Category Archives: Photograms

Ginger Leaf

On a walk around the block with the kids yesterday I saw this translucent wild ginger leaf. I snipped it, brought it home, and shot it on my lightbox. This kind of close-up photography is a very different approach to high key than something like Floral Arrangements. Close-up, this backlit leaf looks like textural fabric, a feather, or maybe a distant, colorful landscape.

Ginger Leaf by Harold Davis

Ginger Leaf © Harold Davis

Almost always these days I am thinking about how images will print when I make them on our new printer, and what kind of surface or substrate will work best. I’m going to experiment with printing “Ginger”—and let you know the results!

Butterfly Totem

Butterfly Totem

Butterfly Totem, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This started as a photo of a backlit butterfly on white. I then composited the butterfly with itself at a variety of magnifications, and used LAB inversions and equalizations. As I saw the motif of the wolf or coyote head in the middle of the butterfly emerge, I worked to enhance this aspect of the composition.

Clematis Light to Dark

Clematis

View this image larger.

Yesterday, a beautiful day with plenty of cloud cover and a strong wind, and the garden in full bloom, was perfect for indoor photography of flowers. I placed this dinner-plate-sized clematis blossom on a light box for transparency, and combined six exposures. All were skewed towards high key, meaning a right-facing histogram and and over-exposure bias (according to the camera, but what does the camera know?).

The clematis on white was my Annakin Skywalker, and I started the conversion process to Darth Clematis and the dark side (the image below) by converting the image to LAB color and inverting its L (Luminance) channel. From there, it was building up the dark side piece by piece through at least fifteen layers.

Note: if my silly Star Wars metaphor means nothing to you, you probably don’t have kids of the right age, and may the force be with you!

Clematis to the Dark Side

View this image larger.

In my passionate embrace with Photoshop, I often don’t make as good notes as I should about exactly what steps I’m taking. That’s why I save the history log of my Photoshop moves to the metadata of each image. To set this up, open the General tab of the Photoshop Preferences dialog and make sure History Log is checked. Choose to save the log items to the image metadata (you can also save it to a text file). Finally, make sure that the Edit Log Items drop-down list is set to Detailed.

Adding your Photoshop History log to your metadata will increase your file size, and it won’t tell you everything. Painting on a layer mask with the Brush tool is just listed as “Brush.” Photo metadata is often incomplete. You won’t learn from the image metadata that I combined a number of exposures (you just get the background layer). But all that said, you do a pretty good picture of the steps taken.

Recently, the history log of my Photoshop moves started showing up in the EXIF data published by Flickr. If you scroll down the links, you too can read the Photoshop history log of this Clematis, and on the dark side.

Speaking of Flickr, and the community of photographers and artists on the Internet generally, I find myself excited about the way I am constantly exposed to new ideas and artists through contacts on Flickr.

I belive that photographers need to look at visual artists beyond photography (for more on this topic, see this interview with me). M.C. Escher has obviously influenced my composites.

Lately, I’ve been exploring the work of Jacques Hnizdovsky, pointed out to me by a Flickr friend, a twentieth century artist known for his paintings and woodblock prints. Hnizdovsky’s work is intelligent, humorous, and photographic in the best sense of the word—astounding for imagery created as woodcuts. A true inspiration.

Transmogrification

Transmogrification is the process or result of changing from one appearance, state, or phase to another.

This transmogrification starts with a relatively straight photo of a white hellebore, taken a few days ago. The original photo was straight down on a black velvet background. As you can see, the process of transformation has taken this flower a long way:

Green Variation

Green Variation, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

After taking the first photo, I let the hellebore flower soak for a couple of days in a sushi dish. The petals became extremely transparent, and I photographed the wet ensemble on a light box.

The green variation (above) and the blue variation (below) are further changes of state using Photoshop. These are LAB color space inversions with channels applied to the inversions in a variety of blending modes.

The blue version strikes me as very psychedelic, almost an emphatic presence in the flower, while the green variation is more concerned with textures. In the green transmogrification, the flower has become a textile.

Blue Variation

Blue Variation, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Related transmogrification: Pink Hellebore to Hidden Seeds.

Further note: in the interview that Hannah Thiem conducted with me on Photo.net, we proposed a self-assignment: “Photograph a flower in a unique way—in a way that nobody’s seen before.” I think this series of photos shows that I may be working through my own assignment.

Hidden Seeds

Hidden Seeds

Hidden Seeds, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

After photographing the pink Hellebore, I let it soak for several days. When the petals were transparent to the point of translucency, I photographed it straight down on a light box. I converted the background to black in Photoshop working on the image in LAB color by inverting the L (luminance) channel.

Meditations on Transparency

Transparency on Black

Transparency on Black, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Transparency is good in many things: political processes, business contracts, lingerie, and (of course) flower petals.

The more it seems that I can almost see through these petals:
The more I want to see through them,
The more I want to look,
The more I want to see,
The more I want.

Transparency

View this image larger.

Bougainvillea Study

Bougainvillea Study

Bougainvillea Study, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: I took a break from a writing project to work on this bright but simple study of a bougainvillea bract.

Related image: Bougainvillea.

Gaillardia Gone to Seed

Gaillardia Gone to Seed

Gaillardia Gone to Seed, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a flatbed scan of the seed pods of Gaillardia. (You can see one of these pods in the foreground of this photo.) I used an Epson 9660 scanner set to the highest possible resolution that the scanner would actually do the scan, and imported the results directly into Photoshop.

I left the scanner lid open. The background is black velvet cloth jury-rigged over the three-dimensional pods with tape and sticks.

Some other flatbed scans: Iris Scans; My Brilliant Butterfly; Nautilus on Black.

My Brilliant Butterfly

My Brilliant Butterfly

My Brilliant Butterfly, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: this Photoshop composite combines a flatbed scan with a number of camera captures on a lightbox. In Photoshop, I inverted the image to get the black background, and played with layers, layer masking, blending modes, and channel operations.

Some of the brighter stained-glass effects were created by combining slightly off-register layers using Difference blending mode. You never know what will happen until you try!

In a case of creating lemonade when you are dealt lemons, by mistake I shot the lightbox images at a high ISO. (I hadn’t reset the camera from photographing Katie Rose in the NICU.) I processed the high ISO captures for noise reduction and extreme smoothness, which partly explains the painterly effect you see.

[Composite image derived from Epson flatbed scanner and three Nikon D300 captures, one at 1 second, one at 1/4 of a second, and one at 1/15 of a second. All three captures: Zeiss Macro 100mm f/2 ZF Makro-Planar T* Manual Focus Lens (150mm in 35mm terms), f/22 and ISO 2,500, tripod mounted.]

Some of my other butterflies:

Butterfly

Butterfly 2

Used here on a book cover in the Ringing Cedars series:

Co-creation cover

Revelation and Hiding

Crown of Hydrangea

Crown of Hydrangea, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Several years ago I planted a couple of exotic hydrangea plants in the shade in my front garden. (I know that “exotic hydrangea” sounds like an oxymoron, but believe me, these two are pretty wild.)

To make this image, I clipped off a crown of hydrangea from one of these plants, actually consisting of a calyx of the mature hydrangea flower with the large sepals (florets) shown here arranged around the cirumference of the construction.

I first put the hydrangea crown on my Epson 1660 flatbed scanner, and pulled some high resolution scans into Photoshop. In the scan that worked best I was “painting” with a moving LED light as the scanner did its thing. The scanner lid was open. I had to be careful to keep the light on the flowers. This took a few tries. When I got it right, the background mostly went black.

The Epson 1660 is a fairly inexpensive scanner, but it is amazing what high resolution one can get using it or comparable equipment. However, the result has no depth. If I could only get a lens with a diaphragm between that flatbed scan and the subject…I’d have, well, a camera. One with a really big sensor.

Next, I photographed the hydrangea from straight on top of a white light source, overexposing for transparency. (White Anemone is a good example of this technique.)

To create the composite image of the hydrangea, I combined the scan and the photo by positioning the photo on top of the scan. (I’ve used a similar technique before, a good example is Nautilus on Black.) Sizing the top image so it laid precisely on top of the scan was a bit time consumptive, and essentially an issue of trial and error.

I then used layer masking to reveal (and hide) portions of the top image. Next, I duplicated the scan, put it on top of the assembled image, and layer masked once again to appropriately reveal and hide.

After all, isn’t that what photography is all about: strategic revelation and hiding?

Ringing Cedars Covers

In November of 2007, while I was clambering around Zion Canyon at night, exploring the Wave, and getting lost in the desert, Phyllis fielded a business call from Ringing Cedars Press. Ringing Cedars is the English language publisher of a series of books by Vladimir Megr&#233.

The Ringing Cedars series conveys the wisdom, strength, and experience of Anastasia, a woman found naked upon the Siberian taiga. Anastasia provides insights on a wide range of topics ranging from health and utopian lifestyles to the measures needed to save our earth. Apparently, there’s a mysterious energy encoded in Anastasia’s words, and the more you read the books “the better you’ll feel.”

The Ringing Cedar series is a massive bestseller in Russian. While an English edition was in print at the time the Ringing Cedars publisher contacted us, the publisher was interested in creating a completely new and elegant design for the United States market. To this end, the publisher had hired noted book designer (and artist) Bill Greaves and conducted a massive artist search.

The goal was to find an artist with a body of work that could used as cover art. The cover art had to convey inspiration, and that it was both natural and imbued with a strong, creative life force. In addition, the art needed to be unique, distinctive, instantly recognizable, and cohesive. With these requirements in mind, the Ringing Cedars publisher was interested in my Digital Photogram series, which they had found on the Web. You can read more about some of the techniques I used to create this style of image in Xrays, Photograms, and Cross Processing, Oh My!

Here’s a product shot of the nine Ringing Cedars covers in a group.

The deal that I eventually negotiated with Ringing Cedars for the cover art was interesting because it was one part licensing, and one part assignment. Six of the images that wound up being used on the series cover were licensed, with minor modifications in some cases. On the other hand, I created three new cover images to fit the specific needs of the series titles. I always enjoy this kind of creative image creation, which usually leads me into some neat places in the process of fulfilling the needs of my client.

In the same way that the business arrangements were both fish and fowl (licensing and assignment), in a very real sense all the Ringing Cedars cover images involve both photography and digital painting. Each cover image is different in terms of where it falls on this spectrum. For example, the sunflower used for the cover of the first volume (“Anastasia”) is pretty much a digital photo, whereas the butterfly used on the cover of the fourth volume (“Co-creation”) is mostly digital painting from an original photo. That said, I think the team consisting of the publisher, the designer Bill Greaves, and Phyllis and myself, did a wonderful job of coming up with a cohesive look across a wide range of subjects. Generally, I’m appreciative of how well this team worked together. It’s rare in my professional experience to have a group of creative people working together with so much good will and positive energy.

Without further ado, here are the nine Ringing Cedars covers (along with some links to stories about how the images were created).

I blogged the image used on this cover here. We ultimately cut the flower off its stem to make it “float” on the black background. At the request of the client, I also worked in Photoshop to enhance the red glow in the center of the flower.

I blogged the image used on this cover here. More dragonfly images in this series.

I blogged the image used on this cover here.

I blogged the image used on this cover here.

I blogged the image used on this cover here.

I blogged the image used on this cover here.

I blogged the image used on this cover here.

I blogged the image used on this cover here.

Hydrangea

Hydrangea Sheila blooms in the shade of my garden. I snipped this crown of flowers, and brought it inside to play with.

The image combines two captures, both exposed for transparency, and a flatbed scan.

Hydrangea

View this image larger.

[Composite image derived from Epson flatbed scanner and two Nikon D300 captures, one at 3 seconds and one at 1 second. Both captures: 105mm f2.8 macro lens (157.5mm in 35mm terms), f/36 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Pacifier

Pacifier

Pacifier, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Why did I do this binkie on black? I don’t know…

Flowers Are Stars

Flowers Are Stars on White

Flowers Are Stars on White, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Life goes on. It’s hard to keep my thoughts off Katie Rose in the NICU, but I have work to do and other kids to take care of. Photography is therapy. It is fun. It keeps me strong.

I gathered these flowers from the garden and photographed them straight down on a light box. I knew I wanted a transparent look to bring out the colors in the petals, so the key was to overexpose. I started with a one second exposure at f/48 and ISO 100, which the camera thought was more or less spot on. It’s key in this kind of exposure combination, if you want a seamless look, to keep the f-stop constant. I then exposed at 2, 4, 8, and 15 seconds.

In Photoshop, starting with the 2 second exposure, I then piled on portions of each of the lighter exposures.

The black background below is an inversion of the luminance information in the photo, with the original version pasted back on top, followed by a little tweaking.

Flowers Are Stars on Black

Flowers Are Stars on Black, photo by Harold Davis.View this image larger

[Both images: Nikon D300, 85mm PC macro (roughly, 127.5mm in 35mm terms), multiple captures with shutter speeds ranging from 2 to 15 seconds at f/48 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Inversion of Hellebores

Hellebore on White

Hellebore on White, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

The image above was the first version of this photo. I used a flourescent light table as my illumination source, and overexposed for transparency. I combined three different exposures, each with a different shutter speed but the same aperture, to get the effect I wanted (see exposure details below).

Lately, I’ve become interested in photographing flowers either on a white background (because backlit transparency of flower petals is beautiful) or on a black background (because the high contrast with the flower makes color values pop). When I can, I’ve created both white and black versions. Sometimes photographically, but more often using Photoshop inversions, as with the hellebore inversion of the original image below:

Hellebore on Black 2

View this image larger.

[Both images: Nikon D300, Sigma 50mm f/2.8 macro lens (75mm in 35mm terms), three exposures (3 seconds, 5 seconds, and 8 seconds), all at f/32 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Some other black and white flower pairs: Faerie Bouquet and Faerie Rose on Black; Anemone Japonica and Anemone on Black; Dawn Chorus Poppy on White and Black.