Category Archives: Writing

Pre-order Achieving Your Potential as a Photographer

You can now pre-order my new Focal Press book, Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook. This book is one part inspiration, one part an organized plan for jump starting your creative photography, and one part a distillation of the key things I have learned in my work as an artist and photographer. Exercises and workbook pages are bound into the book, to be used as part of your creative photographic process.


Here’s the book description on Amazon:

Coming from the perspective that true inspiration and great image making are at the core of any high-level photographic endeavor, Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer presents an organized and cohesive plan for kick-starting creativity, and then taking the resulting work into the real world. The ideas presented have been formulated by Harold Davis over many years working as a creative artist and award-wining photographer, and in the celebrated workshops he has developed and led all around the world. These concepts are presented with accompanying exercises so that readers can put them into everyday practice as well as workbook pages bound into the book for note taking and journaling.

Related story: Focal Press sponsored webcast (on YouTube): Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer with Harold Davis.

Serendipity and photography


Click here to download a PDF version of this e-Card, here for Workshops & Events, and here for Harold’s blog.

Drowning in a Plethora of Stuff

As the father of four kids with ages from six to seventeen it is not hard for me to feel like I am drowning in a plethora of stuff. Each child brings home tons of things that are often on that borderline between something one really doesn’t want to curate long term, but too cute to toss.

Leaving my kids out of it, there’s simply too much stuff around.

This is particularly egregious when the stuff is “mall junk” made in China: things we don’t really need, created with no concern for the environment, using slave labor.

Leather Dye Pits, Fez © Harold Davis

Leather Dye Pits, Fez © Harold Davis

To inveigle against cheaply made plastic junk that is essentially a by-product of our thoughtless petroleum-based society is easy. This stuff will come to rest in a landfill somewhere, and will not enhance our spirituality, nor give us meaning in our lives, nor add beauty to our lives, nor increase our connection with other people.

Writers and thinkers such as Thoreau and Tolstoy have, to a greater or lesser extent, used the fruits of a stuff-based civilization to warn that stuff doesn’t bring happiness. Even comedians get into the act, with an entire George Carlin shtick based on the premise that stuff pervades our lives, simultaneously attracting and imprisoning us.

But does this knowledge help us avoid over-accumulation of things, make us wise, or tell us how to build a better life? Not really. There are no easy answers.

Gran Via, Barcelona © Harold Davis

Gran Via, Barcelona © Harold Davis

First, the world may be drowning in stuff, but some parts of this interconnected world are “a lot more equal than others” (in the words of George Orwell). People without shelter or food want more stuff, not less stuff, and are often subsisting on stuff discarded by others.

What happens when “stuff” goes online and becomes virtual?

The race to build virtual stuff, and to provide easier virtual access to this stuff, is a race to the bottom. Everyone can be a “published” writer on Amazon. There are more than 700,000 images in the virtual inventory at; this imagery ranges from stock photography to reproductions of van Gogh paintings, all available as inexpensive reproductions.

Gerbera Sideways  © Harold Davis

Gerbera Sideways © Harold Davis

How do you navigate through the dross? What is the point of creating more words, or more imagery, to compete with this mélange of cheap stuff?

Do we want to spend our lives making things that are “just stuff”?

I think not.

White on white © Harold Davis

White on white © Harold Davis

Whatever you do, however you do it, however much stuff is involved, be thoughtful and keep things simple. We don’t need more junk in this beautiful world of ours. We do need more work that is thoughtful, creates beauty, adds to our spiritual values, and fosters connections between people.

Eschewing hypocrisy and the hive mind that encourages rapacious consumption solely for the sake of consumption are good goals as well.

Why must people be so mean and greedy? If we did it right, there would be enough for all, without all the junk, and with beauty to spare.

Story of O © Harold Davis

Story of O © Harold Davis

Terra Incognita

It is the job of the artist to plunge into Terra Incognita. This means exploring unknown country both literally and figuratively. When artistic territory seizes to be unknown and verges on the repetitious, then the work ceases to be exploration and becomes an exercise in marketing the known “trademark look.” It’s a sad fact that this artistic truth diverges with conventional advice for making a living as an artist—which is to find an iconic style, and to stick to it.

Burning off the Fog, Marin Headlands, CA © Harold Davis

Burning off the Fog, Marin Headlands, CA © Harold Davis

For me, plunging into the artistic unknown is like swinging on a rope high above deep water. When the leap begins it is both exhilarating and frightening, and part of what makes life worth living. I will not be shoe-horned into a narrow category. I will go “under, over and through” to discover the lands beyond, returning enriched with experiences and insights that I can bring into genres I have plumbed before.

Bamboo Forest, Kyoto, Japan © Harold Davis

Bamboo Forest, Kyoto, Japan © Harold Davis

On the eve of literal travel, these thoughts come to mind. This journey is a bit of a wild adventure as well, with stops in New York, Spain, Morocco and Portugal. The point, of course, is always the journey and not the destination—and it is a truism that neither I nor my imagery will return unchanged. My plan is to blog my photos, stories and adventures, so please “stay tuned.”

Saint-Roman, Dordogne, France © Harold Davis

Saint-Roman, Dordogne, France © Harold Davis

Children’s book author E. Nesbit got this right for art and for travel in one of my all-time favorites The Enchanted Castle, when she put these words in a character’s mouth: “‘I don’t understand,’ says Gerald, alone in his third-class carriage, ‘how railway trains and magic can go on at the same time.’ And yet they do.”

Today we have airplanes rather than Victorian carriages—but the concepts of escape from the mundane details of class structure and the struggle to make a living via art and magic remains the same.

Photographer as Poet

When people learn that I am a professional photographer, it is not unusual for them to ask me next what kind of photographer I am. The answer is trickier than it might seem. According to Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer, there is no such thing anymore as a professional photographer (because everyone has a DSLR). If you are primarily a wedding photographer you have a specialty (although it is less lucrative than it used to be). It’s possible to specialize in landscape and nature photography, but not too many photographers make a good living from it.

Peonies mon amour (with inken) © Harold Davis

Peonies (with inken) on washi © Harold Davis

But what about me?

I like to say that I am a “Photographer as Poet.” I photograph what I am interested in, and I figure out a way to market my work after I’ve made it. “What I am interested in” could mean just about anything or anyone. Photography is just the first step in my image making.

My images are more like poems than short stories—they have an internal cadence and structure.

I feel strongly enough about this “Photographer as Poet” thing that I’ve had a Japanese inken made for me (it’s a stamp, like a Chinese chop) that says “Photographer as Poet.” Here it is:

Harold Davis - Poet as Photographer

My inken is used as a decorative element and signature on some of the prints that I make.

Which brings me back to what I do. One of my collectors put it this way (and I think it rings true): I am an artist using techniques including digital painting, with digital photos my as my raw material (pun intended). The results usually don’t look like traditional photography. I like to use new technologies to refer to art of the past, and to mix-and-match genres. One example is the botanical image of peonies above, printed on a high-end inkjet printer on Awagami washi.

This could almost be traditional art, but it is not quite, of course. Nor is it so self-referential as to be coy. I want my poems to be enjoyable on their own, without any comprehension of the complex traditions that relate to their making, and without any need to notice the genres I’ve mixed and the conventions I’ve bent or broken in the process of creation and composition.

Related story: Rose after Delauney and O’Keeffe.

Coming into the new year with my books

The Way of the Digital Photographer by Harold DavisComing into the new year, I’m delighted that my recent titles are doing well. The Way of the Digital Photographer from Peachpit has been named a best photo book of 2013 by Over on Amazon, there are many positive reviews. For example, Charlotte McBroom writes, “Chock full of excellent information. There are many useful tools and methods of usage. I recommend this book to everyone interested in photography.”

Monochromatic HDR Photography from Focal Press has also been well received. A Fine Art Printer Magazine review calls attention to “the very high image quality and the excellent text. The subject of the book is the combination of two photographic trends: HDR photography and black and white….These insights are illustrated by hauntingly beautiful black and white images.”

On Amazon, reviewer Larry Goldfarb notes that “while the title invokes the world of HDR photography, this book is really bigger than that, it’s about light and tonal depth. Other than subject matter, that’s photography. The author presents a variety of methods for exploring and expanding your ability to adjust both.”

Monochromatic HDR Photography by Harold DavisIn Horizon, a computer users newsletter, Mark Mattson writes, “When I read through this book for this review, I learned a lot about how I should be doing things, to get the images I really want to show. A lot of the concepts I’ve known now for some time, but just haven’t made the connection to monochrome. With Harold and this book I now have a guide to show me the way on this new journey.”

I’m glad many photographers have found my books inspiring and useful. Thanks everyone who has taken the time to write a review, it is greatly appreciated—and helps me to continue doing what I do!

The Way of the Digital Photographer a best photography book of 2013

I’m very excited that my book The Way of the Digital Photographer: Walking the Photoshop post-production path to more creative photography has been named one of the best photography books of 2013 by

Davis- The Way of the Digital Photographer writes that “The Way of the Digital Photographer by Harold Davis is all about the ‘camera-computer partnership’ of the digital medium. Using Photoshop as the editing software of choice, the very talented author takes you far beyond Photoshop 101.  Instead, he focuses on ways to use Photoshop to enhance creativity, using incredible photography examples.  For example, he uses 35 four minute exposure photos of a night sky with a pre-sunset shot of the same location, and uses this beautiful masterpiece to show you the screen blending mode.

Who is this book for? Though this covers the fundamentals in the beginning of the book, this is really for intermediate Photoshop users that have some basic knowledge to start with.  This is also for people that want to go beyond the purist mentality; those willing to expand their photos into more artistic realm.”


Excerpt from The Way of the Digital Photographer

Peachpit Press has published an excerpt from my book The Way of the Digital Photographer: Walking the Photoshop post-production path to more creative photography. Click here to read the excerpt from the chapter on Working with Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop.

Bixby Bridge by Starlight © Harold Davis

Bixby Bridge by Starlight © Harold Davis

Digital is Different

Vive la différence! In my recent post featured on the Amazon Digital Design blog, I explain how digital photography differs from analog photography, and how you can take advantage of that difference in your work. Click here to read the entire post explaining why digital photography is different.

Venice of Cuba © Harold Davis

Venice of Cuba © Harold Davis

Monochromatic HDR Photography publication announced

Focal Press, a leading publisher of media technology books, announced today the availability of Monochromatic HDR Photography by Harold Davis, an award-winning photographer and best-selling author of more than 30 books.

Harold Davis-Monochromatic HDR book cover

In this beautifully illustrated guide for all levels from advanced amateur to professional, Davis shows photographers how to work at the intersection of two hot trends of the digital revolution: Black & White and High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging.

Click here to read the full press release on Business Wire, and here for Monochromatic HDR Photography on Amazon.

Using Selective Focus Article on

In my new article on, Creatively Using Selective Focus in Photography and Photoshop, I start by explaining how to control focus using exposure settings in the camera. Next, I explain several techniques for adding selective focus effects in Photoshop, and how to use the FocalPoint Photoshop plugin for pinpoint selective focus control in post-production.

Trestle Bridge © Harold Davis

Trestle Bridge © Harold Davis

About the image: Standing precariously high above the valley on the verge of this Littleton, Colorado trestle bridge, I focused my Zeiss Distagon 15mm f/2.8 tightly on the foreground. Using a fairly wide-open aperture (f/4.5) put the background of the hills very slightly our of focus, despite the naturally high depth-of-field of this extreme wide angle lens. In post-production I added a little extra motion blur to the trees, to further visually distinguish them from the bridge.

Advance copy of Monochromatic HDR Photography

I am very pleased to post the traditional photo of Katie Rose holding a fresh, still smelling of printer’s ink advance copy of Monochromatic HDR Photography. The publisher is Focal Press, and the formal publication date is October 22, 2013. I am very pleased with the way the book came out, and I think you will find that it contains some unique techniques and ideas, as well as my imagery.

Katie Rose and advance copy of Monochromatic HDR Photography

Katie Rose and the advance copy of Monochromatic HDR Photography

Expecting the Unexpected

Expecting the Unexpected is one of the articles I wrote for in a series of columns about Becoming a More Creative Photographer a few years back. In the article, I noted that “the single most important trait of the creative photographer is that he or she has learned to put aside expectations and see ‘what is really there’ without preconceptions.”

Each of the columns in the series have a number of exercises to help readers internalize the points I make. I’m pleased over the years to find a number of photographers working their way through these. Recently Xavier Llora (his primary interests seem to be “data-intensive computing and genetics-based machine learning”) has been doing a particularly nice job of explaining his thought processes while doing the exercises (see Assignment 2: The Common Object and Assignment 3: Out of the Rut to get the idea of what I mean).

Good job on the thoughtful work, Xavier!

Hotel de Sully © Harold Davis

Hotel de Sully © Harold Davis

The other side of the “seeing what is really there” coin is when the artist intentionally misdirects. People looking at a photo expect to see “what is really there.” Of course, this is never actually true in a literal sense. But suppose something is added to the scene in a subtle way, as in the small-sized fractal-like view through the passage way in the Hotel de Sully in Paris, France (shown above).

If this is done without overt disturbing manipulation then, with luck, the unconscious mind of the viewer will respond to the expanded scene—and without knowing quite why will be ready to expect the unexpected, and maybe even to see what is not really there!

Working with Layer Masks: The Way of the Digital Photographer excerpted

Peachpit Press has published an excerpt from my new book The Way of the Digital Photographer: Walking the Photoshop post-production path to more creative photography. Click here to read the excerpt from the chapter on Working with Layer Masks in Adobe Photoshop.

Pipes, West Oakland © Harold Davis

Pipes, West Oakland © Harold Davis

Adding Textures to Flower Photos

I have a new column out on, Adding Textures to Flower Photos. Here’s the description of what you’ll learn: This column explains all you need to know to get started adding textures in Photoshop to your photos, starting with the concept of “texturizing.” I’ll explain the mechanics of adding the texture overlay, choosing a blending mode, and masking the texture (if desired). You’ll also need to know where to find textures to license, and how to make your own textures if you are interested.

Setting Sun and Cherry Blossoms © Harold Davis

Setting Sun and Cherry Blossoms © Harold Davis

About the image: With this shot of a setting sun seen through a cherry blossom, I focused on the flower blossoms, relying on the fact that throwing the sun way out-of-focus made it appear much larger; I added artistic impact using a textural overlay as I explain in Adding Textures to Flower Photos on