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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.

Shooting Locally

In my post entitled 'Western Pennsylvania's Secrets', I mentioned the benefits of photographing in one's own area and the advantages that one has as a 'native', as opposed to a visiting, photographer. Specifically, when one lives in an area, the locale can be photographed throughout all the seasons, in many different weather conditions, and at various times of the day. As I was looking through some photos I had taken and was considering for inclusion in my 'Twin Jewels Project', I ran across one that I thought really exemplified this advantage.

This particular location is usually quite non-descript and very ordinary appearing. It is on the edge of a small body of water that is out in the open and which, on most days, is illuminated by very harsh light and is, overall, not particularly appealing. Nonetheless, every time I would drive by it I kept having the nagging feeling that it should be appealing. It just never seemed to reach what I thought it had the potential to be, at least from a photographic standpoint.

I was out photographing quite early on one foggy morning and wondered what the fog might do for the location and decided to drive by and take a quick peek. Not only was there fog, but the whole area was warmed by filtered light from the rising sun giving it a nice warm, yet contrasty feel.....so I pulled out the camera and tripod and gave it a whirl.

Foggy Morning
Copyright Howard Grill

For the adventurous, it can be difficult to return to the same location many times over. But it can be worth it.

The Twin Jewels Project: Icy River

Today, another image from those being considered for inclusion in my so-called Twin Jewels Project. More information on the project itself can be found here.

Before talking about this particular photograph, I did want to say that I do recognize, as has been brought up in prior comments, the importance of a formal artist's statement regarding the project....it just hasn't been written yet (ah, if only there were more time). I do have some ideas about it floating around in my head, but they still need to be put to paper.

The image I am considering is entitled 'Icy River', and is one of the relatively few that I have taken during the dead of winter. I have to say, much as I have difficulty getting myself out to make photographs in the cold, I always come back glad that I did.

So, on to the image:

Icy River
Copyright Howard Grill

There were several issues that presented themselves in either the photographing or printing stages of making this image.

1) Composition

I liked the "S" shaped curve made by the ice on the right side of the river as it receded from front to back. There were several compositions that I made when taking this picture. In this shot, the focal length of the lens accentuated the favorable "S" shape. It also allowed me to frame the image with ice along the bottom edge of the image which, to me, seemed to give it a 'contained' feel.

However, by making the "S" shape that I liked more prominent, I believe I lost something as well. In some ways I think the focal length is too long when viewing the left side of the river. In the best of all possible worlds, I think the solid portion of the ice on the left bank should have been included all the way down to nearly the bottom of the image, similar to the way it is included on the right. The fact that there is so much more floating ice on the left side of the river compared to the right seems to balance this out to a reasonable extent, but I still wish the solid ice extended further to the bottom of the frame. As mentioned, I would have had to use a shorter focal length to do so and would then lose some of the prominence of the "S" shape, so I am not sure how the tradeoff would have worked out.

I should add that I was standing on an overlook and thus there was no option to move closer in or further out.

2) Color Cast

In the image, as it came out of the camera, there was a fairly strong green color cast in the ice and water on the river as a result of the evergreen tree reflections. Though it was 'real', I did not find that it enhanced the image. However, I did not want to simply desaturaute the green as that would have also destaurated the green trees. So I masked out the trees and removed the cast from the water but then found that there was then a stark and unnatural appearance to the monochrome appearing water and ice compared to the background. I therefore re-introduced a touch of blue-green coloration to the dark areas of the water in order to give the image a more natural feel. I then intensified the green/yellow saturation in the trees a bit.

In regards to color, I also like the way the color in the rocks seem to somewhat echo the color in the distant orange trees.

3) Three Dimensional Effect

I wanted the image to pull the viewer in with a three dimensional effect. Obviously, the use of a relatively short focal length sets the stage. This is also the first image on which I have used the Akvis Enhancer plug-in, and I must say that I am very pleased with the result. By enhancing the subtle differences in shades of green, it really allowed the trees take on much more depth. This effect is not so evident with the small image as seen here...however, I have recently discovered a neat new blogger trick. Simple click on the image and a new window with a larger version will appear.

By the way, the same enlarging trick can be used for the Color In Motion image. In the comments section to that post, there was some discussion about how the image might look if seen larger. Now it seems pretty easy to obtain the enlarged view.

So, in short, I think the image conveys the feel of this location in winter very well. However, I think the composition has some trade offs. I would be interested in hearing what others think about how the composition works (or doesn't).

By the way, if anyone is interested, my prior blog essay entitled "Photography and Truth" has been published on Uwe and Bettina Steinmueller's Digital Outback Photo. Though the text is the same as had been posted in this blog, this new version also has photographic illustrations which the original version did not. The illustrated version can be seen here.

The Twin Jewels Project: Color In Motion

Yup, another Twin Jewels project post. I have written about the project several times before, but if you haven't read about it and would like to know more, you can check it out here.

However, this Twin Jewels post lacks the certainty and self-assuredness of my prior ones. Why? Because I am having difficulty evaluating a photograph that I am considering including as part of the project. Therefore, any honest and constructive input is truly appreciated.

The image is entitled, at least tentatively, "Color In Motion".


"Color In Motion"
Copyright Howard Grill

I took this photograph on a Spring morning, while the wind was blowing. What originally attracted me to the scene were the very saturated colors in the yellow buds on the short plants as well as the reds and yellows in the leaves. To me it looked more like Fall than Spring, but there it was.

I was hoping to capture the sense of Spring renewal in a semi-abstract way....splotches of color on a canvas. I have some straight shots from when the wind died down with no motion blur to the leaves, but I actually thought that the motion blur of the leaves in the trees conveyed the feeling of the wind and helped transmit a nice feel to the image. The contrast between the leaves that were moving and the shorter yellow plants that demonstrated very little, if any, motion blur was also very appealing to me.

One problem in evaluating the image on the web is that the blur of the red and yellow leaves on the tree doesn't come through very well at the very small image size that Blogger allows.

On one level I really like this shot. I like the color pallete and the way the color is seemingly coming from all over. What I don't like is the lack of 'simplicity'. In some ways the scene looks too chaotic to me with just too many twigs, trees, and undergrowth. I think it might have been more effective had the blurred colorful tree leaves been on a simpler background. Yet, when I look at it on another level, not expecting a ‘beautfully composed’ landscape, but just allowing myself to step back and enjoy the colors and the way they play off each other…well, then I like it. It seems to appeal to me on that level despite the lack of simple lines.

I fully realize that the art is for myself and should not be predicated on how I think others will react to it (see my review of Art and Fear by Bayles and Orland). Nonetheless, my feelings about the image are mixed and so I seek other opinions.

What do you folks think, keep it in the project or out...and why? A thumbs down or just a so-so gives it the boot as I am trying to be heavy-handed with my editing.

The Twin Jewels Project: Pastel Morning

Today, I thought I would post another image that I am considering for inclusion in my "Twin Jewels Project". There is also a quick story that goes along with this one. I have off one Friday every six weeks and on that day I try to get out to photograph since I am usually devoid of responsibilities, at least for the early morning.

This particular image, entitled 'Pastel Morning', was taken on one of those Fridays. This particular morning sticks in my mind because it was a morning on which I decided I would get up early enough to try to shoot sunrise at one of the "Twin Jewel" parks. That was a little unusual for me. While I usually do get up early on the mornings I go out to photograph, the park is about an hour's drive away, so while I usually get there early enough to have a couple of hours to photograph in nice morning light, I am rarely there early enough to actually photograph sunrise.

After hauling myself out of bed, I found myself wondering if I was crazy to get up so early to catch sunrise on my day off. I wasn't quite sure where to go for a good view and was thinking that, in general, Western Pennsylvania does not even have particularly grand sunrises and sunsets because the very hilly terrain tends to block the lower horizon in many areas. The fact that it was quite cold outside just made matters even worse since, as I have mentioned before, cold weather and I are not the greatest of friends.

Back to the photograph in a minute, but to complete the story, very shortly after capturing the image and having experienced an unexpectedly majestic sunrise, I received a call on my cell phone from one of my partners who needed to get some information about a patient from me. He had expected to have awakened me at home, and when he heard where I was and what I was doing thought I was completely crazy. I had been wondering the same thing myself earlier, but, by this time, I had already experienced the magnificent sunrise and in my mind it was clear to me that the crazy thing would have been to have been anywhere else but this particular spot on that particular morning.

"Pastel Morning"
Copyright Howard Grill

Back to the photograph. I decided to photograph sunrise over the lake in the park. Of course, I wasn't quite sure where over the lake the sun would rise ( I guess you could call that ill prepared, but that is one of those things that I just never seem to be able to figure out....can anyone tell me how to do so reliably?) so I just got into position pointing generally east, according to my car compass.

As I mentioned, I wasn't prepared for anything spectacular. While it was still fairly dark, I picked out an area across the lake that I thought had the most interesting graphic appearance I could see. I liked the way the mountains seemed to cross the flatter foreground at an angle.

As sunrise approached, the sky started to glow completely orange! I had never seen coloration so intense in this area before. As it got brighter, the open sky stayed orange and the cloudy areas became an unusual pastel blue color. It was most definitely worth getting out of bed and into the cold.

I remember thinking that one of the great things about nature photography is the surprise of never knowing ahead of time what you are going to see and be able to photograph. The mornings when one gets up early and nothing materializes just serve to intensify the incredible feeling you get when you are 'out there' and this sort of scene plays out. I do realize that other areas of the country have much grander sunrises and landscapes in which to portray them, but, for the area I am trying to portray in my project, it simply doesn't get any better than this.

The final image is cropped a bit from the original frame. It struck me that the pink and blue bands were very linear graphic elements of the image and that even the green tree lined land areas seem to fit in as a linear band. I cropped a bit from the top and bottom of the image until the width of the bands of color seemed to complement each other just right to me.

After sitting through the sunrise, I was not only amazed by how quickly the light got more and more intense, but also by how it faded just as rapidly. It was all over within 30 minutes, at the most. I had to snap a picture afterwards as a great example of how important it is to be at a location at the right time and just how quickly the light and mood can change. So here is 'Pastel Morning Plus Thirty Minutes". Don't be late!

"Pastel Morning Plus Thirty Minutes"
Copyright Howard Grill

The Twin Jewels Project: Water Painting

In a prior post, I spoke about and described what I call “The Twin Jewels Project”. Today I thought I would talk about another of the images that I think has ‘made the cut’ for inclusion. It is also the last of the three for the project that I have used in prior different discussions in this blog. Future images I discuss for this project will be new to the blog.


“Water Painting” began as a motion study and ended up as a study in both motion and color. As I was walking by an area of the river that runs through one of the “Twin Jewel” parks, I noticed that there was a lone stone that was disturbing the movement of water going by and I thought it might make for some interesting images if I used a slow shutter speed to blur the water. I stayed at the spot for about twenty minutes or so taking shots at various shutter speeds, hoping that some of them would prove to have interesting shapes captured in the moving water to contrast with the stationary rock.

Several of the photographs did prove to have abstract shapes in the water, but the ones that I found most eye-catching were the ones that portrayed the water in an ‘intermediate’ fashion. By this I mean not totally smoothed out so that the overall sense of motion is lost and yet not so frozen in time that there is no sense of motion blur. My favorite one came right out of the camera like this:

"Water Painting" In Its Most Basic Form
Copyright Howard Grill

I was quite attracted to the preservation of both the shape of the swells as well as the tonal variation. But, in my mind, the image still lacked something; I didn’t feel as if the viewer was drawn into it. It didn’t seem to have that something that makes one want to dwell on and examine all of its nuances.

Boosting the contrast was a start, but I felt that what the image really needed was strong color with associated variations in the color tones to go along with the motion. Despite the fact that the color I was introducing was more ‘surreal’ than ‘real’, I felt that it nonetheless transmitted the feeling I was trying to convey when I took the shot. As I worked with the image, I felt that the linear motion blur of the water seemed like paintstrokes that called for the strong color (and hence the image title).

In addition, as I have also previously discussed in regards to this image, I rotated it since it seemed more peaceful with the rock in the rotated position. And so, I ended up with a final image as seen here, which I think I will likely include as part of the project:



Water Painting
Copyright Howard Grill


Do the saturated colors go to far.......?

Twin Jewels II

I have previously written about what I call The Twin Jewels Project and mentioned that I would intermittently be posting images that I think might ‘make the cut’ for project inclusion.

Three Trees
Copyright Howard Grill

This image is entitled “Three Trees”. Right next to one of the park’s parking areas was a tract of forest with the ground covered with fall leaves. I knew I wanted to capture an image of the trees and ground but was left with what, for me, always seems to be a problem with photographing forests and trees. That is, how to simplify the composition; to ‘clean it up’ so that what is included in the frame produces a harmonious graphic composition and doesn’t just look like ‘a bunch of trees’. In my mind, this is a classic situation that the saying “painters start with nothing and keep adding until they get something beautiful and photographers start with everything and keep removing until they get something beautiful” pertains to. Well, I might not have gotten that quote exactly right, but you know what I mean.

So I stood along the roadside trying to visually isolate a grouping of trees that looked like it could ‘stand on its own’, along with enough of the ground to show the leaves. I was also hoping to find a grouping that would work together graphically but not be right next to each other, in order to introduce a sense of depth into the image.

I was ultimately drawn to this particular grouping. I tend to find, when working on composition, that once a ‘problem is solved’ things are still never as settled as one would hope. There is always the next level of ‘discovery’ within the composition to work on. In this case, I found the grouping I wanted, but then started wondering how the three main trees should be oriented with respect to each other. It was obvious that their relationship to each other could be changed by merely moving the camera a few inches to the left or right. I ultimately decided that the best approach was my initial reaction, which was to have the three trees oriented in space so that they didn’t touch and had equal spacing around them.

Sometimes, after the fact, relationships are found in a composition that hadn’t been planned on and which turn out to be a surprise. In this instance, I had liked the appearance of the greenery growing by the closest tree. What I hadn’t realized is that there was a bit of an ‘echo’ of this throughout the picture, with the most distant tree also having an associated green plant of its own. The tree on the left does not have a plant beside it, but the green discoloration of the tree trunk and the small patch of green grass to its right side seems to make up for this. I also like the way the yellow canopy of leaves echoes the darker leaves on the ground.

Finally, and this is not at all apparent on a small web image, I added ‘extra’ sharpening to the most forward tree during post-processing, which allows it to ‘pop’ from the image even more and enhance the three dimensional effect.

Based on my rather verbose description, it is probably obvious that I think this image ‘works’, but I am always interested in the impressions of others. I do find interesting the amount of thought that can go into making a picture of something as simple as a grouping of trees.

The Twin Jewels Project

In several prior blog posts, I have talked about the importance of working on a discreet photographic project. I have been continuing to shoot, as I have for several years, in two nearby local parks (hence the name Twin Jewels). I also mentioned that the photographic portion of my New Years resolution was to try to edit down my images from these two locations and end up with 30-40 large prints. Because I tend to be a perfectionist when it comes to printing, and since I have somewhat limited free time, it can take me several weeks to bring an image from RAW format to a final print that I am happy with; one that I think expresses the feeling that I was aiming for.

As the project progresses, I thought that I would post the images that I think can ‘make the cut’, with perhaps a few words about them, how I came to take them, and what I was hoping to express with them. Any comments or feedback as to the success of the images would, of course, be appreciated, and even moreso any comments about the failings of the images or why they miss the mark.

I have used three of the images in earlier posts but will repost these and discuss them from the point of view of the project. The blog entries with these images will be sporadic, and I somehow doubt that the project will be completed within the year, but I am trying. I have 6 or 7 images printed so far.

"Fluidity"
Copyright Howard Grill

I took this photograph because I was struck by the static “V” shape in the presence of the water’s motion as well as the contrast between the smoothness of the water going over the edge and the tumultuousness of the water once it hit the bottom. I was also drawn to the abstract, almost science fiction-like appearance, of the water involuting into the triangle shape in the center of the image. To me, the photograph seemed to work best as a presentation of abstract shapes and motion, but in its initial state still lacked impact. Here in Western Pennsylvania there are not very many bright blue winter days and thus the water often looks quite drab. Changing the hue and saturation of the water seemed to give the image the impact and emotion it needed, though it is clearly not an accurate representation of how the water looked at the time the image was captured.

This presentation is a crop of the initial photograph (the original can be seen below). In the original, the "V" was off center, but working with the image I felt it was much stronger with the "V" bull's eye in the center. I think this is one of those occasions where the rule was meant to be broken.

Copyright Howard Grill

For comparison, here is the exact same shot, (a few seconds later as I didn't want to erase my stored ACR setings) but with only the default Camera RAW auto settings applied. I show this not to demonstrate how Photoshop can arbitrarily alter an image, but, rather, to allow a comparison between the actual capture and the final expression of what I had in mind.