Category Archives: Monochrome

Curves Ahead

Starting with sunlight coming through vessels with color, I pared down my abstractions. But lately we have been under a river of rain. Sunlight is scarce. But it doesn’t take much to create an image. Just a camera, really. Simplicity is best. There are curves ahead.

Curve #1 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Abstractions, Photography

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 Landscape

Cutting Corners

In Mounts Botanical Gardens of Palm Beach County, Florida an impressive exhibit of an installation by stick-work artist Patrick Dougherty was showcased when I visited recently. I’m always interested in doors, windows, and openings, particularly when they can be seen in progression one within the other, so it was great fun to photograph this stick work structure from within, emphasizing both the symmetry and repetition, and at the same time the anarchy and lack of linear structure.

Windows in a Willow Twig House © Harold Davis

To create this image with as much contrast and resolution as I could, with my camera on a tripod, I made nine exposures stopped down to f/25 at ISO 64. Shutter speeds ranged from 2.5 seconds to /50 of a second. I carefully focused about 1/3 of the distance shown in the photo to get as many elements as possible in focus. 

I combined the nine exposures in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, then processed to monochromatic using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and Photoshop Adjustment Layers.

Also photographed at Mounts Botanical Garden with my class from the Palm Beach Photographic CentreLooking down the frond—Been down so long it looks like up to me!

Also posted in Photography

Looking down the frond—Been down so long it looks like up to me!

What you may find a little different about this photo of a palm frond is the viewpoint: my macro lens is looking straight down the frond, so that it looks almost like a causeway of some kind, with the vanishing point down where the frond meets earth, although this junction isn’t visible, and everything other than the frond itself is pretty dark.

I find the effect a bit disorienting in the final image, as it also was when I finally maneuvered my camera and tripod into position and looked through the view finder.

Frond © Harold Davis

I photographed this palm frond at Mounts Botanical Garden in West Palm Beach, Florida. I used my 50mm Zeiss macro lens stopped all the way down to f/22, with the camera as I mentioned on a tripod positioned at the top of the subject looking down. The shutter speed was 1/4 of a second, with the ISO set to 64. I converted the image to monochrome using the High Contrast Red preset in Photoshop’s B&W adjustments, as well as Nik Silver Efex Pro.

Also posted in Patterns, 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 Flowers, Photography

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, Landscape, Photography

Giant Ficus Tree

Giant Ficus Tree © Harold Davis

This giant Ficus tree, Ficus macrophyllia, dominates one corner of Ventura’s Plaza Park. It was planted in 1874, and you can see how big it is by comparing the size of the car parked on the street to the left of the tree, and the street light to its right that is dwarfed by the giant tree.

Cefalu

Wandering through the Sicilian village of Cefalu, I made my way to the harbor jetty. Looking back at the whitewashed village, it was clear that from a monochromatic perspective, the contrast between the white buildings and the black headland behind them was very interesting. I made a series of bracketed exposures that would enable me to take advantage of this contrast once I had converted the photo to black and white.

Cefalu © Harold Davis

Nikon D850, 44mm, 6 Exposures at f/29 and ISO 64, shutter speeds ranging from 1/10 to 1/160 of a second, tripod mounted; processed to monochrome using Nik HDR Efex Pro.

Related story: Accordion Player.

Also posted in Italy, Photography

Patterns in Paris

The common theme in these three monochromatic images taken in Paris is that they are about patterns—as seen in three dimensional architectural objects, but reduced to two apparent planes. And also where the patterns end, and where they do not extend.

Musee Picasso © Harold Davis

The image in the courtyard of the palace that houses the Musee Picasso (above) contrasts the regular patterns of windows in the background with the odd shape of the white ball thing in the foreground. Actually, there’s no way to know the scale of the white ball, which is interesting. Photography can render size as an illusion.

Below, the glorification-of-war frieze can be found in the Place Vendome on the very three dimensional Colonne Vendome—a sort of obelisk thing clad in cast-metal, three dimensions attempting to be two dimensions.

The Clash © Harold Davis

Finally, the spectacular colonnade that encompasses the Catholic church of the Madeleine (below) is inherently patterned, and three dimensional. But amid the op-art effect of the recession of the pillars, would you visually understand the three dimensional nature of the scene without the break in the pattern on the upper right? 

Madeleine © Harold Davis

Also posted in Paris, Patterns, Photography

Accordion Player

Winding down the steep, narrow streets of the medieval Sicilian town of Cefalu towards the seaward ramparts, I could hear faintly some rather delicious accordion music. Getting closer, he sat high up on the seawall, playing with some virtuosity. I made my way up.

Accordion Player, Cefalu © Harold Davis

Surf lapped at the base of the old walls, clouds sailed overhead, and a strong wind blew as I listened to the minor-key harmonies of the accordion. I was reminded of the words of the sad and beautiful Joni Mitchell song For Free:

I slept last night in a good hotel 
I went shopping today for jewels 
The wind rushed around in the dirty town 
And the children let out from the schools 
I was standing on a noisy corner 
Waiting for the walking green 
Across the street he stood 
And he played real good
On his clarinet for free 

Not quite the same circumstances, but the same idea. I put a one Euro coin on the pavement next to him, and he smiled acknowledgment, and kept on playing. I wanted to give him the money before asking to take his photo, so he could say “no” to the photo if he wanted without worrying about monetary consequences. 

When I asked if I could take his photo, he said “sure,” and stopped playing for a moment. I showed him the image on the LCD. He said Grazie mille, and went back to his accordion and his sad, sweet tunes.

Also posted in Italy, Photography

Domes in the Palermo Cathedral

I don’t get to use the word syncretic nearly as much as I’d like. Last appearing in this blog to describe the quasi-official mix of Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan, I am happy to trot out syncretic again in Palermo, Sicily.

Domes, Palermo Cathedral © Harold Davis

My definition of “syncretic” is that the word describes the situation when multiple belief systems that are manifestly, and on their face, contradictory live together in perfect harmony. Hence, Shintoism and Buddhism. In Sicily, particularly Palermo, syncretic well describes the historical and architectural heritage that is a blend of Islam, Byzantium, and the Norman strain of Catholicism.

I had a great time today on a self-guided photo walking tour of the syncretic neighborhoods of central Palermo; tired and footsore at the end I stopped at a student hangout joint for an inexpensive grilled steak with potatoes.

Also posted in Italy, Photography

Palazzo Berardo Ferro, Trapani

Yesterday to get away from the madness at the hotel, I got up early, had a quick breakfast, made my way out the barricades, and drove to Trapani, an old port city on the western tip of Sicily.

Palazzo Berardo Ferro, Trapani © Harold Davis

In Trapani I parked, and walked through the oldest part of the city to the tower guarding the harbor, photographing along the way. I had lunch, a delicious stuffed calamari and insalata mixta. On my return walk to the car, I stopped to photograph the entrance to this historic Palazzo. Like most formal architecture around here, it is organized around an arcaded central courtyard. The Palazzo is now taken up with several pensiones (small B&B hotels), and probably some residential apartments as well.

Also posted in Italy, Photography

Abstracting Sacré-Cœur

High atop the hill of Montmartre sits the cathedral of Sacré-Cœur—which, as I’ve pointed out before, is emblematic (when constructed) of a hard-right quasi-fascism as encouraged by the Church. From a visual standpoint, it is kitsch and rococo, and just a bit weird.

Knocks against its politics of origin and the kitsch aesthetic aside, it is a hecka fun monument to photograph on the exterior (the interior not so much). The rear of the Sacré-Cœur exterior is shown here in an abstraction of wheels-within-wheels (arched arcades over arched arcades), and processed to look as much like a lithograph as a black and white photo.

Sacré-Cœur, exterior detail © Harold Davis

Also posted in France, Paris

Bridge of Light

Along the Oregon coast, hard by Heceta Head Lighthouse, we paused to photograph Cave Creek Bridge, lit by crepuscular rays in the morning mist.

Too often in this life we see the darkness, not the light. But just as often around the corner there is a bridge built of light—to take one ahead as a vessel of lightness. Shadow and light alternate, but we should attempt to take the bridge of light when it is presented to us. Too often we pause in mediocrity, or stare blinded by the darkness, when our best selves are better blinded by the light.

Bridge of Light © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

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 Landscape