Monthly Archives: April 2009

City of Nets

Coming out of Zion with kids still coated in sand from Coral Pink Sand Dunes I polled the troops. Perhaps it was the mention of being careful about rattlesnakes when camping in Nevada, but somehow the boys seemed very enthusiastic about a resort hotel with a swimming pool.

Later Than You Think

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It’s amazing how you can find connectivity almost anywhere these days. I got out my laptop, and within a few minutes had located a promotional deal for the Wynn Casino in Vegas, which promised not one, not two, not three, but five swimming pools (with the neighboring Encore property thrown in).

We rolled into Vegas like country bumpkins, the ark stuffed with sand, crumbs, and camping gear. Vegas is not my favorite place, and it was weird marching across the casino floor kids in tow.

Up on the thirty-fourth floor, our room had a view (above and below), as well as plush beds and a bathtub that could have been swimming pool number six. Valet service had delivered our gear to the room while we checked in. All in all, not half bad.

Room with a View

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As I’ve said, I’m not a Vegas fan, which should come as no great revelation to anyone who knows me, or reads my blog. But it was fun being there with the kids because they enjoyed it so much. The pirate show at Treasure Island was a big hit with them because “actual blank” canon balls were fired (the undulating boot-and-bikini clad sirens of Treasure Island weren’t even noticed). Ah, innocence!

Coming back into the casino floor lobby of the Wynn through a maze and gallery of ridculously conspicuous and vulgar overconsumption, Julian asked me, “Dad, how long would this place last if they turned the power and water off?”

“Probably the desert would be sifting through here in less than twenty years.”

“But Dad, would they still be playing poker at that table in the corner?”

I think Julian got the place. The truth is, they were nice to us, and didn’t bat an eye at our obvious ungambling and unspending ways. Having the boys with me helped me to see how many people do enjoy the place, as artificial as it is.

Later on, with boys tucked in, I went out and photographed Vegas at night. My idea with the gondola photo (below) was to make the exposure long enough so the boat in motion blurred, so I stopped the lens down to f/22 so that a ten second exposure was viable.

Merchant of Vegas

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Clematis Light to Dark

Clematis

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Yesterday, a beautiful day with plenty of cloud cover and a strong wind, and the garden in full bloom, was perfect for indoor photography of flowers. I placed this dinner-plate-sized clematis blossom on a light box for transparency, and combined six exposures. All were skewed towards high key, meaning a right-facing histogram and and over-exposure bias (according to the camera, but what does the camera know?).

The clematis on white was my Annakin Skywalker, and I started the conversion process to Darth Clematis and the dark side (the image below) by converting the image to LAB color and inverting its L (Luminance) channel. From there, it was building up the dark side piece by piece through at least fifteen layers.

Note: if my silly Star Wars metaphor means nothing to you, you probably don’t have kids of the right age, and may the force be with you!

Clematis to the Dark Side

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In my passionate embrace with Photoshop, I often don’t make as good notes as I should about exactly what steps I’m taking. That’s why I save the history log of my Photoshop moves to the metadata of each image. To set this up, open the General tab of the Photoshop Preferences dialog and make sure History Log is checked. Choose to save the log items to the image metadata (you can also save it to a text file). Finally, make sure that the Edit Log Items drop-down list is set to Detailed.

Adding your Photoshop History log to your metadata will increase your file size, and it won’t tell you everything. Painting on a layer mask with the Brush tool is just listed as “Brush.” Photo metadata is often incomplete. You won’t learn from the image metadata that I combined a number of exposures (you just get the background layer). But all that said, you do a pretty good picture of the steps taken.

Recently, the history log of my Photoshop moves started showing up in the EXIF data published by Flickr. If you scroll down the links, you too can read the Photoshop history log of this Clematis, and on the dark side.

Speaking of Flickr, and the community of photographers and artists on the Internet generally, I find myself excited about the way I am constantly exposed to new ideas and artists through contacts on Flickr.

I belive that photographers need to look at visual artists beyond photography (for more on this topic, see this interview with me). M.C. Escher has obviously influenced my composites.

Lately, I’ve been exploring the work of Jacques Hnizdovsky, pointed out to me by a Flickr friend, a twentieth century artist known for his paintings and woodblock prints. Hnizdovsky’s work is intelligent, humorous, and photographic in the best sense of the word—astounding for imagery created as woodcuts. A true inspiration.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes

Dune Grass

Dune Grass, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

We camped in a small BLM campground near Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park in Utah near the Arizona border. The kids were excited to climb to the top of the highest dunes, and I performed the photography dance with tripod in sandy conditions. Making sure that no camera gear touches the sand while getting the tripod set up and camera out always takes a bit of doing.

It was great fun watching Julian and Nicky roll down the dunes, getting coated with sand in the process (yes, I do have the photos to prove it!).

It’s disappointing that this park has essentially been turned over to dune buggy (off-road vehicle) fanatics. True, there are a few “conservation” areas set aside. But you can’t walk in them without being blasted by dune buggy engine noise. I took quite a few photos of vehicle tracks in the sand (in fact, it was hard to find pristine areas to photograph) and I may publish some track abstractions if I can overcome my disgust.

I remember visiting quite a few years ago when this place was tranquil and serene. Now it’s not. Considerring that these unique dunes are a fragile ecosystem with unique plant and animal life, it verges on the criminal that it has been so badly desecrated. Shame on the BLM (Bureau of Land Management, part of the US Department of the Interior) and Utah Parks Department who have presided over this give away to a small, noisy, and very destructive special interest group.

Hello World

Lensbaby Baby

Lensbaby Baby, photo by Harold Davis.

Dear World,

My Dad likes to photograph me with all kinds of weird lenses, first the fisheye and now this Lensbaby Composer with a plastic lens. Dad says he switched in a plastic lens, and trained the “sweet spot” on my eyes so that they are in focus and the background blurred. What are you going to do when your father is a photographer? Sometimes he gets into Photoshop and makes me look like an old painting. I think that’s funny.

Anyway, World, here I come! My Dad has taken me to playgrounds for the first time, and I’ve met girls my own age named Ingrid and Samantha. Dad can’t resist telling their moms the story of my birth, how small I was when I was born, and how I beat the odds. Dad says they gave me a “low single digit percentage chance” and that I am a true miracle.

So I say, World, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Here comes Katie Rose!

Boathouse

Boathouse

Boathouse, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is the ground floor of the Coastguard Boathouse on the western tip of Point Reyes. I’ll be giving a night photography workshop in this building in a couple of weeks. We’ll eat our meals looking at this boat. I hope the weather cooperates for good night photography!

Eye Colorado

Eye Colorado

Eye Colorado, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a view of the Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry in Arizona. When you put in at Lee’s Ferry, going under the Navajo Bridge is the last sight of civilization before the Colorado sinks through geologic eras into its great canyon.

I love the old steel girder bridges over some of the chasms in the west, like this one and the bridge over the Rio Grande in New Mexico.

Abstractly, the shapes in this composition remind me of an eye, perhaps turned on its side.

Little Harold

This is a photo of me when I was two or three. I can’t track down my age any more precisely, or the location, although it is likely to be Princeton, New Jersey; Davis, California; or Columbus, Ohio (my parents moved around when I was little).

Little Harold

It’s amazing to me how much I look in the photo like my youngest son Mathew. However, in the later photo below I look more like my second son Nicky.

Harold at Eight

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I think the triptych was taken for my first passport. If so, it would make me seven or eight.

Memory fades. As do photos. Surprisingly, old photos can help us reclaim our stories by reminding us where we started. I enjoying scanning these snapshots and working on the scans, and when I get the chance I’ll go through more of my old print archives.

Here I am more recently:

Moi

Sunset from Navajo Point

Sunset from Navajo Point

Sunset from Navajo Point, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Arriving at the south rim of the Grand Canyon just at sunset, we stopped at Navajo Point. I made this image using three captures combined in Photoshop, all captures tripod mounted at ISO 100 and f/11. The exposure times were .25 of a second, .3 of a second, and 1/6 of a second.

One of the tough things about the Grand Canyon is knowing how to frame this huge and wide “hole in the ground.” Certainly, a panorama is a good possibility, but if you don’t go that route you need to make a composition that is attractive to the eye and has some boundaries. I tried to achieve that here, using a moderate wide angle and the glimpse of the Colorado River to create a meandering path for the eye to wander.

One easy thing: there’s no “canyon conundrum” here. Highly saturated colors are quite distinct in the image, as they were “being there.”

We were planning to camp, but by the time I finished photography it was pitch dark, and there were no spaces in the park campground. Leaving the park, the kids began to understand the meaning of “tourist trap” as we got the last available room just outside the park boundary on the way back towards Flagstaff.

Wall at Arcosanti

Wall at Arcosanti

Wall at Arcosanti, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Our first stop in the Davis ark was, appropriately enough, Arcosanti. Founded by architect Paolo Soleri, now in his nineties, Arcosanti is an exercise in community building that combines architecture with ecology, located in the Arizona desert.

We sampled the baked goods at the cafe, inspected Soleri bells, and went on the tour. Under some of the big arcs I photographed the wall painting shown, slightly worse (or better) for weather. Then Nicky got tired of the tour, and we turned around and got back in the ark.

Zebra & Jaguar

Zebra & Jaguar

Zebra & Jaguar, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Strolling down the avenue with my baby in the carriage and my Lensbaby around my neck I passed a red, antique Jaguar MK2.

I aligned the Lensbaby Composer “sweet spot” with the front of the Jaguar mirror showing the reflection of the Zebra-striped white fence. This shot was taken with the f/4 aperture ring and the wide angle auxillary lens, handheld at ISO 400 and 1/3200 of second.

Related image: Mighty Mite; more Lensbabies.

Portrait of Nicky

Portrait of Nicky

Portrait of Nicky, photo by Harold Davis.

I took this portrait of Nicky—now missing his snaggle tooth and with a gap—using my new Lensbaby Composer with the optic swap system, plastic optic, and the 0.42X super wide angle auxillary lens. I used a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second on manual exposure control (there’s no way to control the aperture with the plastic lens attachment).

I’m still getting to know the Lensbaby Composer system, but I’m currently wild about it. A great new universe of totally weird creative possibilities that are far away from the f/64 school of photography (and I say that with true affection for both approaches).

Bringing Home the Ark

Purple Cactus Flower B

Purple Cactus Flower B, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

The problem was that, with Katie Rose, we were now six and our vehicles only fit five. I flew into Phoenix with Julian and Nicky over their spring break. The plan was to visit with Phyllis’s mom, and then drive home in the van that had belonged to her dad, Ken Hopper. Phyllis’s mom was generously giving us the van. The boys and I would camp and photograph on the way home.

Once home, the van would become our people mover and ark, and would provide space for the entire menagerie that is my family.

Purple Cactus Flower A

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Near Phoenix, the cactus flowers were in bloom. I’m told that these particular purple flowers can only be seen a few days a year. I photographed them in the late afternoon light while the boys played with their grandma.

Purple Cactus Flower C

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Stochastic Printing

Stochastic Printing

Stochastic Printing, photo by Harold Davis.

Hi-Lites Magazine, published by the Lithographers Club of Chicago to aid growth and knowledge for the printing industry, is running my Papaver and Shadow as the cover of the current issue. The cover demonstrates the use of stochastic printing. It also features a subtle spot varnish on my flower, but not the rest of the image.

Stochastic printing, also called Frequency Modulation (FM) screening, uses dots that are all the same size but varies their density to create an image that is closer to continuous tone than conventional halftone processes. The distribution of the density of the dots is to some degree random, hence the reference to a stochastic process.

There are some significant advantages to stochastic printing compared to conventional printing. However, stochastic printing relies on extremely meticulous press work, and can in some situations show too much detail; for example, flesh tones can show imperfections. The process works best with imagery that starts with a very high native resolution.

I think my image looks great on this cover!

Related story: Hexachrome Color.

Tunnel View

Tunnel View

Tunnel View, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: This is the view from Tunnel View in six progressive captures, with the forest area that’s in shadow combined using Photomatix HDR and the sunnier sky and rock formations added using hand layer masking in Photoshop.

Working on Our Book

Working on Our Book

Working on Our Book, photo by Harold Davis.

While Phyllis works on our book that is coming out next, The Photoshop Darkroom: Creative Digital Post-Processing, to be published by Focal Press, Katie Rose snoozes on her lap. Another example of multitasking with kids, Phyllis is participating in life as an InDesign wonkette and a heated baby sleep platform.