars in the night sky showed up pretty clearly (check out the image larger).

Actually, I like both versions.

Wilder Shore

The wild coast of Point Reyes juts out into the Pacific Ocean northwest of San Francisco. Often fogbound, this graveyard of ships in the early years of Pacific navigation divides into two arms. The better-known of these forks heads out to the western-most point in the continental United States and the Point Reyes light.

If you go the other way on Point Reyes, you travel along a massive peninsula towards Tomales Point. The peninsula divides the sheltered waters of Tomales Bay from the rugged open Pacific (so Point Reyes is a small isthmus away from being an island rather than a peninsula).

The road along the back of the Tomales Point peninsula crosses into the Tule Elk preserve and then ends at McClure Beach and an old farm (not now operating) 4.7 miles shy of Tomales Point itself. The trail that proceeds from the parking lot at the farm crosses what is one of the largest roadless areas any where near San Francisco. Even on the park service map of Point Reyes, this is an area that is blank white space and without named landmarks.

The week before, Mark and I had set out down the Tomales Point Trail, but we turned around out sunset only half way down the trail. This time we tried to leave early enough to get all the way to Tomales Point by sunset. We brought warm clothing and snacks so that walking part way back at night would by OK.

I took this photo on the return leg of our hike about 45 minutes after sunset from a cliff overlooking the Pacific shore. The view is northwest, towards the other fork of Point Reyes and the lighthouse.

There was barely enough light for me to see. This is an eight second exposure, with the lens wide open. The breakers rolling in from the wide Pacific have been turned mellow by the length of the time exposure. In digital photography’s day for night effect, the cliffs actually look much brighter than they did in “real life.”

We got back to the trailhead under a brilliant star-filled sky and a crescent moon. It took an hour to drive back to Route 101 and the Marin version of the heart of civilization. In Mill Valley, after 11PM, it’s hard to find an open restaurant. The only place we found to grab some dinner was an all-night Denny’s off Route 101. So this was truly a trip that touched the sublime and the trivial (and, yes, even the Denny’s dinner tasted good after the hike!).

Here’s another version of this image, from a wider angle. It’s an even longer exposure (thirty seconds):

Tomales Point

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Related links: Point Reyes category on Photoblog 2.0, my Night set on Flickr.

Golden Wonder

I took this photo in Yosemite Valley in very early morning from Leidig Meadow looking northeast towards Middle Brother (shown here from the other side on a clear autumn afternoon) while Julian played in the snow. If you look carefully at the trees on the rock face of Middle Brother, you’ll recognize them in this photo and this photo:

Middle Brother

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My title for my image, Golden Wonder, is from an Ansel Adams quote: “Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.”

I post-processed this image from Camera RAW using my normal workflow to reduce noise and selectively enhance luminance and radiance (this story will give you an idea of what I mean by enhancing radiance).

I hope at some point to publish a case study showing the exact steps I use to process an image such as this one.

Pop Eye

Speaking of poppies (we were talking about poppies, right?) here’s an extreme close-up of a poppy bud in the early stages of popping open. As an abstraction, this composition reminds me of an eye, a poppy eye, or (for short) pop eye.

I took this photo with a 200mm macro lens and a 36mm extension tube at f/40 for a 1/3 of a second exposure in bright sunshine. The trick in this kind of situation is to be patient enough to wait until the subject (poppy or something else) is really still, because the slightest movement in the breeze will make the image fuzzy.

What really interested me when I looked through the viewfinder at this compostion was the drop within the drop (lower left center of the image).

Of course, there is a balance (as in all things) in how long to wait. Just after this exposure completed, plop went the drop, and the photo was no longer possible.

Spent Poppy


Confession, they say, is good for the soul. I have a confession about this photograph of a poppy past its prime, gone to seed, spent, however you wish to put it.

The red and blue out-of-focus areas in the back of the image contrast nicely with the poppy colors. You might think the background consists of other flowers in bloom, but this is not the case. I moved Mathew’s red and blue scooter behind the flower to take advantage of the scooter’s colors. My assumption was that it wouldn’t look like a two-year-old’s scooter in the final photo (I don’t think it does).

All goes to show that flower photography can be a ruthless business.

Related stories: Fireworks, Zen and the Single Poppy, Popping, Wet Poppy Bud.

Morning in Yosemite and an Easter Egg

This is a photo of early morning in Yosemite Valley from Leidig Meadow looking towards Cathedral Rock and Spires on my February visit with Julian.

It is also the eight hundredth entry in my Photoblog 2.0. So here’s an Easter Egg for you: Somewhere in this image is 800 (not 300, 800!). The first reader of Photoblog 2.0 who contacts me with the location and form of the 800 in the image gets a free signed, archival 8X10″ Harold Davis print (value $150). (Image to be chosen by the winner.)

Hints: Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. And not all numerals are Arabic.

In the beginning: Ducks (May 6, 2005).

Update: anystrom (see comment) has found the correct answr, and this contest is closed. Congratulations, anystrom, and what great eye sight!

Tulip

To grow tulips here in Berkeley, California you need to “force” them. A magical word to non-gardeners, all that “forcing” means is that the plant needs to be cold in the winter in order to bloom. So for a couple of months, as a bulb, this tulip lived in the back of our fridge.

Yesterday, after the bulb had blossomed into a beautiful flower, it was time to photograph it in the bright and warm mid-afternoon California sun.

As Ansel Adams once said, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” I made this image using my 200mm f/4 macro lens with its tripod collar mounted on a full-size tripod, the lens all the way stopped down, pointing straight down into the flower from a goodly distance (several feet) above it, and little in the way of photographer’s tricks.

Night Sky

Coming off the Tomales Point trail in the dark, I saw these stunted and windblown trees by starlight. I exposed for thirty seconds with the lens wide open, using the in-camera noise reduction option and Noise Ninja in port-processing to cut the noise further.

Related stories: Dream Sky, Night for Day, Starry Night, Marin Headlands at Dusk, Winter Sea, Harold Davis’s Night set on flickr.

Tule Elks

The Tule elks on Point Reyes were eradicated in the early 1800s. More recently, the Park Service re-introduced a herd of Tule elk to a reservation out on Tomales Point.

While mountain lions get some of the elk, essentially the growth of the herd is unchecked. So the discussion these days includes topics like elk birth control and “culling”.

We got a late start, and didn’t get to the Tomales Point trailhead until after 4PM. From the parking lot, the trail climbs up and down giant bluffs that are covered with green and seem to contain embedded granite. In a few weeks, these hills will be covered with Douglas’s Iris, but this early in the season there are only a few in bloom. I stopped to photograph a few of these lone buds in the setting sun.

Douglas's Iris

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The landscape was immense and serene, and we noticed numerous Tule elk. The elk seemed to quickly retreat as we got near along the trail.

About half way to Tomales Point along the trail, we watched the sun disappear into a Pacific fog bank from a high mound. A bitter, wet wind chill came into play. Clearly it was time to turn around. The trail was luminous, and I am always equipped with head lamps when I photograph, so the darkness was not a worry.

As the landscape grew dark, the elk became more relaxed with us. First they stopped and turned to look at us (witness the fellow above with a radio tracker aroung the neck).

It was pretty dark, so I had my camera on my tripod and exposed for about a second. The elk in motion would appear as ghostly partial figures, I knew. I was hoping for an effect like Paul Caponigro’s famous image of running white deer.

The elk continued to gather in a large herd for the night. After a while, they lost interest in us and went back to their own activities (for example, the ghost rutting below).

When I packed up my equipment and we moved away, some elk came over to where we had been standing, smelling the earth. I suppose they were simply curious.

All in all, an outstanding encounter with animals in nature.

Rutting

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