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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.

Piazza Lavoro By Ned Smyth

For quite some time I have enjoyed making photos of small abstract sections of painted murals, particularly the ones I have found close to home in Pittsburgh.  This  photo, while not an abstract portion, is a segment of a beautiful tile mural on Pittsburgh's North Shore (remember, we have three rivers, so we have shores).  

 

 

Segment of Ned Smyth's Piazza Lavoro    ©Howard Grill

 

This particular mural by Ned Smyth was installed in 1984 and is called Piazza Lavoro.  The mural was commisioned by the Heinz family (maybe you have heard of them :) and, as the accompanying plaque notes, "This two-part sculpture recognizes the significant contributions of Pittsburgh to American labor history by a symbolic representation of labor's role in our nation's development. The human figures populating the facades are engaged in this activity, while the palm trees and marine life are reminders of the delicate balance between civilization and nature."

More information about the mural/sculpture as well as photos of the entire piece can be seen on the Pittsburgh Murals website, which is an absolutely fantastic resource I ran across.  Delve in deep and in one location you can find pictures, maps, and artist information about most of the street murals in the city.

The Doors Of Pittsburgh OR Why I Photograph

I have a fair number of photographs of interesting doors from in and around the Pittsburgh area.  These types of images are pretty common and, in fact, I am sure most people have seen those posters of "Doors Of (fill in the blank)".  But I guess those posters are around because interesting doors are, well, ....interesting.....and fun. They always makes you wonder both what and who is behind them.  

It occurred to me that, though I have a lot of this type of image, I have actually processed very few of them. As I started to consider the possibility of processing a few, I remembered this one photo in particular that I had been meaning to process "for a little while now".

In fact, though I don't remember the exact street in downtown Pittsburgh where I took this, I do remember taking the photo in vivid detail.  I remember the weather, I remember waiting for the cars to go by so I could get into the street to take it, and I remember it was a Sunday. I remember the whole process.  And at this point in life I can't say that I have the world's greatest memory. So I was surprised when I looked at the metadata and saw that the photo was taken just two months shy of NINE YEARS AGO!

And that is one of the reasons I photograph.  It makes life and memories that much more vivid and indelible.  Had I walked by this storefront without making a photograph I'm sure it would just be a faded memory long forgotten.

 

Big Science Recording Studio    © Howard Grill

 

McConnell's Mill State Park: Pittsburgh Nature Photography II

Time for the second installment in my compendium of suggestions for nature photography in the Pittsburgh region.  As I had mentioned in my first Pittsburgh nature photography post, the ground rules for this series are:

  • I have to have personally photographed at the location and have images to show
  • The area must be within 1-1.5 hours from Pittsburgh so that it is a comfortable 'day trip'
  • The area has to be publicly accessible so that anyone reading this may go

McConnell's Mill State Park is a wonderful place to explore and photograph.  In my mind I have always divided my park excursions up into four different areas:  

  • The old mill (hence McConnell's Mill)
  • The hiking trails right around the old mill
  • Hell's Hollow
  • Other area in the park 

The mill building itself is usually closed to the public, though there are several times a year when one can go inside, but, for me, the attractiveness of the mill is what lies outside.  

The mill overlook and waterfall in McConnell's Mill State Park.

© Howard Grill

View of Slippery Rock Creek taken from the mill overlook in McConnell's Mill State Park.

© Howard Grill

In addition to the building itself, there is a man made waterfall which was, at one time, used to power the mill.  There is also a very nice walkway/balcony that affords views of the waterfall as well as views up and down Slippery Rock Creek, which is actually more the size of a small river. 

Portion of the waterfall by the mill in McConnell's Mill State Park

© Howard Grill

The covered bridge adjecent to the mill parking area, McConnell's Mill State Park, Portersville, PA

In addition to the mill, there is a lovely old covered bridge just to one side of the mill parking area.

The trails that are on either side of the mill are pretty easy in terms of hiking and terrain and if you want to be minimally more adventurous you can very easily climb down the small hillside to the numerous boulders that line the sides of the creek. You can also climb up the hillside to areas with small waterfalls that might not be present depending on the water runoff and time of year (the highest water levels tend to be in spring with the winter snow melt along with the spring showers and thunderstorms).

 

A transient waterfall caused by heavy rains.  I have never seen this falls form again.

© Howard Gril

 

The Hell's Hollow region of the park is hands down my favorite area to photograph. It is also not directly connected to the main park and a bit out of the way to locate....but don't worry, I will tell you how to get there at the end of the post.

In the spring there is an incredible array of wildflowers....trillium, phlox, trout lilies, columbine, and wild geranium to name a few. And with the water levels being high at that time of year, Hell's Hollow Falls puts on a nice show (I am not posting any images of the falls as, though I have taken many, I still don't feel that I have processed any that truly capture their essence). In the autumn the forest puts on a nice show. Summer is green time.  And in winter, well, lets not talk about that as I hate going out in the cold. Yes, I am a temperature wimp!

 

Trillium grandiflorum, Hell's Hollow, McConnell's Mill State Park

© Howard Grill

 

Trillium erectum forma luteum, Hell's Hollow, McConnell's Mill State Park

© Howard Grill

 

Trout Lily, Hell's Hollow, McConnell's Mill State Park

© Howard Grill

 

And then there are the other areas of the park.  There are lots of them, as the park encompasses 2,546 acres of forest, creek, and bridges.

Getting There:

From Pittsburgh, take 279 North to 79 North and get off at Exit 96.  Turn left at the end of the exit ramp and continue driving through Portersville, PA.  A few miles down the road there will be a small sign indicating that you need to turn left to get into the park.  The sign is not, shall we say, big. The sign for the pizza place (which you can only see the back of from this direction) is larger than the park sign.  If you pass the blue water tower on the right you have gone too far.  Once you make that left turn there are no side roads until you get into the park. 

Once you enter the park you are at a "T" and must turn left or right.  Turn left and there will be two parking areas with restrooms  a short distance from each other on the right.  The second parking area is larger.  Or follow the signs down to the mill where there is another parking area, but it is small and only accommodates six or seven cars.

What was that?  You want to go to Hell's Hollow?  Here is a link to the park map.  From the mill parking area cross Slippery Rock Creek using the covered bridge (you can't miss the bridge) and continue along McConnell's Mill Road (which is what you are on) to Fairview School Road and turn left.  Continue on Fairview School Road which, at one point, will make a sharp 90 degree turn to the right.  A mile or two down the road turn left onto Shaffer Road (there is a really, really small and low to the ground sign on the side of the road saying Hell's Hollow as you make the turn).  A short distance down the road, after you cross the very short one lane bridge, you will see the Hell's Hollow parking area on the left.  Trust me, it is worth the drive!

Where To Eat :

One place, three words: Brown's Country Kitchen. It is in the town of Portersville, PA, which you drove through after getting off at Exit 96.

Brown's Country Kitchen, the place to eat in Portersville, PA

Brown's Country Kitchen, the place to eat in Portersville, PA

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Pittsburgh Region Nature Photography I: Ohiopyle State Park

If I am planning to visit an area in the hopes of doing some landscape and nature photography I typically do some background research first, which always includes an internet search.  It recently dawned on me....I have been photographing nature and landscapes in the Pittsburgh region for years....why don't I do a series of posts about what my favorite locations in the region are.  Hopefully this helps out some folks  that are either visiting and/or those just starting out and wondering where to 'shoot'.

The ground rules for this series:

  • I have to have personally photographed at the location and have images to show
  • The area must be within 1-1.5 hours from Pittsburgh so that it is a comfortable 'day trip'
  • The area has to be publicly accessible so that anyone reading this may go

The first spot I would like to talk about is Ohiopyle State Park, which is on the outer edge of the 1-1.5 hour driving time frame. There are several other state parks in the area but, in my opinion, they all pale in comparison to Ohiopyle.

Getting There:

Take 376 to the PA Turnpile. Take Exit 91, Donegal, off the Turnpike. Turn left onto PA 31 East. In about two miles turn right onto PA 711 and PA 381 south. Travel ten miles to Normalville (yes, the name is for real) to a "T".  At the "T"  turn left onto PA 381 south. Drive for 11 miles into the park.

All the other information you could ask for is on the PA Dept of Conservation and Natural Resources site.

My favorite spots to photograph:

Ohiopyle Falls

You can't miss it.  The falls are located right on the main drag as you enter the park and right by the new visitor center.  There is a public parking lot available. You can hear the falls before you see them.

Get there early so the sun is still low in the sky (or go on a cloudy day) to avoid the bright sun on the water as there isn't much cover to block the sun. There are several nice viewing platforms from which to photograph.  The photo below was just taken earlier this month from the viewing area outside the newly built park office. It was a bit early for fall color, as the leaves were just starting to change.  But it was a very still morning with almost no wind, allowing the leaves to remain sharp during this 11 second exposure at f8.

Ohiopyle Falls, the widest falls in Ohiopyle State Park, PA

Cucumber Falls

My favorite falls to photograph in the park. They are far, far narrower than Ohiopyle Falls, but higher and more delicate looking. To get there, turn right out of that parking lot for Ohiopyle Falls and drive for 1-2 minutes, taking your first right (onto Kentuck Roud, SR 2019).  About 30 seconds further and you will see a small parking area for the falls on the right side of the road. There are wooden stairs that lead you down to the falls with plenty of vantage points for photographing along the way.

Cucumber Falls, Ohiopyle State Park, PA

The Flumes:

OK, get in that car and turn left out of the Cucumber Falls parking lot, retracing your steps.  But instead of turning left at the "T" to go back to Ohiopyle Falls just go straight across the road into the parking lot for the flumes.  This area has some terrific flat rocks for abstracts, rapidly flowing water cut into solid rock (hebce, the flumes) and, at the entrance to the narrow flume some nice views upriver.

Autumn scene at the entrance to The Flumes, Ohiopyle State Park, PA

What Else:

There is more.  Lets see.....

  • Acre upon acre of forest
  • Lots of water, slow and fast, lazy and rapid cascades
  • An interesting old railroad bridge that you can walk on )by the old visitors center
  • There is one weekend in the summer when kayakers are allowed to go over Ohiopyle Falls making for interesting photos....but it is crowded

Where I Eat:

In my opinion the best place is The Firefly Grill!

If the weather is warm don't forget to stop at for Moose Tracks ice cream.  My favorite!

Falls Market in Ohiopyle State Park, Pennsylvania.  Get the 'Moose Track' ice cream!

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View Towards Mount Wahington

This is another in my continuing series of Pittsburgh, PA bridge photos.  This one is taken standing on the Smithfield Street Bridge but does not include it in the photo.  In this case, my interest was drawn to another set of bridges that could be seen in the distance, looking towards Mount Washington.  I was particularly intrigued by the layers of trees, bridges, and tones capped by the houses near the top.

Copyright Howard Grill

Smithfield Street Bridge Sculpture

When making photos of the Smithfield Street Bridge, I was surprised to find the metallic sculpture below incorporated into one of the steel beams.  I have been across the bridge in my car many times and had never noticed it.  I guess that is what photography is supposed to do.....make one see clearer and deeper! I have been trying to learn more information about this sculpture and what it represents, but no luck thus far.....

Sculpture On Smithfield Street Bridge

Copyright Howard Grill

The Smithfield Street Bridge

by Howard Grill I recently went to make photographs of  Pittsburgh's Smithfield Street Bridge and, from a compositional standpoint, found it a bit tougher to photograph than the Clemente Bridge. Of course, sometimes it is merely one's mental state and their receptiveness to seeing that is the issue.  I will be making more trips to the Smithfield to see what I come up with.

This image is one that I made at the Smithfield Bridge some time ago but never processed. Given my new-found interest,  I am going to be revisiting my older bridge images that I never 'did anything with'.  Such are the benefits of Lightroom keywording!

The bridge itself was designed by Gustav Lindenthal, built between 1881-1883, and was widened in 1889 and then again in 1911.  It was rehabilitated in 1994-5. The Smithfield Street Bridge is actually the third bridge to sit at this site, with the first one being made of wood and having burned down and the second being a wire rope suspension bridge that ultimately proved inadequate for the traffic.  The current bridge is of the lenticular truss type and is said to be the second oldest steel bridge in the US.

Smithfield Street Bridge

Copyright Howard Grill

Bridges

by Howard Grill If there is one thing that Pittsburgh has, it is bridges.  I have just started exploring the idea of how they might be portrayed photographically.  This, of course, is not an original idea, but one that has been played out many times by many people.  But I love the architecture, the 'rawness', and the abstract nature of the lines that these bridges make, so I am toying around with how one might get some 'different' perspectives on them as well as what type of processing might work. Here, I went for the 'vintage' look.  We will see what comes of these efforts.

Copyright Howard Grill

Welcome

I have written about photographer's rights several times in the past.  The reason for this has been the multitude of times my friends and I have been told to leave when making photographs in downtown Pittsburgh by misguided private security guards working for large downtown office buildings.  We all know (well, except for some security guards) that if you are on a public sidewalk you can make photos of almost anything you want (yes, I know there are a few exceptions, but those were not the case when we were shooed away).  Well, today I get to tell another story, a story that is much more pleasant.....a story of welcome! So, it was one of those Sunday's when, instead of doing nature photography with my 'Sunday morning photo group', we decided to do some urban shooting.  Walking around Downtown Pittsburgh we happened across the historic First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh (curent building construction started in 1903).  We were taking pictures of the exterior using our tripods when someone came to open the Church doors at 8 AM.....naturally enough they asked what we were doing and, of course, we stated the obvious....the same as we have told many security guards.....that we are amateur photographers who enjoy taking pictures of Pittsburgh architecture.  As usual, we prepared ourselved to be asked to leave the premesis (the PPG Building is the absolute worse in this regard as I have been told to leave there several times, even though you can find thousands of pictures of the building on line).

But this time we had a surprise.  Instead of being asked to leave we were told "Oh, well if that's the case why don't you come in and take pictures of the inside as well.  You can bring your tripods, nobody is going to be here this early".  And he welcomed us in and left.

It was quite dark inside, with the only light coming from the incandescent fixtures and whatever came through the stained glass windows.  I took a number of  HDR sequences inside the church.  On the way out, we were stopped by a church member who saw that we had been taking photos and wanted to tell us about the two 80 foot beams in the church that had been cut from two tall trees that had been imported all the way from Oregon.

That chance meeting made me change the way I wanted to interpret the photographs.  I had originally planned to keep them quite dark, to reflect the actual appearance of the interior.  However, this gentleman made me realize that for him the beauty was in the interior details and wood. With that, I decided to portray the interior as filled with detail, even though most of it could not be well discerned when we were there.

The interior image is from a 5 sequence tripod mounted HDR bracket, merged to HDR Pro in Photoshop, brought directly back into ACR for tone mapping, converted to a 16 bit TIFF and then adjusted with a few curves, a hue and saturation layer, and some minor adjustments in the Nik Color Efex Pro tonal contrast filter.  This has really become my favorite way to process HDR images as it lets me produce a very natural looking photo in a very intuitive way.

The exterior door photo is from a single exposure.

Doors, First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh

Copyright Howard Grill

First Presbyterian Church, Pittsburgh

5 Photo HDR Bracketed Sequence

Copyright Howard Grill

Completion

I have been taking my New Year's resolutions pretty seriously this time around!  The resolutions included getting out in the winter cold and snow to photograph.  Check.  Have a look at my last few posts and you can see that I have been doing that.  Another was to focus on finishing some projects.  I have written about my Carrie Furnace Project before and have made it into an e-Book.  But I still hadn't made it a complete 'portfolio' of prints.  Well, that is now also completed! There is now a complete and formal presentation of the project in the form of a 44 print portfolio.  It comes in a beautiful Pina Zangaro anodized aluminum case that is reminiscent of the steel industry with one of the portfolio images on the front.  The inside of the case is lined with acid free material to give a nice contained fit to the forty four 8.5x11 inch images that are printed on hot press, archival, matte finish fine art paper that is quite thick (330g/m2) with a luxurious tactile feel.  The folio also contains a 4 page explanatory pamphlet about the project and the location, as well as a list of the prints.

The Carrie Furnace Portfolio Box

The image below is one of the forty three portfolio prints.  Each print has an image, the image title, and the project's name on it.

The folio is for anyone with an interest in Western Pennsylvania and its history, the steel industry, or urban exploration and is now available on my website.

Carrie Furnace eBook Now Available

I am pleased to announce that my Carrie Furnace eBook is now available!

I have written several posts in the past related to my photography project at the Carrie Furnace.  In short, Carrie is a blast furnace in Rankin, Pennsylvania (close to Pittsburgh) that was used to generate iron back when Pittsburgh was at the center of the world's steel production.  It was closed in 1978 and has lay dormant since.  It is now being restored and developed into a national historic landmark by the non-profit Rivers Of Steel organization.  I had the opportunity to photograph there early in the restoration process.

I was able to interview and show the photographs from the project to Mr. Ron Gault, who worked at Carrie in the 1970s, and he told fascinating anecdotes about life at the facility.  These comments were recorded and are included with the photos as part of a multimedia eBook presentation.

The eBook is available for immediate download and contains:

  • 63 pages of content
  • High resolution images
  • Embedded audio content - click on the audio icons to hear Mr. Gault's commentary and anecdotes
  • Easy, rapid navigation
  • Formatted for display on desktops, tablets, and smartphones
  • Information about Carrie and Rivers Of Steel

The book can be securely downloaded for $7.99 with 25% of the purchase price being donated to Rivers Of Steel to assist in their mission to preserve the furnace.

Click HERE to go to the purchase page.

The Carrie Furnace XVIII

Another image with audio from my Carrie Furnace portfolio. For background information about this project see my post entitled The Carrie Furnace Project.

To hear the 1-2 minute audio content click on the link below the picture, which will open the audio content in a separate page.

This post's audio content describes how the manual valve seen in the photo was opened and closed by a man that actually did the job.   It wasn't an easy task!

The Carrie Furnace Project

Copyright Howard Grill

CLICK HERE FOR 1-2 MINUTES OF AUDIO CONTENT

The Carrie Furnace XVII

For background information about this project see my post entitled The Carrie Furnace Project. To hear the 1-2 minute audio content click on the link below the picture, which will open the audio content in a separate page.

This post's audio content describes how the iron making process was essentially unchanged from the Civil War up until the 1980s.

The Carrie Furnace Project

Copyright Howard Grill

CLICK HERE FOR 1-2 MINUTES OF AUDIO CONTENT

The Carrie Furnace XVI

For background information about this project see my post entitled The Carrie Furnace Project. To hear the 1-2 minute audio content click on the link below the picture, which will open the audio content in a separate page.

This post's audio content describes how clean the rooms in the plant were kept.

The Carrie Furnace Project

Copyright Howard Grill

CLICK HERE FOR 1-2 MINUTES OF AUDIO CONTENT

The Carrie Furnace XV

For background information about this project see my post entitled The Carrie Furnace Project. To hear the 1-2 minute audio content click on the link below the picture, which will open the audio content in a separate page.

This post's audio content describes how the large popes seen were used to bring air into the stoves to be heated prior to passing it on to the furnace.

The Carrie Furnace Project

Copyright Howard Grill

CLICK HERE FOR 1-2 MINUTES OF AUDIO CONTENT

The Carrie Furnace XIV

For background information about this project see my post entitled The Carrie Furnace Project. In case anyone is wondering how many images are in the project's 'final cut', the answer is 47.  But don't worry, I will take breaks each time several images are presented.

To hear the 1-2 minute audio content click on the link below the picture, which will open the audio content in a separate page.

This post's audio content describes the incredible amount of noise that one was exposed to when working in the Stove Room, which is seen in this photograph.

The Carrie Furnace Project

Copyright Howard Grill

CLICK HERE FOR 1-2 MINUTES OF AUDIO CONTENT

The Carrie Furnace XIII

For background information about this project see my post entitled The Carrie Furnace Project. To hear the 1-2 minute audio content click on the link below the picture, which will open the audio content in a separate page.

This post's audio content describes the dangers of working in the Stove Room and how work would be done with two man teams to help alleviate the danger.

The Carrie Furnace Project

Copyright Howard Grill

CLICK HERE FOR 1-2 MINUTES OF AUDIO CONTENT

The Carrie Furnace XII

For background information about this project see my post entitled The Carrie Furnace Project. To hear the 1-2 minute audio content click on the link below the picture, which will open the audio content in a separate page.

This post's audio content describes what the purpose of the stoves, one of which is seen below.

The Carrie Furnace Project

Copyright Howard Grill

CLICK HERE FOR 1-2 MINUTES OF AUDIO CONTENT

The Carrie Furnace XI

For background information about this project see my post entitled The Carrie Furnace Project. To hear the 1-2 minute audio content click on the link below the picture, which will open the audio content in a separate page.

This post's audio content describes what the workers were told instead of the fact that they were being laid off.  In addition, the burning of coke gas, instead of natural gas is discussed.

The Carrie Furnace Project

Copyright Howard Grill

CLICK HERE FOR 1-2 MINUTES OF AUDIO CONTENT