Amaryllis Unfurling

I photographed this white Amaryllis unfurling using dappled and diffused sunlight for illumination, and a black velvet cloth for the background.

Amaryllis Unfurling © Harold Davis

The image is comprised of three exposures, each using the Lensbaby 85mm f/1.6 and an extension tube, with my camera mounted on a tripod. I varied the aperture (and adjusted the shutter speed to compensate) to take advantage of the different effects this lens has depending upon how wide open or shut down it is. The exposure at f/1.6 yielded the bright sunlit areas on the upper right, the exposure at f/4 covers most of the mid-tones, and the exposure at f/16 sharpened the inner unfurling.

Posted in Flowers, Monochrome, Photography

Mottled-leaf Paphiopedilum

This is an image of an orchid I made today with a new lens, the 85mm f/1.8 Lensbaby Velvet. This is a lens designed to create a glowing effect in the center, hence it has applications for portraiture. Since the lens is also fairly capable in terms of close-ups (it focuses to 1/2 life size), it also seems like an optic that has potential with botanical art. In any case, it is quite a bit of fun to play with!

Mottled-leaf Paphiopedilum © Harold Davis

I haven’t had fun with anything Lensbaby in quite a while (since 2010), but back in the day I used older Lensbaby optics quite a bit. You can check some of these out by clicking here.

Posted in Flowers, Lensbaby, Photography

Free Webinar “The Ten Minute Photo Gourmet: From RAW to Art”

On Tuesday December 5, 2017 at 3PM PST I will present a free webinar “The Ten Minute Photo Gourmet: From RAW to Art” sponsored by Topaz Labs Software. The webinar is free, but pre-registration is required. Click here to pre-register.

The images that accompany this story were processed to what is presented here from RAW in Topaz Studio in less than ten minutes each, as I’ll show in the webinar! A full webinar description follows below.

Rose to Blue © Harold Davis

Webinar description: Noted photographer and author Harold Davis states, “Often when I give a workshop presentation of my Photoshop workflow, hands go up, and folks want to know, ‘How long does that take?’.” The answer of course varies, but Photoshop being Photoshop a detailed workflow can be pretty time consuming indeed.

This is where Topaz Studio rides to the rescue! Harold Davis will show examples of using Topaz Studio to move from RAW file to finished art with no intermediary software in a matter of minutes.

Being able to add subtle and artistic effects quickly and without numerous processing steps helps put the fun back in photography. But of course, many times we also need to use Photoshop in our high-end workflows. The good news is that Topaz Studio can as easily accommodate this need as it can quickly and artistically process images.

This webinar will conclude with Harold Davis showing you how to use Topaz Studio in several alternative Photoshop workflows, since Topaz Studio can be used both as a standalone filter, and as a “wrapper” for accessing the other Topaz plugin products in your arsenal.

Along the Mekong © Harold Davis

About Harold Davis: Harold Davis is the bestselling author of numerous books about photography, including most recently The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook, as well as a popular workshop leader around the world. The Seattle Times has compared his black and white photos to those of Ansel Adams; and according to Popular Photography, “Harold Davis’s ethereal floral arrangements have a purity and translucence that borders on spiritual.” Rangefinder Magazine states that “Harold Davis is a force of nature—a man of astonishing eclectic skills and accomplishments.” Harold Davis’s work has been widely exhibited and collected. He is a Zeiss Lens Ambassador and a Moab Master. His website is www.digitalfieldguide.com.

Lonesome Road © Harold Davis

On Tuesday December 5, 2017 at 3PM PST I will present a free webinar “The Ten Minute Photo Gourmet: From RAW to Art” sponsored by Topaz Labs Software. The webinar is free, but pre-registration is required. Click here to pre-register. The webinar description follows below.

Posted in Workshops

Two new rose roses

Rose Rose 2 © Harold Davis

 

Rose Rose 3 © Harold Davis

Click here for the original Rose Rose in Rose and in Black and White!

Posted in Flowers

Interview with QT Luong, photographer and creator of “Treasured Lands”

It’s always fun to change things up and do new things, so from time to time on an ongoing basis I will be interviewing prominent photographers and folks involved with publishing on my blog. I’m pleased and honored to present as my second interview a discussion with QT Luong.

QT Luong [“Tuan”] is the photographer and creator of the bestselling and award-winning book Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey Through America’s National Parks. Treasured Lands is visual tour of all 59 US National Parks in a coffee-table book, with location notes for each photograph. It is the winner of six national book awards, including the Independent Publisher Book Award (“Coffee Table Books Gold Medal”) and the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award (“Arts and Photography Gold Medal”). According to the New York Times, “No one has captured the vast beauty of America’s landscape as comprehensively.” To learn more about QT Luong and his work, check out his website.

Tuan came to visit me in Berkeley a few weeks ago; hence, the interview and discussion that follows. 

Harold Davis: Please tell me about your Treasured Lands project.

QT Luong: The Treasured Lands project started with the goal to photograph each of the U.S. national parks in large format, and evolved into an attempt to create the most complete photographic record of them by a single person. For each park, I visited all of its significant areas and traveled deep into the wilderness. I returned in different seasons, resulting in more than 300 park visits over the course of almost a quarter-century.

HD: Wow! What got you started with Treasured Lands?

QTL: In the winter of 1993, I visited Yosemite. In the spring of the same year, I headed to Alaska to climb Denali. The sheer scale and pristine beauty of the north far exceeded anything I had witnessed in the mountains of Europe. In the fall, I toured Death Valley. After standing on the highest point of North America, I was now looking at its lowest. I had never seen such wide-open spaces and deserts before, and the geological surprises concealed within this arid land mesmerized me. I realized how much diversity the national parks encompass—they present every ecosystem a vast continent has to offer, and it was all new to me. Each park represents a unique environment, yet collectively they are all are interrelated, interconnected like a giant jigsaw puzzle. I wanted to exhaust every opportunity to experience that natural diversity, and I wanted to share it with others.

This, combined with my realization of the descriptive power of large format photography inspired me to embark on a project that I thought was both original and compelling: photograph each of America’s national parks with a large-format camera, because only large-format photography would do justice to the grandeur of the parks.

Jordan Pond on misty morning. Acadia National Park, Maine, USA. © QT Luong

HD: What was your experience of publishing your book like? How has it been received?

QTL: My goal was to offer the most comprehensive and useful photography book about the national parks. This called for a very substantial volume, with more pages, images, and words than any existing book on the subject. Photography books are expensive to print, especially at such a high level of quality. Although my project was quite known—for instance Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan featured me in their TV series about the national parks—no traditional publisher wanted to take on this project because it was too ambitious. I also wanted the synergy of combining an art book with a photography guidebook to encourage visits, and it was met with resistance – in retrospect, I realize the book industry is quite conservative. By the summer of 2015, no progress had been made, and I was desperate to get the book out in time to celebrate the Centennial of the National Park Service in the summer of 2016.

Eventually, by using a hybrid publishing approach between self-publishing and traditional publishing, I was able to realize my vision for the book and also offer it at a very affordable price (for what you get). [Click here to order Treasured Lands on Amazon-–HD]

Although it is my fourth book, Treasured Lands is the first book for which I was in total control and was involved in all aspects, including concept, writing, and design. On the other hand, it was also the first book for which I worked closely with a professional art director, Iain Morris, and his ideas improved considerably the book. I learned a lot about how books operate in the process.

There was a lot of uncertainty attached to this publishing project. At one point, the publishing consultant I hired quit because he thought the project was too risky. So it was particularly gratifying that the book has become a critical and commercial success. Everybody I met who had seen the book was enthusiastic about it and told me they felt inspired. The book got excellent reviews, both from the press (including The New York Times, quite rare for a photography book) and from readers, with currently 95 reviews on Amazon. It won six national book awards out of seven entered. Barely more than a year after first publication, we released the third printing of Treasured Lands, just in time for the holidays.

Fireweed flowers, lake with mountain reflections, Mt Shuksan, sunset. North Cascades National Park, Washington, USA. © QT Luong

HD: What photographic gear do you use?

QTL: I use both film and digital cameras.

With film, I work exclusively with a wooden 5×7 large format camera. I bought it in 1995 from Keith Canham, a craftsman who assembles them by hand in Arizona, and I expect it to last for the rest of my life. Out of my seven lenses, my preferred one is the Schneider Super Symmar XL 110mm f/5.6, which has an angle of view equivalent to a 24mm lens.

By contrast, in digital, I have been going through a bunch of different full-frame cameras since the early 2000s. Almost all digital photos in Treasured Lands were photographed with Canon cameras, but I am now using Sony equipment. I have a fairly standard set of zoom lenses, complemented with specialty lenses such as Tilt-Shift, fast lenses, and macro lenses.

False Kiva and moon at night. Canyonlands National Park, Utah, USA. © QT Luong

HD: How do you approach photography?

QTL: Art is first created for oneself, then you invite people into your world. My photography is directly derived from my experiences in the world, often in special places. It helps me remember the personal story of my relationship with a place that has become personally meaningful to me. I try to evoke the feeling of being there, and reveal with truthfulness and clarity something that you’d miss if you just looked casually. I celebrate the richness, diversity and beauty found in the world, in the hope of inspiring viewers to explore for themselves, experience what I experienced, and eventually care for our planet.

HD: What is your favorite place to photograph? What kinds of places do you like to photograph?

QTL: Frankly, it’s difficult to say based on the merits of the places, because they are so different. However, If I was to pick a park, it would have to be be Yosemite, based on my personal relationship with the place. What makes it special to me is that it was the place that drew me to California, the first national park I had heard of and visited, and the time I have spent there on repeated visits.

Although I’ve extensively photographed cities and cultures, I feel a particular connection and reverence for nature and the wilderness. However, I do not have a preference for a kind of place to photograph. I believe that if you look carefully enough you can find beauty and visual interest in all sorts of places, natural or man-made, that other people find banal.

HD: I understand you have a doctorate in computer science, were born in France, and are of Vietnamese descent. You’ve been settled in the Bay area for quite a while as a professional photographer. This all sounds like an interesting life story. Could you tell me more?

QTL: I was born in Paris and grew up as a city kid. Things changed when college friends took me to the high peaks of the Alps. I discovered for the first time the wilderness and made a connection with nature. I took up photography as a means to bring back the beauty of mountain tops to folks who could not get there.

In the winter of 1993, I moved to Berkeley to work on the first self-driving car project in California. At that time, having just finished my PhD, I was looking for a short-term post-doc job in the U.S., and I didn’t know much about the geography of his country. Others climbers said Yosemite had good rocks to climb, so off all the great research universities, I chose Berkeley because it was the closest to Yosemite.

I felt in love with Yosemite and the national parks, and to work on the project that eventually became Treasured Lands, I made my home in the San Francisco Bay Area. I started a 100% on-line based photography business (which was a new idea back in the early 2000s) in parallel with my scientific career, and it provided enough revenue that I was able to turn to photography full-time a decade ago. [You can check out QT Luong’s extensive online photo collections on his website.—HD]

HD: In this day and age with the political attempts to roll back protection for the national parks and wilderness generally, your book seems particularly relevant. How do you feel about what is going on in the world?

QTL: On a larger time scale, I am cautiously optimistic that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. If we care enough about our public lands, the current government policies, which are worrying in many ways, can be reversed after new elections. Being a father of two, I am a bit concerned with the younger generation absorption into virtual worlds, but on the other hand, environmental awareness seems to be increasing among them. The large national park visitation during the National Park Service Centennial last year has shown that people love the parks.

People generally care for places for which they have developed a personal connection through a visit, so it is more important than ever to continue encouraging those visits, and that’s one of the goals of Treasured Lands. Other coffee-table books may inspire you, but leave you wondering about locations. For each image, Treasured Lands provides you the information to get there at the best time of the day or the year. Above all, I hope that my photographs will inspire you to visit the places for yourself, and if the experience has enriched your life, to speak out for our public lands.

Click here to order Treasured Lands on Amazon. To learn more about QT Luong and his work, check out his website.

Posted in Interviews

106 Birthday Candles

Yesterday was Phyllis’s mom Barbara’s 90th birthday, and our son Nicky’s 16th birthday. So Phyllis baked a cakes, and as you see in the photo put 106 lit candles on it (because 90 + 16 = 106, count ’em!). As Mathew put it, “Dad, Mom—do you have a fire extinguisher handy?” No, I replied—only my camera.

106 Birthday Candles © Harold Davis

 

Posted in Photography

It starts with some twigs…

It starts with some twigs © Harold Davis

My kids and I gathered some twigs in “The Grove” [of coastal redwoods] in nearby Tilden Park. I used the twigs to create a light box composition, shown immediately below as an LAB inversion and single channel. I like the simple impression of the bare twigs as an image on its own.

Twigs “line drawing” © Harold Davis

Next, I added some color using LAB equalizations, Photoshop blending modes, and gradients, shown below.

Adding some color © Harold Davis

The final image at the top of this story was constructed from the twigs using rotations and reflections. It is made up of eight copies of the version shown below, which itself involves four reflections.

The first reflections © Harold Davis

So this is the story of creating a complex construction from an extremely simple starting place—a line “drawing” of twigs gathered from the ground of a redwood grove in the California autumn.

Of course, the key issue with an image like this is not really the mechanics of photography and post-production, but rather the visual and aesthetic choices one makes along the way. Just saying!

Posted in Photography

Exhibition of my photography extended through December 1, 2017

Road Less Traveled by Harold Davis

Road Less Traveled © Harold Davis

My photography is on exhibit at Shoh Gallery in Berkeley, California has been extended through December 1, 2017 (Road Less Traveled, shown above, is one of the images in the show). This is the first time I’ve seen my work in one place across a number of years in many of the genres that I work in, and I think it is a very exciting and well presented exhibition (if I say so myself). Special thanks to Julie, the gallery director! I hope the extra week will give all of you who’ve asked chance to get to my show.

Come visit if you get the chance! Click here for information about Shoh gallery, its location and hours. Click here for the exhibition press release. Some photos of the installation are shown below.

Posted in Photography

Three More Variations

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 6 © Harold Davis

This is the series that starts in an earlier story

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 7 © Harold Davis

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 8 © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography

It Starts with a Photo

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 3 © Harold Davis

Actually, in this case it starts with an arrangement on my light box, and eight high-key HDR exposures recombined in Photoshop. The resulting image is shown immediately below.

Stars of Petals © Harold Davis

An LAB L-Channel inversion puts the image on a black background, like so:

Stars of Petals on Black © Harold Davis

From here, it was time to play with post-production, using rotations, horizontal and vertical reversals, a variety of Photoshop blending modes, and more LAB processing. Which variation do you like best?

Stars of Petals Calligraphic Variation © Harold Davis

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 1 © Harold Davis

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 2 © Harold Davis

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 4 © Harold Davis

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 5 © Harold Davis

Posted in Patterns, Photograms, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Harold Davis Photography Exhibition until Nov 25 at Shoh Gallery—Come Visit!

Slot Canyon © Harold Davis

My photography is on exhibit at Shoh Gallery in Berkeley, California through November 25, 2017 (Slot Canyon, shown above, is one of the images in the show). This is the first time I’ve seen my work in one place across a number of years in many of the genres that I work in, and I think it is a very exciting and well presented exhibition (if I say so myself). Special thanks to Julie, the gallery director!

Come visit if you get the chance! Click here for information about Shoh gallery, its location and hours. Click here for the exhibition press release. Some photos of the installation are shown below.

Posted in Photography

Constructing an image from the materials of nature

Petals of the Rainbow © Harold Davis

In a recent article on art and beauty, I wrote:

I would rather think of myself as an inventor more than a discoverer of beauty. My hope is to use the echoes of beauty to reinforce the spiritual, and to create a sense of order that is not too orderly in all the romantic and ecstatic chaos of the universe.

This is the best role of the artist whatever toolset is used: to construct from the smallest and most eternal blocks and bits and pieces, and build up something bold and (dare we say it) beautiful from the nothing that always sits ready to engulf us.

If we can take and make beauty in this way with our art, then we’ve added to the sum of good that is in the universe, created beauty, and elevated the sense of the spiritual. This is the highest calling of the artist, and there is not much one can add to it except to do so without fear or favoritism, and to avoid pulling one’s punches because of the all-too-human desire to be loved.

I am not knocking photos that say “This is a waterfall.” There are exquisite images of waterfalls and other subjects that are representations by some excellent artists, and I often attempt this kind of imagery myself, where some of the emotional appeal comes from the viewer’s belief—or suspension of disbelief—that they are looking at something natural.

But the key word in the preceding paragraph is “representations”—as a two dimensional construct, a photo cannot actually be the three-dimensional waterfall. Most of the time, there is much more monkeying around with the pixels of reality than even this reductio ad absurdum argument implies.

The gist of my argument is that everything is a construction. So why not think expansively and expressively? Art, and digital photography in particular, is a big tent that reaches from apparently representational images of nature to constructs made from a variety of materials, including those supplied by nature, and includes myriad other genres as well.

Fortification on Black 2 © Harold Davis

In the spirit of constructing art using natural materials as the building blocks for the construct, the two images shown with this story are constructs made from flower petals, photographed on a light box on a white background, and converted to a black background using LAB color techniques and Photoshop blending modes.

To follow the path from petals on a white light to a colorful construction on black, check out It Starts with a Petal and Ends with a Twist of Fate!

Posted in Photography

How Long Must Eye Wait?

Wedged in a crack behind the aptly-named Ladyboot Arch in the Alabama Hills of the eastern Sierra near the Nevada border of California, I already knew this wasn’t going to be the perfect image. For one thing, the lens I was using, my dearly beloved Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 horizontal fisheye had blown over in an accident a few days earlier, with a nasty crack on the front optical element.

How Long Must Eye Wait? © Harold Davis

The focus of the lens was also jammed, stuck (fortunately) on infinity. That is, nobody wants focus to be jammed, but if an extreme wide-angle has to have a single focus, infinity would be the choice.

Ultimately, I had no idea whether shooting through this damaged lens would produce reasonable results.

I was also faced with a problem of topography: the crevice I was in would not let me set the tripod up normally, and I had to spread the legs and wedge them against the rock walls.

Finally, all was ready to start the timer on the intervalometer. But for reasons unknown, it simply wouldn’t work with the camera. 

Falling back on “Plan B” with grace under pressure is a normal part of any photographer’s toolkit. My Nikon camera has on-board intervalometer functionality, admittedly with an inscrutable user interface. The limitation is that the shutter speed maxes out at 30 seconds. 

Normally, my practice with this kind of photography is to set the camera to Bulb, and shoot a sequence of wide open (or nearly wide-open) captures at four minutes (using ISO 400). 

Dropping the shutter speed down to 30 seconds meant I was exposing for 1/8 the duration of time I normally would (because 30 seconds is 1/8 of 4 minutes). To compensate, I needed to boost the ISO by a factor of eight, from 400 to 3,200.

The final exposure data was 141 exposures, each exposure made at 30 seconds, f/2.8, and ISO 3,200. Post-production was in Photoshop, using the Statistics script with stack mode set to Maximum.

Here’s an image from the front of Ladyboot Arch, and another image from the rear of the arch (made with my other camera, a working intervalometer, and the Zeiss 15mm wide-angle lens!).

Night photography workshops are indeed a great deal of fun, and I am looking forward to a repeat engagement in Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, with my friend and distinguished night photographer Steven Christensen of Star Circle Academy as co-teacher in 2018. The dates are Friday, September 7 through Monday, September 10, 2018. Click here for more information!

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Workshops

Grizzly Falls

Just off the road along the South Fork of the Kings River in Kings Canyon National Park, Grizzly Falls presented great contrasts of light and dark. I used a neutral density filter to make a long exposure (fifteen seconds) and to soften the flowing water. As I setup my camera and tripod, I glanced at the top of the falls. Someone, no doubt a good climber, had placed the Republic of California grizzly bear flag on a wood stick at the top of the falls, where it was fluttering in the breeze—and, as such, showed the only grizzly bear likely to be seen around Grizzly Falls, since the species is, of course, extinct in California.

Grizzly Falls © Harold Davis

Posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Photography

If Jackson Pollock Dripped using Flower Petals

The great abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock created his paintings largely by throwing paint and ink to drip against the canvas. But suppose he had used flower petals rather than ink?

If Jackson Pollack Dripped Using Flower Petals © Harold Davis

Looking at Pollock’s art, I find a great deal of structure beneath the apparent abstraction, chaos, and anarchy. As I made my flower-petal Pollock I tried to imbue the piece with a comparable underlying structure, admittedly not always apparent amid the flower petals I “dripped” at random onto my light box!

Posted in Photography