Category Archives: Photography

digital photography: techniques: thoughts: photographs

Flash Craftsy Sale

Photographing Flowers is the acclaimed online Craftsy course with Harold Davis. Sign up with a special 50% off today for yourself or as a gift!

ALL Craftsy classes (choose from an extensive catalog) for just $19.99 or less now through December 25th, 2014. Click here to take advantage of this special flash sale.

Rainy Day © Harold Davis

Rainy Day © Harold Davis

Sintra Garden © Harold Davis

Sintra Garden © Harold Davis

Alstromeria Ballet © Harold Davis

Alstromeria Ballet © Harold Davis

Seasons Greetings: Graced with Light!

Best wishes of the season from myself, Phyllis and our whole family!

2014-Greetings-Harold Davis

Click here for a PDF version of this card.

Kumano Portfolio: A Work in Progress

My Kumano kodo Portfolio is a handmade labor of love and a work in progress. But we’re making great progress! This portfolio is designed to showcase in form and content my photos of the Kumano kodo pilgrimage trail on the Kii peninsula in Japan, sacred to Shugendo Buddhism.

Here are some shots from the first prototype, soon to be renamed AP (artist proof) #1. Incidentally, the portfolio edition consists of 12 signed and numbered portfolios plus four artists proofs. Each portfolio is created by folding a single 4 meter long sheet of Awagami Kozo washi, so there are no fasteners, only folds. See Working on the Kumano kodo prototype for some more info about this unique artist-created artifact. Each portfolio is signed and numbered, with my Japanese chop hand-applied, on the title page.

This photo shows the spread in the center of the portfolio:

Kumano kodo portfolio center spread

Here’s one of the long, long sheets of Kozo coming out of the printer:

Kumano kodo sheet

A single one of the sheets in a roll before it is scored and folded:

One sheet rolled

Scoring the sheet of Kozo by hand with the waste paper shown:

Scoring the portfolio

Two more spreads from “inside” the portfolio, one in color and one in black & white:

Kumano kodo portfolio temple and Buddha

Kumano kodo portfolio garden and vista

The entire folded sheet of Kozo fits into a kind of outer sleeve with a panoramic print of the view from one of the sacred passes along the Kumano kodo. The sleeve is scored with flaps, and is also signed and numbered. We’re still working on a couple of variations, but this is the cover of one of the sleeves we are considering:

Kumano kodo portfolio cover

So far, numbers 1-4 of the portfolio are spoken for. Numbers 5 and 6 are on offer for $1,150 each. If you’d like one, we can offer a modest pre-publication discount, as well as thanks for contacting me directly.

Related stories: Working on the Kumano kodo prototype; Print Prices to Rise; Special Print Offer.

Market in Marrakesh

This is an image made after dusk with a long (300mm) lens from above the Jemaa-al-Fna in Marrakesh, Morocco. I used five exposures at shutter speeds from 3/5 of a second to 5 seconds with the camera on my tripod, and combined the exposures using Nik’s HDR Efex Pro plugin in Photoshop and also with hand-layering.

Market in Marrakesh © Harold Davis

Market in Marrakesh © Harold Davis

Related images: You can get a better idea of my position in making this image from Jemaa-al-Fna and Wider View of the Jemaa-al-Fna.

Panorama from Morocco

This is a thirty-image panorama I shot in Boulmane Dades, an oasis in trans-Atlas Morocco, at sunset. Each image was 36 MP, so the entire panorama made for a very big file indeed. This version is reduced in size so that it can be viewed!


If the panorama doesn’t start moving automatically, you can move it with your mouse (or a gesture) to see all of it! Stop the motion by clicking in the image area; double-click to open it larger in its own window.

My prints in a New York loft

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the New York loft apartment of a friend of mine who collects my prints. My prints were carefully selected and framed, tastefully arranged, and placed in positions that made sense in the context of the layout of the loft. Of course, I work frequently with my images and prints, but that doesn’t mean I really “see” them.

I know these snapshots are not great interior design photos, and that this is a lived-in space (which is a good thing!). But I think you’ll get the idea. What’s striking about seeing a substantial body of my work integrated into a living space is that there is kind of a glow—harmonious, serene and powerful—that emanates across my prints, regardless of the subject matter. One can have no idea of the power of the prints from looking at an online version of the image: they become so much more when they are made manifest as physical objects. Which is part of why I think it is so important for photographers to be closely involved in making their own prints.

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Links to the images shown here as prints (from top to bottom): Star Magnolia Panorama (bedroom); Papaver and Iridicaea; Cherry Blossoms (two prints in the dressing area); Kira at Passy Station (over the dresser); Egg Yolk Separator, Story of O, and Lonely Islet (Dining area); White Irises; Temple Dragon.

Related story: Print prices to rise; special print offer.

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

Working on the Kumano kodo portfolio prototype

My Kumano kodo portfolio of images from spiritual Japan has been a long time coming. We’re printing it on one long piece of Awagami Kozo washi, then scoring and folding it into a clam shell, fan-folded shape on a single long piece of paper. This has presented some technical software difficulties, as the paper length is greater than our Epson 9900 can handle using its native code.

Kumano kodo portfolio prototype © Harold Davos

Kumano kodo portfolio prototype © Harold Davos

The origami-like main portion of this portfolio includes thirteen images from my travel in Japan, as noted in one uncut but folded sixteen foot (about 5 meters) long piece.  The portfolio is wrapped in an additional image, a panoramic slip cover. Besides these fourteen images there is a descriptive booklet explaining the images; it all fits neatly in a  presentation box.

The Kumano kodo portfolio is being produced by hand in a small edition of twelve hand signed and numbered copies, along with four artist proofs. We have the first two copies already promised to collectors, and one copy available at $650. Please let us know if you’d like to reserve it. After the third copy is sold, the price of the edition rises to $1,150.

Wider view of the Jemaa-el-Fna (with Zeiss 15mm)

This wider view of the Jemaa-al-Fna, the central square in Marrakesh, Morocco, was shot with the Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 lens, allowing a very broad view of the square in all its extent, but minimizing optical distortion. The fence shown in the right foreground is on the balcony where my tripod perched. The image shows steam and smoke rising from the famous food stalls to the left in the square, where I had a glorious and fun meal seated at the impromptu counters.

Jemaa-al-Fna 2  © Harold Davis

Jemaa-al-Fna 2 © Harold Davis

ISO 51,200

Towards the bottom of one of the spires of Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain it is dim to the point of almost pitch blackness. Tripods are not allowed. So I did the best I could, and shot handheld upwards with the heck boosted out of the ISO (ISO stands for sensitivity to light, and in days gone by would have been noted as film speed). The ISO scale on my D810 tops out at 51,200—almost inconceivably high compared to the camera’s “native” ISO of 64. Sure, there’s a bit of noise, but on the whole the image at this preposterous level of sensitivity to light has quite a bit of quality and resolution. The last few years have surely heralded a revolution in the ability of the current generation of cameras to record extreme low light conditions.

Inside the Sagrada Familia Spire © Harold Davis

Inside the Sagrada Familia Spire © Harold Davis

Here’s the complete exposure information: Nikon D810, 28-300mm Nikkor zoom lens at 122mm, 1/8 of a second using Vibration Reduction (VR) at f/16 and ISO 51,200, handheld. Note that I needed to stop the lens down (to f/16) to get enough depth-of-field to keep the spirals in focus, which is part of what compelled me to boost the ISO so maniacally.

Travels with Samantha

I’m normally a map, or a map-and-compass, kind of guy. But when I rented my car in Portugal I also rented a navigation system. Getting lost in obscure foreign parts where I didn’t speak the language was definitely getting old.

The man who set up the navigation system for me at Europacar wanted to know whether I wanted British or American English, and also whether I wanted the Jack or Samantha voice. I picked Samantha.

In some respects, Sam is a navigational prodigy, getting me places on a wing and a prayer that I would never have accomplished on my own. For example, the route Sam took me on to the door of my hotel in the historic district of Porto involved several one-way alleys, numerous roundabouts, the lower deck of the famous bridge in Porto, and—strangely—a vacant lot.

Porto at Night © Harold Davis

Porto at Night © Harold Davis

When she’s good, Sam is very, very good—but the price for her help is that she wants control. Occasionally she also gets things wrong, directing me up roads closed to traffic, or alleys that are only intended for foot traffic. In these cases, she gets repetitive, and there is clearly a shrillness to the directions, as if she’s asking, “Why can’t you even follow simple instructions?”

She’s also not very sympathetic to the stops I make for photography. She calculates an arrival time for each destination. Apparently, my photographic stops throw this off. “Recalculating,” she announces, and you can almost see the virtual eyeball rolling. “You are now fifteen minutes later than the original time-to-destination.” It certainly sounds like she gets more annoyed the more photographic stops I make.

Once today I reached a new highway that wasn’t in Sam’s database. Her display showed me and the car rolling across open fields, and her directions to correct my course were increasingly implausible, until at last the real world and her maps coincided again, and there was peace in the relationship once more.

Like any neurotic relationship there are communication problems, and as I mentioned, a battle for control. But I’ve grown accustomed to the strident, dulcet tones of my Samantha, telling me she is recalibrating, and to go right in 100 meters on a street whose name in Portuguese she has totally mangled—or often, turn in 250 meters on “Road” with no other name. It’s relaxing knowing I can blunder anyplace in this country, more or less, and Sam will get me to where I need to go no matter how lost I am.

Rats at Mafra

The imperial palace at Mafra, Portugal was built on a huge scale with loot from the Brazil colony. Everything is super-sized: room after room with billiard table, deer antlers, and last but surely not least the library. This is the largest library of leather-bound books in the world, and it is never done. As fast as they prepare new volumes, the rats of Mafra eat older books.

Library at Mafra © Harold Davis

Library at Mafra © Harold Davis

Incidentally, this is the place where each of five guards told me I couldn’t use my tripod, even though I showed no sign of using it. I guess they had nothing to do in the vastness, and couldn’t very well start gnawing leather-bound volumes.

Leaving Morocco

The Royal Air Maroc plane to Lisbon was late to leave, as expected. Still, it was a relief to leave the chaos of Casablanca as we said goodbye to Morocco. Surely an adventure with many images to process, and much to digest. I captured this image on my iPhone, and processed it with Waterlogue.

Leaving Morocco © Harold Davis

Leaving Morocco © Harold Davis

Satellite Dishes in the Medina

I am told that about half the households in Morocco have Internet access, mostly via satellite dish like these shown in this photo of the ancient Medina in Fez. These dishes also transmit sports, and no doubt the Al Jazeera news channel.

Satellite Dishes in the Medina, Fez © Harold Davis

Satellite Dishes in the Medina, Fez © Harold Davis

Castle made of sand

Coming into Ait Benhaddou shortly before an early sunset (a little after 5PM this time of year in trans-Atlas Morocco) I saw that it would be a race with the light to get to an elevation in the old fortress for photography. The bus stopped at the inevitable coffee shop with a view and for-pay bathrooms, and I raced out with camera and tripod.

Castle made of sand © Harold Davis

Castle made of sand © Harold Davis

The first hurdle was crossing the river (shown towards the back of the photo). There was a bridge upstream, but it was too far to make it in time for the light. The stepping stones nearer to my location looked precarious, but I watched a local person cross, and I realized they were steady enough if the attempt was made carefully. In fact, these steps were sandbagged cunningly in place and arranged to look precarious, so that when help was needed a tip could be solicited.

I carefully crossed the river, and made my into the Ksar. Several people demanded an admission fee. One lady was so persistent that I actually gave her a one Dirham coin (about ten cents). She took a look at it, told me if wasn’t enough, and handed it back to me in disgust.

The interior was a maze, and I knew that if I made a wrong turn I would lose the light. I also didn’t want to recross the river after dark, or miss the meeting time at the bus. So I raced upwards, finding a platform with a three Dirham for-pay bathroom and a great view. I handed over the money and set up my tripod. The proprietor was extremely gracious to me, and poured me a welcome cup of mint tea.

The image shows a castle made of crumbling sandstone, built on a huge scale, though it could easily be mistaken for a children’s sandcastle if one doesn’t look too closely.

Today is Moroccan independence day (won from France, in 1956). I’ll be writing more about this intriguing country, which has one foot in the thirteenth century and the other in the twenty-first.