Category Archives: Monochrome

Apartments on the Boulevard Haussman

I was struck by the regularity in this apartment building. Nobody had planters out, no bikes were stored, and old shoes weren’t resting in the window embrasures.  This kind of tidiness is what you might expect from the haute bourgeoisie along the Boulevard Haussmann in Paris. I photographed the facade to emphasize its evident symmetry, and processed it using the same set of techniques I used with Room with a View (where there were old sneakers outside the windows!) to make the image look as much like an etching as a black & white photo.

Apartments on the Boulevard Haussmann © Harold Davis

Apartments on the Boulevard Haussmann © Harold Davis

With the image I had pre-visualized, and in this kind of situation, in both shooting and processing I am very glad to have the monochromatic HDR toolkit at my beck and call!

Exposure data: Nikon D300, 18-200mm lens at 130mm, five combined exposures at shutter speeds between 1/13 of a second and 1/800 of a second, each exposure at f/8 and ISO 200, tripod mounted.

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

Photograph San Francisco in Black and White—also Workshop Updates

Photograph San Francisco in Black and White

Please consider joining me the weekend of Saturday April 12 and Sunday April 13, 2014 for a black & white photographic tour of San Francisco. I like to think of this as the film noir workshop of San Francisco, although of course we will be working in digital. Click here for details, curriculum and registration.

Sunset on the Bay

Sunset on the Bay © Harold Davis

Depending on light, weather and group inclinations, we will shoot famous locations and those known only to locals, possibly including (but not limited to) the Golden Gate Bridge, Marin Headlands, Fort Point, the Cable Car Museum, Urban Ore and Market Street at Night. We will photograph in the daytime, and include at least one night shoot (Saturday night). Classroom sessions will cover black and white conversion, monochromatic HDR, and creating high tonal-range imagery.

The workshop will be based in Berkeley, California (we will carpool to locations) and the tuition is $695 per person. Click here for details, curriculum and registration.

Cable Car Wheels © Harold Davis

Cable Car Wheels © Harold Davis

City as Landscape © Harold Davis

City as Landscape © Harold Davis


My understanding based on email responses is that the Photographic Caravan to Spain and Morocco is almost full. However, we are taking firm registrations when we get completed applications and deposit checks—so if you are on the fence, send yours in now because there may still be a possibility of getting that last spot, and also we will be taking a waiting list.

Nearer to home, I am giving two extraordinary workshops on the coast of California you may wish to consider in August, 2014. I am very excited about both these workshops. Night Photography in the Big Sur Landscape is hosted by the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel, CA the weekend of August 1-3 and Creative Landscape Photography on Point Reyes will take place at the historic and romantic Coastguard Boathouse the weekend of August 8-10 under the auspices of Point Reyes Field Seminars.

Perhaps needless to say, we do expect these workshops to be popular. To avoid disappointment, I urge you to register early.

Bixby Bridge by Starlight © Harold Davis

Bixby Bridge by Starlight © Harold Davis

Here are the related Meetup groups for these workshops:

If you are interested in flower photography, please keep in mind the Best of Botanicals National Juried Photography Exhibition partially benefiting the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Related to this exhibition, I will be presenting and discussing my botanical prints on Saturday, June 7 (this event is free). Finally, I am pleased to offer my Photographing Flowers online course at $10 off the $59.99 price (use this link for the special discount).

Tulip Pano © Harold Davis

Tulip Pano © Harold Davis

Today’s Nautilus

I’ve been photographing split Nautilus shells yesterday and today, these make such lovely spirals. Check out the monochrome version first:

Nautilus February 20 2014 © Harold Davis

Nautilus February 20 2014 © Harold Davis

It’s hard to think of another still life subject that is as classical and inspiring as the chambered Nautilus. I am looking forward to photographing a whole shell that hasn’t been split in the next few days. Here’s my recent color version:

Nautilus February 20 2014 © Harold Davis

Nautilus February 20 2014 © Harold Davis

Do you prefer today’s Nautilus in black and white or color?

Related story: Nautilus by Halves.

Advanced Black & White: Photography and Photoshop

Learn to create extended tonal range black and white images

Saturday April 12 and Sunday April 13, 2014

This workshop includes field photography in several Bay area locations, monochromatic HDR shooting techniques in the field, black & white conversion in Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex, and monochromatic HDR processing.

Click here for registration!

When folks think of HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, they tend to have color imaging in mind. But the fact is that HDR techniques are just as applicable to monochromatic photography as to color.

Ruined Stair by Harold Davis

Ruined Stair © Harold Davis

In both cases, the point is to extend the dynamic range of the resulting image beyond what is normally seen in a single exposure—and, indeed, beyond normal human perception. When working in digital black and white, the tonal range is extended from the lightest lights to the darkest darks. This results in images with great graphical appeal that make for splendid monochromatic prints.

Harold Davis-Monochromatic HDR book cover

In this workshop, Master Photographer Harold Davis guides participants in both aspects of the monochromatic HDR process: shooting and post-processing.

Workshop participants will take advantage of several San Francisco Bay area locations, with field destinations to be determined depending on weather and group predilections. Possibilities include the Cable Car Museum, Fort Point, Marin Headlnds and the Golden Gate Bridge.

In the classroom, hands-on guidance will explain techniques for extending dynamic range, monochromatic conversion methods, and best practices where the two technologies intersect.

Nautilus in Black and White

Nautilus in Black and White © Harold Davis

In addition, the workshop will provide extensive coverage of the creative vision required to successfully create monochromatic HDR images as well as the workflow necessary to make art prints from this specialized image-making technique.

When: Saturday, April 12 and Sunday, April 13, 2014

Where: The classroom session of the workshop is hosted in Berkeley, California, in a convenient location near the upscale Fourth Street shopping district and close to the University Avenue exit from I80. We will car pool to field shooting locations.

Cost: Tuition is $695 per person. Workshop is limited to a maximum of 16 participants.

Click here for registration!


Saturday, April 13

9 am:   Orientation

9:30am:   Black & White Photography in the Digital Era

10:30 am to 12:30 pm:  Classroom session on multi-RAW processing and shooting and processing HDR sequences

12:30 – 1:15 Lunch break

2 to 7 pm:  Field photography session(s) (Car pool, possible locations include San Francisco Cable Car Museum, Fort Point, Marin Headlands, Golden Gate Bridge, tbd)

8 pm:  “Dutch Treat” Group dinner (optional, location tba)

Sunday, September 14

9 am:  Classroom session, individual assignments

10 am to 12 pm:  Individual assignments and field photography

12:00 – 12:45pm  Lunch break

12:45 to 3:00 pm:  Assignment review, classroom session covering monochromatic conversion techniques

3:30 to 4:00 pm:  The high tonal range monochromatic print (special considerations and techniques)

4:30 pm:  Workshop wrap-up

Kira at Passy Station © Harold Davis

Kira at Passy Station © Harold Davis

Click here for registration!

Broken Arrow and Creating LAB Patterns

Wandering the pedestrian walk on new San Francisco Bay Bridge span in the waning days of the year, I shot this directional arrow, intended to guide foot and bike traffic, straight down and broken up by strong shadows from the railing.

Broken Arrow © Harold Davis

Broken Arrow © Harold Davis

Before I converted Broken Arrow to black and white, of course, it was color (shown below). (The monochrome version is still an RGB color file technically speaking—but that’s another story!)

Broken Arrow - color © Harold Davis

Broken Arrow – color © Harold Davis

It’s astoundingly easy to use Photoshop adjustments in LAB color and blending modes to create intricate patterns out of something like the color version of Broken Arrow. Here’s one example:

LAB Cross Pattern #1 © Harold Davis

LAB Cross Pattern #1 © Harold Davis

To get to the pattern from the color photo,  in Photoshop I duplicated the image, and converted the duplicate to LAB color mode. I next used Image > Adjust > Invert to invert the LAB color values within the file, and then converted the entire image back to RGB, with results shown below:

LAB Inversion (all channels) © Harold Davis

LAB Inversion (all channels) © Harold Davis

Next, I made another duplicate of the original image file, converted it to LAB, selected the L channel only, and inverted the L channel. I flipped the image horizontally, with results shown below:

L-Channel Inversion (Flipped) © Harold Davis

L-Channel Inversion (Flipped) © Harold Davis

The last big step is to align the two LAB inversions as layers in one image, and set the Blending Mode to Difference (by the way, they have to be back in RGB, or the Difference mode isn’t available).

There are many possible variations on this technique of course, depending on what channels you invert, how you flip the image, and what blending modes you use. Here’s another variation from the same original image:

LAB Cross Pattern #2 © Harold Davis

LAB Cross Pattern #2 © Harold Davis

To learn more about the LAB color techniques for creative image making I have pioneered, check out The Way of the Digital Photographer  (pages 156-163) and The Photoshop Darkroom (pages 148-201). If this really intrigues you, you may want to consider my Mastering Creative Photoshop workshop (January 25-26, one last minute spot available, more space in the second session, May 31 – June 1, 2014).

Temple Flags

The temple flags shown in this image are along the steps leading up to the grand shrine of Kumano Hongu Taisha located in Tanabe, Japan on the Kii peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture. This temple has been one of the most important centers of the Shugendo Buddhist faith for more than 1,000 years.

Temple Flags © Harold Davis

Temple Flags © Harold Davis

My idea was to create a mystical, ghost-like image. I wanted to use the natural motion of the flags in the wind to create a soft effect, with the forest landscape in the background partially “peeking” through. To make this image, in the gathering twilight, I put my camera on my tripod, and dialed down the ISO as low as possible (to ISO 50).

With my ISO set low, I next picked a small aperture (f/22). At ISO 50 and f/22, an eight second exposure was about right—which created the flowing and soft otherworldly effect I wanted.

Monochromatic HDR Photography

The two images shown in this blog story are both examples of monochromatic HDR photography. Each was shot using a bracketed exposure sequence. The exposures in each of the bracketed sequences were combined using various HDR and RAW processing techniques, and the resulting composite image was processed and converted to monochrome to extend the grayscale and tonal range of the final monochromatic (black and white) image.

Post Auto © Harold Davis

Post Auto © Harold Davis

As you can see from the two images that accompany this story, monochromatic HDR techniques can be effective with a wide range of subject matter. For example, the image above was created from a bracketed image sequence shot peering down into the abandoned span of San Francisco’s old Bay Bridge from the walkway of the new bridge. Below, I shot a bracketed image sequence to capture the massive and ancient moss covered tree roots and stone work on the grounds of a temple in Kyoto, Japan in the early evening light of an autumn day.

I’m pleased to see several new reviews begin to recognize the extended context of the techniques I explain in my new book Monochromatic HDR Photography. On Amazon, reviewer Larry Goldfarb notes that “while the title invokes the world of HDR photography, this book is really bigger than that, it’s about light and tonal depth. Other than subject matter, that’s photography. The author presents a variety of methods for exploring and expanding your ability to adjust both.” (Click here to read the full review.)

I am also pleased with a new book review in the January 2014 issue of Fine Art Printer Magazine. Fine Art Printer is a prestigious German publication primarily devoted to high-end photographic printing. The review says in part that Harold Davis’s photos are bought by collectors around the world. …We can highly recommend this book due to the very high image quality and the excellent text. The subject of the book is the combination of two photographic trends: HDR photography and black and white….These insights are illustrated by hauntingly beautiful black and white images (click here to download the full review in PDF format).

Old Tree Roots in a Temple Yard © Harold Davis

Old Tree Roots in a Temple Yard © Harold Davis

Related stories:

Samadhi Mudra

The hand gestures of representations of Budhha are significant, and have specific meanings. The Dhyana mudra (hand gesture of Buddha), also called the Samadhi mudra, is shown in the photo below. This hand gesture invites meditation and a sense of deep involvement with the universe.

Dhyana Mudra © Harold Davis

Dhyana Mudra © Harold Davis

I photographed this statue of Buddha in the garden outside Senso-ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo (also known as the temple of the Asakusa Kannon). Click here to read my story about having my fortune told at this temple!

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!

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

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!”

3,600 Peaks of Kumano

During a short break in the very wet weather, from Hyakken-gura, a lookout high on the Kumano kodo, I shot this panorama of the “Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po”—which translates to “view of 3,600 peaks of Kumano.” When the wind gusted, rain splattered my face and my camera lens and tripod, so it was pretty hard to make notes to keep track of the positioning of the frames in the panorama, but fortunately Photoshop is pretty good for sorting this kind of thing out!

I don’t think there are actually 3,600 peaks—it’s important to remember the role of metaphor in life, particularly when you are on a pilgrimage—but as you can see there are certainly quite a few mountains. 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.

Panorama of the Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po © Harold Davis

Panorama of the Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

This is a high resolution panorama, shot in separate sections with my 36MP Nikon D800. The final processed archived original file measures 12,256 X 4,747 pixels (about 40″ X 16″) at 300 ppi (before any interpolation and enlargement). So I can’t wait to print it on a long (but not very tall) strip of Moenkopi Kozo washi made by Awagami on Shikoku Island. It might even make a good scroll.

Related image: Misty Mountains.