Another Starry Night

Starry Night 3

Starry Night 3, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: This is another fisheye starry night stacked photo from Glacier Point. This one consists of 12 captures at four minutes and ISO 100 and f/3.2, and one high ISO capture at four minutes and ISO 800 and f/4. The bright purple comes from sensor flaring in the higher ISO capture in the stack. I intentionally left the foreground dark (the way it looks in the individual exposures) rather than trying to blend in a brighter foreground (as in the previous versions).

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

Yosemite Morning

Yosemite Morning

Yosemite Morning, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Coming down from a night spent photographing star trails on Glacier Point, I hit the Valley floor about 6AM. I tucked into my sleeping bag, inserted the ear plugs, and slept for a solid hour or so. At about 7AM a deep rumbling noise penetrated the ear plugs and woke me. It was followed by sirens (what’s this, bears dancing on cars setting off their alarms?) and then helicopters.

Sleep fled, and I pulled myself out to see what was going on. A big rock ledge had fallen off Glacier Point into the valley, and right into Curry Village. (Here’s the story. Very frightening if you were staying at Curry, but luckily no one was badly hurt, and the place has largely reopened.)

In the meantime, the Merced River beckoned in the morning light (you can see some of dust from the rock slide in the background of this photo).

To create this image I groggily shot six exposures, at times between 1/13 of a second and a full second. My initial plan was to process these together as an HDR image, using the Photoshop HDR automation. So I converted all six from the RAW using one ACR settings file, and then opening the six files using Merge to HDR. The results looked like garbage, Photoshop didn’t really know which areas to include from which exposure. Next, I tried merging to HDR using the pre-converted RAW files, with more-or-less the same ugly results.

So, it was back to hand combining the six captures using ACR setting variations, layer masking, gradients, and the Paintbrush tool. Computers are great, but sometimes automation sucks, and there’s nothing like doing it by hand.

Related story: Multi-RAW Processing versus Automated HDR.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm Zoom lens at 12mm (18mm in 35mm terms), 1/13 of a second, 1/10 of a second 1/4 of a second, 1/2 of a second, and one second, all exposures at ISO 100 and f/22, exposures hand combined in Photoshop, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

Starry Night

Starry Night

Starry Night, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger

Many of my night photos are created in homage to Vincent van Gogh, who wrote in a letter to his brother Theo, “It often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day.” The star swirl in this image seems particularly van Gogh, so I thought I’d name this one Starry Night, after one of his most famous works.

This photo was taken from Glacier Point in the middle of the night after the moon had set (you can compare the version from the same spot lit partially by the moon).

I made 14 captures using an automated timer, all with my Nikon D200 and 10.5mm digital fisheye at ISO 100 (of course, using a tripod). The first, and longest, exposure was at 8 minutes and f/2.8. The remaining exposures were at 4 minutes and f/4 (to capture the star trails). I then stacked the captures in Photoshop CS3 Extended using the Statistic script set to Maximum mode.

I found that the result included some unfortunate light flaring, as well as some purple sensor burning. So I went back through the 13 four minute captures carefully, and found one with both the flaring and some unintentional foreground light painting. I must have been looking at my other camera with my headlamp on, and lit some of the area of this image by mistake. I fixed the problem by removing the offending capture and restacking the images.

But there were a few areas of the capture that I’d removed that enhanced the image. So I laid it on top of the stacked version, and used a layer mask and paintbrush to paint in these areas.

I also needed to lighten up the foreground. So I reprocessed the eight minute exposure with this in mind, and layered it on top of the other layers, using a gradient to bring out foreground detail.

After this, it was my normal workflow.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

San Francisco from the Sea

San Francisco from the Sea

San Francisco from the Sea, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a night view across the outer opening of the Golden Gate towards the lights of the Pacific face of San Francisco: the Outer Sunset District and maybe a bit of Daly City and Pacifica. The photo was taken in the Marin Headlands on the heights above Tennessee Beach.

Looking at the bright flare of light from the city on the left versus the dark night filled with stars on the right I’m struck by how much light pollution we create, even in fairly remote places (to see what I mean, check out this image of Yosemite at night from Half Dome). In this connection, I’m encouraged by a recent movement intended to help the stars take back the night.

[Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, 321 seconds (about six minutes) at f/4 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Photography, San Francisco Area

Tennessee Beach at Night

Tennessee Beach at Night

Tennessee Beach at Night, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: this is a “conventional” twelve minute night exposure from the top of the cliffs to the south of Tennessee Beach. As opposed to the stacked image composite I posted previously, this is a single, fairly long capture.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm Zoom lens at 12mm (18mm in 35mm terms), 722 seconds (about 12 minutes) at f/5.6 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Photography

Hospital Corners

Hospital Corners

Hospital Corners, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Phyllis and I were on our way back from a lunch break while visiting Katie Rose in the NICU. I noticed this security mirror in the corner of the hospital corridor, and couldn’t resist a grab shot.

Of course, we’re grateful for the progress Katie has made, and the good care being taken of her, but the hospital experience is always wearing on loved ones. Sometimes it feels like walking through endless, badly lit shabby halls with turn after turn. The experience is what this photo is about for me.

Related image: Crossing the Richmond Bridge.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 65mm (97.5mm in 35mm terms) with image stabilization engaged, 1/125 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 2,500, hand held.]

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Katie Does Brunch

Katie Does Brunch

Katie Does Brunch, photo by Harold Davis. View this photo larger.

This photo shows Katie Rose being fed by her nurse. Katie gets all her food from milk that Phyllis pumps.

Katie’s brunch milk is shown in the little beaker in the nurse’s hand in this photo. You can see the tube, sometimes called a gavage tube, that feeds the milk directly into her stomach.

Katie is now getting 13 ML (milliliters) every two hours. This is a couple of teaspoons.

When we visited Katie in the NICU today, we were pleased to see the first hint of a future fleshing out. You can see within her the pudgy baby that if things continue to go well she will one day become.

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids, Photography

Improv on Mission Peak

Jack invited me on a hike up Mission Peak, along with his friend Eric. The plan was to meet in the late afternoon for an early supper, then get to the top of Mission Peak in plenty of time for sunset, staying until it was dark so I could photograph the landscape at night.

Mission Peak was a new destination for me. It rises from the East Bay hills, more-or-less to the east of Fremont. The trailhead has an amazing feel to it. There are quandrangle after quandrangle of gated McMansions, and you park right near some of these structures with their faux porticos and feel of conspicuous tastelessness. But right away when you start up the trail there is nothing around you but the empty spaces of the California hills, at this time of year golden brown and ascetic. In the distance the world bustles: if you know where to look you can pick out the Google campus, Palo Alto, and much more. It’s hard to miss the acres of shining new cars for sale in the Automall far below.

It’s roughly a three mile climb up to Mission Peak at about 2500 feet, starting from near sea level. So this is a bit of a trek, and it is possible to imagine unprepared hikers on a hot summer day having a pretty tough time. There’s an actual summit approach up a ridge line, and in a kind of minature way more like a “real” mountain summit than anything else I’ve experienced in the Bay area. (Diablo and Tamalpais are mountain-like, but you can drive up them, and they don’t have Mission’s pronounced summit.)

I imagine I have a good twenty years on Jack, who in any case seems to do triathalons before breakfast. So I tried not to feel patronized when he expressed concern about whether I was in shape for the hike, and later at the summit when he gave me a “Good job” like I do with Julian, my nine-year-old, when he finishes a hike that is tough for him.

Actually, it was totally sweet of Jack to be concerned about me, and I enjoyed getting to know Jack and Eric, and really appreciated their company as sunset turned towards night, and on our descent in the night. So a special vote of thanks to Jack and Eric for introducing me to a wonderful new hike, and for being such great company. (You can read Jack’s blog here, and his Friday Mission Peak Hike story here.)

But going back to the starting moments of this adventure, when I opened the trunk of my car to put on my hiking boots and grab my camera pack, I found I had left my tripod at home. I’d been rushing to get alot of things done before the hike, and then wanted to beat the Friday rush hour down I580 to south bay. As I’d backed out the garage, I’d had this nagging feeling that I’d forgotten something, but, alas, I had dismissed the feeling.

So I wasn’t going to bag the hike, and home was too long a drive to go and get my tripod. You need a way to keep a camera steady to take long exposures at night. What was I going to do?

Part of being a good photographer is being willing to improvise, to look for creative solutions, even when the materials at hand aren’t perfect.

On top of Mission Peak there’s an old, hollow pipe that sticks about a foot out of the ground. I was able to plant my camera in the top of this pipe. Using a bunch of small rocks, I could pretty much get stable time exposures in all directions. Admittedly without the flexibility and precision of my tripod, but still, it worked.

The photo above is a thirty second exposure showing Mount Diablo, Pleasanton, I680, and a fog bank sweeping across the hills. The photo below is a cropped detail showing the upper San Francisco Bay beneath a cloud bank, with “the peninsula” behind.

The summit of Mission Peak is truly a grand view in all directions, and I’ll be posting more photos as I post-process them. I’m sure I’ll also be going back. Up there, you get this weird feeling of aloneness. You are witnessing suburban sprawl and the intense hum of human activity in Silicon Valley. But you are witnessing it as an eagle might, high above it all.

Coming down at about 11PM, the trail seemed endless. We passed a California King Snake on the trail, who seemed more awake and alert than we were.

Then it was back among the McMansions in the cubicle world, and drive drive drive up the endless freeway until I reached home with my family fast asleep.


View this image larger.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Imperfect Rose

This is an imperfect rose. Like all living things, it comes with imperfections as part of the package. Still, when I saw this imperfect rose glowing in the sunshine in my garden, with the single small water drop in its center, I felt the rose was perfect. And I had to photograph it.

Posted in Flowers, Photography


I got an email from Eduardo Agilera, the creator of the labyrinth on Lands End, telling me that he was going to use candles to light the paths of his labyrinth just after sunset on the spring equinox.

So on March 20 I dutifully toddled over to Lands End. Actually, I drove over the Richmond Bridge, south on 101, and then over the Golden Gate Bridge, leaving Phyllis to pick up the kids.

Parking below the Palace of the Legion of Honor, it was clear but very windy and bitter cold. I bundled into my cold weather gear: wool undies top and bottom, down coat, pink balaclava, gloves, and hiking boots. I fancy I look a little like an Easter Egg, but the outfit does keep me warm.

As I neared the top of the steps down to Lands End, I could hear the roar of the surf in the wind.

Eduardo was waiting at the top of the stairs with a bag full of candles. “It’s too windy to even try to light them,” he said.

I wondered what to do next. My theory of life is that if you are given lemons, you make lemonade. For me, photography is a quest, in the knight errant sense. If you take on a photographic quest, you are going on an adventure. By definition, you never know what an adventure will bring. Quite likely it is not the photographic goal you started out with. The best photographs happen along the way, and are the product of prepared serendipity. In other words, it is the journey and not the destination that counts.

It was a little hard to figure out how to make lemonade in the cold wind and with the noise of the breakers crashing against Lands End.

I asked Eduardo if he would come back down to the Lands End platform and his labyrinth, so I could take a picture of him with his creation. I think he was a little reluctant, which I could understand as the full force of the gale struck me out on the point. Even in my rather portly person, with massive hiking boots, I felt in danger of being swept over the cliff to the churning waters of the Golden Gate at any moment. Eduardo squinted into the wind, his photo done, and returned up to the top of the stairs to warn off any others come to celebrate the equinox with his maze and candles.

What now?

I looked down at the little rocky beach to the north and west of Lands End. It seemed like it might be a little sheltered, and the action of the waves might be of interest.

As I explored the beach, I kept my camera gear and tripod on my back (for a quick getaway), and a careful eye towards the ocean. The sheer force behind these wind-driven breakers was enough to make anyone nervous.

From one angle, looking around the corner of the rocks below Lands End, I was surprised to see part of the Golden Gate Bridge. As a big wave crashed on the shore, I snapped this photo of the wave crashing around, under, and apparently above the bridge, with Lands End on the right of the image. I used a long lens to isolate the waves and bridge (at 200mm, which given Nikon’s 1.5 factor is 300mm in 35mm terms).

Since I am working on a publication project involving 100 Views of the Golden Gate, after the Japanese artist Hokusai, I am pleased to have captured an image that echoes Mt Fuji seen through a giant wave:

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, San Francisco Area