Category Archives: Flowers

Flowers for Nicky

My twelve year old son Nicky (shown here a while back) was in the ensemble at Berkeley Playhouse for a teen production of the musical Shrek. For opening night, his Grandma sent him flowers.

Flowers for Nicky © Harold Davis

Flowers for Nicky © Harold Davis

He (and we) enjoyed the bouquet for a while. Then, a couple of days after the performance, I spread them out on my light box, and photographed the flowers for transparency.

For more information on my technique, check out my FAQ: Photographing Flowers for Transparency.

Trio of Tulips at Giverny

On a misty spring afternoon we left Paris, getting on the van for Monet’s famous gardens at Giverny. The pre-visualizations that I saw in my mind’s eye along the drive were of images like Monet’s impressionistic paintings, or that showed the bridges in the Giverny water gardens. But when we got to the garden the simplicity of individual tulips in the light rain was too much for me to resist!

Red Tulip, Giverny © Harold Davis

Red Tulip, Giverny © Harold Davis

The afternoon was cloudy, but extremely bright. I shot each of these three images handheld, wide-open (at f/2), with my ISO set to 100, taking advantage of the brightness and wonderful bokeh of the superb  Zeiss 135mm f/2 lens. Shutter speeds were 1/1600 of second for Red Tulip (above), 1/5000 of a second for Variegated Tulip (below) and 1/8000 of a second for White Tulip (bottom). There was almost no post-production work other than RAW conversion.

Variegated Tulip, Giverny © Harold Davis

Variegated Tulip, Giverny © Harold Davis

So ultimately this is one of the simplest photography scenarios imaginable. If there is no post-production, then Photoshop was irrelevant (not of course that there is anything wrong with Photoshop). The superb brightness of the lens along with its telephoto focal length isolated the portion of the flower that is in focus from the background. The brightness of the lens allowed me to shoot at fast shutter speeds, eliminating the possibility of camera shake. The technical requirement was to “see” the image, and to focus accurately—with nothing else intermediating between me and the flowers.

White Tulip, Giverny © Harold Davis

White Tulip, Giverny © Harold Davis

Sometimes in this complex world of ours it is hard to remember that simple may be best! When we over-complicate things we can lose track of what is important, and what is not—and also the joy in simple things, of family and friends, clouds and wind, and flowers in a garden.

Scanning a Purple Flower

I was reminded of the very high resolution you can get from an inexpensive flatbed scanner recently when there was interest in a large print from one of my scanned flower images. With both the images shown here, the basic image was created on the scanner but I also photographed the flower, and blended the files from the camera and scanner.

Purple Flower Scan © Harold Davis

Purple Flower Scan © Harold Davis

Generally, flatbed scans can give you a very high resolution, but depth-of-field is very shallow. There’s no way to adjust depth-of-field, as you do by stopping down a lens. The ability to capture depth is also limited. If you try this technique, expect to spend a great deal of time spotting out dust, which almost always accompanies scanner images, particularly if you use a black (or dark) background. Combining a scan with a photo in some ways gives me the best of both worlds!

Purple Flower Dance © Harold Davis

Purple Flower Dance © Harold Davis

Very fun Flower Photography Workshop in Heidelberg

A very fun four-day creative flower photography workshop was had at the Heidelberg Summer School of Photography. This was a great group of compatible people and talented photographers genuinely excited by the subject matter. English was spoken (because of me) and also German (my feeble attempts at German were lovingly corrected). Italian was also spoken—not to mention the universal language of “photography.” The agenda included field trips to a lovely horticultural nursery and to the greenhouses at the Heidelberg University Botanical Gardens. We also practiced studio flower photography, and followed the full workflow of my method for capturing and processing flowers for transparency on a light box.

Pilea ovalis and Ancona muricata © Harold Davis

Pilea ovalis and Ancona muricata © Harold Davis

The image above is a study from the Heidelberg Botanical Gardens field trip. Since it is in monochromatic, it is a fitting segway to the next workshop, Creative Black & White Photography that starts in a few days. I hope it is as much fun and fosters gemütlichkeit as much as the Flower Photography did. You can see some of this gemütlichkeit, umlauts and all, in the row of wine glasses I shot at our farewell dinner, shown below.

Wine Glasses at a Dinner Party © Harold Davis

Wine Glasses at a Dinner Party © Harold Davis

White Poppy

White Poppy © Harold Davis

White Poppy © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss 135mm f/2 lens with 12mm extension tube, 2 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted, exposed on a light box for transparency, processed in Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop, and with Photoshop plug-ins from Nik and Topaz.

Peony Softness

I shot Peony Softness on a light box, showing the versatility of back lighting when it comes to flower photography. This is a very different look than most of my light box photography, but also very attractive.

Peony Softness © Harold Davis

Peony Softness © Harold Davis

What flowers are these?

“What flowers are these?” a reader asks. Peonies, poppies, a few roses and some campanulas (Canterbury Bells): The bounty of the garden.

Bounty of the Garden © Harold Davis

Bounty of the Garden © Harold Davis

Peonies are in bloom

It’s the peonies time of year, and I am putting aside some time to photograph some luscious Peony blossoms!

To learn how I made this photo, check out the FAQs Photographing Flowers for Transparency and Using a High-Key Layer Stack, and also my webinar recording Painting in Transparency Using a High-Key Layer Stack.

Bounty of the Garden - Center Panel © Harold Davis

Bounty of the Garden – Center Panel © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4, six exposures each at f/11 and ISO 100, tripod mounted, exposures processed using Adobe Camera RAW, Adobe Photoshop, and Nik HDR Efex Pro.

I applied the peonies photo to a background of scanned paper created using a gradient, so it is slightly lighter at the top than the bottom. For more information about this technique, check out my webinar recording Using Backgrounds and Textures.

Related story: Peonies and Poppies.

Peonies and Poppies

Yesterday in the morning I wrote and posted my Using a High-Key Layer Stack FAQ. Around lunch time I took a product development conference call. Phyllis brought in some pizza for lunch. After lunch, I drove over to nearby Kensington, California with my pruning shears and clipped a bunch of Matilija Poppies from a strip right near the old downtown. These shrubby poppies are the only genus in the Papaver family besides those in the Eschscholzia  family that are native to California.

Poppies and Peonies © Harold Davis

Poppies and Peonies © Harold Davis

Back at home I pruned some Papaver rhoeas from the garden, and added some peonies to create a light box composition. Processing the resulting high-key layer stack took me well past a sane bedtime. A very full day, with some time for the kids.

Above, the image is shown on white, and below it is placed on a scanned paper background and lightly texturized.

Poppies and Peonies © Harold Davis

Poppies and Peonies © Harold Davis

Exposure data: I do not believe the resolution I achieved in this photo would have been possible without the clarity of my Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 lens. Nikon D800, 55mm, six exposures at ISO 100 and f/13, exposures ranging from 1/30 of a second to 1 second, tripod mounted, processing in Adobe Camera RAW, Nik HDR Efex Pro and Adobe Photoshop.

Giverny

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Monet’s gardens at Giverny three times in the past year, and each time they’ve been very different. The spring this year was good for tulips, and in the water garden area the wisteria were glorious.

Giverny © Harold Davis

Giverny © Harold Davis

There is a problem working in Monet’s gardens. These gardens are themselves are a work of art. Of course, they have been the most important subject of a great and world famous artist (Claude Monet himself). It’s hard not to look at Monet’s gardens, or to imagery depicting the gardens, without thinking of Monet’s great waterlily paintings.

Giverny Watercolor © Harold Davis

Giverny Watercolor © Harold Davis

In the shadow of the legendary, my best advice is to have fun—and not worry about the context or comparison too much. That’s what I did this year in Giverny. I had a blast, and look forward to processing more of my images from this very special place.

Related stories: Giverny via iPhone, White Chrysanthemums at Giverny, Dreaming of Giverny, Meditation at Giverny.

Papaver Somniferum and friends

Returning home from travels abroad in mid-May, one great pleasure was to find poppies still in bloom in my garden. The large one as big as a platter towards the top of the composition is a Papaver somniferum, the notorious opium poppy. Other species shown are Papaver rhoeas (corn poppies), garlanded with campanula. You can also see poppies in the process of popping (on the right, coming out of its pod).

Papaver Somniferum and Friends © Harold Davis

Papaver Somniferum and Friends © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4, eight exposures shot on a light box, each exposure at f/11 and ISO 100, shutter speeds ranging from 1/40 of a second to 4 seconds, tripod mounted; exposures combined via layering and hand masking in Photoshop.

Making the Botanical Photo: If you are in the San Francisco area, I am presenting on this subject on Saturday June 7, 2014 at Photo Oakland. This is in conjunction with a “Best of Botanicals” exhibition, with print sales partially benefiting San Francisco Botanical Garden. My presentation at 3 PM is free of charge, but I do expect a crowd, so plan to arrive early. Click here for more info.

Photographing Flowers for Transparency: Due to many requests, I’ve just opened a new session of my weekend Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop, scheduled for Saturday, October 4 and Sunday, October 5, 2014. The Papaver image that accompanies this post shows an example of utilizing this technique, and is the kind of image that is created in the workshop. This is a fun and popular event. Previous sessions have been attended by photographers from all over the world, and sold out quickly. Click here for more information and registration.

Using Light for Emotional Impact

Photography is the art and craft of capturing light, whether via silver halide chemistry on film, or via silicon on a sensor array. “Capturing light” is probably the key part of this definition: unlike the popular perception that we photograph people or things, it is impossible to actually render anything in the absence of light. All we can capture is light emitted or reflected (mostly reflected) by our photographic subject matter.

Irises in a Vase © Harold Davis

Irises in a Vase © Harold Davis

Why do we care about a photo? Generally because it stirs our emotions. Emotions can be stirred for many reasons, and due to many associations (Marcel Proust’s account of emotional reminiscence stirred by an odor comes to mind). An emotionally resonant image that is technically imperfect will trump a technically perfect but banal image any time.

Boathouse Still Life © Harold Davis

Boathouse Still Life © Harold Davis

Leaving aside imagery where the pure storytelling packs a wallop, powerful photos use light emotionally. Even graphic human interest photos are more powerful when they use light to their advantage. To summarize, we capture light not things. Emotional resonance is what matters in imagery. Therefore, powerful images manage to use light to convey an emotional response in the viewer. What should your take-away from this syllogism be? I think there are three simple conclusions that all good photographers recognize as guiding principles, and strive to master:

  • If you want to be a better photographer, train yourself to see light and not objects.
  • Light inspires, directs and misdirects when it is captured as the incredible force it is. Use all of this in your work: the force, the power, the inspiration, the direction and the misdirection.
  • Uniform and moderate light is rarely as interesting as strong lighting. Think of it this way: without evil for comparison, how do we know what “good” is? Light is the same way. You often can’t really see it unless there is also darkness.

In my high-key image of Irises in a Vase (shown far above) I purposely created a highly artificial construct of light that seems almost blinding—and therefore obscures details. This image does not look the way it would be rendered in a single accurate capture, but is more emotionally compelling because the apparently overwhelming light has left only the painterly details, with enough visual clues for the viewer to interpolate the rest. With Boathouse Still Life (above) the emotional appeal is achieved because of the partial illumination. In a generally low-key image, the composition with nautical rope behind it is lit by an apparently momentary shaft of light.

Story of O © Harold Davis

Story of O © Harold Davis

In Story of O (above) the action is in the gradation of light, from the light gray in the distance to the darker gray in the foreground, and the contrast with the black outlined shape. A sense of mystery always adds to the emotional appeal of an image, and the relationship of the background gradient to the “circle” foreground is indeed mysterious, bringing several different kinds of light into play. I like to quote the American poet Randall Jarrell, who once said that “Art being bartender is never drunk.” I take this to mean that my viewers don’t have to know what is going on in an image, and maybe even shouldn’t—but as “bartender” I must. This means first and foremost learning to use and control the emotional impact of light in my imagery. Related stories: More about Story of O; more about Boathouse Still Life. Also check out Becoming a More Creative Photographer (a set of articles with exercises on Photo.net).

Iris Friends

These variegated iris are clearly friends. They look at each other with empathy, tendrils even apparently touching—or at least waving to each other!

Iris Friends © Harold Davis

Iris Friends © Harold Davis

Nature’s Palette

Contrary to common cliché, the colors of nature are not always beautiful. But in the case of flowers, colors are almost always beautiful to human eyes. True, flowers need to attract pollinators to survive. But in a weird and wonderful example of species symbiosis, floral propagation is also largely dependent on attractiveness to humans. Nature has a number of stratagems here. For example, some floral species smell good to us. But when it comes to flower species survival and extension via human intervention, nothing beats nature’s glorious palette of floral colors!

Nature's Palette © Harold Davis

Nature’s Palette © Harold Davis

Related image: Tulips and Anemones.

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO Sonnar, 2 seconds at f/16 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

Check out my online Photographing Flowers course (use this link for a $10 discount).

Adventures in a higher key

I photographed these tulips on a light box using my normal shooting sequence, but when the time came to process them I did things somewhat differently.

High-Key Tulips © Harold Davis

High-Key Tulips © Harold Davis

The normal workflow is to use a bracketed sequence of exposures (intentionally biased to overexposure) to create a high-key image, which is then processed for color, and then (if desired) texturized and placed on a background.

With this image, I began with a layered process for high-key transparency. I then departed from my usual practice by throwing away the background (almost white) layer. What remained was a partly transparent (literally so, in Photoshop) collage.

To continue, I replaced the bottom layer (formerly the background) with one of the textures from the Flypaper Textures new Paper Painterly collection. Well on my way to an exciting effect that combines the impact of digital painting and photography, I then applied a normal array of filters and adjustments to the image.

By the way, this makes a great and subtle print on Awagami Kozo washi. Very pleased with it!