Category Archives: Landscape

Dancing Trees

The other day I went for a long walk in nearby Tilden Park, which lies about a mile from my home, on the farther side of the initial crest of the Coastal Range hills. On the trail, I stopped to put down my backpack and take out my camera. The photo shown below, Eucalyptus Forest, was the result.

Eucalyptus Forest © Harold Davis

Eucalyptus Forest © Harold Davis

As I looked at Eucalyptus Forest in post-production, I realized that there was a structural similarly with other images of trees I have made. The examples that came to mind were Along the Old Schoolhouse Trail and Aspens near Sonora Pass.

Along the Old Schoolhouse Trail © Harold Davis

Along the Old Schoolhouse Trail © Harold Davis

Of course, the species of tree are different. The chaotic and messy eucalyptus make it hard to see linear order, even among the vertical lines of the trees. And the California coastal oaks along the Old Schoolhouse Trail are not the aspens that I photographed near the summit of Sonora Pass in the Sierra Nevada.

Aspens near Sonora Pass

Aspens near Sonora Pass © Harold Davis

But all three images share similarities in formal composition. As I teach my students, one can diagram compositions using simple shapes like lines and circles, and making note of patterned repetition. With a line drawing of these three compositions, the underlying similarity of image structure becomes clear. 

My artistic intent was also comparable across the three images: I wanted to capture the spirits of the trees, Dryads if you will. In my mind, the spirits of trees are always dancing.

Original blog stories: Along the Old Schoolhouse Trail; Aspens below Sonora Pass.

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography

Eye of the Tower

In mid-February of this year, I photographed at the massive Tower Arch in the back country of Arches National Park, in Utah. Time was short because the winter day was coming to an end, and the four-wheel road back out to Moab was demanding even in good light. This was one of my last images of the day, photographed using a fisheye lens, looking west and south through the opening in the arch.

Eye of the Tower © Harold Davis

Eye of the Tower © Harold Davis

When I processed this image, I was mindful that the scene seemed very dynamic at the time because the weather was rapidly changing. I wanted to keep this sense of natural movement in the final image, with the clouds as a contrast to the solidity of the rock.

Here’s the exposure information: Nikon D850, 8mm-14mm fisheye at the 14mm rectangular fisheye setting, seven exposures with each exposure at f/29 and ISO 64, exposure speeds from 1/15 of a second to 2.5 seconds; tripod mounted; RAW conversion using ACR, and exposures hand-blended using Photoshop. 

Also posted in Photography

Towards a Ham Sandwich Theory of Art

In his cryptic and chaotic first novel V, Thomas Pynchon describes the work of a painter named Slab:

Slab and Esther, uncomfortable with each other, stood in front of an easel in his place, looking at cheese Danish No. 35. The cheese danish was a recent obsession of Slab’s. He had taken, some time ago, to painting in a frenzy these morning-pastries in every conceivable style, light, and setting. The room was already littered with Cubist, Fauve and Surrealist cheese Danishes. “Monet spent his declining years at his home in Giverny, painting the water lilies in the garden pool,” reasoned Slab, “He painted all kinds of water lilies. He like water lilies. These are my declining years. I like cheese Danishes.”

Essentially, as Slab indicates, what does the subject matter matter? It’s all just grist for the artistic mill. Water lilies or cheese danish, what is the difference?

This bears some relationship to the current “ham sandwich” theory of politics, as in: “I’ll vote for a ham sandwich if it is the Democratic nominee.” To which, by the way, I subscribe.

Food metaphors are great!

My images of folds in the earth (below) from Death Valley’s Zabriskie point are a kind of ham sandwich, cheese danish, or water lily. I could go on photographing this kind of abstraction forever, regardless of scale, and its great that these textures add up to a magnificent and vast landscape.

Related stories: Death Valley Landscapes; Lost in the Hills.

Zabriskie View © Harold Davis

Zabriskie View © Harold Davis

Badlands © Harold Davis

Badlands © Harold Davis

Earth © Harold Davis

Earth © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

What’s my line?

Sometimes an image is simply about a point, or a line. In this high-key image across the Bay on an overcast day, I created an image of a train bridge that is really about two close, parallel lines horizontally bisecting the rectangular frame.

Opening Train Bridge © Harold Davis

Opening Train Bridge © Harold Davis

The image of power-line towers (below) is the same idea, but a little more complex in composition, and vertically oriented. (Sometimes simplicity works better than complexity!)

Power Lines © Harold Davis

Power Lines © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome

Lost in the Hills

It’s easily possible to get lost in the folds of the earth viewed from Zabriskie Point: visually with a camera, and practically as well if one wanders in the valleys. The “social trail”—an informal path created by erosion due to foot traffic, and generally deprecated by the National Park Service—shown in Lost in the Hills helps add a sense of scale to the scene.

Without a human-size reference point, the landscape can become abstract and context-less: it could be big, it could be small (if rotated, the couch shown in this story could be an immense landscape after all, among other things), and who really knows for sure?

Lost in the Hills © Harold Davis

Lost in the Hills © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Canyonlands

Here are a few images from my recent trip to Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands is divided in three sections by the conjunction of the Green and Colorado Rivers. The central section, nearest to Moab and easiest to get to, is sometimes called Island in the Sky. The southeastern section is the Needles, and the southwestern section contains the Maze.

On this trip, we were based in Moab, Utah and able to visit the Island in the Sky (central) and Needles (southeast) sections of the park. On a previous trip, years ago, I spent time exploring the Maze (southwest) section, which is little harder to get into than the other two areas.

I certainly hope to get back and spend some more time in the Canyonlands backcountry; all three sections of this wonderful and remote park are absolutely brilliant.

Related images: View through Tower Arch; View from Deadhorse Point.

Tree with a View © Harold Davis

Tree with a View © Harold Davis (Needles section, Canyonlands)

Snow on the Plateau © Harold Davis

Snow on the Plateau © Harold Davis (Island in the Sky)

Beneath the Rim © Harold Davis

Beneath the Rim © Harold Davis (Deadhorse Point)

Winter on the Mesa © Harold Davis

Winter on the Mesa © Harold Davis (Island in the Sky)

Also posted in Photography

Death Valley Landscapes

There are few more beautiful landscapes on this good earth than Death Valley. Here are a few images from my recent visit, with the photographs emphasizing patterns and folds in the vastness of this very special place.

Folds in the Earth © Harold Davis

Folds in the Earth © Harold Davis

How deep is my valley © Harold Davis

How deep is my valley © Harold Davis

Big Old Rock at Sunrise © Harold Davis

Big Old Rock at Sunrise © Harold Davis

Also posted in Patterns, Photography

Snows of Yesteryear

Yosemite Snowstorm © Harold Davis

Yosemite Snowstorm © Harold Davis

Thinking about the upcoming photography conference in Yosemite led me to browse through some of my archives of work of Yosemite in winter’s past. Digital means never having to say one is sorry, and that it is always possible to reprocess. Contemporary advances in software interpolation means that even fairly low resolution images can be enlarged and printed at decent sizes. So maybe it is worth going through one’s files to see what was captured at the dawn of the digital photography era!

The color version of the image above was originally blogged in 2006 in But Where Are the Snows of Yesteryear.

I think the three images below, of a snowstorm in Yosemite, ice on the Merced River, and a somewhat hair-raising view off the spine of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park were never blogged—they do not appear in any of my books—and date to roughly the same time frame. The image of the Blizzard takes a little looking at in the larger size (and maybe squinting) before the shapes of the snow-laden trees become fully apparent.

Blizzard © Harold Davis

Blizzard © Harold Davis

Skim Ice on the Merced © Harold Davis

Skim Ice on the Merced © Harold Davis

View from Angel's Landing © Harold Davis

View from Angel’s Landing © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography, Yosemite

Paris Landscape

With the storm receding, from the top of the Tour Montparnasse near sunset, Paris looked like it could be any other rain-wracked landscape (of course, it is not, there is only one Paris), with La Défense clustered behind the almost-toy Eiffel Tower.

Paris Landscape © Harold Davis

Also posted in France, Paris

Apparently Home to Manatees and More

After my workshop in West Palm Beach, I had a morning to explore south Florida. I rented a car, and drove through scrub and pre-Everglades marsh inland to Lake Okeechobee—seemingly big enough to count as an inland sea with the further shore invisible in the distant horizon, and apparently home to manatees. Heading down the small road towards Canal Point on the shores of Lake Okeechobee, I was followed by a police car for miles, and meticulously kept to the speed limit as I passed through small hamlets. The dirt poor landscape was in striking contrast to the glitz and wealth of the high rises along the ocean shore.

Lake Okeechobee © Harold Davis

Of course, one is not going to get the gist of any landscape or place in a short visit. And I had to start thinking about getting to the airport on time for my connecting flight (through Atlanta) home. But I hadn’t yet seen the Atlantic Ocean in my days giving the workshop, only the inside of a studio and the classroom, and the stealth metropolis—the Palm Beach cities have about a million people—plunked in a place that would seemingly be uninhabitable without air conditioning, even in February.

Atlantic © Harold Davis

So I turned the car towards the Atlantic coast, and took a long look at the waves and cloud-wracked sky before returning to the world of airport lounges and the cramped steerage of the backs of airplanes.

Also posted in Monochrome

Hitting the Flickr Explore Jackpot with Crepuscular Coast

Crepuscular Coast (v2) © Harold Davis

My monochromatic image Crepuscular Coast (shown above) hit Flickr Explore yesterday. This is a reprocessed version of the original image, which I originally photographed, processed, and posted in October 2018 (link to the original story here).

I reprocessed the image at the behest of a client, who wanted me to take down the crepuscular rays a bit (those rays were really there!). I also removed a small texture effect—which you can mostly see in the sky of the original version—so the reprocessed version is a cleaner, simpler, and starker image, although the differences between the two versions are really pretty subtle.

Three months out the original version on Flickr has 173 views and 4 Faves (“Faves” are the Flickr version of “likes”). In contrast, the reprocessed version on Flickr after about 36 hours has 10, 558 views and 575 Faves, and counting upwards. Whatever one’s opinion of the merits of the two versions, most of this vast difference in audience appreciation can be attributed to the inclusion of the recent one in Flickr Explore.

The eyeballs today for photography are mostly on Instagram, and if you want your work to be seen you need to go where the eyeballs are, despite the formidable limitations that Instagram has for serious photographers (it is designed best for mobile photography). But even compared with Instagram, when it comes to instant recognition, it is hard to beat Flickr Explore. My own experience is that any image that “makes Explore” get 10K page views almost immediately, and is typically profitably licensed. I get an image “Explored” once every quarter or so; besides Crepuscular Coast, two of the most recent ones are Lonely Road / Poem of the Road and Twisted.

So some of the images included in Flickr Explore are pretty compelling (I like to think mine are!), and others not so much. How do images get “Explored”?

In April, 2018 SmugMug bought Flickr from Verizon, who had acquired it about a year earlier from Yahoo. SmugMug has made it clear that being “Explored” is reserved for paying customers a/k/a Professional members of Flickr, which seems quite fair, and a good policy.

Besides membership category, Flickr itself is pretty mum about the process of being “Explored”, but points to an algorithm for something they dub “interestingness”. As one FAQ for an Explore derivative group on Flickr puts it, “Selections for Explore are made by a math equation. This math equation (called an algorithm) calculates a score based on how many views, faves and comments an images gets over a period of time. The better the score the higher an image gets placed in the Explore list. Faves are heavily weighted in the equation and are far more important than comments. This score is often referred to as the “interestingness” factor of an image.”

Of course, blaming an opaque algorithm for a secret sauce is not unusual in “high tech land,” whether that secret sauce is Google’s PageRank algorithm or Flickr’s interestingness algorithm for Explore. Really, the process of “being Explored” is pretty much a black box.

The only thing that is clear is that something like the community trail conundrum is at work: the more times a trail is trod upon the more visible it becomes, leading to more visits, more visibility, and a bigger trail, all in a virtuous spiral. Early movement is vital: you don’t get an image “Explored” unless it starts garnering views, comments, and faves pretty early in its online history. Anecdotally, based on my observations, I agree that faving (“liking”) is actually more important than views or comments in terms of the algorithm’s ranking.

So we don’t really know how images get into Explore. We do know that some of the images in Explore are very good and others are banal, or worse. Comments and observations are welcome. Perhaps if we put our communal heads together we can shed some light on this conundrum. After all, this is one more mysterious process in virtual space with real world consequences.

Also posted in Flickr, Monochrome, Photography

Weston Gallery sells two prints of my work

I am very pleased that Weston Gallery has sold two prints of my work. The subject of each print is a California mountain landscape. One is a panorama, Panorama of the Sierra Crest, photographed from the Alabama Hills above Lone Pine at sunrise, and shown below.

Panorama of the Sierra Crest © Harold Davis

The other image is a monochromatic version of a rough, eroded landscape, taken near the Middle Fork of the Kings River in Kings Canyon National Park.

Badlands © Harold Davis

Meanwhile, from the far side of the world, my group had a great time photographing the island of Gozo (famous as the supposed Ogygia of Calypso and Odysseus fame), and made it to the ferry back to the “mainland” of Malta just ahead of a blustering storm!

Also posted in Photography

Crepuscular Coast

The sun coming over the mountains, and fog rising from the ocean, combined in crepuscular rays to first illuminate the coastal bridge and then with chiaroscuro light the rocky shore.

Crepuscular Coast © Harold Davis

Light and emotion go together. There cannot be light without darkness in contrast, so the two coexist as equal parts of ourselves and our world. When the darkness and light combine in just the right chiaroscuro mixture, then we see an echo of ourselves, the good and bad within, and the light to strive for. And, you can only photograph light—light that is reflected or emitted. You cannot photograph an object in-and-of-itself. The only subject of photography is truly light.

Crepuscular Coast – Black and White © Harold Davis

I photographed these images on Cape Perpetua in coastal Oregon. The color and monochromatic view of the coast with crepuscular rays (above) was mode in morning light. The images of Heceta Head Lighthouse (shown below) were made right about at sunset.

Heceta Head Lighthouse © Harold Davis

Heceta Head © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Endless Summer

The last few days on the Mendocino coast have been an endless summer with blue arcing skies, crisp waves, and orange sunsets. Today we headed north past the Lost Coast, and into the long forest of redwoods and fog. Tomorrow Oregon on this very cool road trip. 

Sunset and Waves © Harold Davis

Devil’s Postpile

Deep in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, down the drainage of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River from the Minarets, Mt Banner, and the Ritter Range, lies the formation of basalt pillars that is the basis for Devil’s Postpile National Monument. As it happens, a dead-end road leads from the ski resort town of Mammoth Lakes, over the Pacific Crest, and before the road ends at the Reds Meadow pack station passes within half a mile of Devil’s Postpile. 

Devil’s Postpile © Harold Davis

In September, on my way to the night photography workshop in Lone Pine, on a deliciously golden sunlit day, I took the time to travel over to Devil’s Postpile. With my camera on tripod, I made a series of abstract exposures, much more interested in the shapes of the formation than any larger sense of context.

Also posted in Monochrome