Category Archives: Photography

digital photography: techniques: thoughts: photographs

Nautilus Spiral Imagery

Nesting Bowls and a Nautilus Slice © Harold Davis

Nesting Bowls and a Nautilus Slice © Harold Davis

The graceful curve of the interior of the Nautilus shell is beloved by artists, and has often been a subject of my imagery. The other day, I placed a slice of a Nautilus shell showing its spiral within a series of kitchen bowls. 

X-Rays revealed the interior spirals within two intact Nautilus shells (below). An actual Nautilus shell before it has been sliced is pretty solid looking (as you can see in my photo of a whole shell on Flickr), but the x-rays don’t care about the outer, opaque casing, and reveal the inner spirals in all their glory.

Nautilus X-Rays © Harold Davis

Nautilus X-Rays © Harold Davis

One of my best-known Nautilus images, Nautilus in Black and White,  was captured on a light box, the back lighting accounting for the inner glow at the core of the spiral. In post-production, I inverted in LAB color, swapping white for black and black for white, and simulating a black background in the image (below).

Nautilus in Black and White © Harold Davis

Nautilus in Black and White © Harold Davis

Another very well-known image of mine is a Photoshop composite in which a spiral staircase (from San Francisco’s Embarcadero Center) blends, apparently seamlessly, into an enlarged Nautilus shell spiral at the bottom of the stairwell (Spirals, shown below).

Spirals © Harold Davis

Spirals © Harold Davis

Weaving with Light

Weaving with Light © Harold Davis

Weaving with Light © Harold Davis

Recently I was asked, “Ok. I have to know what these are and how were these lovely pieces produced?”

A fair question, but one I have some ambivalence about answering. Not (as might be supposed) because I fear giving away secrets. There are no secrets anymore. Actually, I’d rather have folks immersed in an image. Not thinking about me, and certainly not thinking about my techniques.

But it is a fact that I have been working on these images for a while now, about six months, and have amassed a considerable body of work. You can check it out using these links: Bottled Light Exploration; Easy Travel to Other Planets; Earthlight; Blue on Red; Homage to Rothko; A Point of Information; Approaching Indigo; Playing with Light; Cosmic Misunderstanding; Life is Strange; More abstractions!; The Making of the Abstractions; Abstracts, and a Photographic Mystery.

Mostly, this style of image making is “a hecka” fun! I am having a blast.

Natural Bridge © Harold Davis

Natural Bridge © Harold Davis

To get down to the nitty-gritty, I set the photography up using glasses and glass vases. There is liquid in the glassware, mostly (but not always) food color. Sometimes I use clear water in colored glass, and other times I use a fluid such as wine or maple syrup that has a color on its own.

The imagery is primarily created using strong back lighting, so each colored vessel of water casts a variety of colors on the vessels in front.

Finally, I use a macro telephoto lens, often with an added extension tube, handheld at a fast shutter speed and a wide-open aperture (f/1.8) to create very low depth-of-field photos focused very close, and capturing whatever phenomenon the light is creating.

I actually think you’d have to see the setup to believe it!

Blue Bars 1 © Harold Davis

Blue Bars 1 © Harold Davis

Mostly, these are single shots, pretty straight from the camera, and with almost no serious tweaking in post-production. I like keeping things simple, and it is fast and easy not to need to spend a great deal of time in Photoshop.

But in a couple of images—think Cosmic Misunderstanding and Weaving with Light, the image at the start of this story—I’ve added Photoshop post-production doodling, photo composition, and photo-compositing of an image with itself to the mix.

After all, why not?

Blue Bars 2 © Harold Davis

Blue Bars 2 © Harold Davis

Yellow Vase and Blue Vase © Harold Davis

Yellow Vase and Blue Vase © Harold Davis

This one was photographed on a mirror, into a standalone glass concave lens, with a smaller aperture and more depth-of-field than I usually use for these images:

Optical Wheel © Harold Davis

Optical Wheel © Harold Davis

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, Monochrome

Featured on Macro Photography Live Chat Show

I am featured on episode #46 of the lively and entertaining Macro Photography Live Chat Show. Click here for the YouTube replay of the episode featuring my work recorded recently. 

Pale Garden © Harold Davis

Pale Garden © Harold Davis

On the hour-long show, my interlocutor, the enthusiastic Janice Sullivan, and I had a wide-ranging discussion. One topic covered was my Artist Statement, which I haven’t looked at in quite a while. It was so cool to take a look at this with fresh eyes and be able to say: Yes, this is me. This is what I aspire to be as an artist. Harold, you keep on truckin’!

Tulips X-Ray Fusion © Harold Davis

Tulips X-Ray Fusion © Harold Davis

If you haven’t seen any of the videos of my presentations of my work, here are some that might interest you:

The Art of Photographing Flowers for Transparency (B&H)

Black and White in the Digital Era (2017)

A Creative Palette of Possibilities Using Topaz (2018)

An oldie-but-goldie (from 2009): the KQED-TV segment showing me at work!

Degrees of Translucency © Harold Davis

Degrees of Translucency © Harold Davis

Angel’s Trumpets

Phyllis and Nicky came home with this branch from an Angel’s Trumpets shrub (of the Brugmansia genus). They had cropped it from an overhanging specimen in the neighborhood. Since Brugmansia flowers wilt almost instantly, I hurried to photograph it on my light box.

Angel's Trumpets © Harold Davis

Angel’s Trumpets © Harold Davis

Some interesting facts about Angel’s Trumpets: The common name of this plant and flower comes from the large, trumpet-shaped flowers that Brugmansia shrubs and bushes exhibit. A close relative of Datura, Brugmanisa is highly toxic, and is one of the most poisonous decorative plants. Although fairly popular in gardens, Brugmansia is extinct in the wild. It is believed that the extinction of some animal responsible for spreading the seeds of the Brugmansia became extinct, causing the plant extinction in the wild, although of course the plant continues to exist as a human cultivar.

In the past, several South American cultures have used Brugmansia to discipline naughty children, so that they might be scolded by their ancestors in the spirit world, and become better behaved. Mixed with other psychogenic agents, maize beer and tobacco leaves, it has also been used to drug wives and slaves before they were buried alive with their dead master.

Another beautiful but deadly flower: Gloriosa Lily.

Also posted in Flowers

Danse Macabre and the Tree of Life

Dance Macabre and the Tree of Life © Harold Davis

Danse Macabre and the Tree of Life © Harold Davis

Want more fantastic imagery? Check out Surreal Lady Fish, my Multiple Exposures portfolio of in-camera model photography, and a selection of Impossible composite imagery.

The Danse Macabre a/k/a “The Dance of Death” is an allegorical artistic genre of the late middle ages. The point is that no matter what our station in life, we all die. Danse Macabre images are a kind of momento mori, to remind folks of the vanity and ephemeral nature  of all earthly things.

This image is a Photoshop composite of five photos: two in-camera exposures of a model (each containing a number of exposures), a background canvas used as a texture, a skull from the Paris catacombs—and, of course, the Tree of Life from the slopes of Mount Diablo.

Fresh from the Garden

This relatively straightforward yet elegant (if I say so myself) light box composition uses flowers directly from our garden.

Campanulas, Poppies, and a Clematis © Harold Davis

Campanulas, Poppies, and a Clematis © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers

Storm in a Bottle

Carefully diffusing blue and yellow pigment into a bottle filled with water; related to Easy Travel to Other Planets.

Storm World © Harold Davis

Storm World © Harold Davis

Storm in a Bottle 1 © Harold Davis

Storm in a Bottle 1 © Harold Davis

Storm in a Bottle 2 © Harold Davis

Storm in a Bottle 2 © Harold Davis

“Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky.”—Dust in the Wind, Kansas

More Food Play, and an iPhone Fragment

Here’s another food play image, constructed from olive oil, half-and-half (milk), and food color. I think it looks a little like stained glass.

Ink Blot 2 © Harold Davis

Ink Blot 2 © Harold Davis

Transferring a high resolution image onto my iPhone allows me to use all the creative iPhone apps on an image generated by a “big boy” camera. This one (below) is a San Francisco Reflection, photographed with my D850 and modified with the Fragment app on my iPhone.

Time Travel Fragment © Harold Davis

Time Travel Fragment © Harold Davis

Both images were a hecka lotta fun to make. That’s what it is all about to some extent: holding on to “beginner’s mind,” having a fun sense of play, and staying creative!

Paris in the Spring (April 24-May 2, 2021)

Click here for more information, and here for the Reservation Form!

San Francisco Reflections

Wandering with a friend in downtown San Francisco last week, I was struck by all the new construction, and how much things have changed. Over the past half-dozen years I have mostly wandered more exotic paths—Son Doong Cave in Vietnam, the Kumano kodo in Japan, the Camino de Santiago, and more—and have seldom set foot in San Francisco.

The place has changed, almost beyond recognition. What struck me most in the area around Salesforce Tower is all the modern, reflective windows, which sometimes provide echoes of a distant and almost forgotten past, now alienated and completely separate from the present.

Rage Against the Grid © Harold Davis

Rage Against the Grid © Harold Davis (1 Sansome St)

Time Travel © Harold Davis

Time Travel © Harold Davis (1 Sansome St)

We cannot enclose the clouds © Harold Davis

We cannot enclose the clouds © Harold Davis (1 Sansome St)

What windows do we want? © Harold Davis

What windows do we want? © Harold Davis (45 Fremont St)

At the conclusion of our walk, we headed across the top of the Broadway Tunnel to Chinatown, which in contrast to the slicker downtown seems pretty much as it always was, a bustling enclave of tourists and Chinese-Americans doing their thing.

Here’s a “sort of take the photographer’s life in his hands” fisheye of the eastern mouth of the tunnel. You can see the light trail of a vehicle that was too close and too fast on the right of my position, and my companion as a kind of “ghost” on the left hand side of the image.

Broadway Tunnel © Harold Davis

Broadway Tunnel © Harold Davis

Also posted in San Francisco Area

Flowers that Remain

I had a great Photographing Flowers for Transparency workshop over the weekend, with a nice group of workshop participants who were eager to learn, and I think had fun! I’m looking forward to scheduling the workshop again next year, in June of 2020. If you are interested in this workshop, keep your eye out for it on my Workshops & Events page (or add yourself to my email list for an alert), as I do this workshop only once a year, and it does fill up.

What do you do with left-over flowers? There were quite a few that remained from the workshop, so I put them on my largest light box, and photographed them as a block of blossoms.

Flowers that Remain Behind © Harold Davis

Flowers that Remain Behind © Harold Davis

Of course, it is hard to create a wall of flowers like this one without also wanted to invert the composition in LAB color.

Flowers that Remain Behind Inversion © Harold Davis

Flowers that Remain Behind Inversion © Harold Davis

During the workshop, I created some demos to show various techniques. This first image was a collaboration, with workshop participants handing me flowers. I was arranging them in real-time in front of the group, which doesn’t have quite the serenity of the way I prefer to work, but was fun, and I think came out okay.

Bouquet © Harold Davis

Bouquet © Harold Davis

I use this circular image to demo painting in transparency by sampling petals, and then painting in the values.

Mandala with Clematis and Poppies © Harold Davis

Mandala with Clematis and Poppies © Harold Davis

A singleton poppy made a nice and simple demonstration of the formula for adding a flower to a scanned background.

Poppy on Papyrus © Harold Davis

Poppy on Papyrus © Harold Davis

Also posted in Workshops

Making a Flower Block and LAB Collage

Last week I photographed a medley of flowers from our garden on the light box, with one result shown in a previous story. The flowers together formed almost a kind of color block print:

Flower Block on White © Harold Davis

Flower Block on White © Harold Davis

Running the block print image through LAB color adjustments, I couldn’t help enjoy the variations, and constructed an eight-panel collage. Each panel represents an LAB channel equalization or inversion, all based on the original flower block. Click here or on the collage to view it larger.

Collage of LAB Flower Blocks © Harold Davis

Collage of LAB Flower Blocks © Harold Davis

For more on how this collage was made, check out my Creative LAB Color in Photoshop course.

Surreal Lady Fish

Take one model (Katlyn Lacoste). Make two in-camera studio multiple exposures of the model using strobes on a black background. Turn the exposures sideways, and mix and match in Photoshop. Add Harold’s eye. What do you get? A surreal lady fish.

Surreal Lady Fish © Harold Davis

Surreal Lady Fish © Harold Davis

Also posted in Multiple Exposures

Papaver Triptych

The Nearly Perfect Poppy close-up is the center panel of the Triptych. Click here or on the image to view it larger.

Papaver Triptych © Harold Davis

Papaver Triptych © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers