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.

The Artist's Statement

The artist's statement can be very difficult to write. It is often filled with artspeak that is incomprehensible to the average everyday viewer. I found myself wanting to write a very plain and simple statement to go with my black and white botanical project which I am calling "Floral Forms". I wanted it to clearly state what the project was about without a lot of verbiage that would make the average "non-artist" viewer roll their eyes. The following is what I came up with. Have I succeeded?

FLORAL FORMS

One of the most prominent characteristics of flowers are their brilliant and varied colors. So why would anyone want to portray them in black and white?

We don’t live in a monochrome world. Colors are our reality and one of the first things we tend to notice. In fact, the more vivid the color the more it attracts our attention and becomes an object’s dominant characteristic. Removing that color from a flower, or any other object, allows us to concentrate on other attributes. We can start to appreciate a flower’s form, shape, curves, and lines. We can pay more attention to the various characteristics that previously had to take a “back seat” to color.

It is my intent that these images allow the viewer to see a flower’s beauty in a new way; a way that might have been easily overlooked. Black and white allows us to see differently. It affords a way of seeing that focuses on “Floral Forms”.

When Color Becomes Black And White

As I have been working on my flower photographs, I have found that some images just seem to 'work' in black and white.  And I have found that it can sometimes be difficult to predict when that is going to be the case.  What I have therefore been doing is to take photos where the flowers have interesting forms and shapes and quickly try a black and white conversion.  By that I mean spending 60 seconds on it, or, at times, just looking at it in Lightroom by hovering over a series of  black and white presets that I have, even though I don't do my conversions in Lightroom (I use the Silver Efex Pro plug in for Photoshop......not that you can't do a great conversion in Lightroom....you can). If one of these quick exercises look promising, then I will start over and spend the amount of time needed to really work on getting the conversion I would like. This generally involves first making a color image with good color and tonal separation (which might mean that it doesn't look the way I would particularly want the finished color version to look), spot it, and convert to black and white with Silver Efex Pro.  I then generally work on local areas of the image with curves and, more recently, both curves and a dodge and burn layer.

To illustrate, below are three color images.  Two of them did not seem to 'work' for me in black and white.  I force myself to 'give up' when I find I am really pushing and pushing and can't make it work.  Which one became the one with a black and white conversion that 'worked' and will become part of my black and white botanical project? Don't cheat.....scroll down slowly and just look at the color images first! See what you would predict.  The black and white versions with my opinion are further on down.

Trillium erectum forma luteum

Copyright Howard Grill

About Face

Copyright Howard Grill

Orchid

Copyright Howard Grill

And now for the black and white versions:

Trillium erectum forma luteum

Black and White Version

Copyright Howard Grill

The image above (Trillium erectum forma luteum) is the one that 'works' for me in black and white.  There is a nice range of tones and contrasts, from the black background to the dark center with white petals and gray leaves.  I liked it as soon as I saw it.

Aas for the two black and white images below........they don't seem to work for me.  They don't have a wide enough tonal range with enough contrast and they are not going to be included in my collection. However, I wasn't sure of this before I made the conversion.

Both images are ones that I learned a lesson with.  I liked the color versions and kept spending time 'pushing' to make a black and white version that I liked.  But it just wasn't working.  My lesson was that when it comes to these conversions you will generally know pretty quickly if it is going to work in black and white.  If the time you are spending isn't fine tuning, but, rather a continued effort to make the black and white version work....well, there is a reason for that!

About Face

Black and White Version

Copyright Howard Grill

Orchid

Black and White Version

Copyright Howard Grill

Thinking About The Presentation

I think I am slowly nearing the end of collecting my first series of black and white botanicals. Not that there won't be a second series! There might also be other categories sych as cacti, leaves etc..  Yes, I have a bunch of those as well. But at some point one needs to try to assemble a cohesive group into a series that stands alone.  As I think about what 'holds together' the following comes to mind:

1) Subject - While one could have flower macros as well as flower groupings, I think the idea for one project is flowers. By that I mean that if it is flowers it shouldn'e be interesting leaf macros.  The leaves will be another series.

2) Toning - I believe there needs to be a coherance between the sepia toning among the group.  Interestingly, If I apply the same toning settings in Silver Efex Pro, that doesn't necessarily give me results among the series of photos that seem to hold together.  I suspect this is related to the fact that there I like a difference in toning strength between highlights and shadows.  I tend to like purer white highlights that don't look 'muddy' and so I apply less toning to the highlights.  But holding a higher key image next to a lower key image makes it appear as if there is discrepancy in the toning.  This is something I suspect I am just going to need to adjust by eye, as opposed to having a one size fits all recipe.

3) Editing - Obviously one wants to only show their best work, but, even with a number of photos that might be appropriate, you still need to cull the number down (or up) depending on the presentaton.  The 'proper' number for a show (which itself will be somewhat reliant on the amount of wallspace and image size) will be different from the number that might be optimal for a folio or a pdf or an ebook.  Along the same lines, the image size will also depend on the presentation venue.

I suspect this will still take a couple of months, but I am starting to feel that it is time to start thinking about putting things together into a stand alone project.

Copyright Howard Grill

Consistency

As I work on and process individual images from my growing collection of black and white botanicals, I tend to process and tone each individual image as a 'stand alone' photograph.  My ultimate aim however, once I have a nice collection, is to put my favorites together as a unified project.  As a scan over the finished images, I can immediately see some difficulty.  The toning, while optimized to my eye for any individual image, is a bit different for all.  Some tend towards the paler and less saturated sepia tone and others are more saturated. Ultimately they need to all hang together as a unified project with some consistency to 'the look'.  This is yet another issue to take into account when dealing with a project, as opposed to a single wall hanging.

Copyright Howard Grill

Old Images; New Projects

Every so often it is a worthwhile endeavor to review your old, unprocessed photos to see what is lurking there that you may have missed.  When you go back at a much later date you sometimes see things differently and with a fresh eye.  In my case, I also let a lot of images go unprocessed just because of a lack of time coupled with the fact that I might not have been thinking of a specific use or project that the image might fit into. Having recently embarked on my little project of putting together a series of black and white botanical images, I thought that it might be worthwhile going through some of my older flower images that I never processed.  I found some that are, in my opinion, worthy of addition to the series.

This is the first one that I have uncovered on the old hard drives that I thought worthy of processing. Old images can be definitely be useful additions to new projects.

Copyright Howard Grill

The Orchid Show

During the winter, when it is just too darn cold out, I frequently go to the botanical garden near my home on Sunday mornings to make photographs. Most of the time the displays are pretty static except, of course, for what happens to be in bloom at the time. But several times a year they have special shows......a winter flower show, a sping flower show etc.  Well, last weekend was the opening of their "Orchid and Bonsai Show".  I have always liked orchids, 'the most sensual of all flowers'.  In fact, at one point I used to raise them in a growing room I had constructed in my basement. But I had always found it a bit difficult to make photographic compositions that did them justice beyond a straight 'this is what it looks like' shot.  This last weekend, during the show opening, I did get several orchid photos that I am pleased with. And, of course, I tried to move some into my ongoing black and white botanical project.

Cattleya Orchid

Copyright Howard Grill

Floral Dreams

Another selection from my black and white botanical project.  I  had taken this photo some time ago but never felt the right inspiration for processing it.  I was recently looking at some work by a photographer/artist I admire who is very expressive and really pours her soul into her artwork.  She is less concerned about the technical perfections of an image and is more about the feel and mood she creates.  Her work inspired me to process this photo in the way I had intended when I took it......to give the feel of just starting to emerge from a dreamlike state.

Floral Dream

Copyright Howard Grill

Echinacea purpurea

By Howard Grill The newest print from my black and white botanical series.  I have slowly been going through my older botanical color prints and seeing what might look good in a toned black and white version.  Many don't.  I thought this one did.

Copyright Howard Grill

C

More Black And White Botanicals

By Howard Grill

It has been 'between seasons' here lately.  Fall color has pretty much moved on but the trees are not yet bare (I like photographing bare trees) and (thankfully) the snow has not yet arrived.  So it has proven to be a good time to photograph at my local botanical garden in order to add some images to my black and white botanicals collection.

This mum had beautifully pristine white petals with bright pink at the center. The minute I saw it I wanted to process it using  a 'high key' approach.

Mums II

Copyright Howard Grill

High Key At Moraine

I woke up to fog two Sundays ago, which was a day I planned to go out photographing. This is one of the few times that I actually knew exactly what I wanted to make a picture of before I got there.  The fog (and perhaps a bit of looking at Huntington Witherall's work) had me interested in making a high key image.  My original thought was a wharf jutting out into the fog.  But when I got to Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park, the wharf I had in mind was not fogged in.  The fog seemed further out on the lake.  So I put on my 400mm f5.6 lens and went for my second choice.  A fishing boat emerging from the fog.  And with the idea of high key, black and white just seemed to suit the photo:

"Fishing In The Fog"

Copyright Howard Grill

Black And White vs Color

One of my favorite photographers, Cole Thompson, (I hesitate to call him a 'black and white' photographer because I am sure that if he did color photography his images would excel in that genre as well) recently published a blog post with this Calvin and Hobbes comic strip about color vs black and white.  I enjoyed it and thought I would share it here as well. While you are at it have a look at Cole's photography (it is in black and white!).

Copyright Bill Watterson

Carrie Furnaces: Contemporary Views

I am pleased to announce that one of my Carrie Furnace images (below) was chosen as part of a multi-artist show entitled "Carrie Furnaces: Contemporary Views" at the Silver Eye Gallery in Pittsburgh.  The show opens on the night of August 2nd and will run until the end of the month. To celebrate the event I am going to offer my Carrie Furnace eBook, available here, for 50% off at just $4.00.  At check out simply update the cart with the discount code SHOW

Copyright Howard Grill

Murals And Waterfalls

My last two posts presented images that were very disparate.  First, there was a segment of a mural with my mentioning that I was drawn to photographing abstract portions of wall murals and the other was a black and white waterfall. I happen to have another abstract portion of that same mural taken at the same time as well as an additional black and white waterfall image taken on the same day as the first, just located about 20 yards higher up the hillside.

I thought this post, which presents both these images, would be a good wrap up summary of the last two.

Copyright Howard Grill

Black & White Waterfall

I was recently making photos in one of my favorite areas, a state park that is not too far from my home.  It was after a long day's rain and the water flow in the park was vigorous.  I had to scramble up a hillside to get to a collection of rocks that I could see had water flowing over them.  I liked the images I made on the hill, but the rocks were dark brown and muddy.  So the color images just seemed to lack something and I decided to try converting them to black and white. In this particular instance, I had taken a series of HDR exposures.  However, preferring a very natural look to HDR, I processed the image in my new favorite method of dealing with HDR......I imported the 32 bit TIFF back into Lightroom and processed the photo with Lightroom controls as well as a few subsequent curves in Photoshop.

In this instance, I much prefer the black and white image over the color version.

Copyright Howard Grill

Birches In Snow

With it having snowed last weekend, I could not ignore my very public New Year's resolution to get out in the cold and make more photographs this winter than I have in the past.  So out I went.

Birch Trees In Snow

Copyright Howard Grill

I was particularly drawn to the way the tree trees lined up and the way that the snow simplified the photograph and made it all about lines and shapes.