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.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Heceta Head lighthouse, on the coast of Oregon, is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the USA. It was built in 1864 and is the 'strongest' lighthouse on the Oregon Coast in terms of light intensity, with its beam visible 24 miles away. It is also a bed and breakfast.

I have previously posted a photo of the lighthouse during the 'blue hour', but here is one earlier in the day. Did I mention it can get quite foggy? Now you can see why the lighthouse might be needed! This particular image was made during the Oregon Coast workshop that Linda Torbert and I gave last August!

Truth be told, the fog was so dense that in order to give some variation to the gray sky I blended a few textures into the image as well.

heceta head lighthouse.jpg

Bandon Beach, Oregon

This was taken a few years ago when I was on an Oregon Coast workshop with Nancy Rotenberg. Short of pouring rain or the densest of fog it's pretty hard to go wrong at Bandon Beach. In fact it was pretty much impossible to go wrong anywhere with Nancy!

Bandon Beach   © Howard Grill

And a black and white version I made some time ago:

Bandon Beach, Platinum Toned    © Howard Grill

Bandon Beach, Platinum Toned    © Howard Grill

Black And White Can Set The Mood

I have been 'playing around' a bit more with black and white conversions and experimenting with the types of moods that black and white images can convey.

A few years ago I went on an amazing workshop with Nancy Rotenberg, which took place on the Oregon Coast. One of the most surreal places I have ever seen was Bandon Beach, Oregon. In fact, it was so other-worldly that I took one of my images and made the colors somewhat surreal in order to try to convey the 'feeling' of being in that location, rather than just using the image to show what the location looked like. While I liked the image, I always had my doubts as to whether the viewer would understand what I was trying to say and feared they would just see the image as 'hypersaturated'. Of course, if the image doesn't convey what it is that you, as the artist, want it to, it has failed, at least on some level.

Siren's Song
Copyright Howard Grill

However, when I converted the same image to black and white it seemed to immediately convey to me the surreal feel that I was looking for. I believe it may be a more successful rendering of the photograph. What do you think?

Siren's Song
Copyright Howard Grill

Perhaps, if you agree that it is more successful, the reason might be that converting it to monochrome immediately removes it from the realm of a 'normal' representation of place, as we don't normally see things in black and white. I'm not sure if this explains it, but I thought it was an interesting possibility to consider.

Just A Few Minutes

One of the intriguing aspects of nature photography is the constant realization of how things change. This is most easily apparent when returning to favorite nearby locations at various times of year. But very frequently, things change much faster than that, and perhaps no time demonstrates that more than sunrise and sunset. The rapid change in light levels, temperature and subsequent wind makes a scene change so rapidly that photos that were taken just minutes apart can look as if they were taken on totally different days.

Such was the case when I was photographing in Oregon a few years ago. I had previously written a post about this image, taken at Haceda Beach:

Sea Stacks I
Copyright Howard Grill

A short while later the sun had dropped lower in the sky, offering this composition, with the orb of the sun placed squarely between the two sea stacks.

Sea Stacks II
Copyright Howard Grill

Finally, only minutes later, the sun had sunk completely below the horizon. The warm yellow/orange coloration of the sky and water was now gone, but the clouds began rolling in and the sky became a deep blue with the clouds painted red/pink by the sun below the horizon.

Sea Stacks III
Copyright Howard Grill

Changes. All in a matter of just a few minutes. Nothing like photographing sunrise and sunset to make you cognizent of the passage of time!

Out Of The Mouths Of Babes.....

I recently decided to work on making some prints of images I had taken while on a workshop with Nancy Rotenberg on the Oregon coast. I found that one of the 8x10 proof images I made looked interesting. At first blush I thought it was nice, but only in a very commonplace sunset shot sort of way. However, the more I looked at the image the more I began to notice interesting subtleties that made the photograph more interesting to me. I liked the flare from the sun despite the fact that I am not usually a big fan of flare effects. I liked the dark and light linear lines the waves made and I liked the subtle silhouettes of the birds flying. However, most of all (and, unfortunately, this will not be evident in the small blog image) I enjoyed the subtlety of the fact that there are hundreds of seagull silhouettes on the sea stacks themselves and that they can be seen when one looks at the rocks more carefully. They are like a hidden treat if you take the time to look.

Haceda Beach
Copyright Howard Grill

My 15 year old son likes seeing my photos, though he is far more interested in sports than in art (which, I know, is totally as expected). So I was quite surprised when, as soon as I showed him the image, he said "It's cool.....I like it. You know there is really a lot going on in this picture". I swear that's what he said! Sometimes you get the unexpected. Or maybe I don't expect as much as I should; after all, there is probably a reason I show him my photos. He does seem to have a good feel for what works.

And then to top it all off I asked him if he thought that I should make the wave ripples on the right side of the picture a bit brighter. His reply was simply "Dad, I think sometimes you just over-analyze these pictures". Smart boy.

When Accidents Happen

I think photographic “accidents” usually end up being quite interesting. Though my initial response when one occurs is frequently a bit of anger, it often turns out that some accidents should be welcomed. The results are never able to be anticipated and often turn out to be a wonderful surprise.

What type of accidents am I referring to? For sure, not the ones where the wind blows your tripod over or your new 25-600 f1.8 VR IS lens goes tumbling down the side of a hill. I am referring to accidents where unanticipated interference occurs. You are all set up to take a shot and a gust of wind blows the trees or flowers and you end up with an unexpected impressionistic shot. Perhaps a person walks into the frame or a boat comes along while you’re shooting a body of water.

Here is an accident that occurred to me. I was on a workshop at the Oregon Coast and was photographing a lighthouse from a parking lot. The shot was nice, but probably never going to be a ‘winner’ because the community had stopped turning on the light in the lighthouse. It turns out (at least this is what I was told, I don't know if it is really true) that there really is no longer a need for lighthouses these days, as boats have GPS guidance systems and the captain knows where they are even in the dark. The lighthouse, I am told, ended up being lit only for tourist purposes and since the town had little in the way of revenue they were no longer turning it on.

But, while I was taking the shot, another car pulled into the parking lot with its headlights on. My initial reaction was mild displeasure at ruining my shot for the moment, but I took it anyway. To be honest, I rather like the resultant warm light on the stones, which is from the cars headlights. In fact, I like it more than the straight shot that I took after the headlights were turned off.

Coquille River Lighthouse
Copyright Howard Grill

Maybe putting ourselves into a position where ‘an accident is bound to happen’ isn’t such a bad idea after all......


The human mind has an uncanny desire and ability to take random lines and shapes and assemble them into something seemingly identifiable. This seems to be an inherent part of human nature. Perhaps the beginning of artistic expression is somehow rooted in this yearning of the mind to assemble input into the ‘known’ category.

Rock Bird
Copyright Howard Grill

When looking at this rock formation I felt like I was looking at an ancient cave painting of sorts…but it was just a rock in a small cliff by the Oregon Shore.

And so I wonder, am I the only one who sees a bird?

The Abstract: Does Location Matter ?

While a good deal of my photography is nature related, I have recently started to venture into the city in search of interesting abstract and landscape images. I have not been doing ‘street photography’ per se, nor have I been seeking ‘the decisive moment’. At this point in my urban outings I am still too uncomfortable to try to slip in a hidden candid shot or ask people if I can photograph them. What I have been doing is more along the lines of just looking for that nice coalescence of lines and shapes that seem to call for an image to be made.

Oregon Dunes
Copyright Howard Grill

United Steelworkers Building
Downtown Pittsburgh
Copyright Howard Grill

What really intrigues me is how absolutely similar looking for the abstract seems to be in both settings. It doesn’t really seem to matter whether I am in Downtown Pittsburgh or the middle of nowhere. In either location I find that I am using the same mindset and looking for the same components with which to construct an image. I am not sure if others feel this way, but urban and nature abstracts, as well as landscapes, seem like two sides of the same coin to me, being far more similar than they are different.

One More Real vs. Feel

Not to belabor the point, but I wanted to post one more example of manipulating an image in order to allow it to better convey a mood. If you haven’t already, please take a moment to read yesterdays entry regarding this issue.

"Siren's Song"
Bandon Beach, Oregon
Real vs. Feel
Copyright Howard Grill

I took this particular image on the Oregon Coast workshop with Nancy Rotenberg that I mentioned in the January 18th post. The picture was taken at sunset, on a gorgeous beach, with a group of workshop participants who were really a pleasure to be with. Even if I wasn’t photographing, I would have wanted to stay on that beach just to take in the sea stacks, the breeze, and the sound of the waves. I wanted to convey both a sense of calm as well as the feeling that there was an almost magnetic attraction to the water, as if you just wanted to walk right out into the sea. The image was therefore named “Siren’s Song”.

In order to try and convey this, I needed to combine two exposures, one for the ocean/beach and one for the sky and then adjust the contrast and saturation to give it the appropriate ‘feel’. Once again, not a ‘real’ visual documentation, but one that, I think, better conveys what it felt like to be there.

Interestingly, most ‘non-photographers’ are unaware that there really is no such thing as a standardized ‘right out of the camera’ truth since the sensor data is not ‘in color’ and that while they might not be doing post processing ‘manipulation’ the camera itself IS. Likewise with the ‘truth’ of film and the use of high/low contrast and high/low saturation emulsions.

In closing, I don’t want to give the impression that a great number of my images are of this genre because, in fact, they are not. They tend to fall into the category of ‘real’ much more frequently than ‘feel’, but in certain situations I do think this type of manipulation can help an image to more successfully communicate what the photographer had intended.

Tomorrow, on to another topic.

Self Portrait

In yesterday’s blog entry I wrote about photographing rock surfaces in Oregon and wanted to take the opportunity to show one more image before changing the subject. During that weeklong workshop, one of our assignments was to take a self portrait. This particular assignment was made interesting by the caveat that we need not appear in our own self portrait.

Copyright Howard Grill
Shore Acres State Park, Oregon

This image, another of the photos that I took at “The Wall”, is the one I used for that assignment……and, yes, I do wear glasses.

I also wanted to mention that, in regards to the topic of photographing rocks, people might be interested at taking a look at the more recent work of Bill Atkinson, who published a book of interesting rock images.

The Wall

The wall…I am not talking Pink Floyd here. I am talking about rock, real rock. George Barr, in his blog entitled Behind The Lens, recently had a very interesting entry entitled Rock Details As Project, in which he discusses photographing rock surfaces as art. I commented on that post to say that I had attended a photography workshop at the Oregon Coast back in August and that during that trip we spent a day photographing in Shore Acres State Park. Within that park is an incredible rock seawall that contains a multitude of shapes and colors. During the workshop, we spent several hours photographing this particular wall. Apparently Minor White, I am told, ran workshops at that same location during which his students would spend the better part of a week photographing segments of just that one single seawall. Besides being a fascinating location to photograph (though I am not sure I would want to spend an entire week at that one location alone) it was an inspiring experience knowing who had photographed there in years gone by.

Copyright Howard Grill

Taken In Shore Acres State Park, Oregon

The two photos above were both taken at “The Wall”.

Though the primary purpose of this entry is to discuss rock photography, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this particular workshop was given by Nancy Rotenberg, who is a truly inspirational teacher. Anyone considering a workshop would do well to consider hers, as the workshop that I attended was simply superb.