Category Archives: Monochrome

Schloss Shadow

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go—so its the perfect time to work on some back images on my production machine. This castle shadow is from my recent stay in Heidelberg, Germany, photographed on a street as I wandered around after I gave my workshop.

Schloss Shadow © Harold Davis

Schloss Shadow © Harold Davis

White Dahlia

Every time I am away for an extended trip Phyllis seems to embark on a home improvement project. This time, while I was in the Czech Republic and giving my workshop in Heidelberg, she outdid herself with a great reconfiguration of the living room. Outside, she put a small cast iron table on our front porch for breakfast and the like surrounded by pots of flowers. In one of the pots she planted a white dahlia.

Dahlia #2 © Harold Davis

Dahlia #2 © Harold Davis

I photographed one of the nearly perfect white dahlias on my light box using the Zeiss 50mm f/2 macro lens, which is truly one of the best macro lenses in my kit (and I have many macro lenses, my joke is that had I been Imelda Marcos I would have collected macro lenses rather than shoes!).

In the version above, I used an LAB inversion of the L-channel to show the white flower on a black background. The version below is more like how the flower would normally look on a white background in a monochromatic rendition.

Now, the only question is what will Phyllis improve while I am in Maine the first half of August?

Dahlia #1 © Harold Davis

Dahlia #1 © Harold Davis

Engine at Primo’s Garage

This is a photo of an engine-in-progress at Primo’s Garage, photographed during my recent Black and White Masterclass in Heidelberg, Germany, and used as in-class post-processing example.

Engine at Primo's Garage © Harold Davis

Engine at Primo’s Garage © Harold Davis

House of Mirrors, Prague

On top of Petrinske Sady (Petrin Hill) in Prague, Czech Republic is a tower built to replicate the Eiffel Tower at 1/5 scale. From the top of the tower, it is one of the best views of Prague, and apparently the place in Prague to take a romantic date for a kiss. Next to the foot of the Petrin Tower is a maze and House of Mirrors.

Hall of Mirrors, Prague © Harold Davis

Hall of Mirrors, Prague © Harold Davis

Within the House of Mirrors, a technical problem for photography is the low light, since tripods are not permitted (flash is also obviously impractical, even if it were allowed). I resolved this issue by boosting my ISO to 2,000, with the intention of processing the image to make the resulting somewhat noisy aspect of the photo an attractive part of the final look. In other words, this was never intended to be a highly sleek image, but rather one with a bit of grunge in its DNA.

Rather more trying of my patience, the Hall of Mirrors was full of people on a rainy Sunday, and the mirrors picked-up all the kids and families running through the maze, and replicated them over and over again even when I thought they were out of sight, and magnified their presence.

I found a location and position within the mirror maze in which I wasn’t reflected (more difficult than you might think!) and then lurked. It took a while as I waited for a split instant in which no people were apparent in the system of mirrors, but finally it happened. I was ready, and quickly made the exposure before another reflected person came into the frame.

Exposure data: Nikon D810, 28-300mm lens at 32mm, 1/40 of a second at f/4.5 and ISO 2,000; handheld using Vibration Reduction.

Oh, Heidelberg!

The other evening I strolled along Heidelberg’s Philosopher’s Walk with my camera and tripod. I stopped to make several photographs, including this exposure blend looking down on the Alte Brucke. Today I used the image in my Black & White Masterclass to demonstrate a fairly complete high dynamic range black and white (“monochromatic HDR”) workflow. I think the class was great at following along as this workflow involves a non-trivial effort and is definitely not for the faint of heart!

Oh, Heidelberg! © Harold Davis

Oh, Heidelberg! © Harold Davis

Exposure information: 135mm, seven combined exposures (at shutter speeds between 1/160 of a second and 0.5 of a second), each exposure at f/9 and ISO 64, tripod mounted; exposures combined and processed using Nik HDR Pro, Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop, Nik Color Efex, Nik Silver Efex, Topaz Adjust, Topaz Simplify, and Perfect B&W.

Prague Metamorphosis

With Prague’s grand castles and elegant squares overflowing with happy visitors and marquee shopping it is easy to forget that this is also the city of Franz Kafka. Metamorphosis happens here, whether it is a human turning into a bug, or the curved shapes of a nearly empty street altered in the reflection in a traffic mirror. The outer world is unaltered, but inside the metamorphosis the lone pedestrian wanders down a twisted street towards an uncertain end.

Metamorphosis © Harold Davis

Metamorphosis © Harold Davis

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.

Gem of the Drakenberg

Wandering with the kids over to Indian Rock I came across some really nice spiral specimens of Aloe polyphylla. The plant is originally from Lesotho near South Africa, and is sometimes called “the Gem of the Drakenberg.”

Spiral © Harold Davis

Spiral © Harold Davis

I snapped an iPhone photo, and processed it while the kids played in the rocks. Then today I couldn’t resist going back with the big camera! Processed, like my Agaves, to look as much like an etching or a lithograph as a photo.

Gem of the Drakenberg © Harold Davis

Gem of the Drakenberg © Harold Davis

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

Oakland 16th Street Station

The Oakland 16th Street Station, also called the Central Oakland Station, was built in the early 1900s as a grand terminus for the Southern Pacific Railway. In service until 1994, the station also served as a transportation hub, connecting the local East Bay Electric Railway and Amtrak with the Southern Pacific.

Hall of Shadows © Harold Davis

Hall of Shadows © Harold Davis

Taken out of service in 1994, the station is now disconnected from all train tracks, fenced, and locked. A local not-for-profit development corporation has owned the station since its closure. Located in what has become a mixed neighborhood with light industry, single-room residence hotels, ad-hoc homeless villages of shopping carts and makeshift tents, neighborhood vegetable gardens, and fancy gated condo communities, in the shadow of the highway maze surrounding the approaches to the San Francisco Bay Bridge, the future of this historic structure is unclear. Currently, it is sporadically rented as a movie set, for parties (there has been at least one wedding here), and to groups of roving photographers.

Bench for Waiting © Harold Davis

Bench for Waiting © Harold Davis

Late in the afternoon I joined a small group of co-conspirators who arranged for legitimate access to the site. Meeting at the gate to the property, we were locked in by the somewhat grumpy caretaker, who planned to release us four hours later. It turned out he was a pussy cat when he came to let us out, and genuinely concerned and excited about the history and preservation of the structure.

Before daylight faded we photographed in the main waiting area, on the train platforms that lead to nowhere, and in the arcades below the tracks.

Dinosaur Climbing Stair © Harold Davis

Dinosaur Climbing Stair © Harold Davis

About the images: The top image, Hall of Shadows, combines two photos, each shot with my Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens with the camera on a tripod at f/10 and ISO 200. A darker photo was made using a 30 second exposure time, and a lighter one was made at 60 seconds.

One of my co-conspirators brought a self-powered 600 watt strobe. In the first, darker image he fired it just outside the door, and also from the outside of the windows. In the longer, lighter exposure he illuminated the whole room, using sequential light bursts.

I visualized this incredible room with its ghosts of the past as a dim, shadowy place. My idea was that the details should not be entirely clear because of the darkness. People passed through this station, living their lives, having love affairs, taking the train to go to war or to different destinies. All these lives haunt the 16th Street Station, and now they are passing into obscurity.

To capture this idea, I started with the first, dark exposure, then gradually painted in some areas of light and shadow from the brighter image. I took great care not to reveal too much, and to leave the image low-key and mysterious.

Bench for Waiting was photographed while there was still a little afternoon light in the waiting hall. It’s a straightforward monochromatic HDR image, shot on the tripod at 28mm, with three exposures ranging from 5 seconds to 30 seconds, each exposure at f/22 and ISO 200. This bench is pretty amazing, sitting there placidly, with the decaying plaster walls of the monumental space behind it.

The compositional trick was to align my camera at a height to as nearly as possible approach the bench in a completely perpendicular fashion. The point of this was camera position was to minimize perspective distortion, and was harder to accomplish than one might think in the dim light.

End of the Line and Dinosaur Climbing Stairs were photographed in the arcade beneath the tracks. I used multi-image bracketing to render them colorful, and to extend the dynamic range of each image.

End of the Line © Harold Davis

End of the Line © Harold Davis

Special thanks to those who organized and participated in this fun and exciting photographic event (you know who you are!).

Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo

In the eighteenth century, Tokyo—then known as Edo—was the world’s largest city, with a population of over one million. Today, Tokyo is still one of the world’s great metropoli, sprawling over an almost unimaginable population and area with numerous “cities within the city,” districts that are important in-and-of themselves.

The Rainbow Bridge crosses northern Tokyo Bay between two of these districts,  Shibaura and the Odaiba waterfront development in the Minato district.

Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo © Harold Davis

Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo © Harold Davis

Walking across this graceful suspension bridge is an uplifting experience in several sense of the word. The graceful curves of the bridge take you high above the bustle of the city, at the same time making the lines of modern Tokyo apparent.

As I crossed the Rainbow Bridge with my camera in the dusk of a foggy November day, I tried to align the curves of the bridge with the lines of an apartment complex in Odaiba in image that uses selective focus to contrast the curves in the Rainbow Bridge with the linear spaces of the buildings beyond.

300mm, 1/200 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 400, hand held; processed in Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop, and converted to black and white using Perfect B&W.

Historic D Ranch, Point Reyes

Point Reyes National Seashore is probably unique among the American National Parks in that this public land is shared with working cattle and dairy ranches. These ranches date from the early 1800s and are very much a part of the history of Point Reyes. Many have been in the same family for generations.

D Ranch, Point Reyes © Harold Davis

D Ranch, Point Reyes © Harold Davis

Parking my car beside the road, I scrambled down a steep bank, crossed through a tunnel under the road, and found myself in the abandoned out-buildings of D Ranch. The scene shown in the image—a door within a  door within a window—with stark contrasts between light exterior wood and dark interior was too good to pass up, so I stopped to make this monochromatic image with my camera on my tripod.

Related story: Monterey Cypress Row on Point Reyes.

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

Mallow

Like Clematis this is a single blossom, photographed on a light box, inverted to black in LAB, and then converted to monochrome using a virtual Infrared filter. The steps are shown here in inverted order (last is first, and first is last).

Mallow in IR © Harold Davis

Mallow in IR © Harold Davis

Mallow on Black © Harold Davis

Mallow on Black © Harold Davis

Mallow on White © Harold Davis

Mallow on White © Harold Davis

Post-production is so much part of my photographic art that I felt desolated when my production machine gave up the ghost last week. Admittedly, I’ve lived with it for many years, and made it mine. But it has taken me quite some time to get my new computer configured the way I like it—probably worth it, as it is up to handling the enormous files and sizes that I find myself often editing deploying.

Pont Valentre

The ancient Pont Valentre crosses a loop in the Lot River at the city of Cahors in southwestern France. The tower in the middle of the river of this fortified and impregnable bridge was held even when the surrounding city was overrun. I recently converted the image to black and white (click here to see the color version and blog story) for a chapter on black and white workflow in a new book I have started to work on.

Pont Valentre © Harold Davis

Pont Valentre © Harold Davis

Related stories: Valentre Bridge; Impregnable.