Category Archives: Monochrome

Converting to Black & White Webinar

Converting to Black & White with Photoshop and Silver Efex Pro, webinar live session Saturday September 27 at 3PM

I’d be the first to admit that my series of webinar recordings are home-grown. These are not highly polished, and they show the actual techniques I use in real time. The advantage of attending a live session (seats are very limited) is that if anything puzzles you, you can ask questions. Note that the cost of the live session also includes unlimited access to the webinar recording at no additional cost.

Please consider joining me for this exciting, new live webinar offering that will help you create great high-tonal range digital black and white images.

01-title-BWSaturday, September 27, 2014 at 3PM PT: Converting to Black & White (the cost is only $29.95, and includes unlimited access to the post-session recording)

While we see the world in color, black and white is important to the history of photography, and immediately recognized as distinctive and artistic. In this webinar Harold Davis, the author of several books on digital black and white technique, and the creator of widely exhibited black & white prints, explains his techniques and how he gets his extraordinary results.

He’ll show some of his images in the context of why he chooses to render them in black and white, then move on to the specifics of his unique and poswerful techniques for creating rich monochromatic images with extraordinary depth using Photoshop adjustments, Nik Silver Efex Pro and a workflow the takes advantage of the power inherent in Photoshop layers and masking!

 The Converting to Black & White with Harold Davis webinar covers:

  • Learning to see in black & white
  • Pre-visualizing black & white imagery
  • Black & white in a (digital) color world
  • Why black & white
  • Black & white workflow
  • Using black & white adjustments
  • Using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2
  • Enhancing color for great black & white
  • The black & white conversion layer stack
  • When (and how) to extend the dynamic range of black and white images

Want to move your photographic imagery from the mundane to the artistic? Then maybe black and white—and this webinar—is for you! Learn to hone your monochromatic skills in this extraordinary presentation from Harold Davis, one of the living masters of digital monochrome.

What one participant in past webinars has said: “Watching Harold work on his imagery, as he would in ‘real-life’, has helped me lock-in techniques that I had read about, but were only theoretical to me. It’s great to have multiple delivery channels for Harold’s information, and I now feel confident I can succeed.”

Each live webinar session has ample time for questions and is limited to twenty participants, so seating is very limited. The $29.95 fee includes unlimited access to the recording of the session.

Check out our webinar recordings ($19.95 each for unlimited access):

Click here for more info about Harold Davis webinar recordings.

Nautilus © Harold Davis

Nautilus © Harold Davis


This succulent lives in a little pot on our front porch. For my first shot with my new Nikon D810, I brought it inside, wrapped the plant in its pot in black velvet, and photographed it using controlled sunlight. The lens I used was the Zeiss 100mm f/2 macro. I set the ISO to the native ISO sensitivity on the D810, ISO 64. Using manual exposure, the other settings were mirror lockup on, shutter speed at 4/5 of a second, and aperture at f/22 for maximum depth-of-field (full speed ahead and dang the diffraction, which is minimal with Zeiss lenses anyhow). Of course, I used a tripod.

Succulent  (Black & White) © Harold Davis

Succulent (Black & White) © Harold Davis

My first impression of the Nikon D810 it that it is a really good camera, but the changes compared to the D800 and D800E are essentially incremental, not revolutionary. It’s notable that the processor is much faster, and also high ISO handling has been improved even above the great high-ISO abilities of its predecessors. One nice feature I had not been expecting is that the shutter is much, much quieter, and there seems to be very little vibration from the shutter. I don’t know the technology behind this change, but it is an obvious and audible change for the better.

I am thinking that we are getting so good that significant changes in this style of camera may be hitting the law of diminishing returns. After all, who really needs more than 36MP captures? Unless you are doing big prints as I do, you don’t even really need nearly that much.

One improvement I would like to see generally is an internal sensor cleaner that actually works. This is a complaint I hear frequently at my workshops. Nikon (and the other DSLR manufacturers), are you listening?

Succulent (Color)  © Harold Davis

Succulent (Color) © Harold Davis

Cockeyed Cathedral

Bourges Cathedral is a World Heritage Site. Construction began around the year 1200, at about the same time as the cathedral at Chartres. It is unclear when (or if) construction was completed, but it took at least two centuries. What an immense undertaking! As you can see in the photo, portions of the interior need work to this day, and indeed a massive restoration project is underway.

Inside the Cathedral at Bourges © Harold Davis

Inside the Cathedral at Bourges © Harold Davis

It’s impossible to convey the immensity of this interior space. But I wanted to create an image that tried. So I got my tripod low to the ground, and used the inimitable Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 extreme wide-angle lens to give this cockeyed view of the soaring spaces of the interior of the Cathedral at Bourges. Related story: Window in Bourges.


Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is an ancient village perched high on the cliffs high above the Lot River about thirty miles from Cahors. In France, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful—if not the most beautiful—preserved medieval villages, partly due to its picturesque and highly defensible setting on top of a bunch of rocks overlooking the gorgeous Lot valley.

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie © Harold Davis

Saint-Cirq-Lapopie © Harold Davis

Of course, as one of the most beautiful preserved medieval villages Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is overrun with tourists. You can’t drive into the village, and must park in a nearby lot, and there are plenty of souvenir stands, and attractions like donkey rides for the kids. But its more the French analog to a scene like an American going to a state fair and getting a corn dog on a stick than it is to the parade of non-French speaking tourists you find in a place like the Left Bank of Paris.

On the weekend I visited in the late spring, the tourists were in fact all French, and I was the only foreigner staying in the Auberge du Sombral, where I had booked a room. This establishment is one of my favorite kinds of places to stay in France, essentially a restaurant with a few rooms attached, and I had a good meal and a thoroughly fun time.

It was great to be able to photograph in Saint-Cirq-Lapopie at night after the visitors had gone home. In the morning I explored more, and found this alley right behind the Auberge. Hard to say how old, but it has probably been like this for seven or eight hundred years without many changes.

Related Story: Chateau des Nazelles.

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.


Hohenzollern Castle, located in Swabia about 80 kilometers south of Stuttgart, Germany was home to the family that eventually spawned the emperors of Germany. Destroyed and rebuilt a number of times since its construction in the 11th century, the current version dates to the mid-19th century, where it was a conscious architectural folly and anachronism, modeled in English Gothic revival style, and after the chateaus of the Loire.

Hohenzollern © Harold Davis

Hohenzollern © Harold Davis

It had been raining all week. On a gray day, I parked in the parking lot below the castle, and paid my 5 Euros fee. I ignored the shuttle bus, and schlepped my camera and tripod up to the entrance to the castle, maybe a twenty minute walk. It was sprinkling lightly, and as I entered the lower levels I looked up at the swirling mist with a few beams of sunlight coming through, and proceeded to capture a number of views with monochromatic HDR in mind.

Stairs in the Heidelberg University Library

With a few of the students in my Black & White workshop I headed into the ornately decorated Heidelberg University Library. We asked if we could photograph in the library book stacks. No, we could not: approval by a higher authority was needed. The “higher authority” was not currently available.

On the way back out of the library building we found these stairs. Proving once again that you don’t always get what you want, but if you are open to the adventure sometimes you get what you need.

Stairs, Heidelberg University Library

Stairs, Heidelberg University Library © Harold Davis

The image above is looking down the stairs. Here’s one in the opposite direction, looking up:

Heidelberg Library Stairs © Harold Davis

Heidelberg Library Stairs © Harold Davis


Jesuit Light

The old Jesuit Church in Heidelberg, Germany has been remodeled in a high-key. It’s been sandblasted and the interior painted white, and practically gleams of lightness—except the confessionals, which are shrouded in dark black curtains. There’s enough of the Catholic symbolism around so that it can be seen—barely—as an old-style church.

Scouting for locations for next week’s black and white workshop with Gerhard, my host and the director of the Heidelberg Summer School of Photography, we explored the nooks and crannies of this somewhat unusual church. Definitely a good place for the monochromatic vision, particularly in a high-key—and I photographed from behind the pulpit stairs, bracketing and overexposing with the high-key light in mind.

Behind the Pulpit Stair © Harold Davis

Behind the Pulpit Stair © Harold Davis

Alte Brucke in Heidelberg

This is the Alte Brucke (old bridge) in Heidelberg, Germany. It crosses the Neckar River and leads through an arch in a tower to the pedestrian-only area around the cathedral. I photographed the bridge after sunset, and used a one minute exposure.

Alte Brucke Heidelberg © Harold Davis

Alte Brucke Heidelberg © Harold Davis


We are all sisters (and brothers) and the skin is only the surface. As human beings, let us be tender with each other.

Sisters © Harold Davis

Sisters © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss Otus 55mm/f1.4, 1/160 of a second at f/8 and ISO 200, hand held. Two-strobe lighting on black seamless, with large soft box on the left and less powerful unit through an umbrella on the right. Photographed at The Lighthouse in Berkeley, California.

Related images: Multiple Exposures.


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?

What’s new is old again in Paris

Les Deux Magots © Harold Davis

Les Deux Magots © Harold Davis

Paris is a city with a tremendous and varied historical legacy from many eras. But after you are here for a while you realize that it is also constantly changing. Construction and renovation is continual. There’s scaffolding on almost every block.

With some notable exceptions, retail decors change quickly to keep up with fashion. The laundromat I tried to go to this morning has disappeared in the year since I last washed clothes there, replaced by an upscale boutique.

With this continual reinvention against a backdrop of history in mind, it is fun to use a new technology (my iPhone camera in the image shown to the left) to capture an old landmark, Les Deux Magots—the Saint-Germain-des-Prés watering hole of Hemingway and a whole cavalcade of literary and artistic types of yore (today it is more the touristic types!). Likely the waiter dressed in much the same way back when Hemingway frequented the joint.

Shot with my iPhone camera and processed on the spot with Filterstorm, Lo-Mob and Plastic Bullet as I was out “flaneuring” today.


Rain left puddles along the paths and trails of the Parc de Sceaux, on the outskirts of Paris. I positioned my camera to capture the perspective generated by the reflections of rows of trees in one puddle, and—splash!—tossed a pebble in to the water to take advantage of the concentric rings that this generated.

Splash © Harold Davis

Splash © Harold Davis

The underlying exposure for full depth-of-field and low noise was at ISO 100 and f/22 to capture the reflections in the puddle, while the exposure for capturing the splash part of the image was at ISO 2,000 and 1/25 of a second. Obviously this is the kind of image that usually takes some trial and error to get right—not only in terms of photographic exposure, but also where one aims the splash.

Under the Pont de la Concorde

A pedestrian esplanade runs from the Musée d’Orsay to the Tour Eiffel along the left bank of the Seine River. This walk way has been reclaimed from vehicular traffic only fairly recently, and it is the scene of art exhibitions, music, and much general festivity.

Under the Pont de la Concorde © Harold Davis

Under the Pont de la Concorde © Harold Davis

Wandering with my camera on this esplanade I was caught in a heavy spring downpour. Along with a crowd, I took refuge under the Pont de la Concorde. There was no place to put my tripod, so I  placed my camera on the stone railing. I added a neutral density filter, and shot this six minute exposure to soften the water while keeping the detail in the stone work that supports the bridge.

Spirals at the Hotel D’Orsay

If you know me, you know that I am nuts about photographing spiral staircases. The Hotel D’Orsay in Paris has two, one with an elevator running up the middle, and the main stairs, which has five flights in a narrow spiral formation.

Stairs at the Hotel D'Orsay © Harold Davis

Stairs at the Hotel D’Orsay © Harold Davis

This kind of staircase tends to be harder to photograph than meets the eye. First, they are rarely well lit. This means a long exposure if you are stopping the lens down to get enough depth-of-field for most of the spiral to be in focus. The problem with a long exposure is that this kind of old staircase is usually they are rickety and transmit vibrations. If anyone comes up or down the stairs, they are likely to spoil your exposure just by walking past.

Spiral Stair at the D'Orsay via iPhone © Harold Davis

Spiral Stair at the D’Orsay via iPhone © Harold Davis

Another issue is holding the camera steadily above the stair for a straight shot down. You need a good tripod and steady nerve, but you can usually brace the tripod against the railing to make this possible. To make life easier and avoid all the trouble, simply shoot the spiral staircase with your iPhone!