Monthly Archives: June 2012

Looking for Light

What matters most is light. A good photographer has hungry eyes, and will visually examine the world for potentially interesting subjects. But the subject matter itself is nothing without exciting light and its interplay with the world. Light and lighting convey emotion and faith—whether the subject is a church or a country road in the woods near a Zen retreat.

Basilica Mission Delores by Harold Davis

Basilica Mission Dolores © Harold Davis—Click image to view larger

Mission Dolores is the oldest building in San Francisco. A separate building, the Basilica Mission Dolores was built after the great 1906 earthquake. Inside the Basilica Mission Dolores, the chiaroscuro illumination with its moody contrasts between light and dark got my full attention.

Pew by Harold Davis

Pews © Harold Davis—Click image to view larger

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”


Intensive Workshop: Photography in Paris with Harold Davis, October 14-21, 2012

My Photography in Paris with Harold Davis workshop is limited to six photographers. I’ve organized the October 14-21, 2012 intensive photographic workshop in Paris as a small, selective group so each photographer will get intensive individual attention.

About the workshop: This will be an intensive photography workshop in the field. In a small group I will be able to give a great deal of individual attention and feedback—and I think everyone who has ever attended one of my workshops will tell you that they’ve gained insights about how to see photographically—changing the way they look at things—as well as how to process their photos. (Check out some of the recent feedback on the Photography with Harold Davis meetup site.)

Paris is certainly a subject that will inspire anyone’s photography, and help them move their work up to the next level!

Workshop curriculum: This is largely a field photography workshop, and we’ll focus our lenses on Paris in autumn and the sometimes stark, sometimes colorful compositions of this season, Paris at night, and Paris in black & white. There will be individual assistance in obtaining the best results. The following topics will be emphasized in the field:

  • Oberving light in the field, pre-visualizing the impact of light and lighting, and changing the way one looks at things
  • Using manual exposure controls for creative impact
  • High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography for a natural look
  • Seeing in black & white for monochromatic excellence
  • Taking advantage of unusual lighting and exposure situations

There will also be ample time for image review, and for explaining how to best post-process images, particularly HDR and black & white.

About the workshop tuition: I’ve been up and I’ve been down in my life, and I certainly know that not everyone has the tuition money to join my Paris workshop. But I did want you to understand that the fixed costs are the same whether it is a smaller workshop or a larger workshop. Dividing out the costs, the smaller group does cost more per person than a larger-sized group, it is simply the way it has to be.

As I’ve noted, space is extremely limited and this workshop is filling up, so if the opportunity of photographing Paris with me and a selective group is of interest to you, please register right away to avoid disappointment.

Click here for the complete itinerary details of the Oct 14-21, 2012 workshop and click here for online registration. Note that I am offering a $200 rebate to anyone who completes an accepted workshop registration by Friday, July 7, 2012.

Posted in HDR, Monochrome, Photography, San Francisco Area

Julian Graduates from Middle School

My oldest son Julian graduated today from Middle School at Star Academy. We are very proud of him—and very appreciative of the work the school has done with him to make this possible.

Julian Graduates from Middle School

I shot this image at the graduation ceremony with my iPhone camera—like everyone else. As time goes by, mobile phone cameras have become the camera one always has with one, and “good enough”—the 110 Instamatics of our time!

Posted in iPhone, Kids

Red Poppies

Shooting the other day at Blake Garden I notice a glorious stand of red poppies. I asked for permission to cut a bunch and bring them home to my studio, which was very graciously granted.

Red Poppies by Harold Davis

Red Poppies © Harold Davis—click image to view larger

Using my lightbox, I shot this arrangement with my camera on a tripod using eight exposures. Each exposure was at f/13 and ISO 200. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/100 of a second to 2 seconds. The flowers were lit from the front by controlled natural light.

The idea of this kind of High Dynamic Range (HDR) processing is to throw away the dark side. By processing only high-key exposure for HDR I am able to create an image with an illusion of transparency.

To finish the image, I used Photoshop to place it on a background of scanned paper. I added a texture to the top of image using Saturation Blending mode to help partially give the image the feeling of a botanical illustration—albeit a botanical illustration created with the new tools of digital art and a modern sensibility.

My print of this image on Washi rice paper will be on exhibit at a forthcoming exhibit of botanical photographic art that benefits the San Francisco Botanical Society.

Here are links to my images of peonies and irises that will also be represented in the show with Washi rice paper prints.

Posted in Flowers, HDR, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

In Clarion Alley

Alleys can be magical places. Just think of Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. The Mission District of San Francisco has a number of alleys, made magical by the artists who have decorated them. Some of these artists have gone on to fame and fortune. Unfortunately, I have no idea who painted this garage door in Clarion Alley as I could not find a signature.

Unknown Artist by Harold Davis

Unknown Artist © Harold Davis—click the image to view larger

To make this image I shot five exposures with my camera on a tripod using manual exposure mode. Each exposure was exposed at 35mm, f/11 and ISO 200. My shutter speeds ranged between 1/10 of a second and 1/200 of a second. I combined the five exposures using Nik HDR Efex Pro.

Posted in Bemusements, HDR, San Francisco Area

Portraits in Fire

At the recent Photography with Harold Davis night event at Sutro Baths, my friend and colleague Steven Christenson lit the night with scouring pads and magnesium. If you are interested in learning more about the night magic that Steven creates, check out his StarCircleAcademy blog.

Man in the Middle by Harold Davis

Man in the Middle © Harold Davis

Spinning Fire by Harold Davis

Spinning Fire © Harold Davis

Posted in Bemusements, Digital Night

Multi-Raw Processing Fort Point and the Golden Gate Bridge

On the fly, while leading a small group of photographers to shoot the Golden Gate during full moonrise, I grabbed this fisheye shot of Fort Point with the Golden Gate Bridge against the sky in the background. A sunburst was coming through the old lighthouse atop the Fort Point ramparts, leading to a scene with fairly extreme dynamic range.

This is an image that renders the full on light of the sun at the same time as it show details in the deep shadow areas in the niches of the fort. You can click on the photo to view it larger so you can really see what I mean.

Fort Point and Golden Gate Bridge by Harold Davis

Fort Point and Golden Gate Bridge © Harold Davis

I exposed for the sky, and in the default rendering the foreground was pretty dark. To recover the situation, I processed a second, lighter version of the file for the foreground. I used a layer mask and a gradient to combine the two versions in Photoshop. This is an example of what I mean by multi-RAW processing.

The Fort Point shadow areas were still pretty dark, so I processed a third even lighter versions, aligned it on top of the two previous versions, set the Blending Mode to Screen, and masked it out. I then “painted” selective areas of this very much lighter layer in.

Theoretically, a single RAW file contains data providing a dynamic range from -4 EV to +4EV of the actual exposure. You can pick and choose which part of this enormous dynamic range you want to use for which parts of your image, but the entire dynamic range is not all usable. In this case, my processing added quite a bit of noise to the dark shadow areas that I had lightened, so I needed to selectively process for noise.

Posted in Photography, Photoshop Techniques, San Francisco Area

Harold Davis on subtle HDR per the New York Times

New York Times reporter Roy Furchgott provides tips on High Dynamic Range photography techniques from Harold Davis on the New York Times Gadgetwise blog. The emphasis is on HDR that is subtle and looks realistic, rather than the garish HDR images that are all too common! I’m pleased that the article mentions my new book from Amphoto, Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography.

Succulent by Harold Davis

Succulent © Harold Davis

About the image: After giving a workshop, I spent a day relaxing in the hot spring baths at the Esalen community along the Big Sur coast of California. On the way back to my room from the baths I noticed a wonderful garden of small succulents. I wanted to create an image that showed all of the detail of the plant against a dark background. To accomplish my goals I shot seven exposures with my camera on my tripod using my 85mm macro lens. Each exposure was shot at an effective aperture of f/64 and ISO 200. The shutter speeds varied from 1/25 at the darkest end of a second to 4 seconds at the lightest end.

I combined the exposures using hand-HDR in Photoshop and Photoshop’s HDR Pro.

Posted in HDR, Photography

Pretty Peonies on Unryu

This is an arrangement of Peonies, Hydrangeas, and Campanulas—mainly Peonies—arranged on my lightbox and shot straight down in pieces. Each piece was shot using high-key HDR, with ten bracketed exposures.

Peonies, Hydrangeas, and Campanulas by Harold Davis

Peonies, Hydrangeas, and Campanulas © Harold Davis

I used Photoshop to stitch the pieces of this panorama together. Between all the HDR exposures to hand blend and the panoramic stitching, putting all the elements together took quite a bit of planning and work—at least one entire episode of Prairie Home Companion, and maybe two. Thanks, Garrison!

To finish the image, I added a background of scanned paper, and a warming texture.

Like Peonies mon amour, this image makes a great print on Moenkopi Unryu washi! I hate it when Peony season is over.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Black and White Spiders Award Honors Harold Davis

My monochromatic image of an egg slicer was honored with a Nominee Black & White Spider award in the Professional Still Life category. Click here for the press release about the award, and to view the Spider awards gallery.

Egg Slicer by Harold Davis

Egg Slicer © Harold Davis

This photo appears on page 24 of my Creative Black & White: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques.

Posted in Monochrome, Photography

Heirloom Heart

Browsing the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables at Berkeley Bowl, this heirloom tomato called out to me for photography if not for my salad. There is no doubt that when positioned and lit correctly it resembles a sensuous heart.

Heirloom Heart by Harold Davis

Heirloom Heart © Harold Davis

I shot the tomato on a black velvet background using controlled natural light. The image you see is a hand-HDR blend of four exposures made with my 85mm tilt-shift macro lens. Each exposure was at ISO 100 and an effective aperture of f/64. My shutter speeds ranged from 1/30 of a second to 8 seconds.

Posted in Bemusements, Hearts, Photography

Blowing in the Wind

In the discussions over whether Photoshop is artistry or illegitimate trickery, the extent to which photography itself is a medium that relies on sleight-of-hand is often overlooked. In regard to Photoshop, photography, and the depiction of reality, check out Harold’s Manifesto: Losing the Chains of Reality (a PDF download from The Photoshop Darkroom 2: Creative Digital Transformations).

There is nothing truly new under the sun. I note in my new book Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography that Gustave Le Gray created multi-shot HDR imagery in the 1850s. Similarly, there’s a long tradition of using the camera in a tricky way—no matter whether the capture medium is based on chemistry or pixels.

Blowing in the Wind by Harold Davis

Blowing in the Wind © Harold Davis

A case in point is this image of mine of floating seeds blowing in the wind. This is a studio confection, lit from beneath and one side, and shot against black velvet. The background was created using a time exposure of a feather held up with white thread and moved by an assistant according to my directions.

The seed pod used in this image can be seen in World Within.

Posted in Photography

Large Lonely Islet on Washi on Exhibit

A large print of my Lonely Islet on Moenkopi Kozo Washi rice paper will be on exhibit at Misho Gallery in San Francisco from June 22 – June 30, 2012.

Lonely Islet by Harold Davis

Lonely Islet © Harold Davis

My print will be part of a juried exhibition of photography of reflections. I think you might be surprised at how this print in this large size (about 30″ X 40″) on rice paper looks both subtle and dramatic.

So please check it out if you get the chance.

If you like parties, there will be a preview with live music on Friday, June 22 for 5-9PM, and an opening reception Saturday, June 23 from 1-3PM at the gallery.

Here’s the link for the Misho Gallery, and my original blog story about Lonely Islet.

Posted in Photography


The best camera to use is the one you have with you, and the camera I have with me all the time is my iPhone. So most of the photos I take of my kids when they are out and about is with my iPhone camera—including this shot of Mathew with his new dragon tattoo, courtesy of end-of-school-year festivities.

Mathew with a dragon tattoo by Harold Davis

Mathew with a Dragon Tattoo © Harold Davis

The other thing about iPhoneography of course is that it is instant. I shot this photo of Mathew in the school gym, showed it to him, then quickly processed it in the Plastic Bullet app on my phone. People tend to a certain raised-eyebrow attitude when a “serious” photo is “Photoshopped.” Why is manipulative post-processing of iPhone photos via apps like Plastic Bullet (or Instagram, or whatever) socially so acceptable? Whatever the reason for this disconnect, it is certainly fun to play with all the apps!

Posted in iPhone, Kids, Photography

World Within

I joke (and mostly it is not a joke) that all my photos are HDR—High Dynamic Range. This image of the world within a seed pod is no exception. The seed pod was in a bud vase, with backlighting from a lightbox and some front lighting from the afternoon sun coming through the window. I used my 85mm tilt-and-shift “Edward Weston” macro lens to shoot seven exposures at f/64 and ISO 100. The exposures ranged in time from 1/60 of a second to ten seconds.

World within by Harold Davis

World Within © Harold Davis

I used two of the exposures to create a Photoshop composite that showed the delicate outer lines (exposed at 1/15 of a second so the lines were dark) and the darker inner core (exposed at ten seconds to fully render detail).

This got me 85% of the way to where I wanted to be. I then blended all seven exposures in Nik Software’s HDR Efex, and used two different Nik HDR Efex layers at low opacity to finish the image.

Posted in Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Inspiration is a demanding mistress

I never know when that moment of revelation is going to strike. It is kind of like an “aha” feeling—but a little bit different, both more and less. I’m plodding along, minding my own business, tending to the mundane affairs of life when all of a sudden a voice inside my head speaks to me and says, “There might be a picture here!”

I’ve learned to listen to that inner voice when I do hear it, and to cultivate it. I miss my inner voice when it is absent! But inspiration can be a demanding mistress.

White Irises by Harold Davis

White Irises © Harold Davis

Life in a household with four young kids and two working parents is full of good reasons for denying my inner voice. I’ve work to do, images to license, books to write, bills to pay, kids to pick up! Life must go on!

But it is only by giving our inner voices some time and space to work their magic that we become the people—and artists—that we were meant to be.

Walking the boys to the school bus stop I passed a clump of white irises growing wild in the strip between the sidewalk and the street. The irises called out to me, try as I might I could not ignore them. After waving kisses to the boys when they got on the bus I walked home, got my pruning shears, and found my way back to the irises.

I laid the flowers out on my lightbox, fanning out the foliage, and shot straight down. The result you see is seven exposures at shutter speeds from 1/60 of a second to 1 second, all shot with a macro lens at f/10 and ISO 100. I combined the seven exposures using hand-HDR in Photoshop and Nik Software’s HDR Efex Pro.

A background made in Photoshop from scanned paper was then added to complete the composition, giving the image a touch of an old-fashioned botanical look: old and new combined in an unusual way.

Posted in Flowers, Iris, Photography