Category Archives: Abstractions

Dance in the Rings

Dance in the Rings © Harold Davis

Dance in the Rings © Harold Davis

Please click here to see Dance in the Rings larger. Also see A Rorschach for MFAs and Multiple Exposures.

Also posted in Models, Multiple Exposures

A Rorschach for MFA’s

This image, with the working title Gates after Rodin, shows one model many times. The model, Jacs Fishburne, is a self-described “tornado disguised as a woman.” In the studio, Jacs was posing on a large metal hoop, sometimes called a Lyra. The Lyra was suspended by two ropes about six feet above the ground, with a black background. For some of the exposures Jacs was kneeling on the ground “holding up” the Lyra.

Gates after Rodin © Harold Davis

Gates after Rodin © Harold Davis

To make the image, I shot five in-camera multiple exposures, with Autogain turned on so that each multiple exposure was properly calibrated. Each of the multiple exposures consisted of five to eight individual shots, with Jacs changing her pose between each one. I used basic studio lighting for an even, consistent look and my D800 with the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4.

I then combined the in-camera multiple exposures in Photoshop, using both stacking and selectively pasting bits from various versions in using layers and masking. By some ways of counting, this makes for a total of somewhere between 25 and 40 different captures of Jacs, when you multiply the number of files by the number of times she appears in each.

Before finishing the image by adding a texture, I retouched out the ropes from above holding the Lyra, leaving the circular Lyra mostly in place.

A friend writes: “It brings up associations with five or six classic paintings from earlier eras. I see the Winged Victory of Samothrace on the left, and the hand of the Sphinx on the center right. Cardinal Richelieu is in the center. The face in profile at the upper left comes from something I can’t quite place and the depictions of hell by the famous Dutch painter What’s-His-Name are at the bottom [Hieronymus Bosch]. And then there’s the hint of the sumi-e circle of light again [the Lyra]. It’s like a Rorschach for MFA’s! ”

My own association is with Rodin’s Gates of Hell. I saw a casting in the garden at the Rodin Museum in Paris this spring. Maybe the memory of the Gates was lurking in my subconscious, waiting for a chance to emerge!

Related story: Multiple Exposures.

Also posted in Models, Multiple Exposures, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

Being and Becoming

To make this image, I started by photographing the beautiful models Kira and Merrique together on a black seamless background with studio strobe lighting. The lighting was set up with a big, soft light on the left, and a smaller, less powerful light through an umbrella on the right.

Being and Becoming © Harold Davis

Being and Becoming © Harold Davis

I made ten in-camera multiple exposures. Each multiple exposure consisted of either five or eight individual exposures. I had auto-gain turned on in my camera, so each multiple exposure was automatically adjusted to compensate for the number of exposures in the sequence. I counted out each individual exposure, and the models paused on each shot.

In Photoshop, I stacked the ten multiple exposures (as if they were star trails!).  I tweaked the result a little to get rid of anomalies, like fingernails appearing in mid-air, but mostly this image comes from an “out of the box” in-camera multiple exposures followed by stacking in Photoshop to create a composite.

That makes Being and Becoming a combination of old and new techniques, one of my favorite themes in photography. In-camera multiple exposures are about as old as photography, but the ability to create stacked composites over time is an artifact of the Photoshop era.

Also posted in Models, Multiple Exposures, Photoshop Techniques

Rose after Delauney and O’Keeffe

At a recent lunch with my brother he reminded me how we both benefited from a classical education in the arts when we were young. I may not have got much of this stuff via formal education, but I sure was exposed to every layer of visual art history as a child thanks to my parents. Mostly, by seeing the stuff in person—from the paintings on the walls of the Caves of Lascaux to the museums with the “moderns” and everything in between.

To quote the dearly beloved and recently deceased Pete Seeger on the difference between education and experience, “Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t.”

I’m not sure how this fits with being dragged through every museum imaginable as a wayward kid—probably more in the experience category—but even as a bored child it was hard not to fall hard for the impressionists at first encounter.

Rose after Delauney and O'Keeffe © Harold Davis

Rose after Delauney and O’Keeffe © Harold Davis

Anyhow, this wasn’t what I had in mind when I went to work on the photo of the pale rose (far below), but I do know enough to recognize the palette and patterns of the great geometric painter Sonia Delauney along with the sensuousness of a Georgia O’Keeffe floral—when they pop out at me in an image I’ve created.

You’ll note that the original image is rotated 90 degrees. The other effects come from a series of LAB adjustments—inversions and equalizations—applied using a variety of blending modes.

Within each rose © Harold Davis

Within each rose © Harold Davis

For a couple of other examples of this kind of thing, check out Mandalas from a Glass Bowl, Broken Arrow and Creating LAB Patterns, and also see my article on, Using LAB Color Adjustments.

Meanwhile, I must report that there is a certain goodwill towards the world that comes about from consorting with one’s fraternal sibling when both brothers are “of a certain age” with receding hairlines and cares and children of their own, and fondly reminiscing about some of the unique aspects of our culturally rich—and radically eclectic (or maybe eclectically radical)—upbringing.

Also posted in Flowers, Photography, Photoshop Techniques


The assignment I gave out on the second day of the Achieving Your Potential as a Digital Photographer workshop was to make a photo of something so that it looks like something else. In other words, change something to something new. In other words, metamorphosis.

Bathtub Landscape via IPhone © Harold Davis

Bathtub Landscape via IPhone © Harold Davis

My response to my own challenge: this abstract image I think of as a landscape with a highway and a canal, shot using my iPhone facing a bathtub at Urban Ore, and processed on the spot on the iPhone using the Plastic Bullet app.

I think the workshop was a great success. There will be ongoing follow-up sessions using webinar technology to make sure that action plans actually get implemented! I am very hopeful that metamorphosis will apply in the most positive way possible to the wonderful participants in this workshop, as well as to the imagery we made.

Also posted in iPhone

Mandalas from a Crystal Bowl

Wandering the crowded aisles of Berkeley’s Urban Ore—a somewhat dodgy cross between an upscale junkyard and a down-at-the-heels flea market with an added smidgen of green ideology—with my camera and Otus, I came across a beautiful cut crystal bowl in a locked cabinet. It was love at first sight. Finding the person with the key to unlock the cabinet and negotiating the price took a bit of time, but soon enough Otus and I were making our way home to photograph our new treasure.

Crystal Mandala 1 © Harold Davis

Crystal Mandala 1 © Harold Davis

I photographed my crystal bowl straight down using a light box and a bracketed high-key sequence of exposures. This is the technique I developed to capture flowers for transparency (actually, for translucency), and as I note in my presentation on the subject the technique produces interesting results with many subjects in addition to flowers. In this case, the high key HDR approach emphasized the contrast between the edge lines of the bowl and the negative spaces created by the transparent glass.

Crystal Mandala 2 © Harold Davis

Crystal Mandala 2 © Harold Davis

My next step playing in Photoshop was to invert the essentially monochromatic image, transforming black lines on a white background to black lines on a white background. It’s hard to get me going on this kind of thing without wanting to play in Photoshop, so I started using LAB adjustmentsHow do you make a mandala from a crystal bowl?

Red Crystal Mandala © Harold Davis

Red Crystal Mandala © Harold Davis

In this case, in addition to LAB inversions and equalizations, I used Nik Color Efex filters, direct painting on layers, layers, layer masks, and repeated application of some of the oddball blending modes such as Difference. Play around long enough in Photoshop and you never know what you will find!

Holographic Mandala © Harold Davis

Holographic Mandala © Harold Davis

With this imagery it was visually important to me to “square the circle” with a square crop. With some of the Crystal Mandalas, like the Holographic Mandala, there is almost a three dimensional look—part of the image jumps off the plane. In contrast, with Mandala Inside, the effects create an outer translucent shell or layer, with an inner core that is much bolder and more defined.

Mandala Inside © Harold Davis

Mandala Inside © Harold Davis

These could be small virtual worlds, and have become something completely unrelated to the original sequence of photos. When I first looked in my crystal bowl, I did not know where it would take me!

Green Lantern Mandala © Harold Davis

Green Lantern Mandala © Harold Davis


Lantern Mandala © Harold Davis

Lantern Mandala © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photoshop Techniques

Broken Arrow and Creating LAB Patterns

Wandering the pedestrian walk on new San Francisco Bay Bridge span in the waning days of the year, I shot this directional arrow, intended to guide foot and bike traffic, straight down and broken up by strong shadows from the railing.

Broken Arrow © Harold Davis

Broken Arrow © Harold Davis

Before I converted Broken Arrow to black and white, of course, it was color (shown below). (The monochrome version is still an RGB color file technically speaking—but that’s another story!)

Broken Arrow - color © Harold Davis

Broken Arrow – color © Harold Davis

It’s astoundingly easy to use Photoshop adjustments in LAB color and blending modes to create intricate patterns out of something like the color version of Broken Arrow. Here’s one example:

LAB Cross Pattern #1 © Harold Davis

LAB Cross Pattern #1 © Harold Davis

To get to the pattern from the color photo,  in Photoshop I duplicated the image, and converted the duplicate to LAB color mode. I next used Image > Adjust > Invert to invert the LAB color values within the file, and then converted the entire image back to RGB, with results shown below:

LAB Inversion (all channels) © Harold Davis

LAB Inversion (all channels) © Harold Davis

Next, I made another duplicate of the original image file, converted it to LAB, selected the L channel only, and inverted the L channel. I flipped the image horizontally, with results shown below:

L-Channel Inversion (Flipped) © Harold Davis

L-Channel Inversion (Flipped) © Harold Davis

The last big step is to align the two LAB inversions as layers in one image, and set the Blending Mode to Difference (by the way, they have to be back in RGB, or the Difference mode isn’t available).

There are many possible variations on this technique of course, depending on what channels you invert, how you flip the image, and what blending modes you use. Here’s another variation from the same original image:

LAB Cross Pattern #2 © Harold Davis

LAB Cross Pattern #2 © Harold Davis

To learn more about the LAB color techniques for creative image making I have pioneered, check out The Way of the Digital Photographer  (pages 156-163) and The Photoshop Darkroom (pages 148-201). If this really intrigues you, you may want to consider my Mastering Creative Photoshop workshop (January 25-26, one last minute spot available, more space in the second session, May 31 – June 1, 2014).

Also posted in Monochrome, Photoshop Techniques Tagged , , , , |

Through a Window Lightly

I love to shoot through window glass when it is wet or has been raining. This transcends nationality, location—or anything else. As an artist, my imperative is to see beauty, and it is often to be found through a window lightly.

La Loire © Harold Davis

La Loire © Harold Davis

The shot above is through a very old leaded glass window looking out on a rainy day from a tower in the Chateau d’Amboise towards the Loire. Below, you’ll see a more abstract composition from my home, discussed on my blog in an earlier story, Patterns on my windows.

Steamed Window Glyph © Harold Davis

Steamed Window Glyph © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Simple Compositions

Closely related to the question of “how low can you go” is the philosophical issue of, “how simple can you get?” Images like Story of O and Line Dance (below) examine this question. Story of O presents an arch and its reflection, creating a circular letter ‘O’ or zero, on a gradient monochrome background. Line Dance is slightly more complex in terms of composition. It shows an irregular upright line and its reflection in the upper-left quadrant, created by an old piling. The lower portion of the image is a smooth color gradient going from blue to orange, with gentle horizontal lines formed by waves and again in blue cutting across the vertical line of the piling at the very top of the image.

Line Dance by Harold Davis

Line Dance © Harold Davis

In both cases I used a long exposure to smooth the action of the ocean, and to create the sense of spatial isolation that simplicity requires. Story of O was a sixty second exposure, and Line Dance was exposed for ten seconds. The ten second elapsed time duration was long enough to smooth out the foreground while still leaving some detail in the horizontal lines formed by the waves at the top of the image.

Pulling off a simple composition can be surprisingly complex. For one thing, by its nature simplicity calls attention to itself, so the composition will be scrutinized. When you have one or two compositional elements, each will get a great deal more attention than when there are hundreds of things to look at. In other words, with the simple composition there is no place to run, and no place to hide.

The things that bring us most joy are not overly complicated. Perfection in an image usually involves creating a sense in the viewer of righteous simplicity. Partly for this reason, simple compositions are likely to be regarded as audacious, and as an attempt by the artist at the Platonic ideal and the perfect. If you would joust with perfection, then expect to be regarded with rigor. There’s no margin of error in the lineaments of  the simple composition.

Also posted in Photography

Story of o

I walked along the trail beside San Francisco Bay near Richmond, California. My idea was to capture sunset on the mudflats of the Bay at low tide. When I traversed down to the water, instead of mud I saw an old girder sticking out of the Bay. A generation ago, this place had been a land fill and dump—and it still could sure use some clean-up.

Story of O by Harold Davis

Story of O © Harold Davis

Together with its reflection, the girder made a perfect circle, or letter ‘O’. I shot the image using a long exposure (60 seconds) to create the smooth, gradient background from the gentle action of the wavelets on the Bay in the setting sun.

Also posted in Monochrome

Patterns on my windows

Rainy season in Northern California can seem endless, and when it does rain for days the windows on the inside of my house steam up with myriad waterdrops. These droplets burn off quickly as soon as sunshine returns, but in the meanwhile they can create an interesting and exciting photographic opportunity—if, as I do, you like to see the magic in the mundane.

Steamy Window Glyph Study #1 by Harold Davis

Steamy Window Glyph Study #1 © Harold Davis

My first glyph image (above) shows the sky above and the earth below, both behind a steamy curtain of droplets, with vertical lines of clarity indicating the areas that are drying out first.

The second glyph (below) was shot closer in, of droplets on the glass in front of a screen window, with trees and foliage behind.

Steamy Window Glyph Study #2 by Harold Davis

Steamy Window Glyph Study #2 © Harold Davis


A final glyph shows the view in a different direction from another window, facing a driveway across the street. The driveway is surrounded by foliage and beginning to be lit by the morning sun.

Steamy Window Glyph Study #3 by Harold Davis

Steamy Window Glyph Study #3 © Harold Davis

It has been said that, if you want to be a better photographer, place yourself in front of more interesting things. But art comes from within, and photographs are expressions of our artistic selves. So by all means seek the dramatic scene, but also look for the drama within the everyday—the kind of subject that if you don’t learn to look with eyes that see differently you may miss altogether.

Also posted in Patterns, Photography


One of the most powerful tools we have as photographers is the ability to manipulate the viewer’s sense of scale. Why does this matter?

When the viewer first looks at an image they look to think they have have correctly assessed the contents. If, in fact, they realize they have not, or they sense ambiguity in the subject—as in, “What exactly am I looking at?”—the result is a double-take.

Low Tide at Drakes Beach by Harold Davis

Low Tide at Drakes Beach by Harold Davis—Click to view larger

This double-take leads directly to a clean slate. By misdirecting the viewer, we have given them the chance to view some portion of the world with new eyes. This means showing people something in a way they haven’t seen before—which is the goal of much photography.

Case in point: I shot the image above on a rock at low tide in the intertidal zone at Drakes Beach in Point Reyes National Seashore, CA. For all the world it looks like a vast landscape from above, but as soon as the caption is noted the viewer will automatically adjust scale and visual expectations.

Also posted in Point Reyes

Midtown Babylon

Midtown Babylon is a digital collage created using thirty exposures shot through the window of my hotel room on a recent trip to New York City. I’ve printed it on canvas, and the substrate seems to work well with this image—better than photographic paper would as I was striving for a painterly effect.

Midtown Babylon by Harold Davis

Midtown Babylon © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

Like Storm in the Upper Bay and Ghosts of Grand Central my thought with this image is to convey some degree of the complexity of my feelings about New York—the place I grew up, and a city that I love and that drives me crazy simultaneously.

Certainly, no disrespect is meant regarding the recent hurricane. My hope is that my friends stayed snug and warm, and that things get back to normal as quickly as possible, if New York City can ever be said to have a “normal.”

Also posted in New York, Photography

At Home in the Universe

My plan is to produce these abstractions in a large-size on linen canvas. With these images I am using my computer to create paintings, which is another way of saying that I am a painter who uses digital images as my media. While the imagery appears abstract—it is not hard to imagine that one is looking at outer space or DNA strands—it is also capable of literal interpretation. Hint: the water droplets in the middle right are a giveaway.

At Home in the Universe by Harold Davis

At Home in the Universe © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

To create this abstraction I used a macro lens to shoot twenty-one exposures of a wet spider web in the early morning sun. Most were underexposed to bring out the color saturation and to let the background go dark.

I combined the images using stacking, and was pleased to see that the composite had indeed become an abstraction.

At Home in the Universe Inversion Number One by Harold Davis

At Home in the Universe Inversion Number One © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

The variations were created using LAB color inversions. At Home in the Universe Inversion Number One is a simple L-channel inversion, and At Home in the Universe Inversion Number Two was constructed by inverting all three LAB color channels.

At Home in the Universe Inversion Number Two by Harold Davis

At Home in the Universe Inversion Number Two © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

Also posted in Patterns