Category Archives: Patterns

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

All Squared Away

I found this wall of plumbing parts in the farming tool shed at Green Gulch where I was leading the Tao of Photography workshop. To make the image I shot five exposures with my camera on a tripod, which I combined in post-production using Hand-HDR in Photoshop and HDR Efex Pro 2 from Nik Software.

All Squared Away by Harold Davis

All Squared Away © Harold Davis—Click to view larger

Even though I tried to position the focal plane of the camera as parallel as possible to the cabinet of plumbing parts there was a parallax problem. The parallax issues were considerably mitigated in post-production using Photoshop perspective transformations so the image would appear “all squared away” (the title is in homage to the Gary Larson cartoon with this caption shown here in a physics textbook).

To learn more about Photoshop transformations and their power, check out The Compositor’s Cafeteria on page 166 of my Photoshop Darkroom 2: Creative Digital Transformations.


Also posted in HDR, Photography

Full Moon Rising

Before I get down to explaining the images of the “super” full moon rising that accompany this story, let me point you (in case you may be interested) to a few recent stories that feature me:

Full Moon Rising by Harold Davis

Full Moon Rising © Harold Davis

I shot this image during a recent Golden Gate Bridge and Full Moon workshop I gave. The moon was rising behind the Golden Gate Bridge from Battery Spencer in the Marin Headlands.

I used my intervalometer (remote programmable timer) to make 333 exposures while I went around to the people in the workshop to see how they were doing. So the camera shot this image on autopilot—and I didn’t have to do anything!

Each exposure was for 2 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, using a 400mm focal length on my 1.5X crop Nikon D300 (effective 35mm focal length of 600mm). There was a one second interval between each of the exposures.

I started the sequence of exposures with the moon on the lower left of the frame because I knew the moon would move diagonally up, and I wanted it to stay in the frame as long as possible. The camera was unattended, so I had no way to know during the exposure sequence how well this was working.

When I looked at the captures on my computer, the moon started to leave the frame at the 170th exposure, so I had 169 exposures to work with if I wanted to keep the moon within the frame.

I used the Statistics script in Photoshop Extended to stack the 169 exposures. Stacking all the images together yielded a fat, blurred line: proving once again that sometimes it is possible to have too much information!

I found (by trial and error) that stacking every 25th exposure (for a total of eight exposures) gave interesting results in which you can see some detail in the moon.

The partial transparency in the final images was achieved by combining a stack created in Maximum mode in the Statistics script with a stack created using Mean mode in the Statistics script, each stack containing just the eight images.

The lines on the right are, of course, Golden Gate Bridge cables.

I should add that this makes a very cool print in either the black & white or color version, sized small, on Moab’s Moenkopi Kozo Washi rice paper.


Lunar Progression by Harold Davis

Lunar Progression © Harold Davis

Also posted in Digital Night, Monochrome, Photography, Photoshop Techniques

You Are What You Photograph

Are you what you photograph? They say, “You are what you eat.” In a certain simplisitic sense this is obviously true. Therefore, if you photograph what you eat then you are what you photograph—as in the case of the leek I photographed below in cross section that became a flavorful part of our dinner soup.

Leek by Harold Davis

Leek © Harold Davis

More generally, I believe that one can learn a great deal about a person by looking at their photos. It’s well known that historical fiction writers are really writing about their own times—in disguised or metaphorical terms. Similarly, no matter what one photographs—even if the images aren’t explicitly autographical—one is really telling a story about oneself.

So what does this macro shot of a leek say about me?

Do you agree that photos tell the story of the photographer making the image? Disagree? Please add your comment. Feel free to include a link back to your photos, edible, autobiographical or otherwise.

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography


In the dead of winter there’s not much color, even in California’s usually highly saturated gardens. The Tilden Park Botanic Garden emphasizes California native plants. It’s always a wonderful place to wander, but at the turning of the year I looked for texture and form rather than color.

Agaves by Harold Davis

Agaves © Harold Davis

The succulent gardens, and in particularly these agaves, seemed to answer my needs. I multi-shot the images for High Dynamic Range (HDR) in black and white using my new 40mm macro lens. My idea in processing the image was to create an effect almost like an etching rather than a photo, as in Tomales Bay and Choosing the Path.

Full exposure data: 40mm macro lens, four exposures at shutter speeds from 2.5 seconds to 1/6 of a second, each exposure at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted; exposures combined using Nik HDR Efex Pro and hand-HDR.

Related image: Succulent.

Also posted in Monochrome

Eureka Dunes

Eureka Dunes © Harold Davis

Eureka Dunes © Harold Davis

At the end of a remote valley in the northwest corner of Death Valley you’ll find the Eureka Dunes. At close to 700 feet tall, these are probably the tallest dunes in the United States.

In the late afternoon I climbed to the top of the dunes, my camera and tripod strapped to my back. The wind blew intermittently. When it gusted it was so strong as to penetrate clothing and camera bag.

Looking down I saw sand gusting across the top of a lower sand dune, creating patterns of light versus dark, and blown sand opposed to still sand.

Meanwhile, Eureka Dunes sang. In the wind, these dunes gave off vibrational harmonics—an oddly inspiring series of musical notes, played alone to the distant desert valley, me and a void of wind.

Exposure data: 200mm, 1/640 of a second and f/25 at ISO 320, tripod mounted.

Also posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Photography



Often when I’m out and about with the kids, and not specifically being a photographer, I carry a small camera such as my Nikon P7000. The shots I snap with it are easy and don’t take too much effort. Besides photos of the kids themselves, these are sketch book images, reminders to me of something, or “be here now” unedited versions of what I see.

This image of a shadow of a parking sign on an ornate sidewalk in downtown San Francisco falls into the last category, and sort of reminds me of two aliens talking, the shadow is an R2D2-type and the white marble inlay more the cosmic squid.

Photography is fun, and it is important not to forget it!

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography

Barn Door

Barn Door © Harold Davis

Barn Door © Harold Davis

I spent a thrilling couple of hours in the late afternoon photographing inside the old barn at the Pierce Ranch on the north fork (towards Tomales Point) of Point Reyes. This is a beautiful, rough-hewn historic structure, maintained bythe Park Service, and the patterns of lights and darks made fabulous monochromatic subject matter, particularly as the sun descending so it was directly coming through the chinks and cracks in the end wall of the barn.

My strategy with this composition was to focus on the grit on the floor in the foreground, using an aperture (f/8) that provided only moderate depth-of-field so the background went slightly out of focus.

Exposure data for this shot: 35mm, 4/5 of a second at f/8 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.

Also posted in Monochrome, Photography



Spiral, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a shot looking up a spiral staircase in a tower at Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley National Park. I used a fisheye lens to maximize the spiral effect of the stairs.

Scotty’s Castle is a folly built in the desert in the 1920s, now a tourist attraction. Steven and I met there on our way to the Racetrack. I never expected to find anything interesting to photograph at Scotty’s Castle—which goes to show that if you are open to the unexpected you never know what you’ll see.

Here’s the black and white version of this photo.

Also posted in Bemusements, Photography

Nautilus Cross Section

Nautilus Cross Section

Nautilus Cross Section, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Continuing with my simplicity kick, I shot this Nautilus cross-section a while back on a light box. To process the image I used a number of tricks from the Photoshop darkroom:

  • First, I converted the image to LAB color, and inverted the Lightness channel to place the image on a black background.
  • The shell was too dark on the background once it had been inverted, so I layered the original version back on top. I used Blend If in the Layer Style Blending Options dialog to get only the shell portions of the image modified, and used a layer mask to further refined the changes I needed.
  • I converted the image back to RGB, and layered a version that I had equalized in LAB back over it. In this version, the shell was very dark. The Divide blending mode (new in Photoshop CS5) applied at low opacity (7%) allowed me to feather in a touch of additional special lighting effects because essentially it blended the dark layer as its opposite—attractively bright.

If all this sounds complex, it is easier to do in practice than to read abstractly. Work on an actual example of your own and you’ll get the hang of it quickly!

For more about post-processing, check out The Photoshop Darkoom: Creative Digital Post-Processing and our upcoming now-in-progress sequel filled with many new techniques, The Photoshop Darkroom 2: Creative Digital Transformations.

Also posted in Photography