Category Archives: Photography

digital photography: techniques: thoughts: photographs

Scanning a Purple Flower

I was reminded of the very high resolution you can get from an inexpensive flatbed scanner recently when there was interest in a large print from one of my scanned flower images. With both the images shown here, the basic image was created on the scanner but I also photographed the flower, and blended the files from the camera and scanner.

Purple Flower Scan © Harold Davis

Purple Flower Scan © Harold Davis

Generally, flatbed scans can give you a very high resolution, but depth-of-field is very shallow. There’s no way to adjust depth-of-field, as you do by stopping down a lens. The ability to capture depth is also limited. If you try this technique, expect to spend a great deal of time spotting out dust, which almost always accompanies scanner images, particularly if you use a black (or dark) background. Combining a scan with a photo in some ways gives me the best of both worlds!

Purple Flower Dance © Harold Davis

Purple Flower Dance © Harold Davis

When is a photo not a photo?

When is a photo not a photo? For many people in the photography and art worlds the answer to this question seems to depend on the aesthetics of the image and the intent of the creator—even when the technique of creation is overwhelmingly photographic.

Passion © Harold Davis

Passion © Harold Davis

In the eyes of important gatekeepers, the distinction is not merely semantic or taxonomic. I was reminded of this when I met with a very important photography collector a while back, who concluded our interview by telling me that “nothing you’ve shown me is a photograph.”

As many people who follow my work know, I consider much of my work “post-photographic.” It has rightly been said that I use digital painting, with photography as my source material, to create a new category of art that combines photography with digital technology, and also references artwork of the past (for example, Japanese art, impressionist and post-impressionist painting).

That said, Passion (shown above) is essentially photographic, and created using an in-camera studio multiple exposure.

Related images in the same series: Multiple Exposures, Kali and Les Desmoiselles, Being and Becoming; Solace for the Wild Rest, Duos and Redos.

Photographing the Paris Skyline

Photographing the Paris skyline at dusk would seem to be pretty straightforward. The rooftop observatory on top of the Tour Montparnasse is open late, and there are gaps in the plexiglass allowing one to shoot without worrying about reflections. With a camera on a tripod, what then could be the big technical issue?

Paris Sunset 2 © Harold Davis

Paris Sunset 2 © Harold Davis

Not so much if all you need to do is display your images at a small size, but plenty it turns out if a large reproduction (print size 60″ X 40″ or 150cm X 40cm and up) is the requirement.

In the spring of 2013 I shot Paris City of Light and Les Lumières de Paris from the top of the Tour Montparnasse. By the way, the Tour Monparnasse is a hideous high-rise built in the 1970s that doesn’t fit in with the elegant Paris skyline in the slightest. The joke is that the best thing about the Tour Monparnasse observatory is that you can’t see the Tour Montparnasse from it. Bus loads of Chinese, Korean and Japanese tourists ride the elevators up to the Tour Montparnasse observatory, but most of them stay on the floor below the plein air top deck.

Anyhow, my 2013 shots were good enough for a couple of publications, but there was “trouble in Paradise” when an art publishing client of mine ran some really large test prints. These images just weren’t sharp enough.

What can cause lack of sharpness under these conditions? First, in any landscape shot that includes a distant vista diffusion due to atmospheric conditions is always a factor, and there isn’t much you can do about it except wait for a really clear day (not always possible). Paris is often moist, and has some pollution from cars and other sources, so this limiting factor is a real consideration.

From the viewpoint of photographic gear and the craft of photography, the issues are camera motion, optical sharpness, resolution (sensor size) and sensitivity settings.

Paris Sunset © Harold Davis

Paris Sunset © Harold Davis

As I’ve noted, my camera was on a tripod. But my observation and analysis was that the real problem was slight camera motion, caused by the wind coming through the gaps in the plexi, even using my tripod. Absent the ability to come back with a heavier tripod, which wasn’t possible, the fix in 2014 seemed to be to use a faster shutter speed.

So in the two images of Paris Sunset (far above, above and also shown here) I shot at 1/100 of a second for a relatively short duration shutter speed. This implied bumping the ISO, to 1250 in each case.

The good news: my files this time stand up to the blow-up that is required!

Workshop Demo on a Light Box

The Gloriosa Lily is a notoriously poisonous—and extremely beautiful—flower. We had the Gloriosa and many other exceptional flowers to play with at the recent  Creative Flower Photography workshop sponsored by the Heidelberg Summer School of Photography in Germany. I shot the image shown here as an in-class demo using the excellent Zeiss Makro-Planar 50mm f/2 macro lens. This was a great workshop with excellent participants, and much fun was had! Special thanks to Carl Zeiss for lending the superb lenses for participants to try.

Gloriosa Lily © Harold Davis

Gloriosa Lily © Harold Davis

Want to learn how to photograph flowers on a light-box, and process them for transparency? Please consider the October 4-5, 2014 session of Photographing Flowers for Transparency.

Gloriosa Bouquet © Harold Davis

Gloriosa Bouquet © Harold Davis

Castle Stairs and Glass with Candle

It was a rainy drive from Heidelberg to Aalen, Germany. Once I got off the autobahn, the countryside was lush with  moisture, but going was slow. I stopped for lunch in a small town, and ate at an informal place across from the train station with German food but a Greek chef and Greek music.

Castle Stair © Harold Davis

Castle Stair © Harold Davis

While I waited for my food to arrive I processed the two images shown here. The image above is of a spiral staircase in the castle at Heidelberg. The staircase happens to be next to a giant beer barrel. Go figure! I always say, grab your photos where you find them—even if it means ignoring context, such as one of the world’s largest beer barrels.

Glass with Candle © Harold Davis

Glass with Candle © Harold Davis

The image above was shot at a meal a few days ago, and is an abstraction of a candle refracted in a drinking glass, as you’ll see if you look carefully. The glass was green and held some kind of fancy drink. The shape of the green glass occupies the rights side of the image.

Deux Chevaux Engine

The Citroen C2V was fondly known as the “deux chevaux,” or two horses, after its putative power. Actually, the C2V engine has something like twenty horse power, and this is a car that is fondly remembered by many. Macho car it was never, more cute and cuddly, and therefore fun to give its engine a full HDR treatment with a bracketed exposure sequence. Thanks to Primo, who pulled it out in his garage so we could photograph it!

Deux Chevaux Engine (color) © Harold Davis

Deux Chevaux Engine (color) © Harold Davis

Do you prefer the color or the black and white version?

Deux Chevaux Engine (black and white) © Harold Davis

Deux Chevaux Engine (black and white) © Harold Davis

Girl in a Blue Dress

I set my camera up on a tripod and framed a sidewalk with some windows and a bicycle in old Heidelberg, Germany, waiting for pedestrians to come by. It was afternoon, but still quite bright. I dialed the ISO all the way down (to ISO 50) and stopped the lens all the way down to its smallest opening (f/25). This yielded a shutter speed (shutter speed is not really a speed, and is more coherently described as “the duration of time the shutter is open” ) of 1/5 of a second. The idea was to make the exposure as long as possible to display the motion of any humans that entered the frame as a blur.

Girl in a Blue Dress © Harold Davis

Girl in a Blue Dress © Harold Davis

With this kind of photography, you have to take many shots to get a good one. Fortunately, a pretty girl in a blue dress came along without too much delay, and did a nicely positioned twirl in my frame, leading to an elegant motion blur.

Cheap Shots

Design Schmuck




Exploring Heidelberg

The only way to combat jet lag flying east—there is a nine hour time difference between California and Germany—is to try to get some sleep on the plane, then stay up as long as possible, until something like a normal bedtime. This makes for a very long day. What better way to fill it than with exploration and photography?

My first photo was of a courtyard in old Heidelberg, converted via Waterlogue:

Courtyard in Heidelberg ©  Harold Davis

Courtyard in Heidelberg © Harold Davis

Here are the stairs in the hotel I am staying in. Modern, but still very cool:

Hotel Panorama Stairs © Harold Davis

Hotel Panorama Stairs © Harold Davis

I had dinner in a hole-in-the-wall place called “Schnitzelbank” in old Heidelberg. This place actually does make a pretty mean schnitzel, and they were nice to me, too. Seating is communal, and the general style is touristic-pseudo-genuine, with a nod to being genuine so a bit of being seedy and outspoken is okay. That said, as noted they were kind and the food was pretty good.

Schnitzelbank © Harold Davis

Schnitzelbank © Harold Davis

There are many bicycles in Heidelberg. When you are recovering from jet lag, the trick is not to get run over by one of them, particularly if there is a reflection of another bicycle in a mirror world to further confuse:

Mirror World © Harold Davis

Mirror World © Harold Davis


Peonies, iPhones and implementation details

How are peonies, iPhones and implementation details related?

The relationship between how a photo was made and the perception of the photo by those who view it is an interesting thing. Or, perhaps it is the perception of how it was made?

Peonies on a Lightbox © Harold Davis

Peonies on a Lightbox © Harold Davis

Like all professional photographers, I’ve had the experience of showing an image to someone and getting the response, “Oh, that’s great! You must have a good camera.”

Perhaps the person saying this doesn’t realize it is an insult. Or maybe they do. It also mistakes the tool used for the real work of the artist.

The other side of the coin is showing someone an iPhone image. They think it is great, until you tell them you made it with an iPhone. Then they dismiss the image.

People who know me, know my views on all this. There is an issue of using appropriate technology: if you are going to blow something up to mural size and have it be sharp, you need a decent size sensor, many megapixels, and a big file.

On the other hand, for many (probably most) uses, good enough technically is, well, good enough.

The key issue in photography is who the photographer is, how the photographer sees the world, and whether the photographer can create images that resonate and emotionally rock.

Nothing else matters. Period.

So next time, don’t ask what camera an image was made with. This like asking a painter what brush he used. Ask instead whether the photo moves you, and if so, why and how?

Considering the important things and not the implementation details will help you become a better viewer of photos, and—yes!—will also help you become a better image maker.

Peonies © Harold Davis

Peonies © Harold Davis

Everett & Jones BBQ

Some of the best BBQ in the Bay area, with a decor that gives you plenty to look at as your slab comes off the grill. Then—bang, bang, bang—the slab is chopped with sauce that is mild, medium or hot and you walk away with a picnic feast.

Everett & Jones BBQ © Harold Davis

Everett & Jones BBQ © Harold Davis

Tender Dance

Tender Dance © Harold Davis

Tender Dance © Harold Davis

White Poppy

White Poppy © Harold Davis

White Poppy © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss 135mm f/2 lens with 12mm extension tube, 2 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted, exposed on a light box for transparency, processed in Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop, and with Photoshop plug-ins from Nik and Topaz.

New Photoshop Webinar Recordings Available

Want to be able to get the nuts and bolts of a subject and play it again as often as you’d like? Access to the following webinar recordings is available. Each webinar is approximately one hour with video and audio. Listen as many times as you’d like, and play back specific portions as often as you wish. The cost is only $19.95 each.

Click here for unlimited access to the Painting in Transparency Using a High-Key Layer Stack Webinar Recording (about 75 minutes, the cost is $19.95)

01-titleAre you intrigued by transparent flower photos? Ever wanted to know how to make them? Well, here’s your chance!

With photography on a light box, once you photograph a bracketed high-key exposure sequence, then the the next step is to assemble a layer stack.

As you build your layer stack, successively darker layers are masked and painted in to create the illusion of transparency. The results surprise and delight!

Digital artist and master photographer Harold Davis states, “My transparent botanical art has been greatly acclaimed and emulated. Flowers can create the most beautiful compositions. Photographers who are interested in photographing flowers should give this technique a try. Certainly, one of the most sensitive parts of the process is painting in the high-key layer stack.”

Here’s a comment from a viewer of this webinar: “I had read all I could about painting in transparency but only with your layer-by-layer demonstration did it all come together.”

Click here for more information about this webinar recording.

Click here for unlimited access to the Using Backgrounds and Textures Webinar recording (about 65 minutes, the cost is $19.95)


Have you ever wanted to turn your photos into fine art design pieces? With a little bit of Photoshop know-how, a few inexpensive tools, and the techniques explained in this webinar, it’s easy to create unique art imagery, guided by your vision and creativity.

Placing a photo on a background creates an image that looks like a botanical illustration. Adding a texture to a photo is can be used for an impressionistic and/or painterly effect.

Digital artist and master photographer Harold Davis states, “The two primary techniques that I use to turn straightforward photos into art are to add a photo to a background, and to add a texture to photos. These two techniques have a very visual different impact, and can be particularly effective with my botanical art.”

It’s easy to add a whole set of techniques to your creative use of Photoshop! Watch Harold as he explains the entire process of using backgrounds and textures, then shows how to use them in the actual context of his own work.

Here are some comments from viewers of this webinar:

  • “I have been using textures for a while, but watching this webinar filled in some gaps for me. Great information.”
  • “Up all night and enthused about textures after watching your video. Great info about layer masking. Thanks!”
  • “You hit the mark for me, Harold! Filled in all the gaps. Thank you!”

Click here for more information about this webinar recording

Click here for unlimited access to the Selective Sharpening with LAB Color with Harold Davis webinar recording (about 60 minutes, the cost is $19.95).

Selective SharpeningHave you ever over-sharpened an image? (We all have!) Have you ever wanted to to sharpen just one thing in a photo, not the entire image?

If you answer “Yes!” to either of these questions, then this webinar recording is for you!

This webinar recording shows how to use the properties of LAB color to selectively sharpen images for aesthetic effect, and teaches you a technique that should be in the toolkit of every photographer who uses Photoshop.

Master photographer and bestselling author Harold Davis says, “I use selective sharpening with LAB color to enhance almost all of my photos.” Sharpening with LAB is one of the true secrets of the masters.

Here are some comments from viewers of this webinar:

  • “Very informative. All my questions were answered.”
  • “It was great to see actual examples and Harold using this technique with his own imagery!”

Click here for more information about this webinar recording.

Current Live Harold Davis Webinar Offerings 


Understanding the creative use of LAB color in Photoshop unlocks a vast treasure trove of under-utilized and under-explored possibilities.

This webinar explains the structure of LAB color, and demonstrates inversions and LAB equalizations for both image optimization and creative fun. You will learn how to combine Blending Modes with LAB equalizations for an unlimited and powerful palette.



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.


01-title-layers101August 16, 2014: Photoshop Layers 101 (World premier offering)

The ability to work with layers and layer masks in Photoshop is what unlocks the power of Photoshop, and separates it from more mundane image editors. Yet many people find working with layers (and the tools related to layers) daunting, both conceptually and practically.

This webinar aims to get you over this learning hump gently. It is intended for serious photographers—for example, those working in Lightroom—who want to take their work to the next level in Photoshop. We will go slowly, work through many examples, and reserve ample time for questions

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.


Please consider my interactive, online Photographing Flowers course (with Craftsy).

Class description: Learn how to use exposure, focus and creative techniques for spectacular floral photos. Join top photographer and bestselling author Harold Davis to explore the many facets of successful macro photography, starting with expert tips on composition. Delve into extension tubes and filters for an affordable way to master extreme close-ups, and navigate challenging lighting with ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Cultivate your artistic vision using selective focus, unexpected angles and depth of field to create imaginative, Impressionist-inspired shots. Plus, learn how to execute an indoor shoot and present your photos in a strikingly unique portfolio.

Photographing Flowers for Transparency – Weekend Workshop Oct 4-5, 2014

BY POPULAR DEMAND! Space is limited, and this workshop usually sells out, so don’t delay.

Two Day Workshop: Photographing Flowers for Transparency with Harold Davis

Info & Registration:

Papaver and IridaceaeMaster photographer Harold Davis is well-known for his often imitated—but seldom equaled—digital images of luscious transparent and transulcent flowers.

In this unique workshop offering master photographer Harold Davis shows the techniques he uses to create his floral masterpieces. Arrangement, composition, photography, post-production will all be covered, as will Harold’s special techniques for shooting on a lightbox.

Who is this workshop for?

The workshop is intended for photographers of all levels with an interest in flower photography.

Harold is only planning to give this workshop infrequently. There is no better way to learn the floral transparency techniques that he has pioneered. The two-day format will give participants the chance to complete their imagery using the techniques that Harold will demonstrate.

Here are some comments from previous Floral Transparency Workshops:

“Loved the pace, in-depth instruction and generous sharing.”

“Excellent presentation and information. Harold Davis patiently answered all the questions and helped us get great shots the first time out!”

“Harold, thank you for the time, expense and effort it took to put on a great workshop….You are a wealth of information and share it so graciously.”

“Outstanding workshop!”

“A very packed day! Harold is very clear and organized; an outstanding photographer who is also an outstanding teacher.”

Tulip Pano

Where: MIG Meeting Place, 800 Hearst Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94710

When: Saturday October 4, 2014, 9:30AM to 5:30PM and Sunday October 5, 2014, 10:00AM to 5:00PM

Tuition: The cost of the workshop is $745 per person. Workshop limited to 16 participants.


What to bring: Your camera (preferably capable of shooting in RAW and with a manual exposiure mode), camera manual, tripod (if you have one), and a way to make notes!

If you’d like to follow the post-production examples please bring a laptop loaded with Photoshop, and HDR Efex Pro from Nik Software (trial versions of this software are available for free download).


Curriculum – Day 1

9:30AM – Workshop orientation

10:30 – Glory of the tranlucent petal (understanding translucency and transparency)

11:30 – Introduction to Floral arrangement and composition

12:30 – Lunch break

1:30 – Advanced floral compositon

2:30 – Shooting on a lightbox

3:30 – Understanding high-key hand HDR post-production

4:30 – Advanced HDR topics

5:00 – Review, wrap-up and Q&A

Curriculum – Day 2Poppies and Peonies

10:00AM - Day 1 recap

10:30 - Individual post-production guided practice

11:30 – Backgrounds and Textures

12:30 – Lunch break

1:30 – LAB Color effects

2:15 – Individual practice

4:00 – Fine art botannical prints

4:30 – Review, wrap-up and Q&A

About Harold Davis

Harold Davis is an award-winning professional photographer and widely recognized as one of the leading contemporary photographers.

He is the author of more than 30 books, including Monochromatic HDR Photography (Focal Press), The Way of the Digital Photographer (Peachpit Press), Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography (Amphoto),  Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis (Focal Press), The Photoshop Darkroom 2: Creative Digital Transformations (Focal Press), and The Photoshop Darkroom: Creative Digital Post-Processing (Focal Press).

High-Key Tulips

Harold is the author of the Creative Photography series from Wiley Publishing.

“Harold Davis’s Creative Photography series is a great way to start a photography library”—Daniel Fealko, PhotoFidelity.

The Creative titles include: Creative Landscapes: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Lighting: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Portraits: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Black & White: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Composition: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Night: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Close-Ups: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley). He’s also written a book on the fundamentals of exposure, Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers (O’Reilly Media).