Monthly Archives: February 2009

Katie Rose does not go gentle

Katie Rose does not go gentle into that good night. She never has. When they almost gave her up for dead at birth she fought her way to life. She seems to regard sleep in the same way, as a little death. She hardly naps. Sometimes it takes hours of holding to get her to sleep at night. When at last she does go to sleep, sometimes she’ll wake sobbing when we put her down. So we hold Katie Rose a lot. Fortunately, she’s wonderful to hold, an affectionate and warm bundle of a baby, shown here in her mother’s embrace.

Mother's Embrace

View this image larger.

This photo was shot in near dark conditions at ISO 2000. For those of you who are not photographers, this means that I set the camera to be twenty times as sensitive to light as I normally set it (ISO 100). The clarity you see in the image would not have been possible at this sensitivity setting with previous generations of cameras. To me it seems miraculous. No doubt, next generations will improve rendering in low light conditions, but it already makes possible a kind of photography that was impossible in the past: candid portraiture in low light conditions.

Like Katie Rose in Chiarascuro, I used layer masking and Noise Ninja to selectively post-process for noise. I also selectively converted noise to simulated film grain using masking and a film grain filter from NIK (although unlike that image I did not partially desaturate the colors).

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids, Photography



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

I was taking care of Katie Rose one morning while Phyllis got the boys to school. Sitting up in Katie’s little nursery I gave her a bottle and looked out through the ragged screen window. It seemed to me that there were two very different planes: the mesh on the screen, and the trees behind.

Putting Katie in her basinette, I brought up my tripod and camera. At first she was excited, thinking the gear was a new toy for her to play with; soon she became subdued when she saw I wasn’t paying much attention to her.

I did two shots, each with maximum depth-of-field, one focused on the trees and one on the mesh. I combined the two versions in Photoshop with a layer mask and gradient blend. The combination didn’t quite go far enough because the trees weren’t that distinct. So I added a third layer of detail from the winter forest on the Yosemite Valley floor. All along, my vision was in monochrome, so as a last step I did the conversion to black and white.

The idea here involves creating an illusion about visual planes. The structure is a little like Magritte’s The Key of the Fields. Are the trees in front, behind, or on the woven mesh? Can they be all of these at the same time?

Posted in Bemusements, Monochrome, Photography

Should You Choose to Accept

On recently Hannah Thiem conducted an interview with me. I think it’s the best exposition about my work to date. (Suprada Urval’s excellent interview with me covered very different ground.)

As part of the interview, Hannah and I proposed an assignment: Photograph a flower in a unique way—in a way that nobody’s seen before. The top three submissions are to be chosen by me and the staff, and will get special recognition. I’m extending an invitation to participate in this “assignment” to you. The deadline is February 23, 2009.

If you are not already a member, you do need to register with, but registration is free. Once you’ve set up a account, you can add your assignment submission as follows: Your flower photo series must be uploaded to your gallery in a folder titled “Harold Davis Flower Project” and your best single photo added to the comments section in the Harold Davis interview. Note that when you post a comment, you are given an option to add a photo. The image added should be no wider than 700 pixels. The photo must also be in your gallery for consideration.

Further discussion about your assignment (should you choose to accept it) below.

Alternate Cherry Universe

View this image larger.

Here are some of my thoughts about the assignment:

Please bear in mind that one of the key requirements for this assignment is “originality”; that is, this is a flower as it has not been seen before. I’d like to see images that are technically imperfect but very experimental.

One can always perfect technique. Flowers are a good subject for experimentation because they are not as demanding as human models and because they are often presented as perfect (and so are less often experimented or played with).

This is an “assignment.” My request is that you go out and shoot for it rather than posting an image from your stock files.

In an interesting side discussion thread about the assignment, there are a number of good comments and the complaint that winter is not the best time to photograph flowers: “So, this assignment is really only for those that are in the Southern Hemisphere or have access to a green house or conservatory?”

Here’s my response in part: True, I live in California where there are flowers in my garden most of the year…BUT some of my best flower photos involve inexpensive flowers from Trader Joe’s, available all year round. Here’s a recent Trader Joe’s special. Also, winter frost creates great effects on flowers like this thistle.

Part of the point of a challenge like this assignment is that it should be a challenge, and should spur out-of-the-box thinking. Who said the flower needed to be living? Who even said the flower needed to be floral? Crystal flower shapes on a frosted window would work well for me.

So there are many ways to render unusual flower images even if you live in territory buried under whiteness, and without a florist. Think expansively, and don’t be too literal about things! Logic is the enemy of the creative unconscious. At the same time, as poet Randall Jarrell put it, “Art being bartender is never drunk.”

Cherry Branch on White

View this image larger.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

One Good Eye

Good Eye

One Good Eye, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

It’s not everyday you photograph a succulent like the one below, and when you look closely you see an eye peering back at you. Then, as if in a dream, you realize it is your daughter’s eye!

Savage Succulent

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Cherry Medley

Cherry Medley

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

It was hard for me to resist the cherry branch up closer. Once shot, I had to post-process to create an alternate cherry universe:

Alternate Cherry Universe

View this image larger.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Feeling Better

Feeling Better

Feeling Better, photo by Harold Davis.

It’s great to have Katie Rose beginning to feel better after her recent cold. Thanks to everyone who asked after her!

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids

Cherry Blossoms

Every year the cherry trees flower in the cultivated areas of the hills of California’s coastal range, and of course I am impelled to photograph the blossoms. This season the cherry trees are flowering a tad early, like everything else in California in 2009.

My thought was to create a simple image of cherry blossoms against a white background. The elegance of the composition would be determined by the intersecting lines of two cherry branches.

Cherry Branch on White

View this image larger.

I went out with camera, tripod, and pruning sheers, and ended up creating the effect you see indoors on a light box. Here’s a luminance channel inversion of the image in the LAB color space:

Cherry Branch on Black

View this image larger.

Here are some cherry blossom images of d’année passées:

2006: Cherry Blossom Special; just getting to know cherry blossoms with digital:

Cherry Blossom Special

2007: Cherry; playing with turning a photo of a cherry blossom into a “watercolor”:


2008: Sunburst; experimenting with sensitivity (ISO) and cherry blossoms:


It’s sometimes instructive to look back through one’s work, particularly when there’s such a strong (and seasonal) annual affinity for a particular subject like these cherries. I don’t think photographing cherry blossoms will ever bore me!

Posted in Flowers, Photography


Since the world is always changing, photography is largely about capturing states of things—scenes, objects, or people—in the process of change. A single image can intimate the before, and the after, and resonate with events to come. This sense of time is what gives many photographic images their power.

My process of working on photos after they’ve been taken is an intentional effort to up the ante on this kind of visual metamorphosis. One sequence started with this White Hellebore:

Starting with this straight photo, I began the process of transformation:

Green Variation

Green Variation, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

After taking the first photo, I let the hellebore flower soak for a couple of days in a sushi dish. The petals became extremely transparent, and I photographed the wet ensemble on a light box.

The green variation (above) and the blue variation (below) are further changes of state using Photoshop. These are LAB color space inversions with channels applied to the inversions in a variety of blending modes.

The blue version strikes me as very psychedelic, almost an emphatic presence in the flower, while the green variation is more concerned with textures. In the green transmogrification, the flower has become a textile.

Blue Variation

Blue Variation, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Check out the recent Hannah Thiem interview with me on and related discussion.

Some other post-hoc metamorphoses: Alstromedia Medley; From Architecture to Fantasy; Leaf Civilization; Oakland of My Mind.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, Photoshop Techniques



Cold, photo by Harold Davis.

This is Katie Rose’s first cold, and it is not a pretty picture. Because of her damaged lungs (normal for a 24-week preemie who spent time on a ventilator in the NICU) her breathing sounds like a race car, fast, and kind of thick. She’s hungry, but when we try to feed her she usually starts coughing, and spits it all up. The coughing also means that she doesn’t sleep very well, and neither do we. Phyllis has been up with her for most of the last three nights.

The good news is that she’s generally healthy, and this too shall pass. We’re bringing her in to her pediatrician tomorrow, and maybe some antibiotics will help, but one way or another I expect her to feel better in the next few days. And, she’s worth it.

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids