Monthly Archives: May 2012

Expecting the Unexpected

As a photographer, I am often reminded to expect the unexpected. The expected can produce workaday good pictures but it is the unexpected that produces great photos. Since fortune favors the prepared mind, how can we prepare for the unexpected?

To some degree, it is not possible to prepare for the unexpected because the unexpected is by definition exogenous. The decisive moment is decisive because something is happening outside of the normal course of things to alter the normal flow of events. In other words, unexpected subject matter is unexpected because, well, one doesn’t expect it.

But there are some steps we can take to prepare to take advantage of the unexpected:

  • Be ready. Know your gear so you won’t fumble. This means photographing often and regularly, much as a musician practices their instrument. Keep your camera accessible (because you can’t take a photo without your camera!). You don’t have to shoot all the time, but when you are in photographic mode be alert, on guard, and prepared to photograph on a dime.
  • Be mindful. Listen to your inner voice, it is probably wiser than you think. I always try to listen when my inner voice tells me there is something to photograph, even when I am tired or hungry, or just don’t want to photograph any more. Photograph is a bit like jazz: it thrives on improvisation (even in apparently controlled situations, like when shooting a still life in the studio).
  • Be decisive. The unexpected moves quickly, and there is often no time to be lost.
  • Be flexible. The most important trait you’ll need as a photographer to take advantage of the unexpected is flexibility. Look all around you and up and down, not just straight ahead. Out shooting landscapes? Fine—but don’t turn away other photographic opportunities such as close-ups or interiors that present themselves.
Bunker by Harold Davis

Bunker © Harold Davis

From the summit of Hawk Hill I expected to shoot the moon rising over the San Francisco skyline. A small bunker, left over from the days when the San Francisco coast was fortified, caught my eye instead. The interior of the bunker was plastered with graffiti. I used a 10.5mm digital fisheye lens with my camera on the tripod to make six exposures, with each exposure at f/13 and ISO 200. Shutter speeds varied between 1/200 of a second (darkest) and 2/5 of a second (lightest). I combined the exposures using Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro Photoshop plugin.

For more of my thoughts on this subject, check out my article on, Expecting the Unexpected.

Posted in Bemusements, HDR, Photography, Writing

Golden Gate Bridge 75th Anniversary

A celebration today marks the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. As I remarked in my book 100 Views of the Golden Gate, “the wonders of the Golden Gate are simple but profound. The more you look, and the more you wander, the more you see.”

This is a good credo for any photographer in any place, but particularly when the subject is the “topography of water, weather, and light that blesses San Francisco Bay.”

Starfish and Bridge by Harold Davis

Starfish and Bridge © Harold Davis

From 100 Views:  “On the beach at Kirby Cove, with the tide coming in fast and hard, I noticed the starfish. With an extreme wide-angle lens it was possible to get the starfish and Golden Gate Bridge in one frame. To get enough depth-of-field, I used a long exposure with my tripod legs deep in the surf.”

I should add, since I’ve often been asked, that no starfish were harmed in the making of this photo, and that shortly after the exposure the whole area was under the tide and the starfish was well submerged.

You can read more about Kirby Cove and the making of this photo in the original story on my blog (from December 2006).

Golden Gate Span by Harold Davis

Golden Gate Span © Harold Davis

There are many ways to approach a subject as compelling as the Golden Gate Bridge, and I found myself enjoying monochromatic versions of the Bridge and landscape. This is the work that became a Classic California postcard book, as well as a 2013 Classic California wall calendar.

Check out Golden Gate in Black & White and On My Way to Visit Katie Rose, the story I wrote about making the Golden Gate Span image: “To get the views in this story, I followed a path to a stair up an old battery, and then climbed a ladder to the top. From there I had a straight shot at the bridge. Compared to some of the places I shoot at night, this didn’t feel at all precarious. All the same, I was glad to have my headlamp with me.

“This had been a hot day in the Bay area, so I almost didn’t carry my sweater with me. I’m glad I did, because fog rolled in through the Golden Gate, along with a chill wind off the ocean. The fog hit the bridge, and diffused the light, creating the pools of light of different color temperatures in the atmosphere aroung the bridge.”

Happy Birthday, Golden Gate Bridge!

Posted in San Francisco Area


Katie Rose has learned that the pout can be mightier than Mom and Dad, mightier than the sword, and mightier than this blogger. She is persistent and remorseless in getting her way—if not quite as devious as she thinks she is.

Pout by Harold Davis

Pout (Katie Rose) © Harold Davis

We love our Katie Rose dearly, and are glad she is here to beg, wheedle, insist and pout. She also gives good hugs!

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids

Peonies mon amour

At this time of year some flowers are too special not to photograph. In that spirit, I’ve been having a great time the last few days photographing peonies. These flowers are unabashedly sensuous and over-the-top. Associated with healing in classical Greece, in Japan peonies became common on tattoos, along with koi fish, lions, and dragons—partially thanks to the illustrations of ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1862). In this context, peonies became associated as a symbol with hyper-masculinity and a disregard for consequences—which seems to me to be all wrong!

Peonies mon amour by Harold Davis

Peonies mon amour © Harold Davis

To create this image, I shot the peonies on a lightbox and combined five exposures using hand-layering (hand-HDR) in Photoshop.

My idea was to present the images as something like an old-fashioned botanical illustration, but created photographically. To enhance this look, I added a scanned background and a texture to the version of the flowers on white.

To print the Peonies mon amour image, I used Moenkopi Washi Unryu, which adds an exciting textural effect to the image and makes for a very interesting graphic.

Peonies on Moenkopi Unryu by Harold Davis

Peonies on Unryu © Harold Davis


Odds and ends: You may have tried to reach this blog over the past few weeks and not been able to! Sorry about that. The problem was that I’ve been getting a great deal of traffic—which is mostly good news for me, but not when my webhost shuts me down without notice because I have too many readers. So I’ve migrated to WPEngine, a site that manages WordPress blogs in a scalable way, and promises never to shut me down because I am popular!

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Ghost Flowers

I noticed some white “Iceberg” roses growing in a corner of my garden. Their lovely white-on-white shapes truly appealed to me, but I knew all the whiteness would cause difficulties in terms of tonal separation when I photographed the roses on white.

Ghost Flowers by Harold Davis

Ghost Flowers © Harold Davis

Every floral composition needs some structure, and to create a structure for my white roses I laid a stem of Schizanthus grahamii on the background next to my lightbox. Schizanthus is sometimes called a “Butterfly flower” not so much because it attracts butterflies but because it is shaped like a colorful butterfly.

Here’s a story I wrote about arranging floral compositions for photography that explains what I mean about creating a structure.

Laying the white roses on top of the Schizanthus, with my camera on my tripod, I shot six exposures as is my wont—with shutter speeds ranging from one second to 1/100 of a second. Each exposure was at f/10 and ISO 100.

I combined the exposures starting with the lightest one-second exposure using hand-layering in Photoshop. I also used Nik HDR Efex Pro to create a blend that added some definition to the layered image, and could be added using Luminosity blending mode. The initial results are shown below.

Schizanthus by Harold Davis

Schizanthus and White Roses © Harold Davis

I liked the delicacy of the white-on-white roses on the white background, but I decided to see what they would look like on black. To accomplish this, I converted the image to LAB color and applied an inversion adjustment to the L channel of the image. This swapped black for the white of the background, but as a result the roses were a little too dark.

So a painted the flowers in the original of the white-on-white version back over the inverted version at low opacity. The result is a slightly spooky version of ghostly flowers, probably best viewed large.

Odds and ends: If you are interested in an exciting photography workshop in the northeast, check out powerhouse photographer  Hank Gans and his Golden Light photography intensive at Gibson House, a sweet New Hampshire bed & breakfast in mid August.

Posted in Flowers, Photoshop Techniques


The tulips were strongly backlit by the sun. The flowers were also swaying to and fro in a swift breeze. With my 200mm telephoto macro lens mounted on a tripod I shot this flower at a fast enough shutter speed (1/640 of a second) to stop the motion. My thought was to use the very distinctive natural lighting to create a flower composition that had echoes of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting.

Tulip by Harold Davis

Tulip © Harold Davis

Odds and ends:

  • Interview with Harold Davis, Maestro of Flowers and Waterdrops is a new podcast on Pixiq. I actually enjoyed listening to myself and my refrain that “there are no rules”—maybe you will, too!
  • We have room for only two more photographers one more photographer on our April, 2013 Photograph Paris with Harold Davis workshop. Besides shooting Paris at night, we will shoot Monet’s Gardens at Giverny, and work to emulate the monochromatic visions of Paris expressed by Brassai and Atget. Click here for workshop overview, complete trip itinerary, and online registration.
  • There are a few places left in my weekend Macros, Close-Ups, and Flowers workshop coming up from Friday, June 1 through Sunday June 3, 2012, and hosted in the romantic Coastguard Boathouse on the western tip of Point Reyes, California. This workshop is given under the auspices of the Point Reyes Field Institute, and it is an absolutely unique opportunity in many ways. I should also point out that the workshop is extremely reasonably priced for the weekend (meals are potluck). Here’s the link for online registration.
Posted in Flowers, Photography

Katie Rose is four!

Recently we celebrated Katie Rose’s fourth birthday. As you can see, the birthday girl had a good time.

Katie Rose's fourth birthday © Harold Davis

To see her today gives us a big smile, and it always moves us to remember how unlikely her chances seemed four years ago, and how small she was then (she weighed a good bit less than two pounds).

Some background regarding Katie Rose:

It’s hard to have her living so joyously and happily without believing that miracles do happen. Her whole life is a miracle, and a blessing to us.

Let her eat cake

Let her eat cake © Harold Davis

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids


Down at Port Oakland when I saw the pelicans in this photo flying past gigantic hoists I thought it looked like the machines were turning into the birds, or at least releasing the birds from a mechanical nature to fly away and be free.

Metamorphosis by Harold Davis

Metamorphosis © Harold Davis

This, of course, is the meaning of metamorphosis—when something changes into something else. Metamorphosis is a common theme in art, famously in Kafka’s eponymous novel in which Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning as a monstrous verminous bug.

Metamorphosis is also frequently found in the visual arts. M.C. Escher, an artist I particularly admire, often played with metamorphic transformations, and explicitly named some of his images to indicate their concern with metamorphosis (for example, Metamorphosis I).

A number of my images that are more digital art than photography are definitely about metamorphosis; for example Spirals, the Shadow Within pair, and The Dictator’s Architect. The manifesto in my Photoshop Darkroom 2: Creative Digital Transformations explains my thinking with these images.

As opposed to the transformations that are digitally created or enhanced, what intrigues me about the birds in Port Oakland is that the metamorphosis seems completely organic to the image—something I saw and captured but did not actually create.

Posted in Photography, San Francisco Area

Full Moon Rising

Before I get down to explaining the images of the “super” full moon rising that accompany this story, let me point you (in case you may be interested) to a few recent stories that feature me:

Full Moon Rising by Harold Davis

Full Moon Rising © Harold Davis

I shot this image during a recent Golden Gate Bridge and Full Moon workshop I gave. The moon was rising behind the Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer in the Marin Headlands.

I used my intervalometer (remote programmable timer) to make 333 exposures while I went around to the people in the workshop to see how they were doing. So the camera shot this image on autopilot—and I didn’t have to do anything!

Each exposure was for 2 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, using a 400mm focal length on my 1.5X crop Nikon D300 (effective 35mm focal length of 600mm). There was a one second interval between each of the exposures.

I started the sequence of exposures with the moon on the lower left of the frame because I knew the moon would move diagonally up, and I wanted it to stay in the frame as long as possible. The camera was unattended, so I had no way to know during the exposure sequence how well this was working.

When I looked at the captures on my computer, the moon started to leave the frame at the 170th exposure, so I had 169 exposures to work with if I wanted to keep the moon within the frame.

I used the Statistics script in Photoshop Extended to stack the 169 exposures. Stacking all the images together yielded a fat, blurred line: proving once again that sometimes it is possible to have too much information!

I found (by trial and error) that stacking every 25th exposure (for a total of eight exposures) gave interesting results in which you can see some detail in the moon.

The partial transparency in the final images was achieved by combining a stack created in Maximum mode in the Statistics script with a stack created using Mean mode in the Statistics script, each stack containing just the eight images.

The lines on the right are, of course, Golden Gate Bridge cables.

I should add that this makes a very cool print in either the black & white or color version, sized small, on Moab’s Moenkopi Kozo Washi rice paper.


Lunar Progression by Harold Davis

Lunar Progression © Harold Davis

Posted in Digital Night, Monochrome, Patterns, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Advance Copy: Creating HDR Photos

Yesterday we received an advance copy of my new book Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography published by Amphoto. In keeping with family traditions, this morning I photographed Katie Rose perusing the book. Katie Rose is sitting on our front steps; big brother Julian is helping her hold up the book.

Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography

Advance copy: Creating HDR Photos © Harold Davis

Creating HDR Photos definitely has a different look-and-feel from my previous books. I like the way my photos came out. My book is packed with information you can’t find anywhere else. How I would have loved to get my hands on this book a few years back when I was just starting to figure out HDR!

Presumably the bulk of the copies of Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography are in containers on the proverbial slow boat from China. My book has a publication date of July 24, 2012. I am looking forward very much to sharing my techniques and insights related to this exciting photographic subject with you when it is available.

Posted in HDR, Katie Rose, Kids, Photography, Writing