Category Archives: Flowers

Home, Peonies, and Irises

I’ve been traveling a month and a day—with x-ray photography, a lovely group in Paris (the after-hours session in Monet’s garden at Giverny was probably my favorite part), and a trek on the Camino Portuguese. How great to come home to family, and a house filled with flowers for me to photograph!

Sunset at Sea © Harold Davis

Somehow my adventures of the past month feel like a dream, but also it feels like a dream to be here now. Which is a dream, and which is real life?

Peonies and Irises on White © Harold Davis

Peonies and Irises on Black © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Giverny Afternoon

Flowers at Giverny © Harold Davis

I visited Monet’s wonderful garden at Giverny with my small group of photographers. In the late afternoon, we had the garden mostly to ourselves and were able to photograph in the golden light.

Giverny Afternoon © Harold Davis

Also posted in France, Photography

Tulip X-Rays and Fusion X-Rays

Tulips X-Ray Fusion © Harold Davis

These tulips were x-rayed to provide the internal structure of the flowers (see image below). They were then photographed in alignment on a light box for translucency, and to provide the color. The two versions were combined using Color blending mode in Photoshop for the fusion x-ray image, shown above. For more info, check out my FAQ about x-ray and fusion x-ray photography

Tulips X-Ray © Harold Davis

Also posted in X-Ray

X-Ray Floral Medley

Working with Dr Julian Kopke, I laid out this x-ray composition on a sheet of plexiglass above the sensor. The results you see are actually two x-rays combined, because there is falloff at one of the x-ray, so the second exposure was flipped to create a combined even image. We also used the plexiglass backing in registration to create a light box image of the composition, and I will try later to see what combining the x-ray (interior structure) with the external appearance of the flowers looks like. Check out my FAQ for more information about this kind of imaging.

X-Ray Floral Medley © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome, X-Ray

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 Abstractions

What are these tulip photos about?

An important question when looking at a photo is, What is this photo about? In the case of an image of a single flower blossom, likely candidates depend where the image is on the documentary straight photo to would-be high-art spectrum. The photo could be intended as an illustration in a horticultural catalog, or it could be about shape, form, and gesture—with nothing to do with the literal subject matter.

Tulip Sun © Harold Davis

The photo above, Tulip Sun, is about a feeling: the bright, warm, and sunny feeling some of us get when looking at a beautiful and colorful flower. Tulip Eye, below, is a double-take narrative. What is inside the flower? Suppose it were peeking out at us?

Tulip Eye © Harold Davis

I like to understand what my photos are about, at least for me, as early as possible in the image-making process. Sometimes I am lucky enough to know this before I press the shutter release, but more often not. It’s good to know what direction the image is going early in post-production (if not sooner). Otherwise, implementing my vision is difficult, because it is hard to implement something one does not understand.

As a coda to this discussion, there’s no reason that my idea of what one of my photos is about should be your idea. It’s not necessarily that I have failed if my vision is not conveyed. As one example, some photographic imagery is intentionally conceived as a projective device, or Rorschach: the viewer reads into the image what they have brought to it. And, of course, a photo can be about more than one thing, just as it can work on several levels—encompassing, for example, formal composition as well as narrative feeling.

Also posted in Photography

Pale Garden

From our garden I cut clematis, clivia, and iris. The tulips were store-bought. I assembled a composition to echo Flowers of Spring’s Desire and Poppies and Mallows, but using a somewhat different color palette.

Pale Garden © Harold Davis

The LAB color L-channel inversion on black followed (for information on how to do this, see my Creative LAB Color course).

Pale Garden on Black © Harold Davis

To learn about my light box techniques with flowers, see my FAQ Photographing Flowers for Transparency. We also have one place still open in the hands-on workshop on the topic scheduled for June 2019.

Also posted in Photography

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