Monthly Archives: September 2011

Photographing Flowers is shipping

Photographing FlowersJust a brief note to say that Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis, published by Focal Press, is now shipping and available from Amazon and Barnes & Nobles. Very exciting for us! We hope you enjoy the book as much as we enjoyed creating it!

As I write in the introduction to Photographing Flowers, “Mostly, flowers aren’t practical. We help them grow for their beauty and poetry. How can we not want to capture this ephemeral and bold stand against entropy and the chaos of the universe?

“If you are interested in photographing flowers too, this book shares my knowledge and experience related to flower photography. I’ll explain what I look for in my floral models, and the techniques I use in the studio and in the garden. By the way, the techniques I’ll show you for making stunning close-ups and macros can be used on any subject matter—not just flowers.”

Please let me know what you think of our book.

Sunflowers #5

Different Kind of Flower

Mermaid by Harold Davis
Mermaid, a photo by Harold Davis

The glare of reflected sunlight on the swimming pool was blindingly bright. There was a wide dynamic range of lighting levels from the light on the water to the attractive model’s face in shadow.

I knew it would be a challenge to capture this entire dynamic range without blowing out the highlights or losing some of the details of the darker areas in the shadows. So I set my camera to auto-bracket shutter speeds, and used Continuous shooting mode to fire off three shots in rapid succession.

62mm, 3 exposures at shutter speeds of 1/125 of a second, 1/250 of a second; and 1/500 of a second, each exposure at f/8 and ISO 200, hand held; exposures combined using Nik Merge to HDR Efex Pro and hand-layering in Photoshop.

Hall of Mirrors

On a hot and humid day in March of 1957, forty-two men armed with sub-machine guns, carbines and automatic pistols crammed into the back of a small delivery truck. Two other vehicles, a Buick sedan and a Ford roadster, each with four armed men in shirt sleeves, accompanied the van. The assault on the Presidential Palace in downtown Havana, Cuba was on.

Hall of Mirrors

At the Presidential Palace, strongman Fulgencio Batista waited in the the Hall of Mirrors (shown in this photo), reading a book to pass the time. Batista knew the attack was coming because an informer had given the conspiracy away.

One of the odd things about the Hall of Mirrors is the ceiling mural. You can clearly see the flames of Hell on the right of this painting. As they say, the Devil is sometimes in the details.

It’s not entirely clear what the point of the moralizing in the art was to the corrupt Battista dictatorship—or why this monument to corruption has been meticulously maintained in a country in which everything else is falling apart.

My sense is that there is an underlying morality play related to the Halls of Mirrors and its mural. Whatever the regime, and whatever the country, power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Read more in Fifty Years after the Cuban Revolution.

Floral Tapestry Panel

This is a panel in a “floral tapestry”—shot in several pieces using a lightbox as the background, then stitched together as a panorama.

Related image and story: Making a Floral HDR Panorama—also check out my new Floral Tapestries gallery.

Forest Sonata

At a glance in Adobe Bridge, the RAW file showing crepuscular rays of sunshine on the forest floor seemed underexposed, lifeless and gray. This was not entirely surprising, as I had intentionally underexposed the image to capture the beams of sunlight.

Exposing for the rays of light meant letting the forest floor go dark, so it wasn’t unexpected that the default RAW conversion should look so unappetizing.

The potentialities hidden within a single RAW file can be amazing.

Unlocking the possibilities with this image wasn’t hard. I RAW-processed the image three times, layering the lighter multi-RAW versions on top of the dark original version in Photoshop—with the results you see here.

The image is a good illustration of why every photographer should learn the basics of RAW processing, and how to use multi-RAW processing, Photoshop, layers, and masking to tease the inner meaning from their images.

Part of the trick, of course, is knowing that you can multi-RAW process your photos to extend their dynamic range—and to shoot with this in mind.

Exposure data: 32mm, 1/500 of a second at f/5 and ISO 100, hand held.

Three New Galleries

Alone I Stand

I’ve added three new galleries to my website:

Enjoy!

Silver and Gold

White Irises

Looking Up

Things are looking up. Last week I took a break from assignments and book deadlines and embarked on an ambitious program to revitalize my website. The main point was to modernize the look of my web presence, and to bring all my web pages under the management umbrella of my WordPress installation (which already powered this blog).

Without going into the blow-by-blow details, there was drama, trauma, and eventually resurrection. I think the adventure was worth it. Please let me know what you think (it is still to some extent a work in progress).

Here are some of the page links on my revamped site:

About the image: This is an HDR blend, created from five exposures shot in the famous Antelope slot canyon near Page, Arizona. Originally, I presented the image monochromatically, but Phyllis convinced me to also show it in color.

As I noted in the story about the black & white version, I had plenty of dynamic range to render the underside of the cliff that I decided to show in shadow. But the composition works for me because of the contrast between the ribbon of light and the dark background. It simply didn’t work as well when I showed the full dynamic range.

The moral: I like to shoot the full dynamic range when I am on location so I have it in case I need it. But sometimes less is more. Just because you have dynamic range “in the can” doesn’t mean you have to use it.

Which version do you like better?

Related story: Structure of Time.

The Path of HDR

Stove and Cupboard

Stove and Cupboard, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Stove and Cupboard joins Museum at Bodie, Gone with the Wind, and Arrested Decay in the sequence of High Dynamic Range (HDR) imagery I shot recently in the ghost town of Bodie, California.

Unlike many of my extended range images, these shots look clearly manipulated. You can see that they are no longer “straight” photography, and that some painterly elements have been thrown in.

My hope is that with images like these I can walk down the path of HDR with surrendering to the temptation of going over-the-top—a tendency that often afflicts explicitly HDR image-making. What do you think?

Glass Bead Game

Glass Bead Game

Glass Bead Game, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

One of the great things about the Crooked Creek Research Station, nestled high in a valley in a desert mountain range east of the Sierras in California, is the curatorial eye of Tim, the caretaker.

Tim collects interesting things, and leaves them around for one to look at, or to photograph. What more could a photography workshop ask for?

These glass beads were in a small, wooden box. I photographed them straight down in the shade of subdued natural lighting using my 200mm macro lens, and captured the full dynamic range of this macro subject using six exposures. Each exposure was at f/16 and ISO 100, with shutter speeds between 1/8 of a second and 20 seconds.

Ten Years After

On 9/11 ten years ago, our world changed for the worse. Every year around this anniversary I am saddened. There is much to mourn, from the loss of life to the troubles in our nation and the world.

World Trade Towers aerial

As with the world-at-large—along with great joys—these years have seen some tough spots with my family. In both cases it is time to move on.

Not to forget, because as I wrote in a story on an earlier anniversary, “Everytime I think of the World Trade Towers it makes me sad about how our world has changed for the worse, but I truly think that those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

It is high time to pick up the pieces and build on what we have, and who we are. If we are in touch with the sorrow and destruction that was wrought, and yet proceed forward with—dare I say it?—love, hope, and constructive energy maybe we can turn sorrow to joy, and make the world a better place.

World Trade Towers

World Trade Towers

About these photos: I enjoyed photographing the World Trade Towers between 1980 and 1990 when I lived in New York and worked as a photographer. I have scanned some of these images from film (in the scans you can see the 35mm frame around the photo).

I’ve posted a set of some of my scanned World Trade images to Flickr, and you can see many of these World Trade Tower images on Flickr.

World Trade Towers

New York Skyline with World Trade Towers

New York, New York

White Mountain Sunset

White Mountain Sunset

White Mountain Sunset, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

From the wide summit above the Barcroft Research Station, at about 13,200 feet, the workshop photographed sunset. The view was spectacular, stretching west to the Sierra crest, east to the great basins and ranges of Nevada, south along the White mountains, and north towards White Mountain Peak, shown here.

The “road” in this photo winds its way up White Mountain Peak, which at 14,232 feet is the third highest mountain in California.

This image is an extended range composite of six exposures. Each exposure was made at 18mm, f/13, and ISO 200 using a tripod. Shutter speeds ranged from 2.5 seconds to 1/125 of a second.

Related story: Sunset from Lembert Dome.

Sunset from Lembert Dome

Sunset from Lembert Dome

Sunset from Lembert Dome, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Lembert Dome lies in the upper reaches of Yosemite National Park, California, at the eastern edge of the Tuolumne Meadows. As I trudged up the trail to the top of the dome I wondered how I could capture both the wonderful glowing light of sunset and the more subtle gradations of darkness among the trees.

HDR was the answer! Using simple HDR techniques I was able to create an image fairly dripping in color and contrast, from the details in the tree roots at the bottom to the vibrant sunset colors in the clouds.

One thing that is not always understood about HDR is that it is not just about extending tonal range. The best HDR imagery also shows more texture, details, and contours than one could achieve using conventional photography.

Seven exposures, each exposure using 10.5mm digital fisheye at f/2.8 and ISO 400, exposure times between 1/800 of a second and 1/60 of a second, tripod mounted; exposures combined in Photoshop using the Nik Merge to Efex Pro plugin and hand-layering.

Inside Bodie in HDR

Museum at Bodie

Museum at Bodie, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This image of the museum at the old ghost town of Bodie was created from six exposures using High Dynamic Range (HDR) techniques. Each exposure as at 18mm, f/22, and ISO 200, with my camera on a tripod. The exposure times ranged from 1/60 of a second to six seconds.

I assembled the images using Nik’s Merge to Efex Pro plug-in and hand layering in Photoshop.

Most people think the point of HDR imaging is to extend the range of lights and darks one can capture in an image, and it is true that HDR works to extend dynamic range. No “normal” single exposure could render both the bright highlights of the daylight coming in through the lace curtains in this image and at the same time capture the dimly lit contents of the vitrine display in the museum, or the shadowy, poorly lit corners shown in the mirror.

But for me the real fun of HDR kicks in when you consider how things are rendered. There’s a glowing and wonderful quality to the glass surfaces in this HDR image, particularly the mirror. In other words, not only does HDR capture more darks and lights than conventional imaging. HDR also allows one to depict elegant, stylized, versions of objects that look almost as if they belong in a photorealistic painting.

Related stories: Gone with the Wind; Arrested Decay.

Interested in learning more about my presentations or workshops? Check out the Photography with Harold Davis meetup group.

Stacking Through the Night

Grandview Camp

Grandview Camp, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Gradually I became aware of light, so much light that it woke me because I thought it was dawn. Actually, the crescent moon was rising above the trees. I knew that there was no point in further photography, because the brightnesss of the moon would overwhelm the light of the stars.

Earlier, before dark at Grandview Camp in the White Mountains of eastern California, I had set my camera up on my tripod, facing roughly north. I used a 10.5mm fisheye and a programmable intervalomter to control the Bulb exposures.

This image shows 106 exposures, each exposure at 4 minutes, ISO 400, and f/2.8—for a total combined exposure time, once the individual captures were stacked, of about 7 hours and 20 minutes.

The foreground portion of the landscape is mostly derived from a twilight shot. I was careful not to move the tripod after making this capture, so it would be in alignment with the night time images.

If you look carefully at the area of the image showing my van when it is blown up, you can see a bit of ghosting—which is me with my headlamp coming out to turn off the camera!

An image like this no longer captures what is directly seen, but rather renders that which is implied in two dimensions beyond normal sight. We don’t normally witness the stars as they move over time—but the extended duration of a star stack does demonstrate the almost circular motion of the stars relative to the position of the camera on the earth.

The extended dynamic range of the image—including a greater range of lights and darks—than would normally be seen in a photo also may not seem natural (as is sometimes the case with HDR in general). But it does correspond to what our vision does at night when we give it time to adjust. We can see extensive details in both the landscape and the sky, provided we protect our vision from excessively bright light sources.

Related stories: Ancient Music of the Stars; Distant Night Storm, My Favorite Tree.

Interested in making this kind of image and in night photography? There are still some places in the November Star Circle Academy workshop.

My Favorite Bristlecone

Patriarch

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

This is my favorite tree in the Patriarch Grove of Bristlecone Pines. Even when we pretend neutrality (as with our kids) the truth is that we likely have our favorites.

All ancient Bristlecone Pines are beautiful, but some are more beautiful than others. I have photographed this tree over the years—and used a sunset image of this Patriarch on the cover of Creative Landscapes.

This is a stacked composite of thirty exposures, each exposure using my 10.5mm fisheye for four minutes at f/2.8 and ISO 400—for a total exposure time of roughly two hours. I also layered in a lighter exposure from before sunset to add some detail in the foreground.

Related stories: Ancient Music of the Stars; Distant Night Storm.