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.


Every so often I like to share a post that I have seen on another blog that has really hit home for me.  This one about artistic rejection by Cole Thompson is definitely one of those.  Read about his take and insight into receiving rejection notices (it is simply part of every artist's life).

A Note

Several months ago I listened to a Brooks Jensen LensWork podcast that I can no longer identify in the archive since I can't recall the title......and so I don't have a link to allow you to listen to it. The gist of the podcast was that most of us photographers work in isolation with precious little recognition.  But just a small amount of recognition, a small amount of knowing that somewhere your images have touched someone, can be a remarkably motivating.  He suggested that if we ran across work that meant something to us that we should take the time to send off a quick e-mail to let that person know that their work is appreciated.  Off course, at the time I neglected to do that.

But, recently, something made me understand that I should take the time to send off an e-mail like this.  I received the type of e-mail I should have sent to someone after the podcast.  It really was a very pleasant surprise to hear positive feedback from someone whom I had never met.  So I went and wrote a quick note to someone else whose work I liked but had never met or e-mailed before.  What a great idea Brooks had!

So, after you read this, keep the idea in mind.  If, in your internet surfing, you run across work that is meaningful to you go ahead and send off a quick note to the artist.  I guarantee they will appreciate it.

Accepting Imperfection

When it comes to most things, I tend to be a perfectionist. However, when it comes to photography, this can be a problem. I am not referring to seeking perfection in aspects of photography like composition or exposure, as I think it is wise advice not to show one's mistakes or the shots that were 'almost good if only I had done x, y, or z'. But there are times when an image does hold emotional value and yet is imperfect, but not in a way that could have been easily changed or remedied. It is this type of imperfection that I am trying to get myself to become more accepting of.

This photograph is a good example of what I am referring to. After seeing the image, I wanted to print it as a tinted monochrome with an 'antique' look. However, since the shot was at dusk (and perhaps slightly underexposed as I had planned to portray it as a low light photo) and because I wanted the sky to show a good deal of contrast, when I finished processing it a moderate amount of digital noise could be seen. In the past, this would have led me to abandon the image and it never would have seen 'the light of day'.

Sunset Sail
Copyright Howard Grill

But this photo seemed to have some interesting emotional content, at least to me. So I decided it would be a shame to abandon it simply because of some noise. I was willing to accept the noise because I liked the image, but also started to think about how I might work with the noise a bit, as opposed to fighting it. Part of the need to work with the noise was the fact that my noise reduction software didn't seem to be doing a particularly good job at noise remediation.

With this in mind, I actually added some digital noise to give the noise a more generalized presence and make it appear a bit more like film grain. Overall, even in a large print, I don't find it particularly concerning or distracting.

Interestingly, as I was driving to work today, I was listening to a Lensflare 35 podcast. One of the panelists made a statement that I found very apropos to this image and gave me further reassurance that I had made the right choice in continuing to work on it. He stated that he had learned photography from his father and that he had once asked his father if it was a problem to have film grain in the image......and his father replied that if people really noticed the grain then it was probably a boring image anyway.

More Image Critique

I am writing this 'mini-post' because I know that many people don't necessarily have the time to read the comments that others have made. A few days ago, I wrote about "Image Critique", and recommended the monthly photo review available on Alain Briot's website. As a response to that post, Chris Sheppard pointed out that Craig Tanner of "The Radiant Vista" posts a daily image review entitled "The Daily Critique" , which is available in multiple formats. I have just started listening to some of these and, like Alain's reviews, they are also extremely worthwhile. I plan to to tune in to them regularly as well. Definitely worth a listen!

Image Critique

Despite the proliferation of social networking and photography related websites, I believe it remains difficult to get well thought out and constructive critiques of one's images. There are probably many reasons for this. Some that immediately come to mind include:

The time needed to critically evaluate and write up one's thoughts about an image.

The expertise and ability to critically evaluate an image beyond the basics.

The desire not to feel like you are insulting the creator of the image (ie, being nice).

And, unfortunately, there is, I suspect, a real issue with wanting to favorably critique an image in order to have the favor returned.

However, the fact is that in order to grow and progress as a photographer and artist one needs critical and constructive evaluations of their work. I would much rather have someone give me thoughtful and carefully considered negative feedback about an image than a quick 'great shot' comment. Certainly, after receiving such feedback I put much more thought and consideration into my own evaluation of the image, even if I had considered it 'done'. After all, how else can one improve?

Obviously, my writing about the issue here is not very likely to bring about any change, so why do so? For one thing, I do think that hearing another person's image well critiqued is also an extremely useful learning experience....which brings me to the main thrust of this post.

Alain Briot, whose workshop I have attended in the past, now has available on his website a monthly image review of a photograph that has been submitted to him. The first review was very recently made available. It is in Quick Time format and lasts about ten minutes. Moreover, in my mind, this is the epitome of what a helpful and constructive review can be. It may not be my image, but I can nonetheless learn from the review. A very worthwhile listen, indeed. I know I plan to check back frequently to hear what Alain has to say. To hear what Alain has to say just follow this link and then click on the blue link on the top of the page to access the review.

Breaking Taboos

In a post several days ago, I was looking for assistance in taking better photographs of Trillium. In that post, I mentioned that as part of my query I was breaking a taboo by purposefully showing poorer images, the ones that I would never display, to an audience. There is even an old saying about this that goes something along the lines of “The difference between an amateur and a professional is that the professional never shows you the shots that didn’t make it”. I was thinking about this issue some more, and feel even more strongly that it can be a wise decision to show your poorer images, it just depends on the venue and purpose.

For example, I would never display images that I thought didn’t quite make the cut. I would never want to make a show out of them. But I think that there is a good deal to be learned by examining these shots that ‘didn’t make it’.

For one, and this is probably the most obvious reason, it gives an opportunity to request input from others about improving aspects of an image that you think have failed. Sometimes you can go around in circles missing obvious, or not so obvious, solutions that are more apparent to someone who might think about things just a bit differently from you. Secondly, it gives an opportunity to receive feedback about which aspects of an image work well and which don’t.

However, there is yet another reason. While this may be the most obscure, I also think it is quite important. It allows others to learn from you. It allows others to experience the creation of an image through your eyes. This is perhaps best illustrated with an example.

I have always been moved by the iconic image “Migrant Mother” by Dorothea Lange. Most people have seen this image (and my understanding is that there are no copyright concerns with the use of these images):

"Migrant Mother"
Dorothea Lange

However, many people do not realize that “Migrant Mother” was but one in a series of images that Dorothea Lange had taken on that particular occasion. The other images from the sequence include the following:

Images By Dorothea Lange

Had Lange destroyed the negatives from the images above, we may well have lost an opportunity to better understand how she approached her subject. Seeing the other images raises various issues that are useful to think about. Why did she take the entire sequence? Was she ultimately working her way in, knowing that the images she was taking up until “Migrant Mother” was just ‘exercise’? How did she think about framing the image? Did one image ‘lead her’ into the other? Was the final choice of image as apparent to her as it seems to us now?

Imagine what could be learned if we were able to look over the shoulder of photographers that are more accomplished than us, no matter what our individual level of expertise is, and watch the editing process of another image maker.

I believe that polite but very objective feedback regarding one’s images is important for growth. As long as it is clear that the venue is discussion and learning and that the audience is not “The” audience, I think it can be a very positive experience to discuss one’s failures. Through that discussion, other photographers besides ones self might end up benefiting as well.