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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.

Hogwarts Study Hall??

Yes, yes, it’s another image from the Cathedral of Learning. I had previously mentioned that shooting there has become ‘a thing…..a project’. I had never been to this side of the building before and was fully expecting more hallways similar to the last couple that I posted. But when I ran across this scene, complete with table and bench with mystical looking light coming in through the window and shaped by the curved ceiling, my first thought was ‘this looks like something out of Harry Potter’. So there you have it, a study hall at Hogwarts!

 
© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

Cathedral Of Learning Ceiling

This installment of my Cathedral of Learning project (yes, it’s become that) is an abstract image of shapes and lines from the ceiling of the Cathedral. The ceiling is so high that it actually required my 100-400 zoom to isolate this segment of it. In addition to the lines, there is also an interplay of tones because the small lights and windows tend to illuminate the ceiling harshly in some places and much less so in others. I smooth out some of this in post processing in order to obtain a more pleasing look.

 
 Capture sharpened only
Canon IPG 2000
Ilford Gold Fiber Silk
Perceptual
Grill M0 Profile
 

Studying In The Cathedral

The Cathedral of Learning is an open and public area, but when I go there on Sunday mornings there usually aren’t many people there. Nonetheless, it is a place where students come to study. I know that photography is allowed, as my friends have asked, and there are frequently security officers around who have never hinted otherwise.

I was intrigued by the idea that there were people using laptops in this environment that seemed so ancient. I’m sure that when the structure was built there was never any idea of anyone studying here without books!

 
© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

One More Detail

I’ve gotten to processing the last close up photo of the carved wooden hand rest on the first floor bench at the Cathedral of Learning. Now it can serve as a triptych with the other two characters. There was actually a fourth carving, but that one has become a bit damaged over the years. This one looks like he is in a state of dreamlike euphoria!

 
© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

Cathedral Of Learning: Above The Lights

My photographing at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning has moved from a random place to make photos, to a series, and I suspect is now a full-fledged project. I made this particular photo because I liked the way that the lights seemed to illuminate the column while also throwing a circle of light on the floor. The whole scene seemed to look fairly mysterious to me, particularly with the two arched and dark doorways in the background.

 
Inside The Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill

Inside The Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill

 

The Kiss, By Alfred Eisenstaedt

It is V-J Day, August 14th, 1945, and as part of the celebration in Times Square, New York, a sailor kisses a woman dressed in white who he doesn’t know. The image was captured by Alfred Eisenstaedt and became an iconic photo on the cover of Life Magazine:

© Alfred Eisenstaedt

© Alfred Eisenstaedt

At first the two kissers were unknown and over the years there have been several people who have claimed to be the iconic couple…..in the end though, it is generally agreed upon that they are George Mendonsa and Greta Zimmer Friedman (though this is still contested).

I came across an article I thought I would share that the sailor, George Mendonsa has passed away at age 95. The article is an interesting one, as is this one from Wikepedia that also talks about the other people who have claimed to be the couple in the photo.

Details, Details....

Most of the photographs I have taken at the Cathedral of Learning have been of large subjects: rooms, arches, hallways and doorways. But the last time I was there I ran across some small details that cried out to be photographed.

On the first floor there is an old wooden bench I found that had hand rests, with each one ending in a carved wooden caricature with varying tonality based on the grain of the wood. It was an interesting change from what I had been photographing while there before, and I found myself wondering what those caricatures would have seen over the years had they been ‘alive’.

 
Bench Hand Rest, Cathedral of Learning © Howard Grill

Bench Hand Rest, Cathedral of Learning © Howard Grill

 
 
Bench Hand Rest 2, Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill

Bench Hand Rest 2, Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill

 

Cathedral of Learning: A Hallway

The Cathedral of Learning has quite a few hallways that are lit with old fashioned incandescent lights. In this particular hallway, I was drawn to the zebra-like stripes of light and dark that the lights made on the wall. The emptiness of the hallway also gave me a bit of a ‘spooky’ and lonely feel that I tried to transmit in the image. It definitely looks like the Cathedral is turning into a small project!

 
Hallway at Cathedrtal of Learning
 

Cathedral of Learning: Nationality Rooms

Lest I’ve bored you with multiple photographs of the architecture in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, there is more than just architecture to be found here. Inside the cathedral are multiple “Nationality Rooms”. These rooms were designed to represent the culture of the various ethnic groups that settled in Allegheny County.

At this point I have only photographed in one of these rooms, the Austrian Room. I was taken with how it seemed like one was entering a separate world when going through the door from the poorly lit hallway. I wanted to try to convey that feeling by photographing the room from outside of it, rather than the inside.

 
Austrian Nationality Room © Howard Grill

Austrian Nationality Room © Howard Grill

 

Here is a short video about the room itself:

Cathedral of Learning IV

Two more of the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning photos are included in this post. The first is a new image and the second is one I have posted before, but it has been reprocessed.

 
Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill

Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill

 

I had previously posted the next photo as an example of color grading, but it was presented as a blue toned image. This version is sepia toned to fit in with the presentation of the other Cathedral images.

 
Cathedral Of Learning Stairwell © Howard Grill

Cathedral Of Learning Stairwell © Howard Grill

 

Over time there will be more to come!

Cathedral of Learnng

I have very much enjoyed the two times I have been out to photograph the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning with my friends. The architecture is truly wonderful. For more on the Cathedral see here.

It’s been a while since I’ve really felt drawn to photographing one particular thing, but I think I may be feeling a series coming on……

 
Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill

Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill

 

Using Channels To Create Masks In Photoshop

I’m not a big fan of having to make masks in Photoshop. It’s easy when you are just brushing in tones, saturation, contrast etc. But when it comes to having to make an actual accurate mask for, say, an extraction….well, just the thought is painful.

I ran across this excellent video about using the alpha channels in Photoshop to make accurate masks and really learned some interesting and useful techniques from it. It is a bit long at one hour and twenty minutes, but it is divided into individual chapters for easier digestion. It starts out simple but rapidly becomes quite advanced. I found watching it to be time very well spent and thought I would share it with those that might be interested.

Musical Interlude: The Pretenders

It’s been a good while since I offered a musical interlude on the blog. So today is the day. I bring you….The Pretenders. This, a more recent concert, with Chrissie Hynde of course and Martin Chambers, the original drummer. They may be getting a bit older (I believe Hynde is 66 here) but they remain and sound absolutely fantastic.

Color Grading

I recently finished viewing one of the fantastic ‘art summits’ over on Shift Art. If you aren’t familiar with Shift Art you really should have a look at it as it is a really superb resource. Their Color Grading Summit went over in detail the many ways to ‘color grade’ a photograph in order to alter the mood it transmits. These techniques included the application of color gradients, gradient mapping, using color look up tables (LUTS), filters, and curves. I thought that the Gothic architecture of my recent photo trip to the Cathedral of Learning would be a great subject for me to try out some of what I had learned.

In this particular photo I decided to try to give the image a ‘suspense’ or ‘horror’ type feel through the use of color. In this case I utilized a LUT applied through a color lookup adjustment layer in Photoshop. It is quite intriguing to see how color alone can really add a mood to an image.

 
 Gothic architecture at Cathedral of Learning at University of Pittsburgh
 

Auto FX GRFX Studio Pro: A Brief Review

I own Auto Fx Gen 2, which I utilize from time to time as a Photoshop plug in. I won’t say that I am a ‘power user’, nor do I own all the available modules that can be utilized within the software. I have used it mainly for its ability to apply light beams and weather effects, though it can do much more - however, for me those seemed to be the standout effects that were not easy accomplished by other software programs that I am familiar with.

Gen 2 is being ‘retired’, as it reportedly will not be functional with the new Mac operating system. I am glad to say that Gen 2 still seems to work perfectly on my Windows 10 / Photoshop CC 2019 system. However, while all support is going to be discontinued for this software, there is currently a sale on their new software version - GRFX Studio Pro - with an offer to try it free for 30 days.

So I decided to give the trial version a whirl. What follows is my opinion only……to me it felt like unfinished software.

First, the older Gen 2 software works on 16 bit images, but not as a smart filter. I expected this new rewritten upgrade to function as a smart filter, but, alas, it doesn’t. At least not yet, though the company says that they have such functionality planned for the future.

Secondly, another significant problem in my mind is that the plug in doesn’t ‘respect’ color spaces or profiles. Therefore, when you open an image in the plug in it looks visibly different than it does in Photoshop and yet the software offers color effects that one can apply. But how will they look back in Photoshop? The colors of the image visibly change when the effect is applied and it is brought back into Photoshop and into a color managed workflow. Well, that is a bit unsettling, especially when one can’t go back and readjust the effect as a smart filter.

Thirdly, I just find the older version easier to use. If I am uncertain as to the purpose of a certain slider or control I can just hover over it with my cursor and get helpful tool tips. Not so in GRFX Studio Pro….and some of the slider labels are not necessarily intuitive (though they are the same as the older Gen 2). Also, at least on my system, some of the drop down menus are a bit buggy. Though they sometimes drop down cleanly and hide what they ‘drop down’ over, more often than not they drop down without being ‘opaque’ and obscuring what is behind them, thereby making them difficult to read because the labels are interspersed with the words and controls they drop down over. By no means a deal breaker and perhaps limited to just my system…..hard to know.

Another little irritant is that midway through the trial Auto Fx released an update and included more free effects. It was then that I noted that there is no ‘search for updates’ button within the software that I could find!

Finally, I did not see a way to ‘port over’ any modules from Gen 2 to the newer software. I suspect that such modules will likely be offered for purchase in the future. Even better would be if they were free of charge as updates to the software, but perhaps that is hoping for too much. We shall see.

In this ‘day and age’ premium priced software should, in my opinion, be functional as a smart filter and respect color management. I can see upgrading to GRFX Studio Pro if Gen2 is software that you find very useful (and for some things it really is) and you utilize an operating system on which the older Gen2 will no longer function. As for me, am going to continue to use Gen 2 (which also doesn’t function as a smart filter etc) as it seems to work on my system. I might have purchased the software for the excellent light beam/ray generation functionality alone if I did not already own the Gen 2 software. However, given my situation, I have no plans to purchase GRFX Studio Pro unless and until it is improved considerably.

The Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh

Last weekend I had the opportunity to photograph in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning with several friends, a location I had not had the chance to make photos in before. The indoor architecture is quite Gothic, which is not surprising since the building was designed by Charles Klaude, one of the leading Gothic architects of the era. At the time construction started in 1926, the Cathedral was to be the tallest building in Pittsburgh. While it lost that distinction some time ago, it still remains the second tallest university building in the world at 787 feet.

The Gothic architecture certainly lends itself to many different and interesting compositions and I wanted to share some of the images I made. I think the building holds a lot of photographic opportunities that we have just begun to explore.

For starters, I was very taken by the flow of the lines and beams in the Commons Room!

 
© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

Quick Quotes: Minor White

"Everything has been photographed. Accept this. Photograph things better."

Minor White


In this age of intensive social media, where people seem to be in a race to photograph places that are more and more exotic, out of the way, and difficult to get to…….it is perhaps a good time to remember that the degree of difficulty in obtaining a photograph does not directly correlate with how good or emotionally moving it is. The greatest challenge, in my mind, is to stay where you are and photograph and make beautiful the nuances of the everyday things around you. To see them in a fresh way.

Remember that everything HAS already been photographed.