Category Archives: Patterns

Pre-order Composition & Photography by Harold Davis

My new, upcoming book Composition & Photography: Creating Structure Using Forms and Patterns is now available for pre-order from Amazon. I am very excited about this title, which will be published by RockyNook, and has a publication date of March 29, 2022. There’s a fuller description of our book below the cover image, but the key ideas behind Composition & Photography are to work with composition as a process (not a fixed endpoint), and to apply the concepts of two-dimensional design to the photographic image.

Please consider pre-ordering your copy today! Thanks.

Own composition, use composition, and make composition your own in your photographs!

Of all the magical elixirs that make up a successful photograph, composition is perhaps the most fundamental, and at the same time the most elusive. What makes a composition “good”? It’s hard to define exactly, but we instinctively recognize good composition when we see it. There is an undeniable emotional response when a composition resonates with and complements the subject matter of an image.

But traditional attempts to define “good composition” and to pass on rules for good compositional construction are often doomed to failure. The truth is, there are no hard and fast rules. Rules eliminate experimentation and spontaneity, which are crucial for creating compelling, dynamic, and exciting compositions. The best compositions contain an element of the unexpected. “Expect the unexpected!” is perhaps the only viable “rule” of composition. To create exciting compositions, you must have a willingness to embrace serendipity and change as part of your artistic practice. After all, composition is a process, not a result.

In Composition & Photography, photographer and bestselling author Harold Davis teaches you how to perceive patterns and abstractions and incorporate them into your image-making process. If one of the goals of photography is to show viewers things that are new, or things they haven’t seen before, or things they have seen many times but need to see anew, then it’s with the thoughtful and considered use of composition that you do that.

In this book, you’ll learn how to reduce your subject matter to the fundamentals, and to show familiar subjects in unfamiliar, novel ways. Harold covers topics and themes such as:

  • Lines and circles
  • Rectangles
  • Combinations and patterns
  • Repetition
  • Symmetry and asymmetry
  • Abstraction
  • Entering and exiting
  • Vanishing points and perspective
  • Emphasis
  • Designing within a frame
  • Creating order from chaos

Composition & Photography will help you find the tools and visual vocabulary to creatively design your photographs. Regardless of the genre and kind of photography you practice, you’ll learn to create powerful compositions that incorporate structure and form into your work in ways that best support your images. Along the way, Harold shows and discusses his own work relating to each compositional element or theme he’s exploring. And featured throughout the book are exercises about flexibility and process, designed to spur your creativity and help you begin an internal creative discussion.

“My goal as a photography teacher and writer about photography is to inspire and to help you become the best and most creative photographer and image-maker that you can be.”
―Harold Davis

“Harold Davis is a force of nature―a man of astonishing eclectic skills and accomplishments.”
―Rangefinder Magazine

Please consider pre-ordering Composition & Photography today! Thank you very much.

Also posted in Photography, Writing

Cymbidium Orchid and Sidewalk

The Cymbidium Orchid image is a reprocess of a 2016 light box image, with a background texture added at the behest of a client. The Cymbidium grows outdoors in our garden (as a transplanted Easterner these many years, this still strikes me as notable!).

The Sidewalk image was photographed straight down using my iPhone 12 in Akureyri, the second largest “city” in Iceland, with a population of about 12,000.

Both are examples of images that in my opinion would not work without color (discussed in More about seeing in Black & White).

Cymbidium Orchid © Harold Davis

Sidewalk © Harold Davis

Also posted in Abstractions, Flowers, Photography

Ruth Asawa and my crystal ball

The other day I was introduced to the rather wonderful work of the artist Ruth Asawa (1926-2013). She is perhaps best known for her intricate nature-inspired sculpture made of metal wires, many of them public commissions around the San Francisco Bay area. Her three-dimensional work makes for very visually interesting patterns when reduced to two dimensions, as you can see in this newly released set of Ruth Asawa stamps.

Crystal Ball 2 © Harold Davis

Crystal Ball 2 © Harold Davis

Overnight I had a dream. In my dream, I saw the designs of Asawa rendered into two dimensions (as in the stamp set), and decided to create an image in emulation of this “look”. In my dream, I saw myself making this image using my camera, and in Photoshop, and then printing it on textured paper.

In the morning, I got to work. I started with a light box photograph down on a crystal ball, nestled in a parfait glass. As an aside, I find myself saying these days that my crystal ball is definitely not clear these days!

Crystal Ball 1 © Harold Davis

Crystal Ball 1 © Harold Davis

Using my crystal ball photo, I went through various iterations, adding Photoshop compositing and LAB L-channel inversions, ending up with the two versions you see here. This took all day, and I don’t necessarily feel that I came up with what I wanted to come up with. The apparent simplicity and references to nature of the Asawa designs are missing. I wasn’t able (yet!) to recreate my work as seen in my dream. But I did come up with something.

Related stories: Tacked to a Virtual Wall; Play it again mit feeling; Spirals of the Heart; Falling into Spirals.

Also posted in Photography

Peppers and a Pear

My idea with these yellow (actually, close to orange) peppers was to create a lattice composition on the light box. The lattice should be arranged so that it had a three-dimensional look. This is inherently non-trivial with a light box composition, because to take advantage of the back lighting one needs to keep the subject close to flat and two-dimensional. So I worked towards this effect by “hooking” the stems of the cut-out pepper slices through one another.

Orange Peppers © Harold Davis

Orange Peppers © Harold Davis

This single pear called out to me as an image worth creating on its own, with the symmetry along the vertical axis of the two seeds the primary driver of the composition.

Pear Slice with Two Seeds © Harold Davis

Pear Slice with Two Seeds © Harold Davis

Related images: Lady Pink Apples Slices with Lemons; Flower Made from Radish Slices; Chiogga Beet Slices Arranged as a Blossom; The Beet Goes On; Kiwi Fruit Slices; Red Onion Slices; Pear Slices.

Also posted in Fruits and Veggis on Light Box, Photography

The Beet Goes On

In parts of the Caribbean, edible root vegetables are often called “ground provisions.” Yesterday was a ground-provisions day.

I primarily photographed beets and radishes. This is a continuation of my light box sliced vegetable and fruit work, some of which is shown in Sliced Fruit on My Light Box, Making Mandalas from Fruits and Vegetables, and Melange of Slices.

I’ve titled the image shown below of sliced Chioggia Beets (Beta vulgaris) “The Beet Goes On”, after the Sonny and Cher song, with a homophonic relationship between the second word in the name of the song and the ground provision I photographed  (e.g., “Beat” and “Beet”).

The Beet Goes On © Harold Davis

The Beet Goes On © Harold Davis

Check out the new interview with me about garden photography on the PhotoActive Podcast: Episode 75: Creative Garden Photography with Harold Davis!

Also posted in Abstractions, Fruits and Veggis on Light Box, Photography

Melange of Slices

Just like the aggregation of pear slices, it is possible to create interesting melanges of all kinds of sliced fruits and vegetables. The sliced kiwi fruits (below) remind me of paper lanterns. Perhaps the seeds running vertically are the writing on the lanterns, in some kind of Kanji characters. The red onions (bottom) are certainly more pleasant to look at in their painterly and patterned abstraction than they were to slice!

Kiwi Fruit Slices © Harold Davis

Kiwi Fruit Slices © Harold Davis

Red Onion Slices © Harold Davis

Red Onion Slices © Harold Davis

Also posted in Abstractions, Fruits and Veggis on Light Box, 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 Landscape, 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 Monochrome, 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 Monochrome, Paris, Photography

It Starts with a Photo

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 3 © Harold Davis

Actually, in this case it starts with an arrangement on my light box, and eight high-key HDR exposures recombined in Photoshop. The resulting image is shown immediately below.

Stars of Petals © Harold Davis

An LAB L-Channel inversion puts the image on a black background, like so:

Stars of Petals on Black © Harold Davis

From here, it was time to play with post-production, using rotations, horizontal and vertical reversals, a variety of Photoshop blending modes, and more LAB processing. Which variation do you like best?

Stars of Petals Calligraphic Variation © Harold Davis

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 1 © Harold Davis

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 2 © Harold Davis

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 4 © Harold Davis

Stars of Petals on Black Variation 5 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photograms, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

It Starts with a Petal and Ends with a Twist of Fate

It started with two wonderful bunches of alstromerias (“Peruvian Lilies”), one purple and one yellow. On the alstromeria flower, the blossoms have exterior petals that are mostly solid colors (e.g., somewhat translucent, but without markings). In addition, there are usually three interior petals on each blossom that are mostly “tiger striped”—and great for transparency on the light box. You can get a good close-up look at both kinds of alstromeria petals in another of my blog stories.

Alstromeria Petal Mandala © Harold Davis

After we’d enjoyed the flowers for a while, I decided to use the interior, tiger-striped petals to make a pattern. My idea was to create two concentric spirals, one from the purple petals, and one from the yellow petals.

A Simple Twist of Fate © Harold Davis

This is a design that is somewhat maze-like in nature, and I have been drawing this double spiral as long as I can remember (essentially, this is a floral version of the doodle that got me through the boredom of law school many years ago!). The finished version, depending on how you look at things (and I have heard all of these by now), can be a maze, the spiral galaxy, a school of fish, human spermatozoa, a giant’s fingerprint—or even (in the school of a pipe sometimes just being a pipe!)—flower petals.

A Simple Twist of Fate 2 © Harold Davis

With the version on white (shown at the top of this story) I thought I was done, but of course, for the wicked as for the artist, there is never any rest! No, I in truth I am not seriously wicked. Alas, as much as I might like to be a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “bad boy” I am probably not wicked at all.

I had great fun inverting the original image in LAB color in Photoshop, creating a straight “translation” of whites to black and blacks to white (the “straight” LAB inversion is the first A Simple Twist of Fate image above).

A Simple Twist of Fate 3 © Harold Davis

Looking at the simple inversion, I immediately I thought of Paul Klee, and color field painters such as Kenneth Noland and Larry Poons from the 1960s. This made me feel impelled to have fun with more complex LAB manipulations, shown here with a black background.

As you can see, it all started with a flower petal, and ended in a simple twist of fate! Of course, the intermediate steps required a certain delicacy in handling and “drawing” with flower petals, not to mention expertise in high-key HDR photography, Photoshop workflow, and creative uses of LAB.

A Simple Twist of Fate 4 © Harold Davis

Which version is your favorite (and how twisted is fate?)?

I am looking forward to printing these six images as an ensemble. A very special thanks (and a very deep discount) to any of my collectors (or a new collector) who would like to place an advance order for one of these prints—or, better yet, for the suite of all six prints (contact me to discuss, or if interested, for details of this offer)!

A Simple Twist of Fate 5 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photograms

Rooftops of the 5th arrondissement

You’ve got to love the roofs of Paris for their variety, antiquity, and the sheer wackiness of the patterns they create!

I made this pair of images, shown here in color and black & white, in Paris this spring on a bright day with my Zeiss 135mm telephoto shooting hand held at a very fast shutter speed (1/8000 of a second) and intentionally underexposed by about 3 EVs to get more contrast. When I enlarge the images and zoom in, I can see an incredible array of details!

Some related stories and images: Rooftops of Paris (Split Toned); Manarola and the Rooftops of Paris.

Rooftops of the 5th arrondissement © Harold Davis

Rooftops of the 5th arrondissement © Harold Davis

Also posted in Paris

Romanesco Broccoli

Browsing in the produce section of Berkeley Bowl I was transfixed by spiral nature of Romanesco Broccoli, an edible flower in the broccoli family.  The flower’s form approximates a natural fractal because each flower is composed of a series of smaller flowers, each arranged in a logarithmic spiral. This pattern is replicated in smaller sizes at different levels on the flower. The pattern is only an approximate fractal since the pattern eventually ends when the flower size becomes really small. The number of spirals found on the head of Romanesco broccoli is always a Fibonacci number.

Romanesco Broccoli © Harold Davis

Romanesco Broccoli (Black and White) © Harold Davis

I brought a nice head of Romanesco Broccoli home, and photographed it on white seamless using a macro lens with an extension tube to get close enough to show the spirals. The version above is in black and white, with the color version below.

Romanesco Broccoli (color) © Harold Davis

Romanesco Broccoli (color) © Harold Davis

By the way, I recently saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Some Romanesco Broccoli is featured in The Force Awakens. No, it is not the mystical, Fibonacci-driven world that Luke retires to (in case you wondered). The Romanesco Broccoli is a mere extraterrestrial garnish in the exotic drink Rey is handed in the scene in Maz Kanata’s Castle (along with a weird-looking fruit, a Citron, which coincidentally I also photographed recently). I guess the Disney stylists for The Force Awakens also wandered in the produce aisles at Berkeley Bowl!

Also posted in Photography

Patterns in Fishnet

The quest for an interesting photographic image is in large part the need to find order in an inherently chaotic universe. Even if that quest ends up showing disorder, it is usually in an orderly way. The search is a search for patterns, for that brief moment when the entropy of life reveals itself as not random after all.

Fishnet Stockings and Gloves © Harold Davis

Fishnet Stockings and Gloves © Harold Davis

The subject matter is irrelevant. If the patterns are exciting, they can range from Manarola and the Rooftops of Paris to the arms and legs of a model in fishnet stockings (shown in this story)—and beyond!

These fishnet stocking photos are fairly straightforward from a photographic technique perspective. I placed the model on a black background, and used two diffused strobes (one on either side) for lighting.

It’s not hard to make out the subject matter—arms and legs of a model in fishnet stockings and gloves.

Fishnet Stockings © Harold Davis

Fishnet Stockings © Harold Davis

What’s a little less obvious is that the intent is essentially sculptural. These are not particularly suggestive or erotic photos. The idea is to use the pattern generated by the rectilinear stocking design to create a sense of sculptural volume. The model’s arms and legs can easily be seen as abstractions, and I like to imagine what these would be like if they were recreated on a big scale as literal three-dimensional sculptures. The feeling would be rather different than as photographic prints in a photo frame!

Leg and Arm © Harold Davis

Leg and Arm © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography

Manarola and the Rooftops of Paris

I am particularly fond of the patterns of buildings and rooftops you see in European towns and cities. Above, the town of Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy, photographed this year (2015); below, the rooftops of Paris, France, photographed in 2013.

Manarola © Harold Davis

Manarola © Harold Davis

Rooftops of Paris © Harold Davis

Rooftops of Paris © Harold Davis

Also posted in France, Italy, Paris