Monthly Archives: September 2008

Hands across the Generations

Hands across the Generations

Hands across the Generations, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Katie Rose’s Grandma Barbara (Phyllis’s mom) has come to stay with us for a little while. We needed help with the kids over the weekend because I am going to be away leading a night photography workshop. Also, Phyllis will be having a minor medical procedure next week, and having Barbara here will let me focus on taking care of Phyllis. So, thanks Barbara!

Katie Rose seems to easily trust her Grandma Barbara, and fell asleep in her arms as I was taking this photo while Barbara softly sang traditional hymns. Katie Rose’s hands are much bigger now than they were in the photo below, but I still enjoy contrasting her new hands with hands that have lived a full life.

Hands, hands, hands: Hands, Hands.

Posted in Katie Rose, Photography

Cala Lily Flute

Cala Lily Flute

Cala Lily Flute, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: I’ve been experimenting with monochrome (black and white) images of flowers and shells. These images start in my camera as RGB RAW color files. Of course, I never convert to black and white in camera because this would lose valuable information. However, I do use the black and white conversion feature in my camera to help me pre-visualize the way the photo will look. It’s not always easy to focus on blacks, whites, and contrast in a color world, and using the black and white conversion feature in my camera, but canceling at the last minute, helps me do this.

Once I’ve imported the photo into Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop, I use the color information to get the photo to where I’d like it before applying black and white Adjustment layers. Usually, I employ multiple adjustment layers so I can control how specific areas of the photo are converted.

Nautilus in Black and White is one of my favorites so far.

[Nikon D300, Zeiss 100mm f/2.8 macro lens (read more about this lens), five exposures from 1/320 of a second to 1/13 of a second all at f/22 and ISO 500, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Flowers, Monochrome, Photography



Spin, photo by Harold Davis. View this photo larger.

This is a photo of one of the Ferris Wheels on the Santa Cruz boardwalk (the spinning Ferris Wheel is also shown here). I took the photo shortly before a security guard kicked me and my tripod out of the amusment park.

To create this photo, I used a polarizer (to saturate the colors) and a neutral density filter (to lengthen the exposure time). I like the way the evening ocean mist softens the edges of the spinning wheel.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR Zoom lens at 18mm (27mm in 35mm terms), circular polarizer plus 2X neutral density filter, 1.3 seconds at f/29 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Line Dance

Line Dance

Line Dance, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

From Sutro Heights Park in San Francisco, there’s a straight vista down Ocean Beach and the so-called Great Highway to the south past Golden Gate Park.

As dusk turned to night I stopped down my lens to create as long an exposure as possible. I love the effects that car lights make when it gets dark. Car lights in long exposures are almost as exciting and interesting as star trails

Here are some other images that use car lights in motion over time: Tioga Pass Road at Night, North Berkeley at Night, Ghosts of Mare Island, On My Way to Visit Katie Rose, Darkness Revealed, Golden Gate at Night, S-Curve, Cars.

[Nikon D300, 18-200 VR Zoom lens at 200mm (300mm in 35mm terms), 30 seconds at f/29 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Photography, San Francisco Area

Replacement Child

Replacement Child

Replacement Child, book cover design using a photo by Harold Davis.

This is the cover of The Replacement Child, a mystery by Christine Barber. The book is to be published by St. Martin’s Minotaur at the end of the month, and uses a photo of mine of the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge near Taos, New Mexico.

Here’s the photo that was used (below). As you can see, the image was flipped and otherwise manipulated (the publisher showed me a mockup and asked with courtesy whether this was okay before licensing the image).

Rio Grande Gorge Bridge

Check out my original story about the image.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography Tagged , , |

Mono Lake by Moon Light

Mono Lake by Moon Light

Mono Lake by Moon Light, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

In the small hours of the morning, at about 2AM, I stopped at a roadside overlook above Mono Lake and US 395. The bright, full moon was traversing the west above the High Sierra.

Using a smack dab, middle-of-the road exposure histogram (not often my practice), the moonlit scene looked almost as bright as day. You have to look closely to see the stars in the sky, and the only really strong visual cue that this is a night image are the lights of the lone car heading south on US 395.

Related images: Tioga Pass Road at Night, Country Road (both images show moving car lights in an otherwise empty landscape) ; Route 395 (view from the same vantage point during the day).

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm zoom lens at 12mm (18mm in 35mm terms), 85 seconds at f/4 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Avoiding the “Normal” Histogram

This is a photograph of Bodie Mercantile, the old general store in the ghost town of Bodie. In creating this image, I wanted to be very sure that I exposed the scene in such a way that it looked like night. In other words, if you open an exposure up enough, no matter how dim the lighting is, you risk coming up with a night scene that looks almost like day. (For example, in an image of the old Standard Mill at Bodie I intentionally created pseudo day during the night. Other than the star trails, it’s not obvious that it is a night shot.)

Bodie Mercantile

View this image larger.

If you are looking for night photos that pack punch and provide visual drama, how do you achieve this? It turns out that one answer is to avoid average exposures.

When you are having a baby average, or “normal,” is good (unlike the birth of Katie Rose). And getting a life back to “normal” is usually good. But when you are creating a photograph, why be normal? Normal is average. Normal is mediocre. Normal is what you get from programmed automatic modes on a digital camera (except in spot mode). Normal exposures won’t win you any “oohs” and “aaahs” even when your subjects are beautiful or interesting.

I’ve been thinking about normal exposures (and why I don’t do them, and you don’t want to do them) following a question in the Bodie workshop where I was a guest.

The question: “Why do you bunch your histograms up on the left?” This was a polite way of asking why I often underexpose my images. Since an exposure histogram is a graph of the distribution of exposure values in a photo, orthodox teaching is to aim for a middle-of-the-road histogram with a bell-shaped upward swoop in the center (which should not quite reach the top), trailing down on both the left and the right. Here’s the way the exposure histogram for the Bodie Mercantile photo looked, accepting the default settings in RAW conversions:

You’ll see this histogram is bunched on the left. There are hardly any lines on the right. In other words, you can tell from the distribution of exposure values that this photo is underexposed by conventional standards. (Worth noting: the histogram also sports a warning icon, as it did in camera, telling me I am a naughty boy in exposure terms.)

Middle of the road is middle of the road: it is not particularly striking or interesting. Underexposure, as denoted with left-boased histograms, lets me bring out colors in an image as a build it up by boosting exposure values in the conversion process.

It’s not just this photo. Generally, if you looked at my exposure histograms, you’d find almost no orthodox middle-of-the-road bell curve distributions. In fact, I either bunch to the left (more commonly) or to the right (in some cases).

Bunching the histogram to the left is for overall underexposure, or for selective underexposure and/or to bring out the color saturation of images. This kind of exposure also helps me avoid highlight blowouts: I can process for shadow areas, but it is much harder to deal with areas that have gone white and lost all detail.

You’ll find many examples in my work where the original in-camera exposure histogram looked pinned to left side; for example, among my recent captures, Tennessee Beach at Night.

When I’m interested in created a backlit, transparent, high key lighting effect I tend to end up with an in-camera exposure histogram that is pinned to the right side (indicated an overall “overexposure”). For example: this White Anemone.

My point isn’t to knock digital in-camera light meters, which are very accurate. It’s that the astute photographer realizes that the information presented by the light meter is only a data point. Using a setting derived on an averaging basis (which is what in-camera light meters do outside of spot mode) leads to average results. Why be normal? “Good” photographers may go to heaven, but “bad boy” exposures create images that have the most fun.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm Zoom lens at 12mm (18mm in 35mm terms), 241 seconds (about four minutes) at f/11 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Photography

Moonrise over Bodie

Moonrise over Bodie

Moonrise over Bodie, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

As dusk turned to night, participants in the workshop organized by Lance Keimig—Finding Your Way in the Dark—waited for moonrise over Bodie. The workshop was organized to coincide with a full moon, and most of us waited, our tripods on full alert, on the small hill at the entrance to the Bodied State Park. Ghost town or not, some park employees live on site, which accounts for the lights in the house in the photo.

[Nikon D300, 18-200VR Zoom lens at 34mm (51mm in 35mm terms), four composited captures at 1/4 of a second, 1/2 a second, 1 second, and 2 seconds, f/5.6 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography



Hands, photo by Harold Davis.

Dr. Michael Katz, who delivered Katie Rose, suggests that the “whole story” is in the size of Phyllis’s hands. If you compare the photo taken today (above) of Katie Rose in her 8.5 pound magnificence with a shot taken a few weeks after her birth (below), the size of Phyllis’s hands obviously has not changed. But the ratio of the size of Phyllis’s hands to Katie’s size is quite different.

Related story: Hands.

Posted in Bemusements, Katie Rose, Kids

Eight Eight Is Great

Eight Eight Is Great

Eight Eight Is Great, photo by Harold Davis.

At the pediatrician yesterday, Katie Rose weighed eight pounds and eight ounces (about 3,856 grams). This is more than four times her birth weight of one pound fourteen ounces (840 grams). Eight eight is great. Go, Katie, go!

840 grams is big for a 24-week “micro” preemie, but tiny in the overall scheme of things. It’s wonderful and miraculous to see Katie bulking up so quickly, and enjoying her young life.

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids, Photography

San Francisco from the Sea

San Francisco from the Sea

San Francisco from the Sea, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a night view across the outer opening of the Golden Gate towards the lights of the Pacific face of San Francisco: the Outer Sunset District and maybe a bit of Daly City and Pacifica. The photo was taken in the Marin Headlands on the heights above Tennessee Beach.

Looking at the bright flare of light from the city on the left versus the dark night filled with stars on the right I’m struck by how much light pollution we create, even in fairly remote places (to see what I mean, check out this image of Yosemite at night from Half Dome). In this connection, I’m encouraged by a recent movement intended to help the stars take back the night.

[Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, 321 seconds (about six minutes) at f/4 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Photography, San Francisco Area

Tennessee Beach at Night

Tennessee Beach at Night

Tennessee Beach at Night, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: this is a “conventional” twelve minute night exposure from the top of the cliffs to the south of Tennessee Beach. As opposed to the stacked image composite I posted previously, this is a single, fairly long capture.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm Zoom lens at 12mm (18mm in 35mm terms), 722 seconds (about 12 minutes) at f/5.6 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Photography

Night Vortex

Night Vortex

Night Vortex, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

As dusk turned to night, I parked in the Tennesee Beach trailhead lot. The last stragglers made their way back to the car as I checked my pack and laced my hiking boots. I walked the couple of miles to the beach in the cool darkness, spotting an occasional owl and listening to the sounds of other nocturnal creatures.

By the time I got to the beach, it was a dark moonless night. I climbed the cliff to the platform on the southern end of the beach using my headlamp. Here’s the view from my destination with some daylight, and a fisheye daylight view from the spot.

This climb isn’t that long, but it is not for the faint of heart even during the day. A narrow path tends steeply up along the verge of erroding cliffs with a straight drop down to the pounding surf. At night, I felt it was good that at least I knew where I was going.

At the top, I unpacked my camera and tripod, put on the fisheye lens, and pointed the camera north. The pole star is in the center of the star trails in this image. I programmed my setup so that I automatically took 10 four minute exposures, and lay back to watch the sky and listen to the surf and the monotonic drone of warning buoys guarding the approaches to the Golden Gate. The forty minutes of exposure time was enough so that I was glad that I had brought warm clothes and a sandwich.

My plan was to “stack” the ten exposures to create a single image. Before packing up and carefully heading down the cliff in the dark I took a longer exposure for the foreground, and some “conventional” night photos.

Back at home, I used the Statistics script (found on the Actions > Script menu in the Extended version of Photoshop CS3) to stack the ten exposures. This means placing one on top of the other as a layer, and combining them using a statistical method specified.

I’ll write more about this later, but the Photoshop documentation doesn’t explain the results of the various options, and I’ve forgotten most of what I once may have known of formal statistics, so the vocabulary describing the various options (for example, “skewness”, “kurtosis”, “entropy”) didn’t mean much to me. This left my usual approach, empirical trial and error.

The default setting, Mean, produced some kind of average sampling, not a very striking result. Standard deviation was interesting, but not ultimately satisfying. Range was good, but Maximum was best. My assumption is that this blended in the maximum value for every sampled point, so it makes sense that it produced the brightest star trails.

With the stacked images of the sky in place, I then used Fluid Mask to quickly cut out the foreground from my brighter exposure, and blend it with the vortex in the night sky.

[Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, eleven exposures, all ISO 100, tripod mounted. Foreground exposure: 6 minutes at f/4. Ten stacked sky exposures, 4 minutes each at f/5.6, combined using Photoshop Statistics set to Maximum.]

Posted in Digital Night, Photography