Category Archives: Flowers

Opium Poppies

It’s perfectly legal in this country to cultivate the Opium Poppy, Papaver somniferum, for decorative purposes. But this pretty flower, shown in the image below, has long caused wild dreams and flights of fancy. For example, the poet Samuel Coleridge wrote his poem Kubla Khan in 1797 following an opium-inspired dream that was interrupted by a bill collector. Equally, this innocent-looking flower is responsible for much human misery, from the killing fields of Afghanistan to the addictions and overdose deaths caused by the stronger products refined or synthesized based on opium.

Opium Poppies © Harold Davis

Opium Poppies © Harold Davis

When you buy an opium poppy plant from an American horticultural nursery, the name is likely to be changed, as if naming this flower something other than what it is makes it less deadly, or more licit. So one nursery I know calls the Opium Poppy a “Purple Breadseed Poppy,” and there are other cloaked names in use as well.

By whatever name, it is an easy flower to grow (the ones shown here are from my garden, for decorative purposes only of course!). In case you are curious, opium is refined from the paste that accumulates inside the seed pods that form after the flower has bloomed. A single poppy pod wouldn’t be enough—it takes a great many poppies to make a usable quantity of opium.

Want to learn how to make images like this one from beginning to end? There are three spots left in my Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop next weekend (I won’t be giving this workshop again in this country until 2015).

Flowering Quince

The red flowering quince are particularly gorgeous this year in my neighborhood, and I can’t resist putting some of them on my light box. These flowers have a simple elegance that is really special.

Flowering Quince © Harold Davis

Flowering Quince © Harold Davis

Flowering Quince with Moon © Harold Davis

Flowering Quince with Moon © Harold Davis

Do you prefer the version of this image with the moon (above) or just the branch of flowering quince (far above)?

Through a glass lightly

I lit a passion flower (passiflora) from the rear and left, so that the light reflected off the flower onto the neck of a glass bottle with a rather tall neck. I used a telephoto macro lens (200mm) to shoot the passiflora through the neck of the glass bottle. My idea was to focus on the refraction of the flower projected onto the glass rather than the flower itself. I used a moderate aperture (f/10) for some depth-of-field—enough to make the refraction of the flower in the glass seem to be in focus, but not enough for the actual flower in the background to seem sharp.

Passiflora through a bottle © Harold Davis

Passiflora through a bottle © Harold Davis

What makes this image interesting is the inversion of normal visual expectations. In other words, the contrast between the “straight” flower in the background—which is normal and ordinary, but not in focus—and the distorted flower in the glass—which is contorted and extraordinary, but in focus—is unusual. We normally expect to see our “straight” things crisp and in focus, and our weird, dream-like things out-of-focus and, well, dream-like.

White Chrysanthemums at Giverny

At a casual glance, this is a fairly simple selective focus image of lush white flowers in an autumn garden. Actually, there’s more to it photographically than meets the eye. (Knowing me, this probably won’t surprise you!) Let me explain.

White Chrysanthemums Japonicum at Giverny © Harold Davis

White Chrysanthemums Japonicum at Giverny © Harold Davis

First, and somewhat unusually, this is a close-up of a flower using an extreme wide-angle lens (my Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 on a full-frame DSLR). This means that the front element of my lens was only two inches from the flower that is in focus (and central to the image).

Next, I created the slight blurring in the out-of-focus blossoms by intentionally creating motion in the flowers. I had my camera on a tripod, manually located the point I wanted to focus on, and outside of the frame I pushed the flowering plant with my free hand. When the flower entered my in-focus zone I snapped the exposure using a remote release at a shutter speed fast enough to stop some of the motion but still render the attractive blur. The settings were 1/125 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 200.

It takes a bit of doing to pull off this partial motion blur and selective focus technique. You can find some more information in my online Photographing Flowers course.

By the way, the chrysanthemum—particularly white chrysanthemums—are important symbolic flowers in Japan. I feel there is some significance in photographing this very Japanese flower in Giverny, the garden of Claude Monet (whose work was so influenced by Japanese art), shortly before my own trip to Japan.

Check out photos of Japan on my blog.

Check out photos of France on my blog.

Red red rose

As many times as I photograph roses I never have enough! There is always a different way to approach a rose, or any other flower for that matter. Verily, there is a world and a universe in a single bloom if you look hard enough.

Rose center curves © Harold Davis

Rose center curves © Harold Davis

With this red rose, it came home with me following the December Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop I just gave. This was a great workshop, with good participants and I had a lot of fun. (By the way, there’s still some room in the February 2014 session of Photographing Flowers for Transparency.)

So essentially, the decision to photograph this particular rose was a bit random. But when I saw the internal curves of this specimen I could not resist. Let’s face it, roses are just so sexy.

To make this image, I put the rose in a vase in a shaft of sunlight. I used a small silver reflector to bounce some light back into the center of the flower.

With my camera on a tripod, I then used my Zeiss 100mm f/2 macro lens to make a bracketed sequence of exposures at f/22 and ISO 100. To make the final image, I used two exposures, one shot at 2 seconds and the other at 4 seconds, combined in Photoshop using layers, layer masks, and the Brush Tool.

If you are interested in my approach to flower photography, please consider my online Photographing Flowers course. This is an ongoing course that you can take on your own time. Click here to register for my course.

My book The Way of the Digital Photographer contains a great deal of information about how to work with flower photos in Photoshop.  I am excited that my book has recently been named a best photography book of the year. Click here to read the press release, click here to purchase my book on Amazon, and click here to purchase it directly from the publisher (Peachpit).

Win free enrollment in my online Mastering Flower Photography course

My online course Mastering Flower Photography is going live soon! In the meantime, you can be entered in a random drawing to win a free course by clicking here and following this link.

Red red rose © Harold Davis

Red red rose © Harold Davis

Daffadown Dillies

The daffodil is also a narcissus, and is a member of the Amaryllis family. The flower is a harbinger of spring. As a narcissus, the flower speaks to self-absorption: in classical mythology the beautiful youth Narcissus spurned the nymph Echo, who died of a broken heart. Narcissus then saw his own reflection in a pond, leaned over to possess himself, drowned—and became the flower.

Duet of Daffodils © Harold Davis

Duet of Daffodils © Harold Davis

To make this image, I photographed the daffodils using a lightbox for the background. Leaning over my tripod, I did not fall into the lightbox and drown!

After shooting a bracketed sequence, I used my special post-production layering techniques to combine the sequence of photos. Finally, I added the flowers to a scanned paper background to add an archaic look—almost like an old-fashioned botanical painting—and to complete the image.

Interested in learning this set of photographic and processing techniques? There are spaces available in the February 2014 session of my weekend-long Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop. Click here for more information and registration.

Photographing Flowers for Transparency: February 2014 Workshop

Due to many requests I have added a new session of the Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop, Saturday, February 22—Sunday, February 23, 2014. Click here for information and online registration for the February Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop

Synopsis: In this unique workshop offering master photographer Harold Davis shows the techniques he uses to create his floral masterpieces. Arrangement, composition, photography, post-production will all be covered, as will Harold’s special techniques for shooting on a lightbox.

Harold Davis Vibrance Poster

Some details and curriculum:

Master photographer Harold Davis is well-known for his often imitated—but seldom equaled—digital images of luscious transparent and transulent flowers.

In this unique workshop offering master photographer Harold Davis shows the techniques he uses to create his floral masterpieces. Arrangement, composition, photography, post-production will all be covered, as will Harold’s special techniques for shooting on a lightbox.

Who is this workshop for?

Papaver and Iridaceae

Papaver and Iridaceae © Harold Davis

The workshop is intended for photographers of all levels with an interest in flower photography.

Harold is only planning to give this workshop once this year. There is no better way to learn the floral transparency techniques that he has pioneered. The two-day format will give participants the chance to complete their imagery using the techniques that Harold will demonstrate.

Here are some comments from the 2012 Floral Transparency Workshop:

  • “Loved the pace, in-depth instruction and generous sharing.”
  • “Harold, thank you for the time, expense and effort it took to put on a great one-day workshop….You are a wealth of information and share it so graciously.”
  • “Outstanding workshop!”
  • “A very packed day! Harold is very clear and organized; an outstanding photographer who is also an outstanding teacher.”

Where: MIG Meeting Place, 800 Hearst Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94710

When: Saturday February 22, 2014, 9:30AM to 5:30PM and Sunday February 23, 2013, 10:00AM to 5:00PM

Tuition: The cost of the workshop is $695 per person. Workshop limited to 16 participants.

Curriculum – Day 1

9:30AM – Workshop orientation

10:30 – Glory of the tranlucent petal (understanding translucency and transparency)

11:30 – Introduction to Floral arrangement and composition

12:30 – Lunch break

1:30 – Advanced floral compositon

2:30 – Shooting on a lightbox

3:30 – Understanding high-key hand HDR post-production

4:30 – Advanced HDR topics

5:00 – Review, wrap-up and Q&A

Curriculum – Day 2

10:00AM - Day 1 recap

10:30 - Individual post-production guided practice

11:30 – Backgrounds and Textures

12:30 – Lunch break

1:30 – LAB Color effects

2:15 – Individual practice

4:00 – Fine art botannical prints

4:30 – Review, wrap-up and Q&A

Peonies mon amour by Harold Davis

Peonies mon amour © Harold Davis

What folks have said about Harold Davis workshops and events:

  •  “A great artist and speaker!”—W. Anglin
  •  “Harold is genuine, generous, and gracious – He has a world of knowledge and expertise that he loves to share – his wonderful books show his monumental talents and skill set- his workshops shows the depth of his connecting with others in a very real and personal way.”—P. Borrelli
  • “Awesome! He patiently addressed questions from the audience which contained photographers of all levels , molding his answers to the level of understanding for each of us. His presentations covered a wonderful range of technical knowledge as well as emphasizing the need for images to have an emotional quality. The images he shares are breathtaking and he is generous in sharing many facets of how he captures such beauty.”—J. Phillips
  • “Not all photographers are good verbal communicators. Harold is someone who can DO and TEACH. A rare combination of talents.”—B. Sawyer
  • “Inspiring!”
  • “He was very giving of his talents and time. The course was very organized and thorough. Loved it! Learned so much! … I also wanted to let you know that I have more than paid the cost of the workshops I’ve done with you by selling some photos! I have sold three prints already.”—L. Beck
  • “Very creative and a marvelous instructor.”—Kay S.
Red Poppies © Harold Davis

Red Poppies © Harold Davis

About Harold Davis:  Harold Davis is a well-known digital artist and award-winning professional photographer. He is the author of many photography books. His most recent titles are The Way of the Digital Photographer (Peachpit) and Monochromatic HDR Photography (Focal Press).

In addition to his activity as a bestselling book author, Harold is a featured columnist for He has been acknowledged as a Moab Master printmaker and is known as a Master Printer. His limited edition artist book Botanique was featured most recently in Fine Art Printing, the only magazine devoted exclusively to fine art photographic printmaking. Harold’s work is widely collected, licensed by art publishers, and has appeared in numerous magazines and other publications.

Harold’s technique and destination photography workshops to such diverse locations as Paris, France; Heidelberg, Germany; and the ancient Bristlecone Pines of the eastern Sierra Nevada are widely popular and usually sell out quickly.

Click here for information and online registration for the February Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop

More information: BotaniqueHarold Davis website; Harold Davis blog; books; workshops.

Down in the ditch where the waterdrops are

To get a shot like this of waterdrops means getting wet, particularly when it is raining. And raining it was in Hudson Gardens in Littleton, Colorado where I was taping an online course in flower photography for an up-and-coming powerhouse in photographic education, Craftsy.

Black-eyed Waterdrops © Harold Davis

Black-eyed Waterdrops © Harold Davis

If you are interested in learning how to make images like this one, please check out my book Photographing Waterdrops: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis, or wait for the course—which will be online in October.

Pattie Logan, the producer of my flower photography course, is holding an umbrella over my head and camera as I photograph this waterdrop, below left. The Craftsy production crew is shown sheltering from the intermittent rain under umbrellas and a portable tent between takes (below right) with the flowers and waterdrop I photographed in the foreground. Both iPhone shots by Adam Speas, part of the production team.

Harold in the rain

Craftsy production team

Flowers of Late Summer

Flowers of Late Summer was shot on a lightbox using my Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 lens and the full-frame Nikon D800. Layering the 36MP RAW captures brought my computer down to a crawl begging for mercy (EXIF and processing info below). Upgrade one piece of hardware and, alas, the logic of workflow implies that other upgrades will follow!

Harold Davis - Flowers of Late Summer 2

Flowers of Late Summer © Harold Davis

Exposure data: 35mm, six exposures at shutter speeds from 10 seconds to 1/10 of a second, all exposures at f/13 and ISO 100, tripod mounted; exposures combined using Nik HDR Efex Pro and hand-HDR in Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop; this version added to a scanned paper background and lightly texturized.

Please note that I will be on assignment next week in Colorado, so don’t expect to hear too much from me!

Click here for a good starting place to learn more about my techniques for creating floral images that seem partially transparent.

I’m giving a workshop that will cover Photographing Flowers for Transparency in December, 2013 it is sold out, but I may add a second section (add your name to the Waiting List and/or send me an email if you’d be interested).

I’ll also be giving a workshop in Heidelberg, Germany in June, 2014 that will cover this technique as well as other kinds of flower photography (more info will be posted on my Workshops page as it is available).

Please also consider joining my email list if you are interested in keeping up with what I am doing!

Vibrance Poster

I am pleased to announce a new Harold Davis poster from Editions Limited. It is called Vibrance, measures 24″ X 36″, and is shown below.

Harold Davis Vibrance Poster

See related story: Editions Limited Publishes Two Harold Davis Posters (10/1/2012)

May the best flower photo win

I am judging a flower contest on “Flowers find a way into vacation, portraiture, wedding, landscape, fine art and nearly any kind of photography collection you can think of. How DOES nature create such beautiful, perfect, magical living things?”

The flower photo with the most member votes gets a nice Sigma 120-400mm lens (I want one!), and I get to choose a winner who will receive a copy of my new book The Way of the Digital Photographer.

Here’s the link for the flower photography contest.

Dance of the Tulips by Harold Davis

Dance of the Tulips © Harold Davis

About this image: I started with some beautiful tulips from the North Berkeley Farmer’s Market. I placed the tulips on a black background.

I’ve written previously about using my 18-200mm zoom lens with a 36mm extension tube to create a kind of poor person’s macro lens. This kind of setup can get you very close, and it has a neat soft focus feeling and cool bokeh. Of course, I wouldn’t use it if I wanted end-to-end precision macro sharpness. The odd thing is that optically what works best is to set the lens manually on infinity, find your distance, and then “focus” using the zoom ring.

My next step was to add approximately 8 f-stops of neutral density to the front of the lens so I could make quite long exposures, in the 5 seconds to 30 seconds range with the lens stopped down.

Finally, I timed each exposure so that the lens was fixed and “in focus” for about half the exposure, and then a carefully and smoothly rotated the zoom dial to get an out-of-focus effect for the remainder of the exposure.

In other words, the effect combines the hardness and definition of a fully stopped-down in-focus lens with the soft focus of a motion blur and an image thrown intentionally out-of-focus.

Exposure data: 18-200mm zoom lens, starting at about 135mm, 36mm extension tube, 15 seconds at f/36 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

New Harold Davis Photonet column: Placing a Flower Photo on a Background

Please check out my new column on, Placing a Flower Photo on a Background. Stay tuned for the sequel, coming next month to, explaining how to add a texture to a flower photo to get painterly effects.

Have you ever wanted to turn your flower photos into fine art design pieces? With a little bit of Photoshop know-how, a few inexpensive tools, and the techniques explained in this column, it’s easy to create unique art imagery, guided only by your vision and creativity. Read more.

You may not be aware of the extensive archive of my columns available on on a wide variety of topics related to creativity, photography, Photoshop techniques, and marketing your photography. Links to this material can be found below the image.

Cherry Dance © Harold Davis

Cherry Dance © Harold Davis columns by Harold Davis

Meditation at Giverny

As long as I can remember I have admired Claude Monet’s waterlilies, so finally getting to visit Monet’s garden at Giverny was like a pilgrimage for me. My group (shown here on the steps of Monet’s house at Giverny) was lucky with the weather—the sky was bright but overcast, with intermittent patches of blue. We were also lucky that the gardens at Giverny were not very crowded on the day we visited, and when our after-hours access (arranged by Mark Brokering) had kicked in we literally had the place to ourselves.

Meditation at Giverny © Harold Davis

Meditation at Giverny © Harold Davis

In Monet’s time, a train track bisected his garden in the horizontal direction, with the water garden on the other side of the tracks from his house and primary flower garden. There still are essentially two distinct areas, connected via an underground passage, but the trains have been replaced with a fairly busy road.

I spent the bulk of my time in the water garden area. Sure, the flower garden was nice, and the tulips were in bloom—but in some ways it was fairly conventional, organized in rows and beds. But there is nothing in the whole world like Monet’s waterlilies.

There’s a sense in which the views and vistas at Giverny evoke a subliminal memory of Monet’s paintings just by the elements that are present, such as the green, arching bridge. I tried to present that almost Proustian feeling of a visual memory at the threshold of recognition in my photos.

My approach and philosophy was to photograph the pieces that I thought I would need, taking my time with my camera on the tripod. The goal in post-production would be to combine the exposures, and to use the arts of digital post-production to create imagery that evoke feelings that might perhaps be worthy of the setting, and the connection with Monet.

With this image, I used the long exposure times combined with elements that were moving in the fairly stiff breeze to add an intentionally impressionistic effect. Combining multiple exposures allowed me to extend the “impressionism” across a broader swath of the image than would have been possible in a single exposure.

Exposure and processing data: 200mm, five exposures (two at 3/5 of a second, one each at 1/4 of a second, 1.3 seconds, and 2.5 seconds), circular Polarizer, +4ND filter, each exposure at f/29 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; processed and combined in Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photoshop, with effects added using LAB color adjustments, Nik Color Efex, Topaz Adjust, Topaz Simplify, and PixelBender.

Calypso orchid

Hard to see among the debris at the forest floor, the tiny Calypso orchid can be photographed when conditions are right on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais for brief periods in the spring. I have been photographing the Mt Tamalpais Calypso orchid, Calypso bulbosa, also sometimes called a ‘Fairy slipper,’ for years. You can see a couple of my other photos of this marvelous flower, and read a bit about its background, in Close Encounters with Calypso.

Calypso Orchid by Harold Davis

Calypso Orchid © Harold Davis

Yesterday Mark and I headed in search of the elusive Calypso as a dense fog swirled around Mount Tamalpais. By the time we found the first specimens, hiding among old leaves beneath tall trees on a steep and muddy slope, the clouds were intermittently breaking up.

As I got to work I found that I was struggling to get my tripod low enough to the ground. Photographing this flower from above just didn’t work. So I improvised a sling made of my hat, twigs, and some raw earth, and finally got the camera stable enough to make this fairly long exposure (2/5 of a second).

Here’s an iPhone photo Mark snapped of me at work photographing Calypso:

Exposure data: 105mm macro lens, 36mm extension tube, 2/5 of a second at f/18 and ISO 200, improvised earth-and-hat camera platform.