Category Archives: HDR

Craneway Pavilion

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” wrote Karl Marx. In that spirit, the photo shows the floor and windows of what is now called the Craneway Pavilion. It’s used today for weddings, rock concerts, and trade show exhibits. Its most important historical use was to make military hardware during the second World War.

Ford Richmond Plant © Harold Davis

Ford Richmond Plant © Harold Davis

The Craneway Pavilion is located in Port Richmond, California, and is the largest space in the old Ford Richmond Plant—incorporated into the ponderously named Rosie the Riveter / WWII Home Front National Historical Park. Back in World War II, this space—designed by famed industrial architect Alfred Kahn—was where the military hardware that won the war in the Pacific was built, with more than 100,000 jeeps and tanks coming out of the Richmond Tank Depot (as it was known then).

Information about the image: Nikon D800, 28-300mm lens at 42mm, circular polarizer, eight exposures, each exposure at f/25 and ISO 100, shutter speeds ranging from 1/20 of a second to 20 seconds, tripod mounted; processed in Nik HDR Efex Pro, Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop, Nik Color Efex Pro, Topaz Ajust and Topaz Simplify.

I spent the night in Edward Weston’s house

I spent a night last week in Edward Weston’s house in Wildcat Canyon at the southern end of Carmel Highlands in Big Sur. To be a bit more precise, I stayed in the guesthouse which the current owners—Kim and Gina Weston—rent out as in informal bed-and-breakfast. As a perk, Kim and Gina generously allowed me to photograph inside Edward Weston’s house, where they now live. I gather that for the most part the house is pretty much as it was in Edward’s day, with many of his touches still in evidence (more photos to come).

Weston Kitchen © Harold Davis

Weston Kitchen © Harold Davis

If I have a personal historical photographic hero whose work I admire, it would be Edward Weston. Weston died in penury in this relatively modest house, which was built for him by his son Neil Weston in 1938 for $1,000.

The guesthouse where I stayed—known as Bodie House—was used by Charis Wilson (Edward’s famous model and second wife) as her writing studio when she needed a little space. The whole place is like a museum, with incredible photographic prints on the walls, and personal touches of Edward Weston and the Weston family everywhere I looked. I felt very privileged to be there, and to be allowed to photograph.

Agave americana chez Weston © Harold Davis

Agave americana chez Weston © Harold Davis

Speaking of the Weston family, photographer Kim Weston is the son of Cole Weston, the youngest of Edward’s four children. Figuring out the familial relationships of the various descendants of Edward Weston to each other is as complex, twisted and convoluted as the giant Agave americana shown above in front of Edward’s Weston’s house. For help, check out the Weston Legacy site for some information about this complex and intriguing cast of characters. Clearly, photography runs in the family.

Edward Weston's Darkroom (iPhone) © Harold Davis

Edward Weston’s Darkroom (iPhone) © Harold Davis

Want to learn more about Edward Weston and his work? I recommend starting with Edward Weston’s famous Daybooks.

If you are interested, here’s the information about arranging a stay at Bodie House!

Monochromatic HDR Photography publication announced

Focal Press, a leading publisher of media technology books, announced today the availability of Monochromatic HDR Photography by Harold Davis, an award-winning photographer and best-selling author of more than 30 books.

Harold Davis-Monochromatic HDR book cover

In this beautifully illustrated guide for all levels from advanced amateur to professional, Davis shows photographers how to work at the intersection of two hot trends of the digital revolution: Black & White and High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging.

Click here to read the full press release on Business Wire, and here for Monochromatic HDR Photography on Amazon.


Looking up at Chartres is a memorable experience! What a vast amount of effort, creativity, engineering and spirituality over what a long period of time went into building this structure. Whatever else may be said, the cathedral is a monument to human tenacity, and the tenacity of aspiration—an embodiment and statement in stone and masonry and stained glass of the importance of there being more than humanity when one is human.

Chartres © Harold Davis

Chartres © Harold Davis

Exposure data: 10.5mm digital fisheye lens, nine exposures at shutter speeds from 1/6 of a second to 13 seconds, each exposure at f/9 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; processed and combined in Photoshop and Nik HDR Efex Pro; converted to monochromatic using Photoshop, Nik Silver Efex, and the Topaz plugin.

Beneath the Surface

To make this photo-collage, I shot a number of bracketed exposure sequences of individual shells on a white background. I then auto HDR processed each sequence, converting to monochromatic HDR within the software that I used (in this case, Photomatix).

Bringing each finished monochromatic shell into Photoshop as a separate image, I combined the images using layers, layer masks, and blending modes to create the finished image. Yes, a certain amount of warping, transforming, and distorting was also involved—but no shells were hurt in the process.

Beneath the Surface 2 by Harold Davis

Beneath the Surface 2 © Harold Davis

Exposure data: 100mm macro lens, fifteen bracketed sequences of five exposures each, each sequence shot at f/16 and ISO 200 with exposure times between 1.6 seconds and 1/25 of a second, tripod mounted; exposure sequences processed for monochromatic HDR in Photomatix, and combined to create a collage in Photoshop.

Chateau de Nazelles

The Chateau de Nazelles is located a few miles from Amboise in the Loire Valley. Built by some of the same craftsmen that constructed Chenonceau Chateau, today it is a wonderful bed and breakfast that I used as a base of operations. This image, in monochromatic HDR, conveys the feeling that being there is like visiting old France—and is more like a line drawing, or lithograph, than a photo. However, color images to come will also show the incredible lushness of the Loire in spring.

Chateau de Nazelles by Harold Davis

Chateau de Nazelles © Harold Davis

Exposure info: Nine exposures, each exposure at f/22 and ISO 100, with shutter speeds ranging from one second to 1/200 of a second; tripod mounted; exposures combined using Nik HDR Efex Pro and processed in Photoshop, with monochromatic conversion using Nik Silver Efex Pro and Photoshop black & white adjustment layers.

Smoking Gun

There’s one somewhat discordant element in this tableau of a metallurgic assayer’s desk, shot at Laws Railroad Museum near Bishop, California. What is the gun doing in the image?

According to the docent I spoke with, most assayers tended to deal in gold and other precious metals as well as to assay it. The natural tendency for miners hitting what passed for civilization out of their stakes in Death Valley or the Panamint Range was to want to get some ready money quickly—no doubt for some to spend on booze and women in wild boom towns like Bodie. These miners would often come to feel that they had been low-balled by assayers who had taken advantage of them; hence, a revolver to defend against disgruntled small mining stake-holders was standard equipment for most metallurgists.

Assay by Harold Davis

Assay © Harold Davis

Exposure data: 52mm, ten exposures at shutter speeds between 1/80 of a second and five seconds, each exposure at f/13 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; exposures combined using Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photoshop, and converted to monochromatic using Photoshop, Nik Silver Efex and Topaz Adjust.

Gnarled wood in the desert

In the desert life is harsh, and the intensity of light reflects the harshness of conditions. Photography is best at the fringes of the day—the “golden hour” leading up to sunset, the half hour just after sunset, and the half hour of comparatively serene light one finds at dawn.

Gnarled wood in the desert by Harold Davis

Gnarled Wood in the Desert © Harold Davis

I created this monochromatic HDR image shortly after sunrise in Glorieta Canyon, part of the Anza-Borrego Desert in southeastern California. To make the image I used my 200mm macro lens, and mounted my camera on a tripod. There were five exposures, shot at  ISO 100 and f/16. Shutter speeds varied between 1/13 of a second (darkest) and 1.3 seconds (brightest).

The images were processed from the RAW using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) and Nik HDR Efex Pro, then combined in Photoshop using layering. I used Photoshop,  Nik Color Efex, Topaz Adjust, Topaz Simply, and PixelBender to enhance the image. Finally, I converted the image to monochromatic using Photoshop, Nik Silver Efex, and a “reserved” layer from the original HDR Efex monochromatic HDR processing.

The Bristlecone Pines Endure

Above 10,000 feet in the arid White Mountains in eastern California the ancient Bristlecone Pines thrive. In this extreme environment wood decomposes slowly, and these trees can look more dead than alive. In this state a tree can live on for centuries, the spark of life embedded within the enduring structure of wood.

Endurance by Harold Davis

Endurance © Harold Davis

Coming upon a composition of apparently dead wood formed by a living Bristlecone Pine, I could see that I wanted a black and white image that showed the spectacular patterns of wood grain—and also that the ability to make this image was beyond the tonal range of any single capture. So I resolved my dilemma by making multiple captures, and taking the image from mundane to striking in its tonal variety.

Exposure and processing data: 200mm macro lens, six exposures at shutter speeds ranging from 1/500 of a second to 7/10 of a second, each exposure at f/32 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; RAW files processed in Adobe Camera RAW and Nik HDR Efex Pro with post-production in Photoshop, monochromatic conversion using Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Bay Bridge Lights

In this image of the Bay Bridge the moon seems to be “captured” within the tower of the Bay Bridge. The image is a hand-HDR blend of six exposures at shutter speeds from 1/2 of a second to 8 seconds. During one of the exposures the lights for The Bay Lights, an art installation and project by Leo Villareal that will come on “for real” on March 5, 2013 appeared briefly (in testing mode I guess), and I painted them in on a layer at about 30% opacity. Note that this light show has nothing to do with the 75th anniversary of the Bay Bridge, which has come and gone—and is simply a rather wonderful art installation.

Moon Captured by the Bay Bridge - Black & White by Harold Davis

Moon Captured by the Bay Bridge – Black & White © Harold Davis

The sequence of exposures in this image was shot during Saturday’s smashing moonrise adventure workshop—which I feel was good photographically and a very successful workshop despite the break-in of my van. I started with color images, combined them, manipulated them in post-production to create an image with an extended range of tonal values—withthe results shown below. To finish the image, I then converted it to black and white, using layers and masking to control how each section of the image converted.

Moon Captured by the Bay Bridge - Color by Harold Davis

Moon Captured by the Bay Bridge – Color © Harold Davis

Stanford Memorial Church

This is an HDR fisheye shot looking up at the ceiling of the Stanford Memorial Church and its rather wonderful mosaics.

Stanford Memorial Church by Harold Davis

Stanford Memorial Church © Harold Davis

Foundation of all those fables

Wandering on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, high above Stinson Beach, the Bolinas lagoon, Duxbury Reef, and the open Pacific the seascape below was cloud-covered. As the sun began to set, thermals opened an area offshore and I was reminded of a quote from Thoreau of Walden fame: “Who has not seen in imagination, when looking into the sunset sky…the foundation of all those fables?”

Sunset from Bolinas Ridge by Harold Davis

Sunset from Bolinas Ridge © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

There’s magic in the sunset sky, yet we’re scared to succumb to such a simple infatuation. Beauty can make us grumpy, and put us in mind of postcards. Actor Dustin Hoffman cynically put it this way: “I envy people who can just look at a sunset. I wonder how you can shoot it. There is nothing more grotesque to me.”

Photography can be many things. I’m here to tell you it is okay to shoot sunsets. Personally, I cannot look at one without being moved, and recognizing  the foundation of fables as day turns to night.

Lush and Faux

In New York’s Central Park the lush—but artificial—landscapes make the cityscape look almost pastoral in its beauty. Central Park is the landscape architecture masterpiece of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, created in the mid 1800s.

Central Park by Harold Davis

Central Park © Harold Davis

Almost everything about the landscape of Central Park—lakes, meadows, hills, and rocks—was artfully and artificially created and placed. The result is an apparent pastoral paradise in which glimpses of the city only seem to enhance the lush natural landscape. The building shown reflected in the man-made lake in this image is the tower of the luxury Sherry Netherland Hotel, located along Fifth Avenue at the southern end of the park.

When designing Central Park, Olmsted and Vaux turned to the Yosemite Valley floor as a source of inspiration (Olmsted had visited Yosemite a few years before beginning the Central Park design). Compared to the wilderness landscape, Central Park seems faux (if you’ll pardon the rhyme with “Vaux”)—but certainly a wonderful enhancement to life in New York.

How the image was made: This is five exposures taken with my camera on a tripod. Each exposure was shot at 18mm, f/13, and ISO 200. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/2 a second to 1/320 of a second. I used Photoshop and Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 to create a single composite High Dynamic Range (HDR) image.

New York Night in HDR

On a rooftop high above New York the lights of the city sparkled in the night. From so far above even the noise of the city was muted—all I could hear was an occasional siren far below, echoing in the strong wind.

New York at Night by Harold Davis

New York at Night © Harold Davis

To make this image, with my camera on a tripod, I used manual exposure control to snap five exposures. I used my 10.5mm fisheye lens. Each exposure was at ISO 200 and f/3.5. The shutter speeds ranged from 2/5 of a second to 15 seconds.

I was on the road and didn’t have much time for elaborate HDR post-processing, so I simply fed the images through Nik HDR Efex Pro 2 at the default settings, with the results you see above.

In fact, as the author of Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography, one kind of HDR or another informs most of my photography.

Want to learn my HDR thoughts and techniques?

I am giving my much requested all-day HDR Bootcamp workshop on Saturday, Jan 12, 2013, in downtown Berkeley, CA. The workshop tuition is $195.00. Click here for information and registration.

Here are some comments of participants from my previous HDR Bootcamp workshop:

  • “Great day to learn how to better take and process single and bracketed images for maximizing dynamic range.”
  • “Excellent. Great new material and clear explanations of techniques and new software.”
  • “Harold offered an excellent overview of HDR technique. He took the time to ensure that each of us was able to follow along in making HDR images manually and then in processing them in several different software programs.”
  • “Incredibly helpful workshop. I feel like I now have the knowledge to do HDR the right way.”
  • “This ‘Bootcamp’ was well organized , well paced, good value-added content. I enjoyed it and got a lot out of it.”

Click for the Jan 12 2013 HDR Bootcamp All-Day Workshop information and registration.

Photographing Flowers on a Lightbox for Transparency

So far as I know I am the inventor of my process for creating images of flowers using a lightbox that are transparent—actually, images that seem translucent. This process relies on digital capture and post-production techniques and would not have been possible in film photography.

Like all photography the technique relies on illusion. Specifically, the illusion in this case has to do with the fact that lighter areas in an image can appear more translucent to the human eye—whether or not they actually are. The reality is that the effect has to do with color differential rather than degrees of opacity, but this is not the way the difference is perceived.

Papaver and Iridaceae

Papaver and Iridaceae © Harold Davis

The technique for creating these images involves four distinctive stages, with aspects worthy of commentary at each stage:

  1. Manually bracketed HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography using backlighting
  2. Combining the bracketed exposure sequence using hand-HDR
  3. Adjusting the combined image
  4. Placing the image on a scanned or textured background (this step is optional)

The key observations about the HDR process I use in this technique are that it is high-key and that it is manual. High-key means that I throw away everything to the right of the histogram, I am really only looking for frames that are “overexposed” (at least according to the in-camera light meter). Manual means that I am not using an auto-bracketing program. There is more information about this style of HDR in Creating HDR Photos on pages 82-85.

In my book Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis there is a spread showing both the photographic setup I use for this technique and the manually bracketed exposure sequence that I used with a specific image (pages 184-185).

Putting together the bracketed exposure sequence is also a manual affair. Essentially, I start with the lightest image (to use as the white background) and use Photoshop to selectively paint in the contrasting areas I want for the final image. Usually this involves 4-6 different exposures and layers. I then often very selectively paste in some structurized details from an automated HDR program such as Nik HDR Efex Pro.

Schizanthus Grahamii and Iceberg Roses

Schizanthus Grahamii and Iceberg Roses © Harold Davis

With Schizanthus grahamii and Iceberg Roses (shown above) I used a 40mm macro lens, and with my camera on a tripod shot six exposures with shutter speeds ranging from one second to 1/100 of a second. Each exposure was at f/10 and ISO 100. I combined the images starting with the one second exposure version (the lightest capture) as the bottom frame.

The image was finished by placing it on a scanned paper background. The formula I usually use is to blend the floral on white into a scanned background at 15% opacity using Normal blending mode, and (using a duplicate layer) also at 85% opacity using Multiply blending mode.

My technique for placement on a scanned paper background is shown and explained on pages 190-193 of Photographing Flowers.

Peonies mon amour

Peonies mon amour © Harold Davis

Of course, another issue is the paper I print the image on—using special Washi such as the Moab Moenkopi Unruyu I used to print Peonies mon amour (shown above) can increase the appeal of an image greatly.

If my technique for photographing flowers on a lightbox intrigues you, may I suggest the Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop I am giving in December 2012? This is a one-time special purpose event that will include demos and a chance for participants to try their hand at the technique with my guidance.