Photographer Harold Davis on HDR Photography

In my last post I promised my readers that my next post would be a review of asn outstanding new photography book. Here it is: Creating HDR Photos: The Complete Guide to High Dynamic Range Photography by Harold Davis.

Whether he is writing a book, giving a webinar, or (presumably, though I have no direct experience of this) teaching a workshop, certain things are consistently true about Harold Davis:

  1. He is a skilled, enthusiastic, even passionate teacher.
  2. He communicates very clearly.

In Harold Davis you have a mentor, a friend who loves what he does and is eager to share it with you so that you can enjoy doing it as well. And he does this in a clear, informal writing style that never degenerates into condescension or into annoying humor. Quite simply, he wants you to learn. He demystifies what it’s all about, assuring you that it’s quite easy. Most importantly, in opening up the world of HDR he points out, more than once, that HDR is not an end in itself but a technique to be used in service of your artistic expression. If your first reaction on seeing a photo is awareness of technique, then something is wrong. I find this encouraging, because there are photo websites that pointedly highlight soulless photos that do nothing but show off the photographer’s technical prowess. Davis is one prominent photographer who reacts against this (Rob Sheppard is another who comes to mind), and I’m glad to see this happening. If you’ve dismissed HDR as nothing more than a process of creating unnatural-looking eye-candy images, Davis shows convincingly that this is not true at all—and he has historical evidence to support him as he relates HDR to processing methods used by the great photographers before digital was ever thought of.

As an author, Davis is a publisher’s dream. In his Intro he tells you what he will be teaching (to novices as well as to those with some experience of HDR), dispels myths about HDR, explains how his book differs from others on the subject (and, by implication, why it’s better), and describes what HDR is—and then throughout the book he fulfills what he has promised. Creating HDR Photos is well organized and designed to encourage the reader to press on. The opening chapters offer a survey of the different methods for creating HDR photos—from capture through to postprocessing—along with summaries of how it’s done. The author’s own photos on these pages are accompanied by a description of the process he used, and they act as “teasers” to make you want to go further, to read, in later chapters, the details of how to use these techniques. And if one technique strikes you as so interesting that you want to skip and learn more about that one immediately, those intro chapters helpfully provide the page numbers on which to find that detailed guidance. The book finishes with a list of resources, a very helpful glossary of terms, and a well-organized index.

Davis claims that reading this book is the next best thing to attending one of his workshops. I can well believe that. If you want to learn about HDR from a knowledgeable, nonintimidating teacher, then buy Creating HDR Photos.

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Shameless Self-Promotion

Hi my friends,

You know this isn’t something I normally would do or even advocate, but I just want to devote this one brief blog to letting you know about some special items I have for sale–a limited number of matted prints (and two framed prints) left over from a recent show. Here is a sample, and before I add them, let me tell you that the link to view and purchase them is exclusively at my Etsy shop. You can also click on the photos themselves to go directly to some of these items.

Thanks for looking! — Next posting I’ll make it up to you by reviewing a phenomenal new book by one of my favorite photographers.

Sunflower Photographs: 2 + 2 = 2

Sunflower season is upon us, that time when fields are filled with endless rows of these dear, stately flowers. After trees, I think that sunflowers are the most anthropomorphic member of the plant kingdom: their bright yellow smiles and their spread-out leaves seem to offer a hearty “Welcome! Look at me!” to all who pass by.

Thanks to a tip-off from fellow photographer G. Steve Jordan of New Paltz (more about Steve in a future blog), I found a huge field of sunflowers on Route 299 leading out of town; they were flanking a big tree that belongs in a painting by 19th-century landscape painter Asher B. Durand. Nice! An “anchor” for my photos. And the eight-feet-tall sunflowers’ welcoming qualities came into play when I hid under them during a sudden rain shower and they protected me from getting soaked!

The sunflowers in the photo I’m going to show you here aren’t from the Hudson Valley, however, but from Connecticut: Buttonwood Farm in Griswold. I’ve been there several times during their annual “Sunflowers for Wishes” week in July, and I believe this photo was from my second visit. The barn wall is from a recent trip to the Delaware Water Gap with fellow members of the Ridgewood Camera Club, and so you’re looking at some artwork combining photos from Connecticut and Pennsylvania and made by a photographer in New York. Who belongs to a New Jersey camera club.

Starting by ensuring that the two photos were the same size and then cloning out the rusty nails in the barn wall photo, I combined the two photos in Photoshop. For the first one I dragged the sunflower photo over the barn wall photo. I wanted that wall to provide texture for the photo. I used the “Darken” blend mode with 100% opacity, then selected the flowers and increased the brightness. There are many different blend modes available, of course, but I preferred “Darken” because it made the end result look as if someone had long ago painted sunflowers on the wall and it was all now peeling. Finally, I applied the Color Contrast preset from Nik Color Efex Pro to make the entire picture a lot brighter.

The second version gives an entirely different result. This time I began by changing the blue sky in the sunflower photo to the rich brown you see here, then I pulled the barn on top of the sunflowers. Here the blending mode was “Color burn” at 56% opacity. It gives a rather dramatic result, I think; at least two friends have commented on the “3D” effect. Regular readers of this blog will know that I love to photograph old buildings, especially old buildings that are sort of hurtling toward a state of ruin. I keep fantasizing that maybe someone will come along and liven up one of those old buildings in Spruceton Valley in the Catsksills by painting sunflowers like this on it. Anyhow, please tell me: Which of these two versions do you prefer, and why? I’d love to hear from you.