Monthly Archives: June 2010



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

I found this nearly perfect Dahlia growing my garden, in one of the protected side-yard raised beds that I use for growing flowers. To make this image, I positioned the flower in a vase in front of a west-facing window.

My plan was to use the strong late afternoon sun as my sole light source. I hung a piece of translucent white tracing paper to act as a diffuser between the window and the flower. Papaver Rhoeas Portrait and Light of the Poppy were shot the same way.

Since this Dahlia is relatively opaque, the front of the flower was in deep shadow because the backlighting from the sun didn’t reach it. I used a small piece of white cardboard as a reflector to add a touch of fill light to the front of the flower.

To make the background appear truly white, I shot a series of images at bracketed exposures, all biased to the high key (or over exposed). All other variables were the same for each capture, with exposure times ranging from 10 seconds to 1/30 of a second. I used a 200mm telephoto macro, at f/32 and ISO 100, tripod mounted. I made sure that neither camera nor flower moved between exposures.

In Photoshop, I started with the lightest exposure (10 seconds). In this version, the background was completely white and you could hardly see the flower. Using darker versions, layers, masks, and the Paint Brush Tool I layered in the details in the flower.

After merging down the layers in Photoshop, to enhance the color rendition, I selectively blended the flower with a monochromatic version of itself. I know this sounds paradoxical—but sometimes color can be improved by taking color out.

Posted in Flowers, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Papaver and Campanula

Papaver and Campanula

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

This is an image of Papaver Rhoeas and Campanula—or, to use common names, Poppy and Bellflower—both kinds of flowers from my garden.

I place the flowers on a flourescent light box to create a back lit effect and photographed straight down. There’s very little light coming from the front of these flowers. To increase the transparent effect, I sprayed them with water, brushed the water around for even coverage, and pressed the ensemble gently down with a large piece of 1/2 inch plate glass. I removed the glass before taking the photos used to create this composite image.

My technique with this kind of transparent, high-key image is to bracket exposures, all of them biased to the over-exposed side. In this case, I used my Sigma 50mm macro lens. I set the aperture to f/11 and the ISO to 100. Then I made ten exposures, ranging in shutter speeds from 2 seconds to 1/50 of a second.

I started by processing the lightest and brightest exposure (the 2 second one) in Photoshop. Then I gradually layered in detail from the darker versions, using layers and the Paint Brush Tool in Photoshop.

The resulting composite produced the effect I was looking for: the transulence and brightness of a water color with light apparently shining through the partially transparent flowers.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Human Pretzel


Pretzel, photo by Harold Davis.

Briefly noted: Merrique is a model who is very comfortable with figure work, and who is a Yoga adept. This pose may seem contorted, but I think she was having a good time.

In post-processing, I converted the image to black & white, and added the vignetting to the corners.

Posted in Models, Monochrome, Photography

Star Trails over Drakes Bay

Star Trails over Drakes Bay

Star Trails over Drakes Bay, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

I made this image as a demonstration of star stacking for a recent night photography workshop I gave on Point Reyes. Before I explain how I made this image, you might be interested in some general information about star stacking, my workshop schedule, and what participants have said about my workshops.

Here’s the back story: Usually, a highlight of the Point Reyes night photography workshop is a visit after dark to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Unfortunately, high winds forced the Park Service to close the stairs down to the lighthouse. I took the workshop group over to the platform above the Lighthouse, hoping that it might be relatively sheltered—but, no go. The platform was intolerably windy, and not conditions under which one could set up a tripod for stability.

So we went down to Drakes Beach, and sheltered on the leeward side of the bluffs, photographing moonlight on the waves. Fairly early—by night photography standards—we headed back to the historic Coastguard Boathouse, workshop central for the weekend.

From the Boathouse side of Drakes Bay, I noticed that things were fairly clear. There was also some shelter from the wind on one side of the building and a straight shot north. I dropped an extension tube out the window of my bedroom, attached a DC converter to run my camera, and positioned the camera in the corner of the building. I threw my 10.5mm digital fisheye lens on the camera to get as wide a field of view as possible, and also to maximize the star trails.

Workshop parrticipant and photographer Mark Lohman came outside to help me frame the image, but neither of us could really see anything in the dark. So I ran off a high ISO test shot at 30 seconds, f/4, and ISO 2,500.

The test exposure looked pretty good—maybe a little on the bright side—so I figured that 4 minutes at f/4 and ISO 200 would work fine for the real thing. This is about what I had expected, but it was nice to have it confirmed before firing off several hours worth of exposures—also, the test allowed me to confirm the composition. Note that I centered the composition on Polaris, the North Star, to get the most circular star trails.

Before making the exposures, I used my Bulb setting and my interval timer to make an exposure that I planned to use later for the foreground at 8 minutes (also at f/4 and ISO 200):

There was a small airplane fooling around in the sky (the swooping line) but this didn’t really matter as I was only going to use the exposure for the foreground.

Next, I used my interval timer to make 40 4 minute exposures. The interval timer settings were: no interval before exposures started; exposure length 4 minutes; interval between exposures 4 minutes and 1 second (unintuitively, on my timer this runs from the start of the previous exposure, not its conclusion); 40 repetitions.

Then I went to bed, listening to the wind howl outside and the waves crashing.

I woke some time in the middle of the night (I didn’t have a watch) and threw on the minimum of clothing. Outside, wind was still blowing, but camera and tripod still seemed to be in position. The 2 hours and 40 minutes of exposures had finished. I brought my camera back inside and went to bed.

Running through the captures in slide show mode was kind of like a “flip book”—because I could see the stars wheeling in the heavens around Polaris (the North Star). Here’s the way a pretty typical exposure looked when I viewed the set in Adobe Bridge:

Looking through the captures, I saw that the pier was lit a couple of times, once when a couple of workshop participants who’d stayed a little later at Drakes got home and the car headlights shone briefly on the pier, and once when someone was fooling around with light painting the pier. Here’s the headlight frame:

In the classroom, I made obeisance to the Photoshop Gods with the hope that the process would actually work. I opened the 40 images via Adobe Bridge, applying the same setting to eash one in Adobe Camera RAW (ACR). Next, I showed how to open the Statistics Script (avaibale in the extended versions of CS3 and later).

I added the 40 open files in the Statistics dialog and chose the Maximum method for combining the images. Then the workshop had lunch while my laptop chugged its way through the massive processing this required. Here’s the background that resulted:

You can see in the background that the frame in the stack with headlights lightened the pier, but the rest of the foreground needed some work. I finished the image by layering in the 8 minute exposure to use as a foreground, adjusting the colors, and selectively sharpening—with the results shown at the top of this story and below.

Star Trails over Drakes Bay

Star Trails over Drakes Bay, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Posted in Digital Night, Photography, Photoshop Techniques, Point Reyes

Light of the Poppy

Light of the Poppy

Light of the Poppy, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: I photographed this poppy from my garden using late afternoon sunlight startegically beamed through a sheet of translucent paper to backlight the back of the flower.

Exposure data: Nikon D300, 200mm f/4 macro plus 36mm extension tube, 3/10 of a second at f/36 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Katie Rose Tutu Head

Katie Rose Tutu Head

Katie Rose Tutu Head, photo by Harold Davis.

Katie Rose likes to wear her tutu on her head, as you can see in this studio portrait.

I’ll get over what a miracle she is someday (maybe)—but in the meantime it is hard for me to photograph her or write about her without remembering. Here are two stories about her early days: The Birth of Katie Rose and The Day My Daughter Was Born.

Posted in Bemusements, Katie Rose, Kids, Photography

Yosemite View

Yosemite View

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

This photo appears in Creative Black & White: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques on pages 118-119. Here’s what I wrote about the image:

Photographing during a clearing winter storm in Yosemite, I worked hard to find a slightly different angle to frame the marvelous vista that opened before me. It was hard to see this view without thinking of the sumptuous Ansel Adams photography of Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountains, so naturally I wanted to create a photo that could be successfully converted to black and white.

To achieve this goal, I knew that I would need to have a sense of crispness across the entire image. This meant that I would need maximum depth-of-field. So I stopped my camera all the way down to f/22 and used a wide angle setting to achieve as much depth-of-field as possible.

Here’s the exposure data: 20mm, 1/40 of a second at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

Speaking of Creative Black & White, the book has been a hit almost since the day of publication. It’s the #1 digital photography book on Amazon right now (see the screen capture below).

A very special thanks to everyone who has reviewed my book on Amazon. I particularly appreciate Jack Tasoff’s very flattering review “Ansel Adams, Imogen Cunningham, and Edward Weston Made Digital” and Constance Halporn’s comment that “this book clearly and concisely shows the reader how to make excellent B&W images in the digital world. This has been a real revelation to me, as I didn’t think I would ever get the quality of B&W from my digital files. A must-have text for the serious photographer.”

Posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Photography, Yosemite

Papaver Rhoeas Portrait

Papaver Rhoeas Portrait

Papaver Rhoeas Portrait, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

I’ve been photographing people lately—and writing, thinking, eating and breathing portraits, people photography, and lighting people for my new upcoming book Creative Portraits: Digital Tips & Techniques. So perhaps it’s not surprising that this poppy portrait looks a little like a headshot. A headshot, that is, of a one-eyed floral cyclops.

To make this image I took advantage of the strong, California late afternoon sunlight coming in through my western window. I suspended some translucent tracing paper between two stands, and used the sunlight projected onto the paper as my back light source for the flower. I shot a number of exposures, with the plan of manually combining these different versions in Photoshop. Each exposure biased to the high key, overexposed side.

Exposure data: 200mm macro, six exposures combined in Photoshop at shutter speeds from 1/13 of a second to 3/5 of a second, each exposure at f/36 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

Posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Photography

Introduction to Compositing

Shadow Within 2

Shadow Within 2, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger. Read the original story featuring this image.

My column about the wonderful universe of compositing is live on Here’s the description:

Compositing, or photo compositing, is the technique—art and craft—of combining images to create a new image. The newly created image often presents its own version of reality. Compositing comes into its own as a fine art technique, where concerns are conceptual, aesthetic and visual rather than related to factual concerns, ethics and marketing. In this latest advanced Photoshop tutorial, Harold Davis concentrates on compositing to create art images—in any case the techniques are essentially the same no matter what the intended usage.

Disclaimer: this article contains a partially nude art image. Those at work or who find nude images distasteful may wish to skip reading this piece.

Link to the Introduction to Compositing article.

Posted in Photography, Photoshop Techniques, Writing

Tough and Tender

Tough and Tender

Tough and Tender, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Scott works as an intensive care nurse. He wears his heart on his skin—a tattoo of each of his four kids as they looked when they were two years old. These wonderful portraits cannot have been easy to make.

I would describe Scott as tough and tender, a good man indeed.

Posted in Photography

Mathew and the iPad app

Mathew Viking

Mathew Viking, photo by Harold Davis.

Mathew dressed up in a knight’s tunic and plastic Viking helmet seems no one to mess with, particularly with the sword in hand and glint in his eye.

So do what Mathew says.

He says, Try out the new Harold Davis – Photoshop Darkroom iPad/iPhone app. It’s free, fun, good photos, and you’ll like it.

Posted in Bemusements, Kids, Photography

Katie Rose

Katie Rose

Katie Rose, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

In the family studio mayhem, Katie Rose wandered off and on the seamless paper background, always in motion as is typical for toddlers (unless they are asleep). I had to move fast, because she was on the seamless then off, then on again.

I tracked her motion with my camera, and captured her in this high-key portrait, intentionally post-processing the image to make the background seem slightly overexposed.

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids, Photography