Category Archives: Landscape

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.


Distant Japanese Landscape

About half a mile before reaching Hyakken-gura, I paused in the steady rain. Peering out from beneath my umbrella, I could see through the pine trees to a distant landscape in which the cloud cover seemed to be breaking up. The view seemed to call for a panorama, so I mounted by camera on my tripod. Holding the umbrella over the camera, and ignoring the cold rain splashing on me, I panned from forest edge to forest edge, encompassing the entire view spread out below me. I knew there would be time enough later to warm myself in a hot communal bath, and to clean my camera lens from the drops of rain that were inevitably falling on it.

Distant Japanese Landscape © Harold Davis

Distant Japanese Landscape © Harold Davis—Click here to view larger

You can click here, or on the image, to view it wider than it is possible to see it on one of my vertically-oriented blog pages.

Related story: 3,600 Peaks of Kumano

Playing with my boys on Point Reyes

On the Friday of the Thanksgiving weekend I drove out with my boys—Julian, Nicky and Mathew—to Point Reyes. Nicky’s friend Tamen came along too. It was a balmy, almost summer-like day. As I told people on my recent trip to Japan, we are lucky to live so near such a beautiful, spacious and wild park as Point Reyes National Seashore (many of them couldn’t believe my description in terms of the sheer amount of wild land with so few people near a major city like San Francisco).

Waves on Drakes Beach © Harold Davis

Waves on Drakes Beach © Harold Davis

We parked at Drake’s Bay, and walked along the beach under towering bluffs at extreme low tide until we reached the Drakes Estoro inlet to the Pacific. We rested a while, built a fort, and the boys splashed in the cold waters of the ocean.

On the way back, at sunset, I stopped to make the images of waves, camera on tripod for long, slow exposures. Meanwhile, I kept a weather eye out to make sure the boys didn’t kill themselves trying to climb the unstable cliffs, or whack each other too hard with driftwood from the beach.

In other words, a good time was had by all, each of us in our own way!

If you are interested in Point Reyes, you might like the Point Reyes category on my blog and Point Reyes and the Marin Headlands, my postcard book. The postcards in this book show scenes from Point Reyes, Drakes Bay, Mount Tamalpais, the Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate, and more.

Point Reyes and the Marin Headlands by Harold Davis

Along the Kumano Kodo

Along the ancient Kumano kodo pilgrimage trail there is mostly the silence of the weather. Wind whistles through the trees and a fine mist falls drop by drop. It wasn’t always this way.

When nobles from Kyoto made the pilgrimage they would often travel with many retainers—sometimes as many as a hundred people. You see the remains of those days all along the trail, from the damp and moss-covered stone stairs to the remains of small settlements and tea houses. The tea houses would wait until they saw a party of pilgrims coming, then fire up the tea kettles and rice pots so they would have refreshments to offer.

Along the Kumano kodo © Harold Davis

Along the Kumano kodo © Harold Davis

But today the world of the Kumano kodo is an empty world, alone with its ghosts—and so different from the hustle and bustle of Japanese cities like Tokyo. There were almost no Japanese people on the trail, but one man from Tokyo I did meet was wearing a business suit, business shoes, and a winter fur-lined coat.

He was staring about him wildly at the emptiness of solitude, wide-eyed and obviously terrified and afraid of the unfamiliar surroundings of wilderness without people. I wish I could have spoken enough Japanese to have learned his story, but this was not possible.

What brought him to the Kumano kodo pilgrimage, so far from his usual haunts? Tokyo Station with its acres of platforms, trains and levels sees fourteen million passengers a day. For someone used to this volume of people, their absence must be terrifying. Why was he here? I have never seen anyone look so obviously and physically afraid. As Phyllis said when I told her about meeting this man in the wilderness along the Kumano kodo that was so alien to him, “He must have done something bad, very bad, and was atoning. Probably, he will never do it—whatever it was—again!”

Of drinking and not driving

Aya, her father, and a business associate met me at the small Awa Yamakawa train station. It was already getting dark, so we drove across the river to a restaurant in an old village for dinner. This was a reasonably traditional Japanese meal in a private room on a tatami mat with shoes removed.

Yoshina River, Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku © Harold Davis

Yoshina River, Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku © Harold Davis

My three companions had a beer each, but I passed and kept to tea with the meal. After we were through with dinner, and getting ready to drive me to the Japanese-style inn where I would be staying, Aya’s father asked me, “Do you have an international driver’s license?”

I did not, and frankly had no wish to drive on the left side of the road in a country with strange road signs that I could not read. But why?

It turns out that in Japan one beer puts you over the legal alcohol blood-level limit for driving. And the fines are enormous, 200,000 Yen (or about $2,000) for the driver and each passenger and the restaurant that served the booze and let them drive.

So what people do is call a special taxi service. The service shows up with two drivers—one for your car, and one for the taxi to follow it.

There’s not much drinking and driving in Japan!

Japanese Letterpress Slugs © Harold Davis

Japanese Letterpress Slugs © Harold Davis

Misty Mountains

At 6AM my iPhone alarm rang. I raised my head off the futon, pulled the screen aside, and peered out the window at a world of driving rain. Yunomine Onsen is a country hot spring resort, so before starting up the trail I took a nice long soak, figuring as long as I was going to be wet, I might as well be warm AND wet.

Misty Mountains © Harold Davis

Misty Mountains © Harold Davis

Pack cover in place and umbrella in hand I started up the trail. At first the rain was heavy, then it subsided to a constant pitter-patter in the trees. Walking on a trail in the rain is fun, but it does lead to melancholy reflections, particularly when you pass settlements that were abandoned hundreds of years ago, as is often the case on the Kumano kodo.

Soon the trail started climbing towards a high pass, and I was blessed with a distant view of misty mountains as the storm began to clear.

Dawn in the High Fields

Early morning light coming through the Shoji screens woke me. I opened the screen and stared out at a chill world with fog hanging in the distant valleys. This was no time to dawdle indoors! I threw on my clothes, grabbed camera and tripod, and headed out to make photos.

Dawn in the High Fields (Takahara Village) © Harold Davis

Dawn in the High Fields (Takahara Village) © Harold Davis

Later, the hot communal bath would wash away my cold. Breakfast was many dishes. I could identify the smoked salmon, but others remained a mystery. Then, with pack on my back, I headed out into autumn to head along the trail to the next village.

Getting to know Kyoto

I don’t know what to make of Kyoto yet. Coming from Tokyo on the Nozomi Super Express #23 bound for Hakata, a Shinkanzen (bullet train) among Shinkanzen, it was clear that the coast of Japan is densely populated. There are no small cities in Japan.

Kyoto Canal © Harold Davis

Kyoto Canal © Harold Davis

So it should not have surprised me when the outskirts of Kyoto were fairly brutal in their urban leanings, with a train station crowded with hordes going in every direction in apparent chaos that is in fact efficiency. The decorum makes up for a bit of this, with all the uniforms so roles are apparent, and the bows to arriving and departing buses and Shinkanzen (it is a deeper bow for a Shinkanzen than for a normal train!).

All that said, when you find the old Kyoto—temples beyond count, canals, ancient alleys and streets—it more than makes up for the rest. I’m looking forward to some real exploring tomorrow!

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!