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.

Hoses

Sometimes you want to exercise your creativity…..but you just are stuck working. In this particular instance I decided that even though I had to work overnight I would try to see if I could make some photographs of what was around me at work. I found hoses. I photographed hoses. Sometimes you have to make due with what’s available :)

 

Hoses © Howard Grill

 
 
More Hoses © Howard Grill

More Hoses © Howard Grill

 

Lemons To Lemonade

Every summer I make my ‘pilgrimage’ to Jennings Environmental Education Center to see the annual blooming of the Blazing Stars (Liatris spicata), which grow naturally on this glacially carved prairie in the middle of the rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania. Alas, this year the bloom seems limited, and the flowers that were in bloom seemed mainly further out on the prairie, as opposed to being accessible near the trail. While it is possible that the larger portion of the bloom is yet to come (typical peak bloom is the mid to end of July and the beginning of August), I suspect that, for whatever reason, this year is simply not going to be a banner year for them.

Rather than lament the lack of Blazing Stars along the trail, I decided to photograph what was accessible to me. Only after getting home and doing an internet search did I think I identified this plant. I believe it is Yellow Foxtail (Setaria pumila).

At any rate, the foxtail itself was not overly attractive in its immediate surrounding, so I ended up layering in a texture. Even then the photograph looked as if it needed something additional, so I took another image of the Blazing Stars in the distance that I had made on the same morning, sized it appropriately, and layered it into the button of the photo. That gave me the result I was after.

 
Yellow Foxtail © Howard Grill

Yellow Foxtail © Howard Grill

 

In terms of what the Blazing Stars look like, I will share a photo of them I took a couple years back, from right along the trail:

 
Blazing Stars © Howard Grill

Blazing Stars © Howard Grill

 

Awake Photography Magazine

I am pleased that one of my images from the Cathedral of Learning was published in the Awake Photography Magazine. The two magazines published by Sebastian Michaels, “Awake Photography” and “Living The Photo Artistic Life” are both wonderful magazines loaded with fantastic imagery, and I was glad to have my image selected. “Awake Photography” (published quarterly) deals with ‘straight’ photography while “Living The Photo Artistic Life” (published monthly) is dedicated to digital artwork. Moreover, both are completely free in digital format…..I give the download links below the photo.

 
Cathedral of Learning © Howard Grill

Cathedral of Learning © Howard Grill

 

Download the current issues, as well as any or all back issues, at no charge. I think you will enjoy both.

AWAKE Photography

Living The Photo Artistic Life

The Chocolate Plant

As opposed to what one might think, the so called Chocolate Plant (Pseuderanthemum alatum) is not the plant from which the chocolate we eat is derived from. That plant would be the cacao tree, whose dried and fermented cocoa beans (seeds) are used in the production of chocolate. The Chocolate Plant is so-named because of the chocolate and silver coloration of its leaves. But when it blooms, the focus moves from the unusual leaf coloration to the beautiful small purple flowers that grow on tall stems.

This particular day was my first photographing at Phipps Conservatory in quite a while, and so when I returned there it was with fresh eyes, and that is always helpful.

 
Pseuderanthemum alatum © Howard Grill

Pseuderanthemum alatum © Howard Grill

 

Grape Hyacinth

Sometimes, if one revisits older images with a different mindset, the result can be interesting. Here, I was looking for a simpler looking result than my first go round. More form and less detail. It can be hard to tell when viewing the image small on screen, but I’m happy with the new look (using Topaz Simplify and textures layered in).

 
Grape Hyacinth © Howard Grill

Grape Hyacinth © Howard Grill

 

Imbuing A Feel

Lately I have been experimenting with the idea of ‘imbuing a feel’ into photographs…..to try to recreate the emotional impact of ‘being there’. Such is the case with this weeping willow tree, which I photographed in a local cemetery. The final image is a combination of an in focus and an out of focus photo, as well as conversion of the image to partially appear as a painting with limited detail and with the layering in of textures. The tree itself was large and the center-point of the entire area next to a pond. I have photographed it several times but have never ‘published’ any photos of the tree before. It felt as if the fronds could wrap themselves around you if you closed your eyes.

 
“Weeping By The Willow” © Howard Grill

“Weeping By The Willow” © Howard Grill

 

Solitude

Several days ago, I went out to Moraine State Park, a location that I have gone to photograph frequently. It was a foggy morning and the prevailing feeling I felt there, alone in the morning fog, was peaceful solitude. Although I frequently prefer higher contrast and more saturated images, I let the feeling of that morning guide me in the processing of the photo. I think that’s probably a good idea in general.

“Solitide” © Howard Grill

“Solitide” © Howard Grill

Callaway Gardens Iris

Sometimes it can be difficult to get an image to look the way you envision it as in your mind. Take, for example, this iris. I have been playing with it on and off for quite some time and even posted it before, but I could never really get it to look the way in envisioned it in my mind’s eye.

A couple days ago I decided to give it another try. And somehow, for some reason things just started to click and it finally came out the way I had envisioned it all along!

 
© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

Textured Tree.......In Black And White

I decided to see what I might come up with if I tried converting some of the ‘textured trees’ I had posted a few weeks back into black and white images. It turns out that I like the way they look in black and white quite a bit. That does make sense as the focus of the silhouettes is on line and shape, which tends to be accentuated in black and white photographs. Here is an example of one of them after having been transformed to black and white.

 
textured tree.jpg
 

Revisitation

Every so often it is interesting to redo an image. When you are in a different mood, or your outlook is different, or maybe you just want to try out another style…..sometimes the results of such a ‘redo’ can be interesting. Here is one of my ‘revisitations’.

The original:

 
Evergreen In Fog
 

And the redo, during which I wanted to give it a cleaner and a more vintage look:

 
 Captue sharpened only
Canon IPG 2000
Ilford Gold Fiber Silk
M0 profile
Relative colorimetric
 

Framing

Back to the Cathedral of Learning, an educational building that is part of the University of Pittsburgh. One of the things that I have enjoyed about photographing in the cathedral is that there are lots of doorways and openings as well as small nooks and crannies to explore. The plethora of doorways and arches give ample opportunity for ‘framing’ compositions with related elements, as seen in this photograph. This one is actually ‘frame in frame’, as the second arch serves as a frame to the back wall. It really find it quite enjoyable to search for these types of photographs.

 
© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

Remembering The Dead (Discovering Dry Plate Photography)

In my work travels, I recently met someone who gave me an interesting gift. Several years back he had been driving down a back road in Virginia and came across an old, abandoned farmhouse. He stopped and peeked in to see if anyone was using the place (you can’t be too careful about what you run across that looks abandoned these days), and saw only cobwebs. He went in and found an interesting box:

Seeds Dry Plates - The Company Was Founded In 1883

Seeds Dry Plates - The Company Was Founded In 1883

Dry plate photography was developed after the wet collodion process. With dry plates, glass plates that had been factory coated with a photographic emulsion were boxed after the emulsion dried. They could be stored and loaded into cameras as needed and developed at any time after exposure. The process was therefore far more convenient than the wet collodion process, where glass plates had to be hand coated with a wet, light sensitive emulsion just before exposure and then developed almost immediately thereafter. The dry plate process was first introduced in 1871, and, in particular, the Seed Dry Plate Company was founded in 1883 and purchased by Eastman Kodak in 1902. That would date this box as well over 100 years old.

My friend opened the box and found exposed dry plates inside, which appear as a negative image! Recognizing that the farmhouse was obviously abandoned and that if he left the plates they would likely be lost forever, he took the box. After a few weeks of our working together, he found out about my interest in photography and one day brought the box in and gave it to me as a gift.

The dry plates themselves (of which there were 8 or 9) were not in particularly good shape, probably because that had been exposed to the elements for decades. This an example of one of the dry plates that was better preserved, with an apparent negative image:

Glass Dry Plate

Glass Dry Plate

I chose some that looked promising, put them on my flatbed scanner and scanned them. I then brought them into Photoshop, inverted the negative black and white image, added a bit of contrast and sharpened them. In some instances, I was able to produce a pretty reasonable image of people who are presumably no longer among the living. For example, this was the reult of scanning the dry plate pictured above:

girl from dry plate.jpg

And for a closer, zoomed in look at the young girl:

 
girl.jpg
 

And another couple of examples. The many black dots are areas where the emulsion has degraded and worn off. I have to say that it is at the same time exciting and yet somewhat eerie to see people ‘reaching out from the dead’.

Family Dry Plate.jpg

To me, this next image appears to be the same two women pictured above:

 
friends.jpg
 

And yet another:

man.jpg

And this final image does appear a little ‘ghostly’.

 
baby.jpg
 

Perhaps this serves to bring back, in some small way, the memory of these people. Should any reader know who these folks are (I know the odds are one in a million, but stranger things have happened) do please let me know.

Quick Quotes: David duChemin

“Comparison to others is the diet of a creative soul that’s dying on the inside. Comparing yourself to others will steal your voice, or so infect it with the desire to do what they’re doing, or do it like they’re doing , that the things that made your voice what it was in the first place will die of starvation”

David duChemin in The Visual Voce


I wanted to share this quote by David duChemin, which was said in relation to finding one’s personal artistic and photographic voice. It seems particularly apropos in this age of social media and ‘Instagram Influencers’. And it isn’t so much a statement about social media itself as it is about how we can use and abuse it (says the blogger with his social media links below the post - though I have been spending less time on general social media and focusing more on specific groups).

Also of interest is the short book by Trey Ratcliff entitled ‘Under the Influence - How to Fake Your Way into Getting Rich on Instagram: Influencer Fraud, Selfies, Anxiety, Ego, and Mass Delusional Behavior’ in which he exposes the ‘dark underbelly’ of Instagram. The book is available on Amazon and is a very interesting read.

A Window View

The main study/event room in the Cathedral of Learning is a full four stories high. But even the areas that are not in the majestic center room have wonderful architecture. This was made from a second floor overlook out into a two story hallway. I liked the repeating patterns of the columns and how the chain from the light divided the image in two. I tried to get the chain to divide the image in the middle perfectly. It looked like I did in camera, but it turns out to have been the very slightest bit off.

 
 Capture sharpened only
Canon IPG 2000
Ilford Gold Fiber Silk
M0 profile
Perceptual
 

Atomic Levels

I know it’s a little unusual, but one thing that I really enjoy reading are layman’s books (by which I simply mean that the math isn’t delved into deeply) that explain and discuss some of the findings and unusual paradoxes that are generated by quantum mechanics. And so for some time I have been particularly drawn to abstract images that seem to illustrate principles of physics, and quantum mechanics in particular. When I saw these shadows on my bathroom wall (made by wooden window-shade slats on a sunny day) I couldn’t help but think of electrons jumping from one energy level to the next…..so the camera came out to capture them.

Atomic Levels I © Howard Grill

Atomic Levels I © Howard Grill

Atomic Levels II © Howard Grill

Atomic Levels II © Howard Grill

Light And Shadow

I have previously posted several of the images I have made at the Cathedral of Learning. In making this photograph, I was drawn not only to the way that the columns led up to the ceiling and then seemingly continued as ‘ribs’ across it, but also to the interplay of light and shadow on the ceiling itself.

It’s fascinating to just look up inside the cathedral. A stiff neck and the possibility of injuring yourself by walking into something while looking up are very real risks that are taken when photographing in this location. It’s just one of those risks that we take as photographers!

 
Light And Shadow © Howard Grill

Light And Shadow © Howard Grill

 

The TK Actions Panel

I have been using the TK Actions Panel in Photoshop for many, many years. It is a Photoshop extension panel that easily automates image processing using luminosity masks. In the earliest versions generating luminosity masks is about all it did, but as each version has progressed it has taken on more and more functionality. The TK Actions Panel version 7 has just been released by Tony Kuyper (hence the TK), and, as has always been the case with each new release, Tony adds more and more functionality, improvements and speed.

I use the panel extensively in Photoshop. I won’t say I use it on every image, but I will say that I use it when processing the majority of my images. It is one of the most indispensable Photoshop plug-in type tools that I own.

I could describe it further, but I think the best description and demonstration comes from Tony Kuyper or photographer Sean Bagshaw’s website. In addition, Sean has some excellent video tutorials on its advanced use.

I have absolutely no connection with either Tony or Sean. I don’t know them personally, I am not an ‘affiliate’, and I have no financial arrangements with them. I am only a very satisfied customer and have been for many years.

If you use Photoshop and are intermediate or advanced in your skills I can’t recommend this product highly enough. I suggest you check it out!

Musical Interlude

Every saw often I like posting a musical interlude to my photographic musings, and I realized that I have not done so in quite a while. I also realize it isn’t usual to have these types of posts in a photography blog, but they just seem like fun to throw one in now and again.

This particular musical interlude is even educational. I am not musically talented myself, even though I love music. So listening to this video was really a bit eye opening in terms of understanding why one of my favorite bands appeals to me!