Category Archives: Writing

Harold Davis: Talks at Google

Here’s the recording of my recent interview and talk at Google regarding The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook and the Zen of Photography!

If the embedded video doesn’t display, please click here to view it on YouTube.

Martin Then and Now

This is a photo of my wonderful father Martin Davis that I recently scanned and retouched to restore some damage. Martin thinks it was taken when he was sixteen and had just graduated from the Bronx High School of Science.

Martin Davis.b

That was then, and this is now: although you can see that Martin’s spirit remains strong and shines through. Recently we had my parents over to celebrate Martin’s 89th birthday. In the iPhone capture below, he has just opened a gag birthday gift that my son Nicholas picked out (Nicky has a wicked sense of humor!).

Martins 89 Birthday

Also posted in Photography

Wedding Day

This is a photo of my darling Phyllis and myself on our wedding day almost 25 years ago. The color print (an inexpensive drugstore print made from color negative film I think) was starting to fade, so we scanned it to preserve it. Phyllis and I walked to St Michael’s Church from our apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. I remember crossing Broadway with a little old lady cackling and waving a cane and shouting to Phyllis, “Kiss him, you fool!”


We’ve come along way since that day. Across the country, and four kids later, marrying Phyllis was the best thing I’ve ever done. It hasn’t all been a bed of roses. We’ve weathered kids in intensive care, illnesses, battles with the school district, and financial pressures. But every day and in every way our relationship has grown richer, and I love Phyllis even more (if that is possible) than the day we married.

My Grandparents: Harry and Helen Davis

These are portraits of my paternal grandparents. Harry Davis was born Herschel Davidowitz in 1892. Helen Davis, nee Gotlieb, born in 1895, and Harry were both from Lodz, Poland. They met in New York, and were married in 1925.

Harry Davis (born Hershel Davidowitz); Photographer Unknown

Harry Davis (born Hershel Davidowitz); Photographer and Date Unknown

The images are flatbed scans of sepia tinted photos that have suffered some damage over the years. The photographer and date of the sitting(s) are unknown. Clearly, these portraits marked some kind of formal or special occasion, as the subjects are dressed up and looking their best. This is not the kind of studio portrait that would have happened every day.

Helen (nee Gotlieb) Davis; Photographer and Date Unknown

Helen (nee Gotlieb) Davis; Photographer and Date Unknown

I never knew my grandfather Harry Davis as he died in 1947 before I was born. However, in his absence, he was a figure who has loomed fairly large in my life, since he was an artist, and I was named after him.

My grandma Helen on the other hand was a beloved if somewhat peculiar presence in my early years. I believe that English was her fourth language (after Yiddish, Polish, and German). This led to an idiosyncrasy of language that was particularly noticeable in her essentially incomprehensible written communications. Her vast love for her family was immediately and always apparent, and I loved her a great deal.

My father adds some biographical details:

Harry and Helen knew one another slightly in Lodz. She came to borrow books at an informal lending library that he and his friends had established in Lodz. His friend Felix Kornberg was married to her sister Regina. Harry reconnected with Helen at the Bronx apartment of Bessie, another sister.

Harry had been taken as a forced laborer to Germany during World War I. After the war he and his brothers established a furniture manufacturing business in Leipzig, Germany. So he came to New York City from Germany.

Helen really didn’t know German. For her, speaking German was just speaking Yiddish with a different accent, especially a very soft “l”.

Black & White Book is Shipping

My new book The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook: Making and Processing Stunning Digital Black and White Photos is now available and shipping from Amazon and other book stores. Very exciting!


Becoming a more interesting person: the genesis of Harold Davis

Want to know more about me and what makes me tick than you may ever have wanted to know? Check out Behind the Lens with Harold Davis.

Panorama of the Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po © Harold Davis

Panorama of the Kumano Sanzen Roppyaku Po © Harold Davis

My work in part defines me, and who I am defines, energizes, and bounds my work, and gives my art the power that it has. To fully understand my art and the man behind the lens, one needs to understand the unique path I’ve taken—which is definitely a “Road Less Traveled”—and learn a bit more about who I am.


Road Less Traveled by Harold Davis

Road Less Traveled © Harold Davis

This is a long and fairly detailed memoir, starting with I Was Born and All That, continuing through Photography 1.0 and my Technology Interregnum,  and leading inevitably and relentlessly like a rough, slouching beast to Post-Photography Photography and a syncretic synthesis.


Harold Davis: Self portrait with moustache

Self Portrait with Moustache © Harold Davis

Check out Behind the Lens with Harold Davis.

Vida and Shopvida: Annals of Deceptive Business Models

Being a Professional Artist Means Business

As a successful professional artist and photographer—and, not entirely coincidentally, a business person—I am aware that sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Sensible investment is after all the cornerstone of business life, and this is no different for a business as an artist than for any other kind of business. Although, as one art dealer I’ve worked with said, “Artists work twice as hard as anyone else, because they have the work of being an artist, and the entirely separate work of making a living as an artist.”

Et chorus sinit ire cum flores (white) © Harold Davis

Et chorus sinit ire cum flores (white) © Harold Davis

In the light of spending money to make money, I am not entirely opposed to upfront pay-for-play business models in the arts, such as paying fees to enter contests, paying to join an exhibit, or paying to be included in a directory of artists or photographers. There’s a slippery slope here, and I do advise casting a skeptical eye on these kinds of opportunities, particularly if they are regarded strictly as business opportunities. Which they are often not, of course: as an artist, one’s work is tightly bound up with one’s sense of self-worth, and any chance to have one’s work displayed or reproduced is an appeal to vanity, often over the common sense of the pocket book. (Pocket book discipline might be more rigorously applied in the context of a non-arts-based business, although a high percentage of new businesses of all sorts do fail, perhaps in part for lack of thrift.)

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

Kiss from a Rose © Harold Davis

However, what I have little patience with is pay-for-play business models masquerading as something completely different, where the real intent is to take advantage of artists. This brings me to the subject of Vida, also called Shopvida, on the web at


If you have almost any kind of presence as an artist or photographer on the Internet, you’ve likely received an initial email from Vida. The first email I received, from Erica who is a self-described “manager of artist relationships” at VIDA, went as follows:
I am writing today regarding your artwork, with the hope that you will consider collaborating with us. I am writing from VIDA, a Google Ventures backed company that brings artists and makers together from around the world to create original, inspiring apparel in a socially conscious way. We are looking for artists with amazing technical skill and truly original work.  We came across your artwork, and we’d love to work with you to translate your art into fashion.

By way of introduction, my name is Erica, and I manage Artist Relations here at VIDA. We specialize in converting 2D art into beautiful, quality apparel and accessories. Also, each of our artists receives a portion of net revenues shared back for each of their designs sold.

As part of our artists recruitment team, I would be thrilled if you would join us as a VIDA artist by submitting your artwork to …. In the meantime, if you have any questions at all, please reply to this email directly. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.

We would be deeply honored to have the opportunity to work with you.

Much the same tale is told on the ShopVida website:



We handle production and business, so [our artists] can pursue their passion and make a living.



We provide literacy programs to our makers. They learn to read, write, and do basic math and build a better life for generations to come. [capitalization in the original]

So not only was Vida honored to have me, by joining I could make some money, support mindful global citizenship, and also literacy programs. Who was I to say no to this appeal to my artistic vanity and my desire to do good—with the potential to benefit my pocketbook. Surely, a potent brew of benefits. I hemmed and I hawed, and I decided to give this a shot. After all, no payment was requested upfront.

Putting up a shop on Vida is relatively easy and also quite a bit of fun. You use low resolution Jpeg imagery to design items in a number of clothing categories (also bags and pillows).


Harold Davis store on Vida (see text)

You can see the Vida collection that I designed at, partly shown above. [Author’s note: I’ve requested Vida take down my store and purge my images, but as of publication date this link is still live.] Once the low resolution store front is in place, you need to upload high resolution versions of the image files, but this isn’t anything that anyone reasonably capable with Photoshop can’t handle.

Promoting One’s Vida Store—Part 1

It was clear as soon as my storefront was up on Vida that the next step would be self-promotion. As I was informed at the top of my new online store as soon as it was live, with ten sales I get “Slate” status—which means that ” Harold’s art will be promoted by VIDA.” Presumably, without the ten sales there would be no promotion of Harold’s art by Vida, sigh!

Just to be clear, I have nothing against involving family, friends, and collectors in social media campaigns that benefit me. In fact, Kickstarter is kind of built around this concept, and I have run two successful Kickstarter campaigns (see and It is reasonable to expect family, friends, and social media involvement in the projects that are important to an artist. It becomes a problem if these channels are the sole support of a project, and largely are making money for a third-party who is not the artist.

The Vida Product

Kiss from a Rose Wrap

Kiss from a Rose Wrap

Before deploying my reputational capital on behalf of my Vida collection, I thought it would be a good idea to order an actual product from my shop as a matter of simple quality control. Under Phyllis’s name I bought a “Kiss from a Rose” cashmere silk scarf for $85.00 (it came to over $100 with tax and shipping). As a side note, this sale to myself was the only sale I made via my Vida store.

When the scarf eventually arrived, the reviews were mixed. Delivery took about five weeks, which seemed like a strangely long time. While the scarf seemed expensive to us for what it was, in fairness it was sized quite large. However, in our opinion the fabric didn’t seem as luxurious as the “silk-cashmere” description would seem to imply.

There was no lining. Hemming (on the short side) was adequate, but not particularly elegant or complicated. The long edges of the scarf were not sewn at all, but were simply the selvages of the fabric.

The process by which this was created clearly involved printing on fabric via an inkjet printer. There were some places where the dye didn’t reach the fabric, leaving white spots.

To be clear, I have nothing against printing on fabric with an inkjet printer, particularly when it is done well. But this isn’t exactly an artisanal process, and it is unlikely to be lifting third-world crafts people out of poverty. I’ve used an inkjet printer to print some of my images on canvas, but that doesn’t make these images “genuine oil paintings” any more than Vida’s inkjet products are legitimate third-world textile art.

Spring Wreath © Harold Davis

Spring Wreath © Harold Davis

Promoting One’s Vida Store—Part 2

As my welcome to Vida email noted, the “important tips that have helped Vida designers achieve success” were:

  1. Email your friends, fans, and customers
  2. Spread the word on social media
  3. Blog about your collection
  4. Purchase for yourself or loved ones
  5. (MOST POPULAR) Purchase Artist Wholesale

While I waited to evaluate the product sample, the upselling email fun began…often at the rate of several emails a day.

Repeating Flower Pattern © Harold Davis

Repeating Flower Pattern © Harold Davis

Emails from Vida

Cameron at Vida wrote me (many times) to say that if I spent $1,000 I could become “a featured designer with a curated collection. We are only offering curated collections to a small group of hand-picked artists. This is a private email.” Having a curated collection would result in having “[a]t least 1 product from your collection featured on the VIDA Shop All Page. Being Featured on the Shop All page will give you significantly more exposure.”

Jennifer wrote me (on several different days) to “personally reach out to send you a final reminder that today is THE VERY LAST DAY to claim your curated collection page on VIDA.”

Lesley suggested I might enjoy the Festival of Art event where “where art lovers and artists can join together in their admiration for the arts,” and where I would receive a 40% discount on purchases of $900 or more.

Alice sent me another invitation to become a featured designer with a curated collection: “We are only offering curated collections to a small group of hand-picked artists for 1 week only. We think your art is beautiful and we would love the opportunity to feature your work. This is a private, invitation-only email.

This inundation of upselling emails from Vida continued for quite a while without letup. As one my of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut, might have said, “So it goes.”

Summing Up My Sense of Vida

Let me try to sum my sense of Vida up. The claim [from an initial email from Erica at Vida] that

Vida is backed by Google Ventures, and artists who get discovered on VIDA are featured everywhere from national television to major press mentions like TechCrunch and the Wall Street Journal….We’d love to work with you to build your artwork into a fashion brand

seems exaggerated—but certainly something that gets my attention as an artist, with its mention of Google and my artwork as a fashion brand, and no more exagerated than the spiel from many another tech startup. This is, however, also a well-crafted appeal to the vanity and optimism of any artist.

The actual business model seems to be more like a blunderbuss than a discovery mechanism for quality art that would work for textile designs. The goal seems to be to see how much product can be moved by the artists to friends and family of the artist. The only mechanism for discovery of great designs is to qualify by selling Vida product to friends and family, and it is far from clear that the promotion that might follow from said sales at Vida would result in any long-term gains in terms of the branding of an artist.

Dragonfly 4 © Harold Davis

Dragonfly 4 © Harold Davis

At best, this is a pay-for-play business model on Vida’s part. As I’ve noted, I have no problem with the notion of investing in the business of being an artist, provided this investment is made thoughtfully. I also have no issue with using friends and family as part of one’s social media constellation to jumpstart a career. I do have an issue with the lack of upfront clarity on Vida’s part about this being what a store on Vida will entail.

Pay-for-play can be okay, but then you should say right away, “For exposure you must pay!” Essentially, Vida is analagous to a multi-level marketing scheme, where participants only make money by selling the company product to others.

The Vida Product—Part 2

One other aspect of Vida’s workflow is troubling, and that is the production of the actual products. In point of fact, I have a natural outlet for products based on my work via my workshops and other events. Had we believed the merchandise was of a quality that worked with the quality of my work, and that we wouldn’t be ashamed to present to my audience, we could easily have taken advantage of one of the many offers I was pitched. For example, we could have bought $1,000 worth of products based my designs at a 40% discount, and sold these at retail at my workshops.

The problem here had to do with the quality of the printing, which we didn’t think was high enough to compare with my other work. In addition, a zebra doesn’t change its stripes to a leopard’s spots. The deceptive marketing to artists is one of a piece with the deceptive sense that Vida gives that its products, created using inkjet printing, are related to textile craft and somehow artisanal. There is quite a bit of markup in my $85 scarf, and I don’t think this money is going to a dye printing machine operator in India.

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

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

Is Vida a Scam?

Is Vida an out-and-out scam? This depends upon your definition of “scam,” but probably not, in the sense that they do actually make and ship the products they advertise (even if these aren’t of great quality). Nothing illegal is going on as far as I can tell. Like Amway and Herbalife, there are probably folks who have done okay with Vida—but it wouldn’t be for me. 

While not an out-and-out scam, as a customer I would be disappointed in the quality of the work, particularly considering the price, and I would likely be disinclined to order more products from this company. (Would I have expressed my disappointment about the product quality to my sister-in-law-the-artist had I bought a Vida item of hers? Probably not.)

Is this a business model that treats artists ethically and morally? In my opinion, I don’t think so. As always, do research, draw your own conclusions, and caveat emptor.

I submitted a draft of this article to Umaimah Mendhro, the founder and CEO of Vida, and to the press email at Shopvida for comment, but as of publication time have received no response. 

Have you had an experience good or bad with Vida? I will happily approve for publication relevant comments related to this article.

More about the Business of Art and Photography

Other articles by Harold Davis pertaining to contemporary issues in the business of art and photography: Putting Paid to Purloining Picture Snatchers: Working with PixsyWhat do Harold Davis and Georgia O’Keeffe have in common on Pinterest, and how is Pinterest going to make money, anyway?; and Presentation Matters: Why Book Publishers Should Care About Quality.

About Harold Davis: HAROLD DAVIS is a professional photographer and digital artist whose work is widely collected. He is the author of many bestselling photography books, including Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer, Creating HDR Photos, Photographing Flowers, The Photoshop Darkroom, and The Way of the Digital Photographer.

Quince by Moon © Harold Davis

Quince by Moon © Harold Davis

Also posted in Business of Art, Photography

A Touch of Art with Harold Davis and Topaz—Free Webinar

Upper White River Falls © Harold Davis

Upper White River Falls © Harold Davis

Master photographer Harold Davis is well known for his books, prints, and extraordinary images of a wide variety of subject matter. “I’ve been called a digital artist who uses photographs as my source material,” he says, “and I believe this is a good way to consider my work.” Harold Davis likes to take his imagery slightly beyond conventional photography using digital painting, but not so far beyond photography that he would “lose the suspension of disbelief inherent in the photographic capture.”

The Webinar will be live on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM PDT. Click here to register. Registration is completely free, but seating is limited and Harold’s presentations are always in demand—so don’t wait to register.

Coming to Life © Harold Davis

Coming to Life © Harold Davis

In creating this syncretic mixture of photography and digital art, Harold Davis says that among his favorite “go-to tools are the brilliant Topaz Labs Photoshop plugins.”

In this webinar, Harold will explain how he uses Topaz Adjust, Topaz Simplify, Topaz Glow 2, and Topaz Impressions 2, and provide concrete examples. He’ll discuss two of his ideas about using special effects in Photoshop: If you’ve ever wanted to know how the Hegelian triad and homeopathy relate to the use of the Topaz plugins in Photoshop, this may be the webinar for you. Finally, he’ll explain how he uses a touch of Topaz in his workflow to create his unique photographic art.

There will be time for Q&A following the webinar.

The Webinar will be live on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 at 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM PDT. Click here to register. Registration is completely free, but seating is limited and Harold’s presentations are always in demand—so don’t wait to register.

Orchids in a Blue Bowl © Harold Davis

Orchids in a Blue Bowl © Harold Davis

Carcassonne in Black & White

Carcassone Outer Fortifications © Harold Davis

Carcassone Outer Fortifications © Harold Davis

The techniques shown in this image—bracketed sequence photography, processing for extended dynamic range, layer stack monochromatic conversion, all with an added antique effect—are detailed in my new book. It is available for pre-order on Amazon and the publisher’s website. Thanks to everyone who has made The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook: Making and Processing Stunning Digital Black and White Photos the #1 New Release in Black & White Photography on Amazon and Amazon’s #1 “Hot New Release” in this category!


Also posted in Digital Night, France, Monochrome

Pre-order Photographer’s Black and White Handbook

Please consider pre-ordering my new book from The Monacelli Press. My book is The Photographer’s Black & White Handbook: Making and Processing Stunning Digital Black and White Photos. It’s also available for pre-order on Amazon. We have been working extremely hard on this book, with much thought, photography, and experimental monochromatic processing over the past several years, and it is truly exciting for me as it gets published!


Book description: You’ll find inspiration, ideas, techniques, and tools to use in your black and white photography, along with a soup-to-nuts workflow to take you from black and white pre-visualization through capture and post-production. Along the way you will lean over Harold’s shoulder as he travels to exciting photo destinations and creates stunning black and white imagery, explaining his creative and technical processes as he goes.

Photograph in Black & White with me: If you are interested in black & white, why not consider Black & White in San Francisco: A Weekend Workshop with Harold Davis? The dates of this workshop are Nov 19-20, 2016.

Where could be more fun to photograph in black and white than the southwest of France? If this intrigues you, please check out our April, 2017 guided destination photography workshop to rural France. Click here for the Prospectus, and here for the Reservation form.

If not now, when?

Harold Davis - 2017 Destination photo workshop to southwestern France

Related stories: Explore Bordeaux, Perigord, and the Dorodgne with Harold Davis; Handsome Gargoyle Devil and the Pinhole Effect; Black & White in San Francisco; Rooftops of Paris—Split-Toned VersionTraveling France with Harold (PDF download).

Also posted in Workshops

Landscape at Sunrise

At sunrise on a hill facing the ancient town of Cordes-sur-Ciel I was out with my camera and tripod. This was a classical view. Probably the track you see in the photo had been traversed for millennia. Framing the image with the bare branches of the tree on the right, the emotional impact on me was slightly sinister but exciting. For reasons I didn’t fully understand (and still don’t) this seemed like a turning point.

Landscape at Sunrise © Harold Davis

Landscape at Sunrise © Harold Davis

The first step in the photographer’s paradigm is to understand that it’s not about the hardware: cameras don’t take pictures, people do. Next, if you want your images to be more interesting, place yourself in front of more interesting scenes. But ultimately it is about personal interpretation, so more deeply than traveling to interesting places, become a more interesting person. This is where things get interesting, and circular, because who one is can be impacted by the emotional impact of where you go, the travel not the destination, and even the act of making a photo. The pull is bi-directional.

I can think the emotional subtext of an image like Landscape at Sunrise is a conversion like that of Saul on the road to Damascus, but the bigger question is what is the impact on me, on my life, and my life as an artist, and how will I take this into other work?

Also posted in Photography

Sale on My Photography Books on Amazon

Three of my eBooks on Amazon are now on sale for $9.99 each (the normal price has been between $15 and $23 each for these eBooks). They are Creative Black & White: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques (71 Amazon customer reviews, 4.6 out of 5 stars average rating); Creative Close-Ups: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques (62 Amazon customer reviews, 4.3 out of 5 stars), and Creative Composition: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques (37 Amazon customer reviews, 4.2 out of 5 stars). I hope you enjoy the Kindle versions of my highly-rated and very popular books at this special new price!



Coming to Life

Following up on the theme of transformation in Metamorphosis (waterfall into human) and Dark Angel (flower into human), and the thoughts I’ve expressed about the new role of digital photography as an art medium in Nude Descending a Ladder, Coming to Life and Spiral Convolution (both below) show another twist: a spiral shell becoming human, or vice versa, that is to say, a human morph and convolution into the spiral structure of a shell.

Coming to Life © Harold Davis

Human Spiral—Nautilus © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Dark Angel

In a previous blog post I wrote that “digital techniques have freed us from the orthodoxy of the camera, just as in the past the camera freed painters from the orthodoxies of representational art. But once you go down the road of a new art from, in which digital manipulation joins with digital capture, there are no limits. In a world loose from its moorings, there should be no rules about how images are created…”

In this spirit, and following up on Metamorphosis, I created Dark Angel, shown below.

Dark Angel © Harold Davis

Dark Angel © Harold Davis

To create this image, I started with Angel Anemone:

Angel Anemone © Harold Davis

Angel Anemone © Harold Davis

From Angel Anemone, I prepared Darkling Anemone in color and then in black annd white:

Darkling Anemone Color © Harold Davis

Darkling Anemone Color © Harold Davis

Darkling Anemone Black and White © Harold Davis

Darkling Anemone Black and White © Harold Davis

Meanwhile, I revisiting an earlier in-camera Multiple Exposure, Human Spiral-Nautilus, chosen because of its resemblance to a natural history object when seen from a distance:

Human Spiral---Nautilus © Harold Davis

Human Spiral—Nautilus © Harold Davis

With the aid of a few Photoshop plug-ins (Topaz Glow and Topaz Impression) and creative use of blending modes, Human Spiral-Nautilus became Wheel of Life:

Wheel of Life © Harold Davis

Wheel of Life © Harold Davis

I then converted Wheel of Life to monochromatic and blended it (in two versions, one flipped horizontally) to create my final Dark Angel. Note that my title has absolutely no relationship to the TV series, video game, or book of the same name.

For no apparent earthly reason whatsoever, I conclude with Cold is the colour of crystal:

“Cold is the colour of crystal the snowlight
That falls from the heavenly skies”—Annie Lennox

Upper White River Falls © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography

Congratulations to those folks who found the Easter Egg

There are some really sharp-eyed members of my photographic community! I posted a contest regarding an Easter Egg in a photo in my book Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer a short while back. Kerry Joy McGehee, Mark Mattson, and Mike Pomeroy have each won an 11 X 14 ($1,000 retail value) print of mine of their choice. Thanks everyone else for playing! The Easter Eggs are in the image End of the Berkeley Pier, shown below and on pages 76-77 of Achieving Your Potential As a Photographer, with the detailed answer to the puzzle below the image.

End of the Berkeley Pier © Harold Davis

End of the Berkeley Pier © Harold Davis

Easter Egg #1 (across, with first name and last name on a separate row): Harold Davis

Easter Egg #2 (in white characters, about 1/3 down the fifth full column counting from the left, you may need a magnifying glass for this one): LOVE YOU ALWAYS PHYLLIS ♥

Note: I’ve been asked by a number of people whether I tagged the fence at the end of the pier myself. You can’t go out there anymore because the pier is off-limits due to safety concerns, although you can still crawl underneath the Berkeley Pier. And, no, I didn’t engage in real-world tagging—this tagging is virtual, and is Photoshop work!