Exploring the Sacramento Delta

The Steamboat Slough Bridge, shown here from underneath, was built in 1924. According to HistoricBridges.org, this bridge is a good example of a Strauss heel-trunnion bascule bridge. Despite some repair work in 1953 and again in 2000, the bridge is much like it always was.

Beneath Steamboat Slough Bridge © Harold Davis

Something of the same sort can be said for the Sacramento River delta. This is an area that time forgot, almost a foreign country in the backyard of the San Francisco metropolitan area, and adjacent to Sacramento, the California state capital.

Murmuration © Harold Davis

Driving the hour or so from my home in Berkeley to California Route 160, also known as River Road, which bisects the delta, my friend Jim and I weren’t sure what to expect. We found a vast low country, only a few feet above sea level, formerly wetlands and marsh, now ranch and agricultural land. Wind turbines and transmission towers sit astride the low-lying landscape. 

Two Towers © Harold Davis

The innumerable channels of the Sacramento River have created a maze of islands, with a reedy fringe on the banks and agriculture inland. Small roads cross the channel on bridges like the one across Steamboat Slough, or one of the many operational car ferries.

Real McCoy II (via iPhone) © Harold Davis

There are a few towns in the Sacramento delta, principally Ryde, Walnut Grove, and Locke, along with trailer parks and vineyards.

Wonder Bread (via iPhone) © Harold Davis

Ryde’s principle tourist attraction is Foster’s Bighorn—a bar and lunch place featuring hundreds of stuffed big game heads. They were really gracious about letting me photograph inside with my camera and tripod, but I really can’t bring myself to process any of the images. I also don’t see how one could really enjoy one’s brisket sandwich with the myriad glass eyes of lions, bears, and elephants staring at one.

Locke was a Chinese community, which swelled with seasonal agriculture hands who worked the delta. Today it seems to be an outing destination from Sacramento, with Chinese restaurants, a Chinese herbal medicine practitioner, and even the “Locke Ness: Things Old & Odd” curio museum and shop. Nearby Walnut Grove is the largest town in the area, and features grocery stores with ads from the 1950s (when was the last time you saw a loaf of Wonder Bread?).

There’s a sense of strangeness and otherness about the delta, and also, in a weird way, of permanence. This is country that makes you think that AI, fake news, and all the other stuff we think about every day, can only be the invention of some dissonant, alternative sci-fi future.

Threatening this permanence is the Delta Tunnel Plan. This hypothetical project, beloved by Governor Brown, and mired in innumerable law suits, would build two four-story tunnels under the delta to carry water from the delta to the Central Valley, and the always-thirsty cities of California’s arid south. 

Businesses of all sorts around the delta have anti-Tunnel Plan placards prominently displayed. Should the Tunnel Plan ever come to pass, it will drain the delta of the one resource it has in abundance—good, clean, flowing water—and change the land more than any other human action since the marshes were drained in the years following the great California gold rush. As with any project that projects changes of this magnitude, the downstream consequences—to the great Bay of San Francisco and beyond—are hard to know.

Posted in Photography

More abstractions!

Related stories: The Making of the Abstractions; Abstracts and a Photographic Mystery.

Abstract 4 © Harold Davis

Abstract 5 © Harold Davis

Abstract 6 © Harold Davis

Abstract 7 © Harold Davis

Posted in Abstractions

The Making of the Abstractions

Abstract 3 © Harold Davis

This image and the two other abstracts shown in a previous story were constructed by allowing strong sunlight to pass through bottles filled with fluid (dark brown maple syrup and red wine). In the foreground I placed glassware (a wine cup stem in this image, flower vases in the previous two). A water glass made of blue glass added some reflected color to the images.

I photographing the setup extremely close with a very low depth-of-field, hand holding a Lensbaby Sweet 85 wide open (at f/1.8) with an extension tube, and using short duration shutter speeds (e.g., 1/2000 of a second). The result was extremely shallow focus and a painterly effect for everything out of focus, and clearly the precise point of focus was a crucial issue. I do think this would have been hard to pull off without an optical viewfinder.

Thanks to everyone who hypothesized in comments on my blog and on my IG feed!

Posted in Abstractions, Photography

Abstracts and a Photographic Mystery

Here’s a photographic mystery for you! Can you reverse engineer these abstracts? As a hint, these were essentially created in the camera, with very minimal Photoshop processing in post-production (just a little cleaning up and enhancing colors slightly).

If you think you know how this series of abstracts was made, please comment with camera and lens, subject matter, lighting, and setup.

Abstract 1 © Harold Davis

Abstract 2 © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography


Wandering through the Sicilian village of Cefalu, I made my way to the harbor jetty. Looking back at the whitewashed village, it was clear that from a monochromatic perspective, the contrast between the white buildings and the black headland behind them was very interesting. I made a series of bracketed exposures that would enable me to take advantage of this contrast once I had converted the photo to black and white.

Cefalu © Harold Davis

Nikon D850, 44mm, 6 Exposures at f/29 and ISO 64, shutter speeds ranging from 1/10 to 1/160 of a second, tripod mounted; processed to monochrome using Nik HDR Efex Pro.

Related story: Accordion Player.

Posted in Italy, Monochrome, Photography

Correlation versus Causality

In downtown Palermo, Sicily, at the intersection of Via Maqueda and Via Vittorio Emanuele is an ornate and baroque piazza, surrounded by four symmetrical structures with statues in niches. Dubbed Quattro Canti—“Four Corners”—it is actually hard to give a sense of the overall ornamentation overload of the location. Often closed to vehicular traffic, usually with one or more street musicians performing, Quattro Canti was a fun place to hang out. I kept trying to pre-visualize how to make an image that captured both the over-the-top baroque ornamentation of the place along with the sense of place generated by the symmetry of the four buildings, but in practice none of my ideas really seemed to live up to the reality.

Correlation versus Causality © Harold Davis

This image consists of two photos. Both were taken from the center of Quattro Canti with my camera on the tripod, and both used my Nikkor 8-15mm fisheye lens. The outer image was made with the lens set to 15mm, so it is categorized as a rectangular fisheye. The inner image, which is repeated twice at different sizes, was photographed at 8mm, so it is a circular fisheye image. And, yes, LAB color inversions were used to create the final.

Regarding my title, Correlation versus Causality, I am mindful of a story about Picasso. Apparently, he hated giving his paintings titles, and thought they should speak for themselves. Sometimes his dealers forced him to come up with a title. He claimed to use the first thing that came to his mind, and enjoyed listening to critics hashing out the meanings of the titles he had given so heedlessly.

Posted in Photography

Door in Trapani

On my way into Trapani, a refugee from my hotel in Palermo, I pulled the car over to stop at a MacDonald’s on the outskirts of town to take advantage of their more-or-less public bathrooms. As those who are strangers in a strange land and at home abroad know, it is wise, as my Mom used to put it, to “Never miss a chance to p*ss”—and American chain stores tend to have the best readily available facilities.

Trapani is a dusty, mostly decaying seaport and provincial capital on the western end of Sicily. The population is about 70,000, with not much in the way of industry beyond fishing, canning the fish, and salt harvesting. It’s also an important ferry port, with routes to the Egadi Islands, Sardinia, Tunisia, Naples, and beyond. Tourism is of course also a significant revenue source, although tourists were not much in evidence in November despite the blue skies and wonderful, warm weather.

The city dates back to antiquity, when it was established by the Greeks as the port for nearby Erice, which perches on a mountain above Trapani (more on Erice in a future story). The Carthaginians conquered Trapani, and then were forced to cede it to the Romans in 241 BC, following the First Punic War. Succeeding rulers included Vandals, Ostrogoths, Byzantium, Arabs, and the Normans; the city flourished under the Normans as one of the primary Mediterranean ports used by the crusades.

In modern times, the elegant buildings along the vast, sickle-shaped harbor fell into various states of disrepair. I parked my car in the central town square, and enjoyed the long walk out to the end of the fortified jetty along the seafront esplanade, through back alleys, narrow winding labyrinthine streets, and elegant interior streets, many closed to vehicular traffic.

Via Garibaldi 71, Trapani © Harold Davis

Many of the buildings in Trapani are designed around an interior courtyard that is barely seen from outside. The entrances to this interior space can be formal, and grand, as the intricately detailed door shown in the accompanying photo. This image reminds me of an entrance to a secret garden: the magic that is inside is unknown, and perhaps in some sense unknowable.

Related story: Palazzo Berardi Ferro, Trapani.

Posted in Italy, Photography

Patterns in Paris

The common theme in these three monochromatic images taken in Paris is that they are about patterns—as seen in three dimensional architectural objects, but reduced to two apparent planes. And also where the patterns end, and where they do not extend.

Musee Picasso © Harold Davis

The image in the courtyard of the palace that houses the Musee Picasso (above) contrasts the regular patterns of windows in the background with the odd shape of the white ball thing in the foreground. Actually, there’s no way to know the scale of the white ball, which is interesting. Photography can render size as an illusion.

Below, the glorification-of-war frieze can be found in the Place Vendome on the very three dimensional Colonne Vendome—a sort of obelisk thing clad in cast-metal, three dimensions attempting to be two dimensions.

The Clash © Harold Davis

Finally, the spectacular colonnade that encompasses the Catholic church of the Madeleine (below) is inherently patterned, and three dimensional. But amid the op-art effect of the recession of the pillars, would you visually understand the three dimensional nature of the scene without the break in the pattern on the upper right? 

Madeleine © Harold Davis

Posted in Monochrome, Paris, Patterns, Photography

Greetings from a peripatetic photographer and writer!

I’ve just returned from a voyage to Paris, then leading a group in Malta, followed by a week exploring Sicily. Prior to this, in October I was on a road trip up the California and Oregon coast. In September, I was photographing in the rugged land east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Over the summer I was in Maine, New York, and Germany. The spring found me first in the southwest of France, then hiking along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, and finally in the Balearic Islands.

If you are interested in the images from these travels of mine, I urge you to take a look at my blog. Words do matter to me, and many times the words in my blog tell the stories behind the photo, or at least my thinking making the photo. For your reference, here’s the Paris category on my blog, the Malta category, the first story from the coastal Oregon trip, and the story that marks the start of my Camino. My Flickr stream and Instagram feed have more images than could possibly be on my blog, and these photos may help to fill in some of the backstory.

For personal, familial, creative, and artistic reasons I am contemplating a future with less in the way of in-person workshops that I lead. On this good news and bad news paradigm, I still will be teaching via my books, video courses such as my Photoshop Backgrounds and Textures, and on this website. I have book revisions scheduled for the coming year, along with new books, and a new video course planned for early in the year. 

Poem of the Road © Harold Davis

Lonely Road © Harold Davis

It’s not easy to change course on a dime, and this will be a busy workshop year for me as well. For a long time, folks have been asking me to lead a workshop in Florida. I am finally doing so in February, at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre, with the topic being Garden and Flower Photography

In April, I am looking forward very much to once again to leading a destination travel workshop to Paris and Monet’s gardens at Giverny. If this intrigues you, this small group of photographers is edging towards completeness, so it might be a good time to sign up, particularly if you are interested in gifting yourself and/or a loved one with a lavish photographic Christmas present.

June brings once again our annual Photographing Flowers for Transparency master workshop, held here in Berkeley, California (a few spaces are still open).

In October 2019, I am planning to be the photographic “Golf Pro” on a destination photo workshop to one of my favorite parts of the world, Northern Morocco, with logistics spearheaded by a major travel organization.

I like to quote Yogi Berra’s witticism that “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” But of course we all make these predictions (and plans) regardless. As I look ahead at the new year, and contemplate both the needs of my family and how best to nurture my own artistic creativity, I do feel that cutting back on in-person teaching is almost certainly a step I need to take, at least for a while. 

The implication of course is that if you’d like a hands-on workshop with me, or to travel with me, this would be the time. If not now, when? Click here for my Workshops & Events page with the 2019 listings.

Bridge of Light – Color Version © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography, Writing

The Maltese Falcon

So which one is jewel-encrusted? I seriously want to know which statue is “the” Maltese Falcon, the stuff (as Bogart puts it in the movie) that dreams are made of. Could they all be The Maltese Falcon? 

The Maltese Falcon © Harold Davis

Posted in Malta

Badlands Composition and Print

The badlands in this image are along the middle fork of the Kings River, photographed from a higher elevation. The point of this fairly abstract monochromatic composition is the contrast between the jagged shadows on the right and the comparable ridges in the folds of the mountainous land on the left.

Badlands © Harold Davis

I made my print of Badlands (sold thanks to Weston Gallery) on the wonderful, thick Moab Juniper Baryta Rag (it has the sensuous smell of a print from the chemical darkroom, and brings back those days in a Proustian sense when I give my print a sniff!).

Posted in Photography

Understanding Exposure 101

By popular request, I’ve posted the informational slides from my Getting Your Camera Off Auto presentation in a new slideshow FAQ, Understanding Exposure 101.

What is an Exposure?

Posted in Photography, Writing

Pano of the Sierra Crest Print “curing”

I just made this large panoramic print of the High Sierra Crest on commission via Weston Gallery on Moab Paper Juniper Baryta Rag! The print is shown here curing, with our printer in the background.

Pano of the Sierra Crest Print “curing” © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography

Garden and Flower Photography Workshop at Palm Beach Photographic Centre

I’ve had many requests for a Florida-based workshop, and I’m happy to say that this indeed will be happening! Please note that the workshop size and places are limited.

I’ll be leading a Garden and Flower Photography Workshop at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre in West Palm Beach, Florida. The dates of the workshop are February 8-10, 2019. Click here for more information and registration.

Workshop description: This workshop combines field sessions to practice garden and flower photography with classroom and studio instruction in photographic and post-production techniques.

Giverny © Harold Davis

Classroom and studio sessions will focus on specific areas of technique, including macro photography, focus stacking, and lightbox work.Field sessions will include a number of different kinds of gardens and a variety of flower photographic situations. Emphasis will be on supporting each participant in achieving an individual approach to floral, botanical, and landscape garden photography.


Post-production will be shown in the context of utilizing an individual workflow customized to each participant, as well as best practices in Photoshop and color management.

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

Along the way, we’ll examine the theory, philosophy, and practice of garden design in the context of photography, as well as working with individual participants to develop a cohesive and personal body of work.


Harold Davis is a bestselling author of books including Photographing Flowers (Focal Press), the developer of a unique technique for photographing flowers for transparency, a Moab Master, and a Zeiss Ambassador. He is an internationally known photographer and a sought-after workshop leader.

Harold is a popular workshop leader and has taught at institutions including the Center for Photographic Art, Maine Media Workshops and College and Point Reyes Field Seminars.

He has been called an “amazing teacher” whose workshops are “inspiring.” As one workshop participant noted, “Harold Davis is that rare master photographer who can both do, and teach.”

Click here for more information and registration.

Flowers of Spring’s Desire © Harold Davis

Posted in Workshops

Coming Home

On my way home from Palermo to San Francisco, I’ve had to change planes a couple of times, and am overnighting at Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) near Paris.

Travel is nice, but coming home is even better! I am looking forward very much to seeing Phyllis and the kids.

At CDG, I am staying at the Sheraton. This hotel is really a fun place to stay, and is an integral part of the airport, you walk here from the arrivals and to the departures area without going outdoors, and it is surrounded by runways and airport access roads. The sound proofing is perfect, and I can’t hear a whisper from all the activity out my windows.

Atrium, Sheraton Hotel at CDG © Harold Davis

The design of the hotel is shaped like a ship with a prow, or (more aptly) an airplane. The internal atrium has a glass floor, and I was surprised to note that you could see down with a view through a transparent ceiling (the floor of part of the atrium) into the train platforms for the RER into Paris.

The Sheraton at CDG is a fun place to stay, and reminds me a little of staying at the Tokyo Railway Station Hotel, as I did a few years back (particularly in the way you see all the little people scurrying like ants so far below!). But I also have a sense that this place was designed for the future, as the French powers-that-be envisioned the future 25 years ago. They got some things right, and some things wrong (they certainly didn’t envision needing outlets for charging multiple mobile devices)—and altogether the effect is somehow a bit quaint and endearing, as if Jules Verne had designed a hotel as a stationary twentieth century flying ship!

Posted in Photography