Search Results for: Hellebore

Floral Medley

Floral Medley

Floral Medley, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This floral medley contains roses, a camellia, and three varieties of hellebore. The hellebores and camellia are from my garden, but the roses come from Trader Joe’s.

I photographed these flowers floating in a black tray of water this morning using my 85mm macro stopped down to f/64 for maximum depth-of-field—and hang the diffraction.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

White Camellia

White Camellia

White Camellia, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

When I saw this white camellia blossom with its complex and transparent shapes, I knew that I needed to photograph it.

But an image that is mostly black and white but is rendered in color needs to be lit carefully. I used several small LED lights to backlight the flower, along with some more subdued general lighting from either side.

Even so, the center of the flower was too dark (because it was not as transparent as the petals), and I had to build up the luminous feeling in Photoshop.

Related image: White Hellebore.

[Nikon D300, Zeiss 100mm f/2.5 Macro lens, ISO 100 and f/22, tripod mounted: two exposures, one at 1.3 seconds, the other at 0.5 seconds.]

Posted in Photography

Tone Poem

Late in the afternoon of a bright autumn day I arrived in Yosemite Valley. The valley was already in shadow, with only the tops of the surrounding cliffs lit by the sun. I stopped along the banks of the Merced River. With my camera on my tripod, I snapped five exposures of the scene, all at the same aperture (f/7.1). My exposure time varied from 1/15 of a second to 1/125 of a second.

The longer exposures captured the details in the shadows, but blew out the highlights on the cliff tops and the sky, while the shorter exposures rendered the sky acceptably, but lost all nuances in the reflections in the river to darkness. My plan was to combine the exposures to create one image with the best characteristics of each individual exposure.

Yosemite Afternoon

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


Combining multiple captures to create an image with an exposure range beyond that possible in a single capture is known as High Dynamic Range imaging, or HDR for short. The trick is to compress the extended range into a single image that is pleasing, will display on a monitor, and is reproducible. Note that the exposure latitude within a single RAW capture also gives rise to the possibility of using HDR techniques using different versions of the one RAW file as the input, a technique that I’ve dubbed multi-RAW processing.

Hand HDR

Whether combining different exposures, or different versions processed from a single exposure—or even both these techniques at once—my approach has been to work in Photoshop to use layers, masking, the Gradient tool, and the Paintbrush tool to combine the variants. You can see an example of the results of this hand-crafted approach to HDR in the six-exposure blend that I used to create Yosemite Morning, taken the day after I shot the series used to create the Yosemite image that accompanies this story.

I’ll be writing more about the details of my hand HDR process in an upcoming book—I also teach the technique in workshops—but for now let me mention some downsides: it is labor intensive, time consuming, can look funny if the layers aren’t masked very carefully, and can be close to impossible to achieve in areas that involve complex interconnected details in mixed light.


Since we live in an age that tends to want instant results, most people try experimenting with software the does the HDR for them. I’m no exception, but I’ve been unimpressed with Photoshop’s HDR automation.

So I was excited recently to get to play with Photomatix, which is probably the leading HDR software. The Yosemite image above, and the floral close-up below were both created in part with Photomatix. As you’ll see, the words *in part* are crucial to understanding Photomatix’s place in my scheme of things.

Hellebore Trap

View this image larger.

With Photomatix, HDR generation is a two-step process. You open the images in Photomatix, and the software generates an HDR composite. Then, in a process called “tone mapping”, you tweak the settings used in the mathematical algorithms that reduce the tonal range in the combined image in order to generate a single attractive and reproducible version.


As a practical matter, I found Photomatix’s rendering of my RAW files unacceptable. So my workflow went like this: I opened the set of images in the Adobe Camera RAW plugin, applying the same settings to each (experimenting with different RAW conversion settings on each file included is also possible, of course, although it adds more variables and complexity). I opened the files that resulted from these conversions in Photoshop, and saved them in the TIFF format (because Photomatix doesn’t read native Photoshop PSD files).

Next, I opened the TIFF files in Photomatix and generated the HDR composite. As the documentation warns, the HDR image doesn’t start out looking too good, so I worked to tone map it for more attractive characteristics. When I was satisified that the image was the best it could be, I saved it as another TIFF file.

Combined Approach

Some parts of the resulting HDR image were pretty wonderful (for example, the trees on the right). Others, not so good (the sky had a burnt, burnished quality, and the water was murky). I ended up layering-in versions in Photoshop to fix portions of the Photomatix generated image (the same general remarks are true of the floral image that also accompanies this story).

If my workflow with Photomatix sounds like a lot of work, you are right, it was. Then again, I’m happy to work if it helps my work (if you catch my drift).

Life is simpler but less rich

Also, my life would have been simpler in Photomatx if I’d shot in-camera JPEGs. The truth is that the markets for my work often require extremely high resolution, and JPEGs just won’t do. I’m almost never happy with JPEGs compared to my results when I do the RAW conversion.


Paradoxically, I’m left with an appreciation both for what Photomatix can do with HDR, and for the limitations of the software. I’m sure I’ll be using this software to process some portions of my imagery, just as I’m sure that my final versions will require hand work and layer masking with other versions of the files.

If you are an image creator who cares about your craft, the limitations in HDR software amounts to a good reason to learn hand HDR—combining many different versions shot at different exposure times, and processed individually from hand-tweaked RAW conversions, using layer masking—even if you expect to primarily be using automated HDR programs like Photomatix.

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Photoshop Techniques, Software Reviews, Yosemite


Since the world is always changing, photography is largely about capturing states of things—scenes, objects, or people—in the process of change. A single image can intimate the before, and the after, and resonate with events to come. This sense of time is what gives many photographic images their power.

My process of working on photos after they’ve been taken is an intentional effort to up the ante on this kind of visual metamorphosis. One sequence started with this White Hellebore:

Starting with this straight photo, I began the process of transformation:

Green Variation

Green Variation, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

After taking the first photo, I let the hellebore flower soak for a couple of days in a sushi dish. The petals became extremely transparent, and I photographed the wet ensemble on a light box.

The green variation (above) and the blue variation (below) are further changes of state using Photoshop. These are LAB color space inversions with channels applied to the inversions in a variety of blending modes.

The blue version strikes me as very psychedelic, almost an emphatic presence in the flower, while the green variation is more concerned with textures. In the green transmogrification, the flower has become a textile.

Blue Variation

Blue Variation, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Check out the recent Hannah Thiem interview with me on and related discussion.

Some other post-hoc metamorphoses: Alstromedia Medley; From Architecture to Fantasy; Leaf Civilization; Oakland of My Mind.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, Photoshop Techniques


Transmogrification is the process or result of changing from one appearance, state, or phase to another.

This transmogrification starts with a relatively straight photo of a white hellebore, taken a few days ago. The original photo was straight down on a black velvet background. As you can see, the process of transformation has taken this flower a long way:

Green Variation

Green Variation, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

After taking the first photo, I let the hellebore flower soak for a couple of days in a sushi dish. The petals became extremely transparent, and I photographed the wet ensemble on a light box.

The green variation (above) and the blue variation (below) are further changes of state using Photoshop. These are LAB color space inversions with channels applied to the inversions in a variety of blending modes.

The blue version strikes me as very psychedelic, almost an emphatic presence in the flower, while the green variation is more concerned with textures. In the green transmogrification, the flower has become a textile.

Blue Variation

Blue Variation, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Related transmogrification: Pink Hellebore to Hidden Seeds.

Further note: in the interview that Hannah Thiem conducted with me on, we proposed a self-assignment: “Photograph a flower in a unique way—in a way that nobody’s seen before.” I think this series of photos shows that I may be working through my own assignment.

Posted in Flowers, Photograms, Photography

Hidden Seeds

Hidden Seeds

Hidden Seeds, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

After photographing the pink Hellebore, I let it soak for several days. When the petals were transparent to the point of translucency, I photographed it straight down on a light box. I converted the background to black in Photoshop working on the image in LAB color by inverting the L (luminance) channel.

Posted in Flowers, Photograms, Photography

Leaf Civilization

Leaf Civilization

Leaf Civilization, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Do you know the way to San Jose? Probably not when the scene at night integrates with this hellebore leaf, along with South San Francisco.

To see the detail, this one really should be viewed larger.

Posted in Photography

Helleborus on Black

Here’s an interpretive version of the Helleborus on White. I think the effect is like a glowing, stained glass flower: exciting, even if realistic rendering has gone by the boards.

Related story: Trio of Hellebores.
Related link: my Flowers on Black set on Flickr.

Posted in Flowers, Photograms, Photography

Helleborus on White

This is another photo of one of my unusual double hellebore blossoms, photographed on white and processed for a semi-translucent effect while keeping fidelity to the actual colors.

I continue to enjoy working with the perspective correcting macro lens I used to take this photo. It’s even kind of amusing (in a creative anachronism fashion) to have to manually stop the diaphragm down when I’m ready to take the photo.

Related links: Iris ensata ‘Azuma-kagami’; my Flowers on White set on Flickr.

[85mm perspective correcting (PC) macro lens (127.5mm in 35mm terms), 13 seconds at f/54 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Rose Studies

As everyone knows, roses are associated with seduction and obsession. As Diana Wells puts it, “the rose represents love, magic, hope, and the mystery of life itself.”

My obsession with roses as a gardener was swift and overwhelming, until my small garden was overwhelmed with more roses than could possibly fit. Today, I find myself as a gardener more excited by flowers such as hellebores, echinacea, and protea from South Africa such as my leucospermum.

Obviously, I am still obsessed with photographing roses. Few flowers can equal the rose for beauty of line and shape, not to mention sumptuous coloration.

These two images are two of the studies from my rose photography marathon this week.

The photo above was stopped down to f/40 for maximum depth of field and then underexposed to bring out the tonal richness in the dark red rose.

On the other hand, I overexposed the rose below to emphasize the transparency of the variegated petals.

Now for something different, as I’m off to Yosemite with Julian and Nicky!

Rose Study 10

View this image larger.

Related link: my Rose set on Flickr.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

How big is my garden?

I get asked often, “How big is your garden?” With all my photos of flowers, some people assume I have a large garden, and this is not in fact the case. Although even maintaining the smallish, rather urban garden we have is a stretch—a joyful stretch—along with taking care of the three boys, photography, and the rest of life.

Actually, I am tempted to answer the question about the size of my garden in biblical terms: to mutilate John 14:2, around my Father’s house there are many gardens. My garden is dense, with enough to keep me excited about macro flower photography. A kind of large container garden on about 1/3 of an acre.

The fruits and vegetables are in raised beds along the narrow, protected southwestern exposure. The northeastern passage is a path between the house and street, too narrow really to be called a garden, but beautiful in in a secret garden kind of way. The backyard is more-or-less consigned to the kids, their play structures, and vehicles.

I garden to photograph. Only the front garden behind its curved fence is truly mine: I plant poppies, dahlias, roses, echinacea, leucospermum, hellebores—whatever I want to photograph.

My garden has the virtue that it is mine: if I want to put a tripod leg somewhere, clamp a plant, or even cut a flower for studio photography, there is no one to stop me.

“Are all your flower photographs of your own garden?” No, there are many gardens surrounding my Father’s house. Some days, when I have the time, I like to mount my equipment in my pack, tripod on the outside, and head for a good flower photography destination. Very locally, and not in preferential order, Annie’s, Berkeley Hort, Blake Garden, and the UC Berkeley Botannical Garden. I took the photograph of the Escapade Rose (with a little spider) the other day at the municipal Berkeley Rose Garden.

Here’s a photo of a balloon flower from my very own garden:

Within the Balloon Flower

View this photograph larger.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

The Snail and the Lenten Rose

The hellebore, or Lenten Rose as it sometimes called, turns out to have a pretty weird life cycle. This photo shows the seed pod in the same hellebore flower that I photographed in its prime early in the year:



Strange that so beautiful and lush a flower should go to seed and end looking like an alien artifact. A stranger tail still: the seeds of the helleborus flower are spread in my garden as part of the trail of snail slime.

As a gardener, snails are my nemesis. This is the first thing I’ve learned about snails that makes me sympathetic to these slimy creatures, and to believe in them as part of Disney’s “great circle of life”!

Snail Love

Posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Photography