Category Archives: Landscape

How Long Must Eye Wait?

Wedged in a crack behind the aptly-named Ladyboot Arch in the Alabama Hills of the eastern Sierra near the Nevada border of California, I already knew this wasn’t going to be the perfect image. For one thing, the lens I was using, my dearly beloved Nikkor 16mm f/2.8 horizontal fisheye had blown over in an accident a few days earlier, with a nasty crack on the front optical element.

How Long Must Eye Wait? © Harold Davis

The focus of the lens was also jammed, stuck (fortunately) on infinity. That is, nobody wants focus to be jammed, but if an extreme wide-angle has to have a single focus, infinity would be the choice.

Ultimately, I had no idea whether shooting through this damaged lens would produce reasonable results.

I was also faced with a problem of topography: the crevice I was in would not let me set the tripod up normally, and I had to spread the legs and wedge them against the rock walls.

Finally, all was ready to start the timer on the intervalometer. But for reasons unknown, it simply wouldn’t work with the camera. 

Falling back on “Plan B” with grace under pressure is a normal part of any photographer’s toolkit. My Nikon camera has on-board intervalometer functionality, admittedly with an inscrutable user interface. The limitation is that the shutter speed maxes out at 30 seconds. 

Normally, my practice with this kind of photography is to set the camera to Bulb, and shoot a sequence of wide open (or nearly wide-open) captures at four minutes (using ISO 400). 

Dropping the shutter speed down to 30 seconds meant I was exposing for 1/8 the duration of time I normally would (because 30 seconds is 1/8 of 4 minutes). To compensate, I needed to boost the ISO by a factor of eight, from 400 to 3,200.

The final exposure data was 141 exposures, each exposure made at 30 seconds, f/2.8, and ISO 3,200. Post-production was in Photoshop, using the Statistics script with stack mode set to Maximum.

Here’s an image from the front of Ladyboot Arch, and another image from the rear of the arch (made with my other camera, a working intervalometer, and the Zeiss 15mm wide-angle lens!).

Night photography workshops are indeed a great deal of fun, and I am looking forward to a repeat engagement in Lone Pine and the Alabama Hills, with my friend and distinguished night photographer Steven Christensen of Star Circle Academy as co-teacher in 2018. The dates are Friday, September 7 through Monday, September 10, 2018. Click here for more information!

Also posted in Digital Night, Photography, Workshops

Grizzly Falls

Just off the road along the South Fork of the Kings River in Kings Canyon National Park, Grizzly Falls presented great contrasts of light and dark. I used a neutral density filter to make a long exposure (fifteen seconds) and to soften the flowing water. As I setup my camera and tripod, I glanced at the top of the falls. Someone, no doubt a good climber, had placed the Republic of California grizzly bear flag on a wood stick at the top of the falls, where it was fluttering in the breeze—and, as such, showed the only grizzly bear likely to be seen around Grizzly Falls, since the species is, of course, extinct in California.

Grizzly Falls © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography

Landscape in Layers

It’s fun to photograph a landscape that appears to be layered. Usually, this works best in the early morning or later afternoon (or even earlier at sunrise, or later at sunset), also when there is a little fog or haze.

There’s a small amount of optimization and tweaking one can do in post-production, but mostly this is an issue of being ready with one’s camera in the right place at the right time. Most of the art is being there with eyes open and camera ready.

Besides the image shown here, photographed from Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park, looking towards the great California central valley, with fog obscuring most of the coastal range, in this genre check out Landscape of Blue Layers (the White Mountains of Eastern California),  Sunrise in Rural Romania, Mountains near Meo Vac (northern Vietnam), Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po (Japan), and Distant Mountains (Panamint Range of Eastern California).

Down in the Valley © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Landscape of Blue Layers

From the heights of the White Mountains, the ranges to the south looked blue in the haze. With very little intermediation from me, photographic capture turned these vast spaces into a layered landscape of a near abstract quality.

Landscape of Blue Layers © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Lonely Road

I had hoped to leave the haze and smoke of the Bay area behind, but coming across Yosemite and then down the eastern slope of the High Sierra we descended into a miasma. As the light and visibility faded, I stopped beside a lonely road to photograph the line of telephone poles fading into the scarcely visible mountains in the distance.

Lonely Road

Also posted in Monochrome

Son Doong Cave

The interior landscape of Son Doong Cave is ethereal and fantastic. Keep in mind that this mystical landscape is cloaked in darkness. The camera sees far more than the naked eye.

Son Doong Cave © Harold Davis


Parting of the Veil © Harold Davis


Entrance to the Secret Valley © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography, Vietnam

Church and Lighthouse on Gozo

This is a view of a church and lighthouse on Gozo, an island that is part of the Maltese archipelago of three islands. We photographed the view in the morning light before everything was too harsh. Gozo is a beautiful and laid back place where I think one could spend a fair amount of dreamy time wandering the cliffs above the Mediterranean. For some reason, there are a large number of out-of-scale and out-of-the-way big, fairly modern churches—like the one shown—in many places on Gozo.

Church and Lighthouse, Gozo © Harold Davis

I’m caught up in the rush of being home in California, photographing flowers, organizing future workshop and travel plans, and being with family. But I’m trying to go through my images from the past several months travel in Vietnam, France, Spain, and—yes!—Malta, and gradually process some of these images.

Special thanks to Paul, we could not have wished for a better photographic guide to Gozo. Gozo, the mythological Ogygia, home to Calypso in the Odyssey, is a place I really, really hope to visit again.

Also posted in Malta, Monochrome

Wine Country

This image shows a rose-tinted reflection in the extension to the Chateau la Dominique vineyard near St Emilion, France designed by well-known architect Jean Nouvel.

Wine Country © Harold Davis

Wine Country © Harold Davis

Also posted in France

Le Moulin de l’Abbaye

This is Le Moulin de l’Abbaye, the mill of the Abbey, and the hotel we will be based in Brantome, France for exploring the Dordogne countryside.

Le Moulin de l'Abbaye © Harold Davis

Le Moulin de l’Abbaye © Harold Davis

Two different interpretations! Above: 28mm, 4 exposures at shutter speeds from 1.5 seconds to 8 seconds, each exposure at f/22 and ISO 50; tripod mounted; processed in Photoshop. Below: iPhone 6s, processed in Waterlogue.

Le Moulin de l'Abbaye (iPhone) © Harold Davis

Le Moulin de l’Abbaye (iPhone) © Harold Davis

Also posted in France, Photography

Hang En Campsite

This is the first campsite on the way to Son Doong, just within the entrance to the Hang En cave. The trail leads down the rock slide you see in the foreground to the wooden bridge on the lower right. To get to the campsite, you wade across the underground river.

Hang En Campsite © Harold Davis

Hang En Campsite © Harold Davis

In the rather elaborate campsite itself, if you look closely you can see the tents of the paying participants in a line on the left, the dining pavilion in the center, and the cooking cluster of the porters on the right. The trail onward and through the Hang En cave leads along the river the curves to the right, and into darkness.

I made this photo with the late afternoon light coming through the cave opening, on my way down to the campsite and to a much needed swim in the lake!

Exposure info: Nikon D810, Zeiss 15mm f/2.8, five combined exposures with each exposure at f/8 and ISO 250, exposure times from 2 seconds to 30 seconds; tripod mounted; processed in Nik HDR Efex Pro and Photoshop.

Also posted in Vietnam

Regarding Scale and Wonderment

There’s something very tricky about creating images that capture a truly vast wonder of the world such as the Grand Canyon or the Son Doong Cave. The sense of scale is literally mind-boggling, so it is very hard to make a photo that allows the viewer to take in what is being portrayed; and, even if it can be taken in, it is hard to convey the emotional content of the scene when viewing it “for real”.

Scale and Wonderment © Harold Davis

Scale and Wonderment © Harold Davis

The typical way to deal with this scale problem is to forget about the wonderment. If you throw some people into the mix, the scale of the phenomena becomes visually obvious. Unfortunately, the resulting images are banal, commonplace, and usually look like travel brochure ads. 

My goal is to go for the wonderment and the sense of the spiritual. Although this image uses human scaling to some extent (if you look closely you can see the tents of our expedition, and the porters around their kitchen) the proportions and scaling would work without the human element. With or without the tents, this is an image that requires careful visual analysis to discern the clouds far below (the cave generates its own weather system) and the sizing of the distant mountains, valleys, opening to the sky, and other topographic features.

Also posted in Photography, Vietnam


Son Doong Cave—Wind River Cave—is located in the impenetrable mountainous jungles along the old Ho Chi Minh trail on the Vietnamese side of the Vietnam-Laos border. To get to the cave, you have to slog down a jungle mountainside, up a river bed, then through another vast cave. The exit on the far side of this first cave opens on the otherwise inaccessible valley that is the starting point for entering the Son Doong Cave. We were told by our expedition leader that fewer people have been to Son Doong than have been to space.

Portals © Harold Davis

Portals © Harold Davis

Within the cave, there are vast areas open to the jungle above. These never scaled heights let in shafts of light, unusual flora, and the occasional monkey descending on vines.

To get the picture, think one part Avatar, one part the glittering caves of Aglarond from the Lord of the Rings, one part Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes (the original books, not any of the film versions)—with an added pinch of Eustace’s adventures on the Dragon Island in the third book of the Narnia series.

Also posted in Photography, Vietnam

Construction Fence, Halang City

This photo shows a construction fence in Halang City, Vietnam. The fence is hiding some of the mammoth construction that is going on here. Not only does the fence hide the construction work site, it also hides the waters of Halang Bay, replacing them with paintings of an insipid beach scene. Behind the fence, the viewer can see the incredible karst formations of Halang Bay and Cat Ba Island. The dramatic and distant landscape on the other side of the bay is still wild, but from this vantage point it is hard to know it as such, between the fence paintings and the orderly row of tame plants in the foreground.

Construction Fence, Halang City © Harold Davis

Construction Fence, Halang City © Harold Davis

Also posted in Vietnam

Cat Ba Island Sunset

The day started slowly. The drive from Hanoi to Halang City seemed interminable. We passed endless rows of the gritty Vietnamese version of strip malls, factories, and Soviet-era coal-fired power plants, all in an overcast haze compounded by the emissions of millions of motorcycles and diesel trucks. There didn’t seem to be a single green park, or anything untouched by development-in-a-hurry on the whole four hour drive.

Cat Ba Island Sunset © Harold Davis

Cat Ba Island Sunset © Harold Davis

Once in Halang City, the pace picked up and things got beautiful in a hurry. We loaded our bags over the drop on a jetty to a small speedboat, and crowded in. We were off across Halang Bay, and through the maze of karst rock formations to Cat Ba Island. Once settled into our hotel on Cat Ba, we took another boat (there’s an iPhone shot of Eric and myself on this boat at the bottom of this story), followed by a sort of ship-to-shore water taxi to Monkey Island. In my mind, the most striking thing I saw on this leg of the trip were the floating communities we encountered on the way back—cities of ocean dwellers in their own boats, tied together for a while then ready to go off on their own.

Commercial Fishing Pier at Night, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam © Harold Davis

Commercial Fishing Pier at Night, Cat Ba Island, Vietnam © Harold Davis

After dinner, when it was dark, Eric and I photographed the commercial fishing pier area on Cat Ba, looking for an impressionistic effect. All in all, a very fun day!

Harold and Eric at Sea © Harold Davis

Harold and Eric at Sea © Harold Davis

Also posted in Vietnam

Mountains near Meo Vac

The mountains near Meo Vac are in an area untraveled until recently that abuts the Chinese-Vietnam border. These mountains are unusual and spectacular, with high and narrow roads. A permit is still required to visit the area, and there is no public transportation.

Mountains near Meo Vac © Harold Davis

Mountains near Meo Vac © Harold Davis

I have many impressions of this dream-like landscape, and will be posting more images as I can. Right now, our driver and our guide have been plying me with a clear, home-made corn liquor that is very potent, and a spicey dish made from goat, so one image is all I can manage before I head to bed and get ready for more adventures tomorrow!

Also posted in Vietnam