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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.

Black & White Magazine People's Choice Award

I was very pleased to learn that my image "Cactus Spines" won the "People's Choice Award" in the Flowers/Plants/Fruit category of Black & White Magazine's 2018 Single Image Contest (Issue 125).

The photo is a focus stack of approximately 30 or so images, each focused a mm apart (using a focusing rail) in order to maintain sharpness throughout the entire length of the spines. Without doing this type of compositing, it would be impossible to keep the spines sharply focused from tip to base, even using a small aperture for maximum depth of field.

 "Cactus Spines"    © Howard Grill

"Cactus Spines"    © Howard Grill

Follow The Path To Miner's Falls

While on my trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula this fall, I had the opportunity to visit Miners Falls. The falls were great in their own right, but on the walk down to them from the parking lot I noticed how the path made an "S" shaped curve......and we all know to never pass up an "S" shape!

Walking along the path into the forest it felt sort of magical, so, in processing, I brightened the pathway to give it a "Follow The Yellow Brick Road" appearance. Because the trail dips down about halfway through the frame, you lose sight of it and really can't tell where it leads to. I felt that this too added an air of mystery.

 
 Path To Miner's Falls    © Howard Grill

Path To Miner's Falls    © Howard Grill

 

Pete's Lake - Sometimes Things Stay The Same

I've just returned from a fantastic week long photography trip photographing fall colors in Michigan's Upper Peninsula with several of my "photo buddies". I have been to the Munising area of the Upper Peninsula to photograph four times, and it never fails to offer up a plethora of photographic opportunities. Even when I was there two years ago and we missed the fall colors with our timing, there was still plenty to photograph. I am glad to say that this year the colors did not disappoint.

I have not yet had the opportunity to download, keyword, or process any of the images. But while I was at one particular location I found myself fascinated by something. This image was made on my first trip to the Upper Peninsula in 2004, at a wonderful sunrise location called Pete's Lake.

 Pete's Lake, Michigan's Upper Peninsula   © Howard Gril

Pete's Lake, Michigan's Upper Peninsula   © Howard Gril

I was able to photograph at Pete's Lake once again this year. Not only were the yellow trees on the left still there (I guess that really isn't all that surprising), but the same driftwood in the lake to the right of the trees was still there as well! It was like the scene had become frozen in time, and that made it feel like I was being transported back to 2004. Of course, once my shutter clicked, I was back in 2017. As Kurt Vonnegut Jr. used to say.....and so it goes.

Foggy Morning

A few weekends ago the weatherman was predicting fog. So I got up early on Sunday morning planning to drive out to Moraine Lake, about 45 minutes from my home. There is a golf course close to my house which I decided to drive through in order to get to the highway. As I was driving through it, I noticed how heavy the fog was and how beautiful the trees looked in it. 

Then it struck me....why drive 45 minutes hoping the fog doesn't burn off and that it is still over the lake when I arrive, when there is a gift being handed to me right here and right now. As my teacher Nancy Rotenberg used to say, 'take the gift you are given'!

So I parked the car and starting making photographs on the golf course. Given the fog, it was pretty empty except for one crazy photographer and a couple of crazy golfers who couldn't see where their balls were going. I respected their presence in the deep fog and they respected mine...."Hey", the call went out, "we are hitting some balls in your direction and we really can't see you or where the balls are going very well".

 

 Fog And Trees    © Howard Grill

Fog And Trees    © Howard Grill

This final image is my interpretation of the scene using some of the techniques I have learned in the digital artistry course I have been taking. I think it transmits the feel of what it was like to be out there that morning!

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! 

What Happens On My Day Off

Recently, I have had a few "use 'em or lose 'em" days off at work, so who isn't going to use them? Who could argue with a day off here and there to go out shooting. When I come back after the day off people often ask me what I did with my free day, the last of which was a week ago Friday. The answer? I went to Moraine State Park and did this (now that's a fun day off):

Lake Arthur And Clouds    © Howard Grill

The Flume Waterslide At Ohiopyle State Park

I took a few days off last week to photograph some of the local fall color here in Western Pennsylvania with some friends. We were perhaps a bit early for the color, but what could be better than being out in nature making photographs with friends?

The so called 'Flume' natural waterslide at Ohiopyle State Park is actually considered one of the top ten natural waterslides in the country.....check it out! I have been here to photograph the waterslide several times, but never really came home with a photo I liked, until now. Two interesting bits about the photo. One of the first things I do with a new image is to make sure it is perfectly level and that the straight lines are straight. I found looking at this image a bit dizzying because there really are no straight line references. In fact, the slope on the right does slope downward and the slope on the left does shift heights. The only thing to really 'straighten' as a reference are the irregular stone stairs on the left in the distance.  Another thing that I particularly enjoy in this photograph is the contrast between the portions of the rock that are dark because they are wet from the splashing water and the dryer lighter toned rock.

The one thing the image doesn't convey is the sound of nature. Water moving at that speed through the rock passage it has carved out over time makes a constant, relaxing, and very pleasant 'white noise' background to get lost in while making your photograph.....

The Flume At Ohiopyle    © Howard Grill

Azaleas

Callaway  Gardens in Georgia is known for their azaleas. While our group went there with high hopes of arriving in peak season, we actually arrived late in terms of the peak flowering.  However, there were still some very nice areas. When you are going out of town to try to photograph things directed by nature, you are always at her whim. But independent of perfect timing or not, there are still usually beautiful things to be found.  

I actually spotted this grouping of azaleas and trees some distance from where I was shooting and was only able to 'access it' using my 300mm lens.

Azaleas And Trees    © Howard Grill

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! 

Someplace To Go

I enjoy images that give the viewer 'someplace to go', or a way to meander into the photo.  Using a wider angle lens generally takes some thought and effort on my part as I seem to be more naturally drawn to looking at things from a telephoto or macro viewpoint. This is one of those shots where a wide angle lens invites the viewer to stroll through the image.

This particular shot was taken during one of my annual pilgrimages to Jennings Environmental Area to see the Blazing Stars in late July and early August.

Walking Through Jennings    © Howard Grill

Tree In Snow

As we approach what is hopefully the end of winter (from my perspective it can't end too soon),  I thought I would post one more tree in snow.  This was taken at the same time and location as the "Minimalist Tree" image I posted a couple weeks ago. I kept the tripod right where it was and just swung the camera around to photograph a different tree using a much longer focal length. It was a great vantage point!

 
 

Moraine State Park; The Many Moods Of Lake Arthur

I have written many times (for example here, here, and here among others) about mornings at the 528 Boat Ramp in Moraine State Park and how most of them turn out to be rather unexciting, but that every so often spectacular things happen. A few weekends back, I was at 528 for what turned out to be the most magnificent morning I have seen there in years. The image below was made before the sun actually rose and demonstrates that the 'best' colors can often be captured during the hour before sunrise actually occurs. Plus, because the sun has not yet risen, the contrast is lower, allowing details to be well captured in both highlights and shadows.

Foggy Morning Sunrise Over Lake Arthur    © Howard Grill

That morning was also a great example of how quickly the light and conditions can change. Believe it or not, the image above was made only minutes before this one which I recently posted.

 Lake Arthur Sunrise    © Howard Grill

Lake Arthur Sunrise    © Howard Grill

You have to be prepared and move quickly when the light is changing rapidly. I have other photos that I have not yet processed from that morning that are also 'keepers'.  If only all the mornings I woke up early were like that........

Pink Fantasy

Some weeks back I posted an image of a pink flowering tree from my "Unfocused" series. At that time I mentioned that I had taken some 'in-focus' photographs of the same tree.  I had to work a while to transform one of the focused photos into an image that I really liked by cropping, adding contrast, and enhancing detail in the flowers while subtly darkening the bottom of the image and cloning out the bright pathway in the background.  It's art, I can do that!

At any rate, I finally was able to produce an image that transmits (at least to me) the feeling of being there.  If it doesn't transmit that feeling, it doesn't see the light of day.

It just seemed right to call this one "Pink Fantasy"!

 
 Pink Fantasy    © Howard Grill

Pink Fantasy    © Howard Grill

 

Hocking Hills, Upper Falls, Old Man's Cave

A few weeks back, I went with two of my 'photo buddies' to discover a new location....a place we had never photographed.  An adventure, if you will.  The fun part was that it was going to be a long weekend and though it wasn't what one could call 'nearby' it also wasn't all that far away. At four hours by car it was not going to be an unreasonable idea to go back during another season if it ended up being a location we really liked.

And so off we went to Ohio's Hocking Hills, a conglomeration of five parks right next to each other.  It turned out to be a great trip and a beautiful area.  Needless to say, I will be showing several images from there in the coming weeks.

This particular photo was taken at the "Upper Falls" in the area of the park known as Old Man's Cave (yes, an old man did live here for many years under a large rock outcropping reminiscent of a cave).

 

Upper Falls, Old Man's Cave, Hocking Hills    © Howard Grill

 

I was able to frame several compositions at this location, but my favorites were this one and another that shows the stone bridge over the falls.  I am still working on that one.

Oh, and I think that we will be going back to this area at some point!!

Not The Smokies

I have always loved going away to new locations to photograph, either with friends or on a workshop (where I meet new friends.....met quite a few on this last Death Valley one!). Nonetheless, when photographing 'away', there are always only a limited number of days, seasons, light conditions, and times of day in which one can photograph that location.  You can never assemble a true portfolio in the same way that someone who lives nearby can.  No wonder some photographers have chosen to live near iconic photo locales.

I have always felt that the place to truly assemble a portfolio in which a location can be portrayed in full is near your home.  Only then can you photograph in all the conditions I mentioned above.  Don't get me wrong, I love travelling to photograph, but when away the simple fact is that you can only capture what is offered in a limited time span.

The title of the image below is "Not The Smokies" because, well, it's not the Smokies even though that might have been the first thing I would have guessed, having been to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park several times.  It is actually a glorious morning sunrise through layers of fog in Moraine State Park; a place I frequently go in order to make photographs. Does it look like this often?  Not a chance.  But on that morning it did.  Because I am able to photograph there frequently, I was lucky enough to catch it like this. And I didn't even have to fight the crowds at Morton's Overlook!  In fact, as far as I could tell there was nobody around for miles. Mornings like this always remind me not to overlook places near home......

"Not The Smokies" Early Morning Fog In Moraine State Park    © Howard Grill

First Spring Photo - Trees

It has been a long, hard winter here in Western Pennsylvania.  Certainly not nearly as bad as in some places, but, still, the last two winters have been colder and harsher than any I can remember after living here for 25 years.  So it was with great enthusiasm that I had made plans for the first outdoor photo session in quite some time with several friends .  Well, you can't always win, and even though it was the beginning of April it was still only 34 degrees out there.  But a plan is a plan and we went anyway.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that one of the first things to catch my eyes was a stand of trees (I always seem to love photographing trees) with the sun highlighting a small number of them that had lighter bark.  And I thought these trees looked better in black and white than the original color.  Though as my friend said when I showed him the finished image......"You think everything looks better in black and white!".

 

Trees In Moraine State Park    © Howard Grill

 

Sunset In The Valley Of Fire

After spending the first evening of the recent Death Valley Workshop I attended photographing some remarkable architecture in Las Vegas (more of that in upcoming posts), our group made our way to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.  We spent almost two days photographing this surreal landscape, but I do believe one could easily have spent the whole week photographing here. 

One thing that was quite remarkable at this location was the color of the twilight sky. It was a deep blue hue that I have not often seen.  And the warm light at a low angle during sunset and sunrise seemed to make the landscape light up with a fiery orange color. Oh, maybe that's why they call it Valley of Fire!

Sunset in Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada   © Howard Grill