Revealing the Unseen with X-Ray Photography of Flowers

I had to quickly change my plans due to a family emergency and fly home from Berlin. Now that I’m at home, it’s good that things have settled down again, and that I have a chance to review some of the x-ray work I did in Heidelberg in collaboration with Dr. Julian Köpke (you can see some of his x-ray images here). 

The examples so far on my blog are Campanulas X-Rays, Dahlia Fusion X-Rays and Light Box Photos, More Fusion X-Rays, and Sunflower X-Ray Fusion. Some comments on the process of making these images, what is involved technically, and where we go from here follow the image below (the on-black version of the Campanulas shown here is a good example of a fairly straight x-ray file without additional coloration or fusion with a light box image).

Campanulas X-Rays on Black © Harold Davis

As you likely know, what we see are wavelengths emitted or reflected along the electromagnetic spectrum. Visible light ranges from 400nm to 750nm in terms of wavelength. In comparison, Julian tells me that the x-rays we used had a wave length of roughly 0.04nm (or shorter in wavelength by a factor of about 10,000 than visible light).

Off-the-shelf digital cameras capture roughly the same electromagnetic spectrum as what we see, although it is possible to modify the spectrum that a camera can capture; for example, for Infrared (IR) photography. In addition, even unmodified digital cameras do “see” more of certain frequencies than the human eye, for example, in night photography.
 
X-rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation not visible to our eyes with a shorter wave length than the visible spectrum. First named and discovered by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen in 1895 (for which Röntgen won the Nobel prize), X-radiation is primarily used today for medical imaging (also for research and industrial purposes).

Campanulas X-Ray on White © Harold Davis

Looked at from one viewpoint, X-radiation is just another form of photography using a digital sensor to capture the data generated by exposure to the radiation from an electromagnetic wave. As with any kind of photography (or, indeed, any human endeavor), one of the key ways to get better is to practice a great deal (after all, practicing is how musicians get to Carnegie Hall).

Julian and I had three sessions of x-ray photography of flowers, and by the third session we were beginning to get the hang of the thing.

Our initial idea was to blend x-ray captures of flowers with light box flowers for transparency images. This “fusion” would allow us to show the inside and the outside of the flower composition. We used a clear and rigid plexiglass sheet to align the flowers for both processes.

Two Roses (side view) © Harold Davis

The medical x-ray process involves both generating the x-radiation, and capturing it on a digital sensor. In this sense, it is analogous to firing a studio strobe and capturing the light waves emitted on a standard camera sensor. With the stationary medical x-ray device, I was reminded most of an old-fashioned analog darkroom enlarger, where the light beam from the enlarger is captured on media directly below it (photographic paper that is sensitive to light in the analog darkroom process).

We used an x-ray machine designed for mammography for these images.

What turns out is that x-radiation has very different properties as the electromagnetic source than the visible spectrum. X-rays both scatter and decay, in a way that the visible light we are used to does not. So to get good x-ray compositions, it was necessary to work with the characteristics of how the x-radiation emitted from the mammogram system would be captured by the digital sensor, and to arrange the flower compositions accordingly.

To put this comprehensibly, the mammogram system was designed to best capture the shape of the human female breast. We got better results to the extent that our composition could mimic this three-dimensional shape and positioning.

After arranging the flowers on the plexiglass, and aligning the plexiglass with marks we had set up on the machine, Julian and I would huddle behind the operator’s leaded glass shield as Julian operated the machine.

The straight x-ray photos of flowers are really beautiful, and I am grateful to have had the chance to experiment with this. I am also very excited about the fusion imagery, which I have never seen before. I look forward to exploring this area further, and to more collaboration with Julian.

Two Roses (fusion image) © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography, X-Ray

Campanulas X-Rays

I write this from the train from Frankfurt to Berlin, where Julian K. and I are sitting in a first class car at the all-important table, with the all-important wi-fi connectivity. Since I am connected to the world of the Internet, I can post this!

Campanulas X-Ray © Harold Davis

We are working on processing images from yesterday’s fusion light box and x-ray photography of flowers. These campanulas as arranged took up almost all the space yielded by the size of the sensor of the x-ray machine. I’ve begun to get a bit of a feeling for how the x-ray sensor processes the electromagnetic waves it receives from the emitter, and how to best arrange the subject in the cone shape that is best for this kind of capture. 

Query: Is capture via x-ray photography, or should another term be used? I think “photography” does fit the bill (there is another, more technical vocabulary related to radiology as well). What do you think?

Posted in Photography, X-Ray

Dahlia Fusion X-Rays and Light Box Photos

Dahlia Fusion X-Ray Inversion © Harold Davis

Dahlia Fusion X-Ray © Harold Davis

This Dahlia was photographed on a light box for transparency, then captured via x-ray photography. The two capture techniques were combined in Photoshop. In the upper version, there is also an L-channel inversion in LAB color.

I worked with my friend Julian Kopke, who is a medical doctor, radiologist, and a physicist to create these images.

This technique is also shown here, and with a Sunflower.

Posted in Flowers, X-Ray

Top Photography Blog Honor; More Fusion X-Rays

I am honored to be included as one of the top fifteen photography blogs in the English language worldwide. This is good company to be in. Thanks for the award!

Moving on, here are two more fusion light box (Flowers for Transparency) and x-ray images, one of Cala Lilies and the other of Alstroemerias. It has been really fun working with Julian to create these images, and I look forward to using conventional cameras and medical x-ray imaging gear to make and process more imagery.

Cala Lilies Fusion X-Ray © Harold Davis

Alstroemerias X-Ray Fusion © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography, X-Ray

Sunflower X-Ray Fusion

This is a fusion of an x-ray and a light box high-key HDR sequence, using a medical x-ray machine and photographed on a light box. My friend Dr Julian Koepke and I collaborated on making some of these images, and we will get to play with flowers, X-rays, and light boxes again tomorrow! 

Sunflower X-Ray Fusion © Harold Davis

Posted in Flowers, X-Ray

Rockport Maine to New York City

Not so much in common. Maybe photography? Now onward, and across “The Pond.”

Rockport Harbor © Harold Davis

Empire State © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography

Times Square

From high above Times Square, New York does indeed seem to be the “city that never sleeps.” A pulsing light show of humanity whatever hour of the day or night, reflected in the world of glass and girders. 

Times Square, New York © Harold Davis

Posted in Digital Night, New York

Buddha

My class and I found this wonderful Buddha in the extraordinary Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden in Seal Harbor, Maine.

Buddha © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography

Maine Flowers

This was an in-class light box demo, using flowers that my wonderful workshop participants scavenged from the grounds of Maine Media Workshops.

Maine Flowers © Harold Davis

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Gardens of Maine

So far, this is a wonderful Garden Photography workshop despite the rather overpowering heat and humidity (a bit unexpected on the coast of Maine, even in August). There are fourteen participants, a very full house for this kind of workshop, but everyone is quite nice, and we don’t get in each other’s way. 

I have been doing classroom sessions, and we also have a full slate of field locations. These three are from the rather-wonderful-for-a-public-botanical-garden Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens.

Garden Fence © Harold Davis

Unknown Flower © Harold Davis

Sunflower © Harold Davis

Posted in Flowers, Photography

The Maine Thing

My main thing in Maine is to photograph flowers and gardens—after all, that is the course I am teaching.

But while here, certainly I am having some lobster. While I am using the present progressive, this is surely a case where it is better to have than to be had!

Lobstrosity © Harold Davis

Posted in Photography

Once upon a Tintype

Once upon a Tintype © Harold Davis

My uncle, at least I think he was my uncle, came back from far away places, India and beyond. He was footsore, and he wanted to rest for days, indeed weeks and months to recuperate. He brought with him iron-bound chests of rough-hewn wood. His caution to me not to open his luggage of course ignited my curiosity. One day when he went out on an errand to his man of business I rummaged through my uncle’s things. Amid old clothes and toiletries of the male persuasion, and statuary of unknown ancient deities, I found this hand-colored tintype, apparently ancient, but maybe more modern than I knew, wrapped in a tattered maroon cloth.

The model is A Nude Muse. She is also seen in the White Daemon Series.The technique is a single in-camera multiple exposure, overlaid in post-production with Daguerreotype and Tintype textures from Flypaper. For related images, see my Multiple Exposures series.

Posted in Multiple Exposures, Photography

Mountains of the Mind

Distant Mountains © Harold Davis

Distant Mountains © Harold Davis

Mist in the distant mountains is nature’s way of replacing clarity of sight with unspoken nuance. We do not know what lies beneath the layers of mist, but there is always the possibility that it is what we seek. Therefore, we peer and trudge onward through the mountains of the mind, always looking for that which transcends the literal that is before us.

Like Poem of the Road, this is another texture demonstration image from my course on Photoshop Backgrounds and Textures for LinkedIn Learning slash Lynda.com.

Posted in Landscape

Poem of the Road

Poem of the Road © Harold Davis

Poem of the Road © Harold Davis

The poem of the road is as old as the ages. The road beckons, tantalizes, leads us on. There are new vistas, new opportunities.

We flee from danger down the same road. Who know what lies beyond where the horizon meets the leading lines and curve of the road?

For good or for evil, the poem of the road is a siren nudging us ever onward, worrying us whether we are really satisfied, or whether there is more, better—or, here’s the real point, different—around the next bend in the road.

Yes, the poem of the road is seductive, dangerous, and powerful. Leaving the life you know for the unkowns of the road is always frightening. But ignore the pulsing of the possibility of adventure at your peril, for without time on the road, is it really life at all?

I have been in the Santa Barbara area making an online course about Photoshop Backgrounds and Textures for Linked In Learning a/k/a Lynda.com. A demonstration for my course called for the use of texture overlays in Photoshop.

Looking through the images I brought with me, I came across an image from the basins and ranges of Nevada in the haze of oncoming twilight. To take the photo, I had stepped in the middle of the road, not much of a risk as traffic is light in that part of the world. I liked the receding car, and snapped the photo.

The results pleased me as far as the road and telephone poles go, but not so much the sky, which was basically a light gray. I added a couple of textures, and in a few seconds in post-production made the image you see. This is part of my course since I was creating the image in real time, and it was being recording. So if you want to see exactly how I made this, it will be in my course!

Posted in Photography

The Art of Photographing Flowers for Transparency: Harold Davis at B&H in New York (Aug 13, 2018)

I’ll be presenting The Art of Photographing Flowers for Transparency on Monday August 13, 2018 at the B&H Photo Event Space, 420 Ninth Avenue, in New York City from 1-3 PM. The event is free, but space is limited, so pre-registration is strongly suggested. Click here for information and registration for the live event, or to view it live-streamed.

Poppies and Mallows on White © Harold Davis

Event Description: According to Popular Photography, Harold Davis’s botanical images “have a purity and translucence that borders on spiritual.” Harold Davis is a renowned photographer, an internationally-known digital artist, a workshop leader, and a bestselling author of numerous books about photography. His upcoming title is The Art of Photographing Flowers for Transparency. He has been honored as a Zeiss Lens Ambassador and a Moab Master. His high-key photographs of flowers on a light box are widely imitated, but seldom equaled.

Poppies Dancing Inversion © Harold Davis

In this presentation, Harold will show examples of how he arranges and lights his flowers for photography. He’ll explain the secrets of high-key HDR photography, and show how his images are combined using post-production techniques. Tools, techniques, and the craft of light box photography will be demystified. Harold will explain inverting his light box images using LAB color, so they can be easily presented on a black background, and will discuss botanical printmaking, including how he makes his sought-after washi prints.

There will be a Q&A session following the talk. Click here for information and registration for the live event, or to register to view it live-streamed.

Bouquet of Neighborhood Flowers © Harold Davis

Click here for information and registration for the live event, or to register to view it live-streamed.

Posted in Flowers, Workshops