Category Archives: Photography

digital photography: techniques: thoughts: photographs

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Caddy © Harold Davis

Caddy © Harold Davis

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Castle Shadow © Harold Davis

Castle Shadow © Harold Davis

Painterly Floral Triptych © Harold Davis

Painterly Floral Triptych © Harold Davis

Cathedral

Work on St Vitus’s Cathedral, which is situated within the Prague Castle, began in 1344, and wasn’t completed until the 20th century. St Vitus contains the Czech crown jewels, and the tomb of Good King Wenceslas. There’s also a great tower to climb.

If you go, admission to the tower is separate from the Cathedral, and there are 287 steps to the top. Note that St Vitus’s Tower is distinct from the Dalibor Tower, which is also within the Prague Castle. The Dalibor Tower was used as a jail and torture chamber. Some guide books say that the phrase “singing like a violin” is said to come from the eponymous Dalibor, a nobleman and enemy of the king, who supposedly played his violin for food while imprisoned in the tower. However, according to the signage within the Dalibor Tower, the truth seems to be that Dalibor’s screams whilst being stretched on the rack gave rise to the musical comparison.

But I digress. The views from the top of St Vitus’s Tower, both of Prague and of the cathedral itself, are spectacular.

Down Spout © Harold Davis

Down Spout © Harold Davis

Flying Buttresses © Harold Davis

Flying Buttresses © Harold Davis

St Vitus's Cathedral © Harold Davis

St Vitus’s Cathedral © Harold Davis

Related story: The Spires of Prague.

Conversation with Harold Davis

Dominique James has published a Q&A with me on his blog, along with a cool curation of some of my images. Check it out! Thanks DJ.

Yesterday I photographed the Dahlia shown below hand-held and wide open so the flower center would be sharp with the petals becoming soft. This contrasts with the high depth-of-field, stopped down approach I used with flowers from the same plant a few days ago.

Dahlia Wide Open © Harold Davis

Dahlia Wide Open © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Nikon D810, Zeiss Makro-Planar 50mm f/2 at f/2, 1/500 of a second and ISO 400, hand held.

Putting Paid to Purloining Picture Snatchers: Working with Pixsy

I am often asked how I deal with the issue of image theft, considering my extensive online presence on my blog and on my Flickr stream. My answer has been that I don’t release high-resolution files except to known reliable clients under contract, and that I expect some image thievery to be taking place with the low-resolution versions I post online. This, I explain, is a little like “spoilage” in a retail store: part of the cost of doing business. Without images online no one will find me, and over the years I have made many new clients via my blog and Flickr. Incidentally, I explain, I don’t watermark my online images because watermarks are ugly, and can easily be cloned out.

Wasp © Harold Davis

Wasp © Harold Davis

It turns out that I have substantially underestimated the prevalence of commercial image theft of my work. Sure, I was aware of quirky uses of my work like the woman who tattooed my cherry blossom branch on her back. But by and large, I didn’t look for examples of image appropriation, and I was unaware of the extent of the problem. For example, my photo of a wasp shown above, shot somewhat precariously on the ceiling of my living room while standing on a cardboard box (a diaper carton, fortunately we have past that stage, you can see this in the blog story about the photo, but I digress) placed on a chair, has been widely used without a license by many pest control companies.

The gentle image of waves on a shore shown below is used without license by several real estate companies located near one of the coasts.

Generally, image theft is as easy as right-clicking on the image, and choosing Save As from the context menu, then posting the photo without attribution. The fact that all my images are labeled as copyrighted, and that Flickr is set to “All Rights Reserved” seems to be widely ignored. I’m sure this is the situation for many photographers who post their work.

Waves on the Shore © Harold Davis

Waves on the Shore © Harold Davis

This information about the extensive use of my photos on the web came to my attention via a startup company named Pixsy that has some nifty technology to combat image theft, along with an innovative business model. Here’s how Pixsy works: First you register with Pixsy, and point their software at your online image stream, such as my website and Flickr. Pixsy then comes back with an automated image-matching search of the Internet, with matches showing suspected image theft. In my case, initially there were six-figures of matches (hence Phyllis and my internal designation of looking through these matches as “going down the rabbit hole”).

It’s up to the individual to go through the automated matches to determine which ones are legitimate, and which are image theft. For example, images I have actually licensed might show up on the Pixsy search, as well as all my book covers.

Road Trip © Harold Davis

Road Trip © Harold Davis

When you find an example of image theft, you submit it to Pixsy. For example, my image of an empty road in Nevada shown above seems to turn up without license on a great many travel websites.

Pixsy lets you know whether they’ve accepted or rejected the submission. It’s company policy to only accept image submissions where there is a good likelihood of collecting a usage fee. Image submissions that are routinely rejected include: uses in countries that Pixsy doesn’t police (some countries are on a list for future handling, others are simply too lawless when it comes to copyright); non-commercial uses; the general catchall that Pixsy doesn’t think there is a “statistical likelihood of recovery”; and malefactors like Pinterest who hide behind the noxious common carrier provisions of the DMCA. Phyllis has most often been going down our rabbit hole, and trying to take some care with what she submits so that the usage is likely to meet Pixsy’s requirements; our acceptance rate is running somewhere between 30% and 50%.

Wet Poppy Bud © Harold Davis

Wet Poppy Bud © Harold Davis

Even if Pixsy doesn’t accept the submission, now that we know this usage is out there we can of course send a take-down notice on our own. Depending on the user, this may or may not work—my image of wet poppy bud shown above seems to turn up (among other places) on X-rated sites, many of which seem not to be particularly cooperative.

With an accepted submission, Pixsy determines a rate for the usage and begins negotiation with the image thief (who may have made a mistake in ignorance rather than with bad intentions). The starting point for the license fee is an industry-standard database of usage fees. By signing up with Pixsy, the user commits not to contact the infringer directly, except to confirm that Pixsy is the authorized representative.

Pixsy’s business model is to take 50% of any fees collected. This is inline, or a little more favorable, compared with the percentage taken by a conventional stock licensing agency.

Pixsy has submitted numerous invoices on my behalf, a few of which have been paid. It is a little too soon for me to get a definite sense of the overall financial success of their approach, but I am highly optimistic.

Most of all, these commercial and professional users should have known better than to steal my images without contacting me, or paying for the usages. My hope is that when it is widely known that “crime doesn’t pay”—because Pixsy will come after them—these image users will decide to do the right thing, and pay for their usage upfront. This could reverse some unpleasant trends in the photography business—the general lowering of licensing fees because of widely available online content perceived as free, just as in the music business.

I’d like to see leverage restored to image creators whose work is in demand, and from this viewpoint Pixsy’s technology and business model is a very positive development.

Bend in the Neckar River

On a great bend in the Neckar River, about 15 kilometers up-river from Heidelberg, Germany lies the town of Neckarsteinach. Four dramatic castles sit atop the crags overlooking the Neckar. Julian, one of my workshop participants, brought me here the day I was flying home, and together we explored the area.

Bend in the Neckar River © Harold Davis

Bend in the Neckar River © Harold Davis

From the top tower in the castle I shot a series of seven hand-held bracketed HDR exposures. Each exposure sequence had eight images. I used Photoshop to merge the seven sequences into a single panorama, which (doing the math) consists of 56 individual images! Since each capture was using a 36MP sensor, quite a bit of information has gone into this pano, and I am looking forward to printing it large.

Bend in the Neckar River in Black and White © Harold Davis

Bend in the Neckar River in Black and White © Harold Davis

Related story: Check out the panorama I photographed overlooking a bend in the Dordogne River in southwest France.

Engine at Primo’s Garage

This is a photo of an engine-in-progress at Primo’s Garage, photographed during my recent Black and White Masterclass in Heidelberg, Germany, and used as in-class post-processing example.

Engine at Primo's Garage © Harold Davis

Engine at Primo’s Garage © Harold Davis

Black and White Masterclass in Heidelberg

These are the wonderful participants in my Black and White Masterclass in Heidelberg, Germany. We all survived the record high temperatures, photographed in Heidelberg, and made and processed high dynamic range monochromatic images with a wide variety of styles and subject matter. Special thanks to Michael Verhoelen of LifeFoto, who represents Moab Paper in Germany, who brought his printer and a van load of special Moab papers (some of the prints he made from the work of the participants are shown here)!

Black & White Masterclass with Harold Davis © Harold Davis

Black & White Masterclass with Harold Davis © Harold Davis

Sketches with Waterlogue

The iPhone is probably the best camera there is for quick sketches. For one thing, it is pretty much always with me. For another, it is quick and easy to use, and surprisingly capable. But the best part is the “digital darkroom in the little box”—the fact that I can creatively process my photos right on the iPhone. There are hundreds of wonderful post-production apps, but one of my favorites is Waterlogue. Waterlogue doesn’t work for all images, but when I am looking for a dreamy final image that resembles a water color painting it is certainly my go-to app. Here are some recent sketches by Harold and Waterlogue, from top to bottom: Path in the Park and Stairs, both photographed in the Little Town of Prague; Bicycle 1 and Bicycle 2, photographed in the Old Town of Heidelberg, Germany; and Banks of the River, the Nekkar River where it flows through Heidelberg at the end of a warm summer’s day.

Path in the Park © Harold Davis

Path in the Park © Harold Davis

By the way, if you are curious, this effect can be achieved in Photoshop also with images made on a real camera, most commonly using the Topaz Simplify and Impression plugins. But it’s hard to quarrel with the immediacy of an iPhone app.

Stairs © Harold Davis

Stairs © Harold Davis

Try to consider when creating this kind of image: how will it look when blanketed with softness? Is this truly a water-color-like image, or is it something that needs harder edges? If harder edges are better, then you should be aiming for a more photographic look rather than something painterly.

Bicycle 1 © Harold Davis

Bicycle 1 © Harold Davis

It is good to be back in Heidelberg, where I am teaching a workshop. Coming back to a city I already know a bit where I have some friends is a little like coming home!

Bicycle 2 © Harold Davis

Bicycle 2 © Harold Davis

Banks of the River © Harold Davis

Banks of the River © Harold Davis

Flower at the National Memorial of the Heydrich Terror

Reinhard Heydrich was the second-in-command of the Nazi SS. Heydrich was charged with enhancing the Czech contribution to the Nazi war machine, and did his best in a terrible reign of terror. He was eventually assassinated by two members of the underground, who were parachuted into Czechoslovakia in a suicide mission by the Czech government-in-exile from Great Britain. Although somewhat faded, like this rose in a plastic bottle, flowers still mark the memorial to the victims of Heydrich on the busy Prague street where the church crypt in which the patriotic assassins met their end is located.

© Harold Davis

Flower at the Memorial to Heydrich Terror © Harold Davis

To capture the nostalgia and sadness of the place and what it memorializes, as well as the faded nature of the flower and bottle, I photographed the image wide-open with my Zeiss 135mm f/2 lens for shallow depth-of-field, and converted the image to black and white, leaving only a little splash of color in the dried-up rose.

Cesky Krumlov

This is a view of the southern Bohemia resort and touristic town of Cesky Krumlov, where I spent a few hours photographing. By the way, “Cesky” means a “bend in the river” in Czech. Many old towns in the Czech Republic are named beginning with Cesky, because these oxbow bends in a river lent themselves to natural fortification back in the days when defense against literal robber barons was required.

Cesky Krumlov © Harold Davis

Cesky Krumlov © Harold Davis

Inside the Old Market Square Tower

Inside Prague’s Old Town Square Tower they’ve constructed an elegant spiral ramp, with an elevator in the middle. Other than Prague’s TV Tower (I heard one guide call the TV Tower “the second ugliest building in the world,” and it certainly is very ugly and dominates the Prague skyline, for some reason it has grotesque statuary of babies climbing up the circular pillars holding up this hyper-modern structure, don’t ask me why because I haven’t a clue, and I also don’t really know what building is the “first ugliest,” there must be many candidates, but I digress), other than Prague’s TV Tower it is the only high-up viewing spot I’ve found in Prague you don’t have to climb. It certainly is nice riding the elevator in the core to the top, then strolling down the spiral ramp enjoying the somewhat unusual view, shown looking down from the top of the spiral, and from the bottom watching the elevator rise.

Inside the Old Market Tower - Looking Down © Harold Davis

Inside the Old Market Tower – Looking Down © Harold Davis

Inside the Old Market Tower - Looking Up © Harold Davis

Inside the Old Market Tower – Looking Up © Harold Davis

View of Prague from the Old Town Square Tower

There are six towers that I know of in Prague to go up with my camera. I’ve been up four out of six so far. Mostly, they are an issue of climbing several hundred narrow steps, but this one—the Old Town Square Tower—has an elevator in addition to a spiral ramp (more on this in a later story). Anyhow, ascending the elevator rather than climbing up left me feeling chirpy. So in contrast to the somewhat somber Spires of Prague I shot this nice, bright canonical city view with my extreme wide-angle Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 lens. Two towers to go!

Prague from Old Town Hall Tower © Harold Davis

Prague from Old Town Hall Tower © Harold Davis

Spires of Prague

I’ve never seen such a veritable cacophony of spires in a European city as in Prague. These wonderful spires, or towers, help to impart Prague’s unusual and distinctive flavor. What is it about upright towers reaching for the sky that appeals to the engineers among humanity? Wait, hold that thought!

Spires of Prague © Harold Davis

Spires of Prague © Harold Davis

This view is photographed from the Powder Tower, which I climbed today. Prague boasts more towers you can climb than is generally the case. Each tower has a circular spiral staircase, seemingly hewn out of the stone. It can be very interesting encountering a party coming the other direction in one of these small, claustrophobia inducing staircases!

Prague Metamorphosis

With Prague’s grand castles and elegant squares overflowing with happy visitors and marquee shopping it is easy to forget that this is also the city of Franz Kafka. Metamorphosis happens here, whether it is a human turning into a bug, or the curved shapes of a nearly empty street altered in the reflection in a traffic mirror. The outer world is unaltered, but inside the metamorphosis the lone pedestrian wanders down a twisted street towards an uncertain end.

Metamorphosis © Harold Davis

Metamorphosis © Harold Davis

Prague Sunset

Getting to Prague from the Bay area took a bit of travel time. I know, less than in covered wagon and sail ship times, but still it was into the next day, and the seat on the airplane was truly lived in. Alas, I made the change of planes in Frankfurt, but my suitcase did not—and flew on with Lufthansa into the unknown. So I arrived on a new day on a Prague afternoon with the clothes on my back and a single camera. Which I took out to explore right away. As I neared the Charles Bridge I saw clouds and maybe a rainbow forming, so I dashed up the spiral stairs in the bridge tower, added a polarizer, and snapped a few frames before my rainbow disappeared.

Prague Rainbow © Harold Davis

Prague Rainbow © Harold Davis