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Ask Me Anything: Harold Davis, Internationally-Recognized Photographer, Workshop Leader, and Best-Selling Author

Harold Davis
Mar 4, 2018

I am fortunate today to make my living licensing photos, making and exhibiting prints, leading workshops, and writing books. My work takes me all over the world and leads me into many adventures. I am a "photographer as poet," meaning that my photographs have a poetic narrative. I make the images I want, and make a living from them.

You can learn more about my work on my website digitalfieldguide.com, also read my blog, and note my upcoming workshops and events, and browse my published book titles on Amazon.

Besides photography and writing, I have been a fine art painter, have a law degree, and have worked as a computer programmer and software developer. I have crossed the Brooks Range---the northern most mountains in Alaska---as a solo hiker. In the early days, I had a studio in New York, and hung from helicopters photographing the World Trade Towers. 

In my life and work, the most important aspect of my talent is inspiration and creativity. So inspiration and creativity always interest me, no matter what the field, whether it involves technology, writing, photography, or art. How do we find inspiration, and how do we stay passionate and creative?

Ask me anything about passion, inspiration, and creativity!

harold AMA.jpg

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Conversation (109)

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What kind of DSLR do you shoot with?
Mar 10, 12:03PM EST0

My current camera of choice is a Nikon D850.

Mar 10, 1:33PM EST0
When you’re working with a model, how important is communication during a shoot?
Mar 10, 9:02AM EST0

Very, Very, Very important......She has to feel comfortable with you, feel she can trust and engage. If communication is limited there is always a tension and this tension will show in your images. It is probably why shots of girlfreinds or family are always very relaxed. But, for me, i always meett them first and talk about them. Let them communicate and begin to relax. The more you know about them, their day, their work etc the more they will connect. This maybe days before a shoot, or just an hour or so, but have a coffee and chat. You will see the results in your images.

Mar 10, 11:06AM EST0

Communication is vital when working with a model. Generally, communication is a two-way street and bi-directional. I usually view a photography session with a model as a collaboration. 

Of course, not all communication is verbal. The purpose of a photography session with a model can vary from very free-form to one with a very specific goal. This purpose changes the kind and level of communication needed.

Also, models vary tremendously in their intuition, ability to pose without direction, and need for direction.

Whatever the case with these factors, photographer-model interactions improve (like all human interactions) with good intentions and good communication skills on both sides of the camera.

Last edited @ Mar 10, 9:56PM EST.
Mar 10, 1:38PM EST0
Were your parents artistic and did they support your goals to become a photographer?
Mar 9, 5:37PM EST0

Very interesting question. My parents are very creative people. My Dad is a mathematician and computer scientist, and my Mom has had a career as an artist specializing in textiles.

From a very early age they encouraged me to be creative, gave me a camera, and exposed me to the great art of the world.

At this point, they are very enthusaistic and supportive of my work. But I have to say they had very mixed feedback about my making my living as an artist. After I graduated from law school and decided not to be a lawyer, and opened my first photography studio, it is fair to say that they were decidedly unenthusiastic (as a parent myself, I can understand this perfectly!).

Last edited @ Mar 9, 9:19PM EST.
Mar 9, 6:17PM EST0
What kind of tools do you use for post processing?
Mar 9, 3:57AM EST0

I primarily use Adobe Camera RAW (ACR), Photoshop, and some specialized Photoshop plugins such as the Topaz Lab filters for post-production.

Mar 9, 11:36AM EST0
Have you ever thought about making podcasts to share your experiences more easily?
Mar 7, 11:17AM EST0

Great question, thank you. I have done a number of podcasts, here is one with Midcentury Books. The thing is of course that photography is a visual medium, and it is hard to share my photos in a podcast. But I am planning to do more. Very best wishes, Harold

Mar 7, 12:02PM EST0
Are you currently working on a new project?
Mar 5, 10:37PM EST0

Thanks for asking. I am working on a number of projects, both short and long term.

One is a new book: Phyllis (my spouse and designer extraordinaire) and I are working on The Art of Photographing Flowers for Transparency. This book will highlight some of my floral art, and at the same time explain in detail the techniques I have pioneered.

I am also continuing to work on photographing sacred walks of the world. In this regard, a few years ago I photographing the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail in Japan, and in May this year I'll be walking a portion of the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

I am continuing to use multiple exposure techniques and time to create human art from beautiful models, and am working on bringing this body of work to fruition via printmaking and exhibitions.

These are some of the projects I am working on...thanks again for asking.

Mar 6, 12:10PM EST0
What job has the highest success rate between being a photographer and being a writer and why?
Mar 5, 5:04PM EST0

Hi Anna, not sure what you mean by "highest success rate". Both are fields where failure is always a possibility. Obviously it depends on the kind of writing, and the kind of photography one is comparing. For me, I am more likely to fail with a creative visual idea than I am with a writing project (and that's okay, we learn through failure).

In terms strictly of money, both writing and photography are important to my income stream. There was a time that writing was much more important, these days photography is more important.

Hope this helps, and best wishes,

Harold

Last edited @ Mar 5, 7:55PM EST.
Mar 5, 5:38PM EST0
What is more important, creativity or passion?
Mar 5, 4:07PM EST0

Both. Both creativity and passion are important. The two are intertwined.  It is hard to be creative without also being passionate, and hard to be passionate without also being creative.

Mar 5, 5:36PM EST0
What inspired you to work in the art industry?
Mar 5, 1:21PM EST0

I've always had an appreciation for art, and was exposed to good art early. But I think that being an artist isn't really something one chooses. For me, it was like this: I need to create the work that I was making, and then once I make it I wanted to find something to do with it (not to mention some way to justify all the time I spend on it.)

I know there is an "art industry", but I don't really see myself as working in an industry, maybe an industry of two (my wife and myself).

Hope this helps,

Harold

Mar 5, 5:35PM EST0
In your opinion, which camera brands are best to work with? Do you have a favorite?
Mar 5, 1:07PM EST0

I am an agnostic on the camera brand religious wars. Personally, I use Nikon cameras. I am a Zeiss Camera Lens ambassador, so I uses lense from Zeiss, as well as Nikkor lenses, and lenses from other manufacturers.

There are great cameras from many companies, including Nikon, Canon, Sony, Leica, Fuji, Olympus, and more.

Mar 5, 1:13PM EST0
Have you ever thought about combining your love of photography with writing?
Mar 5, 11:28AM EST0

Hi Heather, surely you jest! You can see many of my books about photography on my Amazon author page. Very best wishes, Harold

Mar 5, 12:17PM EST0
What aspects should be taken into account when being a workshop speaker?
Mar 5, 2:24AM EST0

Hi Adrienne,

This is a great question, and of course it depends upon the kind of workshop and the audience, which brings me to the biggest single point of preparing for a workshop: the audience. 

Workshops should also be designed the help the learner, not the workshop leader. From this viepoint, it is important not to fall into the trap of the "curse of knowledge." Once one really knows something, it is hard to "unknow" it, and see it from the viewpoint of those who are just beginning---but it is important for a workshop leader to do this, and to try to understand what those in the audience really need to know.

Obviously, workshop leaders need to be inspiring, to communicate clearly, not be boring, and to present interesting materials. It is also important to remember that photography workshops are about making images, and not about words.

To reiterate, my idea of a workshop is to help and inspire the participants, and specifically not about bolstering my ego.

Thanks for the great question.

Mar 5, 12:23PM EST0
What is the most common mistake of a photographer?
Mar 5, 12:12AM EST0

Hi Saramade, technique is very important, and there is no substitute for learning technique so well that it is second nature. That said, the two biggest mistakes that photographers make are:

  1. Thinking photographing is about gear and technique, rather than ideas, vision, and creativity.
  2. Not practicing enough. A great musician expects to practice many hours a day, and photography is not much different. As the old saw goes, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice. Practice."
Mar 5, 12:26PM EST0

If you were to start again today, what would you be doing differently?

Mar 4, 2:16PM EST0

This is a great question, a bit like the "if I knew then what I know now, what would I have done differently," or like transplanting my all-grown-up brain into the me at 20 (as if I've ever really grown up!).

One answer is that I am pretty happy as the unique me that I am, and I could not/would not have become my unique me without the all the breadth of studies and endeavors, along with the mistakes and false paths.

I do think if I were to go back and do it again I would work harder to learn the technical side of old-fashioned art, ranging from drawing and painting to lithography, etching, and so on. I also think I would not go to law school today know what I know now, and that I would have been quicker to recognize my true passions and interests, and to pay less attention to what the world expected of me.

On a different front, I was in a situation early-on in which I was sexually harassed (as it is now recognized) by a powerful gallery owner. She was very powerful and had a significant ability to make or break my career, and this frightened the heck out of me, and I cut off the relationship. By the way, I am not comparing my situation to the #Metoo movement or anything, I'm just saying what happened, and it does happen to guys too. 

If I had this to relive, I probably would not have taken it so seriously, I would flirted and taken advantage to the access to the art world it gave me, as this opportunity hasn't come again (I guess I'm just not as cute as I was in my twenties!).

Mar 4, 3:50PM EST0
Show all 3 replies

Please tell me the brand and size of lightbox you are currently using. Thank you.

Mar 4, 10:31AM EST0

I use a number of different light boxes, some with LEDs and some with daylight balanced flourescent tubes. You can find more specific info on my FAQ, https://www.digitalfieldguide.com/faqs/faq-photographing-flowers-for-transparency.

Essentially, size does matter, and the light source is less important than one might think (because you can rebalance in post). I like to quip that you can never be too rich (although I can think of an exception to this right now in the oval office), too thin, or have too big a light box.

Last edited @ Mar 4, 12:45PM EST.
Mar 4, 12:41PM EST1

Is there something you would not like to photograph, be it event or someone, topic you would avoid/be a total no no?

Mar 3, 3:19PM EST0

I am not interested in reporting, or being a news reporter. I tried a small bit of this when I was much younger (photographing environmental disasters) and I would not want to do this kind of thing now. I would not want to photograph a war.

Mar 3, 4:05PM EST0
How scary was it when you hung from a helicopter to take pictures? How did you make sure you won't let go of your camera?
Mar 3, 4:42AM EST0

I have done quite a bit of photography from airplanes and helicopters, mostly a number of years ago. I would absolutely love to do some more!

Yes, it was very scary, but also completely exhilarating. Fortunately, I don't have much fear of heights. I remember one occassion when I was photographing over a glacier in Alaska from a small plane, and singing Beethoven's ninth symphony, the Ode to Joy, at the top of my lungs.

Generally, when you take the door off the passenger side of a small plane or helicopter, the photographer is protected with a saftey harness that is tied down carefully.

But there's probably no protection for someone below if one were to drop, say, a lens cap!

Mar 3, 2:35PM EST0

What is your theme in photography? :)

Mar 3, 12:49AM EST0

Whatever I like! I am always looking for new creative adventures. I try to find overlooked beauty no matter what I am doing.

To get an idea of some of the things that have intrigued me over time, check out the slide show on the home page of my blog, some of my iPhone images, my multiple exposures, my night photography, and my Photograhing Flowers for Transparency.

Mar 3, 2:40PM EST0
How do you stay inspired as a photographer? How do you ensure that you stay creative?
Mar 2, 9:08PM EST0

Fortunately, this doesn't seem to be an issue for me: I always find things to be inspired about as a photographer, and I always seem to stay creative.

Maybe in part this is because of all the interesting travel I am privileged to do as part of my work, ranging from hiking the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage trail in Japan, exploring the world's largest cave in Vietnam, or an upcoming sojourn trekking along the Camino de Santiago.

But I think that being inspired on a regular basis, and being creative are more like innate character traits.

If I ever felt I were running out of ideas, as I sometimes hear from students, I would give myself an assignment (photograph using only one lens and one setting, photograph something red), or maybe come with myself on a trip.

Thanks for the question!

Last edited @ Mar 4, 5:29PM EST.
Mar 3, 2:46PM EST1
Do you like listening to music when working? If so, what kind of music?
Mar 2, 12:57PM EST0

I do like listening to music when I am working in Photoshop and photographing in the studio. I like many different kinds of music, and I find that music can help me focus and meditate on my work. I don't want to listen to music when I am photographing in the field, as outdoors I want to be able to concetrate on the sounds of the environment.

My tastes run to popular music such as Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen, and Bob Dylan. In classical music, I have recently been listening to Brahms, and to Verdi's Requim. Bizet's quintessentially romantic opera Carmen has often accompanied my photographing of flowers on the light box.

Mar 2, 5:24PM EST0
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