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.


I thought I would put up a quick post to let my blog readers know that I have started to post on Instagram. I had set up an account there years ago but never posted anything. I'm giving it a whirl and trying to post one photo daily. 

If you are interested in following me, click here for my Instagram feed.

I appreciate everyone's interest in my blog and photographs!

The Camera Is With Me

About the same time that I decided it would be a good idea to take some "Photo Walks", I decided that it would also be a good idea to try to take a camera to work with me because you just never know when you might see something interesting on the way there or the way home. I usually treated my photo outings as discreet events not coinciding with anything else, but I am trying to make that change.

At any rate, last Friday I woke to snow coming down and had a camera with me on the way to work. I had a very early off-campus meeting I had to go to and needed to drive to my main workplace after that. By the time I got to the meeting the trees were looking quite white and beautiful (I will admit that snow looks nice, though I dislike the cold, the shoveling, and most other things that go along with it). After the meeting I decided it would be just fine to take five or ten minutes for myself in order to take some hand-held shots of the trees at the edge of the parking lot.

It is nice to have a 'real' camera with you when things start happening. 


Photo Walks

As the weather warms I have decided that it would be fun to occasionally let the tripod go and just capture some of the things that catch my taking photo walks. It seems to me that it would be good for photographic practice, good to become more facile at another type of shooting, good for developing other ways of seeing and oh....not bad to get a little extra exercise either. Who knows, I might even work up the nerve to ask strangers if I could photograph them! This could end up being very interesting.....

Here are two 'things' that caught me eye on recent walks.


Man Eater    © Howard Grill


The Look    © Howard Grill



A couple days back I wrote a post entitled "Entrance To Another Universe", which offered images of trees reflected in still and rippling water. The effect was along the lines of an entrance to another dimension. I'm not sure exactly where this is going, but I think it might make up a small series of abstracts. As opposed to the "Entrance To Another Universe" title, I have decided to rename the potential series "Wormholes".

And so, here are two more wormholes to travel through:

Wormhole I     © Howard Grill


Wormhole II     © Howard Grill

How To Never Run Out Of Ideas

Ever wonder how incredibly productive people seem to always get things done? Ever wish you could be like they are and complete all your projects, no matter what their medium is? Yeah, sometimes I do too!!

I ran across a great article by Charles Chu talking about how the late scientist and writer Isaac Asimove got his ideas and continued to be so prolific throughout his life. This is definitely worth a read:

Isaac Asimov: How To Never Run Out Of Ideas Again

© AP/Mario Suriani

© AP/Mario Suriani

Entrance To Another Universe

About a week or two ago it was warmer than usual here and so I went out to make photographs (I hate the cold). As is typical for this time of year in Western Pennsylvania, the sky was totally gray despite the warmer temperatures. I ended up going to a local nature reserve that has a large pond, thinking that maybe I would find something interesting there.

Well, the light was uninspiring in terms of making landscapes, but I did find reflections of the bare trees in the water of the pond that looked pretty interesting to me. When I showed them to a friend the comment was made that they looked like an entrance to another universe or dimension. That comment really stuck with me and so, while processing them, I decided to make them just that in my mind.

Welcome to an alternative universe:


Tree Reflections    © Howard Grill


There is also an entrance to this strange place in black and white:


Tree Reflections In Black And White    © Howard Grill


Cactus Spines

I have been fascinated by the spines of this Echinocereus species cactus at Phipps Conservatory for some time. In fact, I have taken several photos of it in the past but have never been happy with the images for one reason. The spines are so long that when I fill the frame with them using my 180mm macro lens it simply isn't possible to get all the needles sharp along their entire length, even at f16 or f22. The depth of field just isn't great enough. 

I really should say that it isn't possible to get them all sharp in one single frame. Last weekend I took out all the stops and brought along my macro rail. The rail lets me take a series of tripod mounted images without refocusing, by manually moving the entire camera and lens closer to the subject as a unit, bit by bit. As the lens moves closer to the subject, a different area is brought into focus. 

I took 35 shots, each spaced 1mm apart (probably more than I needed to) and combined them using Helicon Focus focus stacking software. The software uses computer algorithms to take the sharp parts of each of the 35 frames and combine all of these sharp areas into one single image.

The result is shown below, converted to a sepia toned black and white photo. Those needles deserve to be shown in sharp focus throughout their entire length. And those tips are mighty sharp!

Cactus Spines    © Howard Grill

Euphorbia canariensis

Continuing on my black and white cactus journey of the last couple of blog posts, we have Euphorbia canariensis. As opposed to the other two images, this one was actually made a number of years ago on a trip to London, at the famous Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.

I enjoy these images in black and white because removing the green color allows one to focus on the lines and shapes of the cactus which, to me, is the real 'essence' of these plants.

Euphorbia canariensis      © Howard Grill

The Jade Plant Flower

Continuing my foray into cacti and succulents.....

Most people have seen the jade plant, but I am betting that not everyone who has seen the plant has seen it in bloom. Only plants that are mature can flower, so plan on growing that one you just bought from Home Depot for a bit before expecting flowers. In order to flower, the plant requires a rest period with cooler (but nowhere near freezing) temperatures, shorter days (less sunlight), and much less water in order to bloom.

I got the chance to photograph a massive specimen plant at Phipps Conservatory and so had many flowers to choose from. Though they usually grow in clusters, by carefully choosing my flower and the angle I photographed from I was able to isolate a single one. And here we have it, in black and white, with a touch of toning thrown in for good measure.

Jade Plant (Crassula ovata) Flower    © Howard Grill

Cactus - Black And White

In the winter I tend to visit Phipps Conservatory quite a bit. For one's warm in there! And their array of flowers and plants allows one to escape winter, if only for a short time.

Recently I seem to find myself drawn to the cactus room, and, because cacti and succulents are more about line and shape (to my eye anyway), I enjoy portraying them in black and white:

Cactus      © Howard Grill

Ancient Tree

A few posts back I wrote about an image I had constructed and even made an instructional video showing how it was done. I have now completed a second piece using these techniques. As you can see, I am a fan of trees, birds, and mysterious text!


Ancient Tree    © Howard Grill


But what you might not have guessed is that there are actually two 'base images'.

First, the obvious one:


The obvious base image of a tree      © Howard Grill


But the second one might not be quite as obvious:


The not so obvious base image of a flower      © Howard Grill


The 'base images' are clearly of differing shapes and so the flower image had to be transformed to fit over the image of the tree. Here is the flower pulled onto the tree image:

Flower pulled onto tree

Flower pulled onto tree


And then transformed (CTL-T on Windows) to cover the entire tree:


Flower transformed to fit over image of tree      © Howard Grill


And now with the blend mode changed to soft light:


Both images blended using the soft light blend mode      © Howard GRill


While the blend doesn't change the tree image to a very large degree, it does add some interesting shadows in the field and lower parts of the distant trees while generally brightening up and adding contrast to the image and making it easier to combine with the darker textures. The following textures were also combined with the image:


© Paree Erica

© Fly Edges

© Fly Edges


© 2 l'il owls


And, if anyone is interested, here is the Photoshop layer stack.

Hope you enjoyed seeing how the image was construcyted!

Quick Quotes: Guy Tal

The point of living a creative life - rather than just engaging in creative pursuits on occasion - is not merely to produce aesthetically pleasing artifacts, but to bind one's creative work and living experience as two dimensions of the same life in all its details, always unfolding and evolving in parallel. 

Guy Tal

The photographs - mine and others - that I consider most favorably are not those that merely serve as visual trophies for enduring some difficulty or experiencing a stroke of good luck, nor those relying entirely on interest and aesthetics inherent in the things photographed. Rather, they are those photographs that express a photographer's passion for - and harmony with - the life they live and the things that make such a life better and elevated in their own mind: not photographs of objective things, but photographs about subjective things.

Guy Tal

I thought these two quotes from Guy Tal's recent LensWork monograph offered quite a bit to think about in terms of how to breathe life into one's photographs.

The Edges Are Always Interesting

There is a saying in photography that goes something like this:  'if you are looking for something interesting to photograph always look at the edges'. The edges are where interesting things occur. Look for photographic opportunities where water meets land, where sky meets horizon, where storm-clouds meet clear skies. It is where 'the battle' takes place. I think that looking for interest at the edges is a good strategy even for simple everyday things. Like plants.


Edges    © Howard Grill


Motivation Blog Birthday - 10 Years Old!

It is very hard to believe, but my "Motivation" blog is now 10 years old. My first post was on January 14th, 2007!!  Back in 2007 I was giving this a try, but I'm not sure I was really expecting to be blogging a decade later. If you are so inclined, there are literally over a thousand old blog posts for you to check out!

A recent birthday tradition I have had is to repost a favorite blog post from the prior year. The truth is that I really have two faves this year. Rather than try to repost them both, I am going to repeat one of them below and provide a link to the other. The 'other' is a post from back in February entitled "George Frena And The Big Wheel".  So please do check that one out if you're interested to see what it was all about - there is a bit of WWII history involved with it.

The other that I am reposting below is from June and is entitled "Celebrating New Life". I really enjoyed this one, not so much because of the image I made, but, rather, from the sheer joy of being there. So here we go with the repost:

Celebrating New Life

No, this isn't a post about a new baby (at least not a human one)......but it is about life in the world around us.

I was photographing in a cemetery near my home about a week ago. Over the last six months or so I have gone there to take pictures many times.  It is a beautiful and peaceful location. One of the places that I enjoy photographing in the cemetery is a pond that is surrounded by high reeds.  The pond, at this time of year, is filled with lotus flowers and various birds that live among the reeds and trees.

On this particular day I went down to the pond with plans to photograph the lotus flowers. Here is a quick cell phone shot that I took as I walked down to the pond.

I started taking photos of some of the flowers at the edge of the pond and then started to wonder if there were any interesting angles or compositions from around the other side, so I walked on the grass around the pond to get a different angle.  I couldn't see around the bend because of the tall reeds that were growing. As I rounded the corner I was totally surprised to see:


The Fawn At Dawn    © Howard Grill


This fawn must have just recently been born, as it could barely even stand. I used my 100-400mm telephoto lens to keep some distance between us and didn't stay too long in order not to stress it. My understanding is that the mother leaves the fawn for several hours at a time in order to forage for food and that it is actually safer for the young this way in terms of predators. Based on what I have read (some interesting information here and here), the fact that it could hardly stand and seemed able to only walk a few steps puts it at less than three weeks old.

It really was a privilege to be there and see this brand new life that had entered the world! 

Digital Artistry

An Instructional Video On How This Image Was Made

Some time ago I had signed up for a very interesting on-line course on how to utilize Photoshop not for digital image processing, but to learn how to composite images and apply artistic effects. I wanted to learn some of these approaches not so much to produce photo-realistic scenes but, rather, to produce not so realistic looking artwork.  There is obviously a rather large spectrum between 'straight' photography (which typically isn't as 'straight' as one might think) and surreal alternative worlds.  I wanted to discover where I might sit along that spectrum.

As can often happen, I was constrained for time and never really got to go through the course like I had wanted to. But there was recently a Facebook group formed by others like myself who sort of got 'left behind'.  So I decided to take it up once again, along with this group.

After learning from the video training, one is encouraged to perform weekly 'challenges'. These are an exercise to reinforce the techniques and typically come with very specific rules, such as take one of your images and choose two out of these 10 textures and then chose a vector from group one and then utilize a certain technique.  I'm not very good at following rules and doing exercises but decided to give it a try.  I became enthused by what I produced and started thinking about how the piece might look if there were no strict rules. I then reworked the image and ended up with this:

The composition was built upon the base photo below, which i took at a cemetery near my home during the winter last year.

Since I had wanted to produce more blog posts that show how I did things, I thought that this might be a good image to make a video about, showing how I put it together. I am new at this sort of work but would like to pursue it further and also integrate some of the techniques into my more traditional photography......but, on with the video!

If you are email subscriber, the video, unfortunately, does not come along with the email so you will have to go to the actual blog to view it or click here to watch it on youtube.

Science And Ultra-High Frame Rate Photography

What The Heck Is A Prince Rupert's Drop Anyway?

This is some very cool information that one of my sons sent me and I just had to share it because it really is fascinating! Plus, it uses photography in the form of ultra-high frame rate cameras to help understand what's going on. In the old days Eadweard Muybridge used high sequential frame rates by mounting twelve cameras in a row and firing them sequentially in order to better understand animal gaits. Today we use frame rates many orders of magnitude higher than Muybridge did (and all in one camera) to better understand our world.

So what is a Prince Rupert's drop? It is what occurs when molten glass is dripped into cool water allowing the outside of the glass 'glob' to solidify well before the inside. As you will see in the video below, this yields a solid structure with unusual tensile strength.  It's fascinating and explained in the video well better than I can in writing. So head to the video below and learn something very cool. But don't stop there! Continue to the video below that to see just how strong and unusual a Prince Rupert's drop can be.

So now you get the idea of what the drop is. But just how strong is it? The video below demonstrates that it is very, very strong indeed. Like stronger than a speeding bullet strong!

Though I do wish someone that knows more physics than I would explain why, since the Prince Rupert's drop isn't held in place, the bullet shatters as opposed to simply pushing the drop out of its path. At any rate, it really is amazing what we can see and understand using ultra-high frame rates in photography!

Fan Ho

Ever hear of the photographer Fan Ho? Neither had I! But when I discovered his work I was simply blown away. Turns out that I had seen and recognized some of his images, but I had never known who took them. Take this one for example:

Approaching Shadow (1954)    © Fan Ho

Approaching Shadow (1954)    © Fan Ho


His use of light and shadow, framing, high key, contrast, and the 'decisive moment' is truly amazing. It made me wonder how I had not heard of him or his work before this. It is always a pleasure to discover an artist who you hadn't heard of and whose work pulls you in and makes you see things in a new way.

Unfortunately, Fan Ho was one of many artists and performers who passed on in 2016.

Here is a video (made, as will become apparent, before his death) that reviews some of his work:

Recently a couple of books of his work have been reissued and I am looking forward to receiving my copies. They can be found here.

Michael Shrieve At Woodstock

OK, a momentary brief respite from photography for a great video and a rock lesson for any of you 'young folks' out there. From time to time I do like to share occasional non-photographic finds. I hope I haven't posted this here before, but if I did it must have been years ago. Sometimes I forget what I have and haven't posted!

In 1969 Michael Shrieve was the drummer for Santana. He also happened to be, at age 20, the youngest musician playing at Woodstock. So what do you do when you are the youngest at the play your heart out with an amazing drum solo that goes down in 'rock history', that's what.

This is really an enjoyable video (though I don't particularly love the split screen) and one of the few that show's Shrieve's full solo (the others I have seen edit it down to just a few seconds), I assume because the song is a relatively long one. His solo starts at 3:05 on the video, but wait, c'mon, don't skip there; you have time to watch the whole thing!

Interestingly, in an interview later in life (Santana himself was only 22 at Woodstock), Carlos Santana explained his contorted facial expressions during his guitar playing for his set (which is evident in the above video). Apparently, the band was actually scheduled to go on stage in 12 hours when he took LSD, but, oops, a switch in the schedule and your're on now. He said that he thought the neck of his guitar was an electric snake that was battling him and that this was something he would never do again.

Here is his explanation (note in the music that follows the interview that the drum solo is essentially edited out).

Since then Shrieve has collaborated with many musicians as well as playing with his band Spellbinder, but relatively recently he reunited with Santana for their newest album, where he again played drums for the band. Here he is today:

Then and now.....

shrieve 2.jpg

Neither image is mine....I am not certain who the photographers are.

Addenda: One of the readers of this blog, Ed Wolpov, just commented on this post. In his comment he gave a link to photos he made at Fillmore East in the 1970s. They are absolutely fantastic and I wanted to put the link here so anyone that stops by this post can have a look: