Monthly Archives: August 2009


I’ve been playing with shadows. The idea is to construct compositions where the shadow is as important (or more important) than the object creating the shadow. Sometimes an object and its shadow relate; other times the shadow has mostly been released, and is on its own.

Joseph's Glasses

Joseph’s Glasses, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

These are traditional photos, in the sense that the art lies in the photography, not the Photoshop post-processing. Actually, the issues are mostly conceptual because the setups are simple. All you really need is a room that can be completely darkened, and a harsh light that can be directed.

For these shots, I used a Lowel Tungsten spot with barn doors on a light stand (something home made would also work fine). The light was positioned opposite the camera and above the objects.

Of course, you also need something with an interesting shadow to photograph.

Shadow Play

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Shadow of the Glass
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Shell Shadow

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Special thanks to Joseph Siroker for helping to send me down this shadowy path.

Posted in Monochrome, Patterns, Photography

Annals of Parenting

Of my three sons, Mathew—who is five—has the most interest in the mechanics of photography. He wants to know how lenses fit on the camera, what lens is used to photograph which subject, and how the camera fits on the tripod. This fits with his natural interest in infrastructure and how things work, a fascination that extends to topics as varied as water meters, sewer drains, car engines, power lines, and anything electrical.

Mathew likes to keep me company when I take studio pictures. He’ll press the remote release for me to lock the mirror up. We’ll hold really still. After a pause, he’ll press the release again to make the exposure, and we’ll count the seconds until the shutter closes with a thunk.

This is Mathew’s self portrait. He had me set the camera up, using lights and a burlap backdrop from a still life setup. Then he pressed the release.

Mathew's Self Portrait

When Mathew is sitting quietly counting exposure seconds with me, there is no sweeter child on earth. But when he runs amok, the “other side” of Mathew is an experience.

Yesterday, all six of us were at the new Berkeley Bowl West, quite a wonderful supermarket: more spacious, with adequate parking, and without the crowds that make the original Berkeley Bowl an ordeal despite the glorious produce.

Mathew grew wilder and wilder. He was walking the aisles with his comfort object, a blanket. Despite warnings, he tossed it in the air—and it vanished over the top of some tall freezer units.

I commandeered a step ladder, but the blanket was no where to be seen. Finally, Phyllis went to the information desk and came back with a burly and sweet employee, who told me, “When I was little, I had a blanket, too.”

It took taking some of the freezer units partially apart, and using a long metal “snake”—but at last the blanket was rescued, and handed to a slightly subdued Mathew.

Of course, in the annals of parenting, this may not even compare to my experience the other night: getting out of bed to pick the wailing Katie Rose up at 2AM, and promptly having her barf all over me. Sometimes being a parent ain’t easy, but it is almost always interesting!

Posted in Bemusements, Kids

Still Lives

Three Jars

Three Jars, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

I’ve been shooting still lives for an ongoing project—so more to come. Above: three jars, with potatoes, rocks, and marbles. Below: a glass, its reflection, and a striped background.

Glass on Stripes

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Posted in Photography

Naked Came I

Hope Abandoned

Hope Abandoned, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This group of photos shows the figures on the top, left and right of a casting of Auguste Rodin’s famous Gates of Hell. I photographed them at night in the Cantor Sculpture Garden on the Stanford Campus. I think photographing outdoor sculpture at night is somewhat unusual—it certainly gives a different view of the subject, one that even the artist may not have seen.

The group shown in the top image is said to illustrate Dante’s exhortation from his Inferno, which the Gates of Hell illustrate: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

The 30 second exposure was lit by ambient light, the night sculpture illumination, and my LED headlamp (the green light on the lower left).

I decided to turn Adam and Eve (below) to black and white, with a slight sepia tone.

Naked Came I is a biographical novel of Rodin by David Weiss that made a great impression on me when I was much younger.


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Posted in Bemusements, Digital Night, Photography

Katie Rose in the Bath

Katie Rose in Color

Katie Rose in Color, photo by Harold Davis.

Katie Rose is always cute (in my biased opinion). Here she has a strange hairdo in the bath!

Posted in Bemusements, Katie Rose, Kids

Making the Unseen Visible

My new column is up on Here’s the description:

Harold Davis contributes a fourth Becoming a More Creative Photographer column, to help inspire us with tips and ideas on exploring the creative side of photography. This installment is on Making the Unseen Visible—with an emphasis on highlighting the unseen or unnoticed details in your photography.

Take a look at Installment IV: Making the Unseen Visible.

Trees in the Fog

Posted in Writing

Stone River at Night

Stone River at Night

Stone River at Night, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a night view of the Andy Goldsworthy installation Stone River at the Stanford University campus. I used two exposures, one for the sky and one for Stone River. The blue on the right in the sky is the rising moon.

Exposure data: two captures (one at 30 seconds, one at 85 seconds); both captures 18mm, f/5.6 and ISO 200, tripod mounted.

Posted in Digital Night, Photography

Stacking Star Trails

Edge of Night 
Star stacking is a technology that derives from astronomical photography. The idea is to solve the problem of noise inherent in very long exposures at night by segmenting into shorter exposures. The "shorter" exposures—usually three or four minutes and up—are combined in post-processing to create a single long exposure image. This takes advantage of the inherent noise cancellation features of stacking exposures, and makes it possible to create imagery that would not be possible without the technique.
This story covers some of the basics of star stacking. You’ll recognize some of the images in my new book Creative Night: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques, coming soon. In Creative Night, I explain in detail how to shoot stacks, how to combine a star stack in Photoshop, and how to use an interval timer. I also tell the full story behind many stacked star trail images.
"Holy Stacking Star Trails, Batman!"…As many of you know, I love to shoot and stack star trails. The idea is to take numerous "shorter" exposures that include the night sky, rather than one longer exposure. The shorter exposures are then composited together (they are "stacked" one on top of other). A set of exposures that can be composited together to create an interesting star trail image is not always the easiest thing to achieve. But the technique does have some potential benefits compared to a single very long exposure:
  • A stacked composite image is less noisy than a single very long exposure.
  • The effective exposure time possible with a single battery is extended by segmenting the exposure (see my comment about long exposure noise reduction below).
  • Single captures that contain disturbing elements such as airplane trails or light from the photographer’s headlamp can be eliminated from the stack if desired. In other words, stacking gives you granular control over the time slices.
The most important thing when attempting to photograph star trails for stacking, of course, is to find the right view. Ideally, the scene should be free of ambient light—this goes for moonlight, city light pollution, and car headlights. Since my star trail images include a landscape in the foreground, I like to find a location in which the general scene (and not only the night sky) is interesting. To get the effect of circular star trails, your camera should be pointed north. Polaris, the North Star, will be stationary in the center of circular moving stars.
Between Earth and Sky illustrates this well. In addition, the wider the angle of the lens you use the greater the curvature effect in the star trails. I exclusively use extreme wide angle lenses for these images, most of the time my 10.5mm digital fisheye lens.
The trick to exposing the multiple images is to expose for the starlight itself. This means at ISO 100 each individual exposure should be about four minutes at f/4 or f/5.6. I also use ISO 200 in darker situations.
If you stack 12 four minute exposure times you get a total elapsed time of about 48 minutes. To achieve this, you need a sturdy tripod and a programmable timer. In this example, you put the camera on manual exposure and Bulb. Next, set the time for 12 exposures, each of a duration of four minutes, with a four minute and one second interval between the start of each exposure.
It’s important to turn in-camera long exposure noise reduction off. As I noted earlier, this gains you battery life (and noise reduction for the four minute exposures wouldn’t help you much with the star trail portions of the images). If you left in-camera noise reduction on (which I generally do for longer "straight" night time exposures like Stars Rush In or Tennessee Beach at Night), the elapsed duration following the start of the exposure would be far greater than four minutes, and the four minute and one second interval setting wouldn’t work. Even if you could figure out the right interval, the "missing" time would leave gaps in the trails.
In-camera noise reduction works using black frame reduction. As I explain in Creative Night, you can actually shoot your own black frame with the lens cap on, and do your own black frame reduction on a stack. You’ll have to see the book for full details.
I often like to also expose a longer exposure of the foreground, for example eight minutes at ISO 100 and f/2.8. I’ll use in-camera long exposure noise reduction on this one, so the actual time it takes is close to 16 minutes. If this foreground exposure turns out well, I’ll blend it into the composite using a layer mask and gradient. Here’s more about post-processing stacked star trails.
Worth noting: I use the Unsharp Mask filter on the Luminance channel of the star trails, to bring out their detail, but I leave the foreground relatively soft.
Here are some of my stacked star trail images in more or less the order I made them, with links to the stories I wrote about creating the images.
Night Vortex Within the Photoshop Statistics script, 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….Night Vortex
Between Earth and Sky First I tested the light with a one minute exposure at ISO 800 at f/3.5. Then I made an eight minute ISO 100 exposure (with in-camera long exposure noise reduction enabled) for the foreground. This image in its entirety is found below (I think it is interesting in its own right, with the still stars at the center and circular star trails around the edges)…..Between Earth and Sky
Yosemite by Moon and Star This one is a combination of sixteen exposures, taken early enough in the night that the moon was still lighting Tenaya Canyon and Half Dome….Yosemite by Moon and Star
Down in the Valley Taken from old Inspiration Point, this image uses a layer mask and gradient to combine a brighter foreground image with a stacked set of captures exposed for the sky and stars….Down in the Valley
Starry Night Many of my night photos are created in homage to Vincent van Gogh, who wrote in a letter to his brother Theo, “It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day.” The star swirl in this image seems particularly van Gogh, so I thought I’d name this one Starry Night, after one of his most famous works….Starry Night
Starry Night 3 This fisheye starry night stacked photo from Glacier Point consists of 12 captures at four minutes and ISO 100 and f/3.2, and one high ISO capture at four minutes and ISO 800 and f/4. The bright purple comes from sensor flaring in the higher ISO capture in the stack. I intentionally left the foreground dark (the way it looks in the individual exposures) rather than trying to blend in a brighter foreground….Starry Night 3
Bridge and Stars Last night at Kirby Cove the weather was balmy. I ate a chicken sandwich from Bakesale Betty’s in the dark and called home to say goodnight to the kids while the timer took care of generating thirteen exposures, each at four minutes and f/5.6 (ISO 100). I had to throw away one of the exposures later because the airplane trails in it were just too distracting….Bridge and Stars
Edge of Night Against the backdrop of pounding surf and a light mist on the ocean, I photographed star trails behind Point Reyes Lighthouse in this portrait of the edge of night….Edge of Night
Night View of Bodega Bay This view is looking north out from the tip of Point Reyes across Bodega Bay. This is a storm-bound, windswept coast, often shrouded in fog, so I was lucky to get clear skies for the star trails….Night View of Bodega Bay
First Light 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…..First Light
Original Story: October 2008; revised August 2009.
Posted in Digital Night, Photoshop Techniques

Night Photography in Big Sur, Carmel and Monterey

Bixby Bridge Big Sur
Night falls on Bixby Bridge along US 1 on the Big Sur coast – © Harold Davis
Please consider joining me Friday, September 25 – Sunday, September 27, 2009 for a Night Photography Weekend Workshop at the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel, California.
This is an outstanding opportunity for night photography for a number of reasons. It’s hard to imagine an area with more variety or more attractive night photo subjects than Monterey Bay, Carmel and the Big Sur coastline.
Our locations for shooting will depend upon the weather and group inclinations. Some great possibilities include:
  • The bridges along US1 and the Big Sur coastline
  • Garrapata State Park
  • The charming village of Carmel-by-the-Sea
  • Asilomar State Beach
  • Cannery Row in Monterey
  • Historic downtown Monterey (California’s capital before it was a state)
  • Monterey’s commercial fishing pier
  • The vast abandoned structures surrounding Fort Ord
  • Moss Landing, with its working harbor and perpetually lit power plant
As you can see, there’s no shortage of great night photography subjects in the area. Exploring them as a group helps insure everyone’s safety. We’ll learn night photo techniques, and how to post-process our night photos. By the end of the weekend, you’ll have some great night images and met new night photo buddies!
The Center for Photograph Art continues the rich and storied tradition of Friends of Photography in Carmel, founded in 1967 in Carmel, California by Ansel Adams, Morley Baer, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Brett Weston, and other prominent artists and historians. 
What this means to you as a workshop participant is that you can expect to be joined by other photographers steeped in that tradition. The Carmel-Monterey area continues its support for photograhy and the visual arts into the present day.
There’s more information (and a registration link) on the Center for Photographic Art website; or you can sign up by calling the Center at 831.625.5181. Please feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions.
I’ve been asked about the schedule for the weekend. Here’s what I’m planning:
Late Friday afternoon orientation (starting at about 6PM) followed by shooting Friday night until whenever…weather permitting Big Sur coast and Asilomar

Slow start Saturday, convene at about 10AM, look at work, discuss previous night shoot, digital darkroom, break for lunch, daytime shooting, dinner. Shoot Saturday night until whenever. Big Sur, Monterey, points north.

Sunday start at about 11:00 AM for review and wrap-up. Some participants will likely stay to shoot Sunday night as well.

Hope to see you there!
Posted in Digital Night, Photography

Odd Fellows


Pinned, photo by Harold Davis.

This is an extreme close-up of an Odd Fellows affiliation pin. I shot it to demonstrate for Creative Close-Ups: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques how close you can go by reversing a lens using a lens reversal ring to attach the back-to-front lens to the camera. Exposure data: 50mm, lens reversal ring, 1.5 minutes at f/32 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

The more conventional macro below shows the scale of this photo by comparing the entire pin to a penny.

The Odd Fellows pin belonged to my Grandpa Palmer, who was a member for more than sixty years. Grandpa Palmer, who died at the age of 103, grew up in Kansas before there were cars. Things were changing fast, but the frontier was more than history.

Odd Fellows

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Ring Thing

Ring Thing

Ring Thing, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

I shot this engaging ring toy using an extension bellows as part of a demonstration of different macro equipment for Creative Close-Ups: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Stanford Memorial Church

Stanford Memorial Church

Stanford Memorial Church, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: wandering around Stanford University in Palo Alto the other evening, I photographed the Stanford Memorial Church as the moon rose.

Posted in Digital Night, Photography



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

I went across the Bay and down to the Peninsula, where Joseph showed me around Stanford University in Palo Alto. We had a great time, and while waiting for night the arcades were fun to photograph. As I took these photos, my head was spinning with the Escher-like possibilities, given my Photoshop tendencies. In my opinion, creating composite digital images where the elements are one or more photos is a great new medium for our times.

The original image was shot with my 10.5mm fisheye, on a tripod, for 2 seconds at f/20 and ISO 100.

In Photoshop, first, I duplicated the shot and rotated it with a horizontal flip. I pasted the rotation on top of the original, and used it to enhance the symmetry on the left side of the image.

Next, I opened a blank document the width of the original (horizontal) image and twice its height. I placed the original in the top of the new document as a layer. I rotated a copy of the original with a vertical flip, and pasted it as a third layer. Voilà!

The usual caveats apply: this may be more than you wanted to know; this was harder to do than it sounds; and, I don’t think I’m done with the architecture of Stanford.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Red Dragonfly

Red Dragonfly

Red Dragonfly, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

The kids and I were fooling around in the garden when we noticed this red dragonfly. I ran and got my telephoto macro, and quickly made a few hand held exposures at a moderately high ISO.

Exposure data: 200mm f/4 macro, 1/320 of a second at f/9 and ISO 640, hand held.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

The Way Things Are

Katie Rose Today

Katie Rose Today, photo by Harold Davis.

On this date one year ago Katie Rose came home from the hospital. You can see her in today’s photo smiling and happy, and eating a graham cracker. Actually, she gums the cracker because she doesn’t have any teeth yet—and does a pretty good job of it. She is full of life, and a great member of our family.

One year ago she looked a bit like a stuffed piglet in her car seat (no offense Katie Rose, see the photo below, shown in the same car seat as above, you can use as a growth comparison). Here’s the story about Katie Rose coming home from the NICU. At that point, we were still in shock, a little less so now.

Katie in Car Seat 1

What a difference a year makes!

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids, Photography