Category Archives: Abstractions

Topography of Camellia

In the wake of the death of my parents, I created a new garden on the shaded side of our house. This is a mostly ignored narrow strip between our house and the fence that separates us from the sidewalk on the San Ramon side. I anchored this “memorial garden” with three camellia bushes. The central camellia is an espaliered Camellia “Nuncio’s Pearl” (a full blossom is shown at the bottom of this story). 

I surrounded the camellias with anemones and campanulas, all flowering plants that should thrive in this part shade environment. Hopefully, they will eventually carpet the area with blossoms.

We have several hummingbird feeders in this area, and I plan to add a birdbath.

Topography of Camellia © Harold Davis

Topography of Camellia is an abstraction created from one of the first blossoms from this garden. As with a Rorschach, what you see in this image may depend more on you than on me.

Camellia Nuncio’s Pearl © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers, Photography

Flower like a shell

I’ve been working on photographing a group of white Calla Lilies the past few days. With this image, I tried to abstract the flower so that it seemed almost like a shell, or perhaps the sensuous lines of fabric.

Calla Lily Study © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers, Monochrome, Photography

Rubin’s Vase Optical Illusion with Harold’s Profile

Vase or Profile Inversion © Harold Davis

Rubin’s Vase is a well-known optical illusion developed by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin whose primary research field was figure-ground perception. When you look at the image above, do you see a vase, or a profile that is mirrored? As it happens, the profile is mine!

I was reminded of the Rubin’s Vase phenomenon when I was researching the “Positive and Negative Space” chapter in my forthcoming book Composition & Photography: Working with Photography Using Design Concepts.

To make this image, Phyllis used her iPhone to capture my profile (perhaps I am not at my handsomest in this portrait?!). Portrait with Vase (bottom) shows this profile view, reflected on the vertical axis.

Phyllis emailed my profile to Mitja in Slovenia (via his Etsy store), who used 3-D printing to make a vase that followed the contours of my profile, shown in the center of Portrait with Vase. The vase arrived at our doorstep in a neat international mail package complete with customs declaration.

I photographed the vase with it placed lying down on a light box, to intentionally create a high-contrast image with the camera-facing plane of the vase in deep shadow (see Vase or Profile, immediately below). The L-channel of this image (using LAB color) was inverted to give the Vase or Profile Inversion version shown at the top of this story. Both images were subsequently converted to black and white to make the illusion work better.

Vase or Profile © Harold Davis

Portrait with Vase © Harold Davis

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography

Cymbidium Orchid and Sidewalk

The Cymbidium Orchid image is a reprocess of a 2016 light box image, with a background texture added at the behest of a client. The Cymbidium grows outdoors in our garden (as a transplanted Easterner these many years, this still strikes me as notable!).

The Sidewalk image was photographed straight down using my iPhone 12 in Akureyri, the second largest “city” in Iceland, with a population of about 12,000.

Both are examples of images that in my opinion would not work without color (discussed in More about seeing in Black & White).

Cymbidium Orchid © Harold Davis

Sidewalk © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers, Patterns, Photography

Petals on Parade

These two “petal-pushing” images start with a composition of alstroemeria petals, photographed for high-key HDR on a light box. 

Petals on Parade on Black © Harold Davis

Petals on Parade on Black © Harold Davis

The image with a black background (shown above) is an LAB L-channel inversion of the original image on white, shown below.

Petals on Parade © Harold Davis

Petals on Parade © Harold Davis

Generally, with light box compositions, the most important issue is the arrangement, a/k/a the composition. By the way, this is a statement that could be made (and has been made) about photography in general.

Arrangement needs structure. One of the most common structures for light box compositions is the Mandala. Another is the bouquet (click here for an example).

Can you identify the visual structure underlying the Petals on Parade images?

Also posted in Flowers

The Beet Goes On

In parts of the Caribbean, edible root vegetables are often called “ground provisions.” Yesterday was a ground-provisions day.

I primarily photographed beets and radishes. This is a continuation of my light box sliced vegetable and fruit work, some of which is shown in Sliced Fruit on My Light Box, Making Mandalas from Fruits and Vegetables, and Melange of Slices.

I’ve titled the image shown below of sliced Chioggia Beets (Beta vulgaris) “The Beet Goes On”, after the Sonny and Cher song, with a homophonic relationship between the second word in the name of the song and the ground provision I photographed  (e.g., “Beat” and “Beet”).

The Beet Goes On © Harold Davis

The Beet Goes On © Harold Davis

Check out the new interview with me about garden photography on the PhotoActive Podcast: Episode 75: Creative Garden Photography with Harold Davis!

Also posted in Fruits and Veggis on Light Box, Patterns, Photography

Melange of Slices

Just like the aggregation of pear slices, it is possible to create interesting melanges of all kinds of sliced fruits and vegetables. The sliced kiwi fruits (below) remind me of paper lanterns. Perhaps the seeds running vertically are the writing on the lanterns, in some kind of Kanji characters. The red onions (bottom) are certainly more pleasant to look at in their painterly and patterned abstraction than they were to slice!

Kiwi Fruit Slices © Harold Davis

Kiwi Fruit Slices © Harold Davis

Red Onion Slices © Harold Davis

Red Onion Slices © Harold Davis

Also posted in Fruits and Veggis on Light Box, Patterns, Photography

Food ink blot

I made this image using milk, water, olive oil, vinegar, and food colors, and then photographed the result.

Food Ink Blot 1 © Harold Davis

Food Ink Blot 1 © Harold Davis

Sunflower Mandala

The Peruvian lily (botanically alstroemeria), or “Lily of the Incas,” was once limited to two small ranges in South America, one blooming in the winter (Chile), and one in the summer (Brazil). Hybridization across the winter and summer species, starting in the 1980s in Holland, led to today’s flower that is a staple of the modern commercial flower industry—and is green and growing most of the year in our garden. The genus alstroemeria was named after the Swedish baron Clas Alströmer, a close friend of Linnaeus, he of the classifications.

Sunflower Mandala (Black) © Harold Davis

Petals from the alstroemeria are wonderfully translucent, colorful, and a great palette for my light box compositions when the blossoms are dissected. As a last light box hurrah before my month-long upcoming trip, I pulled a collection of alstroemeria petals apart, and arranged them around a sunflower. Katie, wandering through the living room, took a look at the proceedings—and indicated her disapproval of the deconstruction of a “living thing,” the Peruvian lily flowers.

Sunflower Mandala (White) © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers

Criss Cross not Applesauce

Criss-Cross © Harold Davis


Storm at Sea © Harold Davis

Soft Horizon © Harold Davis

Descent © Harold Davis


Quartet (click here to see it larger) is one photo duplicated three times. The duplicates have been rotated 90 degrees, and in two cases flipped along an axis as well. As you can imagine, with a 45 megapixel capture from my Nikon D850 times the four versions, the final resolution is very substantial, so it would be fun to print at room size.

This is the kind of composition I might have made as a painter, and it is fun to do it using photography and post-production as well!

Quartet © Harold Davis

Blue on Red

Blue on Red © Harold Davis

Related image: Homage to Rothko.

Homage to Rothko

Homage to Rothko © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Curves Ahead

Starting with sunlight coming through vessels with color, I pared down my abstractions. But lately we have been under a river of rain. Sunlight is scarce. But it doesn’t take much to create an image. Just a camera, really. Simplicity is best. There are curves ahead.

Curve #1 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography