Category Archives: Abstractions

Approaching Indigo

Approaching Indigo © Harold Davis

The early use of “indigo” referred to indigo dye made from Indigofera tinctoria and related species, and not specifically to a color. In the 1660s, Isaac Newton bought a pair of prisms at a fair near Cambridge, England. Around this time, the East India Company had begun importing indigo dye, replacing native woad as the primary source of blue dye. By the way, the actual color produced using indigo dye is probably somewhat different from the color referred to as “indigo” by optical scientists.

In an important experiment in the history of optics, Newton shone a narrow beam of sunlight through one of his prisms to produce a rainbow-like band of colors on the wall. This optical band had a spectrum of colors, and Newton named seven as primary colors: “Red, yellow, Green, Blew, & a violet purple; together with Orang, Indico, & an indefinite varietie of intermediate gradations.”

Interestingly, Newton linked the seven prismatic colors to the seven notes of a western major scale, with orange and indigo as semitones. What happens if you play colors like a musical scale?

In modern usage, indigo is a deep and rich color close to the primary color Blue in the RGB color space, a color somewhere between blue and violet. Many people have difficulty distinguishing indigo from its neighbors. According to sci-fi writer and science pundit Isaac Asimov, “It is customary to list indigo as a color lying between blue and violet, but it has never seemed to me that indigo is worth the dignity of being considered a separate color. To my eyes it seems merely deep blue.”

Asimov was wrong, but the color indigo needs to be approached with care. If you confront indigo directly, you may not see it, but in fact indigo takes its rightful and royal place on the visual spectrum when seen somewhere between blue and violet,

To construct this image, I used vases filled with colored water. To generate the colors, I used food dyes representing the primary colors, and passed bright sunlight from a West-facing window beamed through the colored water in combination—thus echoing Isaac Newton’s original, famous experiment with prisms and sunlight.

Also posted in Photography

Playing with Light

For the past few days of the break between Christmas and New Years, I have been playing with light. Of course, the word photography is derived from “writing with light”—and you cannot capture the physicality of an object, only the light reflected or emitted by the object. So, from the very beginning, light and photography are intimately related. But this series more literally captures—and plays with—light than most photography. Let me explain.

In the depth of winter, the winter sun traces an arc across a large, westward-facing window towards the front of our house. The arc is low in the horizon, and short, from about 10AM to about 3PM. The quality of the sunlight is fierce: bright and strong, but at the same time with a kind of innate gentleness. It is light as light should be light.

With a white-surfaced table, I use the sunlight to “paint” images by projecting the light through vessels with colored water of various kinds and shapes (some of these carafes are clearly shown in Transmutation, the third image below), and carefully arranging the light to create my compositions. This is work done in camera, with only very minor corrections and adjustments in post-production.

World of Wonders © Harold Davis

They Walk Among Us © Harold Davis

Transmutation © Harold Davis

Related stories: Cosmic MisunderstandingThe Making of the Abstractions; Abstracts and a Photographic Mystery; More Abstractions; Easy Travel to Other Planets; Life is Strange. Check out my new online Gallery of Abstracts.

Also posted in Photography

Life Is Strange—Further Abstractions and some Abstract Thoughts

Life is strange. We take inspiration, and the other self-actualization needs and desires that are high up the Maslow hierarchy, where we can find them. From within the prison of the ego, the globe of the world matters little—belonging and cathexis matter, even if only for a single night. Fire and ice, kindness and depravity, battle for the crystal palace of my soul.

Abstraction 12 – Life is strange © Harold Davis

Abstract 11 – Dome of the World © Harold Davis

Abstract 10 – Be Mine Tonight © Harold Davis

Abstract 9 – Fire and Ice © Harold Davis

Abstract 8 – Crystal Palace © Harold Davis

Related stories: The Making of the Abstractions; Abstracts and a Photographic Mystery; More Abstractions; Easy Travel to Other Planets.

Also posted in Photography

Easy Travel to Other Planets

Related stories: The Making of the Abstractions; Abstracts and a Photographic Mystery; More Abstractions!

First Contact © Harold Davis

Red Planet © Harold Davis

Blue Planet © Harold Davis

Ice Planet © Harold Davis

Twin Planets © Harold Davis

Event Horizon © Harold Davis

Extinction Burst © Harold Davis

Silence of the Deep © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

More abstractions!

Related stories: The Making of the Abstractions; Abstracts and a Photographic Mystery.

Abstract 4 © Harold Davis

Abstract 5 © Harold Davis

Abstract 6 © Harold Davis

Abstract 7 © Harold Davis

The Making of the Abstractions

Abstract 3 © Harold Davis

This image and the two other abstracts shown in a previous story were constructed by allowing strong sunlight to pass through bottles filled with fluid (dark brown maple syrup and red wine). In the foreground I placed glassware (a wine cup stem in this image, flower vases in the previous two). A water glass made of blue glass added some reflected color to the images.

I photographing the setup extremely close with a very low depth-of-field, hand holding a Lensbaby Sweet 85 wide open (at f/1.8) with an extension tube, and using short duration shutter speeds (e.g., 1/2000 of a second). The result was extremely shallow focus and a painterly effect for everything out of focus, and clearly the precise point of focus was a crucial issue. I do think this would have been hard to pull off without an optical viewfinder.

Thanks to everyone who hypothesized in comments on my blog and on my IG feed!

Also posted in Photography

Time Machine

I asked one of the participants in this year’s Malta workshop what he wanted to get out of the workshop, and after a thoughtful response he turned it around on me, and asked what I wanted to get. I mentally sat on this question a while, and then this morning realized that I wanted to make some interpretive images of the Maltese architecture. Last year, when I was here at the invitation of the Malta Photographic Society, I did fairly literal imagery of Valletta—and now it was time to make some images that used (and implied) the mood and history, past, present and future. So I went out with my camera and tripod to capture some off-beat Valletta moodiness.

Time Machine © Harold Davis

Both these images are single, in-camera long exposures, with both focus and focal-length (zoom) manipulated during exposure. The camera was, of course, on a tripod. Exposure duration was twenty seconds. To accomplish this during daylight hours, I used a #4 neutral density filter.

Deconstructing Valletta © Harold Davis

Also posted in Malta, Photography


One of the best purposes of photography is to create order in an inherently disorderly world and universe. This is achieved through a variety of mechanisms. As photographers, we recognize patterns. We know when to step back and capture something from an unforeseen angle (as in the boat hull from a Maine shipyard viewed from underneath in the image immediately below). We see with mild amusement the corporate logos of yesteryear (like the Citroen symbol on an antique permanently parked in my neighborhood, and shown at the bottom). When sufficient time has elapsed so mostly no one remembers the original meaning, then even a corporate logo becomes an abstraction too.

Hull © Harold Davis

Citroen © Harold Davis

Also posted in iPhone, Photography

Through a Window with Selective Focus

With this rainy day abstraction, I focused carefully on a window wet with the incoming rain, and not on the colorful town beyond. I used a moderate telephoto setting (112mm) and a fairly wide aperture (f/5.6) to further visually separate the window from the scenery behind. I was standing close to the window, and focusing almost as close as the lens could go (about 30cm).

The point was to create a painterly abstract, which comes through when the image is seen in a large size. However, to get a sense of the actual, literal vista and the colorful houses and vegetation in the out-of-focus areas it is best to view the image on a postage stamp scale from a distance, and to squint!

if you are interested in using your camera to create abstract or semi-abstract images, there are many interesting techniques that should be in your toolkit. This example demonstrates the power of selective focus. Besides throwing an image out of focus (entirely, or selectively, or focusing on the “wrong” thing) some of the other most useful camera abstraction techniques are intentional camera motion, long exposure capture of moving subjects, and in-camera multiple exposing.

This image was photographed from a hallway in my hotel in Cat Ba, Vietnam, during a brief but heavy tropical downpour.

Rainy Day Abstraction, Vietnam © Harold Davis

Digital Doodle

Not a Rose Garden © Harold Davis

Not a Rose Garden © Harold Davis

The Digital Doodle shown above comes from the black and white Embarcadero Center (shown below) via I never wanted a cubicle (monochrome) (bottom). To get from Embarcadero Center to I Never Wanted a Cubicle (Mono), I mirrored it and pasted it over itself several times. To get from I never wanted a cubicle (monochrome)  to Not a Rose Garden (my Digital Doodle) I flipped it horizontally, and primarily used Photoshop blending modes to add the colors and patterns. Are we having fun yet???


Embarcadero Center © Harold Davis

Embarcadero Center © Harold Davis


I never wanted a cubicle (monochrome) © Harold Davis

I never wanted a cubicle (monochrome) © Harold Davis

Hieroglyphic or La Dolce Vita

Sunbathing on the boat ramp in Riomaggiore harbor could be La Dolce Vita—the sweet life, and the name of a 1960 Fellini film. Except that the angle of repose causes most of these couples to anchor themselves using wood slots to stop from sliding into the water. Alternatively, as one commentator noted, photographed from above, La Dolce Vita looks for all the world like an abstraction, or a hieroglyphic.

Riomaggiore, 2015 © Harold Davis

Riomaggiore, 2015 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Italy, Monochrome

Digital Pop Art

It’s fun sometimes to make the colors really pop, as in this pair of images. The bottom floral, of Gerberas and Crysanthemums, was photographed on a light box. I then inverted the image in LAB to arrive at the upper version, Gerberas and Crysanthemums Inversion. This kind of work is probably better seen and evaluated as digital Pop Art than as photography.

Chrysanthemums and Gerberas Inversion © Harold Davis

Chrysanthemums and Gerberas Inversion © Harold Davis

Do you prefer more traditional looking work? Check out (for example) these iconic images of mine, or my Kumano Kodo portfolio. Digital photography as a medium is truly a big tent than enables many stylistic possibilities and artistic proclivities. It’s for this reason that I like to say I am a digital artist using photographs as my source material. This is a more complex and more accurate description than the anachronistic label “photographer.”

Chrysanthemums and Gerberas © Harold Davis

Chrysanthemums and Gerberas © Harold Davis

Some related stories: Low Geostationary and Decaying Orbits around the Clematis Inversion; Ringing Cedars Covers; Is It Photography?

Also posted in Photography

Face of the Deep

On a cloudy late afternoon I stood on the Great Beach of Point Reyes, California, watching the roiling surf that had made its way across the empty miles of the open Pacific Ocean. Sky, spray, and waves seemed to blend tumultuously as the light faded.

Waves Long Exposure 1 © Harold Davis

Waves Long Exposure 1 © Harold Davis

“Darkness was upon the face of the deep” goes the creation story in the Book of Genesis. From the oceans came life, and the first to come may be the last to go. In this teaming world there is still plenty of mystery in the deep—threatened by greed and rapacity like all environments, but still wild and wonderful.

Waves Long Exposure 2 © Harold Davis

Waves Long Exposure 2 © Harold Davis

I like to make images that use photography to reveal things that are not normally seen. The deep—the ocean—has so many faces. At a fast shutter speed, with the camera diaphragm open for a very short duration, the spray of water is crisply stopped in mid-air, down to the droplets, flicking off the wave (click here for two example photos at the bottom of the linked story).

Waves Long Exposure 3 © Harold Davis

Waves Long Exposure 3 © Harold Davis

Lengthening the duration of time the shutter is open smooths out the waves. Fast moving, crashing rollers become dreamlike when the camera helps you “see” their motion “graphed” over a second or two. You can check out this effect, also shot on Point Reyes, by clicking here.

Waves Long Exposure 5 © Harold Davis

Waves Long Exposure 5 © Harold Davis

Things are not always what they appear. What is the face of the deep? There is void, there is fullness, there is wonder: more facets visually and conceptually than we can truly encompass. The world is an amazing and wonderful place. The camera is but a paintbrush to help us know the face of the deep and does not always reflect the eye of the creator.

Waves Long Exposure 6 © Harold Davis

Waves Long Exposure 6 © Harold Davis

So musing on these things, I experimented with really long exposures. As the light faded, I dialed my ISO as low as it could go, to ISO 32, stopped the lens down to its smallest aperture, and exposed these images for several minutes each. The waves become abstracted layers.  We humans can look on the chaotic scene of breaking surf and spray and explore it as a serene manifestation of the rapture of the deep.

Also posted in Photography

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