Monthly Archives: March 2010

Being Helmut Newton

Shelby with Whip

Shelby with Whip, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

The model was a sweet cornfed blond from Texas without apparent guile or a mean bone in her body. Changing her from blond (below) to brunette (far below) made things a little more edgy.

How to wake the inner vixen?

I looked around for a prop. I asked her to wield a piece of rope as if it were a whip. I told her to think of someone she loved and hated at the same time. She had someone in mind immediately.

It’s not easy chaneling Helmut Newton (or at least making the attempt). Fortunately, I’m off to Yosemite for a few days wilderness camping with the boys tomorrow—leaving the complexities of adult life behind. Each kind of photography has its own unique challenges—and it is easy to forget that light is light—but I’m ready to channel Ansel Adams instead of Newton and move into heroic landscape mode.

Shelby Blond

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Shelby Brunette

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Ranunculus Petals

Ranunculus Petals in White

Ranunculus Petals in White, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

I photographed this white Ranunculus bud on a black velvet background (above) and on a transparent white background generated using a light box (below). The white background was inverted to make the blackground black.

Actually, I like the monochromatic version best.

Random Ranunculus facts: every Ranunculus is different, no two buds are the same, even on the same plant; buttercups are part of the Ranunculaceae family.

Related image: Ranunculus Asiaticus.

Spiral Ranunculus

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Lines and Shadows

Lines and Shadows

Lines and Shadows, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

In a monochrome, life is about edges, lines, and dark (black) or light (white) masses of shapes. The interplay of these elements will make or break your composition without color to beguile.

Shadows thus become extremely important. In a color photo, most of the time a shadow is, well, merely a shadow. On the other hand, when you start to see monochromatically, a shadow is every bit as significant as the thing itself that is casting the shadow.

In landscape, during the day, shadows are mostly determined by the position of the sun, presence of clouds, and other ambient factors. At night, everything is different. As in this photo taken near San Francisco’s City Hall, street lights cast shadows in a direction—and with a relative intensity—that you wouldn’t see during the day. Since ambient light levels are low, even relatively dim lights can cast a big shadow, making for interesting compositions that wouldn’t be possible during the day.

Related image (using the night shadows created by street lights and trees): Trees in the Fog, the cover photo of Creative Black & White.

Succubus

Succubus

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

A model can look ravishing, contemplative, or terrifying—depending on how she is posed, lit, and photographed. And on how the photo is post-processed.

In this case, the photo was a pretty typical studio pose with a lovely model dressed in a white camisole on a white background. In the Photoshop Darkroom I inverted the L channel to create the image you see. White has become black, and the overall treatment of the photo verges more on the frightening than the beautiful.

Floral Medley Variations

Floral Medley Variations

Floral Medley Variations, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a variation of the Floral Medley I shot back in February; I just got around to processing this alternative version. It’s a slightly wider view than the first variation, but still shot all the way stopped-down (f/64)—damn the torpedoes and hang the diffraction!

Monochromatic Ranunculus

Monochromatic Ranunculus

Monochromatic Ranunculus, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Sometimes old-fashioned black and white works best. Not that there’s anything really old-fashioned about digital monochromatic imagery. As I explain in Creative Black & White: Digital Tips & Techniques, monochrome in the digital era amounts to a simulation. For the most part, I avoid grayscale files—my black and white digital images are saved and reproduced using RGB or CMYK color.

As with the Ranunculus Asiaticus, this shot was taken down on black velvet. I combined five captures in post-processing using hand-HDR techniques. Each exposure was made on tripod using my 85mm macro lens at f/21 and ISO 100, with shutter speeds from 1/6 of a second to 1/60 of a second.

I converted the color Photoshop image to simulated monochromatic using Nik’s Silver Efex Pro filter plug-ins, and used Silver Efex to add a small amount of virtual selenium toning.

Ranunculus Asiaticus

Ranunculus Asiaticus

Ranunculus Asiaticus, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

The Ranunculus plant came home with me for the garden. But first I snipped this bud. I photographed the blossom straight down in a small vase wrapped in black velvet using my 85mm perspective-correcting macro at a moderate aperture (f/16 by the lens, with an effective aperture of f/21).

The final result is a Photoshop composite (hand HDR) of three exposures, all shot on tripod at ISO 100: 0.1 second, 0.2 second, and 0.4 second.

Now in the garden, hopefully this plant will yield other blossoms for photography.

Katie Walking

Katie Walking

Katie Walking, photo by Harold Davis.

Katie Rose is up and walking (with a little help from her friends). She is very excited and pleased with herself. We are happy, too.

Magdalene

Magdalene

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

The human face is capable of infinite variety. When the expression changes, or the angle of view, the whole context of the face can change.

Lighting changes the contours of a landscape—a mountain looks very different at sunset than at sunrise. In the same way when you change the quality or direction of lighting the appearance of a face also changes.

In all its infinite variety, a photo of a face can also become a vessel for our projections about a person and what they are feeling.

For example, another photo of this model makes it seem clear that she is a down-to-earth, sensuous person. However, this portrait shows an almost religious and devotional aspect. I think of the pairing of intense devotion with carnality as the Mary Magdalene look.

Shot through a gauze curtain (it took a fair amount of post-processing to “iron” some of the wrinkles out) using a single strobe to the left and above the model. Exposure data: 200mm, 1/160 of a second at f/11 and ISO 100, hand held.

Gauze Curtain

Gauze Curtain

Gauze Curtain, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Photographing this model through a gauze curtain conceals—and at the same time gently reveals. Lit by one strobe to the left and above the model.

Katie Rose Today

Katie Rose

Katie Rose, photo by Harold Davis.

Kate Rose is pleased with herself these days, as she ought to be. She’s enjoying walking—holding onto an adult hand—and trying on hats. It’s fun to watch her joy in life.

Blue Mask

Blue Mask

Blue Mask, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: A series of LAB color inversions turns the mask blue and the masked model a variety of exotic colors.

Masked Model

Masked Model

Masked Model, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

It’s amazing how putting on a mask can let someone show their real feelings. This model was clearly pretty disengaged and bored with the shoot. Maybe she was thinking about what she was going to have for dinner, cleaning out her closet, her next visit to her family. I don’t know.

Then I ask her to hold the domino mask to her face. All of a sudden the look changes. She is Seven of Nine from the Star Trek series. I think maybe she wants to kick my butt. I like the new look.

White Ranunculus

White Ranunculus

White Ranunculus, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Before planted, I pruned this Ranunculus blossom, placed it in a thin vase, and surrounded the vase with black velvet. I used a special low tripod so I could get right in front of the flower with my macro lens; the image you see is the result of combining eight exposures.

Ghost

Ghost

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

Originally, this was a pretty typical studio shot of Christianna. I shot this model on a white seamless background using studio lighting with the boys from San Jose.

In Photoshop, I converted the image to the LAB color space. Next, I inverted the L channel. This turned the white background black, Christianna’s dark hair mostly white, her black underwear white, and so on.

I think the overall effect is somewhat dramatic and ghostly, and I plan to try it again.