Category Archives: Monochrome

Ruined Kasbah

According to our guide Abdul, the indigenous construction in Morocco is very environmentally friendly: made of earth and sand, when it is no longer used it gradually decays back to the soil from which it was made. Many structures in fact are crumbling, such as this Kasbah in Ouarzazate, Morocco.

Ruined Kasbah  © Harold Davis

Ruined Kasbah © Harold Davis

After settling into our hotel, and a good meal at a restaurant nearby that included both camel and pigeon, I went exploring for night photography with a friend. Stepping into abandoned ruins, this ancient Kasbah struck stark silhouettes, partly enhanced by ambient light from the town, against a backdrop of the bright stars of the sub-Saharan night. Indeed, it was crumbling back into the earth from which it was made!

Exposure information: Nikon D810, Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 lens, tripod mounted; two combined exposures at f/5.6 and ISO 200, exposure times one minute and 2.5 minutes.

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

A room with a view

When I travel I always try to select hotels that are likely to have interesting views, and to request a room with a view if possible. Of course, my idea of an interesting view doesn’t always coincide with the normal tourist vista! I do look around carefully to see what I might like to photograph when I get to my new “home away from home.” The photo below was taken out of the ninth floor window of my hotel room in Barcelona, Spain at the Avenida Palace Hotel facing south towards Montjuic. I like the collage of heating ducts as much as the details that show that the scene in is in Barcelona.

View of a Barcelona Roof © Harold Davis

View of a Barcelona Roof © Harold Davis

Some other examples of my passion for photographing from (or of) hotel room windows include this view out a back window of the pre-renovation Hotel Lutece in Paris showing (once again) complicated duct work, this view of my window on the cathedral in Bourg, France, as much about the lighting as about the incredible church (the related iPhone capture shows a bit more of the room itself), this view down on the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona from the Hotel Espanya showing an unusual angle on the medieval section of town, and the view from my room over the Bay of Tangiers at night in Morocco shown below.

Bay of Tangiers at Night © Harold Davis

Bay of Tangiers at Night © Harold Davis

Onward to Morocco

Tomorrow we take the ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar to North Africa. How fitting then to spend our last day in Spain exploring Granada and the fabulous Alhambra—the fabled palace that was the last redoubt of the Moorish Kingdom in Spain!

Detail, Alhambra, Granada © Harold Davis

Detail, Alhambra, Granada © Harold Davis

Pilgrimage to Rocamadour

High above a tributary of the Lot River in the Dordogne Department in southwestern France, Rocamadour has attracted pilgrims for centuries. The town sits below an ecclesiastical complex of monastic buildings and pilgrimage churches. These days, there’s an elevator between the town level and the shrine level, but some pilgrims still complete their pilgrimages in the traditional way, by climbing on their knees up the Grand Escalier—Grand Stairway–shown in this image.

Grand Escalier,  Rocamadour © Harold Davis

Grand Escalier, Rocamadour © Harold Davis

In this photo you see a row of tourist restaurants to the right of the stairs. There are also hotels (I stayed at one, and it was very nice) and souvenir shops. This probably hasn’t changed much over time, when similar services were needed by the pilgrims who’ve flocked to Rocamadour since medieval times.

I’m struck by how similar the concept of ritual, religious tourism is centers in Japan such as Koya-san and Nachi-san. Although undoubtedly the stone-bound setting from medieval France is far more grim.

If you climb up the Grand Escalier—on your knees or otherwise—here’s the view you’ll see of the towering, militarized religious complex.

The Citadel of Rocamadour © Harold Davis

The Citadel of Rocamadour © Harold Davis

Here are two iPhone images of the same location:

Pilgrim Stairs © Harold Davis

Pilgrim Stairs © Harold Davis

Sanctuary © Harold Davis

Sanctuary © Harold Davis


I photographed the beautiful model Dasha as part of my Multiple Exposures sequence in Variations, I never know which me, Quo Vadis and Dance of the Seven Veils. I was asked recently whether I had any images of Dasha that weren’t part of a multiple exposure sequence. Well, of course I do. This one was supposed to be part of a multiple exposure, but I forgot to set the camera to combine the images, so I got eight individual exposures—also explaining the in-motion look of the model.

Dasha © Harold Davis

Dasha © Harold Davis

Exposure and post-production information: Photographed against a black background using studio strobes, Nikon D810, Otus 55mm f/1.4, at 1/160 of a second and f/8 using ISO 100, post-processed to black & white using Nik Silver Efex Pro and the Infrared preset as a Photoshop Black & White Adjustment Layer. I then added Flypaper Etched Copper from the Metallic collection as a texture overlay, and reconverted (converted a second time) to black and white.


Photography is about light. You can’t photograph an actual thing, only the light reflected or emitted by the thing. What does this come down to at its irreducible minimum?

Blind © Harold Davis

Blind © Harold Davis

Perhaps it is bright morning sunlight coming through a “Venetian” blind, leaving only darkness and light in its wake—and us to consider grace, being blind and then seeing and the fact that one does not have to travel far to find photographic material that is of interest. One only needs to shift the way one sees that small amount to find the wonder in the ordinary that is always around us.

Capturing hand held using a Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 at 1/250 of a second, f/11 and ISO 400 (underexposed according to the light meter by about 3 EV).

Please keep in mind my series of webinar recordings, including most recently Converting to Black & White and Making Memorable Travel Photos.

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