Monthly Archives: May 2007

Why Take a Workshop?

Why should you take a photography workshop? One answer is that you’ll learn something specific. For example, if you take my workshop Digital Workflow: From the Field to Flickr (I’ll be giving it next at the Santa Fe Workshops from July 7-14) you’ll learn a great deal about shooting digital under field conditions, and come away from my workshop with a personalized digitial workflow.

Golden Gate at Night, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger. Read more about this image.

But in some ways the specific topic of a photography workshop is a red herring, or as Alfred Hitchcock called the apparent storyline of his films, a MacGuffin. Hitchcock’s MacGuffin is a plot device that advances the story, but otherwise has little relevance to the story. The nominal topic of a good photography workshop performs the same role as a MacGuffin in a movie. Think of the statue of the bird in The Maltese Falcon. Without the statue, there would be no story, but other than the statue’s value it has no lasting importance to the story.

For me, photography is life and life is photography. You can’t separate who you are from the photos you make. Every good photo shows something of the spirit and soul of its creator. It may seem obvious, but you should look for a workshop led by a photographer whose work speaks to you. Craft is important, but digital photography goes way beyond craft. You can see some of my work on my blog.

My workshop Digital Workflow: From the Field to Flickr explains aspects of the technical craft of digital photography in the context of my work. But my workshops are not about me as much as it is about you. The single most important aspect of any workshop is to help facilitate the creation of a community of photographers. Technique without soul and vision is nothing. My real goal in giving a workshop is to help each participant understand what photography means in their own life. In my workshops, we explore digital photography together as a journey, not a destination, and accept a happy, busy, creative, and fun time together as a quest. This is a visual, philosophic, and sentimental quest. The results may not be what you expect, but I can guarantee adventures along the way.

Posted in Photography

Setting Moon

The crescent moon was setting. With the camera open for four minutes, I watched the moon disappear behind the black line of hills. My exposure caught the descending moon and turned it into an apparent cylinder of light.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Night at Point Reyes Lighthouse

This is an image captured at the Point Reyes lighthouse well into night, although the sunset appears to linger in the Western sky. Park Ranger Craig Morgan leads night tours down to the lighthouse the first and third Saturday of each month (provided the wind speed is less than 40mph). If you get the chance it’s really worth signing up for this unique experience.

Craig was kind enough to leave the light on, facing the land side of the lighthouse for me to photograph. This is the old, mechanical lighthouse (here’s a peek at the inside from an earlier visit of mine), not the automated light that is used for real.

I exposed the photo for five minutes. You can see the trail this time exposure made with the stars in the sky. You can also see Craig’s flashlight,motion of light captures as though it were solid, along the railing as he came up the stairs to stand by me as I took the photo.

Related stories: Point Reyes Lighthouse at Sunset; Distant Shore; Mountains on the Beach.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Point Reyes Lighthouse at Sunset

They built the Point Reyes lighthouse down three hundred steps so that it would often be below the fog bank.

How nice to be there to photograph the lighthouse and stairway at sunset, after most visitors have already left.

Related stories: Distant Shore; Mountains on the Beach.

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes


I realize that I haven’t blogged this photo composite made by combining photographs of the front and back of Nautilus shells, along with a photo of a Nautilus cross-section.

I placed each of the three photos on a Photoshop layer, carefully positioned the objects in relationship to each other on their separate layers, then blended the three layers together to make the final composite.

Related story: Nautilus on Black.

Posted in Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Marin Night

This is a time exposure straight into full night. The photo was taken from a little hillock beside the Panaromic Highway facing the hills of Marin Headlands and looking back towards San Francisco. The sliver moon had just set, and it was really pretty dark. I had the camera with a fully open lens, and exposed for five minutes.

The glow in the sky doesn’t come from the setting sun (the sun would have to set in the southeast!). This is ambient light from San Francisco.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Photographing Water Drops

Why am I so interested in photographing water drops? What are the special challenges and techniques associated with photographing water drops? Do different water drops have different characteristics (in other words, is there a taxonomy of water drops from a photographer’s perspective)?

Orchid Water Drop, photo by Harold Davis. View this photograph larger. Read more about this image.

Leaving the technicalities of water drop photography aside for a second, water drops interest me because they are, as poet William Blake put it, a world in a grain of sand. Each water drop seems like a complete world, or universe, to me with its unique colors, reflections, and refractions. These worlds are ethereal and ephemeral, meaning they are fragile, ghostly, almost like magical parallel universes.

Technically, water drop photography is macro photography with some subject-matter specific difficulties. Macro photography in and of itself is one of the most technically difficult kinds of photography because once you get really close to a small object, inherently shallow depth-of-field, precise focus, and motion—even the slightest motion—are all issues that can defeat a photograph, no matter how beautiful it would be otherwise.

What makes water drop photography a bit more difficult than run-of-the-mill photography of very small subjects is the extreme reflectivity of a water drop and the fact that a water drop is in almost constant motion.

There are some techniques you can use to help abate the motion problem. For example, the photograph at the top of this story was taken using a macro flash. Here’s a story I wrote about using flash to enhance water drop photography. Under the right conditions, using flash to light water drops can both stop the motion of the water drop and also provide sufficient depth-of-field.

As with photographing flowers in the field, one can use a special clamp to hold down the plant or branch that “hosts” the water drop. Here’s more information about using clamps to control the motion of a water drop so one can make a long exposure.

Once your lens is really close to a water drop, you may as well realize that your depth-of-field is going to be shallow, even with the lens stopped down as far as it will go. The only remedy for this is precision. Precision about focus, about placing the camera focal plane parallel to the subject, and about composition. You may find that a magnifying eye piece attachment helps with this.

Here’s where the precision of composition comes in. If you recognize that even at f/64 there will not be all the depth-of-field you might like, then you need to focus on the key elements of the composition, hopefully towards the center of the image front-to-back. For example, in the photo of water drops on an ice plant below I focused on a water drop very much in the mid-zone of depth.

Nature’s Harp, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger. Read more about this image.

Yes, Virginia, there is a taxonomy of water drops. Water drops from irrigation have very different characteristics from water drops generated by a spray bottle or in the studio. And water drops that are genuinely from rain are best of all. Of course, it is really rare to get water drops from rain in the sunshine. Because even if it rains and then is sunny, water drops will then evaporate very quickly. So if you are interested in photographing water drops, and there comes a day of rain followed by sunshine, get out there with your tripod and macro gear. Particularly if the day is without wind.

Once you spend some real time looking closely at water drops, you’ll be able to distinguish rain drops from “artificial” water drops. For example, the photo below shows a classical “real” water drop on an echinacea flower in my garden.

Echinacea Water Drop, photo by Harold Davis. View this photograph larger. Read more about this image.

To learn more: Water Drops category on Photoblog 2.0, Water Drop Photograph Techniques.

Posted in Photography, Water Drops

Distant Shore

I was out on Point Reyes to photograph sunset and evening at the Point Reyes Lighthouse. It’s about half a mile walk from the parking lot to the stairs that lead down to the lighthouse, the most Western spot of land in continental North America.

As I wandered around this spit of land before Park Ranger Craig Morgan opened the tour, I looked back. I might as well have been out to sea. In the furious wind, the waves crashed on the distant shore, the great beach of Point Reyes in the light of the setting sun.

Related stories: Mountains on the Beach; South Beach at Sunset; Point Reyes Lighthouse; I Spy a Lighthouse; South Beach; Waves on the Shore; White Fence, White Waves.

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Mountains on the Beach

Looking at the patterns of water on the great beach at Point Reyes, I was reminded of a Chinese landscape painting of mountains.

Here’s a broader view of the surf and water patterns on the beach (the photo above is a cropped and rotated portion of the photo below):

Mountains on the Beach 2

View this image larger.

Related story: Mountains of the Mind; Point Reyes category on Photoblog 2.0.

Posted in Bemusements, Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Approaching the Bridge

This was the first exposure I took looking back at the Golden Gate Bridge from the Coastal Trail. I was standing in near darkness, to the north of the approach to the bridge.

I exposed the image for thirty seconds, and when I looked at it large on my computer I was pleased to see the way the airplane trail in the sky seems to echo the curve of the road with its trail of car lights.

Related stories: Golden Gate at Night; Two Towers; S-Curve; Gerbode Valley.

Posted in Digital Night, Photography, San Francisco Area

Two Towers

This is a twenty second time exposure of the south tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can see the communications tower on Twin Peaks behind and to the left of the Golden Gate tower.

Taken with a telephoto lens (the 150mm focal length I used translates to 225mm in 35mm terms), the hilly terrain of San Francisco appears compressed.

I was positioned a couple of miles up the Coastal Trail, looking back at the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge tower is framed by the ridges of the Marin Headlands.

Related stories: Gerbode Valley; S-Curve.

Posted in Digital Night, Photography, San Francisco Area

White Anemone

I realize I never blogged this white anemone from about eight months ago. So here it is. White. Simple.

Posted in Flowers, Photograms, Photography

Digital Darkness

OK, let’s start with two questions. Would you think the photo above was taken into almost complete night? And why would someone go to a great deal of trouble to hike out into the wilds somewhere, mount their camera on a tripod, and take a long time exposure into total darkness?

The answer to the first question is, “Yes, the sun was long down, and if it wasn’t quite pitch-black night, it was certainly hard-to-see gray twilight darkness.” And I think this answer to the first question also answers the second, explaining why night photography has become one of my new passions. Digital photography just does not render the scene after dark in the way we see it (or in the way film did), and some of the effects are startlingly interesting.

Still not convinced? Here’s another photograph, exposed for five minutes in the night of Yosemite Valley:

Night in Yosemite

View this image larger. Read more about this image.

Supposing that I can convince you to join me in my newfound love of photographing the dark, there are some things you should keep in mind. Darkness is not light, and it is hard to see in the dark. You should take simple safetyprecautions like bringing a good light source, dressing warmly, and letting someone responsible know where you are going.

A good tripod is a must for night photography.

Night exposures are a matter of trial and error. These exposures take guess work and experience is what it is, which is part of what makes this so much fun, because it is challenging. The good news, of course, with a digital camera is that you can get immediate feedback on your photo, although with my Nikon D200 processing these long exposure images takes about half as long as the exposure itself (and you won’t see th eimage on the LCD until it has been processed).

If you have a scene that is lit by bright starlight, try ISO 100 at 90 seconds and somewhere between f/4 and f/11 for a first exposure.

Make sure your camera is set to process the noise from a long exposure, if this setting is on one of the menus.

What also helps is taking exposures as the light fades, that way you’ll already be in the right ballpark.

You’ll want a remote cable that is programmable, so you can set it for a long Bulb exposure without having to hold the shutter button down. (Here’s some info about working with the Nikon remote MC-36 cable.)

If you want to learn more, have a look at On Night Photography.

Posted in Digital Night, Photography

Happy Mother’s Day

I’m not sure how much rest Phyllis got covered in two of our boys, but she had a smile on her face anyhow.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Posted in Kids, Photography

Slacker Ridge

This is a three minute time exposure with the lens wide open. Mostly I was photographing the fog and Golden Gate bridge, but for this exposure I turned my camera around on the tripod and pointed it northwest towards the summit of the Slacker Ridge. The ambient light from the bridge and San Francisco is illuminating the brown grass leading up to the ridge, and providing the glow in the sky towards the right (eastwards, towards the Bay) of the photo.

This steep hill sits in the Marin Headlands overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. Based on the signs I saw, I think Slacker Ridge is home to a mountain lion, lonely lord on the border of city and wild.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area