Monthly Archives: August 2011

Distant Night Storm

Distant Night Storm © Harold Davis

Distant Night Storm © Harold Davis

I spent last week leading a night photography workshop high in the White Mountains on the California-Nevada border. This eastern California desert mountain range is home to the ancient Bristlecone Pines, known as the world’s oldest living things.

It was great to get to spend so much time in the Patriarch Grove of Bristlecone Pines, which is at an elevation of about 11,300 feet. These trees, and the entire high desert mountain environment, are incredibly beautiful and spiritual in feeling.

I set this shot up and let my programmable intervalometer proceed on automatic while I wandered the grove and met with workshop participants, who had spread out in the night. Everyone was having a good time. A distant storm to the east over Nevada added a frisson of excitement to the proceedings. We listened to the rumble of thunder and watched lightning flashes, wondering whether the ongoing multiple exposure process would capture the flashes.

In my case, there was not so much lightning in my photo because my camera was facing north and the lightning was on the periphery of its vision. But simply being there watching the night weather in this high mountain place surrounded by the gnarled and wonderful “Entish” trees was the experience of a lifetime.

To create this image, I stacked together 47 four minute exposures using the Photoshop Statistics script. Each exposure was made at 12mm, f/4, and ISO 400. I also layered in an earlier twilight exposure to create the detail shown in the foreground.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Photographing Flowers: Advance copy arrives

Photographing Flowers Advance Copy

In keeping with family tradition, Katie Rose is shown here with an advance copy of Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis from Focal Press. The bulk of the books are on the proverbial “slow boat from China,” but should be in stock at Amazon and other bookstores well before the official publication date of October 15 (you can pre-order the book from Amazon now).

We are very excited about Photographing Flowers. Paging through this book I can only say “Wow!” because it looks so spectacular. I am very happy with the design and production, and think it is one of the best looking of any of our books so far. I hope you like it as much as I do!

Here’s more about my new book: I love to photograph flowers, and it is very special for me to have a book devoted just to my flower photography. I think you’ll enjoy my photos in this book. If you are interested in photographing flowers yourself, you’ll also find ideas, techniques, and inspiration!

Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis

Here’s the description of Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis:

Capture stunning macro floral images with this gorgeous guide by acclaimed photographer Harold Davis. You’ll learn about different types of flowers, macro equipment basics, and the intricacies of shooting different floral varieties in the field and in the studio.

Harold also shows you techniques in the Photoshop darkroom that can be applied to flower photography to help you get the most out of your images.

Beautiful and authoritative, this guide to photographing flowers is a must read for every photographer interested in flower photography. Photographing Flowers will also win a place in the hearts of those who simply love striking floral imagery.

With Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis, you’ll get:

  • An authoritative guide to capturing breathtaking flower images
  • Tips and techniques from master photographer Harold Davis
  • Stunning photographs to inspire your creativity and give you ideas for your own flower photos

By the way, I am away the coming week leading a photography workshop east of the Sierras. I’m sure I’ll be posting photos from it, along with night photography adventure stories, when I get back!

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids, Photography, Writing

The Money Pit

Money Pit © Harold Davis

Money Pit © Harold Davis

This is a photo of the renovation construction at California Memorial Stadium, the football arena associated with UC Berkeley. The cost for this controversial project is upwards of three hundred million dollars. Besides seismic retrofitting, the construction will add gym facilities for the near-professional athletes, a media viewing area, and—most importantly—spacious decks with all kinds of amenities for rich sponsors.

There is something very wrong with this picture. Financing is being cut for elementary education in California. The regents have no choice but to raise the tuition for University of California students so that many of them can no longer afford it.

These same regents can afford a fancy stadium, manifested right now as this expensive hole in the ground.

It is unclear to me that near-professional athletics belong at any university, but if even if it has its place this expenditure represents misplaced priorities for a public educational insitution. I know football fans won’t appreciate what I am saying, but we live in a society that somehow has swapped what should be the education budget with the defence budget. It is time to remember that our greatest asset as a society is our people. We should be investing in people and their educations, not in luxury grandstands or expensive military hardware.

The great economist John Maynard Keynes once commented regarding the gold standard that we might as well bury cash money, then pay people to dig it up. In the spirit of Lord Keynes, I suppose that the Memorial Stadium money pit does have some beneficial impact on the economy—but wouldn’t the University of California do better by fixing anything dangerous (I can see the justification for earthquake retrofitting), then spending the rest of the money on education?

What do you think about this? Am I right? Am I wrong? If so, add a comment and tell me why.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, San Francisco Area

Stonemountain and Daughter, and Ribbons, and HDR

Ribbons © Harold Davis

Ribbons © Harold Davis

This is a portion of the ribbons rack at Stonemountain and Daughter, a very cool fabric store here in Berkeley, shot for HDR in seven exposures. I used a 12mm wide-angle focal length, and shot each frame at f/13 and ISO 100.

Exposure times varied between 1/40 of second (the darkest exposure) to 6 seconds (the lightest exposure). Since the duration of the exposure in digital photography is linear, it’s easy to see that there’s a 240 multiplicative factor from darkest exposure to lightest exposure, leaving aside the range inherent within each RAW capture.

It was kind of Stonemountain to let me and my tripod photograph at will in their colorful aisles. I suspect that the new full-spectrum lighting system installed at the store may have helped the colors come out so vividly.

I processed the seven images laboriously to maximize the effect, using Nik’s Merge to HDR Pro, Photoshop’s HDR toning, and a great deal of hand RAW processing and layering.

These recent HDR images were processed in essentially the same way:

Gone with the Wind
Arrested Decay

If you are interested, here’s the Stonemountain & Daughter blog.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography


My image of Death Valley Star Trails has been shortlisted by the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England for their 2011 Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition. Wish me luck!

Death Valley Star Trails

Here’s the backstory behind Death Valley Star Trails. The competition winners will be announced on September 8, 2011. You can follow this process live on Twitter either by following @ROGastronomers or by searching for the hash tag #atsrophoto11. For the record, if you want to follow me on Twitter I am @Harold_Davis. I am pleased that my colleague at Star Circle Academy Steven Christenson has also been shortlisted for the 2011 competition (he was a 2010 winner).

Posted in Digital Night, Photography

Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind

Gone with the Wind © Harold Davis

As with Arrested Decay, this is an HDR shot taking advantage of the textures inherent in the abandoned buildings of the ghost town of Bodie.

Usually, when I get into complicated post-processing it is an issue of trial and error, with backtracking and improvisation until I find the right approach. In this case I was a little more organized.

Using Arrested Decay as the template, I created a flow chart showing the approximately thirty different basic processing techniques I used. These included running six exposures through Nik Merge to HDR Efex Pro, running three captures through the same software, two different Nik presets, a custom Nik preset, my own RAW processing, my own hand-HDR blending, Nik filters, Topaz filters, Photoshop filters, a pixelBender filter, and LAB adjustments.

If all this sounds time consuming and complex, of course it was. But for me the good news is that the process—and look I obtained—is repeatable with any set of images shot for HDR. Which means that, unlike the interiors at Bodie, the effort I put into processing this image is not gone with the wind.

Posted in Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Japonica: Papaver Dreams

Papaver Dreams © Harold Davis

Papaver Dreams © Harold Davis

All art is referential to other art. Even post-modernist art—which makes a point of studiously appearing to avoid artistic antecedents—is in fact playing off the very traditions it thumbs its nose at, in much the way a wayward teenager incorporates parental values in the act of rebellion. As artists, like it or not, we are playing in a visual sandbox that extends backwards in time to the cave paintings in Lascaux (and even earlier into the unknown mists of pre-history).

As a practicing artist, one wants to tread the middle road. If you are ignorant, wilfully or otherwise, of the rich artistic traditions we’ve inherited, your work will be poorer for it. On the other hand, too much focus on the place of any individual art or artist in the greater scheme of visual art leads to rigid work that has been sapped of vitality, or is cloying in its use of historical references.

The great French impressionist painters were able to walk this path by choosing to step outside the dominant and stultifying academic traditions. At the same time, they eagerly embraced visual sources from traditions new to their culture—such as Japanese art.

Recently, I have been creating modified digital photos that are homage to this adaption of “Japonica”. My tools are backgrounds, border, compositional choices, digital paintbrushes—and even a signature in ersatz Kanji.

Related story: Making a Floral HDR Panorama.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Arrested Decay

Arrested Decay © Harold Davis

Arrested Decay © Harold Davis

In the eastern California ghost town of Bodie the curatorial choice has been made to leave things in a state of “arrested decay.” Notionally, this means that dwellings in Bodie should be more-or-less as they were when the town became a “ghost” in 1942. In other words, perhaps this living room is just as it was when the last survivors slipped out to move to somewhere more hospitable. Bodie sits in the high desert of the great basin that lies east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Harsh in the winters, hot in the summers, there cannot have been much in the way of opportunities once the mining dried up.

In reality, I suspect that arrested decay began when the State park took over. Meaning, the last residents slipped out to move somewhere with take-out food, the houses sat exposed to the environment for 35 years or so, and then the suspended animation began. If our civilization falls under the weight of its own inanities, injustices and environmental follies is this what some small sample of our times will look like caught in arrested decay following decades of…decay? And, who will curate? Where is the intelligent and benign alien race that will save us from ourselves?

Arrested decay, in Bodie or elsewhere, makes great grist for HDR—High Dyanamic Range—photography. It turns out that conventional HDR works very well in rendering textures—and arrested decay is nothing if not textural with moldy wallpaper, dusty floors, and a menu of sumptuous divergent surfaces not seen in normal life.

Related story: Moonrise over Bodie.

Posted in Photography

Aspens near Sonora Pass

Aspens near Sonora Pass © Harold Davis

Aspens near Sonora Pass © Harold Davis

Towards dusk, on the slow 20%-grade slopes up the Sonora Pass road on the Eastern slope of the Sierras, I passed this grove of Aspens. There was something about the almost ghostly way the trees touched, like people slowly dancing, that caught my attention, but I kept driving. I hadn’t gone very far before I realized that I needed to go back.

There are many reasons not to make photos, with a shortage of time, and wanting to press on to reach a campsite or other destination towards the top of the list. I’ve learned—at least most of the time—to not listen to these reasons, and to go ahead and make the photo anyway. Having to take care of one’s kids presents a different challenge to photography, but that’s a story for another time.

I knew immediately that the contrast between the white trunks and the background of dusk was perfect for monochrome, and I shot the frames to correspond with this creative intention by underexposing generally.

This image was created from three compositionally-identical frames shot on tripod with my new 35mm prime lens at f/22 and ISO 100. I used shutter speeds of one second (about 1/2 stop too dark according to the camera’s light meter), 3/5 of a second, and 1/10 of a second (very dark).

I combined the images retaining the color information primarily by hand layering, but also adding a pass from Nik’s Merge to HDR Pro. When I was happy with the color version of the image, I converted to monochromatic using Photoshop B&W Adjustment layers and Nik Silver Efex Pro 2—once again hand-layering tonal values for specific areas of the image.

Posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Photography

The Forest and the Stars

The Forest and the Stars © Harold Davis

The Forest and the Stars © Harold Davis

At about 10,000 feet elevation the mosquitos were ferocious. They swarmed in great clouds, buzzing their way through any minute gaps in my defences. Even lotion purportedly made of 100% DEET seemed to hold them off only briefly.

So I set my camera up in the forest and let it stack stars on autopilot. This is a composite of 111 four minute exposures, each one shot at f/2.8 and ISO 320. I used my 10.5mm digital fisheye. The total elapsed exposure time is about 7 1/2 hours, combined in Photoshop using stacking via the Statistics script, with the mode set to Maximum.

While the camera did all the work, I cowered in my tent behind the mosquito netting and did my best to ignore the whine of myriad little wings.

The results are not quite as dramatic as those captured in Star Trails over Half Dome—but do show the visual opportunities that are all around us, even when our lenses are trained on a modest slice of the earth.

Posted in Digital Night, Photography

Go van Gogh: August print offer from Harold Davis

Go van Gogh is an unusual image of a sunflower in the swirling style of Vincent van Gogh presented against a starry night sky. The image makes a great large print on 20″ X 17″ paper. Go van Gogh is presented on pages 168-169 of my upcoming new book from Focal Press, Photographing Flowers.

You can purchase an original print of Go van Gogh by Harold Davis for the special price of $125.00. The normal price for this print is $300.00. This offer is for the month of August, 2011.

Special Bonus Offer:

The first five folks who buy the Go van Gogh print will receive a free autographed copy of Photographing Flowers when it is available in October. The book normally costs $29.95 and features glorious floral photography and the techniques used to create the images.

Go van Gogh

Purchase Go van Gogh by Harold Davis for $125.00. The normal price for this print is $300.00. This special offer is for the month of August, 2011.

Here’s what people say about their Harold Davis print:

  • “Your Poppies print arrived today in perfect condition. Thank you for all the care you took to wrap and ship it so carefully. I cannot wait to frame it and hang it in my living room. This photo just speaks to me……”
    —Ilene Hertz, San Jose, California
  • “The print has arrived safely. And it’s gorgeous! My coworkers are in awe.”
    —Sharry Lee Gregory, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • “The Cherry Branch print arrived in excellent condition – it’s beautiful! Thanks for all the care you took with it, your family does great work!”
    —Rachael Fogal, Anchorage, Alaska

About Harold Davis prints:

When you buy a print made in my studio, it is gicl&#233e printed by hand with tender, loving care. Every print comes with a signed certificate of authenticity.

My prints are unconditionally warrantied. I stand by my work. I want you to be completely ecstatic.
If you are not satisfied with your print in any way or for any reason, please return it in as-new condition within one year for a no-questions-asked refund or exchange.

More about the Go van Gogh print:

Go van Gogh is gicl&#233e printed on 325 gsm acid-free, archival Epson Exhibition Fiber paper. Each print is individually made with a great deal of care using the best archival materials. Even the ink I use to sign my prints is acid free.

The actual image size of the print is somewhat smaller than the full paper size. This allows for my hand signature and overmatting when you frame the piece.

The price of this print includes careful, custom packing and insured Fedex ground shipping within the continental United States. (Please contact me for shipping costs to Alaska, Hawaii, or internationally.)

What will your Harold Davis print be worth 50 years from now?

Help support a living artist! I’m not comparing myself with the great masters of photography, but consider that during the many years that Edward Weston and Ansel Adams were active, you could
have bought one of their prints for a few hundred dollars (at most). These prints sell for tens&#151or hundreds&#151of thousands of dollarsat auction today.

Framing your Harold Davis print:

Many people have asked me about framing their Harold Davis print. I always recommend archival framing using acid-free materials and glass that provides UV protection. Note that we do not provide framing services. I am a photographer and artist, not a framer. I want you to work with a professional framer to make your own choices depending on where you will hang my print&#151and I don’t want to build a hidden markup into what I would have to charge for framing.

Have any questions?

If you have any questions about this print&#151or anything photographic for that matter&#151please email me (harold [at] or give me a call at 510.528.9977.

Posted in Flowers, Photography, Print of the Month