Category Archives: Photography

digital photography: techniques: thoughts: photographs

A Rorschach for MFA’s

This image, with the working title Gates after Rodin, shows one model many times. The model, Jacs Fishburne, is a self-described “tornado disguised as a woman.” In the studio, Jacs was posing on a large metal hoop, sometimes called a Lyra. The Lyra was suspended by two ropes about six feet above the ground, with a black background. For some of the exposures Jacs was kneeling on the ground “holding up” the Lyra.

Gates after Rodin © Harold Davis

Gates after Rodin © Harold Davis

To make the image, I shot five in-camera multiple exposures, with Autogain turned on so that each multiple exposure was properly calibrated. Each of the multiple exposures consisted of five to eight individual shots, with Jacs changing her pose between each one. I used basic studio lighting for an even, consistent look and my D800 with the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4.

I then combined the in-camera multiple exposures in Photoshop, using both stacking and selectively pasting bits from various versions in using layers and masking. By some ways of counting, this makes for a total of somewhere between 25 and 40 different captures of Jacs, when you multiply the number of files by the number of times she appears in each.

Before finishing the image by adding a texture, I retouched out the ropes from above holding the Lyra, leaving the circular Lyra mostly in place.

A friend writes: “It brings up associations with five or six classic paintings from earlier eras. I see the Winged Victory of Samothrace on the left, and the hand of the Sphinx on the center right. Cardinal Richelieu is in the center. The face in profile at the upper left comes from something I can’t quite place and the depictions of hell by the famous Dutch painter What’s-His-Name are at the bottom [Hieronymus Bosch]. And then there’s the hint of the sumi-e circle of light again [the Lyra]. It’s like a Rorschach for MFA’s! ”

My own association is with Rodin’s Gates of Hell. I saw a casting in the garden at the Rodin Museum in Paris this spring. Maybe the memory of the Gates was lurking in my subconscious, waiting for a chance to emerge!

Related story: Multiple Exposures.

Multiple Exposures

I feel like showing the six images in my Multiple Exposures series (at least so far there are six) in one blog story. Thanks Marianne for the great title suggestion for the sequence! The models are beautiful women, but multiply exposed like this there is something definitely off-balance and dark about the ensemble.

Les Demoiselles © Harold Davis

Les Demoiselles © Harold Davis

Being and Becoming © Harold Davis

Being and Becoming © Harold Davis

Kali © Harold Davis

Kali © Harold Davis

Earthbound Angels © Harold Davis

Earthbound Angels © Harold Davis

Passion © Harold Davis

Passion © Harold Davis

Solace for the Wild Rest © Harold Davis

Solace for the Wild Rest © Harold Davis

Related blog stories: When is a photo not a photo?Multiple ExposuresKali and Les DesmoisellesBeing and BecomingSolace for the Wild RestDuos and Redos.

Also see Tender Dance and Sisters.

Flowers for Nicky

My twelve year old son Nicky (shown here a while back) was in the ensemble at Berkeley Playhouse for a teen production of the musical Shrek. For opening night, his Grandma sent him flowers.

Flowers for Nicky © Harold Davis

Flowers for Nicky © Harold Davis

He (and we) enjoyed the bouquet for a while. Then, a couple of days after the performance, I spread them out on my light box, and photographed the flowers for transparency.

For more information on my technique, check out my FAQ: Photographing Flowers for Transparency.

Sony Alpha a7R—Initial Impressions

I’ve been testing a new interchangeable lens camera, the Sony Alpha a7R, to see if I can happily use it. The a7R can truly be thought of as a new paradigm camera compared to the DSLRs I am accustomed to using, which are basically classic SLRs with an optical pentaprism and mirror, updated for digital. The full frame sensor in the a7R is the same as the sensor in the Nikon D800E (the Nikon sensor is made by Sony), with a full 36MP capture. This camera has great resolution, but no mirror or optical viewfinder—and weighs less than half of what a full-frame Nikon DSLR weighs.

Succulents (via Sony Alpha a7R) © Harold Davis

Succulents (via Sony Alpha a7R) © Harold Davis

It’s really interesting how the gear we use influences our imagery, and even what we see and how we see it! I shoot differently with a full-frame DSLR than when using an iPhone camera, and as I try the a7R, I am working differently yet again—and taking different shots.

This is a very smart camera, and a magnificently designed machine. It is a real pleasure to hold in my hands, and the light weight of the form factor considering the resolution is nothing short of astounding.

I shot the image shown above with a Sony-Zeiss Vario-Tessar FE 24-70mm lens at 70mm, f/5.6, 1/80 of a second and ISO 100 handheld. It’s not my usual way of working, but I set the camera on Auto, and let the camera do the thinking about focus and exposure. It did a pretty good job, I’d say. Auto-pilot, when it is as good as the automation in this camera, has something to be said for it because I can concentrate on seeing, and I don’t need to think about the technical aspects. Maybe this is the future, a little like being driven by a Google car!

I’m continuing to work my way through the sketchy documentation, explore my feelings about the non-optical viewfinder, see how easy it is to use manual exposure settings, find out whether it plays well with my wonderful collection of Nikon-mount Zeiss glass via the Sony E to Nikon F metabones adapter, test battery life, see how I can use the a7R with an intervalometer, and investigate other issues.

I’ve added a tripod quick-release plate to the bottom of the a7R, and I will be using it this weekend as my primary camera as I lead a landscape photography workshop at Point Reyes National Seashore.

The questions I now need to answer for myself don’t really relate to the camera per se, which is clearly a magnificent machine, but rather to how well I work with it, and whether my style of craft meshes well with the machine. Camera and photographer are a kind of cyborg. Does this Harold-Sony a7R man-machine cyborg work and play well? Stay tuned.

Full disclosure: Sony kindly lent me the Alpha a7R along with the 24-70mm lens.

Riders on the Storm meets Christina’s World

In the surprising uplands of Dordogne and Lot in the southwest of France high alkaline plateaus are bisected by deep river valleys. You’ll find medieval towns and castles, with markers from the history of the bloody 100 years war. The Brits may not have conquered back then, but today they’ve taken over, with everything from modest vacation bungalows to gated chateaus and estates.

Riders on the Storm © Harold Davis

Riders on the Storm © Harold Davis

Exploring the back country, in the smallest hamlets I could find, were also abandoned farms and ruined buildings. I paused in Saint-Romain, ahead of the storm, to photograph this farm house, intricate in its construction and picturesque in its decay. The wind whistled through the grass in the fields, with a sound as desolate as the abandoned buildings. The only thing missing was Christina, I thought, disassembling my camera and tripod and turning away as the first drops of rain began to fall.

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.

Photographic Odyssey to Japan with Harold Davis

Please consider joining me on a photographic odyssey to Japan in the spring of 2015. This is my dream trip to Japan, a once in a lifetime exclusive eighteen-day opportunity. This is an absolutely unique trip. Group size is limited to a maximum of twelve people. The dates are March 29 – April 15, 2015, selected so as to have the best chance of being in Kyoto for the cherry blossoms.

If you look at the detailed itinerary, I think you’ll be amazed at all we’ve managed to pack into this Photographic Odyssey to Japan, from big cities and luxury hotels, to temples on pilgrimage routes, rustic ryokans, 17th century castles, and much more. The route of the trip follows a meandering path south from Tokyo round Mt Fuji, the Japanese alps, and the mountainous Japanese interior.

Misty Mountains
We’ll pause for a few days in Kyoto and photograph cherry blossoms, then visit the ancient capital of Nara, and head on for the terminus of the famous Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail. From there, a trip to Shikoku Island will feature the Naruto whirlpool, a washi paper making workshop at the famous Awagami factory, and a visit along the Shikoku 88 temples pilgrimage circuit.

Continuing south, we’ll stop to photograph Himeji Castle, pay our respects to the Atomic Dome in Hiroshima, and take our time photographing the giant Torii built over the inland sea on the sacred Island of Miyajima. From there we’ll fly back from Hiroshima to Tokyo (airfare included).

Please consider joining me in Japan! You can check out the detailed itinerary by going to http://www.digitalfieldguide.com/japan-workshop. I’ve included links to the hotels and ryokans where we’ll be staying. Also there are many links to locations on Google maps so you can get a better sense of the route.

Dawn in the High Fields © Harold Davis

When you look at the itinerary you may be surprised at how much we’ve managed to pack into this photographic trip, with excursions, night photography in Tokyo and Kyoto, temples and so much more. We’ll have the services of an English-speaking guide throughout the tour, and many meals are included in the trip. You can find pricing and registration information here: http://www.digitalfieldguide.com/japan-registration.

Group size is strictly limited (the maximum size is 12, with a minimum of 6 needed to run the trip). If a photographic tour of Japan under my guidance intrigues you, please take advantage of this offer, and don’t delay.

Click here for detailed information. Please drop me an email and let me know if you have any questions.

Gion at Night © Harold Davis

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

 

Rathaus