Category Archives: Photography

digital photography: techniques: thoughts: photographs

Hoan Kiem Lake

In 2017, my friend Eric and I explored Vietnam. We flew into Hanoi through Taiwan, and checked into our hotel. As we explored the bustling, steamy city, we stopped on the shores of Hoan Kiem Lake for some photography, and made some images, including the one below that I recently processed for the first time.

Click here for a photo of Turtle Tower, located on an island in Hoan Kiem Lake (and visible in the distance in the photo below), and here for more about our adventure in Vietnam from the beginning.

Hoan Kiem Lake © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome

Yoda visits a cave

It’s possible to read this image from inside a cave on Iceland’s southern coast in two ways, depending on how your eye responds to the positive and negative spaces in the image. I shot the image looking out the mouth of the cave, with two silhouetted figures in the cave entrance. Read differently, the silhouettes form a giant Yoda, who must have been paying a passing visit!

Cave (with Yoda) © Harold Davis

Romanesco Broccoli

Broccoli that we enjoy on our tables is the blossom of a flowering plant, and this is nowhere more apparent than with Romanesco Broccoli, shown in extreme close-up below. 

The little spiral flowers on the Romanesco Broccoli are created with rotations. The number of rotations for each one is a number in the Fibonacci sequence. This is the famous sequence named after thirteenth century mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, better known as Fibonacci: each Fibonacci number is the sum of the two preceding ones, so 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and so on.

Romanesco Broccoli © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome

Through a Glass Lightly

Photographing through glass on a light box is one of my favorite photographic pastimes. You can see an album of some of my glass work by clicking here. One of these images even graces the cover of our new, upcoming book, Composition & Photography.

There’s an amazing amount of variety that can be captured from this apparently simple subject matter, with a new approach—resembling perhaps an eye, or a spiral—shown here.

Glass Spiral © Harold Davis

Dandelion Inversion

A simple Dandelion contains a world, in a sense a fractal world, as each node in the outer Dandelion world reveals its own world within if you get close enough. This Dandelion Inversion is a Photoshop LAB color L-channel inversion of the Dandelion shown here.

For a closer view of some of the Dandelion nodes (and some Rolling Stones lyrics as captions) click here!

Dandelion Inversion © Harold Davis

Bus Window Impressionism

Bus Window 5 © Harold Davis

Riding in a bus is not always exalted or exalting, but it does leave one time for conversation and for looking out the window. In my case, on my recent trip to Iceland, it also left me time for ICM (In Camera Motion) impressionistic landscape photography. 

I used the Slow Shutter Cam app on my iPhone, with a shutter speed duration of roughly two seconds. With this app, you start the exposure by pressing a button, and can stop the shutter as the image comes into being on the LCD by pressing the button again. Keeping the shutter open too long risks turning the composition into formless mud; not having a long-enough duration means having a too literal, and not very interesting, landscape.

As with any ICM image, there are many more misses than hits!

Using ICM (In-Camera Motion) and a long-duration shutter speed, I created this collection of impressionistic landscapes through a moving bus window while visiting Iceland.

Besides the two images in this story in the Bus Window Impressionism story; also, check out the three images in The Windows on the Beast.

Bus Window 4 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Iceland, Landscape

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 Patterns, Writing

Does size really matter?

Does size really matter? Sometimes smaller is better, as I think is the case with these two light box compositions. Both are based around a lattice of small viola blossoms, colorful translucent flowers in the Violaceae family.

Both compositions are small in their entirety, taking up only a fractional portion of the area (maybe 1/12) of my A1 (26″ X 36″) light box. Makes for easier photography because I don’t have to get as high up, with a moderate telephoto lens such as the Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 used in these two images.

Love is a Many Splendored Thing © Harold Davis

Tapestry of Small Flowers © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers

ICM is for iPhones too!

ICM—in camera motion—is a technique used to add interpretive aesthetics to an image by moving the camera during exposure while the shutter is open. Generally, the effect created is impressionistic. The shutter speed duration must be long enough for the motion to register in the capture, typically 1/3 of a second or longer.

ICM effects can be accomplished with the camera on a tripod or—more often—handheld. The direction and speed of motion in relation to the subject matter is crucial. ICM is hit-or-miss: you can expect many essays for each good result.

The Tall Trees image below is an ICM image made on my iPhone with a shutter duration of about one second via the Slow Shutter Cam app. Motion was steadily from top to bottom, elongating this already impressive aisle of trees.

ICM is for iPhones too!

Tall Trees © Harold Davis

Also posted in iPhone

Live Long and Prosper

This photograph shows the Carpellary receptacle of a Lotus flower, Nelumbo nucifera. The Lotus is a sacred flower in both Hinduism and Buddhism. I photographed this Lotus in a small lily pond at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Lotus Flower © Harold Davis

The round, flat-topped green structure in the center of the flower is called the Carpellary receptacle. The tiny red bumps on the surface of the Carpellary receptacle are female stigmas that each contain an ovule.

These ovules will be fertilized by the male anthers, shown in my photo surrounding the Carpellary receptacle, and after fertilization the ovules will turn into seeds. As the process progresses, the Carpellary platform will start to tilt, and the seeds will fall into the water surrounding the Lotus.

Many of the seeds will be eaten for food—the Lotus is an important food crop in China, often planted alongside rice, and all parts of the plant are edible—but those seeds that survive will eventually become new plants.

An astounding thing about the Lotus is how long the seeds can survive and still be viable, in some documented cases over 1,000 years. That’s why the Lotus has become a symbol of longevity.

Also posted in Flowers

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, Patterns

More about seeing in Black & White

Recently I’ve been thinking about black and white photography. One context is the landscape of Iceland, and the relative appropriateness of color and monochrome.

A comparison of black & white versus color ways of seeing also came up in correspondence I recently had with someone I shall call X. Without going into details, X has a medical condition which means that he cannot perceive color.

Black Sand Beach © Harold Davis

As someone recently enamored with photography, X wanted my opinion as to whether photography was viable since he could only see in black and white, and how much of a liability his perceptual challenges might present. At one point in our conversation, I asked X to consider if only seeing monochrome might not actually be a “super power”—and confer unexpected benefits.

In the course of our conversation, X brought up four issues that concerned him:

  1. How do you decide what is best in Black & White? I understand fundamentals like composition, light, contrast, texture etc. but is there anything else in your thought process?
  2. Have you found photographic subjects which simply do not work well in Black & White?
  3. Do you think your photography would be different if you never saw color?
  4. Do you think that even when viewing the most stunning B&W photograph, people still feel something missing?

Falling Water © Harold Davis

I answered X as follows:

First, asking about the subjects that work best in black and white, is fully answered in my book Creative Black and White 2nd Edition in the first part The Monochrome Vision (pp 16-83). 

Your second question, subjects that don’t work well in monochrome, is the obverse of the first question, and, as such, is also discussed in The Monochrome Vision section of my book. The short answer is that any image that is truly about color would not work in black and white. Some of the photographs of Ernst Haas and William Eggleston come to mind (and some of my own, for that matter).

Taking this into the wider world of art, the work of some of the impressionists (Monet and Gauguin most clearly) are really about color, and would not work well in monochrome. This list could go on, and (reductively)  the work of color-field painters (Arshile Gorky, Kennith Nolan, Mark Rothko, Mondrian, etc.) would not work without color. To summarize, when the subject is color, the image won’t work in black & white.

Two Towers © Harold Davis

Whether my photography would have been different if I had never seen color, the third question, is hard to answer, because it calls for speculation on a negative. But personally, color has always been very meaningful to me, and some of the earliest art that inspired me was about color, so I think my work would likely be different if I’d never seen color. But, you know, it is impossible to unsee things once they are seen; so I have no real idea how I would be different as an artist. I do know that I still could have made art even without any perception of color.

Finally, whether black and white is missing something, I don’t think so. Of course, people differ: but my own opinion is absolutely not, perceptive viewers do not feel anything is missing in a striking b&w photo. So long, that is, that the black and white is intentional, and it is not just a color image squashed to black and white. As an example, it would be a dullard indeed who thought anything was missing in the best of Ansel Adams or Edward Weston.

Spiral Stair © Harold Davis

A little about the black & white images that accompany this story: In Black Sand Beach a white line (of incoming surf) splits the dark beach from the storm-tossed ocean on Iceland’s south coast. Falling Water is a capture of water in motion, a subject of endless fascination, and often essentially monochromatic. There are spirals, but not much color to be found in Two Towers or Spiral Stairs. The towers are small-scale industrial silos on the Westman Islands off the coast of Iceland, and I found the spiral stair in a gift shop in downtown Reykjavik. 

Also posted in Iceland, Monochrome

Succulents

Photographed with my iPhone 12 on a walk around my neighborhood…Succulents!

Succulents © Harold Davis

Hollyhock ‘Halo Candy’

I photographed this Hollyhock (Alcea rosea) blossom from our garden on a light box. The blossom was positioned upright with an improvised holder constructed from paperclips, tape, and an empty pen barrel. I used the same wide-angle macro lens and technique as with Corn Poppy.

Hollyhock ‘Halo Candy’ © Harold Davis

Exif data: Nikon D850, Laowa 24mm f/14 2X macro probe lens, four exposures each at f/45 and ISO 64; shutter speeds from 2 seconds to 20 seconds; tripod mounted; exposure combined in Photoshop.

Also posted in Flowers

Gullfoss Rift

An unusual feature of the famous and spectacular Gullfoss waterfall is that the water flow makes an almost immediate 90 degree turn to the left at the bottom of the falls, down into the rift shown in the distance in this image.

It’s an almost surreal experience standing with one’s camera above the head of the turn of the flowing waters, trying to make an exposure through the intense, wind-blown spray, and enjoying the grandeur of the setting. 

Gullfoss Rift © Harold Davis

Also posted in Iceland, Landscape, Monochrome