Category Archives: Abstractions

Rose after Delauney and O’Keeffe

At a recent lunch with my brother he reminded me how we both benefited from a classical education in the arts when we were young. I may not have got much of this stuff via formal education, but I sure was exposed to every layer of visual art history as a child thanks to my parents. Mostly, by seeing the stuff in person—from the paintings on the walls of the Caves of Lascaux to the museums with the “moderns” and everything in between.

To quote the dearly beloved and recently deceased Pete Seeger on the difference between education and experience, “Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t.”

I’m not sure how this fits with being dragged through every museum imaginable as a wayward kid—probably more in the experience category—but even as a bored child it was hard not to fall hard for the impressionists at first encounter.

Rose after Delauney and O'Keeffe © Harold Davis

Rose after Delauney and O’Keeffe © Harold Davis

Anyhow, this wasn’t what I had in mind when I went to work on the photo of the pale rose (far below), but I do know enough to recognize the palette and patterns of the great geometric painter Sonia Delauney along with the sensuousness of a Georgia O’Keeffe floral—when they pop out at me in an image I’ve created.

You’ll note that the original image is rotated 90 degrees. The other effects come from a series of LAB adjustments—inversions and equalizations—applied using a variety of blending modes.

Within each rose © Harold Davis

Within each rose © Harold Davis

For a couple of other examples of this kind of thing, check out Mandalas from a Glass Bowl, Broken Arrow and Creating LAB Patterns, and also see my article on Photo.net, Using LAB Color Adjustments.

Meanwhile, I must report that there is a certain goodwill towards the world that comes about from consorting with one’s fraternal sibling when both brothers are “of a certain age” with receding hairlines and cares and children of their own, and fondly reminiscing about some of the unique aspects of our culturally rich—and radically eclectic (or maybe eclectically radical)—upbringing.

Metamorphosis

The assignment I gave out on the second day of the Achieving Your Potential as a Digital Photographer workshop was to make a photo of something so that it looks like something else. In other words, change something to something new. In other words, metamorphosis.

Bathtub Landscape via IPhone © Harold Davis

Bathtub Landscape via IPhone © Harold Davis

My response to my own challenge: this abstract image I think of as a landscape with a highway and a canal, shot using my iPhone facing a bathtub at Urban Ore, and processed on the spot on the iPhone using the Plastic Bullet app.

I think the workshop was a great success. There will be ongoing follow-up sessions using webinar technology to make sure that action plans actually get implemented! I am very hopeful that metamorphosis will apply in the most positive way possible to the wonderful participants in this workshop, as well as to the imagery we made.

Mandalas from a Crystal Bowl

Wandering the crowded aisles of Berkeley’s Urban Ore—a somewhat dodgy cross between an upscale junkyard and a down-at-the-heels flea market with an added smidgen of green ideology—with my camera and Otus, I came across a beautiful cut crystal bowl in a locked cabinet. It was love at first sight. Finding the person with the key to unlock the cabinet and negotiating the price took a bit of time, but soon enough Otus and I were making our way home to photograph our new treasure.

Crystal Mandala 1 © Harold Davis

Crystal Mandala 1 © Harold Davis

I photographed my crystal bowl straight down using a light box and a bracketed high-key sequence of exposures. This is the technique I developed to capture flowers for transparency (actually, for translucency), and as I note in my presentation on the subject the technique produces interesting results with many subjects in addition to flowers. In this case, the high key HDR approach emphasized the contrast between the edge lines of the bowl and the negative spaces created by the transparent glass.

Crystal Mandala 2 © Harold Davis

Crystal Mandala 2 © Harold Davis

My next step playing in Photoshop was to invert the essentially monochromatic image, transforming black lines on a white background to black lines on a white background. It’s hard to get me going on this kind of thing without wanting to play in Photoshop, so I started using LAB adjustmentsHow do you make a mandala from a crystal bowl?

Red Crystal Mandala © Harold Davis

Red Crystal Mandala © Harold Davis

In this case, in addition to LAB inversions and equalizations, I used Nik Color Efex filters, direct painting on layers, layers, layer masks, and repeated application of some of the oddball blending modes such as Difference. Play around long enough in Photoshop and you never know what you will find!

Holographic Mandala © Harold Davis

Holographic Mandala © Harold Davis

With this imagery it was visually important to me to “square the circle” with a square crop. With some of the Crystal Mandalas, like the Holographic Mandala, there is almost a three dimensional look—part of the image jumps off the plane. In contrast, with Mandala Inside, the effects create an outer translucent shell or layer, with an inner core that is much bolder and more defined.

Mandala Inside © Harold Davis

Mandala Inside © Harold Davis

These could be small virtual worlds, and have become something completely unrelated to the original sequence of photos. When I first looked in my crystal bowl, I did not know where it would take me!

Green Lantern Mandala © Harold Davis

Green Lantern Mandala © Harold Davis

 

Lantern Mandala © Harold Davis

Lantern Mandala © Harold Davis

Broken Arrow and Creating LAB Patterns

Wandering the pedestrian walk on new San Francisco Bay Bridge span in the waning days of the year, I shot this directional arrow, intended to guide foot and bike traffic, straight down and broken up by strong shadows from the railing.

Broken Arrow © Harold Davis

Broken Arrow © Harold Davis

Before I converted Broken Arrow to black and white, of course, it was color (shown below). (The monochrome version is still an RGB color file technically speaking—but that’s another story!)

Broken Arrow - color © Harold Davis

Broken Arrow – color © Harold Davis

It’s astoundingly easy to use Photoshop adjustments in LAB color and blending modes to create intricate patterns out of something like the color version of Broken Arrow. Here’s one example:

LAB Cross Pattern #1 © Harold Davis

LAB Cross Pattern #1 © Harold Davis

To get to the pattern from the color photo,  in Photoshop I duplicated the image, and converted the duplicate to LAB color mode. I next used Image > Adjust > Invert to invert the LAB color values within the file, and then converted the entire image back to RGB, with results shown below:

LAB Inversion (all channels) © Harold Davis

LAB Inversion (all channels) © Harold Davis

Next, I made another duplicate of the original image file, converted it to LAB, selected the L channel only, and inverted the L channel. I flipped the image horizontally, with results shown below:

L-Channel Inversion (Flipped) © Harold Davis

L-Channel Inversion (Flipped) © Harold Davis

The last big step is to align the two LAB inversions as layers in one image, and set the Blending Mode to Difference (by the way, they have to be back in RGB, or the Difference mode isn’t available).

There are many possible variations on this technique of course, depending on what channels you invert, how you flip the image, and what blending modes you use. Here’s another variation from the same original image:

LAB Cross Pattern #2 © Harold Davis

LAB Cross Pattern #2 © Harold Davis

To learn more about the LAB color techniques for creative image making I have pioneered, check out The Way of the Digital Photographer  (pages 156-163) and The Photoshop Darkroom (pages 148-201). If this really intrigues you, you may want to consider my Mastering Creative Photoshop workshop (January 25-26, one last minute spot available, more space in the second session, May 31 – June 1, 2014).

Through a Window Lightly

I love to shoot through window glass when it is wet or has been raining. This transcends nationality, location—or anything else. As an artist, my imperative is to see beauty, and it is often to be found through a window lightly.

La Loire © Harold Davis

La Loire © Harold Davis

The shot above is through a very old leaded glass window looking out on a rainy day from a tower in the Chateau d’Amboise towards the Loire. Below, you’ll see a more abstract composition from my home, discussed on my blog in an earlier story, Patterns on my windows.

Steamed Window Glyph © Harold Davis

Steamed Window Glyph © Harold Davis

Simple Compositions

Closely related to the question of “how low can you go” is the philosophical issue of, “how simple can you get?” Images like Story of O and Line Dance (below) examine this question. Story of O presents an arch and its reflection, creating a circular letter ‘O’ or zero, on a gradient monochrome background. Line Dance is slightly more complex in terms of composition. It shows an irregular upright line and its reflection in the upper-left quadrant, created by an old piling. The lower portion of the image is a smooth color gradient going from blue to orange, with gentle horizontal lines formed by waves and again in blue cutting across the vertical line of the piling at the very top of the image.

Line Dance by Harold Davis

Line Dance © Harold Davis

In both cases I used a long exposure to smooth the action of the ocean, and to create the sense of spatial isolation that simplicity requires. Story of O was a sixty second exposure, and Line Dance was exposed for ten seconds. The ten second elapsed time duration was long enough to smooth out the foreground while still leaving some detail in the horizontal lines formed by the waves at the top of the image.

Pulling off a simple composition can be surprisingly complex. For one thing, by its nature simplicity calls attention to itself, so the composition will be scrutinized. When you have one or two compositional elements, each will get a great deal more attention than when there are hundreds of things to look at. In other words, with the simple composition there is no place to run, and no place to hide.

The things that bring us most joy are not overly complicated. Perfection in an image usually involves creating a sense in the viewer of righteous simplicity. Partly for this reason, simple compositions are likely to be regarded as audacious, and as an attempt by the artist at the Platonic ideal and the perfect. If you would joust with perfection, then expect to be regarded with rigor. There’s no margin of error in the lineaments of  the simple composition.

Story of o

I walked along the trail beside San Francisco Bay near Richmond, California. My idea was to capture sunset on the mudflats of the Bay at low tide. When I traversed down to the water, instead of mud I saw an old girder sticking out of the Bay. A generation ago, this place had been a land fill and dump—and it still could sure use some clean-up.

Story of O by Harold Davis

Story of O © Harold Davis

Together with its reflection, the girder made a perfect circle, or letter ‘O’. I shot the image using a long exposure (60 seconds) to create the smooth, gradient background from the gentle action of the wavelets on the Bay in the setting sun.

Patterns on my windows

Rainy season in Northern California can seem endless, and when it does rain for days the windows on the inside of my house steam up with myriad waterdrops. These droplets burn off quickly as soon as sunshine returns, but in the meanwhile they can create an interesting and exciting photographic opportunity—if, as I do, you like to see the magic in the mundane.

Steamy Window Glyph Study #1 by Harold Davis

Steamy Window Glyph Study #1 © Harold Davis

My first glyph image (above) shows the sky above and the earth below, both behind a steamy curtain of droplets, with vertical lines of clarity indicating the areas that are drying out first.

The second glyph (below) was shot closer in, of droplets on the glass in front of a screen window, with trees and foliage behind.

Steamy Window Glyph Study #2 by Harold Davis

Steamy Window Glyph Study #2 © Harold Davis

 

A final glyph shows the view in a different direction from another window, facing a driveway across the street. The driveway is surrounded by foliage and beginning to be lit by the morning sun.

Steamy Window Glyph Study #3 by Harold Davis

Steamy Window Glyph Study #3 © Harold Davis

It has been said that, if you want to be a better photographer, place yourself in front of more interesting things. But art comes from within, and photographs are expressions of our artistic selves. So by all means seek the dramatic scene, but also look for the drama within the everyday—the kind of subject that if you don’t learn to look with eyes that see differently you may miss altogether.

Scale

One of the most powerful tools we have as photographers is the ability to manipulate the viewer’s sense of scale. Why does this matter?

When the viewer first looks at an image they look to think they have have correctly assessed the contents. If, in fact, they realize they have not, or they sense ambiguity in the subject—as in, “What exactly am I looking at?”—the result is a double-take.

Low Tide at Drakes Beach by Harold Davis

Low Tide at Drakes Beach by Harold Davis—Click to view larger

This double-take leads directly to a clean slate. By misdirecting the viewer, we have given them the chance to view some portion of the world with new eyes. This means showing people something in a way they haven’t seen before—which is the goal of much photography.

Case in point: I shot the image above on a rock at low tide in the intertidal zone at Drakes Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore, CA. For all the world it looks like a vast landscape from above, but as soon as the caption is noted the viewer will automatically adjust scale and visual expectations.

Midtown Babylon

Midtown Babylon is a digital collage created using thirty exposures shot through the window of my hotel room on a recent trip to New York City. I’ve printed it on canvas, and the substrate seems to work well with this image—better than photographic paper would as I was striving for a painterly effect.

Midtown Babylon by Harold Davis

Midtown Babylon © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

Like Storm in the Upper Bay and Ghosts of Grand Central my thought with this image is to convey some degree of the complexity of my feelings about New York—the place I grew up, and a city that I love and that drives me crazy simultaneously.

Certainly, no disrespect is meant regarding the recent hurricane. My hope is that my friends stayed snug and warm, and that things get back to normal as quickly as possible, if New York City can ever be said to have a “normal.”

At Home in the Universe

My plan is to produce these abstractions in a large-size on linen canvas. With these images I am using my computer to create paintings, which is another way of saying that I am a painter who uses digital images as my media. While the imagery appears abstract—it is not hard to imagine that one is looking at outer space or DNA strands—it is also capable of literal interpretation. Hint: the water droplets in the middle right are a giveaway.

At Home in the Universe by Harold Davis

At Home in the Universe © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

To create this abstraction I used a macro lens to shoot twenty-one exposures of a wet spider web in the early morning sun. Most were underexposed to bring out the color saturation and to let the background go dark.

I combined the images using stacking, and was pleased to see that the composite had indeed become an abstraction.

At Home in the Universe Inversion Number One by Harold Davis

At Home in the Universe Inversion Number One © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

The variations were created using LAB color inversions. At Home in the Universe Inversion Number One is a simple L-channel inversion, and At Home in the Universe Inversion Number Two was constructed by inverting all three LAB color channels.

At Home in the Universe Inversion Number Two by Harold Davis

At Home in the Universe Inversion Number Two © Harold Davis—Click to view larger