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.

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.

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



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


An Admission

In the past, I have spoken about having taken Sebastian Michael's "Photoshop Artistry" course, which is truly a superb course if you have an interest in learning more about 'grunge techniques' (though I really don't like that term since it seems to harbor negative connotations). But I have an admission to make, I haven't been doing my homework!  

While I have put some of the techniques taught into use, there are also a series of weekly exercises, or 'challenges', which gets one to use all the various techniques in order to really cement them in. I hadn't done them. One of my friends has started to take the course as well, and we have decide to do the weekly assignments and trade the files to see how each other work. The accountability to each other of doing the assignments is a motivating factor to actually get them done. In addition, I think that seeing how we each individually implement and interpret the techniques will be fascinating.

I don't plan to post my results every week, but thought if I end up with some images that I really like (the purpose of the assignments is to get facile with the techniques, not create masterpieces) I would post them. Well, I do like the result of this first assignment, which was to take an image and add two textures, an edge effect, a vector, and to utilize a 'painting with light' technique. In addition, any other adjustments could be used.

Here is the result:

 Gone Fishing    © Howard Grill

Gone Fishing    © Howard Grill

Here is the fully processed image that I used for the assignment before adding anything, one that had been 'finished' and that I enjoyed even without any further manipulations. 

 Gone Fishing    © Howard Grill

Gone Fishing    © Howard Grill

They are the same yet different and I enjoy them both. Which do you prefer? Is the transmitted emotion different between them?

More Compositing

Back in the beginning of August I mentioned that I had been working on learning more digital artistry techniques and I posted a piece that I had finished after visiting the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague. At that time, I warned that I might be posting more composites as I continued to work on them. You were fairly warned and yet here you are :)

This piece started as a photograph of some ships in the water on a gray day, with a very bland sky, made during a photo trip to Provincetown, Massachusetts. I decide to work with it, seeing what type of image I could make that had a nautical theme to it.

 Provncetown Harbor    © Howard Grill

Provncetown Harbor    © Howard Grill

In addition to the 'base' image of the boats at the bottom, I layered in some textures, some text, some brushwork and two other images. There is a large image of a nautilus shell......don't look for it; it didn't work as a component of the composite, but it did work to bring in some nice highlights to the lighting. The boat on the upper left comes from a shot I took in Florida. Finally, there were also a good number of color and contrast edits

I am finding this kind of work interesting and challenging and intend to continue with it!

The Pinkas Synagogue

During my recent trip to Prague, I was able to take a private tour of the city's old Jewish Quarter. The tour was a truly unique and a fantastic experience (I used Terezin Private Tours - Anna was not available but her colleague Alicia was wonderful). The tour was quite moving overall, but I was particularly affected by my visit to the historic Pinkas Synagogue.

The synagogue was built in 1535 and is the second oldest surviving synagogue in the city. The reason there are old synagogues in Prague, as opposed to some other European cities, is that Hitler had planned to use this area as a museum for an 'extinct race' and thus not much was destroyed. That and the fact that the country was basically handed over to Germany without much of a battle after the Munich Conference, as a form of appeasement.

The synagogue is now a museum, and on its walls are written the names of the approximately 78,000 Czech and Moravians who lost their lives in the Holocaust. The enormity of the number is driven home when one sees wall after wall after wall of written names.

Recently, I have been trying to learn more techniques used in digital artistry as another creative outlet in addition to my 'straight photography'. I am early in my attempts at this type of artwork, but when I was in the synagogue I had taken some photographs of sections of the walls. Having been moved by my visit, I wanted to try to make something representative of those feelings using the photos. The result of that attempt is below.

 78,000    © Howard Grill

78,000    © 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!

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.

How To Resize And Prepare Photos For Web And Projection

Recently, some friends have asked me how to prepare photos for web viewing, projecting, or submission to various publications after being asked, for example, to submit images that are 1024x768, 8 bit, jpeg format, in the sRGB color space. The easiest way to explain this is to I made a short instructional video for them. I thought I would share it on the blog.

For the best viewing experience, click the little gear icon to the bottom right of the video once it starts, set the quality for 1080p, and watch in full screen mode. If your browser won't play it full screen, just click on the youtube link at the bottom right of the video to view it on youtube, where full screen should be attainable. I hope the information is helpful.

Topaz DeNoise 6 And Canon 5DsR Noise

Back in October I wrote about a five minute exposure I had made at Pete's Lake in Michigan's Upper Peninsula using my Canon 5DsR camera. That exposure was quite noisy because of its duration and if I wanted a usable image I had to leave the island quite dark, almost black, in order to mask the strong noise. I didn't really like the way it looked and thought the image might not be able to be saved.

Recently, Topaz Labs came out with a new version of their DeNoise product/plug-in. I already own a couple of noise removal programs, including the prior Topaz version, but decided to upgrade to their newest.  This version is a whole different ball game.

There is an incredible amount of control available within the program.  An excellent 40 minute video is all you really need to get a good grasp on how it works. So I watched it and gave DeNoise 6 a try with this immensely challenging image after I wasn't happy with the results that other programs gave me (see that original post).

The ground rules:

  • I duplicated and reprocessed the image from the same starting point but did noise reduction first and then processed it the way I wanted it to look in terms of the tonality of the trees and island.
  • I took the original, noisy image from that post back in October and, without applying noise removal, used a curve and a bit of saturation, to bring it to just about where the newly processed version was in terms of appearance.
  • The crops below are 100% but converted to 8 bit jpeg and sRGB color space; I didn't notice any dramatic changes resulting from this. 
  • Disclaimer: there were residual white specks following the DeNoise process that were present on the original (ie, they were not artifacts induced by DeNoise). I would not call the processing a success if these remained or if I had to work for hours on manual removal. I tried the Photoshop dusk and speck removal filter and it took care of nearly all these specks in a second.

So here is the newly processed image:


Pete's Lake, 5 Minute Exposure    © Howard Grill

Directly below is a 100% crop, as described above, from the upper left hand corner of the image without Topaz DeNoise processing. 

Upper Left Corner, Before Topaz DeNoise 6

Here is the same crop after noise removal. I was pleased that you could see the gentle tones of the cloud streaking. Removal of the noise actually made it more evident.

Upper Left Corner, After Topaz DeNoise 6

Below is a 100% crop from the water.  It's even worse than the upper left corner in terms of noise. NASTY!!!

Section Of Water, Before Topaz DeNoise 6

And below is the DeNoise 6 version of the same location in the image:

Section Of Water, After Topaz DeNoise 6

Finally, we come to the very distant trees in the shadows, which I significantly lightened compared to how the photograph came out of the camera. Note that at baseline there is some lack of sharpness, but this is explained by the fact that the trees are probably a half mile away and that the exposure is five minutes long with a gentle breeze blowing those branches.

Here is the original version:

Trees On Distant Isalnd, Before Topaz DeNoise 6

And the DeNoise version (after Photoshop dust and scratch removal was also used; see above).  It appears to me that there is perhaps a very, very slight softening of the image in comparison, which is pretty impressive for this degree of noise removal. In my opinion it has taken the image to a state where it is quite usable. Given that this is a 50 MP file the size of those trees on even a large print is going to be small.

Trees On Distant Island, After Topaz DeNoise 6

Definitely a worthwhile purchase in my opinion!

In Camera Texture

One thing I am growing more fond of is layering textures on photographs. But despite the appearance, that is NOT what today's blog post image is.  In fact, except for the conversion to a cyanotype tinted black and white image and the edge treatment, this image was made totally 'in-camera', which is why I couldn't resist taking the photo. And I should add that despite the fact that I took the photo right after the recent big snowstorm (well, it was big on the coast, but being about 400 miles inland we only got about 5 inches of the white stuff) it was not snowing at the time the shutter was clicked!


"Snow"    © Howard Grill


So how did the image get this textured appearance? As I was going on my post-snowstorm photo-walk, I took a stroll through a nearby college campus.  As I walked by the library, I noticed that the front facade of the building was covered with a dark brown granite or granite-like polished stone that had large 'flecks' of other colors in it.  If you stood at a specific angle to the stone you could, because of the way the sun was hitting it, see a strong reflection of a university hall, lampost, and a snow covered stone wall that was behind it. I thought it looked pretty cool!

After taking the photo through Lightroom to make basic adjustments it was brought into Silver Efex Pro to convert it to black an white and apply the vintage edge. Then , in Photoshop, I used a curves adjustment layer to increase the contrast a bit and I applied the slightest amount of Gaussian Blur to try to decrease the harsh edges of the 'flecks'. Then I toned the image a blue color to fit the cold subject.

I thought the final image had an interesting 'dreamy' appearance such that you know what it the subject is, but with a sense that you aren't quite sure if it is 'real' or how it was made.

How To Remove Toning Beyond The Edge Of A Photo

For some time I have been thinking of trying to produce some Photoshop video tutorials.  But let's face it, there are a ton of them out there and I didn't want to simply repeat what has already been done.

I had been trying to figure out how to remove toning from beyond the edge of a photo.  If you apply toning as well as an artistic edge to a black and white photo, either on your own or using a Photoshop plug-in like Silver Efex Pro, the toning extends beyond the edge of the photo and all the way out through the border of the image.  This is the case even if you use a Photoshop adjustment layer to apply the toning, which gets applied to the white border as well as to the image. This looks very unnatural, as the toning should stop at the edge of the photo, which has been moved 'inwards' by the applied edge effect.  If you were to print the image you would now have the toning extending beyond the artistic edge, forming a perfect toned rectangle around it which itself is surrounded by the white of the paper.  Not the effect one wants.

I couldn't find the fix for this by Googling it. So when I figured out the simple antidote for myself I thought it would make a perfect first video tutorial. I created a "Howard Grill Photography" page on YouTube and posted it.

Turns out it's not as easy as one might think to make a professional appearing and sounding video tutorial.....but this is just my first attempt. So have a listen if this is something that was bothering you as well.  And feel free to give me a thumbs up on YouTube if it helps!

Texture Blending

As you might be able to tell from my last post on in-camera multiple exposures, I have been going on a bit of a creative journey and experimenting with various techniques. With this image I was doing a bit of texture blending, which is to say combining a 'base image' with various (in this case, two) underlying textures using blending modes to allow the textures to 'absorb' into the underlying image instead of just remaining stacked on top of it.  It is a technique that not only blends a texture into an image (which can be useful if there are bland areas without much detail), but also tends to intensify colors because the texture's color and luminosity also blends into the image below.  Needless to say, getting a nice result requires some experimentation with each image as not only can the specific texture be changed, but one can also change blending modes and use clipping layers to change the individual textures any way you would like.

Some practitioners of this technique really let the texture come though vigorously, but I personally enjoy a more subtle application. The finished image is seen directly below while the original is underneath that.

Pete's Lake In Michigan's Upper Peninsula - Textures Applied    © Howard Grill

With the blended texture, the yellow and pink/purple of the sky have intensified and the slight rippled effect best seen in the sky and lake add interest to areas that were otherwise fairly bland. It is a bit difficult to really see the rippled appearance with the small blog photograph, but if you click on the image it will open as a bigger 'lightbox' photo and the effect will be more apparent. Overall, I think it turned a pretty reasonable image that in my mind lacked a little something into one that is much more pleasing. 

Below is the original with no textures blended in.  It served as the starting point.

Pete's Lake In Michigan's Upper Peninsula - No Textures Applied    © Howard Grill

So let's have a look at the textures I blended into the bottom image to yield the top one.  Here we go....

 Texture 1

Texture 1

 Texture 2

Texture 2

Finally, here is a screenshot of how I have the layers stacked and arranged in Photoshop:

Layer Stack.jpg

The bottom layer is the blended 16 bit HDR image with Lightroom adjustments as imported into Photoshop.  Right above that is a curve applied through a luminosity mask and above that is a tonal contrast effect applied via Color Efex Pro. Above that are two Hue/Saturation layers with their effects targeted to specific tonalities, once again using luminosity masking, as well as two curves adjustment layers. Finally, we have the two textures applied via the soft light blend mode at <100% opacity. The bottom texture has a clipping adjustment layer to change its hue and saturation a bit.  Finally, there is one more curves adjustment layer at the top of the stack.  

If there are any questions as to what was done please feel free to ask in the comments and I would be glad to explain the process in more depth. 

Monongahela River - Mount Washington

A few weekends ago I was invited to photograph sunrise by a relative who lives on Mount Washington, which overlooks the city of Pittsburgh. Though the city is famous for its three rivers, only one, the Monongahela, is seen in this shot. It joins the Allegheny River just off to the left of the frame, at which time the combined river is called.......geography quiz time.......the Ohio River!

However, out on that balcony this is not the scene that the eye could see. It was before sunrise and the group of trees framing the bottom right of the image were barely lit and looked like a black blob on any single photo that I took.The sky, though dark, was the brightest part of the scene, followed by the water, the lit buildings and then the dark trees and distant hills. This was a classic situation for using HDR.  

For those unfamiliar with HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography, it is a process whereby you take multiple shots of the same scene (preferably on a tripod to avoid movement since the images will all be blended into one) at different shutter speeds in order to allow optimal exposure for both the dark and light areas of the scene and then use software to blend them all into one image. This can be done in a way that gives a natural appearing result or a gritty, grungy, comic-like result. I tend to favor the end of the spectrum that is more natural appearing.

The Monongahela River and Downtown Pittsburgh  from Mt. Washington    © Howard Grill

The photo above was made by blending 5 photographs with shutter speeds ranging from 2 seconds (the exposure for the sky) to 30 seconds (the exposure required to allow detail to be seen in the patch of trees). The five images were merged into a 32 bit file by using the "Merge To HDR Pro" function in Lightroom. That 32 bit image was then processed in Adobe Camera Raw and finally converted to a 16 bit image. From that point, there were a few more routine adjustments made in Photoshop to yield the final result.

And there you have the city of Pittsburgh at sunrise. The blue color of the water is 'real' by the way. That is what it looks like when you photograph it when the sky is a deep blue before the sun is up. The deep blue sky is reflected in the water and imparts the color.

Time for the city to wake up!

Digital Photo Art

I loosely consider that there are four types of Photoshop users.  Remember, this is a pretty loose definition!

  1. Graphic designers 
  2. Photographers who use Photoshop to 'develop' their RAW images and process their photos (ie everything starts out as 'real', no matter what it is ultimately made into)
  3. Digital artists that create work starting with a blank canvas and who fill that canvas with their own creations using the tools available in the program (ie nothing is 'real')
  4. Something in between, where 'real' photographs are composited with other photos, layered with textures, vectors, typography and other artwork

I have always fallen into group #2, and I am sure that, for the vast majority of time, that is where I will stay. But I happen to run across an intriguing course related to being a Type 4 user.  I was intrigued by it because of the course 'pamphlet', the enthusiasm of the instructor, and the fascinating pieces of artwork that one can create using these techniques.  It also looked far out of my comfort zone, which I think is a good place to go every so often! If nothing else, I thought that learning new Photoshop techniques could only help me with the work that I usually do.

So I signed up and took it! 

You couldn't find a more enthusiastic, invigorating, easy to follow teacher than Sebastion Michaels.......his philosophy about art and living an artistic life is one that closely matches mine and perhaps closely matches yours as well.

It was, without question, worth every penny. Many of the techniques have proven useful to know for 'straight' photography as well as for this type of work.  And, though I don't know how much of this type of work I will ultimately produce, I can attest to the fact that it is fun and an excellent way to release creatively..... a freewheeling way to experiment and exercise the creative juices.

It is with some trepidation that I show my first piece created with techniques I have learned in the class. The trepidation is because this type of work is way, way out of my comfort zone. This piece only just touches the surface of what can be done and pales in comparison to what some of the folks in the class who are more experienced in this type of work have been able to produce.

If you have an inkling that you might like to produce work like this, give the course a try.  I don't think you will be sorry.  And what you learn are skills that are definitely transferable to more 'straight' image processing as well.

Photoshop Composite

© Howard Grill

Using A Texture To Add Warmth

Some time back I had posted an image of the interior of The First Presbyterian Church Of Pittsburgh, along with a short story about how I came to be able to photograph the interior of the church that day. I always liked that picture of the interior, but in that same post I also showed a photo of the beautiful exterior doors of the church.....however, I never really felt that the photo of the doors was quite right.  It just didn't pull out the deep warm hues and the depth of the wood of the imposing doors.

In the past, I had tried several things to try to achieve the effect I felt the door deserved.  This included increasing contrast with an "S" curve, increasing saturation, painting with a warm color on a separate layer using the color blend mode and blending the image with itself using soft light or overlay blend modes. No matter what I tried, the image just never seemed .....well, I think "rich enough" or "deep enough"  are probably the best words I could use to describe it.

But I finally got it to look the way I have always envisioned it.  And I did so in a bit of an unusual way.  I had been playing around with some textures and wondered if one with warm, rich colors might give me the effect I was looking for. I picked one that I thought might work and tried blending it into the image with the soft light blend mode.  Lo and behold, it gave me the exact feel and color depth I was looking for without really screaming 'this is a texturized image'.  In fact, even viewed large, for all intents and purposes, you really can't tell that there is an underlying texture applied at all.

The final image is seen below, and I will show you what came before.


Doors of The First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh

© Howard Grill


Below is the image before the texture was applied, but after I had made all Lightroom and Photoshop adjustments. There is what appears to be a bit of glare off the surface of the varnished wood and not as much 'depth' as I had hoped for.

 Doors of The First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh

Doors of The First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh


The texture below is the one that I used for the blend.  Nothing else was done to the image other than blending in the texture using a soft light blend mode at 100% opacity and making a very trivial curves adjustment .  The difference exhibited by the final image is relatively subtle, but I think very important to its feel. Sometimes the little things do make a difference. 


More From The Old Truck Graveyard

This is another photo from my series taken in an "Old Truck Graveyard" in the Palouse last summer. People, on occasion, have asked how I process an image and so I thought that this year I might occasionally talk about that. I know that I have found it useful when others have described what they have done, so I thought I would do the same.  Hopefully it will be useful information to some readers.


Old GMC truck in a truck graveyard in the Palouse

© Howard Grill


This image was made with a 50mm focal length lens.  Even though the focal length was relatively short, I was not able to get the entire truck (including the GMC logo, the hood, and the windshield) in focus at once because of how close I was to the logo.  I could tell that adequate depth of field was going to be a problem by using the depth of field preview button and by looking at the image on the LCD.  I therefore took 6 separate images.  The first focused on the logo, and with each subsequent image the point of focus was moved slowly back until I was focusing on the windshield.  After making a few basic exposure adjustments to the RAW files in Lightroom (the same changes to each of the six files), the six images were combined into one using focus stacking, yielding an image that was sharp from front to back.  It isn't nearly as hard as it sounds (I used Helicon Focus software to do the job, but there are others that will do it just as well).

I then took the final image into Photoshop where I applied mid-tone contrast using Topaz Clarity and further enhanced contrast using the Nik Color Efex Pro Tonal Contrast filter. 

To give it a bit of a vintage look (which is certainly what the entire truck graveyard exuded), I converted the image to black and white using a black and white adjustment layer in Photoshop and then changed the blend mode of that layer to 'soft light' (which returns the image to color, but blended with the black and white layer) and adjusted the opacity of the layer to taste.

Just for comparison, below is the image as it came out of Lightroom and went into Photoshop (after exposure adjustments and focus stacking but before any of the adjustments described above).


Photo prior to Photoshop adjustments described above

© Howard Grill


I completed the image with two finishing touches.  You could see a wooden wall in the background through the windshield at the right edge of the image, which was a subtle distraction.  I made a selection of the right windshield and used the transform command to slightly expand the windshield on that side and cover the wood, making it invisible.....a very minimal change.  Finally, the white on the hood was paint that was smooth.  But it just looked too smooth and non-vintage appearing when the image was large.  So using the Photoshop Noise filter I added just a bit of Gaussian noise and confined it to the white by using the 'Blend If' sliders on the layer and lowering the layer opacity to taste.  To be honest, that last step is totally invisible on the small blog image, but if seen large adds to the vintage feel.

My webhost seems to be having trouble accepting blog comments from SOME Safari and Internet Explorer browsers. If you try to make a comment on this post and are unable to please feel free to send me the comment via my contact page and I would be glad to post it for you!

What Is Real?

Way back, in 2005 I believe (well, that IS way back in digital imaging years), I wrote an article entitled "Photography And Truth", which was published in Digital Outback Photo. That article can be read and downloaded in pdf format here. In the interim, software has become even more advanced.  What made me think about my 2005 article is a recent purchase I made of Thomas Knoll's  (the developer of Photoshop) Knoll Light Factory.  It certainly isn't inexpensive but I was very intrigued with what it could do.  It allows lighting effects with exquisite control of every aspect of a digitally produced light source.  Any and every aspect of the artifical light and its artifacts, including many that I would never have thought of, is under software control.  The developer really knows and understands light.  For an example of what the software can do, see this short training video by Mark Johnson.

I believe the main users of this software are those that use artificial lights as part of their images (ie portrait and product photographers) but there is also the possibility of using it to enhance landscape photography. This is my first attempt at trying this software.  It is easy to use and very deep in terms of control. Below is my original photograph of the 528 Boat Ramp at Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park.

Copyright Howard Grill

My first attempt at using Knoll Light Factory was to add some sun, causing a subtle, but nonetheless important, change to the image, as seen below.

Copyright Howard Grill

I was able to add the sun on the left, controlling the size of the disc, the clarity of the edge of the disc and the haziness of the glow around it to reflect the cloud cover and could have added flare effects had I wanted to.  For a first attempt I think the effect is realistic.

Will the sun ever, during the course of the year, be in that position......I don't know.  Is it "OK" to do this with 'fine art photographs' that are not photojournalistic?  I certainly can't answer that for everybody.  The thoughts and conclusions in my article "Photography And Truth" reflect my own thinking.  Is it OK for a painter to paint the sun into his image if it isn't out?