Category Archives: Writing

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

Learning is best when it is fun

Many years ago, the high-tech job that moved us out to California had me attend a couple of weeks of training before I got started. The lead instructor was probably a pussycat in real life, but to us trainees she seemed like a real drill sergeant. Remember, this was a very technical job. One thing she made crystal clear was that anyone scoring less than 90% on the final exam would be looking for a new job the next day. Read more.

Rooftops of Paris by Harold Davis

Rooftops of Paris © Harold Davis—Click image to view larger!

My oldest son Julian had just been born prematurely two weeks before the hospital tour, and I had just moved my family across the country. With a child in intensive care, keeping my benefits was important to me, and you can imagine that I crammed hard for that final exam.

Whether they really would have fired me if I hadn’t aced the exam I will never know, but I wasn’t going to find out.

I was motivated.

Fear is a great motivator—but it motivated me to cram, not to really learn, and I doubt I retained much of the material that I had studied for very long.

Over the years, as I’ve written books that are intended to teach, and as I’ve become an experienced workshop leader, I’ve pondered the question of what helps people learn. In other words, since I’m supposed to be helping people learn, what mechanisms can I best use?

As in my example of high-tech training, fear works to some degree, at least as a motivator. But it is not clear that fear teaches the right things, or that it best for long term learning and retention.

Repetition is also a learning tool that works in limited doses. Like fear, some degree of repetition is a good thing when you are learning, but too much repetition is a turn-off.

When will the schools recognize that boredom and true learning are orthogonal?

If fear and repetition, the two great motivators of our current educational system, don’t work—what does?

My answers are that one learns best by doing, and also one learns best when one is having fun. You might be surprised to find out that there is quite a bit of neuroscience that backs up the proposition that having fun enhances learning.

I think that you also learn best from instructors who are committed to continued learning themselves, and having fun while they do it. Anyone who thinks they know everything, doesn’t (to paraphrase Socrates)—and is probably a bit pompous and boring, to boot.

Within the overall arch of learning by doing, and learning best while having fun, different learning styles have also to be acknowledged—there is no one size fits all when it comes to how people learn, but everyone learns best through immersion, and when they are having fun.

Which is what I design my workshops to achieve. Sure, Photographing Paris in 2014 is going to be fun—and that is part of the point. It’s also going to be a 24/7 immersion in photography. I’m pleased that when I discuss this year’s Photographing Paris workshop with participants so many of us say, “Hey, that was fun! And I learned so much…”

New Harold Davis Photonet column: Placing a Flower Photo on a Background

Please check out my new column on, Placing a Flower Photo on a Background. Stay tuned for the sequel, coming next month to, explaining how to add a texture to a flower photo to get painterly effects.

Have you ever wanted to turn your flower photos into fine art design pieces? With a little bit of Photoshop know-how, a few inexpensive tools, and the techniques explained in this column, it’s easy to create unique art imagery, guided only by your vision and creativity. Read more.

You may not be aware of the extensive archive of my columns available on on a wide variety of topics related to creativity, photography, Photoshop techniques, and marketing your photography. Links to this material can be found below the image.

Cherry Dance © Harold Davis

Cherry Dance © Harold Davis columns by Harold Davis

Preview: The Way of the Digital Photographer

I am very pleased to be able to show you a preview adapted from my new book, The Way of the Digital Photographer. In this story: a special pre-publication discount offer from the publisher; the Table of Contents; material from the introduction to The Way of the Digital Photographer.

This is a special offer on pre-orders of both the print and eBook versions of The Way of the Digital Photographer directly from the publisher, Peachpit. I have arranged this discount as a way to say thanks for your support and reading my blog. To receive the 30% discount from Peachpit, be sure to use the discount code PP-DAVIS30 (this code is case sensitive) after you add my book to your shopping cart when you proceed to check-out. Click here to order The Way of the Digital Photographer now!

Way of the Digital Photographer

Book description: In The Way of the Digital Photographer, master photographer and digital artist Harold Davis shows you how to make digital photography an art form. Great digital photographs need both camera and computer to be truly extraordinary. Using detailed examples and case studies from his own work, Davis provides myriad ideas you can use in your own work, and he shows you how to unlock your own creativity to make those special images you have always dreamed of! Readers discover how to effectively use post-processing techniques and gain insight as to how the techniques and steps involved can inform their choices when making a photo and in post-production workflow.

Pre-order your copy of The Way of the Digital Photographer: Walking the Photoshop post-production path to more creative photography!

 Table of Contents

18 Digital Photography Is Painting
21 First things first
21 The camera to use
22 JPEG versus RAW
24 Photoshop prejudices
27 Seeing is about light
33 It all starts with a layer
38 Adjustment layers
43 Working with layer masks
44 Creating a layer stack
45 Combining two exposures with a Hide All
layer mask
47 Using a Reveal All layer mask to combine
two exposures
51 Using the Brush Tool
54 Selective sharpening
59 Working with gradients
60 Using the Gradient Tool to seamlessly
blend two layers
67 Drawing directly on a layer
71 Introducing blending modes
73 Screen Blending Mode
80 Using Screen for selective lightening
83 Multiply Blending Mode
87 Blending mode categories
88 Testing the blending mode categories
91 Comparative blending
97 Workflow
102 Do it on your iPhone: Slow Shutter Cam
104 Multi-RAW and Hand-HDR
107 Multi-RAW processing
108 Expanding tonal range with multi-RAW processing
109 Getting the widest gamut with
ProPhoto RGB
111 All roads lead to Photoshop: Smart
objects and Lightroom
112 Adjusting exposure selectively
117 Hand-HDR
118 Shooting a bracketed sequence for
120 May the force be with your florals
125 Automated HDR
126 Automated HDR programs
134 Do it on your iPhone: PhotoForge
136 Enhancement to Glory
139 Workflow redux
140 Checkpoints
143 Tripping the light fantastic
144 Why be average?
145 Multiply and Screen blending modes
146 Sharpening and blurring
147 Glamour Glow and Tonal Contrast
148 A second helping of HDR
149 Pushing the boundaries: Pixel Bender
150 Some other painterly filters
155 Using LAB inversions
156 Understanding the LAB color model
167 Black and white
175 Backgrounds and textures
176 Blending a background with an image
178 Using textures to change the scene
184 Do it on your iPhone: Lo-Mob and Plastic
186 Resources
188 Notes
189 Glossary
190 Index


Your digital camera probably resembles a film camera in both appearance and basic functionality. Like a film camera, your digital camera has a lens with aperture and shutter controls that can be used to decide how much light penetrates into the body of the camera for each shot.

But that’s where the similarities between film and digital cameras end. Despite the similarity in appearance of the hardware device used to make the exposures, digital photography is an entirely new medium compared to film photography.

Historically, chemical properties of film and developing were used to record light that entered the camera. Today with a digital camera, the light is captured as a digital signal by a sensor. Digital signal data recorded by the sensor can be processed by the computer in your camera. More powerfully, and here’s where the fun really begins, image data saved by your camera can be processed on a standalone computer after you upload your files.

People don’t fully understand this new digital medium that consists of the camera-computer partnership. They’re still hooked on the fact that their hand-held computer with a lens (a.k.a. a digital single-lens-reflex, or DSLR) looks like
a good old-fashioned film camera—and if it looks like one, it must work like one. Not so. For those who get over this misunderstanding the door is wide open for experimentation and new approaches.

Digital is different. Very different.

One of the main goals of The Way of the Digital Photographer is to show you how to take advantage of this difference to enrich your own work.

In The Way of the Digital Photographer, you’ll discover how to effectively use several of the post-processing techniques that I use to create the final versions of my own imagery.

These techniques are presented as case studies in the context of actual examples, so you can understand what each step does. More important, I want you to gain insight into how the techniques and steps involved can inform your choices when you make a photo and in your post-production workflow. (For a discussion of workflow and to understand how best to adapt your workflow to the digital world, turn to page 107.)

Digital photography and post-production techniques that are used to inform one another—how you take a photograph with an idea or pre-visualization in mind, knowing what you can do to it later in post-production—are the basis of this new digital medium. If you can see a photograph in your mind’s eye before you take it and know how you can process it later to achieve your vision, then nothing can hold your imagery back. Truly, the sky’s the limit!

Technique without heart is banal and useless. I’ve found in the workshops I give that many people come to digital photography precisely because they enjoy—and are good at—working with technology. Indeed, perhaps these folks work in technology related industries.

But even if you are a technocrat it is important not to lose the creative aspects of digital photography. Often the people who start with digital photography because they are comfortable with the gear find some resistance to fully engaging their creative powers. They may be more comfortable with measuring pixels and navigating software than with conveying emotion.

If this describes you, be of good cheer. Provided that you approach image making in the spirit that anything is possible, you may be amazed by what you can achieve.

Along with the post-production case studies in The Way of the Digital Photographer, you will find thoughts and exercises, presented as Meditations. These Meditations will help you with the conceptual and emotional side of digital photography and also guide you in pre-visualizing your photographs with the idea of post-production in mind.

As you walk down the path of the digital photographer, you will find that photography is about your creative vision and your notions about art. Digital photography is also a way to show others your very personal view of the world. By combining your pre-visualization with your photography and appropriate post-production techniques, you can fully render anything you can imagine.

Please keep in mind the 30% pre-publication discount from the publisher for The Way of the Digital Photographer. Use discount code PP-DAVIS30 (case sensitive) at checkout to get your discount.