Category Archives: Photography

digital photography: techniques: thoughts: photographs

Long Live Blur!

Much of the time we photographers are concerned with sharpness—how to make a photo that is “tack sharp,” how to manage depth-of-field (or even how to focus stack), how to get the best out of autofocus, and relearning the lost craft of manually focusing.

Silhouettes © Harold Davis

Silhouettes © Harold Davis

I’m here to tell you that intentionally creating an image with blur, one that is not in focus, or is focused on the “wrong” place, or in which the duration the shutter is open does not stop motion, can be a great expression of the craft and art of photography.

In Silhouettes (shown above) the blur was created by focusing extremely close in the foreground (with a telephoto lens) rather than on the figures that make up the composition.

So this is a focus blur, rather than a motion blur (the image was photographed at La Defense in Paris at 180mm, 1/500 of a second, f/6.3, and ISO 200). In point of fact, this image is about the semi-abstracted figures and the pattern of their relationship with each other. This negative-space pattern is only created because the figures themselves are blurred.

By the way, using a slow shutter speed to blur motion, or throwing a lens out of focus are far from the only way to produce a blurring effect, which is also sometimes called a “soft focus” effect. A classical approach to creating the soft focus look is to put something in front of the lens, such as a nylon stocking or a filter coated with Vaseline. Raindrops on a lens also work to blur the outlines and contours  of the subject you are photographing.

Obviously, it is also possible to add various kinds of blur in post-production, although somehow I never get quite the same blurring look as when I generate my blurs in the camera.

So next time you get out there photographing, and if perhaps a sharply-focused image isn’t working, consider playing and experimenting with blur: motion blur, focus blur, shoving something in front of the lens blur. Long live blur!

You can get more of the context of my blurred Silhouette image in a related story: Stairs at La Defense.

Denali, the Great One, Alaska by Harold Davis

The long overdue official renaming of Mount McKinley to Denali, Alaska, and the resulting outcry from the State of Ohio (the birthplace of President McKinley), puts me in mind of my fine art poster Denali, the Great One, Alaska, published in the 1980s.

Denali the Great One

Denali, the Great OneAlaska was one of a trio of fine art graphic posters that I self-published as Wilderness Studio, Inc., following licensing and publication of my artwork first by Modernart Editions, then Bruce McGaw Graphics and Dryden Gallery. This initial trio included The Dance of Spring is the Dance of Life, and all three were wildly successful. In fact, thousands of copies of Denali, the Great One, Alaska went to Alaska, where they were sold by the leading chain of framing stores to locals and tourists alike.

This image of Denali was photographed from Wonder Lake, pretty much from the position of the famous Ansel Adams image, in the middle of the long sub-arctic summer night with faint alpenglow still illuminating Denali. The perspicacious viewer will note that the moon is wrongly sized and wrongly positioned relative to Denali. In the pre-Photoshop era I accomplished this visual sleight-of-hand using an in-camera double exposure. The landscape of Denali was photographed with a 35mm lens, I moved the camera, and photographed the moon on the same piece of film using a 200mm lens.

Obviously, were I able to be in the same position and to remake this image today, I wouldn’t need to resort to the rather incredible legerdemain implied by aligning two exposures with different lenses in-camera. But I would need to think ahead enough to make all the captures I might eventually need to post-process the image in keeping with my vision.

Actually, the biggest impediment to making this image were the mosquitoes, which around Wonder Lake assumed legendary Alaskan proportions. I had driven up the Alaskan Highway in my old 1960s Volvo Station wagon, which even then was an antique, and I got permission to drive it down the Denali road, and to camp at Wonder Lake until the light was right for me to photograph. But the full tale of my Alaskan adventures is a different story for another day.

By the way, in the years since The Dance of Spring and Denali, the Great One I have continued to create poster art. Giving me the sense that there may be some continuity in life and art, a great company that was a big distributor of my Wilderness Studio posters, Editions Limited, has published my posters recently. Click here to see my posters that Editions Limited has recently published.

Also posted in Landscape

Beneath the Pont de la Concorde

Beneath the Pont de la Concorde © Harold Davis

Beneath the Pont de la Concorde © Harold Davis

The modernism of the underpinnings of this bridge over the Seine River in Paris, France belies the ornate fancifulness of the bridge from above. This is one of the joys of photographing in Paris—styles with huge inherent differences are cheek and jowl together, and somehow work in harmony.

From a formal viewpoint, this is a photo with a great deal of symmetry in lines and construction. But for me the composition works because of the unusual negative space cut-out, across to the opposite bank of the river.

Exif data: Nikon D800, 35mm, six exposures at shutter speeds from 4 seconds to 1/8 of a second, each exposure at f/3.5 and ISO 50, tripod mounted; combined and converted from RAW in Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photoshop, processed in Photoshop, Nik Color Efex, Topaz Adjust, and Topaz Simplify; converted to black and white using the LAB color space in Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Also posted in Monochrome, Paris

Special Print Offer: Kiss from a Rose

Special Print Offer: Kiss from a Rose by Harold Davis on Moab Juniper Baryta

I am offering a limited-time print special: my Kiss from a Rose, shown below, printed at roughly 11″ X 14″ on Moab Paper’s wonderful new Juniper Baryta. The price for the print is $250.00, which is a fraction of our normal studio retail print pricing.

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

The fine print: California residents add sales tax; shipping within the continental Unites States is $25; offer subject to withdrawal if we feel like it; contact us by phone or email with questions or to place an order; payment accepted via cash, check, or credit card.

Kiss from a Rose is my image most often mistaken for a Georgia O’Keeffe painting; also see When is a Harold Davis rose a Georgia O’Keeffe?

Also posted in Flowers, Print of the Month

Simulating a Calotype Glass Negative Print

Forest Reflection © Harold Davis

Forest Reflection © Harold Davis

The underlying photography in this image consists of two photographs of trees reflected in a puddle that I made in the Parc de Sceaux in suburban Paris, France with the camera on a tripod. One photo was made when the water was still, so the reflections of the trees were very clear. The other was made from the same position when it was windy, so that much of the image consisted of motion blur. Both were shot for as much depth-of-field as possible at f/22.

After combining the two photos in Photoshop using layers and masking, I applied the Calotype Glass Negative preset from Perfect Black and White’s 19th Century Processes preset to create the final appearance of my image. The Calotype preset digitally simulates an early photographic process invented by William Henry Fox Talbot that exposes a silver iodide coated substrate to light. The simulation shown here would have been of a print made from a calotype glass negative, rather than the negative itself.

Keeping in mind that I am a digital artist using my photographs as my source material, I am working on printing this image, with a number of possible papers and presentations in mind,

Also posted in France

In the field for transparency

One interesting point that often comes up in my Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshops (such as the recent one I gave at Maine Media) is whether the techniques I teach in this workshop are limited to shooting flowers on a light box. Of course, the answer is a resounding “No!”—because these photographic and post-production methods cut a wide swath. One application is studio photography on a dark background, which reverses the direction of the bracketed shooting sequence and the order of layer stacking as in this in-class example. Conceptually, other than the order inversion, this is the same set of ideas as photographing on a light box.

Sunflower © Harold Davis

Sunflower © Harold Davis

The techniques advanced by this workshop work well outside the studio as well as in it. The same shooting and post-production ideas as in light box photography work for backlit situations in the field—which is what I used for this shot of translucent sunflower petals, with the early morning sun coming from behind.

Exposure data: Nikon D810, Zeiss 50mm Makro-Planar f/2, two exposures (one at 1/40 of a second and one at 1/10 of a second), each exposure at f/14 and ISO 400, tripod mounted; exposures processed and combined in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop.

Also posted in Flowers

Come with me to Italy this autumn!

I am leading a small group of photographers to Italy for two full weeks at the end of October (15 days and 14 nights beginning October 28, 2015). We will visit and photograph Florence, the leaning tower of Pisa, Cinque Terre, Naples, Vesuvius, Pompeii, the Island of Capri, Anacapri, Amalfi, Positano, the Sorrento Peninsula, and more. Please click here to view the photo tour details, and the incredible amount that is included in this exclusive tour.

Tired of big-bus photo tours? Tired of banging elbows and tripods with a photographic crowd? Then this is the photo tour for you. With a maximum of six participants, this exclusive photo tour of Italy will let you come home with great images without someone’s hat or tripod leg in the picture.

Here’s what some folks who have been with me on photo tours have said:

  • “Harold navigates foreign countries with astuteness and cultural sensitivity. His choice of guides, hotels, locations and restaurants is always impeccable. I returned from our trip with a much better sense of how to photograph in a diverse and wonderful array of locations, and had a great time with a compatible group while I learned.”Harold Davis-Mona-Italy
  • “Harold is a distinguished author of many books, educator, and photographer. It was amazing to spend so much one-on-one time with him in these great photographic locations.”
  • “Harold is a gifted artist, AND a great teacher! A rare combo, IMHO.”
  • “Harold is a peach. Great skill, without the ego of most master photographers. Travel arrangements were perfect.”
  • “One thing I really liked about the photo tour that Harold set up is that we had plenty of time to photograph in the best locations, and really prioritized when the light would be good.”

We have two openings on the Sea-Girt Villages of Italy photo tour. If you register by the end of August, we can give you a $500 discount on the single supplement as a special “thank you.”

If you are interested in learning more about my style of photography when abroad, please ask for complementary access to my webinar recording Making Memorable Travel Photos (normally a $19.95 value).

Please contact us if you are interested in registering, or for more information.

Harold Davis-2015 Italy Tour

Harold Davis Photo wrongly attributed as Georgia O’Keeffe painting; special print offer

I am always amused, flattered, and slightly aghast when one of my photos turns up as a Georgia O’Keeffe painting. This happens most often with Kiss from a Rose (shown below). What brings this to mind is a review GEORGIA O’KEEFFE, MOTHER OF AMERICAN MODERNISM: LINE, COLOR, COMPOSITION MAY 8 – SEPTEMBER 13, 2015 of the current exhibition at the O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico brought to light by a routine Pixsy scan of the web. My image is the second reproduced in the review, under the text “A brilliant colorist, O’Keeffe created strong, vibrant works with colors that glow with energy and vitality.”

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

In honor of this bone-headed confusion, I am offering a print special of my Kiss from a Rose, printed at roughly 11″ X 14″ on Moab Paper’s wonderful new Juniper Baryta. The price for the print is $250.00, which is a fraction of our normal studio retail print pricing.

The fine print: California residents add sales tax; shipping within the continental Unites States is $25; offer subject to withdrawal if we feel like it; contact us by phone or email with questions or to place an order; payment accepted via cash, check, or credit card.

Related story: When is a Harold Davis rose a Georgia O’Keeffe?

Also posted in Print of the Month

Lobsters for Dinner

They said, “Have as many lobsters as you want for dinner.” For a while all was lobster bibs, drawn butter, lobsters claws cracking, and the sounds of contented eating. When the sounds of shells cleared, I had eaten three.

Lobsters for Dinner © Harold Davis

Lobsters for Dinner © Harold Davis

Maine is, of course, beautiful in the lush (but brief) summertime—and in places very apt for iphoneography, like this shot in Camden Harbor via Waterlogue.

Camden Harbor © Harold Davis

Camden Harbor © Harold Davis

Also posted in iPhone

Avena Herb Farm

My favorite field trip during the Flower Photography workshop I gave at Maine Media Workshops was to Avena Herb Farm in Rockport, Maine. Avena Botanicals has a wonderful garden for photography where they make herbal tinctures, potions and salves the old-fashioned way: by hand, from botanicals (which is what is shown in the photo). But most of all, this is a place of spiritual beauty and serenity. Well worth a visit any time you are in the area!

At Avena Herb Farm © Harold Davis

At Avena Herb Farm © Harold Davis

Boat from Underneath

The workshop studio is in a small complex of buildings. The other buildings all have to do with boat repair and boat sales. This is the reflection in the hull of one boat that is up on metal jacks outside the studio, shot with the a 21mm lens for the wide angle impact. I stopped the lens all the way down to f/22 to generate the starburst effect from the reflection of the sun.

Yacht © Harold Davis

Yacht © Harold Davis

Flowers on Black

I photographed these flowers just now on black seamless as a demonstration of a bracketed sequence for low-key HDR photography from my Maine Media flower photography workshop.

© Harold Davis

Flowers on Black © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers, HDR

Welcome to Maine!

My workshop starts this evening, and I’ve had fun today exploring the mid-coast of Maine. I was lucky to visit the Owl’s Head Lighthouse just now, with a functioning light under the jurisdiction of the US Coastguard.

Owl's Head Light © Harold Davis

Owl’s Head Light © Harold Davis

Recent News, Interviews, and Webinar

Caddy © Harold Davis

Chevy © Harold Davis

Please check out the following links!

Castle Shadow © Harold Davis

Castle Shadow © Harold Davis

Painterly Floral Triptych © Harold Davis

Painterly Floral Triptych © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers, iPhone, Writing

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.

Also posted in Czech