Category Archives: Landscape

Monterey Cypress Row on Point Reyes

On my way to teach a weekend Seascapes and Wildflowers workshop at the western tip of Point Reyes, California I stopped to photograph the well-known row of Monterey Cypress trees at the Marconi operations center. This tree tunnel is one of the largest in the world made up of these trees, and marks a historically significant wireless location. Certainly, there is something very dramatic about coming upon these trees standing by themselves in the windswept landscape of Point Reyes.

Memory Lane © Harold Davis

Memory Lane © Harold Davis

By the way, the workshop was great fun with a truly compatible group of photographers. Many photos were made, participants came from as far away as Florida and New Jersey, and the sense of community that marks the truly successful workshop was indeed present. The workshop base was the historic Coastguard Boathouse, where we were surrounded night and day by elephant seals and sea lions. Thank you Point Reyes Field Institute for hosting this—and many other—memorable workshops over the years!

Here’s an iPhone capture from the classroom window at the Boathouse of the ramp used to guide out rescue boats when the place was operational, with the window cloudy with salt spray.

Coastguard Boathouse Window © Harold Davis

Coastguard Boathouse Window © Harold Davis

Review: Domke Next Generation Chronicle Camera Bag

If you are like me—and most other professional photographers that I know—you will have acquired over time an extensive collection of camera bags. Some bags fit some gear, but not other gear. Some are backpacks—which means better ergonomics for trekking, but less access to gear on the fly—and others are shoulder bags. Still others are hybrids, or designed particularly with transiting through airports, or being able to submerge in water, in mind.

I am always looking for the perfect camera bag, and with my Domke Next Generation Chronicle I may have finally hit the jackpot.

The Domke bags were originally created by photojournalist Jim Domke, whose hobby was collecting camera bags. Started in 1976, the Domke company was acquired by Tiffen, a leading manufacturer of photo accessories, in 1999. You can visit the Domke page on the Tiffen website by clicking here (opens in a new window).

I carried my gear in a Domke Chronicle Bag on a recent workshop I lead across the Atlas Mountains in Morocco---Ait Benhaddou © Harold Davis

I used my Domke Chronicle Bag on a workshop I led across the Atlas Mountains in Morocco—Ait Benhaddou © Harold Davis

Over the years, many professional photographers have provided input into the design of the Domke camera bags, and they have received numerous professional accolades, such as being named the official bag of the White House News Photographer Association.

It’s clear that no one bag will ever fulfill all of my photographic needs, or hold all my camera gear—and, as Jim Domke would be the first to admit, it is highly unreasonable to have this as an expectation. Within the constraints of a soft-sided journalist-style shoulder bag, my Domke Chronicle Camera Bag is truly wonderful. This is not an inexpensive camera bag (the discounted retail price is probably about $300), but the old saw about getting what you pay for applies, and the materials, finish, and detailing are top-of-the-line throughout.

J-CHRON-RM_300-8wThe outer material is a durable, water repellent form of thick coated cotton duck, manufactured to military standards. Hardware, such as zippers and clips, are very high quality. One thing I like best is that the exterior, while attractive, is non-descript. If you remove the external Domke badge, which is easy to do, no one would ever know this was a camera bag. I carry thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars of camera gear through all kinds of environments, and an extremely important component of personal security is not giving away what I have with me unnecessarily (partly for this reason, I also replace the branded straps on my camera bodies with plain straps).

Inside, the bag is flexible and expandable, and also protects my gear. Did I mention that this is a softside bag that is lightweight? I’ve carried it happily with one camera body and two lenses, and I’ve also used it fully loaded with several bodies and five or six heavy lenses. The customizable divisors allow a great deal of flexibility about how much gear I carry, and how it is laid out.

Chronicle-OpenThe layout of pockets for things like filters, memory cards, extra batteries, iPad and iPhone, and so on is very well thought out. Two features I particularly like are the excellent and secure strap for placing the bag on a wheeled suitcase extension handle, and the closure of the main compartment. The main compartment is secured with heavy-duty steel clips, but if you forget to clip it and just throw the top over, velcro takes over, and your gear will still be safe.

My one complaint about the bag, and I have only one, has to do with waterproofing. The material the bag is made of is inherently highly water resistant, and the main compartment is designed with flaps that can be arranged so that water does not leak into the bag. This arrangement is probably more than sufficient for the intended primary users of the bag, who are photojournalists. If it starts to rain hard, the photojournalist probably stops into a handy cafe and interviews sources while sipping a Pernod or Ouzo, and maybe puffing on a cheroot.

In contrast, my way of working sometimes requires me to be out with my gear in extremely foul weather. My requirements for a bag include a completely waterproof (not water resistant) cover, either included as integral to the bag, or carried as an accessory in a pocket. Domke does not provide this, so Phyllis helped me sew a jury-rigged elasticized waterproof raincoat for the bag that I always carry in a pouch in one of the pockets.

Full disclosure: I was provided a Domke Next Generation Chronicle Camera Bag for the purposes of writing a review by the Tiffen Company, and tested it under many widely varying field conditions. While I didn’t pay for my Chronicle Bag, I never would have trusted my gear to it on several continents if I didn’t think it was a great, convenient, and well-made camera bag, and my opinions are always honest and outspoken.

As a matter of principle, and so I can stay objective, I do not carry advertising or affiliate marketing links on my blog. Domke Camera Bags can be purchased from most quality professional photo suppliers.

Castelo Marvao

Late on a frigid November afternoon I checked into the Pousada Santa Maria—a converted convent—in the eagle-nest town of Marvao, Portugal. I was the only guest at the hotel. I dropped my bags in my room, dressed in every layer I had with me, grabbed my camera and tripod, and headed out into the oncoming evening to photograph.

Castelo Marvao © Harold Davis

Castelo Marvao © Harold Davis

High above the Iberian plain, and facing the Spanish border, Marvao has been a refuge from time out of mind. During the Roman era, star-crossed lovers are said to have fled the wrath of armies and settled on these heights. Their descendants added successive fortifications, leading to the castle you see in the photo, protecting a small white-washed village that clings nearby.

On the ramparts of the castle it was getting even colder, and the wind was picking up. I made my way to the top tower of the castle and watched the last of the sunset, and the lights of the village below come on, secure knowing I had my headlamp with me. The clouds swirled in, and I was alone in a white-out.

Back at the hotel, I warmed up in the lounge, waiting for the dining room to open. Its late hours were typical of dining in Portugal. Had it been light, and but for the fog, I would have been able to see hundreds of miles across Spain during my long and mediocre meal. My server wheezed and sniffled and told me, “We all are sick here, it is always cold, even in summer.”

As it was, I was grateful for my warm bed, and grateful that I had seized the last light to photograph this incredibly romantic landscape!

Related stories: Travels with Samantha; Terraces in Portugal; Rats at Mafra.

Terraces in Portugal

In the Upper Douro Valley of Portugal the grapes are grown that become the famous port wine that has made Oporto, Portugal’s second city on the banks of the Douro River where it meets the Atlantic, a commercial center since time immemorial. The vines are grown on steep terraces, created over the centuries by hand. This area is a World Heritage Site, and looking at the immensity of the labor involved in this landscape one can surely understand why.

Terraces © Harold Davis

Terraces © Harold Davis

I shot this image handheld across the valley of a river a tributary to the Douro River on a late autumn day with quickly shifting cloud cover. Of course, this is a composition of patterns on a large scale. Abstractly, one could almost be looking at sine waves rather than stone terraces. Look closely, and you can see the staircases used to navigate from one level to the next.

But the eye needs some relief, so when I chose the portion of this vast landscape to render I let a road curve and meander through the frame from left to right, and balanced the road with a bright spot of light coming through the clouds, and coming down from the upper right.

Here’s the color version of the photo:

Terraces, Upper Douro Valley, Portugal © Harold Davis

Terraces, Upper Douro Valley, Portugal © Harold Davis

The end of the Berkeley Pier

The Berkeley Municipal Pier stretches almost a half a mile out into San Francisco Bay. Along the way out to the end there are views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, and Mt Tamalpais. The pier used to go even further, so the end is boarded up with the slats you see here, which look decorative in the sunset light. By the way, the view from under the Berkeley Pier is also pretty cool!

End of the Berkeley Pier © Harold Davis

End of the Berkeley Pier © Harold Davis

This image was shot on a tripod, and used three blended exposures. I used a Nikon D810 and Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 set to f/22 and ISO 64 (the native ISO for the D810). The shutter speeds were 2.5 seconds, 8 seconds and 25 seconds. Post-production included HDR blending and minor perspective correction.

Ghosts in the Enchanted Garden

On May Day, a national holiday in France, the fountains were going full force in the Parc de Sceaux. Of course, on a holiday weekend, the park was full of people, who showed up as “ghosts” in this bracketed exposure sequence, combined using HDR. I removed most of the ghosts in post-production, but if you look closely you’ll see I left a few ghosts to wander in this enchanted garden.

Ghosts in the Enchanted Garden © Harold Davis

Ghosts in the Enchanted Garden © Harold Davis

Another technical point: my usual recommendation is to bracket shutter speed by one EV increments, keeping the other settings in the exposure triangle constant. But in this case I essentially created two bracketed sequences at differing ISOs and apertures, one sequence intended to provide long exposures and a smooth effect on the water in the fountains, the other intended to capture the water as it sprayed crisply.

Both sequences were then combined into one image. I used a 70mm focal length on a tripod. The three fast-shutter-speed exposures were at ISO 320 and f/8, and ranged from 1/80 of a second to 1/500 of a second in duration. The four slow-shutter-speed exposures were at ISO 50 and F/32, and ranged from 1.3 seconds to 1/6 of a second.

The point of this process was to show both silky slow-motion water along with crisp spray from the fountains.

Ghosts in the Enchanted Garden (Black & White) © Harold Davis

Ghosts in the Enchanted Garden (Black & White) © Harold Davis

Of course, there is something decidedly old-fashioned about this kind of view, almost like a digital version of Eugene Atget in his photography of parks and gardens such as those at Versailles. So I decided to make this appeal explicit in the monochromatic version shown here. You can still see the ghosts if you look closely, but they are wandering around in black and white.

Learn more about my techniques for monochrome in this webinar recording: Converting to Black & White with Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex and also please consider my Black & White Weekend Workshop in March, 2015.


Valentre Bridge

In an earlier story illustrated with iPhone captures, I wrote: The city of Cahors in the southwest of France is a slightly gritty provincial capital—but back in the middle ages it was fabulously wealthy. Protected on three sides by the river Lot, Cahors was nevertheless sacked, abandoned and rebuilt. But glory was never regained entirely (the Black Death didn’t help matters). You can see the remnants in the palaces and monuments of the old quarter, where today they have a wonderful fresh food market. I got my lunch today in this market. You really can’t beat a fresh loaf of bread, a tranche of locally made pate, strawberries and a tomato!

Valentre Bridge © Harold Davis

Valentre Bridge © Harold Davis

Cahors may have fallen to brute force and treachery during the hundred years war during the convoluted battles between French and English monarchs, but the Pont Valentre was rightly regarded as impregnable. Originally a fortress in the center of the river, it was expanded across to both banks with ample fortifications to make direct attack well nigh impossible.

I made this photo of the Pont Valentre from the banks of the Lot River with my camera on my tripod, and my hat held over the camera and lens to protect it from the spring rain.

When two rivers woo

I’ve been playing with poetry, puns and stories in my mind about two rivers coming together, hence “when two rivers woo” and “a tale of two rivers,” and so on. Shown here: The Vezere River coming in from the left and the mighty Dordogne River from the right shot from the castle-turned-exhibition garden high above the town of Lemeuil in southwestern France.

Confluence of Two Rivers  © Harold Davis

Confluence of Two Rivers © Harold Davis

Rain was falling softly and the air was fragrant on the spring day this year that I shot the image, with my camera exposed I was mindful of the brooding clouds in the distance. If you look carefully, you can see the rain skittering across the wind-blown surface of the water at the confluence of the two rivers.

This is an HDR blend of nine exposures, each shot at a moderate wide-angle, ISO 100, and f/11. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/5 of a second to 1/320 of a second. I used a polarizing filter and a tripod.

Related images: Morning on the Lot River and Overlooking the Dordogne River.

Morning on the Lot River

Meandering by slow roads, I crossed and recrossed the Lot River in the southwest of France. Parking by the river, a trail led me back along cliffs for about a mile. There were ancient steps carved in the rock down to the water, and I descended. Pausing, I looked down in the almost still reflection of the river—losing myself in water that seemed directionless and mystical in the early morning light.

Morning on the Lot River © Harold Davis

Morning on the Lot River © Harold Davis

Riders on the Storm meets Christina’s World

In the surprising uplands of Dordogne and Lot in the southwest of France high alkaline plateaus are bisected by deep river valleys. You’ll find medieval towns and castles, with markers from the history of the bloody 100 years war. The Brits may not have conquered back then, but today they’ve taken over, with everything from modest vacation bungalows to gated chateaus and estates.

Riders on the Storm © Harold Davis

Riders on the Storm © Harold Davis

Exploring the back country, in the smallest hamlets I could find, were also abandoned farms and ruined buildings. I paused in Saint-Romain, ahead of the storm, to photograph this farm house, intricate in its construction and picturesque in its decay. The wind whistled through the grass in the fields, with a sound as desolate as the abandoned buildings. The only thing missing was Christina, I thought, disassembling my camera and tripod and turning away as the first drops of rain began to fall.

Sainte Croixe de Beaumont

Way off the beaten track in the southwest of France, I stopped to photograph the ancient church at Sainte Croixe de Beaumont. This complex belonged to the Knights Templar, and is mostly abandoned. The interior of the church is still in decent shape, but the other buildings are heading for ruin.

Oncoming Storm over Sainte Croixe © Harold Davis

Oncoming Storm over Sainte Croixe © Harold Davis

All morning it had been threatening to rain, with swiftly moving clouds overhead. As I wandered through the fields with my camera on the tripod, the oncoming storm burst, and I made haste to take refuge in an abandoned building where I could protect my gear.

Overlooking the Dordogne River

I got to talking about photography with the couple who ran the B&B where I was staying in the ancient monastery town of Cadouin, France, and they suggested I check out a spot overlooking the Dordogne River a little way above the old riverside village of Tremolat. There was a little path from the parking area leading to the cliffs overlooking a bend in the river. By the time I got there rain was moving in, and the sky to the southwest was diffuse and soft, while the clouds to the the northeast were dark and ominous over the village of Lumeuil and the confluence of the Dordogne and Vezere Rivers.

Bend in the River - Dordogne in Black & White © Harold Davis

Bend in the River – Dordogne in Black & White © Harold Davis

I ignored the oncoming weather, and mounted my camera on the tripod. Looking left, straight ahead, and right and shot bracketed sequences of exposures for later HDR processing. I did my best to take my time and shoot following a proper and patient protocol despite the raindrops falling on my gear.

Bend in the River - Dordogne © Harold Davis

Bend in the River – Dordogne © Harold Davis

Combining the three images into a panorama meant first combining the exposure sequences, then using Photoshop’s Photomerge capabilities. You’ll find Photomerge in Photoshop on the File > Automate menu. After a bit of experimenting, I found the the Reposition layout setting with the Blend Images Together option checked worked best. There’s always a bit of manual retouching after blending images together using Photomerge, and this set of images was no exception, but generally the Photoshop automation got me about 95% of the way!

The final image is really quite high resolution, about 50 inches wide at 300 ppi without any enlargement (the file size is about 450 megabytes). It’s hard to see in an online version the level of detail this implies in some image areas, but you would see this detail if you were looking at a good print. You can begin to see the resolution in larger versions that will fit on the horizontally-oriented pages of my blog, click here to see a larger size black and white version, or here for the color version.

Speaking of black and white versus color, which version do you prefer?

Double Rainbow over Paris

In the afternoon the rain started to come down hard, with a lush, almost tropical sound as it fell hard on the rooftops of Paris. I went upstairs because I had left my window open. I stuck my head out the window before I shut it. Around the corner was a hint of a rainbow.

Double Rainbow over Paris © Harold Davis

Double Rainbow over Paris © Harold Davis

I grabbed my camera, dashed downstairs in my t-shirt and jeans, took an umbrella from the bin next to the front desk, and ran the two blocks to the Seine River. A double rainbow was forming, upstream in the direction of the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay. Precariously balancing my camera and using the umbrella to shelter it from the wind and rain I snapped a few photos.

Sometimes you get lucky.

Sunday in the Park with George

Sunday in the Park with George. “George” in this case was my Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 lens. The park is Square Jean XXIII, just behind Notre Dame in Paris, on a cold November day near twilight.

In a Paris Park © Harold Davis

In a Paris Park © Harold Davis

The most typical goal of photography is to render crisp images where camera motion is not an issue. This can be achieved by using a fast shutter speed—usually a shorter duration of time than 1/125 of a second—or by putting the camera on a solid support, such as a tripod.

What fun to turn this on its head by intentionally moving the camera during exposure. The results often don’t look very photographic, and it takes a good bit of trial and error to find the right exposure combination. It’s also easier when there is some light, but not too much light. Try this technique in the middle of the day, and even with loads of neutral density filters it is hard to get decent results.

As with the light, so with the motion—you want to move the camera in a consistent way, with enough movement to create an attractive effect but not so much as to turn the image to mush! In this case, “George” and I consistently panned slowly from left to right, pausing on the couple on the bench briefly, and going up and down at the right end of the exposure.

I feel lucky when shooting this way to get one out of a hundred shots turning out decently. Even a few seconds can seem like a very long time when one does it over and over again!

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 at f/4.5, 4 seconds at ISO 50, hand held.

Sunrise in the rice fields

Waking up just before dawn in the small Japanese village of Chikatsuyu (see bottom image), I threw my clothes on and hurried out with my camera. There were pockets of fog, and crystalline ice structures on some of the plants. As the sun rose, moisture evaporated up from the earth, and I headed for the nearby rice fields.

Field, Chikatsuyu © Harold Davis

Field, Chikatsuyu © Harold Davis

The trick when shooting into the sun is usually to radically underexpose—otherwise your image will be overexposed and full of blown-out highlights. The exposure data for this image in the rice fields using a 300mm lens on a full frame camera was 1/3200 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO, hand held. As you can see, I purposely selected a wide open aperture for shallow depth-of-field. My underexposure was by about 2 EV relative to what the light meter indicated.

Morning Mist on the Hiki River © Harold Davis

Morning Mist on the Hiki River © Harold Davis

Back along the Hiki River, the morning mists were rapidly clearing. I turned my camera away from the fields, and shot an image back towards the mountains.

Chikatsuyu © Harold Davis

Chikatsuyu © Harold Davis

The Minshuku—a budget version of a ryokan, roughly speaking a Japanese bed & breakfast—where I stayed is to the left in this photo, right along the river.