Category Archives: Photography

digital photography: techniques: thoughts: photographs

Explorations, projects, digital collages, constructions, and more

I confess: sometimes I lose track of my own work. Lately—over the past year or so—I’ve been working on related themes, groupings of images that are tightly, or loosely, linked. The very nature of blogging and social media, not to mention photography’s voracious ability to create imagery of all kinds, means these themes can get lost. In response, I decided to start an Explorations page with links to…explorations, digital collages, constructions, meanderings, and ongoing artistic projects—organized thematically.

This has been an enjoyable way for me to get a better handle on what I’ve been up to (sometimes this isn’t apparent even to the artist until some way down the road of creation). Maybe you will like some of the projects and ideas as well.

X-rays and Fusion X-rays (2018-2019); About

Camino de Santiago (2018-2019); Story

Monochrome Florals (2011-2019); Story

Bottled Light (2018-2019); Words

Curves Ahead (2019); Words

Homage to Rothko (2018-2019)

White Daemon (2018); About

Easy Travel to Other Planets (2018-2019)

Optical Studies (2018-2019); Story

Petal Galaxy (2015-2019); Story

Dancing with the Stars (2017-2018); Story

Blades of Grass (2017-2018); About

Homage to Rothko

Homage to Rothko © Harold Davis

Also posted in Abstractions

Curves Ahead

Starting with sunlight coming through vessels with color, I pared down my abstractions. But lately we have been under a river of rain. Sunlight is scarce. But it doesn’t take much to create an image. Just a camera, really. Simplicity is best. There are curves ahead.

Curve #1 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Abstractions, Monochrome

Free Topaz Webinar with Harold Davis on Tuesday Feb 19

Webinar with Harold Davis: Topaz As an Integral Part of Creative Post-Production

Tuesday February 19, 2019 at 2PM PT (4PM CT), 45 minute presentation with 15 minutes for Q&A. The webinar is free, but advance registration is strongly suggested. Click here to register for the webinar.

Webinar Description: In this all-new webinar, Harold Davis shows how he uses Topaz in conjunction with his digital workflow to polish and enhance his creative imagery. Davis will use some of his more popular recent images to demonstrate Topaz Studio, Topaz Adjust, Topaz Glow, and Topaz Simplify as an integral part of his creative Photoshop toolkit. Stand by for some tips, techniques, and post-production ideas that will knock your creative socks off!

Color Field of Flowers © Harold Davis

Harold notes that “iPhonegraphy is an important part of my professional practice. In this light, JPEG to RAW AI offers a new and very welcome way to process my iPhone JPEGs.” Harold’s presentation will conclude with a few examples of how JPEG to RAW AI can enhance his iPhone imagery.

About Harold Davis: Harold Davis is an internationally recognized digital artist and photographer, the bestselling author of many books about photography, and a notable photographic educator and workshop leader. He is a Moab Master and a Zeiss Ambassador. His website is

Happy Heart Day

Heart Like a Wheel © Harold Davis

Also posted in Hearts

Cutting Corners

In Mounts Botanical Gardens of Palm Beach County, Florida an impressive exhibit of an installation by stick-work artist Patrick Dougherty was showcased when I visited recently. I’m always interested in doors, windows, and openings, particularly when they can be seen in progression one within the other, so it was great fun to photograph this stick work structure from within, emphasizing both the symmetry and repetition, and at the same time the anarchy and lack of linear structure.

Windows in a Willow Twig House © Harold Davis

To create this image with as much contrast and resolution as I could, with my camera on a tripod, I made nine exposures stopped down to f/25 at ISO 64. Shutter speeds ranged from 2.5 seconds to /50 of a second. I carefully focused about 1/3 of the distance shown in the photo to get as many elements as possible in focus. 

I combined the nine exposures in Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, then processed to monochromatic using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 and Photoshop Adjustment Layers.

Also photographed at Mounts Botanical Garden with my class from the Palm Beach Photographic CentreLooking down the frond—Been down so long it looks like up to me!

Also posted in Monochrome

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, Patterns

A point of information, not a point of honor

The triptych of photos shown in this story were made in my camera, not in post-production, with only small tweaks for slight retouching, exposure, and minor saturation adjustments. I say this entirely as a point of information, and not as a point of honor!

When all other lights go out 1 © Harold Davis

Personally, I like to learn about how an image was made as a matter of my own education. Perhaps learning about an artistic process will give me an idea for how to do something myself. But I care most about the final image, and it doesn’t matter to me if a photo was made using digital versus analog equipment, where it was heavily manipulated in Photoshop (or not), or even if the surface was painted upon. I’ve always had an eclectic attitude towards the art that inspires me, and feel photographers can learn much, and look with pleasure on (for example) paintings by Paul Klee as from any photograph.

When all other lights go out 2 © Harold Davis

Then again, photography has been burdened from the beginning as a mimetic discipline. It is naive to think that any kind of photography reproduces “real life”—but observers have made this mistake repeatedly. The reaction to this false equivalence was in the early years of the twentieth century the sappy aesthetics of “pictorialism”—which itself generated a counter-reaction in which only “straight” photography was morally acceptable to certain gatekeepers.

When all other lights go out 3 © Harold Davis

It has not generally been recognized how much the break with the analog photographic toolset brought about by digital photography has upended this perpetual debate. The photographic process is now, willy-nilly, a cyborg—with the computer portion of that equation residing in the camera, or in Photoshop, or in both. The entire production can be seamless, and bound only by the constraints of taste and meaning—which is, after all, the point of any fulfilling art.

All that said, it is fun to remember what can be done with simple photographic technique, control of the lighting, and a pinch of creativity!

Can you see color in black & white?

A client recently asked me to submit a series of monochromatic images of flowers. This happened after the client saw the black and white image of a begonia, shown below.

Begonia © Harold Davis

In the case of the begonia image, I originally pre-visualized the photo as monochromatic, and processed it to be a black and white image. With most of the others, the story was a bit different: I looked for floral imagery that I thought would work as back and white from my already processed color images. Then I either went back to the RAW file, or worked from the color version (or, in a couple of cases, picked up the workflow at a midpoint). The curves in the close-up of the center of a rose shown below remind me of a Georgia O’Keeffe painting.

Rose Center Curves © Harold Davis

The interesting thing in my thinking is that we have strong opinions about flowers and color. So when a flower is presented in black and white, to some extent we see it in color. Since I made these photos, I know what the colors of the subject are. But to a hands-off viewer, are the imputed colors accurate? It is hard for me to say.

The camellia shown below was a light pink, but it also works in my opinion in black and white, and presents with a kind of luminescence.

Camellia japonica © Harold Davis

Verily, there are many kinds of floral imagery that work well in monochromatic, as well as in color.

Also posted in Flowers, Monochrome

Approaching Indigo

Approaching Indigo © Harold Davis

The early use of “indigo” referred to indigo dye made from Indigofera tinctoria and related species, and not specifically to a color. In the 1660s, Isaac Newton bought a pair of prisms at a fair near Cambridge, England. Around this time, the East India Company had begun importing indigo dye, replacing native woad as the primary source of blue dye. By the way, the actual color produced using indigo dye is probably somewhat different from the color referred to as “indigo” by optical scientists.

In an important experiment in the history of optics, Newton shone a narrow beam of sunlight through one of his prisms to produce a rainbow-like band of colors on the wall. This optical band had a spectrum of colors, and Newton named seven as primary colors: “Red, yellow, Green, Blew, & a violet purple; together with Orang, Indico, & an indefinite varietie of intermediate gradations.”

Interestingly, Newton linked the seven prismatic colors to the seven notes of a western major scale, with orange and indigo as semitones. What happens if you play colors like a musical scale?

In modern usage, indigo is a deep and rich color close to the primary color Blue in the RGB color space, a color somewhere between blue and violet. Many people have difficulty distinguishing indigo from its neighbors. According to sci-fi writer and science pundit Isaac Asimov, “It is customary to list indigo as a color lying between blue and violet, but it has never seemed to me that indigo is worth the dignity of being considered a separate color. To my eyes it seems merely deep blue.”

Asimov was wrong, but the color indigo needs to be approached with care. If you confront indigo directly, you may not see it, but in fact indigo takes its rightful and royal place on the visual spectrum when seen somewhere between blue and violet,

To construct this image, I used vases filled with colored water. To generate the colors, I used food dyes representing the primary colors, and passed bright sunlight from a West-facing window beamed through the colored water in combination—thus echoing Isaac Newton’s original, famous experiment with prisms and sunlight.

Also posted in Abstractions

Hitting the Flickr Explore Jackpot with Crepuscular Coast

Crepuscular Coast (v2) © Harold Davis

My monochromatic image Crepuscular Coast (shown above) hit Flickr Explore yesterday. This is a reprocessed version of the original image, which I originally photographed, processed, and posted in October 2018 (link to the original story here).

I reprocessed the image at the behest of a client, who wanted me to take down the crepuscular rays a bit (those rays were really there!). I also removed a small texture effect—which you can mostly see in the sky of the original version—so the reprocessed version is a cleaner, simpler, and starker image, although the differences between the two versions are really pretty subtle.

Three months out the original version on Flickr has 173 views and 4 Faves (“Faves” are the Flickr version of “likes”). In contrast, the reprocessed version on Flickr after about 36 hours has 10, 558 views and 575 Faves, and counting upwards. Whatever one’s opinion of the merits of the two versions, most of this vast difference in audience appreciation can be attributed to the inclusion of the recent one in Flickr Explore.

The eyeballs today for photography are mostly on Instagram, and if you want your work to be seen you need to go where the eyeballs are, despite the formidable limitations that Instagram has for serious photographers (it is designed best for mobile photography). But even compared with Instagram, when it comes to instant recognition, it is hard to beat Flickr Explore. My own experience is that any image that “makes Explore” get 10K page views almost immediately, and is typically profitably licensed. I get an image “Explored” once every quarter or so; besides Crepuscular Coast, two of the most recent ones are Lonely Road / Poem of the Road and Twisted.

So some of the images included in Flickr Explore are pretty compelling (I like to think mine are!), and others not so much. How do images get “Explored”?

In April, 2018 SmugMug bought Flickr from Verizon, who had acquired it about a year earlier from Yahoo. SmugMug has made it clear that being “Explored” is reserved for paying customers a/k/a Professional members of Flickr, which seems quite fair, and a good policy.

Besides membership category, Flickr itself is pretty mum about the process of being “Explored”, but points to an algorithm for something they dub “interestingness”. As one FAQ for an Explore derivative group on Flickr puts it, “Selections for Explore are made by a math equation. This math equation (called an algorithm) calculates a score based on how many views, faves and comments an images gets over a period of time. The better the score the higher an image gets placed in the Explore list. Faves are heavily weighted in the equation and are far more important than comments. This score is often referred to as the “interestingness” factor of an image.”

Of course, blaming an opaque algorithm for a secret sauce is not unusual in “high tech land,” whether that secret sauce is Google’s PageRank algorithm or Flickr’s interestingness algorithm for Explore. Really, the process of “being Explored” is pretty much a black box.

The only thing that is clear is that something like the community trail conundrum is at work: the more times a trail is trod upon the more visible it becomes, leading to more visits, more visibility, and a bigger trail, all in a virtuous spiral. Early movement is vital: you don’t get an image “Explored” unless it starts garnering views, comments, and faves pretty early in its online history. Anecdotally, based on my observations, I agree that faving (“liking”) is actually more important than views or comments in terms of the algorithm’s ranking.

So we don’t really know how images get into Explore. We do know that some of the images in Explore are very good and others are banal, or worse. Comments and observations are welcome. Perhaps if we put our communal heads together we can shed some light on this conundrum. After all, this is one more mysterious process in virtual space with real world consequences.

Also posted in Flickr, Landscape, Monochrome

Review: A New Lens for Harold (the Irix 150mm “Dragonfly” macro)

Piercing the Iris Veil © Harold Davis

I photographed these close-ups of flower petals (image above: an Iris; image below: the petals of a Gerbera from behind) with a new lens, the Irix 150mm f/2.8 “Dragonfly” telephoto 1:1 macro. For a telephoto macro, this is a relatively inexpensive lens (about $600 recently at B&H). Apparently, the Irix lenses are designed in Switzerland, and manufactured in Korea.

The lens comes in a nice box, with a useful hard pouch for storage, amenities such as two rear lens caps and a nice lens hood, has a functional tripod collar with an Arca-mount foot that lets you switch from horizontal to vertical and back again, and is handsomely finished. It appears solidly made, with good materials in the right places.

That said, I did have a build quality issue with the first one I ordered from B&H, so I had to send it back for an exchange. I won’t go into details about what the problem was, except to note that it was a show-stopper (if you need to know, drop me an email). The build-quality issue suggests that if you buy one, make sure you buy from a reputable source, test it thoroughly during the return period, and send it back if necessary.

A complaint about the lens design is that it lacks a manual aperture ring, at least in the Nikon F mount (I haven’t tried the Canon or Sony E mount versions, so I can’t verify that this holds cross-platform, but it probably does). The expectation is that you are going to set the aperture using the camera.

This is a serious drawback in a lens that is likely to be used in technical circumstances, as is the case with a telephoto macro. In particular, if you use the lens with a bellows or an extension tube that has a manual diaphragm coupling (not an uncommon scenario with a lens of this sort), the only way to change the aperture that I could figure out is to dismount the whole lens-and-bellows, put the lens (or another lens) on, then reset the aperture, which will stick even after the lens is remounted on the bellows.

Somewhat counteracting this complaint, a nice bonus feature is a solid focus lock. This is useful when the lens is on a tripod and pointed downward, and you want to make a long exposure without having the focus slip.

This is a sophisticated, solidly built lens. According to the manufacturer, the aperture mechanism includes 11 rounded blades, designed to create pleasing bokeh (background blurring). The manual focus mechanism is solid and lends itself to precision. The lens has been weather sealed at key points.  

Again according to the manufacturer, “The optical design consists of twelve elements – three of which are made of super-low dispersion glass (ED), another four of glass with a higher refractive index (HR), and the whole arranged into nine optical groups. Thanks to this construction, we obtain an close to zero distortion (at a level of 0.1%).”

Folks who know me well know that I collect macro lenses; in fact, I have been called “the Imelda Marcos” of macro lenses. I think I’ve lost track of how many I own, and I’m pleased to add this Dragonfly to my collection. It fills a gap between my Nikkor 200mm f/4 macro and the Nikkor 105mm and Zeiss 100mm macros. Subjectively, I think it beats the Nikkor 200mm (which only focuses to 1:2 rather than the 1:1 of the Dragonfly) in terms of sharpness, although it may not be quite up to the Nikkor 105mm or Zeiss 100mm. Even here, the modern design and coatings help with the comparison, and I like the extra reach of the 150mm focal length.

Probably the closest comparable lenses are the Canon 180mm macro (which won’t help Nikon users), and the Sigma 180mm telephoto macro, which by reputation is a great lens (I don’t own one), but considerably more expensive than the Irix.

So enough technical talk and comparison of other macro lenses. What I really think is below the image.

Gerbera Petals © Harold Davis

What Harold really thinks: First, both the images that accompany this story were made with the Irix 150mm f/2.8 “Dragonfly” stopped down to f/32. Obviously, these results are pleasing, with limited diffraction considering the small aperture, and I am happy to own this lens. I expect this to be a go-to telephoto macro lens in situations in which this specialized optic is called for.

Disclosures: None. I have no relationship whatsoever with Irix, and bought the lens with my own hard-earned cash money.

Also posted in Equipment, Flowers, Reviews

Creative LAB Color Collage

Harold Davis LAB collage © Harold Davis

This is a collage of LAB channel color adjustments, developed for my Creative LAB Color in Photoshop course for in LinkedIn Learning. To really get the idea, click here to view full screen.

Pixel Pie

Pixel Pie © Harold Davis

When I was a kid growing up in the east they used to have “snow days”—when school was called on account of snow. You went back to bed, covered your head with the blankets, forgot about homework, and looked forward to a blissful day playing in the snow.

What do you do when work is called on account of rain? Part of my answer is to go exploring with my camera in the rain, but when that gets old, I like to play with pixels—in this case LAB channel operations, Photoshop blending modes, mirroring, and reflecting.

Can we count the ways? © Harold Davis

Ventura Pier and Dark Sea

It rained all day as I was recording, but towards late afternoon there was a break in the weather. I positioned myself on the roof of a parking garage, and photographed the Ventura Pier. This pier is a great wooden structure, built in 1872, and well maintained since then.

Ventura Pier © Harold Davis

Heading down along the walk beside the beach, the lowering sky again threatened rain. In the gathering darkness I made a fairly long exposure (about thirty seconds) near the Pipeline, a well known Ventura surfing break. I started in on a longer exposure, but the rain really was coming down, so I protected my camera as best I could, and called it a night!

Dark Sea © Harold Davis