Category Archives: Photography

digital photography: techniques: thoughts: photographs

A Memorable Arrival in Palermo

Leaving Malta long before sunrise—the taxi picked us up at the hotel at 3:45AM—under an overcast and misty sky I found myself looking forward to exploring Palermo, Sicily, a bit tense about the rental car drive from the Palermo airport to the hotel, and looking forward to my stay at a luxury hotel on the water near Palermo. It would nice to have a bit of quiet time for recuperation after some days leading a successful photography group in the Malta Archipelago.

The hotel—Grand Hotel Villa Igiea—self-describes in its sales materials as “memorable,” as in “Experience a Memorable Moment.” Generally, the reviews I had read agreed that it was a pretty special place. Indeed, my arrival was to be memorable, but probably not in the way that the pamphlets contemplated.

Room Curtains, Palermo © Harold Davis

Coming down through the dawn on Air Malta I was struck by how beautiful and intricate the coast of Sicily looked in the morning mist. Clearly, the road hugged the coastline, and I really didn’t anticipate too much trouble finding the hotel.

Utilizing the gentle guidance of the Google Maps directorate, I took the freeway towards Palermo, and actually got off the freeway and onto local roads at the right place. From there on, it was increasingly crowded and urban driving. I started to notice a substantial presence of gendarmerie at every intersection. What could this be about?

I was probably within a few blocks of the hotel when I was stopped by an impassable police blockade. All traffic was summarily being ordered to turn around by heavily armed police. First check! I obeyed the police orders, and decided to see if I could use the prowess of Google Maps to “cut across country.”

I really had no idea that the problem was the hotel itself, and figured that if I could only work my way around whatever the issue was, I’d be fine once I got to the hotel.

Before I knew it was driving through an impenetrable warren of tiny streets in a rough neighborhood in Palermo. This wasn’t getting me anywhere, second check! I backed up, turned around, and managed to trace my way back to the original blockade.

I stopped, and had a pretty good look at the map. It seemed like if I went back almost to where I had left the highway I could go round a mountain that hugged the sea, and reach the hotel by a completely different route, approaching from the seaward rather than the city side. So it took a while, but I tried it. I figured at least I was getting to know the area.

This time I got to within a couple of blocks of the hotel, and could actually see it, before I was stopped. I explained the situation to the police officer who stopped me and demanded my passport and proof of hotel reservation. A spirited discussion in Italian commenced within a group of uniformed police, and also some other tough looking men who were probably security agents of one sort or another.

What turned out was that the Italian government had convened a Libyan peace conference at the hotel. For obvious reasons, security was tight, and no cars were allowed within a substantial safety “red zone” buffer around the hotel. 

Eventually, and it was a pretty long eventually, I was able to call the hotel, and they promised to send someone out to help me find a place to park the car and bring my luggage in. This took a while as I waited between two police barricades. 

I won’t go into the security process of getting into the hotel, although it was extensive. The Libyan conference is going on today and tomorrow. I can’t wait for it to be done. Meanwhile, the hotel is plenty memorable (my room is nice, too, as you can see in the image of my room curtains, above) with diplomats and mirrored-sunglass thugs and folks with badges milling around. Lots of self-important people in suits and heels, each one with a briefcase, many of them smoking, almost all of them constantly yammering on their cell phones!

I have the feeling that if I put my camera on the tripod on my balcony—which overlooks not only the Bay of Palermo but also a podium where it looks like potentates are going to pontificate—that most likely I would get in a heap of trouble. 

Essentially, I am a prisoner in my very nice room. Going outside, I am stopped frequently for my papers. It isn’t really tenable. The restaurants and public rooms are closed to hotel guests except for the Libyan conference grandees. Running the gauntlet to get out and back in again is something to contemplate only after I good night’s sleep, since I’ve been up since 3AM.

When I complained to the manager, essentially he said, “We hate it too!” I pointed out that he could have let me know so I could have changed my hotel arrangements. It was all over the news he said. Well maybe, but Palermo is not the top of the news in California in this still surprisingly parochial world we live in (probably they don’t follow the California fires much in Palermo, for that matter). Anyhow, he agreed to comp me to a room service lunch/dinner (as there was no other way to get to eat), and having a full belly helps a bit.

Here’s to being memorable, and in the moment, but only in the right way!

Also posted in Italy

Weston Gallery sells two prints of my work

I am very pleased that Weston Gallery has sold two prints of my work. The subject of each print is a California mountain landscape. One is a panorama, Panorama of the Sierra Crest, photographed from the Alabama Hills above Lone Pine at sunrise, and shown below.

Panorama of the Sierra Crest © Harold Davis

The other image is a monochromatic version of a rough, eroded landscape, taken near the Middle Fork of the Kings River in Kings Canyon National Park.

Badlands © Harold Davis

Meanwhile, from the far side of the world, my group had a great time photographing the island of Gozo (famous as the supposed Ogygia of Calypso and Odysseus fame), and made it to the ferry back to the “mainland” of Malta just ahead of a blustering storm!

Also posted in Landscape

Mosta Dome

This is the interior of the dome in the church located in Mosta, Malta. I photographed it with a circular fisheye lens, specifically the Nikkor 8-15mm at the roundest and widest 8mm setting. This is a specialty lens I don’t use much, but the interior of this gigantic dome seemed an appropriate subject.

Mosta Dome © Harold Davis

More formally, the Mosta Dome, also known as the “Rotunda of Mosta,” is the Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady, a Catholic parish church. It was built in the mid-1800s, and patterned after the Pantheon in Rome. It is certainly a large dome: According to the church pamphlet, “At one time, the dome was the third largest in the world.”

During World War II, the Luftwaffe dropped a large bomb on the top of Mosta Dome, which descended into the rotunda where three hundred congregants were waiting for an early mass. The bomb didn’t explode, it wan defused and dumped into the sea, and no one was hurt. Obviously, this was regarded as miraculous, perhaps with more reason than many putative miracles.

If large domes float your boat as much as they do mine, check out the Duomo di Pavia, designed in part by Leonardo!

Also posted in Malta

Time Machine

I asked one of the participants in this year’s Malta workshop what he wanted to get out of the workshop, and after a thoughtful response he turned it around on me, and asked what I wanted to get. I mentally sat on this question a while, and then this morning realized that I wanted to make some interpretive images of the Maltese architecture. Last year, when I was here at the invitation of the Malta Photographic Society, I did fairly literal imagery of Valletta—and now it was time to make some images that used (and implied) the mood and history, past, present and future. So I went out with my camera and tripod to capture some off-beat Valletta moodiness.

Time Machine © Harold Davis

Both these images are single, in-camera long exposures, with both focus and focal-length (zoom) manipulated during exposure. The camera was, of course, on a tripod. Exposure duration was twenty seconds. To accomplish this during daylight hours, I used a #4 neutral density filter.

Deconstructing Valletta © Harold Davis

Also posted in Abstractions, Malta

Last Day in Paris

This is my last day in Paris until the spring. I took the Metro into Concorde, walked over to the Orangerie, and sat for a while and marveled at the wonderful installation of Monet’s mammoth water lilies, abstractions created based on his ponds at Giverny

La Tour Eiffel © Harold Davis

Next, I wandered across the Tuileries to the Jeu de Paume. The most interesting exhibition there (at least to me) showed the work related to social injustice of Dorothea Lange. While not always the greatest photographer from a technical perspective (e.g. framing, composition, and exposure) she certainly had an eye for faces and telling details, and she cared. The caring may matter more than the technical considerations.

Manzanar diorama via iPhone capture © Harold Davis

What does a diorama of the World War II era Japanese-American internment camp at Manazar have to do with this? In a museum in Paris, looking at the contemporaneous photos of the camp by Lange, I was solipsistically struck with the thought that I had just been (a little more than a month ago) to the memorial museum on the site of Manazar in the arid Eastern Sierra. What a small world we live in, where one thing has consequences for other things, and there are no coincidences!

After I left the museum I wandered the banks of the Seine with my camera until it started to rain. Then I stopped into a restaurant for a late lunch, and made my way back to the hotel.

The car picks me up early tomorrow to get to Malta. I have enjoyed my relatively short visit to Paris, but I am also hoping for a bit warmer weather in the southern Mediterranean.

Also posted in France, Paris


At sunset, the crescent moon reflected in the intertidal flats. The moon does not produce light. We see the moon because of reflected sunlight.

In this photo, only the crescent is really bright, but the further shape of the moon can easily be seen behind the shadow of the earth.

Earthlight © Harold Davis

Also posted in Digital Night

Crepuscular Coast

The sun coming over the mountains, and fog rising from the ocean, combined in crepuscular rays to first illuminate the coastal bridge and then with chiaroscuro light the rocky shore.

Crepuscular Coast © Harold Davis

Light and emotion go together. There cannot be light without darkness in contrast, so the two coexist as equal parts of ourselves and our world. When the darkness and light combine in just the right chiaroscuro mixture, then we see an echo of ourselves, the good and bad within, and the light to strive for. And, you can only photograph light—light that is reflected or emitted. You cannot photograph an object in-and-of-itself. The only subject of photography is truly light.

Crepuscular Coast – Black and White © Harold Davis

I photographed these images on Cape Perpetua in coastal Oregon. The color and monochromatic view of the coast with crepuscular rays (above) was mode in morning light. The images of Heceta Head Lighthouse (shown below) were made right about at sunset.

Heceta Head Lighthouse © Harold Davis

Heceta Head © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape

A Creative Palette of Possibilities Webinar Recording and a Porcupine

I’ve been asked many times when this recording would be posted. Of course, the answer was, “When it is ready!” That time is now.

So I’m excited to let you know that here’s the link to the online recording of my recent webinar for Topaz Labs, A Creative Palette of Possibilities using Topaz with Harold Davis (that’s me!).

And, here’s the porcupine (that’s not me except on a very bad hair day!).

Porcupine © Harold Davis


A mandala is a circular pattern that in spiritual usage—principally in Hinduism and Buddhism—represents the universe. More secularly (but still with a soupçon of spirituality), the pattern of a mandala is circular and symmetrical, with repeating access points into the center of the construct. This geometric pattern can be held up as a metaphoric representation or the cosmos, or as a symbolic version of the macrocosm or universe at large.

Often I do not recognize the pattern of my own work until after a body of work has been well under way. It seems that over a few years I have been creating mandalas on the light box using flower petals, followed by an LAB L-channel inversion adjustment of the white background of the image to black.

Here are three of the many mandalas I have created using this set of techniques in the past few years!

Floral Mandala on Black © Harold Davis

Study in Petals on Black © Harold Davis

Low Geostationary and Decaying Orbits around the Clematis Inversion © Harold Davis

Also posted in Flowers

Klamath Bar

In the darkness before dawn we drove to the Klamath overlook, and brought out the cameras and tripods as the first light was hitting fog banks over the Klamath sandbar—a beautiful time to be in a beautiful place!

Klamath Bar © Harold Davis

Bridge of Light

Along the Oregon coast, hard by Heceta Head Lighthouse, we paused to photograph Cave Creek Bridge, lit by crepuscular rays in the morning mist.

Too often in this life we see the darkness, not the light. But just as often around the corner there is a bridge built of light—to take one ahead as a vessel of lightness. Shadow and light alternate, but we should attempt to take the bridge of light when it is presented to us. Too often we pause in mediocrity, or stare blinded by the darkness, when our best selves are better blinded by the light.

Bridge of Light © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome

Springtime in Paris for the Flaneur with Camera

We’ll always have Paris! You may not need me to remind you of the beauty of Paris, the City of Light. Perhaps this is a treasured memory for you. Along with the joy of strolling Paris city streets and visiting French gardens as a flaneur with a camera! But if you’ve never visited Paris with your camera, then Oh là là! You have a peak experience in store.

Paris Sunset © Harold Davis

Please consider joining me and a select group of photographers in Paris towards the end of April this coming year. If you know Paris, you know how special it is in the spring. If you haven’t ever visited Paris, you are in for a treat.

Giverny © Harold Davis

We will focus our lenses on the boulevards and springtime airs of Paris, gardens (the trip includes a special artist hours tour of Monet’s famous gardens at Giverny), Paris at night, and Paris in black and white. Paris as it ought to be seen, experienced, and photographed. We will be photography flaneurs in the best sense of both words with a small group of like-minded souls!

Rooftops of Paris by Harold Davis

Rooftops of Paris © Harold Davis

We’d love to have you join us, and there are a few places left. But hotels in the time period are filling quickly, and we have booked into a boutique 4-star hotel in the prized 6th Arrondissement, only a couple of blocks from the Luxembourg Gardens. Accommodations are in fact limited. If you would like to come, please let us know as soon possible.

Click here for more information about this destination photography workshop. To reserve your spot, drop us an email letting us know you’d like to come and then complete the Reservation Form. Please feel free to contact us with any questions!

I hope to photograph Paris with you in the spring.

Luxembourg Gardens by Harold Davis

Luxembourg Gardens by Harold Davis

Also posted in Workshops

New on my website and blog

I’ve added some content recently that may interest you. This is in addition to my regular postings on my blog, which I think of as my “Daybook”—in the sense that Edward Weston had a Daybook, which he used to jot down his contemporaneous thoughts about his photography, and his life.

Anyhow, the new pages on this website are:

Rising © Harold Davis

Rainbow Falls in Black and White

I hiked into Rainbow Falls in Devils Postpile National Monument. No rainbows this day, but a great waterfall in monochrome!

Rainbow Falls in Monochrome © Harold Davis

Also posted in Monochrome

East of the Sierras

Coming down the long steep road from Tioga Pass, the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountains was hazy. In the distance, thunder rumbled. Then, to my surprise, a sharp rainstorm.

As the squall passed, amid the ozone smell, I stopped beside a dirt track road, and photographed the brush against the background of the western wall of peaks.

East of the Sierras © Harold Davis

Also posted in Landscape