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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.

Intentional Camera Movement

‘Intentional Camera Movement’ (which until a few years ago was simply known as ‘hey, look at this cool photo I made by shaking my camera’ - but I guess ‘ICM’ is a bit easier to say than ‘HLATCPIMBSMC’), is a process by which one can make abstract images in-camera. While usually one wants the camera to be perfectly stable when the shutter is open in order to make sharp images, the technique of intentional camera movement seeks just the opposite. Here the idea is to intentionally move the camera while the shutter is open in order to make abstractly blurred photographs.

I have seen many ‘guides’ that suggest different techniques, but my feeling is that there is no right or wrong when it comes to this……experimentation is the key. It is difficult to state a ‘proper’ shutter speed because it depends on how fast one is moving the camera and if the subject is itself moving or not. Once you get a composition that looks promising, the key is to try multiple different variations in shutter speed and speed of camera motion until you get something the is pleasing and ‘just seems right’. It really pays to experiment, as sometimes even when it looks good on the camera LCD the image isn’t quite as compelling on the larger computer screen. It pays to change it up and decide if you have a ‘keeper’ later, once you get home.

That said, here are a few tips I can offer:

  • Your shutter speed can be slowed down by choosing a smaller aperture; the image isn’t going to be ‘sharp’ anyway, so don’t worry about diffraction effects at very small apertures

  • If a small aperture doesn’t get you a slow enough shutter speed for the effect you are looking for, add a polarizer or a neutral density (not a graduated neutral density) filter….or both

  • Even though you will be moving the camera, I still like shooting these types of images on a tripod….it makes it easier to keep the camera moving in just one direction, if that is the effect you are looking for. Of course the tripod is not at all necessary, I just personally find it useful

  • I find that I most often get pleasing results if I move the camera in the same direction as the dominant lines in the composition (ie up and down for trees and side to side for a shoreline). But try other directions as well

 
 © Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

In this particular image of trees, I moved the camera along the vertical axis while the shutter was open. In specific, this was made at ISO 100 at f11 with the shutter open for 2 seconds. I actually liked the appearance of the left side of the photo better than the right, so I selected it in Photoshop, used CTL-J to duplicate it onto its own layer, CTL-T to go to transform in order to flip it horizontally, and then the move tool to shift it over so that the left side of the image was mirrored on the right.

Another Mural Abstract

I have mentioned in prior posts that when I see a wall mural I enjoy taking photos of small sections of it that look like separate pieces of artwork, at least to me. It seems too bland and documentary to just take a photo of the entire thing. But playing around making little pieces of art out of it……now, that’s fun. Maybe a little weird, but I do like doing it!

 
 © Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

Quick Quotes: Arnold Newman

“A lot of photographers think that if they buy a better camera they’ll be able to take better photographs. A better camera won’t do a thing for you if you don’t have anything in your head or in your heart”.

-Arnold Newman


So true. When people ask me if they should get a better camera I usually tell them that these days, unless there is some very specific and special attribute they are looking for, all a better digital camera will do is to allow the images to be printed larger. And if you are going to print them large they ought to be good to start with. It’s really difficult to make an excellent photograph.

Back to the heart thing :)

My Squirrel Hill

Most people reading my blog probably don’t know that I live in Squirrel Hill, about three blocks away from last weekend’s horrific Tree of Life Synagogue mass murder. This was not the Squirrel Hill I have known and loved for close to 30 years, a richly diverse community where all are welcome and all are treated like neighbors - what else would anyone expect when they are literally living in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Here, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and people of all colors have lived together in peaceful harmony for many years, taking joy in discovering each others differences. This can be seen in the ethnic restaurants, in the street fairs, and most easily by just walking down any street. Squirrel Hill is just about the last place in the world I would have expected something like this to happen. Sadly, if it can happen here, it truly could happen anywhere.

Perhaps nobody and no place is safe from a madman with a weapon who is intent on inflicting harm. Perhaps the mettle of a place is its response to adversity. If that’s the case, than I shouldn’t be surprised at the response of our community. Within hours of the murders there was a vigil on Murray and Forbes - the epicenter of ‘The Hill’ - which was organized by the local Presbyterian Church and several Taylor Allderdice High School students. Hundreds upon hundreds of people from our community and the communities that surround us attended. A wound that has been inflicted upon anyone here is treated like a wound inflicted upon us all. This was the Squirrel Hill that I knew.

The next day there was a more ‘official’ vigil/service for the entire city at Soldiers and Sailors, a large memorial hall “dedicated to honoring the men and woman of all branches of service, from all generations and conflicts”. This seemed uniquely appropriate given what our soldiers have fought for through the centuries - our freedoms, including the freedom of religion. On this night, there were not hundreds upon hundreds, but thousands upon thousands of people who came to show solidarity and support.

There were inspirational talks from the clergy of all faiths. There were words of support from our Mayor and other elected officials. Their words all led to the same conclusion - that we will not tolerate hate here. That we stand together as brothers and sisters to fight hatred and to call it out wherever we see it, so that it will not have an opportunity to grow.

The Muslim community has raised over $120,000 for the families of the victims and the synagogue. They have volunteered to do whatever is necessary to help, even stand guard outside our synagogues and other houses of worship (a short video worth watching). They offer this because, besides being brothers, our entire community, Jews and Christians alike, treated them with respect, dignity, and equality after 9-11. To quote (via NBC News) Tarik El-Messidi, the founder of CelebrateMercy “We are tired of being grouped along with the crazies, they scare us just as much as any American”. “We need the administration to talk about the 3 million Muslim Americans who just want to pursue life, liberty, and happiness just like everyone else in America”.

That night, as a community, we also all gave and continue to give gratitude to the police officers from all locations that converged in Squirrel Hill that afternoon and ran straight into mortal danger, risking their own lives for people that they had never met. We can only hope that the injured officers along with the injured, but surviving, congregants recover fully and quickly.

That night I once again saw the Squirrel Hill that I knew, a place of peace, a place where all stand together against hatred.

Squirrel Hill will never be the same, yet Squirrel Hill hasn’t changed one iota.

Heliamphora heterodoxa

Time for another photograph of one of the carnivorous plants I am growing in my basement. And so here we have a plant whose leaves are truly beautiful. Heliamphora heterodoxa is a type of ‘pitcher plant’ whose entire leaf is a pitcher, as opposed to the pitcher growing from the tip of a more ‘normal appearing’ leaf (some photos of these to come). Nectar is produced from the reddish appendage at the top of each leaf in order to attract insects, and when one falls into the pitcher its ‘look out below’, as they drown in the water and digestive enzymes at the pitcher’s base.

These beautiful plants are native to the high mountains in Venezuela and Brazil. While they are slow growing plants, I can see some definite growth in the few weeks that I have had mine.

The plant’s, color, shape and symmetry are what made me want to photograph it almost as soon as I received it. I think you’ll agree that they are very ‘photogenic’!

 
 Heliamphora heterodoxa © Howard Grill

Heliamphora heterodoxa © Howard Grill

 

And here we have ‘live action video’ of an ant falling to its death (not for the faint of heart :)

These plants are both beautiful and intriguing!

Photo Artistry Publication

I have mentioned in prior blog posts that I’ve been spending time taking on-line courses in ‘photo artistry’, which is to say using Photoshop to composite and alter ‘straight’ images into various types of digital artwork. It isn’t necessarily easy or straightforward, so I was very encouraged when two pieces of mine were accepted for publication and appear in the current issue of an excellent magazine dedicated to the genre called “Living The Photo-Artistic Life”. The on-line version of the magazine is free for download and if you think you might enjoy this type of work you should definitely take a look at the artwork of the many talented individuals who are far more accomplished in this genre than me. Did I say it was free :)

Below are the two images that were published, and I believe I have posted them before. The first is based on a synagogue in Prague that I visited about two years or so ago that had tens of thousands of names printed on the walls of the building….the names of all those in Czech lands that were murdered during the Holocaust.

 
 “Holocaust Memories” © Howard Grill

“Holocaust Memories” © Howard Grill

 

This second image is of a tree in Harrisburg, PA that I took many years ago that I combined with text, textures, birds and lighting effects.

 
 “Reaching Out” © Howard Grll

“Reaching Out” © Howard Grll

 

The fact that the images were chosen for publication encourages me to explore this path further to see where it leads.

Carnivorous Plants - The Sundew

I have previously mentioned that I’ve taken up growing carnivorous plants- insectivorous would really be a better term - in my basement under fluorescent lights. One of the most interesting of these plants is the ‘sundew’. In addition to being fascinating, alien appearing, beautiful, easy to propagate, and inexpensive, they are also very easy to grow under lights. What more could you ask for in a plant that also helps rid your basement of small insects?

If you’re an insect you don’t want to find yourself anywhere near those gooey tentacles that are so enticing to visit. Once a small insect touches the ‘dew’ droplets they become stuck, and as they struggle come into contact with more of the flypaper-like droplets. Then the tentacles, as well as the entire leaf itself, wrap itself around the insect and secrete digestive juices to obtain a nitrogen laced meal.

The entire process can be seen in the video below the photographs of my very own Drosera capensis “albino”, the albino form of the Cape Sundew which is native to South Africa. The albino form has greenish, as opposed to red, leaves, though under strong light the tentacles take on a pink blush. There are other Sundew species native to different regions with different leaf shapes and growth habits. But they all have goo.

 
 Drosera capensis “Albino” having a bite to eat © Howard Grill

Drosera capensis “Albino” having a bite to eat © Howard Grill

 
 

Did I mention they were easy to propogate? This is the graceful emerging flower stalk from the same plant. The small flowers self-pollinate and form seed in this particular species!

 
 Drosera capensis “albino” flower stalk

Drosera capensis “albino” flower stalk

 

And for some real action, watch a short sundew time lapse from the BBC!

Isn’t nature amazing. I mean you can’t make this stuff up!

A Disturbing Trend In Photography Article

I have this messy tendency…..I save things in my email box that I think are interesting and want to come back to. Every 6-12 months I say ‘OK, no more of this’ with plans to clean out the email box and either delete things I don’t need, read some of the things I’ve saved, and move tutorials and such that I still want to listen to or read into a more permanent folder. The mess ultimately accumulates again, but that’s my problem and not the point of this post :)

I was just starting to do some cleaning when I came across an article that I had saved from 2016, and that meant that it had continued to be saved over many cleanings…..so probably worth reading. And indeed it was, so I thought I would share it.

The article was originally published on PetaPixel in May of 2016 and is entitled “Opinion: A Disturbing Trend In Photography”. Well worth a read. If you happen to read it and have an opinion, I would love to hear it….do feel free to comment!

The End Of The McConnell's Mill Hike

Several weeks back I decided to take a hike in McConnell’s Mill State Park. I hadn’t done so in some time and the hike I had been thinking about was short, but not the most accessible in terms of terrain. I had heard that if one hiked on this route they would be treated to some interesting water flow. And so I was. And it was definitely a hike worth taking.

I find myself wondering what this location will look like with the heavy fall rains we usually get or after the winter melt. I guess there is only one way to find out….

 
 © Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

Black & White Magazine Pinhole And Plastic Camera Contest

I am very pleased that one of my images was selected for publication in this month’s Black & White Magazine’s ‘Pinhole and Plastic Camera Contest’. This photo is one I took a few years back at McConnell’s Mill State Park with a Zero pinhole camera using…..wait for it…..FILM…..which I developed in my basement and then scanned on a flatbed scanner in order to convert it to digital!

 © Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

Shooting film with a pinhole camera is definitely fun, and part of that fun is not really knowing what you are going to get until the film is developed. But I haven’t done it in some time. These days, if I am going to shoot ‘pinhole’, I am apt to do it with a digital camera. While one looses that fun anticipation of waiting to see what you’re going to get, it is, nonetheless, easier than developing the film! And it also allows you to make adjustments in the field to get what you want in terms of framing and exposure. Pinhole photographs, whether film or digital, certainly have a character all their own.

Venus Flytrap

Back in August, I had mentioned that I had taken an interest in and started growing some ‘carnivorous plants’. There are actually several different species of plants that look at insects as if they were small fertilizer pellets, but probably the most known to everyone is the Venus Flytrap or Dionaea muscipula. Indeed, Dionaea are quite exotic looking, but you don’t have to go to anywhere exotic to find them, as they are actually native to North America and particularly North Carolina, though they grow elsewhere as well.

 © Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

Why doesn’t the rain or the wind cause the traps to close with no prey? What can the flytrap eat? How many times can it open and close? What makes it open and close? How does it close so quickly that a fly is trapped when I can’ even hit a fly with a fly swatter?

It’s an interesting plant, isn’t it?

Here are some answers that you might find interesting.

Answers by the Botanical Society of America.

Even better, see it in action in this BBC video:

I suspect you will see more photos of the Venus Flytrap as well as of various other species of carnivorous plants scattered across the coming months!

Farmhouse In Fall

Continuing on the fall theme for another posting…..

It was several years ago that I made this photograph and, though I posted it at that time, truth be told I was never really happy with it, as I didn’t think it really conveyed the feeling I had in mind. So going over some of my old fall images, I revisited this one to rework it. I think this version, which now includes some newer techniques to me (like luminosity masking) and some ideas garnered from my ‘digital art’ course (such as adding a texture and running it through some filters - Topaz Studio and Nik Color Efex but not just accepting the default settings) gives it a much more painterly and ‘storybook’ feel that far better conveys what I had in mind.

It can definitely be a good idea to go through some of your older images with a fresh eye, particularly the ones that didn’t quite make it or didn’t express exactly what you wanted them to!

 
 © Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

Hello, World!

Quick Quotes: Alfred Steiglitz

I realized that it really has been quite some time since I published one of my photography "Quick Quotes".  So here we go:

"As a matter of fact, nearly all the greatest work is being, and has always been done, by those who are following photography for the love of it, and not merely for financial reasons. As the name implies, an amateur is one who works for love."

Alfred Steiglitz

So there you go.....it couldn't come on better authority!

More Pete's Lake

This is an image that I have actually posted beofre, but as a straight photo. I reworked it using several techniques in order to better have it reflect what it felt like at sunrise at this beautiful location (Pete's Lake near Munising, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula).

 © Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

What did it look like before I attempted to go beyond a 'straight' photograph? It was an equally valid image that I believe also transmits, in a slightly different way, what it was like to be at this idyllic location at sunrise. However, I believe that one has to recognize that the 'straight' photo is also really just my interpretation of the RAW file meant to transmit my impression of what it was like there. So perhaps I shouldn't call it a 'straight' photo, but, rather, a 'straighter' photo. No photo is truly 'straight'; not in the digital age nor in the analog age.....but that is a discussion for a different day. 

The 'straighter' photo:

 © Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

Again, I think they both work in different ways. Which one works best for you? Why? I would love to know!

In The Woods

Now this is something really different for me, but I am committed to at least trying different things. I think I at least owe that to my parents after years of not eating my veggies :)  The background is composed of three of my tree photos taken from different images and composited together. My idea was not to make an entirely convincing background but, rather, to make an interesting one. That is why the overlap of some of the trees doesn't look quite natural, or perhaps looks a little 'odd'. They were blended together to be just a little 'off', to raise an eyebrow or make you wonder whats not quite right about it.

But when I was done with the background, it needed a subject. So I dropped in a model image that came with the course I am taking (fully licensed for any use, of course). Well, she didn't exactly simply 'drop in' since she was in color, much bigger etc. Lets say she was gently manipulated into the photo in an attempt to make her presence at least look realistic against the background.

Definitely not my usual type of work, but I am having fun playing!

 
 © Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

Repainting

When I was at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris a few years ago, they had a display of paintings by one of the grand old masters.....unfortunately, I can't remember who (if a reader knows, by all means, please remind me). At any rate, given some of the techniques I have been learning and practicing I couldn't help but 'grunge up' the photo I took of the painting a bit. Well, maybe more than a bit. I sort of made it mine. With apologies to that grand master of painting.

 
old master.jpg
 

Another Self Assignment

Another self assignment to digitally transform a photograph utilizing fractals and by 'painting with light'. What are fractals?  See those wavy green and orange lines behind the doll....those are fractals, which are blended into the image at low opacity. And 'painting with light'? That is an enhancement of the yellow glow behind the doll done by using the color picker in Photoshop to choose the color of the existing glow and then painting with a soft, low opacity brush in the appropriate area on a new empty layer. Looks messy, but then change the blend mode to color, or soft light, or just experiment...the messy looks goes away and it all blends together nicely. I also obviously added in the musical note embellishment.

Where is this all headed? I don't know, but I do know that I'm having fun with it all!

 
 © Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

Self Assignments

In my last post, I wrote about trying to get my photographic thoughts and plans together after having 'completed' my Empathy Project.  One of the ideas I had mentioned was delving further into 'Photoshop digital artistry'. I had taken an excellent course in this some time ago, but had really gone through the tutorials listening and watching but not doing.....and that's a mistake. So I have started going through it again, this time giving myself self-assignments to utilize the techniques taught in the tutorials of compositions that seem to be in a style that I like.

And so I thought I would post some of my self assignments, of which this is the first. The assignment was (utilizing my own main image):

Construct a background from multiple textures

Add the main image and mask out the edges  using a 'grungy' brush

Add the frame with the main image 'spilling out'

Add some embellishments to create visual interest, including scribbles that I make and scan in myself

Blend in a 'line drawing' version from Topaz Impression

 

And the final result is below.

 

 
 © Howard Grill

© Howard Grill