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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.

Seeing The Invisible

Part of the mystery, and joy, of photography is its ability to show us what our eyes can't see. Some of the sights that are normally 'invisible' to us that can be revealed with a camera include:

i) Motion over time - This, of course, can be revealed by photographing using a slow shutter speed. Not only can 'natural' motion be revealed in this way, but we can generate abstract images that can only be seen in the completed photograph by generating 'unnatural' motion by purposely moving the camera during exposure.

ii) Color - Our brain can 'neutralize' colors in order to achieve our own 'custom white balance'. For example, people are often amazed at the blue color cast seen in photographs that are taken in the shade or the color cast that results from photographing a white object located right next to a brightly colored one. The colors are there, it's just that our brains remove them for us. Sometimes these color casts are problematic for an image and, at other times, they can be used creatively to great benefit.

iii) Perspective - Changes in perspective that are related to the optics of a lens. OK, so this one really isn't something that is present in reality, but is related to the physics of the optics. Often these perspective changes can be used creatively, such as when making an object appear to be closer than it is by using a wide angle lens. These same lenses can introduce problematic distortions (like pincushion or barrel distortion). However, at times, even these types of distortions can be used creatively.

iv) Illumination- Only when it is truly 'pitch black' is there not enough light to make an image if you leave the shutter open long enough. Our eyes are only able to see non-additive 'real-time' photons while film or a digital sensor can keep capturing and adding photons to an image. More specifically, bright to us is a large number of photons at once while bright to film or a sensor can mean a large number of photons absorbed over a prolonged period of time. Thus, we are surprised when a long exposure taken in near darkness yields an image with far more subtle coloration, brightness, and detail than we could see with our bare eyes.

One of the reasons that I enjoy this photograph taken during a workshop in Provincetown, Massachusetts with Nancy Rotenberg, Les Saucier, and Don McGowan is that it contains all four of the above elements presented in a subtle fashion, without any of them overwhelming the other.


Herring Beach
Copyright Howard Grill
30 seconds at f18

Click For Larger Image

More specifically:

i) the smoothing out of the ocean water because of the long 30 second exposure, blending all the waves that occurred over the course of the exposure into a smooth misty appearance.

ii) the cool blue coloration of the water and sand is real and is a result of reflections from the blue night sky. We automatically neutralize this when we are present at the scene, but the photograph shows us what was really there.

iii) the interesting perspective, making the foreground pebbles look closer and the background land look farther away than they 'really were'.

iv) the scene was actually quite dark when I made this photograph, which, as I mentioned, required a 30 second exposure. It was dark enough that when hiking back to the car after making the image I had to make sure that I didn't trip over something and was glad that I was able to walk back with a friend who had a flashlight.

Lots of pretty beaches up there on Cape Cod!