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 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

Rolling Mountains

Sometimes the whole of an image just doesn't work, but within it is a portion that does.  Such was the case with this photo from my recent trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The entire vista contained in the original image didn't seem interesting enough to hold my attention.  But within it I saw a portion that I liked because of the shapes the lines of the rolling hills made. So I limited the image to what I liked about it.  Sometimes, you just have to know when to crop!

Copyright Howard Grill

32 Bit Lightroom Processing - First Attempt

A few posts ago, I recommended a tutorial on processing 32 bit images in Lightroom, which produces HDR type photos that tend to be halo free and more photo-realistic (I know you can make photo-realistic images with Photomatix and other HDR software, but it just seems harder to do so).  Well, I took my own advice and tried it. My first attempt was actually with an image that I didn't think would benefit much from that type of processing, but, nonetheless, I just wanted to give it a try and see.  The image was from my post of April 29th, and I have copied the original (non-32 bit) processed photo below.  This was processed from an underexposed image so as to give a more dramatic view of the sky and to silhouette the mountains.

Copyright Howard Grill

The 32 bit processed image allowed me to maintain the silhouette, but pull out detail in the midtones to darks that were not easily extracted before and certainly not without more noise.  After Lightroom 32 bit processing, the image was finished with tonal contrast applied in Nik ColorEfex and some local layer adjustments for the sky.  I also cropped a bit off the bottom for better balance. The result is below and I do believe the 32 bit processing gave a superior result:

Copyright Howard Grill

As you might expect, the differences are much more apparent in larger images!

Where I've Been

As I mentioned in my review of the Gura Gear Bataflae 32L, I recently had the opportunity to spend a week photographing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It really is a fantastic (and exhausting) experience to be able to devote a week to just photography, especially when you get to do it with a few similar minded friends! Having returned, I have just finished the job of importing, keywording etc.  The editing job is now beginning.  Below is an early 'pick' that I put through some quick processing as a taste of more to come.  One of the defining characteristics of the Smokies is the amazing layering of the mountain ridges:

Smoky Mountain Ridges

Copyright Howard Grill

Interestingly, I took a series of exposures of this scene anticipating an HDR image but, while reviewing the photographs, realized that this single image really conveyed the feel of being there.  So why make life complicated.  This single exposure says it all.

Morton's Overlook

Last April, when I was on my trip to Smoky Mountains National Park, I had the opportunity to photograph sunset at the well known Morton's Overlook.  I wrote about that in a post back in August describing my first panoramic image. Recently, I was going through some of the photos that I had ranked highly from that trip but not yet processsed.  One of the images was not a frame that went into the panorama, though it could well have been.  Interestingly, what I found was that I actually liked this single frame and it's format more than the panorama simply because it brought focus more directly on what had attracted me to the scene in the first place, which was the overlapping shapes of the mountains.

A good is always a good idea to pay attention to what draws you to a scene in the first place in order to make the strongest possible composition and visually communicate what you were thinking.

Morton's Overlook

Copyright Howard Grill

First Panorama

I am not sure why, but I have never really attempted to make panoramas. When I left for my trip to the Smokies last April I had decided that the one new thing that I definitely wanted to try was making a panorama. And so I did, with the following result:

Interestingly, for some reason, the Photomerge command in Photoshop CS6 simply would not merge the three pictures from which the panorama is constructed. Which means I had to try another program. I downloaded the free trial version of PTGui and it worked like a charm the first time with no problems, so I sprung for the paid version in order to be able to merge them without a watermark.

Interestingly, even with the use of a level panning head, I still had to trim about an inch off the image following the stitching because of unevenness in lining up the photos.

The final photograph, composed of three separate images, was made at an overlook in Great Smoky Mountains National Park at sunset. If printed at 240 pixels per inch, the final print would be approximately 16 inches high by 51 inches long!

The Other 1%

When out in the field photographing, 99% of the times things don't go exactly the way you might like them to.  Then there is that 1%. During my trip to Smoky Mountains National Park back in April, I was photographing on Clingman's Dome. I was taking shots of a group of dead trees using a 70-200mm lens.  Suddenly I saw a bird land on top of one of the dead trunks.  I thought it would make a very nice silhouette picture, but it needed a much closer viewpoint than the 200mm lens could provide.  I had my 400mm f5.6 lens with me but never thought the bird would stay put long enough for me to change over to it.  So I clicked off a few shots with the 70-200. Not expecting success, I decided to try to make the switch over to the 400mm.

So I went ahead and took the camera off the tripod and switched lenses.  I was amazed to find that the bird was actually still there!  Then I started moving quickly because I thought there might actually be half a chance of making the image.  I composed, manually focused with live view, and knocked off a shot or two.

Then I got greedy.  The way I composed the image the best pose,in my mind, would be for the bird to look off to the left where there was more empty space as well as another tree.  Yup, the bird did it and I took the picture.

It doesn't usually work out this way, but I was glad it did!

Bird And Tree

Copyright Howard Grill

In terms of processing, there was little I had to do to the image.  First, I added just a touch of contrast and a bit of sharpening to the main silhouette of the tree and bird.  The image was actually made at sunrise with fog in the air and the actual color was a very muddy orange, which just didn't look all that appealing to me.  So I decided to turn the clock back an hour or two and changed the color temperature to a much cooler bluish hue.

Sometimes it comes easy.  Most of the time it doesn't.

Summer Trees II

A few posts back I related a story about someone watching me photograph summer trees and how difficult it was for her to see anything of interest in the arrangements the trees made.

I thought I would offer one more picture from that session: 

Summer Trees II

Copyright Howard Grill

I added just a bit of softness and 'glow' to the trees and leaves in post-processing to try to convey the feel of being surrounded by these trees!

Summer Trees

I enjoy making photos of trees.  But let's face it, it is a whole lot easier to do in the fall when the forest is filled with color, in the winter when the bare trees make interesting minimalist shapes, and in the spring when the trees are covered with colorful, fluorescent appearing buds.  I personally find the summer the most difficult time to make images of trees.  They are!  This was an issue during my recent trip to the Smoky Mountains.  As I mentioned in a prior post, I missed the wildflowers because they bloomed a month early this year and the mountain laurel still had not come into bloom. There were fantastic mountains, sunrises, sunsets, water, and trees...lots of green trees. When out hiking I was constantly looking through the viewfinder, generally with my 70-200 lens, trying to isolate interesting patterns that the trees made. I am was never really quite sure I knew what I was looking for but I would always know when I found it.  It usually revolved about finding an order or a pleasing pattern to the trunks, branches and leaves.  At one point, I was on a trail that was fairly heavily used.  As I was walking and looking through the viewfinder at patches of trees that I thought might contain what I was looking for, I found a pleasing pattern  I stopped and set up my camera and tripod.  I honestly can not recall if the image in this post was that particular one or not, but it really doesn't matter.

A woman who was hiking by walked up to me with some interest and asked what I was photographing.  "Trees" I told her....and she visibly registered disappointment, hoping for something more interesting.  "Why trees?" she asked as she was about to walk away.  Hoping to regain her interest, I told her that it wasn't really the trees that I was photographing but, rather, the interesting shapes they made when you just looked at a area of them.  And I asked her if she wanted to see what I meant by looking at the picture on my LCD.  "Sure" she said.  I showed her the Live View image and she still looked at me quizzically.  "It's just trees" she said, and she walked away.

Summer Trees

Copyright Howard Grill


I had previously mentioned in my post about editing that I had gone on a photo trip with two friends to Smoky Mountains National Park and that I was spending a bit of time editing those images.  I have completed the editing process and have just finished processing the first of these images.

Smoky Ridges I

Copyright Howard Grill

Smoky Ridges II

Copyright Howard Grill

These are obviously the same image with different toning.  I find the journey to a final image is often interesting and frequently unplanned, at least for me.  This image started as an HDR sequence, but when going through the sequence I found that I particularly liked one of the underexposed images which turned the mountain ridges into simple graphic shapes. I therefore abandoned the HDR idea and stuck with the one exposure that drew my attention.  And that underexposed version had a brownish sepia color that seemed to suit the image. I also noticed that many of my early morning images had a decidedly blue tint, and I enjoyed that as well.

So how did I end up with these final photos?  I felt that the 'simple graphic shape underexposed image' could be simplified even further by converting to black and white in order to remove any color that was not the pure tint.  I did the conversion using Silver EFex Pro 2 and made two versions, a sepia/brown one and a cyanotype/blue one.  I then cropped off the bottom 25% or so of the image, as I found that the darker tones at the bottom of the photo drew attention away from the more interesting changes in tonality evident at the top.

Finally, I found the image (particularly the sky) to be a bit too bland and therefore blended some textures into the photograph.  I ultimately used two textures for each image, one for the sky and the other for the mountains.  The sky texture is the same for both, though applied at different opacities, while the mountain textures are different for each version.  I felt the gentle application of the textures gave the images a more interesting and 'grittier feel'.


I recently had the good fortune of selling a large number of prints to a local hospital system via a gallery they use to choose and install the artwork.  Because of the gallery's standards regarding artwork in health care facilities, there were certain types of scenes that they were particularly interested in and others that they did not want to display.  They therefore wanted print options for display beyond what I have on my website.  Based on their interests I had to go back through my archives and generate completed files from my unedited RAW files.......and I have to admit that for the most part I really liked the images choices I generated for them. But the point of this post is not that sale.  The point is that I had years and years of unedited images.  And by that I don't mean unprocessed, I mean unedited. As in picking the keepers from the throw aways, the wheat from the chaff, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I realized that I have thousands of images (many of them duplicates with slightly different apertures, focus points etc) with no separation of the ones that might be worth showing or printing other than the ones that I thought were my absolute best images. It turns out that what I thought was my best was not always what they thought was my best.  And though they picked some that I thought were among my best works,  they also picked a good number that I would not have considered five star images.  But I still thought they were good.  And there they were, hidden among the hundreds and hundreds of other images.  And since I just went through them with an eye for the particular types of images they wanted,  I know there are other good ones in there that didn't fit what they told me they were looking for.  How much easier would it have been had I, years ago, done at least some sort of star ranking and not just print the few I thought were 'portfolio material', leaving the rest behind.

I am not talking about keeping lousy images or showing work that is garbage in the hopes that someone likes it.  I am talking about knowing which are your good to very good photographs.  Ones that you can still be glad to be associated with even if they are not your portfolio star performers.  I now recognize the importance of this for two reasons.  One, not everyone necessarily agrees with the artist's taste and ideas and the 'consumer' might absolutely love the photograph that you think is just good.  Peoples' tastes are different.  Secondly, there may be (as there was in this case) extraneous rules or limitations about what can be used by a potential client who may be looking for a very specific type of image that is not a 'star performer'.  The best chocolate cake in the world will not satisfy someone who is shopping for apple pie.

So, with this knowledge, I am changing my habits and changing them now.  About two or three weeks ago I went on a fantastic trip with two of my photography buddies to Smoky Mountain National Park.  The trip had initially been planned for wildflower season but, because of the unusually warm February and March, the April wildflowers bloomed a month early and we totally missed them.  Nonetheless, there were still abundant photo ops and we had a great time and came away with many good images.  However, as anyone reading this probably knows, to get many good ones you often take hundreds that don't quite make the cut and never see the light of day.  I will not let these 1500 or so images fade into obscurity.  It takes a good deal of time, but I am editing all of these and all  future  images as I go.  Though I may do preliminary processing on all the top picks I clearly will only print my favorites, which may only number ten or so.  But I will have at least separated out the really good ones into a Lightroom collection that I can show while having easy access to a number of images that are culled and ready to use.

I think this is a good practice that I had not been doing regularly.  If you aren't doing this perhaps you should consider it as well.

Before You Leave.....Turn Around

When it comes to photography, I have always found turning around to be good advice. It sounds quite trite, but, nonetheless, it is often helpful.

When concentrating on trying to photograph one particular scene, we often have blinders on and don't keep our minds open to other possibilities. It can be hard, and perhaps even detrimental, to try and break one's focus in the middle of photographing and, therefore, I do like to finish what I am concentrating on before moving. Once finished, my mind can then be receptive to new possibilities....and so I force myself to turn around and look behind me at what else there is that I might have missed or overlooked.

It sounds quite simple, after all, once you are done photographing at a particular site you pack up and can't help but see what's around you before leaving. Sure, but are you receptive to what is around you, or is your mind already in the 'I'm done and leaving' mode? It is one thing to look at what is around you when packing up and another to see what is around you with the idea of making images.

It really is amazing to me how often what I find behind me ends up making a more interesting photograph than what I had been concentrating on. This might be because once my attention has been caught by something I am unable to give ample consideration to other possibilities or because some aspect of the scene behind me, such as the lighting, might have changed. Either way, I am often glad that I took the opportunity to turn around while keeping an open mind.

This occurred during the recent workshop I attended in the Smoky Mountains. I had been photographing a field of tall grasses in front of colorful fall foliage, but wasn't really happy with the compositions I was coming up with. I was planning to move on but 'turned around' before I left and was treated to this magnificent dew covered tree in a bit of fog that looked gem covered, sparkling while it was being backlit by the sun. I underexposed a bit to make the glistening stand out against a darker background.

Copyright Howard Grill

This image was far more satisfying and interesting than anything I had been concentrating on before making the turn!

Waiting For The Sun

It has been said that one of the biggest mistakes that can be made in photographing sunrises and sunsets is leaving too soon. Often, there is beautiful color to be seen and photographed for twenty or thirty minutes after the sun sets. Likewise, when waiting to photograph sunrise, things can change rapidly and unexpectedly. Such was the case when we were photographing sunrise during the recent Smoky Mountain Fall Workshop that I attended with Nancy Rotenberg, Don McGowan, and Les Saucier.

And what a glorious sunrise it was:

Sunrise Over The Smokies
Copyright Howard Grill

But it didn't start out that way. When our group arrived at the overlook that had been chosen for that morning's shoot, the sky seemed quite densely 'fogged in'. It didn't appear that we were likely to be able to make good images from that location and there was talk of trying to move to a different spot, perhaps one at a different elevation in the hopes of getting better conditions for photographing. By that time, however, it was getting late and it was a bit questionable that we would be able to find a new locale and be able to get set up in time for sunrise. So, with a tiny sliver of clearing in the distance, we decided to stick it out in the hopes that the dense fog would lift as the sun came up.

What developed was unexpected and truly exhilarating. Over the next few minutes, the little sliver of clearing continued to open and we were treated to a truly moving experience. The cloud cover was such that there was a number of 'God Rays' that emerged and, one by one, they swept across the valley below in a spectacle that was akin to a natural laser light show, only better. As I rapidly 'play back' the many images I took that morning by quickly viewing them one after another in Lightroom, they seem like a movie that allows one to relive the entire experience, complete with the rays sweeping and dancing rhythmically along one side of the mountain, into the valley, and back up the other side.

Rather than frenetically chasing after the perfect shot, sometimes it is better to stay put and let the shot come to you.

Away In The Smokies

No, the blog is not dead! I haven’t posted in over a week because I have been away and didn’t think it prudent to broadcast that fact over the internet.

I have been off on a photographic journey to the Smoky Mountains on my second workshop with Nancy Rotenberg. Since my first workshop with her, she has been joined by Don McGowan and Les Saucier to form ‘Photography With Heart’. I could talk on and on trying to describe what a workshop with Nancy, Les, and Don is like, but I am sure that I would not be able do the experience justice. Let’s just say that their workshops embody all the emotional and spiritual journey that photography can and should be. It simply doesn't get any better.

I will certainly post more images and thoughts from the trip, but for the moment, and until I unpack, I offer just an image or two:

Copyright Howard Grill

'The Road Less Traveled'
Copyright Howard Grill