Category Archives: Landscape

From Heaven to Hell

Poet William Blake wrote about building a Hell in Heaven’s despite, and the cognitive dissonance of traveling in Japan often put me in mind of this poem of Blake’s (which also describes building a Heaven in Hell’s despair). In Japan, there’s an aesthetic that embraces remarkable beauty, and at the same time is able to create landscapes that bear a passing resemblance to Hell itself, from the vast human ant piles of the urban Japan to the industry on the shores of the Inland Sea.

Fern Forest © Harold Davis

Fern Forest © Harold Davis

Less the thirty miles apart as the crane flies, the peaceful, serene, and fern-filled landscape along the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail (above) somehow manages to reside in the same consciousness as the heavy industry in the port of Wakayama (below).

Shores of the Inland Sea © Harold Davis

Shores of the Inland Sea © Harold Davis

I photographed the image of the Fern Forest on a wet and dripping day, with the sun starting to come through the overcast skies. Everything I needed was in my backpack, and I waited for the wind to still as I used my umbrella to protect the camera on its tripod from raindrops. Exposure data: 36mm, 1/13 of a second at f/8 and ISO 400, tripod mounted.

The photograph of industry on the shores of Japan’s Inland Sea is from the “Big Tuna” ferry heading from the port of Wakayama on Honshu to Tokushima on Shikoku Island. In processing this image, I regarded the industrial landscape as a kind of abstraction, almost mirroring the kind of calligraphy sometimes used in Japan. Exposure data: 300mm, 1/800 of a second at f/8 and ISO 200, hand held.

Related: Japan category on my blog.

Also posted in Japan, Monochrome

Denali, the Great One, Alaska by Harold Davis

The long overdue official renaming of Mount McKinley to Denali, Alaska, and the resulting outcry from the State of Ohio (the birthplace of President McKinley), puts me in mind of my fine art poster Denali, the Great One, Alaska, published in the 1980s.

Denali the Great One

Denali, the Great OneAlaska was one of a trio of fine art graphic posters that I self-published as Wilderness Studio, Inc., following licensing and publication of my artwork first by Modernart Editions, then Bruce McGaw Graphics and Dryden Gallery. This initial trio included The Dance of Spring is the Dance of Life, and all three were wildly successful. In fact, thousands of copies of Denali, the Great One, Alaska went to Alaska, where they were sold by the leading chain of framing stores to locals and tourists alike.

This image of Denali was photographed from Wonder Lake, pretty much from the position of the famous Ansel Adams image, in the middle of the long sub-arctic summer night with faint alpenglow still illuminating Denali. The perspicacious viewer will note that the moon is wrongly sized and wrongly positioned relative to Denali. In the pre-Photoshop era I accomplished this visual sleight-of-hand using an in-camera double exposure. The landscape of Denali was photographed with a 35mm lens, I moved the camera, and photographed the moon on the same piece of film using a 200mm lens.

Obviously, were I able to be in the same position and to remake this image today, I wouldn’t need to resort to the rather incredible legerdemain implied by aligning two exposures with different lenses in-camera. But I would need to think ahead enough to make all the captures I might eventually need to post-process the image in keeping with my vision.

Actually, the biggest impediment to making this image were the mosquitoes, which around Wonder Lake assumed legendary Alaskan proportions. I had driven up the Alaskan Highway in my old 1960s Volvo Station wagon, which even then was an antique, and I got permission to drive it down the Denali road, and to camp at Wonder Lake until the light was right for me to photograph. But the full tale of my Alaskan adventures is a different story for another day.

By the way, in the years since The Dance of Spring and Denali, the Great One I have continued to create poster art. Giving me the sense that there may be some continuity in life and art, a great company that was a big distributor of my Wilderness Studio posters, Editions Limited, has published my posters recently. Click here to see my posters that Editions Limited has recently published.

Also posted in Photography

Reflections in a Maine Pond

“To be calm, to be serene! There is the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind. . . . So it is with us. Sometimes we are clarified and calmed healthily, as we never were before in our lives, not by an opiate, but by some unconscious obedience to the all-just laws, so that we become like a still lake of purest crystal and without an effort our depths are revealed to ourselves. All the world goes by us and is reflected in our deeps. Such clarity!”—from the journals of Henry David Thoreau

Reflections in a Maine Pond © Harold Davis

Reflections in a Maine Pond © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome

Bend in the Neckar River

On a great bend in the Neckar River, about 15 kilometers up-river from Heidelberg, Germany lies the town of Neckarsteinach. Four dramatic castles sit atop the crags overlooking the Neckar. Julian, one of my workshop participants, brought me here the day I was flying home, and together we explored the area.

Bend in the Neckar River © Harold Davis

Bend in the Neckar River © Harold Davis

From the top tower in the castle I shot a series of seven hand-held bracketed HDR exposures. Each exposure sequence had eight images. I used Photoshop to merge the seven sequences into a single panorama, which (doing the math) consists of 56 individual images! Since each capture was using a 36MP sensor, quite a bit of information has gone into this pano, and I am looking forward to printing it large.

Bend in the Neckar River in Black and White © Harold Davis

Bend in the Neckar River in Black and White © Harold Davis

Related story: Check out the panorama I photographed overlooking a bend in the Dordogne River in southwest France.

Also posted in Germany, Photography

Prague Sunset

Getting to Prague from the Bay area took a bit of travel time. I know, less than in covered wagon and sail ship times, but still it was into the next day, and the seat on the airplane was truly lived in. Alas, I made the change of planes in Frankfurt, but my suitcase did not—and flew on with Lufthansa into the unknown. So I arrived on a new day on a Prague afternoon with the clothes on my back and a single camera. Which I took out to explore right away. As I neared the Charles Bridge I saw clouds and maybe a rainbow forming, so I dashed up the spiral stairs in the bridge tower, added a polarizer, and snapped a few frames before my rainbow disappeared.

Prague Rainbow © Harold Davis

Prague Rainbow © Harold Davis

Also posted in Czech, Photography

Yoshino River

The Yoshino River is one of the three great rivers of Japan. Located on Shikoku Island, it is nicknamed “Shikoku Saburo,” Sabaro being a popular first name for a third son. The photo shows the wide sweep of the Yoshino near its outlet in the ocean near Tokushima. The landscape is actually much more built up than it seems in this image—typical of Japan, most flat areas such as the lower Yoshino Valley are heavily populated.

Yoshina River © Harold Davis

Yoshina River © Harold Davis

Exposure data: 28mm, circular polarizer, 1/500 of a second at f/8 and ISO 200; hand held, processed in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop, and converted to black and white using the “Ansel in the Valley” preset in Perfect B&W.

Also posted in Japan, Monochrome

Views of Japan

Hokusai, the famous Japanese woodblock print artist of the Edo period, created many views of Japan that included Mt Fuji, but the one shown here was probably not in his contemplation as they didn’t have air travel back then. I made the photo on an internal Japanese flight from Tokushima on Shikkoku Island to Haneda Airport near Tokyo.

View of Mt Fuji © Harold Davis

View of Mt Fuji © Harold Davis

For my own homage to Hokusai in the context of San Francisco, check out my book 100 Views of the Golden Gate.

As part of a chapter in the new book I am working on, related to black and white photography, I’ve been looking through my photography of Japan. These are some of the iPhone photos I’ve found, mostly of subject matter that I also photographed with conventional, high resolution cameras.

Misty Mountains © Harold Davis

Misty Mountains © Harold Davis

For example, the view of misty mountains long the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage on the Kii peninsula shown above can be seen more extensively in Distant Japanese Landscape.

The somewhat bleak courtyard shown next is in Koya-san, where I stayed for a couple of rainy autumn days as a guest in a monastery.

Autumn in Japan © Harold Davis

Autumn in Japan © Harold Davis

If you’ve ever visited Japan’s ancient imperial capital of Nara, you’ll know that the deer of Nara are a big touristic deal—which is why they are portrayed in the attractive design on the manhole cover that I found on a Nara side street.

Manhole Cover, Nara, Japan © Harold Davis

Manhole Cover, Nara, Japan © Harold Davis

I liked wandering around Nara. There was a great deal to look at, such as Kofuku-ji, a Buddhist pagoda temple with origins dating to the 669 AD, once one of the powerful Seven Great Temples. Today, even monuments as important as Kofuku-ji radiate a palpable sense of time having moved on, and despite all the hustle and bustle in Japan Nara seems like a delightful backwater.

Pagoda in Nara © Harold Davis

Pagoda in Nara © Harold Davis

Also posted in iPhone, Japan, Monochrome, Photography

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

Also posted in Monochrome, Point Reyes

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.

Also posted in Equipment, Photography, Reviews, Writing

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.

Also posted in Photography, Portugal

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

Also posted in Monochrome, Portugal

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.

Also posted in HDR, Photography, San Francisco Area

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.

 

Also posted in France, Photography

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.

Also posted in France, Photography

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.

Also posted in France, Photography