Blog

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.

iPhone Photography Revisited

Back in December, I had written a post about photographing with an iPhone (which I don't personally own). That post revolved around an iPhone app for sharing images and a live feed of iPhone images submitted from folks around the world to Chase Jarvis' website called "The Best Camera" (as in the one you have with you).

Now iPhone photography has been taken one step further. I am talking about fine art iPhone photography! Seriously. Turns out you can do some pretty amazing stuff with the iPhone in conjunction with some image editing apps without ever having the photo leave the phone.

Think I'm kidding or exagerating? Check out this area of Dan Burkholder's website. The images are pretty amazing! He even has iPhone photography workshops and has an article about his iPhone photographs in this month's PhotoTechnique.


Tree And Pond In Fall
Copyright Dan Burkholder
iPhone Image With Post-Processing

I had always thought that cell phone photography was for 'the masses' and could not be used for 'serious art'. However, I have to say that with the changes in technology it is quite possible that this is no longer the case (not that I am about to go out and sell off my Canon 5D MK II). Though I have never seen any of Dan's iPhone prints myself, I do have a friend who has seen them and she was quite impressed with their quality (as a separate issue from their 'artistry' which, in my mind and hers, is clearly superb). But then again, what else would one expect from Dan Burkholder?

As an aside, some may have noticed that there has been a lack of images on the blog recently. That is because it has been taking me some time to set up my new computer system, load software, deal with driver bugs etc. But I hope to be back to making images in the very near future. Thanks for joining me here.

Chris Jordan: Running The Numbers

Seattle photographer Chris Jordan's work is so different, so intriguing, so filled with message that it really is important to see for yourself. Rather than try to describe it I will let you read what he has said in his own words:

"Running the Numbers looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something: fifteen million sheets of office paper (five minutes of paper use); 106,000 aluminum cans (thirty seconds of can consumption) and so on. My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books. Statistics can feel abstract and anesthetizing, making it difficult to connect with and make meaning of 3.6 million SUV sales in one year, for example, or 2.3 million Americans in prison, or 32,000 breast augmentation surgeries in the U.S. every month.

This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. Employing themes such as the near versus the far, and the one versus the many, I hope to raise some questions about the roles and responsibilities we each play as individuals in a collective that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming.

~chris jordan, Seattle, 2008 "

He subsequently continued this style of photography with another project entitled "Running The Numbers II"

I think this work is illuminating and worth looking at and thinking about. After all, isn't the best kind of photography the kind that makes you think?

Here is a link to Jordan's website. Because of the way the site is constructed, I can't give a direct link to the project pages.....so once on the home page just click on the Running The Numbers projects and have a look for yourself!

Black And White Vision

I have always enjoyed black and white photography and the way that lines, shapes, and tones play such an important role in the image. Though I had a black and white darkroom when I was a kid, I hadn't done much black and white imaging recently because of the difficulty in making good B&W inkjet prints. Several years back, folks were setting up for black and white inkjet printing using third party inks with dedicated black and white print drivers etc. Many reported excellent results, others, well, not so much. Lately I have been experimenting with black and white printing again, as my Epson 7900 gives really superb black and white output.

One of the photography sites/communities which I enjoy perusing because of the extremely high quality imagery that can be found there is Fotoblur; and there is a good amount of black and white photography on the site.

As I was looking at some of the images by various photographers, I was struck again by how important tonality and simple graphic lines are to a black and white image; even more so, I believe, than for color images. In addition, somehow the 'magic' of black and white seems to be able to transform a scene into 'art' that would otherwise be bland in color. And part of the skill of making black and white images is the ability to visualize this transformation; to see, if you will, in black and white. I saw many beautiful images perusing Fotoblur yesterday, but the one that really drove home to me the ability of black and white to make 'art' out of what we might ordinarily walk by and not even glance at was this photograph by Linda Wride:


"Cubes"
Copyright Linda Wride

Check out the rest of Linda's compelling imagery here. She also has a website that features her botanicals.

The Best Camera

Perhaps you are familiar with Chase Jarvis and his iPhone app for taking and sharing images, as well as his book The Best Camera Is The One That's With You: iPhone Photography by Chase Jarvis (Voices That Matter). I personally wasn't until I heard Ibarionex Perello's interview with him on The Candid Frame.

What I find far more interesting (since, for one thing, I don't own an iPhone) is Chase's website The Best Camera, where one can see a live feed of images being posted from people using his application. The volume of images is amazing....and even more amazing is the creativity behind a very large percentage of them. I have to admit, I don't think I am 'into' the phenomena myself, but it is interesting to watch it all happen.

I Love Rock 'N Roll

I love rock and roll......do you? Well, if you love photography AND rock music then you owe it yourself to do two things:

1) Go over to The Candid Frame and listen to Ibarionex Perello's interview with Lynn Goldsmith, who is a premier "Rock Photographer" (though she is a wonderful photographer of many other subjects as well). The interview can be found here, though you will need to scroll down to the Oct 11 post to get it.

2) Buy Lynn's book, which Ibarionex discusses in the podcast, called PhotoDiary. The book is chock full of very entertaining stories about photography and rock personalities as well as great shots of your favorite musicians. And the best part.....I got the book for under $5 (yes, that's a 5 with no zero after it) shipping included. What a deal...and you can get a similar one at Abe's Books here.

ENJOY!

Spending Time

In my last post entitled "Compliments", I wrote about people's responses to viewing photographs. Andy Ilachinski made a wonderful and insightful comment to that post. Because I really enjoyed Andy's words and since people don't always read the comments section, I thought I would put his response up as a post on and of itself.

Andy noted that:

Perhaps an even deeper revelation that underlies a wonderful comment like "It made me think" (or feel, or ...) is that it simply compelled them to *stop* (literally and figuratively), pause, reflect, consider, ponder, immerse,...spend *time* with your image. The only thing that is truly precious to *anyone* in life is time itself; the time we give to others, and to the focus of our attention. And the greatest gift any viewer can give an artist of any kind (IMHO), is the time they give to merely look at your work. If asked to *articulate" *why* they spend time, I'm sure we'll hear all sorts of responses, as appropriate for different people with different predilections and verbal/self-reflective capacity. But, fundamentally, what brings joy to my own ears (from someone viewing my images), is something that - loosely translated - means "I wanted to spend some time with your picture." That always brings a smile to my soul.

Andy Ilachinski

As usual, Andy has hit the proverbial nail right on the head!

Andy also wrote a very insightful post on his blog about how people view photographs based on his experience working in a co-op art gallery that is definitely well worth reading.

For more of Andy's wisdom (and of course his marvelous photographs) check out his blog. To view his photographs scroll down the blog to the list of portfolios on the right side.

Pixel - Peeping, 70's Style

One thing leads to another. I used to watch Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In regularly as a kid. Recently, Henry Gibson, one of the show's comedians, died, which got me thinking of that time in my life. This led to my remembering a book which I had recently bought but had not yet cracked open.

In one of the late Bill Jay's Endnotes columns which he wrote for LensWork, he mentioned, and recommended, a book by Ralph Hattersley entitled "Discover Your Self Through Photography". He mentioned that it is still as relevant today as it was when it was published, though it has a good bit of 60's lingo. Somehow, having Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In on the mind led me to have a peek at the book.

Initially published in 1971, it really is a wonderful book that is filled with ideas and exercises to help expand one's creativity through photography and is definitely worth reading. I personally find the occasional smattering of 60's language and ideas a bonus that tends to bring back memories, if only for a short while (and if they were there to start with). And to top it all off, the book can be had quite cheaply and contains many images by Jerry Uelsmann (who taught with Hattersley at the same institution).

One of the paragraphs in the book made me recognize that what we now call 'pixel-peeping' is not at all something new....the pixels may be new but the peeping goes back a long way. In his introduction to an exercise called 'Creative Destruction' (an exercise involving the exploration of purposefully breaking photographic rules), Hattersley says:

"One of the fascinations of photography is that it can be a subtle and demanding craft. No matter how much sensitivity and technique you pour into a photograph, it can still absorb more. This is a great challenge, of course. But it can lead to the hang-up (there's a bit of that 60's creeping in) of being overimpressed with craftsmanship at the expense of everything else. People who fall in this trap generally turn themselves into unhappy, nit-picking old maids (yikes, I don't think anyone would publish that terminology today) who are terrified of making technical mistakes. To avoid them, they conduct endless experiments with technical trivialities or ceaselessly repeat past technical triumphs."

That sure seems to me a reminder that pixel-peeping is nothing new and that our main goal in photographing should be to instill emotion into our pictures while still secondarily maintaining a backdrop of technical excellence.

More Dreamscapes

I recently finished processing and printing the sixth image in my Dreamscapes series. I particularly like the ghostlike image behind the boy (though it may not show up that well in this small image format), which was caused by the child suddenly walking through the scene during the long exposure. I guess you can tell that it isn't a 'real' ghost because it also casts a shadow!


Dreamscapes #6
Copyright Howard Grill

In addition, another image from this series is going to appear in a "Self-Portrait"(yes, that is me at the end of the tunnel) themed show at The Silver Eye Center For Photography. The exhibit celebrates Silver Eye's 30th anniversary.


Dreamscapes #3
Copyright Howard Grill

While having any image shown at The Silver Eye is an honor, I do have to admit that this particular show is non-juried, with all members of the gallery invited to display one image. The show runs from July 8th to September 12th. Given the intriguing theme, it should be a really creative, interesting and enjoyable exhibit.

Bill Jay : 1940-2009

Bill Jay, who I have written about several times on Motivation, passed away on May 13th. I never met or knew him, but absolutely loved to read his writing and look at his photographs of people. Most recently, I finished a wonderful out of print book of his that had been recommended to me entitled "Cyanide And Spirits". Many of the essays in that book can be found on his website, where he generously made all of his writings available to anyone who sought them out.

Brooks Jensen, the editor of Lenswork, is collecting anecdotes and statements from people that knew him and is going to be compiling them. I look forward to reading about Mr. Jay from those who knew him personally. The information regarding that can be found here. More information about Mr. Jay's life can be found on Mary Virginia Swanson's website here.

The Ghosts Of Auschwitz

My last few posts about ethereal photographs and spirit photography bring me to a much more serious topic. Photographer Cole Thompson, who I have written about before, has recently had his newest body of work entitled "The Ghosts Of Auschwitz" published in B&W magazine. The same portfolio is also going to be featured in upcoming issues of Silvershotz and LensWork.

The recent article in B&W describes how, during his visit to the death camps, he had initially planned not to take photographs. However, "while thinking of the spirits of the people that still lingered there", he began making images. Neutral density filters allowed long exposures, turning the tourists that were visiting the camps into haunting, ghostlike blurs.

Having lost relatives in the Holocaust and having an uncle who still bears his concentration camp number tattooed on his forearm, I find Thompson's images intensely personal and moving. However, one need not have any personal experience with the event to have the images convey a sense of somber remembrance. They do so in a way that makes the memories of those that perished come alive. They are a unique interpretation of events that are otherwise exceedingly difficult to portray in a way that makes the viewer want to look, linger, and think.

Spirit Photography

The zone plate imaging that I have been doing produces soft focus and ethereal looking photograpahs. Seeing the 'ghostlike' results that are obtained made me think about the phenomena of 'spirit photography' that began in the 1860's. At that time, there were people who purported to being able to take photographs in which spirits or ghosts appeared in the image that had not been visible to the naked eye.

Bill Jay wrote a marvelous essay on the history of 'spirit photography' entitled "A Case Of Spirits". It is really a fascinating read and one that I think will be enjoyed by those interested in some of the more bizarre aspects of photographic history . If you have never read Bill Jay's writing before, you are in for a real treat. I have previously posted about the extensive number of his essays and writings that he makes available on his website. There is plenty more interesting material to read after finishing the essay on spirit photography.

New Website

Though I had programmed my website on my own, and was generally pretty pleased with it, the site had the drawback of being difficult to update. An art site is not particularly helpful if it tends to stagnate and isn't updated with one's new work. To alleviate this problem, I had been working on programming a new site that would automate some functions, but this was taking far more time than I had planned. Not happy with how things were going, I decided that it would be more effective to use a 'hosted solution' to the problem. In short, I felt the best use of my limited time was not to spend it concentrating on website design.

After looking at various companies and their solutions to the problem, I decided to go with Visual Server. It doesn't have much in terms of fancy bells and whistles (though they seem to be making relatively frequent updates, the most recent of which includes an easy way to add a shopping cart to the site) but the templates are clean and easy to use. The template setup has also led me to think of my images in a more project oriented fashion. They put the focus of the site squarely on the artwork, which is where it should be. Though a bit on the pricy side, Visual Server is owned by Photo-Eye, so I also feel that at least I am supporting an art-centric organization.

My old URL (www.hgrillphotographic.com) redirects to the new site. However, people had a difficult time remembering that web address and so I now have a new domain. The new site can be found at http://www.howardgrill.com.

I made the site live as of about a week ago, and am still working on getting it just the way I want it. Not all my work is up yet, as I am still working on assembling the images into portfolios. Nonetheless, if anyone takes the opportunity to visit, I would love to hear what you think.

Owning Photographs

Most of my enjoyment of photographs, other than my own work, has been through books. Like many photographers, I love books of photographs and own quite a few of them. More recently, however, I was thinking that , given my love of photography, it is somewhat absurd that I don't actually own anyone's prints other than my own. I felt that I should not only produce my own artwork, but also own and appreciate other's work. I also thought there would be something special about being able to hold the actual artifact, the actual photograph, and thus be able to directly see how the artist wished to have his vision conveyed to the viewer.

"Collectible" carries with it a sense of stuffiness and, more importantly, a high price tag. Worse than that, if something is extremely expensive one tends to be nervous about 'using' it and tends to distance themself from it....white gloves and all. In addition, when one talks about collectible photographs or artwork they are often talking about purchasing it not only (or perhaps not even primarily) for enjoyment, but also for its potential appreciation in value.

With my decision to purchase photographs I wanted to dispense with all the above issues. Specifically, this is what I was looking for:

1) The price had to be what I consider reasonable so that an occasional outlay would not leave me thinking and worrying about whether I had made a wise purchase. That price might well be different for others, but for me it was in the $20-40 per image range, with the knowledge that I would be purchasing smaller prints at this price. However, smaller is exactly what I had in mind for this venue....something that I could take out from time to time and appreciate without necessarily hanging it on my wall as a large print. I wanted to be able to handle the print.

2) Images that 'speak to me' without concern for price appreciation.

3) At this price point, I knew that I would be acquiring inkjet, as opposed to gelatin silver, prints. However, given the well-known advances in inkjet technology over the last several years this is not something that was particularly concerning to me. In fact, this is something that is likely to be most meaningful to those who are collecting with an eye toards price appreciation. That is not to say that some people might not prefer the aesthetics of gelatin silver, just that the quality of inkjet prints are at least as good, even if the aesthetic might be different.

So where does one go to find photographs that fit these qualifications? Let me suggest three starting points. First, and this is what recently got me interested in acquiring photographs, check out the new LensWork Special Editions Folios. The ones already offered are marvelous and there are sure to be many more offered in the future. Second, and I discovered this from the Thoughts On Photography podcast that I wrote about in my last post, check out the 20x200 gallery which offers 8x10 prints for $20. Thirdly, look at the websites of some of the photographers that you interact with on internet forums and blogs. Some offer small prints at very reasonable prices. In addition, I also wonder about the possibility of print exchanges with other photographers.

All of this has had me rethinking my own print pricing structure, but more on that in my next post.

Quick Quotes: Margaret Bourke-White

"If you want to photograph a man spinning, give some thought to why he spins. Understanding for a photographer is as important as the equipment he uses."


Margaret Bourke-White

This concept has been verbalized by many, many photographers. I am just not sure I have 'heard' anyone say it better than Margaret Bourke-White.

Another Use For The Flashlight

In my last post, I wrote about how having a small flashlight helped me to make a photograph better. I have been playing around with one ever since I read Les Saucier's flashlight article.

I recently found another benefit to having a small LED light. The other day I was making some macro photographs using a 180mm macro lens with a 1.4 TC and focusing manually. I was also using the flashlight to throw some supplementary light on the subject of the image. I had focused and was playing with the direction of lighting when it occurred to me that the light might also help with focusing.

So, I tried a little experiment. I focused manually, then added extra light on the subject and tried to see if the focus was still optimal. I was flabbergasted to find that the vast majority of times, even though I had been sure that my focus was right on, it, in fact, was able to be improved by re-focusing with the added light on the subject. Perhaps being off by a tad is not a big deal for many images, but for macro work it certainly is.....it can make or break the picture.

I don't know if it is my age, my eyes, or what....but I do know that now I will be using the flashlight to help me get that focus just the way I want it when shooting macro images.

The more I use this little light, the mire I like it and the more uses I find for it.

Flashlight Saves Image

I love photographing during Springtime. Last weekend I made my first of what is hopefully to be several trips to local wildflower areas. There was some early goldenrod blooming in isolated patches, and I spent some time with my macro lens making images of individual buds. While I was looking around (and getting the aches out of my knees and hips from crouching for so long), I happened to see a ‘bug’ nestled deep within the swirling leaves of an emerging plant. Though I recently wrote a few posts about the types of photographs I don’t frequently take, and one of them was insects, I couldn’t resist trying my hand at capturing an image of the little guy. I liked the pattern and color of the leaves and thought the best approach would be to take an ‘environmental portrait’ rather than trying to fill the frame with the insect’s head.

I needed some added illumination beyond natural light to properly photograph the insect in the recesses of the leaves and so I broke out my macro flash. However, after taking a few shots, I noticed a problem. The flash was generating distracting specular highlights in the water droplets on the leaves around the bug. Since one’s eye tends to be immediately drawn to bright highlights I felt the flash, while providing adequate illumination to make the photo, was, at the same time, detracting from it by drawing the eye away from the main subject.

I could try to change the position of the flash or to partially shade a portion of it, but I realized that besides the uneven lighting that might ensue, it would also be an exercise in futility as the results could only be seen after the shot was taken……and I only have two hands. Therefore, after evaluating the results on the camera’s small LCD, it would be impossible to exactly reproduce the lighting conditions that were present during the exposure, let alone change them in any type of controlled fashion.

But then I remembered the small flashlight that I had purchased after reading Les Saucier’s article that I previously wrote about. By holding the flashlight in one hand and the cable release in the other, I was able to make the exposure while looking through the viewfinder and seeing the effect of the lighting in real time, enabling me to minimize the specular highlights and produce an image that I found pleasing.

Copyright Howard Grill

Not only that, the flashlight enhanced my creative efforts. Though I ultimately ended up liking the most straightforward lighting the best, I couldn’t help but experiment with different ways of illuminating the bug. I tried using the flashlight to light the little guy from all different angles including backlighting him from behind the leaf. That might have worked if I had a second flashlight to throw a bit more light on the bug from the front as well. Nonetheless, I felt a bit better about not having a second light when I realized that I would then have to set off the cable release with my mouth!

The flashlight is definitely handy to have around. Why not give it a try!

Stone Abstracts By Mark Graf

For the last month or two, fellow blogger and photographer Mark Graf has intermittently written in his blog about photographing rock samples, particularly Pietersite, as part of his 'Inspired By Stone' project. Ever since seeing the images he has posted as part of this project I have simply been mesmerized by them as well. I am equally amazed by the concept of how many beautiful compositions can be found within just a few square inches. Mark talks a bit about how he made the photographs here. I think I might have to give this a try myself.


Pietersite Macro
Copywrite Mark Graf
From His Blog "Notes From The Woods"

Have a look at his rock, shell, and wood abstract gallery here. The images are truly beautiful and open up a world that few take a close enough look at.

Bob Egan's "In Search Of Color"

On Saturday night, I had the good fortune to attend friend and fellow photographer Bob Egan's exhibit of photographs entitled "In Search Of Color" at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, PA. It was a superbly executed show of 21 of Bob's images with a timely theme that fits the seasonal change from Winter to Spring.

I have written many times before about how difficult I find it to go out photographing in the Winter. Apparently, Bob has the same problem since the opening sentence in his artist's statement for the show is "I detest taking pictures in the winter!" Now, that clearly got my attention. After noting that he used to think that his main dislike was the cold weather itself, on further introspection he realized that "the actual challenge was the absence of color in the subject matter during this season " and that the greater issue was "How could I solve the problem of taking winter photographs without limiting my palette?". The concept and underlying theme for this exhibit was borne from the solution to his dilemma.

During the show, the viewer is taken progressively from several nearly monochromatic snowstorm images (see Frosted Featherwings, below) to those with bright and vibrant colors as Bob entertains various ways of expanding the color palette during the bland winter months. Bob's solutions include seeking color generated by dramatic light just before and after snowstorms, traveling to where there is little change in the color palette as the year progresses, photographing colorful subjects indoors, making abstracts of focal areas of color, and, finally, photographing in the Phipps Conservatory itself, where color always abounds (and where Bob teaches a series of courses on flower photography).


"Frosted Featherwings"
Copyright Bob Egan

The images were a delight to look at. I found myself spending time contemplating and enjoying each one.

One thing that I found very interesting, had never considered myself (but surely will in the future), and had the opportunity to discuss with Bob was the matting and framing. I have always double matted my color images with white and used gold or silver frames. Bob took an extremely effective alternative approach. The photographs were double matted with a rim of white mat showing around the image and a black overmat on top with simple black frames. The end result was that the black overmat and frame imparted a striking richness to the colors, much like looking at images against a black background on the internet. A very striking and extremely effective technique for a show that was about color.


"Painted Ladies On The Lake"
Copyright Bob Egan

So, if you live in the Pittsburgh area, I highly recommend a trip over to Phipps to check out "In Search Of Color"!

Just Around The Corner

Spring is just around the corner. OK, so maybe it still is just the begining of March and, while it is true that here in Western Pennsylvania you can get light snow even in the begining of April, the anticipation of Spring is in the air. Spring is my favorite season and I absolutely take delight in photographing it.

So, Mark, if you are out there, lets get ready to shoot more trillium!

"Peeking Out"

Copyright Howard Grill

"Wild Geranium"

Copyright Howard Grill

Quick Quotes: Garry Winogrand

"I don't have anything to say in any picture. My only interest in photography is to see what something looks like as a photograph. I have no preconceptions."

Garry Winogrand (1928-1984)

For me, this quote by Garry Winogrand really encompasses a good deal of both the excitement and the frustration of photographing. It perfectly expresses to me, in words, the fact that the camera sees things differently than our eyes do.

At times, it can be very frustrating when I am excited about a scene at the time the shutter clicked, thinking that I had captured something special, only to find that the final image leaves me uninspired. Alternatively, how delightful it can be when I first see an image I took and it just hits the right way emotionally, perhaps in a way that I hadn't expected.

I know that there are many interpretations of the meaning behind this quote, but for me the idea that most hits home is the uncertainty of predicting how something will look in a photo. I think Mr. Winogrand expressed this just perfectly. Many times the mundane will look beautiful, and, after all, isn't the ability to make that happen the mark of a great photographer?