Category Archives: Writing

I can only give my heart

Words have a place as a companion to photography, as titles, in captions, in statements, and in books that combine words and imagery. It’s often a useful exercise to attempt to write about one’s own photographic process and goals, as well as writing to describe the narrative behind a specific image.

I can only give my heart © Harold Davis

I can only give my heart © Harold Davis

Regarding cryptic titles, such as “I can only give my heart,” modern painters have led the way with this, sometimes applying titles for abstract paintings that can seem far-fetched. But I believe that metaphorical titles can be appropriate and, when apt, do enhance the poetics of a photographic image.

Ian Roberts puts it this way: “Authenticity results from the depths of the artist’s feelings.” In other words, I only follow the labor intensive process of creating an image like this one because the subject and treatment move me, and because I speak from the heart. So, I can only give my heart.

From a formal perspective, “I can only give my heart” is about the relationship between soft petals and the “harder” flower core of the flowers with pistil, stamen and so forth. Compared to the fluff of the petals, all the flower really has is its core, or heart, which is another meaning for the title.

By the “poetics of a photographic image,” I am really talking about the subjective individual experience to the viewer. There’s no doubt that the image title can influence this experience (for better, or for worse). In your experience, doesn’t an allusive title like “I can only give my heart” lead to a more poetic viewing experience than the straightforward title “Echinacea” for the image shown below? Which kind of image titling do you prefer?

Echinacea © Harold Davis

Echinacea © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers

Steven Pressfield on Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer

I sent Steven Pressfield, the author of The War of Art, a copy of my new book Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook.

Steve wrote back, “Harold, many thanks for sending ‘Achieving Your Potential’ and for the very kind note re ‘The War of Art.’ It’s an honor (and a giggle) to have helped a long-time pro like yourself, if even a little. By the way, the book looks great. What an accomplishment! I salute you. You’re gonna help a lot of people with this one.”

Thank you Steve—for your great contribution to my creativity (and that of many others), and also for your kind words about my new book!


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, Photography

New Interview with Harold Davis

harold davis new graphic

Check out this great new interview with me by Kathleen McCaffrey on the Picsastock Blog. The interview explores (among other things) my interpretation, style, and process: “Photography is a way of sharing what we see—a very important part of who we are—with others. I like to create images that relate to some kind of order in the chaos of the universe, and at the same time speak to the poetry in nature and humanity that is always around us.” Click here to see the whole interview.

Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer is now available

My new book, Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook, is now available and shipping. Per our family tradition, Katie Rose is shown with the new book cover. In addition to my images and words of wisdom, Achieving Your Potential includes a 48-page tear-out section you can use as your personal photography workbook to enhance your creativity. A pre-publication review in Rangefinder Magazine put it this way: “The indomitable Harold Davis—fine-art photographer, author, educator, all-around oracle—[has] now added to his extraordinary canon an interesting fusion of photographic wisdom and down-home advice.”

© Harold Davis

Katie Rose with Achieving Your Potential cover © Harold Davis

For me, a trip down memory lane, here are some previous book covers with Katie Rose: Monochromatic HDR Photography; Creating HDR Photos; Photographing Flowers; Creative Landscapes; Photoshop Darkroom 2; Creative Portraits; Photoshop Darkroom; and Creative CompositionHa! Good thing Phyllis and I had Katie’s help with all these books, otherwise we never could have gotten ’em done.

Also posted in Katie Rose

Creative Flower Photography with Harold Davis Webinar Recording

If you missed my webinar on Creative Flower Photography (sponsored by Topaz Labs), or were on the webinar and want to replay it, here’s the link for watching the Creative Flower Photography with Harold Davis webinar recording on YouTube. This webinar covers my unique workflow and processing techniques for creating transparent flower imagery starting with photography on a light box.


Star Magnolia © Harold Davis

Star Magnolia © Harold Davis

Also posted in Workshops

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.

Also posted in Flowers, Photography

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.

Also posted in Photography

Review copies available: “Achieving Your Potential”

My new Focal Press book Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook will be shipping shortly. I have a few review copies available to my photographic community. I am looking for honest and thoughtful reviews (hopefully you can say good things about my book and the accompanying workbook!) on Amazon and other venues such as blogs and photography club and user group sites.

02-04-2015-Achieving-CoverTo apply for a review copy, please send me an email with your shipping address (within the US only please). Include a phone number (it will be used for shipping purposes only). I’d appreciate any information you can supply in your email as to why you’d be a good choice for a reviewer, e.g., previous reviews, and so on.

Here’s a book description from the back cover: Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer and the companion Photographer’s Workbook are here to help you be the best photographer that you can be—so you can achieve your potential as a photographer. You’ll find inspiration, ideas, and tools to use along the way, as you achieve new goals with your photography.

Harold Davis shows you inspirational examples and challenges you to take your work to the next level, as he guides you along the path to making real progress with your work. The pull-out Photographer’s Workbook that comes with Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer is like a “workshop in a box,” helping you apply what you learn so you can find your unique vision in photography.

An advance review in Rangefinder Magazine notes that Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer is “vintage Harold Davis: graphically lively, amply thought out, and informed by Davis’s unique sense of organization and creative vision. It is well worth checking this title out…”

Thanks for being part of my photography community, I hope to hear from you!

Language of Flowers © Harold Davis

Language of Flowers © Harold Davis

Pre-Publication Review of Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer by Harold Davis

I’m pleased to see a positive pre-publication review of my new book Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook in the May issue of Rangefinder Magazine. The reviewer, Jim Cornfield, notes that that Achieving Your Potential is “vintage Harold Davis: graphically lively, amply thought out, and informed by Davis’s unique sense of organization and creative vision.” Thanks Jim! Read the complete review by clicking here (opens in a separate window).


Translucency of Rosa on Black © Harold Davis

Translucency of Rosa on Black © 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.

Also posted in Photography

What do Harold Davis and Georgia O’Keeffe have in common on Pinterest, and how is Pinterest going to make money, anyway?

Actually, I don’t really care how Pinterest plans to make money, although in the light of the rest of this story it is worth noting that Pinterest has a private market value believed to be north of $10 Billion. Yes, that is Billion, as in a ten with nine zeros after it.

In case you’ve been doing your best to ignore social media on the Internet, the idea behind Pinterest is that users create virtual bulletin boards, and then “pin” images that are copied from a variety of sources onto these boards. I haven’t heard any cogent analysis of how this will make money, but I do know that plenty of my images are used this way without my permission…including one photo of a rose that is commonly mistaken for a Georgia O’Keeffe painting

A rose is a rose is a rose, except when it is not. A Harold Davis rose photo is apparently a Georgia O’Keeffe rose painting when you search Google Images for “Georgia O’Keeffe” (opens in a separate window, may be a number of rows down) except when it is actually Kiss from a Rose by Harold Davis (shown below). I’m really pretty flattered by the association, as Georgia O’Keeffe is certainly one of my great artistic heroes.

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

I was alerted to my photo made in homage to O’Keeffe being mistaken for a literal O’Keeffe by a reader who wrote, “Hi Harold! Love your Rose Photography. I see on Google your work is confused with Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings!” While this case of mistaken artistic identity mostly involves Kiss from a Rose, some of my other images such as Eye of the Rose and even the book cover for my Photographing Flowers also occasionally show up categorized as O’Keeffe’s.

The conflation of Harold Davis photos with Georgia O’Keeffe paintings get even more pronounced on Pinterest, where a number of “boards” have “pinned” my image as a Georgia O’Keeffe’s. (See (my rose is called “a lush red O’Keeffe”), (once again my rose is ascribed to O’Keeffe) as examples, although this Pinterest Fakes and Mistakes board notes correctly that “NOT GEORGIA O’KEEFFE >>> this is a photo by Harold Davis”).

I am in fact of two minds about this issue. On the one hand, obviously it is good publicity for me that people like my work enough to pin it on their Pinterest boards. And, as I noted, I am certainly flattered to be compared with O’Keeffe.

On the other hand, it is hard enough to make money as a living artist these days when one is up against the common Internet dogma that information “wants to be free.” Ascribing to this theory across the board leads to a rush to the bottom. As a hint folks: ultimately this means no more quality visual art, literature, or music.

The TOS on Pinterest claims that each user (e.g., someone who creates a board) is responsible for obtaining permission to use work, but of course people just ignore this, and go ahead and scrape imagery off the sites where I post. I doubt anyone at Pinterest really believes that users are going to get permission, and posting this TOS is just el poo-poo del toro to try to ward off copyright lawsuits. Which someone should really do, and take Pinterest to the cleaners for the intellectual property scamsters they are.  Or, Pinterest could prove they care about artistic creation by setting up a financial pool to reward artists whose work is used on their site.

What do you think about this? I know that many of my readers are Pinterest users. Am I out to lunch on this one?

Digital paintings that use photographs as the medium

Harold Davis’ talent as a painter is evident in this beautifully rendered photograph of the Jamaa-el-Fnaa marketplace in Marakesh, Morocco.  © Harold Davis

Eileen Fritsch, a writer who often covers the visual arts, profiled me recently in relationship to digital printmaking. In her profile, Eileen notes that I regard my work as “digital paintings that use photographs as the medium.” She continues: “With his unique style, Davis is at the forefront of an emerging art movement in which creative photographers can do far more than capture an elusive moment in time. Thanks to Photoshop (which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary), photographic artists such as Harold Davis can now create images that depict almost any type of scene or subject they can envision in their mind’s eye.”

You can read the extensive full article on the Moab Paper blog.

In this multiple exposure image, Harold Davis envisions image “Hekatonkheires” the three mythical Greek gods of violent storms and hurricanes. The artisanal pigment print takes full advantage of the qualities of Moab Slickrock Metallic Pearl 360 paper. Photo: © Harold Davis

Pages for the Kumano Kodo portfolio are printed on the roll and hand trimmed, scored, signed, and bound. Photo: © Harold Davis

Artist Harold Davis Uses Moab Paper for Artisanal Inkjet Prints

Renowned photographer-artist-author-teacher Harold Davis can’t imagine letting someone else print his images. Printing is how he fully realizes the image he envisions before he even snaps the camera shutter or opens Photoshop. Read more of this profile.

Harold Davis - Signing the first copy of botanique

Also posted in Photography

Review: Domke Next Generation Chronicle Camera Bag

If you are like me—and most other professional photographers that I know—you will have acquired over time an extensive collection of camera bags. Some bags fit some gear, but not other gear. Some are backpacks—which means better ergonomics for trekking, but less access to gear on the fly—and others are shoulder bags. Still others are hybrids, or designed particularly with transiting through airports, or being able to submerge in water, in mind.

I am always looking for the perfect camera bag, and with my Domke Next Generation Chronicle I may have finally hit the jackpot.

The Domke bags were originally created by photojournalist Jim Domke, whose hobby was collecting camera bags. Started in 1976, the Domke company was acquired by Tiffen, a leading manufacturer of photo accessories, in 1999. You can visit the Domke page on the Tiffen website by clicking here (opens in a new window).

I carried my gear in a Domke Chronicle Bag on a recent workshop I lead across the Atlas Mountains in Morocco---Ait Benhaddou © Harold Davis

I used my Domke Chronicle Bag on a workshop I led across the Atlas Mountains in Morocco—Ait Benhaddou © Harold Davis

Over the years, many professional photographers have provided input into the design of the Domke camera bags, and they have received numerous professional accolades, such as being named the official bag of the White House News Photographer Association.

It’s clear that no one bag will ever fulfill all of my photographic needs, or hold all my camera gear—and, as Jim Domke would be the first to admit, it is highly unreasonable to have this as an expectation. Within the constraints of a soft-sided journalist-style shoulder bag, my Domke Chronicle Camera Bag is truly wonderful. This is not an inexpensive camera bag (the discounted retail price is probably about $300), but the old saw about getting what you pay for applies, and the materials, finish, and detailing are top-of-the-line throughout.

J-CHRON-RM_300-8wThe outer material is a durable, water repellent form of thick coated cotton duck, manufactured to military standards. Hardware, such as zippers and clips, are very high quality. One thing I like best is that the exterior, while attractive, is non-descript. If you remove the external Domke badge, which is easy to do, no one would ever know this was a camera bag. I carry thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars of camera gear through all kinds of environments, and an extremely important component of personal security is not giving away what I have with me unnecessarily (partly for this reason, I also replace the branded straps on my camera bodies with plain straps).

Inside, the bag is flexible and expandable, and also protects my gear. Did I mention that this is a softside bag that is lightweight? I’ve carried it happily with one camera body and two lenses, and I’ve also used it fully loaded with several bodies and five or six heavy lenses. The customizable divisors allow a great deal of flexibility about how much gear I carry, and how it is laid out.

Chronicle-OpenThe layout of pockets for things like filters, memory cards, extra batteries, iPad and iPhone, and so on is very well thought out. Two features I particularly like are the excellent and secure strap for placing the bag on a wheeled suitcase extension handle, and the closure of the main compartment. The main compartment is secured with heavy-duty steel clips, but if you forget to clip it and just throw the top over, velcro takes over, and your gear will still be safe.

My one complaint about the bag, and I have only one, has to do with waterproofing. The material the bag is made of is inherently highly water resistant, and the main compartment is designed with flaps that can be arranged so that water does not leak into the bag. This arrangement is probably more than sufficient for the intended primary users of the bag, who are photojournalists. If it starts to rain hard, the photojournalist probably stops into a handy cafe and interviews sources while sipping a Pernod or Ouzo, and maybe puffing on a cheroot.

In contrast, my way of working sometimes requires me to be out with my gear in extremely foul weather. My requirements for a bag include a completely waterproof (not water resistant) cover, either included as integral to the bag, or carried as an accessory in a pocket. Domke does not provide this, so Phyllis helped me sew a jury-rigged elasticized waterproof raincoat for the bag that I always carry in a pouch in one of the pockets.

Full disclosure: I was provided a Domke Next Generation Chronicle Camera Bag for the purposes of writing a review by the Tiffen Company, and tested it under many widely varying field conditions. While I didn’t pay for my Chronicle Bag, I never would have trusted my gear to it on several continents if I didn’t think it was a great, convenient, and well-made camera bag, and my opinions are always honest and outspoken.

As a matter of principle, and so I can stay objective, I do not carry advertising or affiliate marketing links on my blog. Domke Camera Bags can be purchased from most quality professional photo suppliers.

Also posted in Equipment, Landscape, Photography, Reviews