Category Archives: France

Banks of the Seine

Using the same lens (my Zeiss 35mm) and the same camera-in-motion technique as In a Paris Park creates a moody and atmospheric image in monochrome of the banks of the Seine River and the Ile St-Louis in Paris. This could be an image from the dawn of photography—when long exposures were the norm, and it was difficult to get a crisp image in twilight—rather than a capture made with a state-of-the-art sophisticated DSLR.

Banks of the Seine © Harold Davis

Banks of the Seine © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 at f/8, 4 seconds at ISO 50, hand held.
Related image: Ile de la Cite from Ile St-Louis.

French Gardens in Sepia

Villandry © Harold Davis

Villandry © Harold Davis

I was asked to prepare these monochromatic images of gardens in France with a slight sepia cast for possible use by an art world client. I like the way they came out—very mannered and apparently old-fashioned, but of course they are not old.

Once again, as I observed in Photographer as Poet, these images are creative anachronisms that combine a classic aesthetic with modern technique and ideas. There’s no need to analyze, however. The imagery can just be enjoyed for what it is. The fact that there is a deeper layer to the construction and thinking behind the imagery may interest those who like to think about issues of self-reference and meta-cognition, but should not interfere with straightforward visual enjoyment.

Hotel de Sully © Harold Davis

Hotel de Sully © Harold Davis

Parc de Sceaux © Harold Davis

Parc de Sceaux © Harold Davis

The Road Goes Ever On and On © Harold Davis

The Road Goes Ever On and On © Harold Davis

Louvre Reflection

I shot this image last year during a night photography session with my Paris photography workshop. Paris is a great city to photograph at night, with many opportunities for dramatic image making!

Louvre Refections © Harold Davis

Louvre Refections © Harold Davis

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.

Negative Space

Negative space is often defined as the space around and between the subject of an image. From a formal design perspective, learning to see negative space helps one to visualize the impact of the positive, or actual, subject of a photo. Taking this towards its limit, in some imagery the design and composition can become more about the formalism of the negative space than the positive subject matter depicted. In a black and white photo, depending upon the context, negative space is generally rendered as either all-black or all-white.

Structure to Noise © Harold Davis

Final Tier © Harold Davis

It’s possible to walk up to the second deck (about 65 floors up) on the Eiffel Tower. From there, if you want to go to the very top, you need to buy a supplemental ticket and ride the elevator. Walking up as far as one can has some visual interest, and of course avoids the lines at the bottom for the elevators.

Looking up from the second deck, I composed this off-center composition. Exposing to render detail in the structure of the Eiffel Tower made the sky on this overcast day become essentially white. It was clear to me that I was looking at a photo where interaction between positive space (presumably the Eiffel Tower) and negative space (preemptively the all-white background) would be crucial (see image above).

Negative Space © Harold Davis

Negative Space © Harold Davis

But wait! Which space is actually negative, and which is positive? White space—the sky—seems like the absence of the subject and should therefore be the negative space. It’s easy to test this presumption by swapping the L-channel values using the LAB color space. Black becomes white and white becomes black, as you can see in the version of the image immediately above.

Clearly, the inverted Eiffel Tower is spread out against the sky, which still seems like the negative space, even though it is black rather than white. But also newly made black are elements such as the night lights of the Eiffel Tower, appearing as small “chocolate-kiss” structures on many of the girders. In addition, the underbelly of the top platform now shows details as opposed to the stark negative space aspect of this underside in the original image.

These image variations show the interplay of positive and negative space—and are a good illustration of both the usefulness of looking at the world with negative space in mind, and also of how complex this interrelationship can be in the real world.

Photographing the Unusual in Paris

I am looking for a few select photographic souls who are Parisian at heart to join my wonderful group of photographers in Paris in April and May of 2014. Click here for details, or drop me an email.

La Basilique du Sacré Cœur de Montmartre © Harold Davis

La Basilique du Sacré Cœur © Harold Davis

One of my goals in traveling with my camera is to seek out views that are off-beat and seldom photographed, such as this somewhat unusual image of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica dominating Montmartre, the highest hill in Paris.

Click here to see more photos of Paris!

As time goes by

At first glance, this image has been mistaken for an iPhone shot (after the pattern of the special effects iPhone photos in my iPhonographie de Paris). The banks of the Seine River are shown just after sunset. Selective lamplight shines downward, illuminating the river and a couple in the distance embracing (it is Paris, after all!).

As Time Goes By © Harold Davis

As Time Goes By © Harold Davis

Look closer, and you will see that this is really a high resolution image. It was shot with my Nikon D800 with its 36MP sensor. I used my top-of-the-line Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 lens. The impressionism of the image comes from the handheld long exposure (4 seconds at f/11 and ISO 50) and deliberate up-and-down camera motion.

Islands in the Seine

I woke to a foggy autumn morning in Paris. No matter what the weather, there is always something to photograph in Paris—so I headed out to the islands in the Seine to photograph the mood of the day.

Ile de la Cite from Ile St-Louis © Harold Davis

Ile de la Cite from Ile St-Louis © Harold Davis

Please consider joining me on the 2014 Photograph Paris with Harold Davis Workshop, from April 26-May 4, 2014. Click here for the complete itineraryterms and conditions, and online registration.

Photography begins with the medium of light, which the artist captures and applies to the canvas in endlessly surprising ways. And what better place to explore this medium than Paris, the City of Light, and one of the birthplaces of photography?

When we work together to photograph Paris, you’ll experience firsthand the places and sights that have inspired artists for centuries, and find new creative and unusual ways to make photos of the City of Light!

We’ll focus our lenses on Paris in bloom, Paris at night, and Paris in black & white, reinterpreting for ourselves some of the images that have been captured in paint and on film by many great artists, including Daguerre, Monet, Atget, Picasso, and Erwitt. We’ll have a grand time photographing and we’ll return home with many priceless shots to treasure!

We’ve included many of the highlights from previous workshops, such as the visit to Monet’s garden at Giverny with after hours access (one of my personal favorites), as well as new places to explore. If you check out the itinerary, I think you’ll find many wonderful locations, such as the view from the top of the Tour Montparnasse at night, Père Lachaise, and Vaux-le-Vicomte.

As one of the participants in last year’s workshop said, put Paris “on your bucket list ‘cause you may not see this in Heaven.” Another workshop participant added, “I already admired Harold Davis, and had confidence that he would lead us to fantastic places – and he did!”

Just So Story

On an overcast and gray day, I took the RER (Réseau Express Régional) out of central Paris to the suburb of Bourg-la-Reine. From the train station in Bourg-la-Reine I humped my gear the mile or so to the Parc de Sceaux (pronounced “Park de So“).

Just So © Harold Davis

Just So © Harold Davis

The Parc de Sceaux is a less-well-known masterpiece of landscape design by André Le Nôtre, the seventeenth century landscape architect of Louis XIV responsible for the gardens at Versaille, the Tuilleries, and other famous formal French gardens.

As I explored the area, my concern was that the looming clouds might turn to rain, making photography difficult. But as I approached the long channel of water that radiated across the width of the gardens in a cross formation, the clouds parted and the sun emerged, making the reflections just so…beautiful!

Dreaming of Giverny

I dreamed I saw Monet’s garden at Giverny again. This time in autumn. My dream was waking, and I was really there. What a pleasure to be at Giverny with my camera twice in the same year, once in the spring and once in the fall!

Dreaming of Giverny © Harold Davis

Dreaming of Giverny © Harold Davis

Shot with my Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 and the D800 on tripod.

 

Tree Line

This is a shot looking almost straight up at the line of trees in the late afternoon in the Parc de Sceaux (pronounced “Park de So“) using my 15mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens on the D800.

Tree Line © Harold Davis

Tree Line © Harold Davis

La Défense

On the outskirts of Paris, at the last stop in the #1 Metro line, lies La Défense, the largest special-purpose business district in Europe. Fifteen of the world’s fifty largest companies are headquartered here. New skyscraper construction is ongoing. Anyone who thinks that France is a cute, cuddly and archaic country should check out La Défense—where the architectural homage to aggrandizement, capitalism and perhaps crypto-fascism is unabashed.

Stairs at La Défense © Harold Davis

Stairs at La Défense © Harold Davis

In the direct line of sight of the distant Arc de Triomphe, the giant cubist arch at La Défense not so much complements the Arc de Triomphe as attempts to trivialize it. The white marble steps climb abruptly upwards towards the government offices within the vast space enclosed by the hollow cube. They are slippery when wet, as it was when I visited in a light, cold rain.

To make the image shown above, I exposed for the very white stairs, intentionally selected an aperture for shallow depth-of-field (f/5.6), and focused closely on the stairs in the extreme foreground, allowing the businessman climbing the stairs in the background to appear out of focus and silhouetted.

Crown of Thorns

Every part of the Gothic cathedral had metaphoric significance. So it is reasonable to think that the summit of the less-photographed northern spire of Notre Dame was intended to represent the crown of thorns as an element of the Passion.

Crown of Thorns © Harold Davis

Crown of Thorns © Harold Davis

Exposure data: 105mm, 1/250 of a second at f/8 and ISO 200, hand held; processed in Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop, selective focus added in FocalPoint, converted to monochrome using Photoshop.

See also: iPhonographie de Paris.

Van Gogh’s Church at Auvers

Auvers-sur-Oise is hallowed ground for fans of Vincent van Gogh (and who isn’t a fan?). Here he painted many of his greatest paintings, lived the last 93 days of his life, and is buried. Today a suburb to the north of Paris, in van Gogh’s day Auvers was a pretty country village, home to Dr. Paul Gachet. Dr. Gachet was part of the same circle of avant-garde  impressionist artists as van Gogh; he boarded and “treated” van Gogh for mental illness, although van Gogh felt that Gachet actually was in worse shape than he was.

Church at Auvers © Harold Davis

Church at Auvers © Harold Davis

Before his very untimely death by gunshot to the chest under ambiguous circumstances—often, but not definitively narrated as suicide—van Gogh painted many scenes around Auvers, including Dr. Gachet’s house, the famous Wheat Field with Crows, and of course the Church at Auvers.

The modern pilgrim to the hallowed ground trod by the great van Gogh finds many of the Auvers landscapes unchanged. While not quite as overrun as Giverny, there are plenty of visitors,  and signs for tourists have been strategically placed more-or-less where van Gogh painted, showing his great painting of the location on each sign.

With the image of the Church at Auvers shown above I decided to include the tourist sign in my image. I left the right side of the photo including the sign without manipulation, and worked the left side in post-production so that one could perhaps be stepping into the reality of a van Gogh painting—or maybe a kind of dream. Because, as Vincent van Gogh put it, “I dream of painting and then I paint my dream.”

Vincent van Gogh's Grave in Auvers-sur-Oise © Harold Davis

Vincent van Gogh’s Grave © Harold Davis

Related stories: Sweet Treat; The Role of the Artist; Go Van Gogh; Starry Night.

Château de Saumur

In Saumur I stayed in an old hotel on the banks of the Loire River. My room was on the back of the hotel, and a bit cramped, but when I threw open the old-fashioned windows I saw this great view looking up at the old Château de Saumur.

I waited until after dark, then pointed my camera and tripod out the window to capture the old structures in the foreground as well as the lit castle behind.

Château de Saumur © Harold Davis

Château de Saumur © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Five exposures, each exposure at 22mm, f/8 and ISO 200, shutter speeds ranging from 8 seconds to two minutes, tripod mounted; processed and combined in Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop CC, and Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, and converted to black and white using Nike Silver Efex Pro 2.