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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.

A Way To Portray

For many years, I have enjoyed taking pictures of trees and portions of trees that have interesting shapes. However, when viewing those images I have never felt that they demonstrated what I was trying to show or say. They never seemed to fully express my intent. That is, until I recently had an idea.

It suddenly dawned on me that if what I wanted to show was the shape of the tree, than I should just focus on the shape and make it an image about shape and nothing else. In my mind, the way I thought about doing that was to make the tree totally black and ‘blow out’ the background sky. Then I could blend the tree into a pleasing texture which would show off the tree’s shape. I tried it and really liked what I got:,

 
Two Trees © Howard Grill

Two Trees © Howard Grill

 

I am definitely going to be trying a few more of these.

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.

Farmhouse In Fall

Continuing on the fall theme for another posting…..

It was several years ago that I made this photograph and, though I posted it at that time, truth be told I was never really happy with it, as I didn’t think it really conveyed the feeling I had in mind. So going over some of my old fall images, I revisited this one to rework it. I think this version, which now includes some newer techniques to me (like luminosity masking) and some ideas garnered from my ‘digital art’ course (such as adding a texture and running it through some filters - Topaz Studio and Nik Color Efex but not just accepting the default settings) gives it a much more painterly and ‘storybook’ feel that far better conveys what I had in mind.

It can definitely be a good idea to go through some of your older images with a fresh eye, particularly the ones that didn’t quite make it or didn’t express exactly what you wanted them to!

 
© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

Hello, World!

Repainting

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
 

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

 

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!

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.