Category Archives: Flowers

Can you see color in black & white?

A client recently asked me to submit a series of monochromatic images of flowers. This happened after the client saw the black and white image of a begonia, shown below.

Begonia © Harold Davis

In the case of the begonia image, I originally pre-visualized the photo as monochromatic, and processed it to be a black and white image. With most of the others, the story was a bit different: I looked for floral imagery that I thought would work as back and white from my already processed color images. Then I either went back to the RAW file, or worked from the color version (or, in a couple of cases, picked up the workflow at a midpoint). The curves in the close-up of the center of a rose shown below remind me of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting.

Rose Center Curves © Harold Davis

The interesting thing in my thinking is that we have strong opinions about flowers and color. So when a flower is presented in black and white, to some extent we see it in color. Since I made these photos, I know what the colors of the subject are. But to a hands-off viewer, are the imputed colors accurate? It is hard for me to say.

The camellia shown below was a light pink, but it also works in my opinion in black and white, and presents with a kind of luminescence.

Camellia japonica © Harold Davis

Verily, there are many kinds of floral imagery that work well in monochromatic, as well as in color.

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography

Review: A New Lens for Harold (the Irix 150mm “Dragonfly” macro)

Piercing the Iris Veil © Harold Davis

I photographed these close-ups of flower petals (image above: an Iris; image below: the petals of a Gerbera from behind) with a new lens, the Irix 150mm f/2.8 “Dragonfly” telephoto 1:1 macro. For a telephoto macro, this is a relatively inexpensive lens (about $600 recently at B&H). Apparently, the Irix lenses are designed in Switzerland, and manufactured in Korea.

The lens comes in a nice box, with a useful hard pouch for storage, amenities such as two rear lens caps and a nice lens hood, has a functional tripod collar with an Arca-mount foot that lets you switch from horizontal to vertical and back again, and is handsomely finished. It appears solidly made, with good materials in the right places.

That said, I did have a build quality issue with the first one I ordered from B&H, so I had to send it back for an exchange. I won’t go into details about what the problem was, except to note that it was a show-stopper (if you need to know, drop me an email). The build-quality issue suggests that if you buy one, make sure you buy from a reputable source, test it thoroughly during the return period, and send it back if necessary.

A complaint about the lens design is that it lacks a manual aperture ring, at least in the Nikon F mount (I haven’t tried the Canon or Sony E mount versions, so I can’t verify that this holds cross-platform, but it probably does). The expectation is that you are going to set the aperture using the camera.

This is a serious drawback in a lens that is likely to be used in technical circumstances, as is the case with a telephoto macro. In particular, if you use the lens with a bellows or an extension tube that has a manual diaphragm coupling (not an uncommon scenario with a lens of this sort), the only way to change the aperture that I could figure out is to dismount the whole lens-and-bellows, put the lens (or another lens) on, then reset the aperture, which will stick even after the lens is remounted on the bellows.

Somewhat counteracting this complaint, a nice bonus feature is a solid focus lock. This is useful when the lens is on a tripod and pointed downward, and you want to make a long exposure without having the focus slip.

This is a sophisticated, solidly built lens. According to the manufacturer, the aperture mechanism includes 11 rounded blades, designed to create pleasing bokeh (background blurring). The manual focus mechanism is solid and lends itself to precision. The lens has been weather sealed at key points.  

Again according to the manufacturer, “The optical design consists of twelve elements – three of which are made of super-low dispersion glass (ED), another four of glass with a higher refractive index (HR), and the whole arranged into nine optical groups. Thanks to this construction, we obtain an close to zero distortion (at a level of 0.1%).”

Folks who know me well know that I collect macro lenses; in fact, I have been called “the Imelda Marcos” of macro lenses. I think I’ve lost track of how many I own, and I’m pleased to add this Dragonfly to my collection. It fills a gap between my Nikkor 200mm f/4 macro and the Nikkor 105mm and Zeiss 100mm macros. Subjectively, I think it beats the Nikkor 200mm (which only focuses to 1:2 rather than the 1:1 of the Dragonfly) in terms of sharpness, although it may not be quite up to the Nikkor 105mm or Zeiss 100mm. Even here, the modern design and coatings help with the comparison, and I like the extra reach of the 150mm focal length.

Probably the closest comparable lenses are the Canon 180mm macro (which won’t help Nikon users), and the Sigma 180mm telephoto macro, which by reputation is a great lens (I don’t own one), but considerably more expensive than the Irix.

So enough technical talk and comparison of other macro lenses. What I really think is below the image.

Gerbera Petals © Harold Davis

What Harold really thinks: First, both the images that accompany this story were made with the Irix 150mm f/2.8 “Dragonfly” stopped down to f/32. Obviously, these results are pleasing, with limited diffraction considering the small aperture, and I am happy to own this lens. I expect this to be a go-to telephoto macro lens in situations in which this specialized optic is called for.

Disclosures: None. I have no relationship whatsoever with Irix, and bought the lens with my own hard-earned cash money.

Also posted in Equipment, Photography, Reviews

A Tale of Three Flower Workshops

I am giving three flower-related photography workshops in 2019. I have been asked a number of times how these workshops differ, and how they overlap—so I’d like to make things as clear as possible so that, if you are interested, you can make the right choice.

First, Photographing Flowers for Transparency in June in Berkeley is the only workshop I will be giving that exclusively focuses in depth on my light box techniques.

Poppies and Mallows on White © Harold Davis

Here are some more details about how to choose between the workshops:

The three workshops are very different in focus. My annual Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop here in Berkeley is a studio-and-Photoshop based course in photographing and processing high-key light box images. This is a complex technique, and it is the only technique the workshop covers, with the goal of getting each proficient technically capable of making this style of image on their own.

You can find the full workshop curriculum on the workshop listing page if you scroll down. The short version is that Day 1 is about arranging and photographing flowers on a light box, and Day 2 is about the related post-production. Light box work—photographing flowers for transparency—is all this workshop will cover.

In contrast, the garden and flower photography workshop at the Palm Beach Photography Centre in early February is largely a field photography workshop. We will be photographing gardens and flowers in a variety of local locations, and also exploring a spectrum of studio photography techniques in the studio, along with critiquing work with an eye to improvement and forming an individual style.

Red Tulip, Giverny © Harold Davis

The workshop will demonstrate a range of techniques, including light box work, but the light box will only be a small portion of what is covered, just enough to give a taste of the technique.

I believe the workshop description a gives a pretty good idea of what is involved. For me, my first at the Palm Beach Photo Centre, a special feature of this workshop is that it coincides with a workshop led by national photography treasure, Joyce Tenneson, Light Your Creative Spark. Joyce has a thing or two to say about many aspects of photography, including flower photography. We’re hoping to co-lead some joint workshop sessions while we are both there; and, if you’ve already taken a workshop with me, you might consider Joyce’s workshop as an alternative to repeating with me.

I will be giving a third related workshop in 2019, the week of August 11-17, 2019 at Maine Media Workshops in Rockport, Maine, where I have been teaching for a number of years. This will be a five-day workshop on photographing the great gardens of Maine. This year we have lined up some extraordinary public and private gardens to photograph. Besides the field sessions, we will also be sharing work, learning studio floral photography techniques, and exploring how to enrich our individual creativity, and to express the ineffable with flower photography. I’ll post the registration link once it is available.

Shrub Mallow © Harold Davis

So, to summarize, the Maine and Palm Beach workshops are comparable, except for where they are given, and the lengths (three days for Palm Beach versus five for Maine). Light box work will be shown in a demo, but this is probably not really enough to master the technique in-depth. The Flowers for Transparency workshop is one I give annually, and is an intensive and immersive experience that has been designed to thoroughly teach my light box techniques (but does not include any field photography or visits to locations).

Obviously, potential workshop participants need to choose what works for them in terms of their own schedule and where they are located geographically, as well as what they are most interested in. For the light box process, come to Berkeley in June. You should expect to photograph some really spectacular gardens in Maine in August with me, and in Florida enjoy February’s special flora in a great location, along with the creative synergy that Joyce and I can create (personally, I would consider just signing up for the Joyce Tenneson workshop if I weren’t teaching at the same time!).

Click here for my Workshops & Events listings.

Falling Rose Petals on Unryu washi © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Star Gazer Lily

The Star Gazer Lily is more correctly StarGazer Lily or Lillium ‘StarGazer’, with “StarGazer” crammed together in one word. This Asiatic Lily is a fairly recent hybridization (circa 1974) of the Rubrim lily. The thing is that the flowers of the Rubrim lily faced downwards.

Downward facing petals were not popular with consumers. Leslie Woodriff, a California lily breeder, spotted a Rubrium that faced upwards. From the single specimen, he created the new hybrid, an Asiatic Lily with a builtin bias towards upward-facing flowers.

His name for the hybrid was a marketing success, and the StarGazer Lily has been a florist-industry megahit for many years. Of course, it helps that the Star Gazer is a beautiful flower, with a wonderful—but sometimes almost overwhelming—fragrance.

I made the close-up and almost abstract photos of a Star Gazer Lily shown below using a macro lens and an extension tube.

If you are interested in flowers, gardens, and flower and garden photography, I have a number of related workshops coming up in 2019:

Star Gazer Lily 1 © Harold Davis

Star Gazer Lily Anther © Harold Davis

Star Gazer Lily 3 © Harold Davis

Star Gazer Lily 4 © Harold Davis

Related story: Anthers in Love.

Also posted in Photography

Mandalas

A mandala is a circular pattern that in spiritual usage—principally in Hinduism and Buddhism—represents the universe. More secularly (but still with a soupçon of spirituality), the pattern of a mandala is circular and symmetrical, with repeating access points into the center of the construct. This geometric pattern can be held up as a metaphoric representation or the cosmos, or as a symbolic version of the macrocosm or universe at large.

Often I do not recognize the pattern of my own work until after a body of work has been well under way. It seems that over a few years I have been creating mandalas on the light box using flower petals, followed by an LAB L-channel inversion adjustment of the white background of the image to black.

Here are three of the many mandalas I have created using this set of techniques in the past few years!

Floral Mandala on Black © Harold Davis

Study in Petals on Black © Harold Davis

Low Geostationary and Decaying Orbits around the Clematis Inversion © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Bird of Paradise X-Ray

This is an x-ray photograph of a Strelitzia reginae, commonly known as the Bird of Paradise flower.

Bird of Paradise X-Ray © Harold Davis

More: X-Ray and Fusion X-Ray Gallery; FAQ: X-Ray Photos of Flowers; X-Ray Photography and the Inner Form of Beauty; Revealing the Unseen with X-Ray Photography of Flowers; X-Ray and “Fusion” X-Ray Images of Flowers.

Also posted in X-Ray

X-Ray Photography and the Inner Form of Beauty

The process of making these x-ray images of flowers and shells is more like making a photogram—what Man Ray called a rayograph—than it is like using a conventional camera. The flowers are arranged on top of the capture medium, in this case a digital sensor and then exposed. But the exposure is to x-rays rather then to light in the visible spectrum, as in a photogram, where objects are placed on top of a photosensitive medium (historically, more oftern emulsion-coated paper rather than a digital sensor).

X-Ray, Sunflower © Harold Davis

The x-rays reveal the inner form and shapes rather than the surface manifestation of the object. It is possible to look at the petals of a flower as though they are gauze or veils, and to see the capillaries within a leaf.

Spray Roses X-Ray © Harold Davis

Rather than the surface of a shell, when the x-ray “camera” is pointed at a shell, the inner spirals, shapes, and forms of the structure is revealed. 

Shell Collection X-Ray © Harold Davis

More: Revealing the Unseen with X-Ray Photography of Flowers. Sometimes the seen and the unseen, the surface and the shapes within, come together by combining high-key visible light photography with x-ray captures: X-Ray and “Fusion” X-Ray Images of Flowers.

Also posted in Monochrome, X-Ray

X-Ray and “Fusion” X-Ray Images of Flowers

Here are some (more) x-rays and fusion x-rays of flowers. Fusion x-rays use post-production to combine “straight” x-rays with light box images of the same composition. For background information on how these images were made, see Revealing the Unseen with X-Ray Photography of Flowers.

Gloriosa Lily X-Ray © Harold Davis

By way of comparison, here’s a link to one of my digital photos of a Gloriosa lily, photographed on a mirror, with a little background about the flower.

Lisianthus Fusion X-Ray © Harold Davis

These two versions of a bouquet of Lisianthus (above and below) are both fusion imagery, with x-rays and conventional light box photography.

Lisianthus on White © Harold Davis

I am pleased that the Dahlia composition (below) does a good job of showing the secrets within the flower, while also capturing the exterior of the flower!

Dahlias Fusion X-Ray © Harold Davis

The sunflower was the first fusion x-ray I processed. I like it also as a straight x-ray (below).

Sunflower X-Ray © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography, X-Ray

Dahlia Fusion X-Rays and Light Box Photos

Dahlia Fusion X-Ray Inversion © Harold Davis

Dahlia Fusion X-Ray © Harold Davis

This Dahlia was photographed on a light box for transparency, then captured via x-ray photography. The two capture techniques were combined in Photoshop. In the upper version, there is also an L-channel inversion in LAB color.

I worked with my friend Julian Kopke, who is a medical doctor, radiologist, and a physicist to create these images.

This technique is also shown here, and with a Sunflower.

Also posted in X-Ray

Sunflower X-Ray Fusion

This is a fusion of an x-ray and a light box high-key HDR sequence, using a medical x-ray machine and photographed on a light box. My friend Dr Julian Koepke and I collaborated on making some of these images, and we will get to play with flowers, X-rays, and light boxes again tomorrow! 

Sunflower X-Ray Fusion © Harold Davis

Also posted in X-Ray

Maine Flowers

This was an in-class light box demo, using flowers that my wonderful workshop participants scavenged from the grounds of Maine Media Workshops.

Maine Flowers © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Gardens of Maine

So far, this is a wonderful Garden Photography workshop despite the rather overpowering heat and humidity (a bit unexpected on the coast of Maine, even in August). There are fourteen participants, a very full house for this kind of workshop, but everyone is quite nice, and we don’t get in each other’s way. 

I have been doing classroom sessions, and we also have a full slate of field locations. These three are from the rather-wonderful-for-a-public-botanical-garden Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

Garden Fence © Harold Davis

Unknown Flower © Harold Davis

Sunflower © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

The Art of Photographing Flowers for Transparency: Harold Davis at B&H in New York (Aug 13, 2018)

I’ll be presenting The Art of Photographing Flowers for Transparency on Monday August 13, 2018 at the B&H Photo Event Space, 420 Ninth Avenue, in New York City from 1-3 PM. The event is free, but space is limited, so pre-registration is strongly suggested. Click here for information and registration for the live event, or to view it live-streamed.

Poppies and Mallows on White © Harold Davis

Event Description: According to Popular Photography, Harold Davis’s botanical images “have a purity and translucence that borders on spiritual.” Harold Davis is a renowned photographer, an internationally-known digital artist, a workshop leader, and a bestselling author of numerous books about photography. His upcoming title is The Art of Photographing Flowers for Transparency. He has been honored as a Zeiss Lens Ambassador and a Moab Master. His high-key photographs of flowers on a light box are widely imitated, but seldom equaled.

Poppies Dancing Inversion © Harold Davis

In this presentation, Harold will show examples of how he arranges and lights his flowers for photography. He’ll explain the secrets of high-key HDR photography, and show how his images are combined using post-production techniques. Tools, techniques, and the craft of light box photography will be demystified. Harold will explain inverting his light box images using LAB color, so they can be easily presented on a black background, and will discuss botanical printmaking, including how he makes his sought-after washi prints.

There will be a Q&A session following the talk. Click here for information and registration for the live event, or to register to view it live-streamed.

Bouquet of Neighborhood Flowers © Harold Davis

Click here for information and registration for the live event, or to register to view it live-streamed.

Also posted in Workshops

Papaver Poppy Pods Gone to Seed

When Papavers go to seed, they produce pods that hold the seeds. You can scrape out the pod to harvest the seeds. When one puts a  clump of these seeds into a mortar and pestle and grinds them into a paste then one is well on the way to refining opium. Of course, to be clear, you have to start with a Papaver somniferum rather than some other Papaver variety to get opium. Who me? Lest anyone is curious, mine are purely decorative, and I have absolutely no interest in growing my own opium patch in my garden. I swear…

Papaver Pod from above © Harold Davis

I think the Papaver gone to seed looks almost like a marine sea creature, perhaps more like a sand dollar than a flower!

Papaver Seed Stalks © Harold Davis

I photographed the specimens shown here on a black velvet background, and processed the images in Photoshop using my digital Karl Blossfeldt effect.

Papaver Seed Pod © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome

Anthers in Love

Sometimes it is fun to get lost in the worlds of macro photography. Even the somewhat commonplace can become a different and intriguing universe. As in this conventionally lit, extreme close-up image of the anthers of an Asiatic Lily covered in pollen.

Anthers in Love © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography