Monthly Archives: July 2008

My Brilliant Butterfly

My Brilliant Butterfly

My Brilliant Butterfly, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: this Photoshop composite combines a flatbed scan with a number of camera captures on a lightbox. In Photoshop, I inverted the image to get the black background, and played with layers, layer masking, blending modes, and channel operations.

Some of the brighter stained-glass effects were created by combining slightly off-register layers using Difference blending mode. You never know what will happen until you try!

In a case of creating lemonade when you are dealt lemons, by mistake I shot the lightbox images at a high ISO. (I hadn’t reset the camera from photographing Katie Rose in the NICU.) I processed the high ISO captures for noise reduction and extreme smoothness, which partly explains the painterly effect you see.

[Composite image derived from Epson flatbed scanner and three Nikon D300 captures, one at 1 second, one at 1/4 of a second, and one at 1/15 of a second. All three captures: Zeiss Macro 100mm f/2 ZF Makro-Planar T* Manual Focus Lens (150mm in 35mm terms), f/22 and ISO 2,500, tripod mounted.]

Some of my other butterflies:


Butterfly 2

Used here on a book cover in the Ringing Cedars series:

Co-creation cover

Posted in Bemusements, Photograms, Photography

Book Review: Understanding Shutter Speed

Understanding Shutter Speed When I first looked at Understanding Shutter Speed by Bryan Peterson on Amazon I wondered how shutter speed, only one of the components of an exposure, made up a book. In fact, there are some organizational problems that are caused by choosing this particular slice as a wedge into the topic of photography. A good editor might well have wondered what the final chapter on “Composition” is doing at all in this particular book.

The great strength here is idea generation. It’s hard not to look at the illustrations in this book and say, “Hey why don’t I try that?” The caption information is explicit enough so that you can recreate the ideas shown for yourself, or use them as a jumping off point. As an idea book, Understanding Shutter Speed is well worth its price.

Personally, I find the text (as opposed to the photos and photo captions) problematic. Peterson seems out of his depth when it comes to digital. He really seems to think that from a noise viewpoint you are better off underexposing by two stops and adjusting in RAW as opposed to boosting the ISO and exposing properly (he’s wrong). His discussion of ISO using a metaphor of hundreds of carpenters struck me as simply silly and without much point.

Even if this kind of vague metaphor is your cup of tea, Peterson misses the whole arena of creative shutter speed fun that is possible with Photoshop and Camera RAW. (As an example, consider this flower photo that combines petals in slow circular motion with fixed interiors.)

This book is an intellectual muddle, and does not cover the creative possibilities of digital (as opposed to film photography). I realize that the deficits of this book sound quite serious (and they are). But leaving the intellectual muddle out of it, and sticking to pre-digital era photography, this is a book you’ll want to own as an absolutely glorious idea generator.

Posted in Book Reviews

Feeding Katie Rose

Katie and Bottle

Katie and Bottle, photo by Harold Davis.

Katie Rose is sneaking up on five pounds. She is doing so well. A couple of days ago, on her first try, she “got” bottle feeding. She still needs to get most of her calories from her stomach tube, but this will change over time.

Burping Katie

When Phyllis comes to visit the NICU these days, first there’s a bit of breast feeding, then Katie gets a bottle. With stops along the way for burping, and micro naps for Katie Rose so she has the strength to keep feeding. With wonderful baby grunting and burbling noises as Katie Rose progresses.

Katie's Micro Nap

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids, Photography

Gaillardia in Flight

Gaillardia in Flight

Gaillardia in Flight, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Gaillardia in flight…afternoon delight. Well, I did take the images in this composite in the afternoon, and Gaillardia is a delight, but there was no flight, except maybe of fancy. The flowers were quite still on a recent quiet afternoon.

My idea here was to create a a blur effect with layer-masked areas of sharpness (mostly the centers of the flower) appearing through the blur. I created the underlying image of the static flower using three exposures to control the dynamic range involved (see technical data for details). To create the motion effect, I loosened the pan rotation knob on my tripod, and let the camera gently swing.

In Photoshop, I placed the static version of the flowers on top, being careful to align the flower centers. Then I added a Hide All layer mask. I carefully “painted in” the sharp areas I wanted, using a large and “soft” white paintbrush on the black layer mask.

[Each image: Nikon D300, Zeiss Macro 100mm f/2 ZF Makro-Planar T* Manual Focus Lens, f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted. Three exposures composited into the still view of flowers (see text) at exposures from 1/6 of a second to 1 second. Motion exposure at one second (see text).]

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Software Review: Fluid Mask 3

When you use Photoshop, nothing is more important than the ability to make selections. As a simple example, when you want to make a composite by moving a person from one background onto another, you need a way to select the person—in other words, to tell Photoshop which pixels you want to move. Besides this kind of large-scale selection, selection is used on a much smaller scale in Photoshop to control the areas you want to change in an image, and for a variety of other reasons.

Since you need to be able to select in Photoshop, Photoshop provides a number of nifty selection tools. These include a Magic Wand Tool, and the ability to select on the basis of color range. But it is a sad fact of life for Photoshop addicts like me that we spend much of our life on time consuming and tedious hand selections. The task is made even more difficult by the issue of edge treatment. The edges of a selection should usually be blended using a gradient effect, or your selection will appear jagged and unnatural.

It’s not intuitively obvious, but making a selection in Photoshop is logically equivalent to creating a layer mask. Both selections and layer masks are stored as grayscale information. If you have a selection, you can convert it to a layer mask (I’ll explain how in the course of this review); going the other way, it’s easy to convert a layer mask to a selection (by applying the layer mask). For the real technophiles among my readers (I was almost going to say “alpha geeks” but restrained myself), a layer mask is the same thing as an alpha channel. Hmmm! Selection = Layer Mask = Alpha Channel.

My preference is to work with layers and layer masks because this is a more flexible option than working with a selection cut out on a single layer. But to get the layer mask I need, I often have to start with a complex and time consuming selection.

With this background in mind, I tried out Fluid Mask, a Photoshop plugin (it also runs in standalone mode) from Vertus that is supposed to ease the pain of selecting. Read on for an overview of how the software works, and for my evaluation.

Gaillardia on Black

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The flower you see above on black, a Gaillardia, was originally on a busy green background (because I photographed it in my cramped side garden). The original image following RAW processing is shown below with the background I wanted to replace.

As a first try with Fluid Mask, I decided to try selecting the flower to cut it out and put it on a black background. But before I show you how this worked, I need to make a disclosure. Disclosure: Vertus provided me with the Fluid Mask software for free, as well as some complimentary individual training (but see the note below about the availablity of free online training for anyone).

Once Fluid Mask has been installed, you’ll find it as a menu item on the Photoshop Filters menu (at the bottom of the menu items, along with any other third-party plugins you may have installed). With an image open in Photoshop, when you fire up Fluid Mask, Photoshop temporarily closes (“to save resources”) and the Fluid Mask window shown below opens. Note: As a matter of general Photoshop practice I’d advise creating a duplicate layer before invoking Fluid Mask.

Fluid Mask drew blue lines on this image, indicating the edges that its automated analysis found. (You may need to look closely at the screen capture to see these lines.) The basic Fluid Mask idea is to draw on your image using three different colored brushes. Green means that you are keeping the area, red means that you are throwing the area away, and blue is used for an edge that needs to be treated specially. Here’s how this might look on a corner of the Gaillardia image:

So, this was my first solo flight with Fluid Mask, and I didn’t get everything quite right. While the Gaillardia is really a pretty easy selection problem, to do a good job using the normal Photoshop tools would have taken me an hour or two. In Fluid Mask, it was about five minutes. But I did cut too much out of the flower interior by mistake, as you can see by comparing this cut out with the original or final versions:

When I applied and saved my work, Photoshop opened back up, and I was able to quickly fix my botch. I converted my selection to an alpha channel (layer mask) by clicking in the thumbnail in the Layers palette with the Apple key held down (Option key in Windows), and then clicking the little alpha channel icon on the bottom of the pallette (third from left, you can see this in the capture below). Then I added a black layer between my original flower and its masked duplicate. A reveal-all layer mask on the black layer allowed me to “paint-in” the few small areas from my original that I had missed in Fluid Mask. All this took about two minutes.

Bottom Line
I recommend this product. I expect to use it every time I have a reasonably complex masking or selection challenge, and I’m sure that I’ll become a more skilled user over time. For me, owning this product is a no-brainer. (o:

Pros: Greatly speeds selecting and leads to better quality selection.

Cons: Complicated to learn, without an adequate manual. The good news: online interactive tutorials are available free five days a week.

Product details: Downloads from Vertus cost $239 (in the US) for either Windows or the Mac.

Posted in Photoshop Techniques, Software Reviews

Vanishing Point

Like World without End, my image of endless doors, I shot the base photo for this image at Fort Point in San Francisco. In the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge, Fort Point is one of the oldest examples of military architecture in California. The brick vaults shown here were likely built when California was part of Mexico, and were contested during the war of independence that made California a republic.

Vanishing Point

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The Photoshop technique I used here is to create larger and small versions of the original, and layer them together to make the arches appear to go on forever (you probably need to view the image larger to see this). To enhance the illusion I created, I selectively sharpened the arches in the distance more than the closer arches. Ideally, this image should be viewed as a very large print to get the full effect.

Is there really a vanishing point?

[Photoshop composite at four magnifications. Original image created using five exposures at durations from 1/2 a second to 15 seconds, each capture using a Nikon D300 with a 12-24mm Zoom lens at 14mm (21mm in 35mm terms), at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Mathew’s Fourth Birthday

Mathew at Step One

Mathew at Step One, photo by Harold Davis.

Yesterday was Mathew’s fourth birthday. Despite the stress of Katie Rose’s birth, not to mention our commutes back and forth to the NICU in San Francisco, we want to be sure that the other kids don’t feel forgotten. So we did many of the normal birthday things with Mathew, but in a lower key.

This photo shows Mathew upside down (I flipped the photo after the fact):

Mathew Upside Down

Mathew had three birthday parties, two at Step One, his pre-school. I took these photos at one of the Step One parties.

Mathew Happy

Then we had a small party at home with just his brothers and his Grandpa Martin. There were presents and cake, of course, and we marked his height on the wall (he’s taller than his brothers were at his age).

Funny thing: Mathew and his brothers were happier at this small scale birthday event than I’ve seen them at larger extravaganzas. It was certainly easier on us.

Posted in Kids, Photography

Après Moo

Après Moo

Après Moo, photo by Harold Davis.

When we visited Katie Rose in the NICU today she was about to be fed using the gavage tube directly to her stomach. Phyllis held Katie to her breast and let her suckle as the tube-and-pump did their thing.

This was Katie’s first time at the breast, and she did it like a champ. (My alternate title for this story was “First Nibble.”)

But nibbling at her mom’s nipple took a great deal of energy, and après moo Katie Rose fell asleep.

Katie weighes 2,085 grams, or about 4 1/2 pounds. She’s doing great, or as one of the nurses said today, the “perfect preemie.” Her head compares in size in the photo above with her mom’s hands, which may not seem that big compared to a full-term newborn babe’s head, but is big indeed compared to her 840 gram start.

Go, Katie Rose, grow! There’s plenty more nibbling to come.

Briefly noted: Once again I found myself doing a digital manicure on Phyllis’s hands. I’m now begging her to get a real world (as opposed to virtual) manicure. This proves the point that there are many things photographers can do in Photoshop or in real life, the question is which is the most expedient. If Phyllis’s cuticles didn’t need retouching, then I wouldn’t have to do it over, and over, again.

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids, Photography

On My Way to Visit Katie Rose

Tuesday evening I gave a presentation to the Marin Photo Club about night photography, then drove into San Francisco to visit Katie Rose in the hospital. My drive took me across the Golden Gate Bridge, and I pulled off in the Presidio Bluffs area for a little night photography of my own.


View this image larger.

It’s easy to get to the Presidio Bluffs, just to the southwest of the Golden Gate Bridge on the San Francisco side. There’s some construction going on among the military ruins in the area, but as night locations go it doesn’t feel remote.

To get the views in this story, I followed a path to a stair up an old battery, and then climbed a ladder to the top. From there I had a straight shot at the bridge.

Compared to some of the places I shoot at night, this didn’t feel at all precarious. All the same, I was glad to have my headlamp with me.

This had been a hot day in the Bay area, so I almost didn’t carry my sweater with me. I’m glad I did, because fog rolled in through the Golden Gate, along with a chill wind off the ocean.

The fog hit the bridge, and diffused the light, creating the pools of light of different color temperatures in the atmosphere aroung the bridge.

Golden Gate Nocturn

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Mostly, these were short exposures in terms of some of the deep night images I make. I made two five minute captures, but the rest of the series were of shorter duration. I spent about an hour taking pictures, then my patience wore out, I packed up, and went off to hold my darling Katie Rose.

Briefly noted: The more distant view of the bridge is a composite of five exposures with 150X range (see the technical data below). I layered these different exposures to make a composite in Photoshop, with the bright light stars of the street lamps coming from the longest exposure. It’s interesting that the scene presented exposure values with such a wide dynamic range.

Related link: 100 Views of the Golden Gate.

[Both images: Nikon D300, 70-200mm VR zoom lens, tripod mounted. Far above: TC-20E 2X teleconverter for an effective focal length of 380mm (570mm in 35mm terms), 10 seconds at f/11 and ISO 100. Immediately above: 90mm (135mm in 35mm terms), five exposures at time durations from 300 seconds (5 minutes) to 2 seconds, f/22 and ISO 100.]

Posted in Digital Night, Photography, San Francisco Area

Book Review: Welcome to Oz

Welcome to Oz Vincent Versace’s Welcome To Oz is quite possibly the most innovative and best digital photography title I’ve ever come across (excluding my own books, of course!).

Versace is a superb photographer. So this is not one of those digital photography books that is written by a Photoshop guru without the creative gifts and guts to make images. But it is still largely a Photoshop book.

Versace’s subtitle tells the story of his book: "A Cinematic Approach to Digital Still Photography with Photoshop". After reading this book, I felt better able to view photograph-making from the perspective of what would happen to the photo in the computer as well as in the camera. And, as I said, the images are splendid (and the step-by step accounts of how they were created very thorough).

If I have one caveat here, it is that Versace provides versions of his original images, and encourages readers to duplicate his work on these samples. Personally, I prefer to try things out on my own images, and I enourage readers and students to process their own work. Otherwise, the whole thing becomes a slavish imitation of a master rather than an original creative endeavor. But that’s a quibble, this is a really good book.

Briefly noted: In the original version of this review, I said that Versace provided low resolution copies of the images in the book. This statement was wrong. I have corrected that statement to read simply “versions” based on an email from the author: I provide full resolution 16 bit and 8 bit Tiff files to work on. What I also provide in low resolution (100PPI) is a copy of the actual PSD that I created when I wrote each of the chapters. I do that so you can see what I did actually looks like. My thought was to gt the reader follow along with me on the image(s) in the lesson so the reader can get the technique down, having the 100ppi file to compare to with the full res file to work on so they can feel the “pain” of moving big files. The thought being that the reader will learn the keyboard shortcuts and apply it to there own work. I agree with you the last thing I want is someone xeroxing my work. Last thing the world needs is another one of me.

In my review, the point really wasn’t the resolution, it was providing the files. I don’t like this, and I don’t do it. But this is truly a matter of taste, and undoubtedly there will be many readers who appreciate it. I’ll give Vincent Versace the last word on the topic:

Another reason I give files out was a lesson I learned from my Uncle, he had me spot all of his prints and work on his negs before I worked on mine.What I learned was, what is a good negative, jump started my composition and the importance of a “clean” negative. I figured if I let the readers play with properly exposed, well composed files it will rub off in their work.

Posted in Book Reviews, Photography

Zeiss 100mm f/2 Macro Lens

Gaillardia, Papaver, and Iris

Gaillardia, Papaver, and Iris, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: I bought a Zeiss Macro 100mm f/2 ZF Makro-Planar T* Manual Focus Lens to use with my Nikon D300 and experimented with some flowers. This is a remarkable lens with its precise focus, brilliant color rendering, and delicious bokeh.

Not, however, for the faint of heart. It’s heavy, expensive, and completely manual. Even thinking of auto-focusing this grand piece of glass would be sacrilege. The lens is made by Zeiss in Japan, but the documentation explains that the optical technology was developed for the movie industry.

To get exposure settings to work on the D300 in Aperture-preferred or Manual mode (forget about fully Programmed automatic), you need to create a non-CPU lens listing with the focal length and aperture of the lens. You can enter this info using the Non-CPU Lens Data item on the Tools menu of the camera. If you have multiple non-CPU lenses that you use, you can program the Function button (not normally used for much else) to allow you to use the Command Dial to switch between your non-CPU lenses. In other words, if you don’t tell the camera about the lens, it doesn’t know anything about it (unlike the lenses from Nikon and other 3rd party vendors that speak directly to the camera-that-is-a-computer).

Unbearable Lightness of Iris

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Do Flowers Dream?

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[Each image: Nikon D300, Zeiss Macro 100mm f/2 ZF Makro-Planar T* Manual Focus Lens, four combined exposures from 1/2 of a second to 2 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted. Bottom image is inverted to create the black background and post-processed in Photoshop.]

Posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Photography

Katie in a Basinette

Katie's Family

Katie’s Family, photo by Harold Davis.

Katie Rose is out of her isolette and into a basinette. This is a very big step for Katie, and one that is appropriate for Independence Day weekend.

Katie is still connected to an oxygen supply, and being fed using a gavage tube and pump. There are still monitors attached to her. But she seems happy to be “out in the world” without a barrier, and it is easier to relate to her as a (small) newborn baby.

Oh yes, another milestone: Katie passed four pounds.

All three brothers (and Phyllis and Katie) shown above; Julian and Katie spending some quality time with each other below.

Katie & Julian

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids, Photography



Thumb, photo by Harold Davis.

Katie Rose has found her thumb. Not always, not always easily, but when she does find her thumb it seems to bring her great peace and joy.

Katie at Peace

Katie is closing in on four pounds, she is getting to be a “big girl.” At 32 weeks gestationally (the age she would have been if Phyllis were still pregnant with her) her sucking reflex is coming in. Sweet!

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids, Photography

100 Views of the Golden Gate

Here’s the copy from the publisher’s to-the-book-trade postcard advertising my new book, 100 Views of the Golden Gate.

The Golden Gate as you’ve never seen it before…Now available, 100 Views of the Golden Gate by Harold Davis from Wilderness Press.


With a bow to the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) whose woodblock series 100 Views of Mt. Fuji celebrates Japan’s iconic mountain, Bay Area native Harold Davis has created a collection of over 100 striking digital photographs of the Golden Gate—the strait that connects the San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean and the Bridge itself—as well as back stories for each photo.

Author of several photography books, Harold Davis is a frequent speaker on digital techniques at Bay Area venues, ranging from Book Passage to MacWorld.

100 Views of the Golden Gate by Harold Davis: $30 * 1st edition * hardcover * full-color * 176 pages * 9 1/2 X 10 * ISBN 978-0-89997-447-7

Posted in San Francisco Area, Writing

Art Is Where You Find It

Art Is Where You Find It

Art Is Where You Find It, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

We were getting the boys haircuts. At the hair cutting place I saw this mirror and reflections of bottles and the street. So I did the grab shot thing.

I’m not maintaining this photo is a piece of great art per se. But I do believe that if you want to take interesting photos you need to look with fresh eyes at the everyday things around you.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 200mm (300mm in 35mm terms), 1/125 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 400, hand held with vibration reduction turned on.]

Posted in Bemusements, Photography