Category Archives: Patterns

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

Spider Web Bokeh

The other day dawned here in Berkeley, California with low, clinging fog. It was like being in the middle of a cloud. The thing about this kind of weather is that it’s rare—and wonderful—to have the water droplets in the fog physically on myriad objects. Truly, they look like nature’s perfection, and it is paradise photographing delicate plants and the webs of spiders when these gentle fog drops stay put. Mostly, this is in the autumn when spiders begin to spin their webs in earnest.

Spider Web Bokeh © Harold Davis

Spider Web Bokeh © Harold Davis

The kids, as always, were up early, and so was I. When I noticed the wondrous fog, I threw on some clothes, gathered my camera with a Zeiss 50mm f/2 macro lens, put an extension tube in my pocket, and headed up the hillside to hunt water drops on spider webs.

My thought was to look for out-of-focus patterns in the light reflecting from the fog droplets on a spider web, with the term bokeh covering the general rubric of attractive out-of-focus photography.

Wet Spider Web 2 © Harold Davis

Wet Spider Web 2 © Harold Davis

Clearly, the Zeiss prime lenses are very sharp. But one thing that is less obvious that I also love about these lenses is how well they render out-of-focus areas.

As I advise in Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer: A Photographer’s Creative Companion and Workbook, it sometimes enhances a photographic quest to set technical limits. So I decided to only use the maximum aperture on my lens (f/2). Besides photographing wide-open, I planned to use aperture-priority metering, to shoot handheld (as opposed to on a tripod), and to include at least some out-of-focus elements in every frame.

Wet Spider Web © Harold Davis

Wet Spider Web © Harold Davis

With these constraints in mind, I started finding spider webs covered in morning dew. Bokeh and out-of-focus or not, the background was important to me. I needed a spider web with a clean background without wires, trash cans, or cars.

Higher and higher up the hills I went, and just as the sun was starting to burn through the fog and evaporate the water drops, I found a delightful web in great light at the crest of the hills that dominate this side of the San Francisco Bay area.

Of course, even with a fixed aperture, and letting the aperture-preferred metering handle the exposures, there were many variables that impacted the bokeh: the focus point I chose, how out-of-focus I threw the image, the directionality of the focus blur, and whether or not I used an extension tube.

Related stories: Natural Jewelry; Within the Web; Web Architecture; Web Solarization; Nature’s Harp. Also check out my book, Photographing Waterdrops.

Also posted in Water Drops

Gem of the Drakenberg

Wandering with the kids over to Indian Rock I came across some really nice spiral specimens of Aloe polyphylla. The plant is originally from Lesotho near South Africa, and is sometimes called “the Gem of the Drakenberg.”

Spiral © Harold Davis

Spiral © Harold Davis

I snapped an iPhone photo, and processed it while the kids played in the rocks. Then today I couldn’t resist going back with the big camera! Processed, like my Agaves, to look as much like an etching or a lithograph as a photo.

Gem of the Drakenberg © Harold Davis

Gem of the Drakenberg © Harold Davis

Also posted in iPhone, Monochrome


This succulent lives in a little pot on our front porch. For my first shot with my new Nikon D810, I brought it inside, wrapped the plant in its pot in black velvet, and photographed it using controlled sunlight. The lens I used was the Zeiss 100mm f/2 macro. I set the ISO to the native ISO sensitivity on the D810, ISO 64. Using manual exposure, the other settings were mirror lockup on, shutter speed at 4/5 of a second, and aperture at f/22 for maximum depth-of-field (full speed ahead and dang the diffraction, which is minimal with Zeiss lenses anyhow). Of course, I used a tripod.

Succulent  (Black & White) © Harold Davis

Succulent (Black & White) © Harold Davis

My first impression of the Nikon D810 it that it is a really good camera, but the changes compared to the D800 and D800E are essentially incremental, not revolutionary. It’s notable that the processor is much faster, and also high ISO handling has been improved even above the great high-ISO abilities of its predecessors. One nice feature I had not been expecting is that the shutter is much, much quieter, and there seems to be very little vibration from the shutter. I don’t know the technology behind this change, but it is an obvious and audible change for the better.

I am thinking that we are getting so good that significant changes in this style of camera may be hitting the law of diminishing returns. After all, who really needs more than 36MP captures? Unless you are doing big prints as I do, you don’t even really need nearly that much.

One improvement I would like to see generally is an internal sensor cleaner that actually works. This is a complaint I hear frequently at my workshops. Nikon (and the other DSLR manufacturers), are you listening?

Succulent (Color)  © Harold Davis

Succulent (Color) © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography

Bristlecone textures

I lead a night photography workshop in the Bristlecone Pines in the White Mountains in eastern California every year. So of course I shoot night images while I am there. But it is worth bearing mind that there is so much more to shoot in the Patriarch Grove, like the textures of these ancient trees.

Bristlecone Study by Harold Davis

Bristlecone Study © Harold Davis

The White Mountains of California are themselves part of a fascinating landscape. In the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada Mountains they verge on the great deserts of the American west. With White Mountain Peak topping out at over 14,000 feet it is a stark land of contrasts and alien majesty that is not very well known to the outside world.

White Mountain Peak by Harold Davis

White Mountain Peak © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Patterns on my windows

Rainy season in Northern California can seem endless, and when it does rain for days the windows on the inside of my house steam up with myriad waterdrops. These droplets burn off quickly as soon as sunshine returns, but in the meanwhile they can create an interesting and exciting photographic opportunity—if, as I do, you like to see the magic in the mundane.

Steamy Window Glyph Study #1 by Harold Davis

Steamy Window Glyph Study #1 © Harold Davis

My first glyph image (above) shows the sky above and the earth below, both behind a steamy curtain of droplets, with vertical lines of clarity indicating the areas that are drying out first.

The second glyph (below) was shot closer in, of droplets on the glass in front of a screen window, with trees and foliage behind.

Steamy Window Glyph Study #2 by Harold Davis

Steamy Window Glyph Study #2 © Harold Davis


A final glyph shows the view in a different direction from another window, facing a driveway across the street. The driveway is surrounded by foliage and beginning to be lit by the morning sun.

Steamy Window Glyph Study #3 by Harold Davis

Steamy Window Glyph Study #3 © Harold Davis

It has been said that, if you want to be a better photographer, place yourself in front of more interesting things. But art comes from within, and photographs are expressions of our artistic selves. So by all means seek the dramatic scene, but also look for the drama within the everyday—the kind of subject that if you don’t learn to look with eyes that see differently you may miss altogether.

Also posted in Abstractions, Photography

At Home in the Universe

My plan is to produce these abstractions in a large-size on linen canvas. With these images I am using my computer to create paintings, which is another way of saying that I am a painter who uses digital images as my media. While the imagery appears abstract—it is not hard to imagine that one is looking at outer space or DNA strands—it is also capable of literal interpretation. Hint: the water droplets in the middle right are a giveaway.

At Home in the Universe by Harold Davis

At Home in the Universe © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

To create this abstraction I used a macro lens to shoot twenty-one exposures of a wet spider web in the early morning sun. Most were underexposed to bring out the color saturation and to let the background go dark.

I combined the images using stacking, and was pleased to see that the composite had indeed become an abstraction.

At Home in the Universe Inversion Number One by Harold Davis

At Home in the Universe Inversion Number One © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

The variations were created using LAB color inversions. At Home in the Universe Inversion Number One is a simple L-channel inversion, and At Home in the Universe Inversion Number Two was constructed by inverting all three LAB color channels.

At Home in the Universe Inversion Number Two by Harold Davis

At Home in the Universe Inversion Number Two © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

Also posted in Abstractions