Category Archives: Photography

digital photography: techniques: thoughts: photographs

The Virtues of Translucency

Normally, to create the illusion of transparency against a single background is feat enough. In this image I “upped the ante,” by adding white roses above an existing floral arrangement that was already translucent. The second layer of roses makes an additional level of transparency: you can see through the white roses, as if they were a veil, and to the flowers below, which themselves only partially conceal the white backdrop.

Veil of Roses © Harold Davis

Veil of Roses © Harold Davis

One of the tricks with an image like this is to end up with something that looks painterly and elegant, not smudgy. If you try it for yourself, you may find that this is tougher that you might think!

Rain on Variegated Bamboo

Last week there was a much-needed overnight rain. Early in the morning I prowled the neighborhood with my camera and tripod, and as the showers were winding down photographed these water drops on a leaf of a variegated bamboo.

Rain on Variegated Bamboo © Harold Davis

Rain on Variegated Bamboo © Harold Davis

You can learn more about water drop photography—in the spirit of “shaken, not stirred” these are natural, not artificial water drops—in my Focal Press book Photographing Waterdrops.

Old and New: A Tale of Two Kirk BH-3 Ball Heads

My Kirk BH-3 tripod ball head has served me well on four continents on the trail, in the studio, in mountains, deserts, and along the rugged Pacific host, from the barrios of Havana to the souks of Morocco and the Boulevards of Paris. So one day recently, when my BH-3 reported to duty with a definite kink in the retaining plate bracket and knob, it was with sadness that I replaced him in favor of a brand spanking new model. Time goes by, and since change is incremental one doesn’t see the markings until there is a new one for comparison.

Old and New - Kirk BH-3 Ball Heads © Harold Davis

Old and New – Kirk BH-3 Ball Heads © Harold Davis

As I’ve noted, technique is not at the apex of the Maslowvian triangle of photographic needs (vision is), but technique is still my craft, and I am very fond of the tools that help me practice my craft, and want to give my old BH-3 ball head the most honorable send off possible, as it retires and becomes a paper weight and conversation piece rather than an ongoing part of my day-to-day photographic life.

Kirk BH-3 Ball Head - Facing Retirement © Harold Davis

Kirk BH-3 Ball Head – Facing Retirement © Harold Davis

Hierarchy of Photographic Needs

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow famously wrote of a hierarchy of needs, with basic physiologic needs at the bottom of the hierarchy and self-actualization at the apex of the triangle of needs. Love, connection, and cathexis come somewhere in the middle of the Maslowvian hierarchy. A recent blog story of mine about a photo of a red onion seems to have brought up some issues related to a photographic hierarchy of needs, based on both what I wrote originally and on some comments.

Old-Fashioned Rose  © Harold Davis

Old-Fashioned Rose © Harold Davis

Many folks liked the story about the onion and everyday objects: “Your onion photograph, together with your comments, was an extraordinarily clear re-enforcement lesson.” One reader wanted to know why their personal inner world, or vision, should interest anyone else (you can read the full question and my lengthy response in the comments to the story). A comment on my Facebook timeline for this post suggests that “finding subject matter is no problem. It’s everywhere. Shooting it well, well….”

Which leads me back around to the hierarchy of photographic needs. The basic “physiologic” need is to be able to make a capture. Because without a capture you don’t have a photograph.

So many people starting photography assume that if they get a “better” camera they will make better photos because their captures are better, with more megapixels, or whatever.

So what happens when you get the more expensive gear and you discover that your photos are still not what you are looking for (or perhaps even seem banal)? The next category up the hierarchy of photographic needs is technique. If you are the kind of person who is not very self-reflexive you might assume that if only you could learn to be a better photographer technically, your images would get more interesting.

The disappointment here is that photos can be technically impeccable and still ultimately banal. So up the hierarchy some of us go one more time, with the realization that it is important to bring one’s own unique vision into the work.

Ultimately, any photo worth its salt is both about something external—this essentially comes in the definition of the photographic process—and a personal way of seeing that bespeaks the holistic person behind the vision. As I wrote in the comments to the Red Onion story, this necessitates a balance: “Work that is too preciously about oneself is ultimately shallow—Cindy Sherman comes to mind. On the other hand, work that is not self-revelatory to some degree is unlikely to have much real emotional power, and it is important to truly live and to imbue one’s art with one’s life.”

Ultimately, photographic gear is necessary, but very far from sufficient. Photographic technique is only the framework for exhibiting vision, and not the vision itself. Vision must come from a well-lived life—even when the image is of an object as ordinary as a red onion, or as apparently simple on the surface as the Old-Fashioned Rose photo shown above.

Hyper-Reality

It is certainly possible to capture a world in a grain of sand, or a water drop. Perhaps less obviously, there is also a chance of rendering the apparently mundane and seeing worlds, clouds, and maybe mountains within it. The technique here is to make the subject over-the-top clear, so the detail in the photograph seems hyper real. I find myself baffled by students who seek help finding subject matter, as the everyday world around us is always full of source material that is grist for the artistic mill.

Hyper Reality © Harold Davis

Hyper Reality © Harold Davis

Flowers at a Restaurant

I photographed these orchids through translucent etched glass at the handsome Murray Circle Restaurant at the Cavallo Point Inn, part of Fort Baker in Sausalito, California. The location is right across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. If you are interested, you can read my review of the restaurant on Trip Advisor (opens in a new window).

Flowers at a Restaurant © Harold Davis

Flowers at a Restaurant © Harold Davis

Photographed using my iPhone camera app, and processed in Waterlogue.

LAB Inversions

I am often asked about my technique for obtaining creative effects using LAB color adjustments in Photoshop. While the theory behind this set of techniques is a bit complicated, there’s nothing complex in practice about using LAB color adjustments creatively. I’ve written about these techniques both in The Photoshop Darkroom and also in The Way of the Digital Photographer.

To make your life easier if you want to experiment with creative LAB, I’ve also written a Photoshop action that you can download for free using this link (check out the included readme file for installation instructions). This action essentially presents the possible LAB channel adjustments as a palette of possibilites for you to choose from when making your creative choices, and I’ve used my own action—Photoshop’s word for a macro—to create the different creative versions of the images shown here.

For example, with the cone flower (Echinacea) shown here, last year I planted it in a pot on the porch, assuming it would essentially be an annual. Somewhat to my surprise, it has come back strongly for a second year in its pot. We water it with recycled water—such as unfinished water bottles started by the kids. The young flowers are translucent and striated, like the day-old blossom shown. As the flowers mature, the petals become opaque, and a mono-colored shade of pink magenta.

Echinacia © Harold Davis

Echinacia © Harold Davis

The miracle of LAB channel inversions and adjustments leads straight to the alternative, colorful versions you see below:

Inversion on white © Harold Davis

Inversion on white © Harold Davis

I plan to print these images as a quadtych, with the four images arranged in a sequence, pairing the original version on white with the Inversion on White, and the two black versions together.

Echinacia Inversion © Harold Davis

Echinacia Inversion © Harold Davis

Inversion in Blue © Harold Davis

Inversion in Blue © Harold Davis

Antoni Gaudi and the shell game

Antoni Gaudi, the architect of the fabulous Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Catalonia, liked to use organic shapes of nature in his designs. Hence the pillars in the Sagrada Familia cathedral bear a striking resemblance to trees, and the interior of the spires in the church bear the stamp of Gaudi’s life-long fascination with embodying nature in architecture since these spiral stairs resemble the interiors of spiral shells.

Inside the Sagrada Familia Spire © Harold Davis

Inside the Sagrada Familia Spire © Harold Davis

You’ll see what I mean if you check out the interior and exterior views of this spiral shell of the Architectonica genus, shown below, and compare with the Sagrada Familia spiral.

Architectonica Spiral (inward) © Harold Davis

Architectonica Spiral (inward) © Harold Davis

Check out the macro photo shot straight up and through the Architectonica, and compare with the view inside the Sagrada Familia spire at the bottom of this story:

Architectonica Spiral (outward) © Harold Davis

Architectonica Spiral (outward) © Harold Davis

If you are curious, here’s the way the Architectonica shell spiral looks from the outside:

Architectonica Spiral © Harold Davis

Architectonica Spiral © Harold Davis

Incidentally, the views inside the Sagrada Familia spire shown at the top of this story and below were shot hand-held at ISO 51,200. You can read the related blog story to see why this was my best technical choice in the circumstances, and the only way to get a photo in the location—and an approach that would not have been feasible even a few short years ago.

Inside the Sagrada Familia Spire (looking up) © Harold Davis

Inside the Sagrada Familia Spire (looking up) © Harold Davis

We are not afraid of color

I photographed these flowers on my light box using the bright and sharp Zeiss Otus 85mm lens, then created a number of variations in Photoshop. The colors in flowers give me a palette to experiment with saturation and contrast, and I herewith proclaim: Bring it on! I love color!

We are not afraid of color © Harold Davis

We are not afraid of color © Harold Davis

Patterns in the Zeitgeist © Harold Davis

Patterns in the Zeitgeist © Harold Davis

Flowers are the jungle © Harold Davis

Flowers are the jungle © Harold Davis

Beyond the blue light  © Harold Davis

Beyond the blue light © Harold Davis

Solarized Flowers © Harold Davis

Solarized Flowers © Harold Davis

If you are interested in my flower photography techniques both in the camera and in post-production, there are still a few spots left in my Creative Flower Photography workshop at Maine Media in Rockport, Maine this coming August (2015). This is a five-day workshop that will cover light box photography, creative field flower photography, and Photoshop techniques.

Related story: An Amazing Amalgamation of Anemones.

Tulips in a Glass Vase

To make this image, I placed the vase of tulips on a mirror, and lit the vase and flowers from behind with a standing light box. This is the same setup and technique I used in the images shown in HDR is technique, not style. You can see the setup and get an idea about the processing from the spread on pages 128-131 of Creating HDR Photos.

Tulips in a Glass Vase © Harold Davis

Tulips in a Glass Vase © Harold Davis

I also experimented with a simulated, virtual solarization of the image, converted to black & white, shown below.

Tulips in a Glass Vase - Solarized © Harold Davis

Tulips in a Glass Vase – Solarized © Harold Davis

Arms

Arms © Harold Davis

Arms © Harold Davis

Four in-camera exposures, with the model stationary besides her arms. Related stories: Pagan Goddess, Multiple Exposures.

Shadows

In this image, I used my iPhone to photograph and process the shadows of a Venetian blind projected by the late afternoon sun onto the linen curtains in my office. Note the shadow of the rectangular pole (used to open and close the slats) in the lower right, and the regular pattern of darker shadow at the apex of the curve made by the positioning of the curtains.

Shadows © Harold Davis

Shadows © Harold Davis

While it is great to travel with my camera, I believe—and I like to teach—that it is perfectly possible to be creative wherever you are, and that sometimes home is best.

Photographing the Point Reyes boat with my iPhone and the Waterlogue app

Over the years, I have photographed the beached and slowly decaying Point Reyes trawler, located near Inverness, California, by starlight and by daylight in the afternoon. This photo was by iPhone, made while my boys clambered over the wrecked vessel.

Point Reyes Boat © Harold Davis

Point Reyes Boat © Harold Davis

Photographed on my iPhone, and processed on my phone on the spot with the nifty Waterlogue app. Here’s another one:

Point Reyes Boat 2 © Harold Davis

Point Reyes Boat 2 © Harold Davis

Echinacea

Last year I bought an Echinacea and planted it in a pot on the porch, assuming it would essentially be an annual. Somewhat to my surprise, it has come back strongly for a second year in its pot. We water it with recycled water—such as unfinished water bottles started by the kids. The young flowers are translucent and striated, like the day-old blossom shown. As the flowers mature, the petals become opaque, and a mono-colored shade of pink magenta.

 

Echinacia © Harold Davis

Echinacia © Harold Davis

New Iris Macros

I’ve been having fun with some photography of a kind I haven’t done in a while: relatively straight macro photography of flowers. The photography is straightforward (as I explain below), but the aesthetic goals are a bit different than the last time I tackled photographing Iris in this way (for example, in Winged Iris): if my work is going to be confused with Georgia O’Keeffe, I may as well consciously try for a painterly effect.

Iris Petals © Harold Davis

Iris Petals © Harold Davis

To make this photos, I placed the individual Iris on a black background, and lit them from the side using sunlight. I photographed with my Zeiss 100mm f/2 macro lens, to which I added a Nikon PN-11 52.5mm extension tube so I could get close enough.

Iris Translucency © Harold Davis

Iris Translucency © Harold Davis

There are so many wonderful and creative ways to tackle flower photography. It is fun to have this as my “job,” and get to come up with new approaches to the glorious and sexy subject that the flora around us presents. I hope if you have followed the flower photography stories on my blog, read my book about flower photography, and perhaps viewed my Photographing Flowers online course that I’ve given you some ideas how you might creatively approach photographing flowers.

Blue Iris

Blue Iris © Harold Davis