Category Archives: Flowers

Wabi-Sabi Anemones

Beauty should never be a hostage to perfection. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that recognizes the beauty in transience and imperfection. These anemones were beautiful in their prime. They are also beautiful, in a different and perhaps deeper way, as they age.

Wabi-Sabi Anemones © Harold Davis

Wabi-Sabi Anemones © Harold Davis

Photographed on a white seamless background using sunlight with my Nikon D810 and Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 at 1.6 seconds, f/16, and ISO 64.

Related story: Tulip Wabi-Sabi.

Preview my Craftsy Photographing Flowers course

Click here to watch the trailer for my Photographing Flowers course on the Craftsy platform. Use this link to sign up for Photographing Flowers with a special 50% off today.

Red Tulip at Giverny © Harold Davis

Red Tulip at Giverny © Harold Davis

If you like flower photography, you might also be interested in my books Photographing Flowers (Focal Press) and Creative Close-Ups (Wiley).

I’ll also be giving two flower photography workshops in 2015, a Masterclass in Creative Flower Photography in June at the Heidelberg, Germany Summer School of Photography (class taught in English) and a Creative Flower Photography workshop at Maine Media in Rockport, Maine in August.

Tulips on White © Harold Davis

Tulips on White © Harold Davis

Bouquet of Anemones

These pretty anemones come from Thomas Farms, and are organic (as well as locally sourced). The potential advantages of eating organic food are pretty clear, but why buy organic cut flowers? According to Thomas Farms, “Most cut flowers available in the U.S. are grown, assembled and packaged in third-world countries, where pesticide regulations are lax. Because flowers are such a high-value crop, they are doused with insecticides, fungicides and growth regulators, including chemicals that have been banned or restricted in the U.S. due to health or environmental concerns.” You can read more on the Thomas Farms website.

Bouquet of Anemones © Harold Davis

Bouquet of Anemones © Harold Davis

This bouquet of anemones was photographed with tender love on my light box for transparency using my Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 lens using a Nikon D810. Click here to see close-ups of a couple of these anemones.

Anemone Fun

I am always amazed when I start a flower photography session: no two flowers are ever the same, and there are always an infinitude of possible ways to imagine a flower photo. Once you take up flower photography there is little chance that you will ever be bored.

Anemone 1 © Harold Davis

Anemone 1 © Harold Davis

These anemones interested me because they both showed red marking on a fairly white background. I photographed each with my Zeiss Otus 85mm lens, using three bracketed exposures. The darkest exposure was for the outer petals, and the lightest exposure was for the dark—almost black—core of each anemone.

Anemone 2 © Harold Davis

Anemone 2 © Harold Davis

The layer masks I created to combine the exposures bear some resemblance to bullseye targets. Either that, or to Kenneth Noland paintings without the color.

Want to see more of my anemone images? Check out Anemones ReduxNature’s Palette, Tulips and Anemones, and Anemones.

Click here for the Flower Photography category on my blog.

Star Magnolias in Bloom Again

Much of the rest of the country braces for the worst that winter can offer, but here the star magnolias are in bloom again. The combination of strong rains in December followed by day after day of brilliant sunshine with warm afternoons have lead to floral displays bursting with energy. Later on, if we don’t get more rain, the weather may lead to drought and unhappiness. But for now, it is all fecund and gorgeous—particularly my favorite star magnolia photographed over the weekend and shown below (links are to previous-year compositions from the same magnificent Magnolia stellata bush). It grows pretty much wild alongside Arlington Avenue a few blocks from me!

Star Magnolia © Harold Davis

Star Magnolia © Harold Davis

If you would like to learn more about my technique in creating this image,  in the Bay Area I’ll be presenting on the topic tomorrow evening (Tuesday Jan 27, 2015) at the Peninsula Photo Club (download the PDF flier here). You can also learn more in my webinar recording Painting in Transparency Using a High-Key Layer Stack. I’ll be leading in-depth workshops related to photographing flowers on a light box in Heidelberg, Germany in June and at the Maine Media Workshops in August.

Exposure data: Shot as a sequence of bracketed exposures using a Nikon D810 and Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 lens on a tripod. All exposures at ISO 64 and f/16, with shutter speeds between 1/20 of a second and six seconds.

Star Magnolia on White © Harold Davis

Star Magnolia on White © Harold Davis

Simplicity

Sometimes simplicity is best, although simplicity can be hard to achieve. Both visually and technically, simple images give you no place to hide. In other words, complexity can hide problems, whereas simplicity does not. In a visually simple image, if you’ve done something wrong it usually hangs out for all the world to see. But when a simple image works—like these flowers shot for high-key transparency on a light box—the results can be compelling and have a special elegance and poetry.

Pink Tulip on the Verge of Opening © Harold Davis

Pink Tulip on the Verge of Opening © Harold Davis

Both images photographed in RAW at 36MP with Nikon D810 camera and Zeiss 100mm f/2 macro lens over the past weekend. Above: ISO 64, f/16, three blended exposures from 1/2 of a second to 2 seconds. Below: ISO 64, f/22, three blended exposures from 1/2 of a second to 3 seconds.

Calla Lilies  © Harold Davis

Calla Lilies © Harold Davis

Come join me to photograph flowers in Maine this summer!

I’ll be presenting a full week of Creative Flower Photography—including Photographing Flowers for Transparency on a light box—at Maine Media Workshop in Rockport on the beautiful coast of Maine from August 2-8, 2015. Many of my east coast friends who have asked when I’ll be giving this workshop closer to them; if this is you, here is your chance. Since there are only 14 spots in the workshop, my suspicion is that it will fill fast. Click here for information and registration. I am really looking forward to photographing flowers with you on the coast of Maine in the summertime, when botanicals should be lush and gorgeous.

Camellia japonica

Camellia japonica © Harold Davis

Workshop description: In this unique, 5-day workshop offering, Harold Davis shows the techniques he pioneered to create his floral masterpieces. Arrangement, composition, photography, and post-production will all be covered, as will Harold’s special techniques for shooting on a light box. In addition, several sessions will explore field floral photography, and alternative techniques related to the studio photography of flowers. Harold will also show his spectacular botanical prints in the context of a discussion of the best way to create prints of floral imagery.

Star Magnolia 2

Star Magnolia 2 © Harold Davis

Topics covered include:

  • Understanding transparency and translucency
  • Introduction to floral arrangement and composition
  • Botanical art in the digital era
  • Shooting florals in the field
  • Creative field techniques
  • Best practices in macro photography
  • Shooting flowers on a dark background
  • Shooting on a light box
  • Understanding high-key post-production
  • Working with Photoshop layers
  • High-key HDR
  • LAB color effects
  • Backgrounds and textures
  • Preparing to make floral pigment prints
  • Tips & techniques from Harold Davis
  • Implementing one’s own vision

Registration and info: August 2-8, 2015; limited to 14 participants; $1,245 workshop fee; link for information and registration.

Bounty of the Garden © Harold Davis

Bounty of the Garden © Harold Davis

We Happy Flower Few

A great Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop was held this past weekend, with we happy flower few photographing roses, irises, lilies, tulips and more on several large light boxes. One memorable moment: the facility caretaker managed to burn something in the microwave setting off the fire alarm. He couldn’t turn off the alarm, and before we knew it fire fighters in full regalia were marching past the light boxes and flowers. Fortunately, the workshop participants took it all in stride!

I regard the image of a leaf below as a kind of “doodle.” It was part of an in-class demo of using backgrounds and working creatively with LAB color .

Lab Leaf 2 © Harold Davis

Lab Leaf 2 © Harold Davis

We also did more conventional light box work, for example this entire vase full of tulips on a white background. Everyone took their turn shooting the tulips and other flowers, and a great time was had!

Tulips on White © Harold Davis

Tulips on White © Harold Davis

Painterly Peony Panos

I shot this image of peonies on a light box in two panels, which were later stitched together in post-production to make a peony panorama. Each panel was photographed with a Nikon D800 and the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 on a tripod. There were eight exposures in each panel, with the aperture at f/11 and ISO set to 100. Shutter speeds on each ranged from 1/40 of a second to 2.5 seconds. With the two panels stitched together, then cropped for composition, the resulting file is  quite large, 10,321 pixels by 4,712 pixels at 300ppi. This means I can make a 34″ wide print with no enlargement of the file, and it would be easy with no sweat to enlarge this two or three times with no noticeable loss of quality.

Peony Pano on White © Harold Davis

Peony Pano on White © Harold Davis

Want to learn more about the techniques I used to create this image? Check out my FAQ Photographing Flowers for Transparency and other FAQs on my site.

Painterly Peony Pano © Harold Davis

Painterly Peony Pano © Harold Davis

Other resources: I also have an upcoming workshop on Photographing Flowers for Transparency, and webinar recordings are available on Painting in Transparency Using a High-Key Layer Stack and Using Backgrounds and Textures.

Sunflower Sunrise

I love sunflowers! They are truly a wonderful flower. Of course, sunflowers are often depicted in art. For example, it is probably hard for me to say “sunflower” without thinking of Vincent van Gogh’s famous sunflower paintings. My version is Go van Gogh!

Sunflower Sunrise © Harold Davis

Sunflower Sunrise © Harold Davis

But did you know that the sunflower is also visually interesting from behind? Shot this way, from the back on a light box, with my D810 and a Zeiss 100mm f/2 macro lens, the sunflower reminds me of a landscape, or perhaps the sunrise itself!

Sunflower Sunrise (black & white) © Harold Davis

Sunflower Sunrise (black & white) © Harold Davis

Windswept Florals

I photographed this floral arrangement on a light box with my Nikon D810 and the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4. My idea was to try to create a composition where it looked like the flowers were in motion, as they might be if they were wind-driven. After combining the high-key layer stack, I added a background and a textured overlay to create the final effect.

Windswept Florals © Harold Davis

Windswept Florals © Harold Davis

Interested in my techniques for creating this image? Please check out my webinars, and please consider the weekend Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop, October 4-5, 2014.

Related FAQ: Photographing Flowers for Transparency.

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