Category Archives: Flowers

Learning to Photograph Flowers for Transparency (article on Pixsy blog)

I’ve written an article now posted on the Pixsy blog about my technique for photographing flowers for transparency on a light box:

What are the steps to mastering the process? Surprisingly, it combines classical photography and modern digital best practices. When applied with a dedicated, delicate, and skilled hand, the results can be luscious and luminous. Here’s how my Photographing Flowers for Transparency process works out, step-by-step:

  • Understanding the role of the light box
  • Selecting and arranging flowers on the light box
  • Photographing a high-key bracketed sequence of exposures
  • Combining the high-key bracketed sequence to express transparency
  • Finishing the image in post-production
  • Creating a high-quality print of the transparent flower image

Let’s take a look at each of these steps in order.

Read more of the article on the Pixsy blog.

Nature's Palette © Harold Davis

Nature’s Palette © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography, Writing

Stargazer Lilies

Stargazer Lilies © Harold Davis

Stargazer Lilies © Harold Davis

I photographed these Stargazer Lilies on a light box to show them on a white background. With one version (above) I added them in Photoshop to a scanned paper background. With another version, I used LAB inversions to show the flowers against a black background (below)

 Stargazer Lilies on Black © Harold Davis

Stargazer Lilies on Black © Harold Davis

Related resources (FAQs): Photographing Flowers for Transparency; Using a High-Key Layer Stack; Backgrounds and Textures.

Pentaptych of Tulip Petals

Inspecting some pink tulips the other day, I noticed that the demarcation behind petals and leaves was not as clear as I had thought it would be. With this flower, the difference between the leaves and petals was gradual and a difference of degree rather than an absolute—the closer to the flower core the more petal-like it looked.

Pentaptych of Tulip Petals © Harold Davis

Pentaptych of Tulip Petals © Harold Davis—click to view the image larger

So some of these petals are leaves, and some of these leaves are petals. Be that as it may, and referring to all as petals, I noticed that the petals were wonderfully colorful when placed on the light box.

I photographed each of the five petals separately as a high-resolution vertical image, using a macro lens with an added extension tube to get sufficient magnification. I then combined the five horizontal images to make the single horizontal shown.

Obviously, this is a very high resolution file (although the reduced JPEG shown here may not give much sense of that). Putting it together in post-production strained the resources of my twin 6-core 128GB RAM high-end Mac.

You can view the image a bit larger by clicking here, or by clicking on the image itself.

My thought is to take advantage of the resolution, and make a really large print, perhaps twenty feet wide, which would let the viewer really see the details in the petals.

A triptych is a work of art divided in three sections, a tetraptych is a work of art in four sections, and a pentaptych is a work of art in five sections (the numerical prefixes come from the ancient Greek number words). So it seemed natural call my image Pentaptych of Tulip Petals—one “tych” for each of the five petals!

Papaver Nudicaule

A bright flower for a gray day in the East Bay! For more about photographing this Icelandic Poppy, click here.

Papaver Nudicaule © Harold Davis

Papaver Nudicaule © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Two Icelandic Poppies

Phyllis and I like to take out slices of pizza, and eat them in the beautiful garden at Berkeley Horticultural Nurseries. The other day, after having our lunch while sitting on a bench, we wandered—and I admired some Icelandic Poppies, Papaver nudicaule, in first bloom. Imagine my surprise when Phyllis came home the next day with two pots for me to enjoy and photograph!

Two Icelandic Poppies © Harold Davis

Two Icelandic Poppies © Harold Davis

Two Icelandic Poppies (above) was photographed for transparency on a light box using a high-key series of bracketed exposures. Yum (below) was photographed somewhat more conventionally on a white seamless background using my nifty Zeiss 50mm f/2 macro lens.

Yum © Harold Davis

Yum © Harold Davis

I am heading to New York for several days for meetings with my publishers and sponsors, so most likely I won’t be posting stories for a little while. In the meantime, let me leave you with the thought that when news seems dark and gray, it is so important to remember the beauty and joy of the world as well. We stand up for ourselves when we do what is joyful, and don’t give into those who would enslave the human capacity for freedom and delight.

In that light, please consider traveling with me to Paris the first week in May (my group has room for just two more photographers), to Tuscany in October, and Venice in November. The Italian destination photo tours have a nice early-bird discount for registrations through the end of the month. Click here for my 2016 Works & Events Calendar as it is shaping up.

Also posted in Photography, Workshops

Low Geostationary and Decaying Orbits around the Clematis Inversion

I spent a few days doodling and noodling with flowers, first on the light box for transparency and then with LAB inversions in Photoshop, and Low Geostationary and Decaying Orbits around the Clematis (shown here as an inversion) is one of the images I came up with!

Low Geostationary and Decaying Orbits around the Clematis Inversion © Harold Davis

Low Geostationary and Decaying Orbits around the Clematis Inversion © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Persistence of Personal Vision

I’ve been struck on a number of occasions how the same elements in a scene interest me photographically, even after a gap of many years. Returning to a mountainside in the Sierra Nevada, a canyon in Zion, or the streets of Paris, without conscious intention I focus on the same cliff, tree, or urban detail as when I last visited. Maybe the underlying idea is slightly different, and one can certainly hope the execution has improved over the intervening time. But it is odd to see one’s default perceptual mode as a kind of iterative repetition. And now I see the same thing happens with still life composition.

Sunflowers and Friends 2 © Harold Davis

Sunflowers and Friends 2 © Harold Davis

A case in point is Sunflowers and Friends 2, shown above. I assembled this light box still life over the weekend, using elements I had to hand—mostly sunflowers and irises. I gave little thought to past or future, and mostly in a kind of trance-like state. This creative way of being is sometimes called “being in the zone.”

Sunflowers and Friends 2 Sunflowers and Friends Flowers from My Garden © Harold Davis

Imagine my surprise when memory and sense of my surroundings returned to me, and I discovered some similarity in subject and composition to Sunflowers and Friends, made in August of this year and shown below, and even the much earlier Flowers from My Garden, made in 2012 and shown far below. I think the three images (shown together above) would make a nice grouping of prints!

Sunflowers and Friends © Harold Davis

Sunflowers and Friends © Harold Davis

Flowers from My Garden © Harold Davis

Flowers from My Garden © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Passion for Flowers

A passion for flower photography is of course one of my ruling passions. What better way to show it than by photographing this Passiflora (“passion flower”) from a vine outside our living room window. The image is a single exposure shot on a light box, processed through Adobe Camera Raw multiple times for enhanced dynamic range. The upper version is an LAB inversion of the original photo, which is shown at the bottom with its white background.

Passiflora Inversion © Harold Davis

Passiflora Inversion © Harold Davis

The biggest challenge with this image was getting it to stay upright on the light box, which I did with the help of some clear Museum Gel.

Passiflora © Harold Davis

Passiflora © Harold Davis

Exposure data: D810, Zeiss 50mm f/2 macro, 4/5 of a second at f/22 and ISO 64, tripod mounted.

Related FAQs: Photographing Flowers for Transparency; Selective LAB Sharpening.

Also posted in Photography

Special Print Offer: Kiss from a Rose

Special Print Offer: Kiss from a Rose by Harold Davis on Moab Juniper Baryta

I am offering a limited-time print special: my Kiss from a Rose, shown below, printed at roughly 11″ X 14″ on Moab Paper’s wonderful new Juniper Baryta. The price for the print is $250.00, which is a fraction of our normal studio retail print pricing.

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

The fine print: California residents add sales tax; shipping within the continental Unites States is $25; offer subject to withdrawal if we feel like it; contact us by phone or email with questions or to place an order; payment accepted via cash, check, or credit card.

Kiss from a Rose is my image most often mistaken for a Georgia O’Keeffe painting; also see When is a Harold Davis rose a Georgia O’Keeffe?

Also posted in Photography, Print of the Month

Sunflowers and Friends

Sunflowers and Friends © Harold Davis

Sunflowers and Friends © Harold Davis

Sunflowers and Friends is a light box bracketed high-key sequence combined in Photoshop. The sunflowers, echinacea, and other flowers are from our garden, and shown in In the field for transparency and I can only give my heart. The background is a sheet of old paper I put on a flat-bed scanner, and added in Photoshop using the same formula as the Dietes iridioides and Nigella Damascena images shown in Two Botanicals.

To learn more about the techniques I use to create this kind of imagery, please see my FAQs Photographing Flowers for Transparency, Using a High-Key Layer Stack, and Backgrounds and Textures. You can also check out my related webinar recordings (paid access is required): Painting in Transparency Using a High-Key Layer Stack and Using Backgrounds and Textures.

I can only give my heart

Words have a place as a companion to photography, as titles, in captions, in statements, and in books that combine words and imagery. It’s often a useful exercise to attempt to write about one’s own photographic process and goals, as well as writing to describe the narrative behind a specific image.

I can only give my heart © Harold Davis

I can only give my heart © Harold Davis

Regarding cryptic titles, such as “I can only give my heart,” modern painters have led the way with this, sometimes applying titles for abstract paintings that can seem far-fetched. But I believe that metaphorical titles can be appropriate and, when apt, do enhance the poetics of a photographic image.

Ian Roberts puts it this way: “Authenticity results from the depths of the artist’s feelings.” In other words, I only follow the labor intensive process of creating an image like this one because the subject and treatment move me, and because I speak from the heart. So, I can only give my heart.

From a formal perspective, “I can only give my heart” is about the relationship between soft petals and the “harder” flower core of the flowers with pistil, stamen and so forth. Compared to the fluff of the petals, all the flower really has is its core, or heart, which is another meaning for the title.

By the “poetics of a photographic image,” I am really talking about the subjective individual experience to the viewer. There’s no doubt that the image title can influence this experience (for better, or for worse). In your experience, doesn’t an allusive title like “I can only give my heart” lead to a more poetic viewing experience than the straightforward title “Echinacea” for the image shown below? Which kind of image titling do you prefer?

Echinacea © Harold Davis

Echinacea © Harold Davis

Also posted in Writing

In the field for transparency

One interesting point that often comes up in my Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshops (such as the recent one I gave at Maine Media) is whether the techniques I teach in this workshop are limited to shooting flowers on a light box. Of course, the answer is a resounding “No!”—because these photographic and post-production methods cut a wide swath. One application is studio photography on a dark background, which reverses the direction of the bracketed shooting sequence and the order of layer stacking as in this in-class example. Conceptually, other than the order inversion, this is the same set of ideas as photographing on a light box.

Sunflower © Harold Davis

Sunflower © Harold Davis

The techniques advanced by this workshop work well outside the studio as well as in it. The same shooting and post-production ideas as in light box photography work for backlit situations in the field—which is what I used for this shot of translucent sunflower petals, with the early morning sun coming from behind.

Exposure data: Nikon D810, Zeiss 50mm Makro-Planar f/2, two exposures (one at 1/40 of a second and one at 1/10 of a second), each exposure at f/14 and ISO 400, tripod mounted; exposures processed and combined in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop.

Also posted in Photography

Flowers on Black

I photographed these flowers just now on black seamless as a demonstration of a bracketed sequence for low-key HDR photography from my Maine Media flower photography workshop.

© Harold Davis

Flowers on Black © Harold Davis

Also posted in HDR, Photography

Mandahlia: Dahlia Mandala

The basis for this image is a photo I made today during a field trip with my Creative Flower Photography workshop here in Rockport, Maine at the Maine Media Workshops. We paid a visit to the wonderful Endless Summer Dahlia Farm, which markets tubers (bulbs) to “dahlia addicts” across the country. What a great privilege to be able to photograph in this stunning and serene place!

© Harold Davis

Mandahlia: Dahlia Mandala © Harold Davis

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Caddy © Harold Davis

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Castle Shadow © Harold Davis

Castle Shadow © Harold Davis

Painterly Floral Triptych © Harold Davis

Painterly Floral Triptych © Harold Davis

Also posted in iPhone, Photography, Writing