Category Archives: Monochrome

Leek and Lichen

Leek & Lichen should perhaps be the name for a pub on the outskirts of London, somewhere past Elephant & Castle and nearby to the Queen’s Head and Artichoke. Alas, the reference here is to photos of two prosaic subjects (although hopefully the photos themselves are anything but prosaic): a cross-section of a leek that later became part of our dinner, and lichen scraped from a tree and then dried. It is interesting that one need not travel anywhere exotic to make photos; photography is about seeing, and vision is just as valid close to home as it is abroad.

Leek Cross-Section © Harold Davis

Leek Cross-Section © Harold Davis

Lichen © Harold Davis

Lichen © Harold Davis

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 Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

Magic in Everyday Things

In the morning, Phyllis called me over. She had the vitamin bottle upended, looking inside for pills she noticed them on the circumference of the circle at the bottom spread out almost like a sparkling kaleidoscope.

Vitamin D3 Bottle from the Inside © Harold Davis

Vitamin D3 Bottle from the Inside © Harold Davis

To photograph the effect, Phyllis held the bottle up in the morning sun in our kitchen. I tripod mounted my camera, and used my macro probe lens, with the front optic pushed inside the vitamin bottle like an eyeball on a stalk.

There’s magic in everyday things! I’ve had guesses about what this photograph depicts ranging from the Eye of Sauron (in his cups, towards the bottom of the story) to an operating room light, a package of seeds, and an architectural dome. It’s all in the eye of the beholder. Or is it?

Also posted in Photography

Clematis that Remains

This spiral structure is what remains when you don’t deadhead a Clematis flower, and leave it on the vine. You can see how the core of the flower has expanded into the spiral, and the petals have dropped away. The view below is from the underneath, or back; the front view, the top of what used to be the flower, is shown here.

Clematis © Harold Davis

Clematis © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers, Photography

The Story of a Cactus Flower

Cactus Flower © Harold Davis

Cactus Flower © Harold Davis

Phyllis told me she saw a giant cactus flower at about camera height near the small shopping area of Kensington, California about 1/2 mile from our house when she passed through the Kensington strip in the morning. So I went up with my gear, and in a small, arid strip next to a parking lot there was indeed a barrel cactus, possibly a Ferocactus cylindraceus, with a large, white flower. The cactus seemed to be nestling in the shade of a Yucca, also in bloom and dripping sap. The flower was perhaps a foot in diameter with a yellow center (see photo above) and exuding a strong, pungent odor.

I had hoped to use my tripod, but there was a fierce wind blowing the petals of the flower, hence no real point to the tripod. Most of the images shown in this story were made with my 150mm Iris ‘Dragonfly’ macro hand-held, with the aperture pretty close to wide open (f/2.8).

My thought was to come back in a few hours in the early evening, when the light would be softer, and perhaps the wind would have died down. But when I got back, the bloom was off the cactus. This indeed is an illustration of the ephemeral nature of beauty: the flower had a lifespan of less than a day.

Cactus Flower Detail I © Harold Davis

Cactus Flower Detail I © Harold Davis

Cactus Flower Detail II © Harold Davis

Cactus Flower Detail II © Harold Davis

Cactus Flower Detail III © Harold Davis

Cactus Flower Detail III © Harold Davis

Cactus Flower Detail IV © Harold Davis

Cactus Flower Detail IV © Harold Davis

Cactus Flower Detail V © Harold Davis

Cactus Flower Detail V © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers, Photography

Creative Black and White 2 Ed Now Available (with Discount Code!)

I’m very pleased that my new book, Creative Black & White, 2nd Edition, is now available. The publisher, Rocky Nook, is offering a 40% discount. Click here to buy Creative Black & White 2nd Ed directly from the publisher. Use the code “HDAVIS40” [no quotes] at checkout to apply the discount (you can also use my discount code for all other Rocky Nook books, by the way!).

Here are the links for my book on and on B&N as well, so the choice of supplier is yours.

If you like Creative Black & White, 2nd Edition, I would really appreciate a thoughtful review. Thanks!

Creative Black & White has been revised, substantially expanded, and brought up to date.  I’ve added entire sections, substantially enlarged the book (it is 80 pages longer than the first edition), and most of the photos are new. Every photo includes information about how it was made, both from a technical perspective, and also the story about my thinking behind the image.

As I note in the Preface to this Second Edition, “Of course, I was flattered to be asked to write this revised and expanded second edition of Creative Black & White. One of the goals of this new edition is to bring the tools and techniques explained in this book up to date. This is particularly important in the realm of Lightroom and Photoshop software, and with the plug-ins that are a necessary extension of the Adobe ecosystem.

“Beyond keeping current, I want to help you become a better and more creative photographer, whatever your interest level or toolset may be.”

It’s been great fun updating this book, making a good book even better, refreshing the images, and bringing the software explanations up to date. I hope my new book proves to be inspiring and useful to you!

Click here to buy my book from Rocky Nook (please use the HDAVIS40 discount code for your discount), here for my book on Amazon, and here on Barnes & Noble.

Also posted in Photography, Writing

Black and White Cookies: What’s in a Name?

Black and White Cookie © Harold Davis

Black and White Cookie © Harold Davis

The Black and White cookie, shown here in an iPhone grab shot converted to black and white in Snapseed, goes by many names. In New York City, where I come from, they are simply “Black and White” cookies. This makes sense to me.  But in New England they are “Harlequins” and in the Midwest “Half Moons.” In Germany, and most of the rest of the world, they are “Amerikaners.”

Even the origin of the name “Amerikaners” is controversial: it is rumored that the cookie was named after the post-World-War-II American soldiers who brought them to Germany. On the other hand, and perhaps less plausibly even if it is in the dictionaries this way, the name “Amerikaner” is said to be a corruption of Ammoniumhydrogencarbonat, the German for ammonium bicarbonate, a leavening agent used in baking the cookie.

Using yet another name, in a reference to racial harmony, President Obama dubbed them “Unity cookies” in 2008. And, in a Seinfeld episode, Jerry asks, if black and white mix together well on a cookie, why can’t they do the same in society?

Great question (and a tasty cookie) for these troubled times.

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography

Did the Serpent Get a ‘Bum Rap’?

I think the serpent may have gotten a bum rap. At the very least, there is some indignity to an honest snake for being depicted as a kind of lizard with front legs, and knotted into a pretzel shape. Where is Eve in all this, and why would she listen to this critter?

Did the serpent get a ‘bad rap’? © Harold Davis

Also posted in Spain

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 Flowers, X-Ray

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