Monthly Archives: February 2009

Yosemite Night

Waking up, I glanced at the clock. It was 3:49AM. The kids were sleeping peacefully in our room at Yosemite Lodge.

I dressed for winter, and headed out into the night. The paths were icy but the stars were crisp and bright. I made my way to a clearing in the woods below Yosemite Falls. Easy enough in the day, but a little harder to find at night. I knew Polaris was right above the Falls. In other words, Yosemite Falls was pretty much due north when standing in the valley, implying that star circles above the falls would work well.

Upper Yosemite Falls

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This is a stacked composite of ten four minute exposures at f/3.5 each, at ISO 200, using my 10.5mm digital fisheye, for a total exposure time of forty minutes.

By the last exposure, dawn was coming to Yosemite. I processed this capture separately in order to layer in early morning colors in the mountains and water fall.

Then I headed back to my sleeping kids in their warm beds.

Related story: Starry Night.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

Katie Rose Is Fine

Katie Rose in the Bath

Katie Rose in the Bath, photo by Harold Davis.

Katie Rose is doing the normal baby things. She enjoys her bath. She weighes over fifteen pounds. She’s gaining the strength and understanding of the world she needs to start crawling. She’s starting to sample “solid” foods.

We’re headed for the neurological follow-up clinic in a few weeks, but as far as we can see she’s acting like a normal almost six month old. Although she was born nine months ago, her gestationally corrected age, which means when she would have been born had she made it to term and is what is used for development comparison purposes, is about six months.

I’m writing this because I’ve had a number of inquiries that start “We haven’t heard from you” and ask whether Katie Rose is all right. So thanks for all the interest, Katie Rose is fine, it is just that I’ve been busy.

Not too busy to use my camera to turn my kids into freaks! Here’s Katie Rose through a fisheye lens, you can read Fisheye Family to also see her brothers rendered in this decidedly cruel and unusual (but funny) fashion.

Fisheye Family Katie

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids

Fisheye Family

Fisheye Family Katie

Fisheye Family Katie, photo by Harold Davis.

I sometimes enjoy the creative challenge of being constrained to a single lens, and it is certainly a challenge to create portraits with a fisheye lens. Fortunately, my kids get the humor of the thing, and play along.

Fisheye Family Nicky 2 Fisheye Family Mathew
Fisheye Family Julian

Fisheye Family Nicky

Besides the obvious distortion and curvature, the key thing to bear in mind with a fisheye is how much close foreground it includes. In the landscape context, this implies that you better have something interesting in the foreground of a fisheye composition (consider my Between the Earth and Sky as an example).

Moral: if you are taking portraits, you need to get the lens really, really close, like an inch away.

For more fisheyes of my tolerant kids see Cruel & Unusual Lens.

Posted in Bemusements, Katie Rose, Kids, Photography

Isopogon Formosus

Rose Cone Flower

Rose Cone Flower, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Isopogon formosus, commonly known as the Rose Cone Flower, is a standing shrub native to western Australia. This member of the Proteaceae family has a dry look about it, and is an evergreen with leaves that come to sharp points. At a glance, one can see why it likes sandy soil, and why deer don’t munch it.

It isn’t until the wild flowers start to grow like buttons at the end of the evergreen, spiked branches that you start to see how special Isopogon formosus is. I love the implied motion in the incredibly intricate and delicate structures at the ends of the pistils (you can see these in the photo above).

To create this photo, I snipped the flower off my Isopogon formosus bush and placed it on a light box. With a macro lens, I shot a wide range of exposures, and all at the same stopped-down f-stop (f/36). Since this was intended to be a high key view, my bias was to over exposure, and I shot in 2X increments from the nominally “correct” exposure of 1 second. So I ended up with five exposures at 1 second, 2 seconds, 4 seconds, 8 seconds, and 16 seconds.

In Photoshop, I started with the lightest exposure (16 seconds) to get a pure white background. Then I layered in the flower, getting selectively and successively darker.

The center of the flower (the famous “button” or “rose cone”) didn’t look right, so I converted the five exposures using the Photomatix HDR tool, saved the result, and copied it in as a layer (just using the center of the flower) for the final result.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Digital Post-Processing Workshop

I’ve been wanted to do a post-processing workshop about creativity in the digital darkroom for quite a while, and many people have asked me to do this. So I finally decided to bite the bullet and present a post-processing workshop under my own auspices on April 18, 2009. You’ll find information below. Please also bear in mind some other upcoming 2009 workshop dates:

  • May 1-3, Night Photography on Point Reyes
  • July 12, Landscape Photography
  • July 18-19, intensive weekend digital post-processing workshop

Information and registration for this workshop; my main workshops page.

Comment from a previous Harold Davis workshop attendee: In addition to teaching me new things, you managed to clarify things that I already knew.

Digital Post-Processing with Harold Davis

***One-day seminar limited to fifteen participants***

When: Saturday, April 18 from 9:30AM to 5PM

Where: Berkeley, CA, location to be announced

Curriculum: The morning session includes an orientation and covers processing RAW files, workflow, multi-RAW processing, layers, masking, and introduces hand HDR. The afternoon session introduces LAB color, demonstrates channel blending operations, shows how to sharpen in LAB, and presents various creative options students can use with their own work. The session ends with a recap and suggestions for next steps.

Who should attend: This seminar is primarily intended for digital photographers who have at least basic familiarity with Photoshop and want to learn more about the creative potential of the “digital darkroom”.

What to bring: Please bring a laptop with the software you use for photo editing. The laptop should be equipped with Photoshop; if you don’t have it please download the trial version to use at the seminar. Please also bring some digital photos you’d like to work on.

Tuition: $295.00 per person. Tuition includes instructional materials.

Note: in these tough times we don’t want to turn anyone away because they can’t afford the tuition. There are some partial scholarships available. Please contact us for more information.

About the instructor: Harold Davis is a renowned photographer whose work has been widely published and collected. His most recent photography books include The Photographer’s Guide to Yosemite & the High Sierra (Countryman/WW Norton), Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers (O’Reilly), and 100 Views of the Golden Gate (Wilderness Press).

Harold is well known for his night photography and experimental ultra-long exposure techniques, use of vibrant, saturated colors in landscape compositions, and beautiful creative floral imagery.

Harold says, “I think of myself as a post-film photographer. In my work, I am especially interested in image processing and what happens to a photograph after it leaves the camera and heads to the computer. I see myself as much a digital painter as a photographer. I never want to give up being behind the camera, but I also get a real kick out of sitting hour after hour trying to get the processing of an image exactly right. Life is full of exciting visuals, and as an artist I am never bored.”

Harold writes the popular Photoblog 2.0 at

For more information: For information about the workshop, please contact workshop administration at 510.528.9977 or

You can register for the Digital Post-Processing with Harold Davis seminar by paying the tuition using a credit card or by check.

Click here for Information and Registration for this workshop; main Harold Davis workshops page.


Transparency &#169 Harold Davis. All rights reserved.

Posted in Photography

Flower Assignment Extended

On I devised an assignment: to photograph a flower in a unique way—in a way that nobody’s seen before. So far, there have been some absolutely great assignment submissions. To allow more people to go out and shoot for the assignment, has extended the deadline to March 9, 2009.

The top three photos (as chosen by and yours truly) will be acknowledged with a copy of my Light & Exposure book. Our one top choice will get a $50 gift certificate to Adorama.

You can read about the background of this assignment in Should You Choose to Accept.

Electric Flower Power 36

Electric Flower Power 36, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Posted in Photography

Tone Poem

Late in the afternoon of a bright autumn day I arrived in Yosemite Valley. The valley was already in shadow, with only the tops of the surrounding cliffs lit by the sun. I stopped along the banks of the Merced River. With my camera on my tripod, I snapped five exposures of the scene, all at the same aperture (f/7.1). My exposure time varied from 1/15 of a second to 1/125 of a second.

The longer exposures captured the details in the shadows, but blew out the highlights on the cliff tops and the sky, while the shorter exposures rendered the sky acceptably, but lost all nuances in the reflections in the river to darkness. My plan was to combine the exposures to create one image with the best characteristics of each individual exposure.

Yosemite Afternoon

Yosemite Afternoon, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.


Combining multiple captures to create an image with an exposure range beyond that possible in a single capture is known as High Dynamic Range imaging, or HDR for short. The trick is to compress the extended range into a single image that is pleasing, will display on a monitor, and is reproducible. Note that the exposure latitude within a single RAW capture also gives rise to the possibility of using HDR techniques using different versions of the one RAW file as the input, a technique that I’ve dubbed multi-RAW processing.

Hand HDR

Whether combining different exposures, or different versions processed from a single exposure—or even both these techniques at once—my approach has been to work in Photoshop to use layers, masking, the Gradient tool, and the Paintbrush tool to combine the variants. You can see an example of the results of this hand-crafted approach to HDR in the six-exposure blend that I used to create Yosemite Morning, taken the day after I shot the series used to create the Yosemite image that accompanies this story.

I’ll be writing more about the details of my hand HDR process in an upcoming book—I also teach the technique in workshops—but for now let me mention some downsides: it is labor intensive, time consuming, can look funny if the layers aren’t masked very carefully, and can be close to impossible to achieve in areas that involve complex interconnected details in mixed light.


Since we live in an age that tends to want instant results, most people try experimenting with software the does the HDR for them. I’m no exception, but I’ve been unimpressed with Photoshop’s HDR automation.

So I was excited recently to get to play with Photomatix, which is probably the leading HDR software. The Yosemite image above, and the floral close-up below were both created in part with Photomatix. As you’ll see, the words *in part* are crucial to understanding Photomatix’s place in my scheme of things.

Hellebore Trap

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With Photomatix, HDR generation is a two-step process. You open the images in Photomatix, and the software generates an HDR composite. Then, in a process called “tone mapping”, you tweak the settings used in the mathematical algorithms that reduce the tonal range in the combined image in order to generate a single attractive and reproducible version.


As a practical matter, I found Photomatix’s rendering of my RAW files unacceptable. So my workflow went like this: I opened the set of images in the Adobe Camera RAW plugin, applying the same settings to each (experimenting with different RAW conversion settings on each file included is also possible, of course, although it adds more variables and complexity). I opened the files that resulted from these conversions in Photoshop, and saved them in the TIFF format (because Photomatix doesn’t read native Photoshop PSD files).

Next, I opened the TIFF files in Photomatix and generated the HDR composite. As the documentation warns, the HDR image doesn’t start out looking too good, so I worked to tone map it for more attractive characteristics. When I was satisified that the image was the best it could be, I saved it as another TIFF file.

Combined Approach

Some parts of the resulting HDR image were pretty wonderful (for example, the trees on the right). Others, not so good (the sky had a burnt, burnished quality, and the water was murky). I ended up layering-in versions in Photoshop to fix portions of the Photomatix generated image (the same general remarks are true of the floral image that also accompanies this story).

If my workflow with Photomatix sounds like a lot of work, you are right, it was. Then again, I’m happy to work if it helps my work (if you catch my drift).

Life is simpler but less rich

Also, my life would have been simpler in Photomatx if I’d shot in-camera JPEGs. The truth is that the markets for my work often require extremely high resolution, and JPEGs just won’t do. I’m almost never happy with JPEGs compared to my results when I do the RAW conversion.


Paradoxically, I’m left with an appreciation both for what Photomatix can do with HDR, and for the limitations of the software. I’m sure I’ll be using this software to process some portions of my imagery, just as I’m sure that my final versions will require hand work and layer masking with other versions of the files.

If you are an image creator who cares about your craft, the limitations in HDR software amounts to a good reason to learn hand HDR—combining many different versions shot at different exposure times, and processed individually from hand-tweaked RAW conversions, using layer masking—even if you expect to primarily be using automated HDR programs like Photomatix.

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Photoshop Techniques, Software Reviews, Yosemite


With the kids and Phyllis asleep, over the course of a long winter night I “painted” in Photoshop to create this quartet of abstractions from a single capture of paper tree bark.

Tree of Life D

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Tree of Life A Tree of Life B
Tree of Life C Tree of Life D

Some other abstractions and the stories of where the images came from: Tin Can Alley; Oakland of My Mind; From Architecture to Fantasy; Stove Top Abstractions; Masked Avenger; Changes; Cherry Medley; Weaving.

Posted in Photoshop Techniques

Paper Tree Bark

Paper Tree Bark

Paper Tree Bark, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

In Blake Garden I came across this pile of bark of a Paper Mulberry tree, Broussonetia papyritera. Very textural and translucent, and lots of fun to photograph.

Posted in Patterns, Photography

Valentine Rose

I am re-publishing this rose photo from two years ago. Enjoy!

Valentine Rose

Valentine’s Day Rose, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Phyllis gave me a bouquet of these roses for Valentine’s Day, and of course I had to photograph one. Isn’t my sweetie great? And, happy Valentine’s Day to you as well…

Posted in Photography

I am the seed

Julian wrote this poem and asked me to illustrate it on my blog.

Hidden Seeds

I am the seed

I am the river the sand,
The sea and I was made to be.

I am the sea the sand,
the rivers and trees and
fish too
and so since
life began I am the seed hidden within, with life.
So I am the seed with life,
I am the seed and life.
—Julian Davis, age 11

Original image back story.

Posted in Photography



Sunset, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Across the Bay the sun set in red wrath. Between the lowering clouds and the top of the hills the narrow channel tracked by sunshine showed through the cover. Clouds swirled within the enclosed space and glinted with fire. Then the sun set with finality and the world turned to somber gray.

Posted in Photography

Cherry Solo

Cherry Solo

Cherry Solo, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: this is one of a series of cherry blossom images that includes Cherry Medley and Cherry Blossoms.

Here’s another (previously unpublished) image in the series:

Breaking Through

You may also be interested in my Cherry Blossom set on Flickr.

Posted in Photography

Blinding Sight of Brilliance

Blinding Sight of Brilliance

Blinding Sight of Brilliance, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Here’s a kind of looking glass world, my house as seen reflected in a door knob. And yours truly caught in the 90 second exposure with my head blown out in the highlights.

Related image: another door knob photographed, and played with.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Tin Can Alley

It’s a long way from photographing wet cans in an alley to the abstraction you see here. The start was a recent rainy day and photography in the recycle bin in the alley next to our kitchen door.

Rain D

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Before I get to the steps in the progression, let me say that I’ve noticed a pattern in my work of moving from a literal subject to an abstraction, with many variations along the way. Some examples: Oakland of My Mind; From Architecture to Fantasy; Stove Top Abstractions; Masked Avenger; Changes; Cherry Medley; Weaving. An early version of my manifesto claiming new medium status for digital photography combined with post-processing is When is a Photo Not a Photo?

Sometimes I want to show you the beginning and the process, other times I’d rather leave it mysterious. Please let me know which of these series works for you, and which doesn’t. And whether you are interested in the process or would just like to see the beginning (the photo) or the end (the photo transmogrified).

Also, I’m thinking of offering an intensive workshop in my post-processing techniques. Basic Photoshop skills would be a prerequisite. The location would be somewhere in the San Francisco area, with dates to be determined. Please drop me an email if you’re interested, and let me know if you’d prefer a one day or weekend workshop.

Anyhow, back to the story of the tin can progression, I went out the back door to photograph flowers in the rain. On the way I spotted luminous cans waiting to be recycled.

By the way, both photos in this story are with my Nikon D300 on a tripod and my 200mm f/4 macro lens and 36mm extension tube, stopped all the way down for maximum depth-of-field. I used manual exposure metering, and erred on the side of under exposure by about 1/3 of a stop for a “proper creative exposure” and more saturated colors.

I started with this interior lid, converted to monochrome in post-processing:

Tin Can Lid

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Next, I photographed rain drops on this red can:

Red Canvas

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So much for photography! The green version comes from the red, and is an inversion of the A channel in LAB color mode. The blue version comes from the green version via the Hue & Saturation adjustment slider. With all three I had an RGB triad:

Red Canvas Green Canvas Blue Canvas

With the primary colors in place, it was a matter of repeated channel operations in LAB color space with conversions into RGB for Difference and Exclusion blend modes. Of course, all this could not be done without the latest Bruce Springsteen blaring on my headsets. Here’s the sequence as it flowed:

Rain A

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Rain B

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Rain C

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Rain D

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Posted in Photography