Category Archives: Photography

digital photography: techniques: thoughts: photographs

Sweet Pea after O’Keeffe

After seeing some of my photos mistaken for O’Keeffe’s luscious flower paintings, I took another look at the wondrous botanical art of Georgia O’Keeffe. The sensuous, indeed sexual, nature of the O’Keeffe portrayal of flowers is a pretty obvious characteristic of her paintings.

Flowering Sweet Pea © Harold Davis

Flowering Sweet Pea © Harold Davis

What wasn’t clear to me until I took this further look was the extent to which O’Keeffe plays with magnification and scale. Essentially O’Keeffe is often painting extreme macro compositions, although they do not always seem that way to the viewer because of how they have been magnified and sometimes distorted. In its own way, this is a very photographic approach to painting, as I like to think I approach photography in a painterly way.

Click here to see some of O’Keeffe’s sweet pea paintings (opens Google images in a separate tab/window).

Dogwood & Friends

A Matilija Poppy pokes out in the middle of a covert of flowering dogwood, cosmos, old-fashioned roses, echinacea, and climbing mallows. Enjoy!

Flowering Dogwood & Friends © Harold Davis

Flowering Dogwood & Friends © Harold Davis

Photographed straight down on my light box for transparency, and captured using my Zeiss 100mm macro lens, five exposures each at f/22 and ISO 64, exposure times from 1/5 of a second to 3 seconds; tripod mounted; exposures processed and combined in Nik HDR Efex Pro, Adobe Camera Raw, and Photoshop, with finishing touches added using Photoshop, Nik Color Efex Pro, Topaz Adjust, Topaz Simplify, Topaz Impression, and Nik Viveza.

Floral Fantasies

These floral fantasies are created and photographed as collages on the light box, then processing in Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop, Nik, Topaz, and using LAB color adjustments. What fun!

Bright As a Summer's Day © Harold Davis

Bright As a Summer’s Day © Harold Davis

Photographed with my Zeiss Otus 85mm at f/16 and ISO 64 in two panels, each panel with eight exposures ranging from 1/15 of a second to 15 seconds. First I combine the captures in each panel using the techniques explained in my Photographing Flowers for Transparency FAQ. Then I use Photoshop to combine the left and right sides of this floral panorama, for an extremely high resolution file.

Shadow of the Solarized Moon © Harold Davis

Shadow of the Solarized Moon © Harold Davis

The workflow for processing these images is laborious but a great deal of fun. Learn more via my books, my online webinar recordings, or in a Harold Davis workshop (there are only a few spaces left in my Flower workshop in Maine this August).

Flowers Will Reach the Black Empire © Harold Davis

Flowers Will Reach the Black Empire © Harold Davis

 

Historic D Ranch, Point Reyes

Point Reyes National Seashore is probably unique among the American National Parks in that this public land is shared with working cattle and dairy ranches. These ranches date from the early 1800s and are very much a part of the history of Point Reyes. Many have been in the same family for generations.

D Ranch, Point Reyes © Harold Davis

D Ranch, Point Reyes © Harold Davis

Parking my car beside the road, I scrambled down a steep bank, crossed through a tunnel under the road, and found myself in the abandoned out-buildings of D Ranch. The scene shown in the image—a door within a  door within a window—with stark contrasts between light exterior wood and dark interior was too good to pass up, so I stopped to make this monochromatic image with my camera on my tripod.

Related story: Monterey Cypress Row on Point Reyes.

An angel watching out for me

The barista at Farley’s in Emeryville, California makes the nicest designs in the Latte foam!

Coffee © Harold Davis

Coffee © Harold Davis

Flickr and a perfect trifecta of tagging errors

Long-time readers of my blog will know that I am no fan of the perspicacity and wisdom of the powers-that-be at Flickr and their Yahoo masters. This is despite the fact that I have been a Flickr member since 2005, with at last glance a 5,647,849 view count on Flickr. A case in point I wrote about fairly recently is Flickr’s foolishly implemented attempt to venture into photo licensing (see Flickr and me, and stock photography: Adventures in Licensing in the Internet Era and The worst mistake you can make with customers).

Passion for Petals Painterly © Harold Davis

Passion for Petals Painterly © Harold Davis

The latest Flickr foray into egregious idiocy comes with a Flickr site redesign. In all fairness, the redesign is actually pretty attractive and functional. The problem is with a feature that Flickr implemented, namely auto-tagging of one’s photos. A software robot analyzes images, and adds tags. The point of course is to make searching easier, because search engines mostly use words, not visuals. The problem is that the Flickr’s robot isn’t all that good at recognizing subject matter.

For example, Passion for Petals Painterly, the image shown above, created using photography of flowers, Photoshop, and Topaz Impressions is tagged on Flickr (opens in new tab, scroll down to see the tags) “pastel”, “drawing”, and “food”—a perfect trifecta of tagging error since none of the tags are correct.

The problems with the tagging feature could be chalked up to it being an early software version. Obviously, automated image recognition software is a hard challenge. But my frustration stems from the fact that there is no way to turn this feature off globally. I take a great deal of care with my work, and I really don’t like it being tagged incorrectly. To remove the incorrect tags from my images on Flickr, and there are many of them, would mean going through my photos one-by-one and clicking the little X above each errant tag. No thank you!

Mallow

Like Clematis this is a single blossom, photographed on a light box, inverted to black in LAB, and then converted to monochrome using a virtual Infrared filter. The steps are shown here in inverted order (last is first, and first is last).

Mallow in IR © Harold Davis

Mallow in IR © Harold Davis

Mallow on Black © Harold Davis

Mallow on Black © Harold Davis

Mallow on White © Harold Davis

Mallow on White © Harold Davis

Post-production is so much part of my photographic art that I felt desolated when my production machine gave up the ghost last week. Admittedly, I’ve lived with it for many years, and made it mine. But it has taken me quite some time to get my new computer configured the way I like it—probably worth it, as it is up to handling the enormous files and sizes that I find myself often editing deploying.

Pont Valentre

The ancient Pont Valentre crosses a loop in the Lot River at the city of Cahors in southwestern France. The tower in the middle of the river of this fortified and impregnable bridge was held even when the surrounding city was overrun. I recently converted the image to black and white (click here to see the color version and blog story) for a chapter on black and white workflow in a new book I have started to work on.

Pont Valentre © Harold Davis

Pont Valentre © Harold Davis

Related stories: Valentre Bridge; Impregnable.

Essays in Translucency

Translucency of Rosa © Harold Davis

Translucency of Rosa © Harold Davis

Practicum Perluciditatem © Harold Davis

Practicum Perluciditatem © Harold Davis

Miraculum Flores © Harold Davis

Miraculum Flores © Harold Davis

Veil of Roses © Harold Davis

Veil of Roses © Harold Davis

Clematis © Harold Davis

Clematis © Harold Davis

Related stories: The Virtues of Translucency; Clematis; Miraculum Flores.

Miraculum Flores

Flowers are a miracle! This is a spring in Berkeley, California that is wondrous in terms of blossoms, and I have been enjoying it and photographing up a floral storm, almost entirely with flowers Phyllis and I harvest in the neighborhood. The top image is an LAB L-channel inversion, and the middle image is simulated black and white infrared (“ultrarubrum” in Latin)—both images derived in post-production from the “straight” light box image at the bottom. More on these techniques in this earlier sequence of images of a lone Clematis, and more floral imagery to come when I have time to develop and process it.

Miraculum Nigrae Flores © Harold Davis

Miraculum Nigrae Flores © Harold Davis

Miraculum Nigrae Flores Ultrarubrum © Harold Davis

Miraculum Nigrae Flores Ultrarubrum © Harold Davis

Miraculum Flores © Harold Davis

Miraculum Flores © Harold Davis

Clematis

To photograph this Clematis Bee’s Jubilee blossom, I placed it on a light box and photographed it straight down using a tripod with a Nikon D810 and my special Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 lens. The settings were 1/4 of a second at f/16 and ISO 64 (middle image). The top image is an LAB inversion of the L-channel, and the bottom version is simulated infrared (IR), via Nik Color Efex Pro.

Clematis on Black  © Harold Davis

Clematis on Black © Harold Davis

Clematis © Harold Davis

Clematis © Harold Davis

Clematis in IR  © Harold Davis

Clematis in IR © Harold Davis

There seems to be some controversy about where to apostrophate  (where to place the possessive apostrophe) in Clematis Bee’s Jubilee. Well-known horticultural nursery White Flower Farm does it Bees’ Jubilee, which of course implies that this flower is the jubilee of multitudinous bees or of someone named Mr. Bees. However, the plural apostrophization may be incorrect, as this striking flowering Clematis seems to be named after the botanist Rupert Bee (spelled without a trailing ‘s’) of Colchester in the United Kingdom, who first introduced this cultivar in the 1950s.

Related story: We are not afraid of color.

The Virtues of Translucency

Normally, to create the illusion of transparency against a single background is feat enough. In this image I “upped the ante,” by adding white roses above an existing floral arrangement that was already translucent. The second layer of roses makes an additional level of transparency: you can see through the white roses, as if they were a veil, and to the flowers below, which themselves only partially conceal the white backdrop.

Veil of Roses © Harold Davis

Veil of Roses © Harold Davis

One of the tricks with an image like this is to end up with something that looks painterly and elegant, not smudgy. If you try it for yourself, you may find that this is tougher that you might think!

Rain on Variegated Bamboo

Last week there was a much-needed overnight rain. Early in the morning I prowled the neighborhood with my camera and tripod, and as the showers were winding down photographed these water drops on a leaf of a variegated bamboo.

Rain on Variegated Bamboo © Harold Davis

Rain on Variegated Bamboo © Harold Davis

You can learn more about water drop photography—in the spirit of “shaken, not stirred” these are natural, not artificial water drops—in my Focal Press book Photographing Waterdrops.

Old and New: A Tale of Two Kirk BH-3 Ball Heads

My Kirk BH-3 tripod ball head has served me well on four continents on the trail, in the studio, in mountains, deserts, and along the rugged Pacific host, from the barrios of Havana to the souks of Morocco and the Boulevards of Paris. So one day recently, when my BH-3 reported to duty with a definite kink in the retaining plate bracket and knob, it was with sadness that I replaced him in favor of a brand spanking new model. Time goes by, and since change is incremental one doesn’t see the markings until there is a new one for comparison.

Old and New - Kirk BH-3 Ball Heads © Harold Davis

Old and New – Kirk BH-3 Ball Heads © Harold Davis

As I’ve noted, technique is not at the apex of the Maslowvian triangle of photographic needs (vision is), but technique is still my craft, and I am very fond of the tools that help me practice my craft, and want to give my old BH-3 ball head the most honorable send off possible, as it retires and becomes a paper weight and conversation piece rather than an ongoing part of my day-to-day photographic life.

Kirk BH-3 Ball Head - Facing Retirement © Harold Davis

Kirk BH-3 Ball Head – Facing Retirement © Harold Davis

Hierarchy of Photographic Needs

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow famously wrote of a hierarchy of needs, with basic physiologic needs at the bottom of the hierarchy and self-actualization at the apex of the triangle of needs. Love, connection, and cathexis come somewhere in the middle of the Maslowvian hierarchy. A recent blog story of mine about a photo of a red onion seems to have brought up some issues related to a photographic hierarchy of needs, based on both what I wrote originally and on some comments.

Old-Fashioned Rose  © Harold Davis

Old-Fashioned Rose © Harold Davis

Many folks liked the story about the onion and everyday objects: “Your onion photograph, together with your comments, was an extraordinarily clear re-enforcement lesson.” One reader wanted to know why their personal inner world, or vision, should interest anyone else (you can read the full question and my lengthy response in the comments to the story). A comment on my Facebook timeline for this post suggests that “finding subject matter is no problem. It’s everywhere. Shooting it well, well….”

Which leads me back around to the hierarchy of photographic needs. The basic “physiologic” need is to be able to make a capture. Because without a capture you don’t have a photograph.

So many people starting photography assume that if they get a “better” camera they will make better photos because their captures are better, with more megapixels, or whatever.

So what happens when you get the more expensive gear and you discover that your photos are still not what you are looking for (or perhaps even seem banal)? The next category up the hierarchy of photographic needs is technique. If you are the kind of person who is not very self-reflexive you might assume that if only you could learn to be a better photographer technically, your images would get more interesting.

The disappointment here is that photos can be technically impeccable and still ultimately banal. So up the hierarchy some of us go one more time, with the realization that it is important to bring one’s own unique vision into the work.

Ultimately, any photo worth its salt is both about something external—this essentially comes in the definition of the photographic process—and a personal way of seeing that bespeaks the holistic person behind the vision. As I wrote in the comments to the Red Onion story, this necessitates a balance: “Work that is too preciously about oneself is ultimately shallow—Cindy Sherman comes to mind. On the other hand, work that is not self-revelatory to some degree is unlikely to have much real emotional power, and it is important to truly live and to imbue one’s art with one’s life.”

Ultimately, photographic gear is necessary, but very far from sufficient. Photographic technique is only the framework for exhibiting vision, and not the vision itself. Vision must come from a well-lived life—even when the image is of an object as ordinary as a red onion, or as apparently simple on the surface as the Old-Fashioned Rose photo shown above.