Monthly Archives: February 2013

Tiptoe through the tulip

The tulips that I found last week at the North Berkeley Farmers Market have transmogrified into fantastical shapes and forms as they age and illustrate wabi-sabi in action. Like the anemones, these flowers started out somewhat closed, and grew into their beauty as they opened.

Tulip Within by Harold Davis

Tulip Within © Harold Davis

With this tulip, a petal fell to the ground while the rest of the flower was still radiant. This missing petal allowed me to peer inside with my camera, and to capture the beauty within the tulip.

Posted in Flowers

Steel Wool

Sometimes you don’t have to go far to find something exotic to shoot, like this close-up portrait of industrial-grade steel wool, purchased at Costco.

Steel Wool by Harold Davis

Steel Wool © Harold Davis

Exposure data: 85mm tilt-shift macro, 1.3 seconds at an effective aperture of f/64, ISO 100, tripod mounted; processed in Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop, and Silver Efex.

Posted in Monochrome

Photographing your kids

Pity the poor children of the shoemaker—who go around perpetually down at their heels. Although photographic projects, clients, flowers and more beckon, such is not the case for my kids when it comes to imagery. Like every proud Papa I love to photograph my four kids, and I get the opportunity to indulge in photography of my kids in their casual moments. Oddly, my first job as a professional photographer was making formal portraits of kids, with backdrops and lighting—and I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I do photographing kids spontaneously and casually.

For example, here’s a casual “grab shot” of my wonderful eight-year-old Mathew enjoying his bubble bath.

Mathew in the bath by Harold Davis

Mathew in the bath © Harold Davis

If you want to take casual shots of your kids—or anyone else’s kids—the key is to keep things spontaneous and fun. If you interrupt the flow of what the child is doing to bring out photographic equipment, or make them pose, the moment is lost. What better way to be spontaneous than to involve your kids in the process of photography by showing them on the LCD how cool they are, or, if they are making funny faces, the humor in the photos?

Katie Rose by Harold Davis

Katie Rose (iPhone photo) © Harold Davis

Spontaneity means acting on the spur-of-the-moment. My iPhone is the camera I always have with me, and perfect for these impromptu times, when dragging out the DSLR would ruin the flow of play. Remember that the goal of this kind of photography is not to achieve technical perfection. It is to capture a snapshot of your kid in the moment. Mobile phone cameras these days are certainly good enough for most kinds of casual photography, as you can see in the shot of Katie Rose above.

You’ll find more about photographing kids (and grown people too) in my book Creative Portraits: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques.

Posted in iPhone, Kids, Photography

Floral Sunset

It’s hard to imagine two subjects that are more over-photographed than sunsets and flowers. Of course, there’s a reason that something is a popular subject for photography. It’s wonderful to make images of flowers, and as I ask in the introduction to Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis, “How can we not want to capture this ephemeral and bold stand against the entropy and chaos of the universe?”

The virtues of sunset to the serious photographer are also greater than one might suppose based on all the awful images of sunsets out there, and also the disdain of the professional cadre for imagery that depicts the setting of the sun. Each and every sunset reminds of us of our place in the solar system, and also the passage of time. I am reminded of Galen Rowell’s remark that every photographer only has a certain and fixed number of sunsets—so one should witness every single one of them. This may be overkill, but leaving metaphysics aside it is true that some of the most interesting light in the field occurs right around sunset.

Setting Sun and Cherry Blossoms by Harold Davis

Setting Sun and Cherry Blossoms © Harold Davis

So as a photographer I love the sunset time of day. Also, it’s fun to turn the double cliché on its head, and approach combining sunsets and flowers in an unusual way. With this shot of a setting sun seen through a cherry blossom I relied on the fact that throwing the sun way out-of-focus makes it appear much larger. With my camera on my tripod, I used my 105mm macro lens combined with an extension tube. My aperture was wide open, and I focused on the very close cherry blossom to make the sun seem even larger than life. I finished the image with a texture overlay to make it seem even more painterly and dreamy.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

The Bristlecone Pines Endure

Above 10,000 feet in the arid White Mountains in eastern California the ancient Bristlecone Pines thrive. In this extreme environment wood decomposes slowly, and these trees can look more dead than alive. In this state a tree can live on for centuries, the spark of life embedded within the enduring structure of wood.

Endurance by Harold Davis

Endurance © Harold Davis

Coming upon a composition of apparently dead wood formed by a living Bristlecone Pine, I could see that I wanted a black and white image that showed the spectacular patterns of wood grain—and also that the ability to make this image was beyond the tonal range of any single capture. So I resolved my dilemma by making multiple captures, and taking the image from mundane to striking in its tonal variety.

Exposure and processing data: 200mm macro lens, six exposures at shutter speeds ranging from 1/500 of a second to 7/10 of a second, each exposure at f/32 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; RAW files processed in Adobe Camera RAW and Nik HDR Efex Pro with post-production in Photoshop, monochromatic conversion using Photoshop and Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Posted in HDR, Monochrome, Photography

Anemones Redux and more floral panos on the way

Briefly noted: Here’s another shot of anemones to go with my earlier anemones composition. I’m working on the post-production of two new anemone panoramas. Of course, this kind of post-production work takes time—particularly when it must be fit in the context of everything else that I do.

Anemones 2 by Harold Davis

Anemones 2 © Harold Davis

I hope the new floral panos come out as well as the Star Magnolia panorama and Peonies panorama in Botanique!

Posted in Photography

Introducing Botanique

Introducing, drum roll, Botanique. I’m pleased that Botanique, my handmade, limited edition artist book of botanical prints is seeing the light of day! It’s very exciting when a new project is made physically manifest—particularly one that embodies as much craft and innovation as Botanique.

Yesterday Phyllis and I attended Codex, a show of handmade books. There were many wonderful objects in the show—but not much good photography, nor any books that I could see created using a pigment printer (letterpress was probably the predominant printing medium). So we look towards the future while acknowledging the past!

Star Magnolia by Harold Davis

Botanique includes three oversize pull-outs like the Star Magnolia panorama shown on Unryu washi paper

Acclaimed as “origami in a box” and said to be “destined for major museums,” Botanique is an innovative artist project that astutely blends old craft and cutting edge new technologies to create an exquisite limited edition art book and art object that is completely unique.

Botanique book plate

The display font used in Botanique is derived from Walt Whitman’s handwriting

Working together in their studio, legendary photographer and digital artist Harold Davis his wife, graphic designer Phyllis Davis, have combined advanced digital pigment printing with the luscious botanical art of Harold Davis. Every aspect of the project has been carefully designed and hand-crafted.

According to Popular Photography Magazine, the floral prints of Harold Davis “border on the spiritual.” Botanique contains twenty-one luscious floral prints that emerge delicately and seductively from the hand-assembled presentation box. The clam shell box measures approximately 9.25″ X 12.5″ X 1″ deep.

The Botanique project was originally successfully funded and crowd-sourced via a Kickstarter project.

Botanique is presented in a limited edition of 25 copies, with 5 Artist Proof copies. Each copy in the edition is hand-signed and numbered. Copies 1-10 are spoken for, but if you (or someone you like very much) enjoys floral art and beautiful things please consider one of the remaining copies. Please contact my studio for current pricing and availability.

Links for more information:

Posted in Photography


The North Berkeley farmer’s market, on a stretch of streets sometimes known as the “gourmet ghetto,” is certified organic throughout. Cruising with my camera, I spotted a flower vendor, Thomas Farm, with some wonderful tulips on display. Closer inspection also revealed some anemones, which mostly hadn’t opened yet. The anemones were one bunch for $5 and five bunches for $20. I “haggled” and got six bunches for my $20—a good deal indeed for my inner photographer since once these flowers started to open they displayed gorgeous translucent colors!

Anemones 1 by Harold Davis

Anemones 1 © Harold Davis

Anemones are named for the wind, using the Greek word for wind, anemos. They are supposed to open best when it is windy. Placing them in a sunny room, I found that they are also highly heliotropic—they open with sunshine and close up again at dusk.

So in the middle of the day, using sunshine for front light, I photographed them on my lightbox. For the image shown above I used eight exposures, with each exposure at f/32 and ISO 200. Shutter speeds were between 1/15 of a second and 10 seconds. (If my photographic and post-production techniques for shooting flowers for translucency interest you, you might want to consider the Photography Flowers for Transparency workshop I am giving at the end of 2013.)

I used my 85mm tilt-shift macro lens to make this shot, a lens I once described as “channeling” Edward Weston because it is completely manual and the kind of lens Weston used—you even have to stop it down yourself when you are ready to shoot because there is no auto diaphragm.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Yosemite Dreaming postcard book

I am very pleased with a new reader comment on Amazon regarding my Yosemite Dreaming postcard book: “These cards are among the most beautiful I’ve ordered. The comments I’ve received have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. Quality is high. Enjoyment is higher!”

Thanks AuntyEm!

Posted in Photography

A box for Botanique

Every handmade artist book deserves an elegant presentation box, and Botanique is no exception.

Assembling the Botanique box

Assembling the Botanique box

As you can see in the photo (left), the box for Botanique is lovingly hand assembled. All the materials we used are fully archival.

Botanique book plate

Botanique book plate

Closed, the Botanique box is modest in appearance—black and unmarked, with no sign of the luscious color that will spring forth once Botanique is inside! The clam shell box measures approximately 9.25″ X 12.5″ X 1″ deep.

When you open the Botanique box the first thing you’ll see is the book plate on the left-hand side. The book plate was created using one of my Papaver images and the display font used within Botanique. This font is based upon Walt Whitman’s handwriting.


A reproduction of my signature is found on the right-hand side (the inside of the back cover of the box).

When you have an artist book that is as unique as Botanique it is important to create a stage that does the work justice.

Botanique pages unbound

Botanique pages unbound

I love surprising people when I open the Botanique box, and they begin to see that the handmade book inside is larger than the exterior of the box.

It is almost as if the box is a door to a parallel universe. Open it, and find that the botanical art is more colorful, luscious, and life-like than the “real thing”—almost the Platonic ideal of floral art rather than the flowers themselves!

Click here for more information about Botanique.

Peonies fold-out within Botanique

Peonies fold-out within Botanique

Posted in Photography

In Clarion Alley

One of my favorite places to photograph in the Mission District of San Francisco is Clarion Alley—a very magical but somewhat seedy place. Paintings cover the walls, and they are always changing.

In Clarion Alley by Harold Davis

In Clarion Alley © Harold Davis

What I like about my photo above is that the trompe-l’œil depiction of the alley opening from the silhouette in the painting on the Clarion Alley wall seems to show the scene in which I was standing, duplicated—perhaps in another, parallel universe.

In the photo below, a fearsome San Francisco death head seems to be peering at a woman in the forest. I like that the two very different paintings are interacting, which is why I called it Death and the Maiden.

Death and the Maiden by Harold Davis

Death and the Maiden © Harold Davis

What will be on the walls of Clarion Alley next time I visit with my camera? Who knows, but I can’t wait to find out!


Posted in Photography, San Francisco Area

Models are people—not things

In the Pixar movie Finding Nemo one of the characters is a shark named Bruce in a 12-step program. Bruce has extremely dangerous looking teeth, and clearly has an appetite for fish. In a meeting of his 12-step program Bruce loudly chants, “Fish are friends, not food” in an Australian accent—although if I were a smaller fish I wouldn’t want to tempt this particular shark by getting too close!

Jade by Harold Davis

Jade © Harold Davis

I try to keep a mantra similar to Bruce’s in mind when I photograph models. Models are people, not things. If one takes the time to get to know the person behind the model facade even a bit, the results can be inspiring. After all, people have character, and capturing this character is an important part of what model photography is about—even (or particularly) when the camera is pointed at a subject who is model and is a beautiful woman.

A case in point is the shot of the beautiful model Jade, shown above. Jade is best known for her fetish look. You can visit her website by clicking here. When I shot Jade as a person I was pleased to get a somewhat different look: personal, playful, and somewhat sexy but without the hard edges seen in most of the photos of her.

Repeat after me, models are people—not things!

Click here to see the models category on my blog, and here to see a gallery of my model photography.

Posted in Models, Photography

Papaver Solo

I’ve been spending time in my garden this week, getting it ready for spring. Actually, around here it is spring already, with sunny weather in the sixties. My poppy seedlings are growing briskly, reminding me happily that soon it will be time to photograph Papavers once again—like the backlit flower below (two different washi paper scans were added as a decorative background).

Papaver Solo by Harold Davis

Papaver Solo © Harold Davis

Posted in Flowers, Photography