Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

Water Abstract

I enjoy abstract photography and for some time have been taking abstract photos of moving water. You can stay in one spot while shooting, varying your shutter speed and aperture, and each image is different. Even when using the same settings each shot still looks different. as the water movement varies from second to second. The challenge is to go through them afterwards and choose the ones that seem just right. In processing the photographs, I like to bring out the details in the water so the currents look almost like paint strokes.

Water Abstract    © Howard Grill

Water Abstract    © Howard Grill

Stuff That Works - MagicSquire

I have recently been learning more about 'digital art' techniques like compositing, blending fact you just might be seeing some of that here in the coming months. Perhaps. We'll see. But one of the things that digital artists use quite a bit are Photoshop brushes. And those brushes need some sort of organization. When doing 'straight' photography, I pretty much needed just a soft round brush and a hard round brush. There was rarely a need for more. But dabbling in digital artistry I can see a need for watercolor brushes, grunge brushes, bird brushes, cloud brushes, splatter brushes etc. The native Photoshop panels are somewhat non-intuitive and generally clumsy to use. So I began looking around for an organizational solution and I found it in a piece of software that is a Photoshop extension called MagicSquire by Anastisy.

MagicSquire installs a panel that lets you name and organize your brushes in an intuitive and visual way. The brushes can easily be dragged to different groups for rearrangement and the groups can also be renamed, deleted etc. Just about anything you, or at least I, might want in a basic and intuitive brush organizer is possible. The only hitch I had was that it wouldn't install using the Adobe Extension Manager. However, there was an indication in the introductory email that this might well be the case and one is given a link to download Anastisy's version of an Extension Manager. The installer worked like a charm, with the panel installing on the first attempt.

MagicSquire also puts all its data in a folder in you documents folder. What does that mean? It means that if you have to uninstall Photoshop for any reason you don't have to start from scratch remaking your brush groupings. The data is all there to be imported right off the bat. Your work is saved. Likewise if you get a new computer.

MagicSquire isn't free, but really good things often aren't. However at 19 bucks I think it is money well spent.

Want to see the software in ya go. Let me add that I have no association with Anastisy whatsoever, I just like it when something solves a problem and solves it well. I do know there are several other pieces of software 'out there' that have similar functions. I haven't tested or compared them, but I am quite pleased with MagicSquire! Oh, and updates to the software are free and that's always a plus.

And some newer features:

The Pinkas Synagogue

During my recent trip to Prague, I was able to take a private tour of the city's old Jewish Quarter. The tour was a truly unique and a fantastic experience (I used Terezin Private Tours - Anna was not available but her colleague Alicia was wonderful). The tour was quite moving overall, but I was particularly affected by my visit to the historic Pinkas Synagogue.

The synagogue was built in 1535 and is the second oldest surviving synagogue in the city. The reason there are old synagogues in Prague, as opposed to some other European cities, is that Hitler had planned to use this area as a museum for an 'extinct race' and thus not much was destroyed. That and the fact that the country was basically handed over to Germany without much of a battle after the Munich Conference, as a form of appeasement.

The synagogue is now a museum, and on its walls are written the names of the approximately 78,000 Czech and Moravians who lost their lives in the Holocaust. The enormity of the number is driven home when one sees wall after wall after wall of written names.

Recently, I have been trying to learn more techniques used in digital artistry as another creative outlet in addition to my 'straight photography'. I am early in my attempts at this type of artwork, but when I was in the synagogue I had taken some photographs of sections of the walls. Having been moved by my visit, I wanted to try to make something representative of those feelings using the photos. The result of that attempt is below.

78,000    © Howard Grill

78,000    © Howard Grill

Another High Contrast Statue

A short while back I posted an image of a statue that I processed in a way that was a bit different for me. I photographed a number of the statues I saw on my recent trip to Prague and Budapest. This one was up over the doorway of a building and not at all a famous landmark, but i was drawn to the intensity of the facial expression. I decided to process it in a similar fashion as the last one.

Statue In Budapest    © Howard Grill

Statue In Budapest    © Howard Grill

A Day At The Museum

On my recent vacation, I had the opportunity to visit several museums. I happen to have my camera, but really had no interest in taking pictures of the paintings, which, in my mind, just detracts from experiencing them. But after enjoying a good many of them I needed a break and a few thoughts came to me about what photos I might be able to make that could be interesting.

The first thing that came to mind was the idea of a continuation of my "Mural Project", that is, taking photographs of segments of paintings and/or trying to combine them in some way. Here is an example of one such segment, but what I would do with them remains to be seen. These are ideas that are just forming. Can anyone identify the painter :)


Then, as I sat and watched what was going on around me, it became clear that many people, perhaps even the majority, weren't looking at the paintings as much as they were photographing them with a cell phone. In many instances people weren't even looking at the paintings except through the cell phone screen as an intermediary. Which got me thinking about Elliott Erwitt's fantastic series photographing how people look at art in a museum called:

I'm usually a bit shy about taking photos of people I don't know.  But they were so engrossed in their cell phone shots that it was easy!  Nobody even noticed. Of course, they probably presumed that I was doing the same thing they were and taking photos of the paintings, as opposed to taking photos of them taking photos of the paintings.


None of this may come to anything 'serious' in terms of it being a project, but they are fun ideas to play with. We will see!

Insights From Analog Photographs

I just returned from vacation and while away I had the opportunity to see not one, not two, but three photography exhibits! None of the visits to the exhibits had been planned ahead of time; they just happened to be in the cities we went to at the time we went. And there is nothing like seeing prints 'in person' as opposed to just in a book. So what did I get to see?

I was able to visit the "Migrations" exhibit by Sebastiao Salgado, a combined exhibit of  Robert Capa in conjunction with a large retrospective exhibit of the work of Elliott Erwitt, and a museum collection that included works by Steiglitz and Steichen. How can you go wrong with those? They were fantastic!

I made some interesting observations viewing the prints, at least they seemed interesting to me. They were beautiful  images. And most of them weren't sharp....well they weren't 'unsharp', but they also weren't the ultra-sharp images that we tend to produce today, particularly when pixel peeping. Not when you got in relatively close (the images were not huge either). And apparently these greats of photography weren't as concerned about maintaining detail in the shadows as many, myself included, seem to be today.  But the images really 'spoke'.

There is a lesson in there somewhere, not the least of which is that the content is far more important than absolute technical perfection (though I am sure that the 'technical perfection' that we can reach today is greater than it was in the analog photography world).

And don't be afraid of the color black.


I like taking photographs of statues, but as I was looking through some of them I realized they looked sort of bland. They looked, well, just like statues. I decided I was going to have some 'creative play' and see what I could come up with that might give them a deeper feeling.

I liked the result from processing this one as a high contrast black and white. Something about it just seems to 'speak to me'. I may have to try similar processing on some of my other statue photos to see what happens.

Bust    © Howard Groll

Bust    © Howard Groll


Quick Quotes: Gary Winogrand

Photography is about what can happen in the frame. When you put four edges around some facts, you change those facts.

Gary Winogrand

I love quotes that point out that photography, even film photography, is not about truth. For those who might be interested, I wrote an article several years back called "Photography and Truth". Photography, or should I say photography other than photojournalism, is not about 'truth'. Even photojournalism, which strives to be truthful, often inadvertently (hopefully inadvertently) changes the facts because of those four edges and what you don't see outside the frame.

Palouse Farmhouse

One thing that I find myself consistently drawn to when photographing is the presence of strong lines and shapes. In fact, I have a small series I call "Geometry", which consists of images that are more about lines and shapes than about what the physical subject actually is. This photograph is part of that series.

Palouse Farmhouse    ©Howard Grill

Palouse Farmhouse    ©Howard Grill


Lone Sailboat

It has been some time since I had the opportunity to visit and photograph in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The one time I did go, it was a trip filled with many photographic opportunities. I hope to be able to return there to make more photos!

This was on eof my favorites from the trip. To me, it imparted a real sense of loneliness and being one against the world.

Lone Sailboat    © Howard Grill

Lone Sailboat    © Howard Grill


Super Natural

I had the good fortune to visit Phipps Conservatory last weekend for their "Super. Natural." show of mammoth sized glass art by Seattle glass artist Jason Gamrath. Here are two cell phone shots of some of the glass sculptures. This first piece of pink orchids I would estimate is about 8 feet tall!


Below is another cell shot of pitcher plants mounted in a pool of water, like they grow naturally.


What attracted me to the pitcher plants, beyond the obvious wow factor since they were probably 4-5 feet tall, was actually the abstract shapes and colors. Yeah, I do tend to see things weirdly. For that I got out the 'real camera'!

Glass Abstract    © Howard Grill

Glass Abstract    © Howard Grill


I took several like this of varying composition. It was too good to pass up. In addition to being stand alone art (sort of like my mural project), they might be fun to use as textures to blend in to other photos!

Cactus Flower

This past winter I spent quite a bit of time photographing at a local botanical garden. After all, it's warm in there. I was constantly drawn to the cactus room, not because I am particularly interested in cactus horticulture, but because I was intrigued by the lines and shapes of the plants, as well as their unusual appearances.

And it's always a treat to see cacti in bloom!

Barrel Cactus In Bloom    © Howard Grill

Barrel Cactus In Bloom    © Howard Grill


Google Abandons The Nik Collection

A bit of bad news in the world of image editing software. The highly acclaimed and widely used Nik software bundle is to be abandoned by Google, the company that purchased it in 2012. While Nik software will still be made available, it's not going to be updated moving forward and may well find itself incompatible with Photoshop, Windows, or Mac in coming years.

It is really a pity considering how good the bundle is and how many photographers, myself included, use it regularly. Silver Efex Pro is my 'go to' black and white conversion software. I suspect it will be some time before it is no longer compatible with Photoshop or Windows, but almost assuredly it will be rendered so at some point.

The full details of the Nik demise can be read in this article on the PetaPIxel website.