Monthly Archives: February 2011

Vanishing Point


I shot these railroad tracks near the dusty mining town of Trona, California—where I’ll be headed again in the next couple of days on my way to Death Valley and points east for some (very early) spring landscape photography.

Posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Photography

First Look: HDR Efex Pro

Zion View

I made this image from five bracketed captures shot in the autumn of 1997, combined primarily with Nik Software’s new HDR Efex Pro. Taken near sunset, I was standing on the narrow neck of land leading up to Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah, above the set of switchbacks known as Willy’s Wiggles. This is the kind of location that is great for photography but gives one a feeling of vertigo because of the drops to the valley floor in several directions. I used a tripod to make sure the composition of each image was identical, and bracketed shutter speeds using Manual exposure mode.

I’ve tried a couple of times to combine these images, and HDR Efex Pro is the first software that has let me get results I am happy with. In other words, Nik Software has done a great job. I am very impressed with this program. Like the leading HDR competitors—Photomatix from HDR Soft and Adobe Photoshop’s Merge to HDR Pro—there are strengths and weaknesses. A detailed review and analysis must wait until I have more time, but my first take is that this software is more intuitive and easier to use than HDR Soft, and more powerful than Merge to HDR Pro.

I’ll probably use all three, depending upon the specific set of images I want to combine. My further understanding is that any automated HDR software is going require further tweaking following the image combination and tone curve application. You can read more of my thoughts on this issue in the context of Photomatix in Tone Poem.

In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all magic HDR bullet. That said, if you are interested in HDR you probably won’t go wrong with HDR Efex Pro.

Worth noting: I am often a proponent of using layers and masking to create hand-processed HDR images in place of automated HDR processing. My methodology for multi-RAW and hand-HDR processing is explained in The Photoshop Darkroom and The Photoshop Darkroom 2.

Disclosures: Nik Software kindly provided me with a review copy of HDR Efex Pro. Also, I am in the process of planning a book about HDR photography.

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Software Reviews

Water Drop Season

Happy Wanderer Sunburst

With flowers beginning to bloom and spring on the horizon, water drop season is open. I went hunting the other day after a fairly long siege of cold and rainy weather. The first morning after the storm passed the water drops were gleaming in the sun like treasure.

Phyllis made me some coffee, and I hurried out to catch the drops before they evaporated—something that can happen very quickly.

There’s nothing I love to photograph more than a good water drop world!

Return of the Sun

Please note a correction to my earlier story about stacking modes. Whether or not you use the Statistics action, in Photoshop CS5 stack modes are only available in the Extended edition. If you have the standard edition these menu items will appear grayed out. I was misinformed, and I am sorry if you spent time trying to follow my original instructions with the standard edition.

Posted in Photography, Water Drops

Katie Rose in the Sandbox

Katie Rose in the Sandbox

I took the kids out to the playground today, and shot some photos with my new “toy” camera. It’s a Nikon Coolpix P7000, and I’m kind of impressed. This one was a straight JPEG capture, cropped a little but otherwise no manipulation or post-processing.

The P7000 reminds me in look-and-feel of one of the old Nikon rangefinders, or maybe even an old film Leica. In other words, it is actually an elegant camera. In any case, it’s certainly more fun to carry around when I’m also wrangling the kids than my full kit gear with tripod and all.

Here’s Katie Rose from her early days.

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids, Photography

Red and Blue Splash

Red and Blue Splash

This is a shot taken in Scott Dickson’s garage. In the grand tradition of American garage tinkerers, Scott has constructed a number of devices used to create stop-motion photos involving liquid. In some cases these gadgets were built using parts from toys his kids have discarded such as K’nex wheels.

To make this photo, the glasses were filled with colored water (using food coloring) and placed on a sliding table. When the table was released, it triggered a time delay circuit that then fired a strobe at the moment the table hit a barrier—which sent the liquid up in the air.

As in much of photography, timing is everything: if things were working as they were supposed to, the strobe fires just as the liquid flies, as in this photo.

Great fun indeed!

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, Still Life

Star Magnolia

Star Magnolia

It has rained hard the last few days. On one of the breaks in the weather I wandered across the street. A Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata, was attractively in bloom, pale in the diffuse light, bearing water drops as evidence of the wet weather. I used a telephoto macro lens to capture the delicate and elegant petals.

Posted in Flowers, Photography, Water Drops

Matanzas River

Matanzas River

The gritty provincial city of Matanzas is sometimes called the Venice of Cuba because of its many rivers and bridges. This is a stretch—but as I walked across a central bridge in the late afternoon I was mindful of the way the lines of the buildings along the banks drew my eye towards the horizon as a Canaletto painting of Venice might. I waited for a recreational kayaker to come into position to balance the composition, then snapped my photo.

Posted in Cuba, Landscape, Photography

Teakettle Junction

Teakettle Junction © Harold Davis

Teakettle Junction © Harold Davis

Midway between Owens Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the west, and Death Valley to the east, six miles from the Racetrack playa, Teakettle Junction is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Getting to Teakettle Junction from either direction means travelling on roads shown on the maps as suitable for 4-wheel drive only.

Who knows where the custom of hanging tea kettles on the sign comes from?

Steven and I stopped at Teakettle Junction, and also at Manzanar, the World War II internment camp for Americans of Japanese descent located in Owens Valley. In the museum at Manzanar we read many poignant stories, and noted one man in particular, who wrote, “If I ever get out of this place I’m going to hang my kettle at Teakettle Junction.”

I hope he made it to hang his tea kettle there, and to the freedom that this vast and empty landscape would seem to imply.

Posted in Bemusements, Landscape, Photography

Digital Asset Management: Be the Boss of Your Photos

Phyllis and I have been experimenting with various forms of e-Publication. DAM: Be the Boss of Your Photos is our first straight-to-Kindle publication. As you probably know, there’s a Kindle reader for every device—you don’t have to just read this on the Kindle, you can read it on your computer or your iPad if you prefer to see it in color!

Digital Workflow: Using Digital Asset Management (DAM) to Become the Boss of Your Photos is the succinct story of the mechanics of what I do with my photos after I press the shutter: getting the photo files to my computer, filing the RAW source files, archiving work-in-progress, archiving final image files, finding files when there is a photo request, and making sure that my fragile digital archives are safe. This may not be sexy stuff, but it is important. My approach is straightforward, bearing in mind that I tend to prefer to figure things out for myself rather than letting software make my decisions.

We’ve priced DAM: Be the Boss of Your Photos as absolutely low as Amazon would let us, the download costs only $2.99. If you do read it, please let me know what you think.

Posted in Writing

Photographer of the Month—Harold Davis

I am pleased to be interviewed by Darwin Wiggett as his Photographer of the Month. This lengthy interview does not consist of entirely easy pitches. Here’s how it begins:

Darwin: You have left a record of your work as digital photographer on the net showing your progression and evolution from your first posts on your blog in 2005. Many photographers want to leave an impression that they only ever created amazing stuff. Showing some early misses takes courage in my opinion and shows someone secure in who they are. But do you ever feel ‘exposed’ at times when people see your earlier work, work that may not meet your standards of today?

Here’s part of my response: “It serves a great educational role to let people know that some of my earliest digital work wasn’t as good as it might have been, and that I’ve managed to get a great deal better. If I can improve, so then can they.”

Other questions involve multi-RAW processing, hand HDR, what it takes to write a book about photography, electronic publication, and finding inspiration. Read the complete interview.

Posted in Photography

Photoshop Darkroom 2 Available

Our new book The Photoshop Darkroom 2: Creative Digital Transformations is now shipping on Amazon, where you can find excerpts and other information about the book. I know some of you have been waiting a long time for this book; I hope you’ll find it worth the wait. Please let me know.

If you were selected for a review copy, that should also be arriving shortly.

We are very excited, this is almost like a new child. Well, not really. But we are happy to have our book finally see the light of day.

One question I get asked often is how the new book compares to the first Photoshop Darkroom book. Is it a sequel? Not so much. Is it updated for the latest software?

We wrote The Photoshop Darkroom 2 with the most current version of Photoshop available (CS5), but these books are not about bells and whistles, software menus, or new features. Most of the techniques shown in either of the Photoshop Darkroom books could be accomplished with versions of Photoshop going back quite a ways.

The Photoshop Darkroom 2 is more like a companion volume than a sequel. We want each book to stand on its own, but at the same time we don’t want to repeat ourselves too much. Photoshop has so many aspects that it is easy for us to explain different techniques that parallel each other. For example, in the first Photoshop Darkroom book multi-RAW processing is explained using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR). In the new book, it is primarily explained using Adobe Lightroom.

As the subtitle suggests, the focus of The Photoshop Darkroom 2 is transformations. This means changing one thing into something new. The book starts with simple techniques for fixing people and places—by the end of the book we show you how to create entirely new worlds in Photoshop.

Posted in Writing

Barn Door

Barn Door © Harold Davis

Barn Door © Harold Davis

I spent a thrilling couple of hours in the late afternoon photographing inside the old barn at the Pierce Ranch on the north fork (towards Tomales Point) of Point Reyes. This is a beautiful, rough-hewn historic structure, maintained bythe Park Service, and the patterns of lights and darks made fabulous monochromatic subject matter, particularly as the sun descending so it was directly coming through the chinks and cracks in the end wall of the barn.

My strategy with this composition was to focus on the grit on the floor in the foreground, using an aperture (f/8) that provided only moderate depth-of-field so the background went slightly out of focus.

Exposure data for this shot: 35mm, 4/5 of a second at f/8 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

Posted in Monochrome, Patterns, Photography

There’s Always Something to Learn

There’s always something to learn in Photoshop. One could spend a lifetime, and still not learn all there is to know about this wonderful program. Which is one thing I like about Photoshop!

Last night I learned something new from the funny and gracious Russell Brown at the show he put on at Adobe in San Francisco for a local Photoshop users group.

Stacking is a technique that is useful for combining exposures created over time. One common application is to create composite images of star trails, for example 15 four minutes exposures stacked together rather than a single 60 minute exposures. There are a number of advantages to this technique, most significantly it results in less noise.

To stack in either the regular version of Photoshop or the Extended version, load the separate images in Photoshop as layers. One way to do this is to select the images in Adobe Bridge, then choose Tools > Photoshop > Load Files into Photoshop Layers.

Once in Photoshop, combine the layers into a Smart Object by first selecting them (Select > All Layers). Next, choose Layer > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart Object.

With the layers encapsulated in a Smart Object, you can then apply one of the Stack Modes from the menu found at Smart Objects > Stack Mode. Note, for star trails usually setting the Stack Mode to Maximum shows the best trails, provided the sky is dark.

To get to the same place I have been using the Statistics action, available in the Extended Edition of Photoshop CS5. It turns out that the Statistics action only encapsulates the procedure I have just described, and it is good to know that you don’t need the Extended version to perform statistically-based stacking.

Note correction: The stack modes are only available in the Extended edition of CS5. If you have the standard edition these menu items will appear grayed out. I was misinformed, and I am sorry if you spent time trying to follow my original instructions with the standard edition.

Night View of Bodega Bay

This semi-abstract star trail image is a view north from Point Reyes. I’ve licensed it for use as a Trader Joe’s greeting card. The image was created using 12 exposures, each at 4 minutes, f/4, and ISO 100, for a total total exposure time of about 48 minutes, with the Stack mode set to Maximum.

Related links: Stacking Star Trails; Creative Night; The Photoshop Darkroom; The Photoshop Darkroom 2.

Posted in Digital Night, Photoshop Techniques

Canoe in the Adirondacks

Canoe in the Adirondacks

I shot this image with a field view camera using 4X5 sheet film in the early 1980s. What you see here was scanned from a print.

Posted in Photography

Rose with Wood Background

Rose with Wood Background © Harold Davis

Rose with Wood Background © Harold Davis

Ever since my daughter Katie Rose was born a few years ago we haven’t used our fireplace for fear the wood smoke would irritate her already compromised lungs. This means that I’ve got a big pile of fire wood in the basement, perfectly cured and ready for use as photographic backgrounds.

Setting up this shot was simplicity itself. I found a piece of wood that seemed to contrast nicely with the rose bud. I took the wood and the blossom out to the dappled sunlight on the front porch. I moved things around until the lighting was right, using a white card to reflect some extra light at the bud. When satisfied, I snapped the photo with a macro lens, using a low-to-the-ground tripod.

This kind of simply put together still life composition can work—but only when the composition itself is simple, and also elegant.

Posted in Flowers, Photography, Still Life