Zeiss Lens Ambassador – Harold Davis

I’m really pleased with my new page as a sponsored photographer on the Zeiss Camera Lens Ambassador site. Check it out: http://www.zeiss.com/camera-lenses/en_us/ambassadors/harold_davis.html.

Lonely Islet by Harold Davis

Lonely Islet © Harold Davis

Related link: Otus & me (an informal review).

Posted in Photography

Banks of the Seine

Using the same lens (my Zeiss 35mm) and the same camera-in-motion technique as In a Paris Park creates a moody and atmospheric image in monochrome of the banks of the Seine River and the Ile St-Louis in Paris. This could be an image from the dawn of photography—when long exposures were the norm, and it was difficult to get a crisp image in twilight—rather than a capture made with a state-of-the-art sophisticated DSLR.

Banks of the Seine © Harold Davis

Banks of the Seine © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 at f/8, 4 seconds at ISO 50, hand held.
Related image: Ile de la Cite from Ile St-Louis.

Posted in France, Monochrome, Paris

Sunday in the Park with George

Sunday in the Park with George. “George” in this case was my Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 lens. The park is Square Jean XXIII, just behind Notre Dame in Paris, on a cold November day near twilight.

In a Paris Park © Harold Davis

In a Paris Park © Harold Davis

The most typical goal of photography is to render crisp images where camera motion is not an issue. This can be achieved by using a fast shutter speed—usually a shorter duration of time than 1/125 of a second—or by putting the camera on a solid support, such as a tripod.

What fun to turn this on its head by intentionally moving the camera during exposure. The results often don’t look very photographic, and it takes a good bit of trial and error to find the right exposure combination. It’s also easier when there is some light, but not too much light. Try this technique in the middle of the day, and even with loads of neutral density filters it is hard to get decent results.

As with the light, so with the motion—you want to move the camera in a consistent way, with enough movement to create an attractive effect but not so much as to turn the image to mush! In this case, “George” and I consistently panned slowly from left to right, pausing on the couple on the bench briefly, and going up and down at the right end of the exposure.

I feel lucky when shooting this way to get one out of a hundred shots turning out decently. Even a few seconds can seem like a very long time when one does it over and over again!

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 at f/4.5, 4 seconds at ISO 50, hand held.

Posted in Landscape, Paris, Photography

Adventures in a higher key

I photographed these tulips on a light box using my normal shooting sequence, but when the time came to process them I did things somewhat differently.

High-Key Tulips © Harold Davis

High-Key Tulips © Harold Davis

The normal workflow is to use a bracketed sequence of exposures (intentionally biased to overexposure) to create a high-key image, which is then processed for color, and then (if desired) texturized and placed on a background.

With this image, I began with a layered process for high-key transparency. I then departed from my usual practice by throwing away the background (almost white) layer. What remained was a partly transparent (literally so, in Photoshop) collage.

To continue, I replaced the bottom layer (formerly the background) with one of the textures from the Flypaper Textures new Paper Painterly collection. Well on my way to an exciting effect that combines the impact of digital painting and photography, I then applied a normal array of filters and adjustments to the image.

By the way, this makes a great and subtle print on Awagami Kozo washi. Very pleased with it!

Posted in Flowers

French Gardens in Sepia

Villandry © Harold Davis

Villandry © Harold Davis

I was asked to prepare these monochromatic images of gardens in France with a slight sepia cast for possible use by an art world client. I like the way they came out—very mannered and apparently old-fashioned, but of course they are not old.

Once again, as I observed in Photographer as Poet, these images are creative anachronisms that combine a classic aesthetic with modern technique and ideas. There’s no need to analyze, however. The imagery can just be enjoyed for what it is. The fact that there is a deeper layer to the construction and thinking behind the imagery may interest those who like to think about issues of self-reference and meta-cognition, but should not interfere with straightforward visual enjoyment.

Hotel de Sully © Harold Davis

Hotel de Sully © Harold Davis

Parc de Sceaux © Harold Davis

Parc de Sceaux © Harold Davis

The Road Goes Ever On and On © Harold Davis

The Road Goes Ever On and On © Harold Davis

Posted in France, Monochrome

Hip to be square

An important part of the gentle art of photographic composition is to recognize that we are rendering a three-dimensional world, in part by presenting it within a two-dimensional frame. An effective composition makes some kind of order out of the chaos inherent in the world using this framing mechanism, and also through the references of elements within the image to the frame that limits the scope of the image. After all, complete freedom is inherently chaotic and anarchic, and the use of a photographic frame is one of the more obvious ordering mechanisms that is available to any photographer.

Special Tulips © Harold Davis

Special Tulips © Harold Davis

My use of the word “framing” here refers of course to the borders of an image (or print)—and not to the external frame that is put around or over a work of art. Our concept of “framing” derives from the shape of the image that the camera captures. This is very strong when you consider traditional film photography: a 35mm negative is framed in a 1.5 to 1 proportion, and a medium format negative is generally square.

With digital, there is less reason to be bound by the internal framing of the capture device. A photo can be cropped in many different proportions, with the only practical constraint the available resolution if one is “throwing away” pixels. You can even create images that extensions of the capture size, such as panoramas or David Hockney-style photo collages.

Personally, I’ve always enjoyed looking at square imagery, but it isn’t a compositional format that has come naturally to me. An art world client specifically asked me to create some square compositions from my flower photos, and I was pleased to see this work out with the image of Special Tulips shown above.

Botanique benchmark: I am excited and happy that a collector has agreed to buy the fifteenth copy of Botanique. This is the last copy that was priced at $1200, and the price is now $1950 for numbers 16-20. Thank you very much everyone who has supported this project, and a big shout-out to the original sponsors on Kickstarter (where pricing started at $600!).

Posted in Flowers, Photography

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.

Posted in Flowers, Writing

Awagami Video with Botanique

I’m really pleased to note a new professionally-made video from Awagami about photographers who print on Awagami washi that shows my Botanique. The video can be played below, embedded from Facebook. The video is in Japanese with English translation in subtitles. Botanique is shown in the video at about the 50 second mark. 

Posted in Flowers, Japan, Photography

Rose after Delauney and O’Keeffe

At a recent lunch with my brother he reminded me how we both benefited from a classical education in the arts when we were young. I may not have got much of this stuff via formal education, but I sure was exposed to every layer of visual art history as a child thanks to my parents. Mostly, by seeing the stuff in person—from the paintings on the walls of the Caves of Lascaux to the museums with the “moderns” and everything in between.

To quote the dearly beloved and recently deceased Pete Seeger on the difference between education and experience, “Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t.”

I’m not sure how this fits with being dragged through every museum imaginable as a wayward kid—probably more in the experience category—but even as a bored child it was hard not to fall hard for the impressionists at first encounter.

Rose after Delauney and O'Keeffe © Harold Davis

Rose after Delauney and O’Keeffe © Harold Davis

Anyhow, this wasn’t what I had in mind when I went to work on the photo of the pale rose (far below), but I do know enough to recognize the palette and patterns of the great geometric painter Sonia Delauney along with the sensuousness of a Georgia O’Keeffe floral—when they pop out at me in an image I’ve created.

You’ll note that the original image is rotated 90 degrees. The other effects come from a series of LAB adjustments—inversions and equalizations—applied using a variety of blending modes.

Within each rose © Harold Davis

Within each rose © Harold Davis

For a couple of other examples of this kind of thing, check out Mandalas from a Glass Bowl, Broken Arrow and Creating LAB Patterns, and also see my article on Photo.net, Using LAB Color Adjustments.

Meanwhile, I must report that there is a certain goodwill towards the world that comes about from consorting with one’s fraternal sibling when both brothers are “of a certain age” with receding hairlines and cares and children of their own, and fondly reminiscing about some of the unique aspects of our culturally rich—and radically eclectic (or maybe eclectically radical)—upbringing.

Posted in Abstractions, Flowers, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Where in the world is Harold Davis?

Anybody else remember Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? My kids sure don’t! Their world of computer gaming is deeply involved with Minecraft. Anyway, where in the world is Harold Davis? Right now, abroad at home, but for me this year is “back-end loaded” with travel, and I wanted to give you a heads-up.

First, the upcoming Black & White workshop I am giving in San Francisco the weekend of April 12-13 is my last scheduled workshop in San Francisco in 2014. This will be a small workshop oriented at field photography, and (as noted) I do have a few places left. Click here for more information and registration.

Cable Car Wheels © Harold Davis

Cable Car Wheels © Harold Davis

From mid-April through mid-May I will be in France, leading a photography workshop in Paris, and then exploring some rural parts of southern France on my own with my camera.

In June I’ll be presenting my prints at Photo Oakland in a free event, then leaving for Germany towards the end of the month. I’ll be giving two workshops at the Heidelberg Summer School of Photography. Although I expect most of the participants to be German photographers, I’ll be giving the workshops in English, and there are a few places still open. My workshops in Heidelberg are in flower photography and black & white. My sponsor, Zeiss Camera Lenses, will be loaning lenses for workshop participants to try!

Back in the States in mid-July, I’ll head pretty much straight away for Denver, where I’ll be making another online course with Craftsy. By the way, you can use this link for a $10 discount on my first Craftsy course, Photographing Flowers.

Chateau des Nazelles © Harold Davis

Chateau des Nazelles © Harold Davis

In August, I’ll be back in coastal California, with two weekend workshops in very cool locations: a Night Photography workshop in Big Sur August 1-3, and Creative Landscape Photography on Point Reyes August 8-10. There are some spaces available in each of these workshops.

I am planning to be back in Japan in October. One of the purposes of this trip is to scout locations for my Japan Photographic Odyssey, now tentatively scheduled for April 5-25, 2015. I will bring a very small group of photographers to explore some of the less-known areas of Japan. Stand by for details!

At the end of October I’ll be in New York for PhotoPlus Expo. I’ll head back to Europe in time to co-lead the Photographic Caravan to Spain and Morocco for most of November. By the way, if this interests you, we are taking waiting list applications (and it is not unusual to have one or two drop-outs due to personal reasons).

In December, I have the fifth annual winter Waves Photography workshop on Point Reyes scheduled for Saturday, December 13. Whether there are almost no waves (like last year) or massive surf in a storm (three years ago), this is always great fun! Please save the date, and check the Point Reyes Field Seminars website for registration availability.

Bixby Bridge by Starlight © Harold Davis

Bixby Bridge by Starlight © Harold Davis

They say travel broadens, and often this is true. You can learn much about what you have by seeing “the other.” I also find that travel also shows me what I care most about at home, and I am more able to be truly present when I am home knowing I will be soon adventuring again with my camera. I hope that you may be able to join me one of these days on one of my photographic adventures—and if you have a particular destination that you’d like to see me lead a workshop to, please don’t hesitate to let me know!


Into the votex of the universe © Harold Davis

Into the vortex of the universe © Harold Davis

Posted in Workshops

Flowers for the vernal equinox

To celebrate the spring equinox yesterday, here are some Tulips and Anemones shot on my light box for translucency (a white ranunculus peeks through on the upper left as well!). You can recognize some of these specimens in Kaleidoscope of Flowers. As you can see, I am enjoying our California spring!

Tulips and Anemones © Harold Davis

Tulips and Anemones © Harold Davis

Exposure data: Nikon D800, Zeiss 135mm f/2 APO Sonnar, 2 seconds at f/16 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Curated—A Different Version of Harold Davis

Danielle Wohl, an art consultant based in Palo Alto, California, has curated a different version of my work on her website. These are not the translucent florals on washi or high-tonal-range black & white prints I am used to collectors choosing. Danielle has selected imagery that verges on the abstract and depicts things like architectural details in Japan, a pattern on an old garden fence, and a stack of old dishes. Check out the Harold Davis page on the Danielle Wohl Art Advisory website.

Here are a couple of the images Danielle selected and the stories behind them:

Apartment Stairs in Shin-Imamiya © Harold Davis

Apartment Stairs in Shin-Imamiya © Harold Davis

With Apartment Stairs in Shin-Imamiya, I was traveling via a series of local trains in central Japan on my way between the monastery guesthouse in Mt Koyo and hiking the Kumano kodo. I changed trains at the Shin-Imamiya Station on the outskirts of Osaka, and there was a wait of an hour or so before my connecting train arrived. I decided to explore a little. You can’t tell from this shot of the patterned apartment stairs, but the area is surprisingly funky, with homeless people on the street right in front of the train station—not the neat and tidy Japan that tourists are supposed to see.

Plates © Harold Davis

Plates © Harold Davis

We had wrapped shooting my Craftsy Photographing Flowers course in Denver, and the crew and I were out for a celebratory lunch. I spotted this stack of plates in the restaurant, and shot and processed it on my iPhone on the spot! I suppose that I have “hungry eyes”—and that looking at interesting things is as necessary to me as food or drink.

Posted in Photography

The feeling is mutual: my Otus lens

I’ve posted a new informal review of my Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 on Photo.net. My conclusion: “If you can afford it, and if you can work with manual focus (which is often, in fact, my preference), then this lens will yield incomparable results when paired with a high resolution full frame sensor.” Click here to read the full review.

Otus & me---selfie via iPhone 5 camera app

Otus & me—selfie via iPhone 5 camera app

Here’s another recent image shot of a rose in black and white, made with my Otus:

Within each rose © Harold Davis

Within each rose © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography

Kaleidoscope of Flowers

Spring has come, and I know it’s true because I have anemones and ranunculae to add to my tulips on my light box for back lighting. Fun to create a composition that seems almost like a kaleidoscope image—but the colors are made of flowers!

Kaleidoscope of Flowers © Harold Davis

Kaleidoscope of Flowers © Harold Davis

Exposure information: Shot on a light box with a Nikon D800 and Zeiss Otus 55/1.4. Seven combined exposures, each exposure at f/11 and ISO 100, with exposure times between 1/60 of a second and 2 seconds. Camera tripod mounted; Harold ladder mounted. Exposures combined and processed in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR), Photoshop, Nik HDR Efex Pro, Nik Color Efex Pro, Topaz Adjust and Topaz Simplify.

Related image: Tulips in a Crowd.

Posted in Flowers, Photography


The assignment I gave out on the second day of the Achieving Your Potential as a Digital Photographer workshop was to make a photo of something so that it looks like something else. In other words, change something to something new. In other words, metamorphosis.

Bathtub Landscape via IPhone © Harold Davis

Bathtub Landscape via IPhone © Harold Davis

My response to my own challenge: this abstract image I think of as a landscape with a highway and a canal, shot using my iPhone facing a bathtub at Urban Ore, and processed on the spot on the iPhone using the Plastic Bullet app.

I think the workshop was a great success. There will be ongoing follow-up sessions using webinar technology to make sure that action plans actually get implemented! I am very hopeful that metamorphosis will apply in the most positive way possible to the wonderful participants in this workshop, as well as to the imagery we made.

Posted in Abstractions, iPhone