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.

Stacy Butera

I have always found it interesting that a group of photographers can go to the same location and walk away with vastly different images.  That fact is testament to the old Ansel Adams quote that "There are always two people in every picture, the photographer and the viewer".  So when I run across photographers who spend time making images at sites that I frequent, I am always interested in seeing their work. Through comments she made on my blog, I recently ran across the work of photographer Stacy Butera. Stacy lives in the same general area as I do and apparently has taken the opportunity to photograph at some of the same locations that I have.  I spent some time on her website and really enjoyed the work I found there, which tends to exude a quiet stillness, as exemplified in the image below.

"Shawnee Lake Dock"

Copyright Stacy Butera

Check out her other work at her website here.

What Should Photographs Look Like?

I had the opportunity to visit the "Yours Truly: Privately Collected Photographs" exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh last weekend.  The exhibit was really an excellent way to see beautifully crafted photographs from a number of well known photographers such as Eisenstaedt, Frank, Winogrand and a host of others. Without question it is well worth a visit to the exhibit, though that is not what I want to write about today. Two things really struck me when viewing the photographs. The first was how much emotional impact they held.  Once I absorbed that, the second thing that I noticed was just how different these prints looked compared to what we consider to be excellent technical quality today. Or maybe I should rephrase that and say that I noticed how different the prints looked compared with what I expected to see as excellent technical quality.

With few exceptions, none of the photographs had the degree of sharpness or level of contrast that images I am used to seeing today have. But yet they carried far more emotional content than most of what I have seen in recent or contemporary photographs.

The photos simply were not as sharp as we often see in today's digital prints (and I am not talking about the over the top grunge look....just regular prints).  I am not sure if that is a 'limitation'  of film grain or related to the type of sharpening and tonal separation we can achieve in digital editing software.  Likewise with the image contrast, which may be related to the brightness of the paper the gelatin silver prints were on.

Please don't get me wrong, I am not criticizing the photographs nor in any way saying that the technical quality or aesthetics of todays prints are better.  In fact, I am really saying just the opposite.  Because there were apparently some 'limitations' compared to today, the emotional impact of the image has to carry it far beyond the technical aspects.

One Of My Favorite Images From The Exhibit

Unfortunately, I Have Forgotten Who The Photographer Was

And I wonder if the 'digital generation' has come to expect a certain type of visual and technical aesthetic that is simply different (no better or worse) from what has been the aesthetic or yardstick of quality in the past.  Do we have our own idea of 'what photographs should look like'?  How does one determine 'what a photograph should look like'?  Is the look of a photograph determined by the generation of viewers and their the look merely a fad?  Have we taught ourselves that images need razor sharpness and certain levels of contrast to attract our attention? Are we paying too much attention to the technical and not enough to the emotional impact of what we see?

I am not sure of the answers, but I do know that the exhibit got me to think about a lot of questions.  And, after all, if an art exhibit can make you start to think about these types of questions, then it must be an exhibit that is well worth taking your time to see!

Burnt Embers

One of the nice aspects of having a blog is the ability to share 'discoveries'.  As I have mentioned in prior posts, I have been doing more black and white work as of late.  I recently ran across the Burnt Embers blog by 'Ehpem' and was immediately drawn to his black and white images, though there are plenty of gorgeous color photographs there as well.  Enjoy 'Burnt Embers'!

Cow Bay Boat Houe

Copyright Ehpem

Ruins Of Detroit

If you have seen my Carrie Furnace Project (get the e-Book), you know that I like photographing old, abandoned places.  French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have some amazing photos of old abandoned places.  Unfortunately, those places happen to be in the city of Detroit.  Nonetheless, they are quite stirring and conjure up images of what once was.  Photographs from their project "Ruins of Detroit" can be seen here.

Lee Plaza Hotel

From "Ruins Of Detroit

Copyright Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

Atrium, Farwell Building

From "Ruins Of Detroit

Copyright Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

Minimalistic Landscapes

Usually I don't  just post a link to another site without a more in depth description.  However, I ran across a selection of images by photographer Murray Fredericks that I really enjoyed and wanted the opportunity to share them.  They are abstractions of light, color, and form derived from the simplest of landscapes and can be viewed here.

Why Photograph?

My last few posts have been to share interesting articles I have found on the internet.  And for that reason I was planning not to do the same with this post.  And then I ran across photographer Paul Butzi's article entitled "The Flash Of Recognition (Or, Why I Photograph)". Reading his article gave me insight into the question of "Why photograph?" that I had felt internally but was never really able to express.  Paul has expressed it with great clarity, and I want to share his words, as they really hit home for me.  Perhaps they will for you as well.

Nancy Rotenberg

Sadly, Nancy Rotenberg passed away this last weekend.  Nancy was an exceedingly talented photographer and, more importantly, an amazing human being.  She was a friend and a key mentor in my learning how to photograph.  At the core of her teaching was the idea that, in order to make exceptional photographs, one has to go 'beyond the handshake' and truly connect emotionally with the subject.  Only then can you see 'past the surface'. Not only did she herself touch the lives of many, but her 'way'  also attracted many like-minded people , enabling folks from far and wide to form lifelong relationships that they otherwise would not have had.  In that way, among many others, she continues to touch the living.

Rather than my writing about Nancy, I will refer readers to the words of people that were privileged to know her far longer than I did and who are also more eloquent than I am able to be:

Ray Klass's words about Nancy Rotenberg

Marti Jeffers' words about Nancy Rotenberg

Using The Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo Filter

I own the Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo filter and find it quite a useful creative tool.  I thought I was using it properly, but then ran across a YouTube video of photographer Jason Odell explaining how he uses it.  I found the video very helpful. While I had been using the filter reasonably correctly, I did find a few great tips in the video that I will put into use, such as picking a specific white balance setting and not using auto-balance (which is good practice anyway, but more important here) and picking your aperture and shutter speed manually and then rotating the filter to achieve the exposure, instead of vice-versa.

Anyway, I found some nice tips here and thought I would share it.  If you own and use the filter, have a peak at this instructional is well worth the 5 minutes.  Check it out at the link below:

Var-N-Duo Filter

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

Who?????  Say it slowly now....Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, who lived from 1863 to 1944. Sergei was apparently supported by Tsar Nicholas II to photograph Russia from 1909-1912.  He used a very sophisticated camera to take three rapid, sequential black and white photographs, one using a red, one using a green, and one using a blue filter.  He was then able to combine the images and display them with filtered lanterns to yield a final color this starting to sound like Photoshop channels, or what???  The more things change, the more they stay the same. The images are quite amazing, particularly given the era they come from.  Here are two images and a link to the original story that displays 34 of the photographs.  Of note, The Library of Congress purchased the glass plates in 1948, and there are hundreds of them to see.

Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, Russia

Image by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

Image by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

Image by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

One of the fun parts about this was how I found out about the story.  Isn't it a pleasure when your children grow to the point that they understand and respect your interests, even though it may not be their 'cup of tea'?  Well, my son in college came across it while surfing the internet during a study break and sent me a link to it because he knew I would find it interesting.  He was right and I thought I would share it on the blog!

Celebrating What Is Right With The World

Dewitt Jones is a photographer, a writer for Outdoor Photographer magazine, and a keynote speaker.  I have particularly enjoyed his monthly Outdoor Photographer column (one of the few high points of the magazine, in my opinion).  Recently, he has started an ongoing photographic project entitled "Celebrate What's Right With The World!"  The title really says it all.  You can sign up to have an e-mail notice sent to you when he posts a new image to the series or just check in to his blog from time to time to see them.

The photographs can be viewed here.

Quick Quotes: Timothy Allen

It can be a trap of the photographer to think that his or her best pictures were the ones that were hardest to get.

Timothy Allen

Timothy Allen should certainly know about this, given that he photographs around the world for Human Planet.

We often think that if we could just go to this or that exotic location we would come back with exceptional images that people would fawn over. In fact, most people don't care where a photograph was taken or how easy or hard it was to get there. They only care if it resonates with them.

This quote gets me thinking about the fact that the strongest and most well crafted images are probably the ones that are of 'ordinary things' and 'ordinary places' that, nonetheless, carry strong emotional content.

Looking All Around

A few days ago, I visited the Andre Kertesz exhibit entitled "On Reading" at The Carnegie Museum Of Art in Pittsburgh. It was a wonderful exhibit of Kertesz photographs, with the theme being people reading.

One of the ideas that caught my attention (besides that Kertesz had a wry sort of humor based on photos like this and this) was that life goes by without our realizing what is around us that is interesting to see. On that note, as I left the museum I found myself really looking all around me to see what was there. That is when I found this....which I took with my cell phone.

Copyright Howard Grill

"Digital Analogue" - A Short Film

This is a neat short film I ran across. I hesitate to say that it is 'about' antique cameras, because it really is more of a work of art than a film 'about' anything. It was constructed from over 6000 still images of analogue cameras, and the intriguing soundtrack is made entirely from sounds generated by these 'antique' cameras.

Enjoy "Digital Analogue" by ftjelly!

B&W Magazine Award

I am quite proud to have been awarded a "Bronze Award" in this years B&W Magazine Single Image Issue! I have posted the image before, though the submission to B&W obviously required a conversion to black and white.

Copyright Howard Grill

In addition, friend (though we have never actually of the wonders of the internet) and fellow photography blogger Andy Ilachinski had not one, but two images published in that same issue! Check out his thought provoking and exceedingly well written blog here. It is a regular on my reading list.

Quick Quotes: David DuChemin

"Remember that technical perfection rarely moves the soul."

David DuChemin

A quote today from David DuChemin's new Lightroom book (which I have reviewed in a prior post). Not that DuChemin is eschewing technical fact just the opposite is true. The quote, when taken in context, refers to the fact that technical excellence alone is not enough to allow an image to elicit a meaningful response.

Fallen Leaf

This is the first image that I have processed since reading David DuChemin's Lightroom book that I reviewed in my last post. In doing so, I took a lot of his suggestions to heart. For example, in this image I first asked myself what drew my eye to the scene and used that information to help direct me through the image processing.

Leaf And Wooden Door
Copyright Howard Grill

Here, I was drawn to the way the wood of the door as well as the metal of the rusted hinge had an old and deep wrinkled texture that was similar to that of the leaf. In addition, I liked the way the yellow of the old paint on the door echoed the yellow in the leaf and the way the orange of the rusted hinge echoed the red of the leaf. Finally, I was intrigued that the green paint of the door symbolized the color of the leaf before its turning color and that the yellow paint was coming from underneath the green paint. Lots of echoing and symbolism going on here.

So, based on those thoughts, I knew that I wanted to emphasis the texture of the wood, leaf, and rusted metal in post-processing. I also wanted the colors saturated, though not so much that they appeared unnatural and, since the main point for the viewer's eye to be drawn towards was the leaf, I wanted the saturation of the paint to be somewhat less than that of the leaf.

I also used these thoughts to guide my cropping. Given that I wanted to display the leaf in the setting of the old door and for viewers to compare the inanimate to the living, I left enough of the door in the image so that it became a recognizable portion of it and not simply a backdrop onto which the leaf could be displayed.

Going through these thought processes are quite helpful in directing one's self down a specific route or two as opposed to the endless possibilities that exist when first opening a RAW file.

15 Composition Tips

A short post today with a link to some inspirational thoughts about composition.

Here are 15 great tips for photographic composition by photographer Alain Briot that are definitely worth reading.


I was born in the late 1950's and thus, not too surprisingly, my musical taste leans towards 60's-80's rock. I also tend to go through phases where I really enjoy listening to a particular artist or group.

Lately, I have been going through an Emerson, Lake, and Palmer phase. For those who might be reading this that are too young to have heard of them, they are generally considered one of the earliest 'progressive rock' supergroups. If you haven't heard of them you really owe it to yourself to have a listen. Try "Lucky Man" for a more conventional 'over the radio' song, but if you really want to try something different give "Tarkus" a try.

But what has any of this to do with photography? Well, I recently was rounding out my ELP collection and ordered the album entitled "Works Volume 1". Ok, it isn't their most renowned music but I was completing my collection by purchasing albums I was missing. At any rate, I bought the CD (for essentially the same price as an i-Tunes download why not have an uncompressed hard copy as well?) and looked at the album insert. I was very surprised to find in the pamphlet this photograph of Keith Emerson taken by David Montgomery in the 1970's (the reproduction is somewhat poor as I had to scan an image that was already reproduced for the insert).

Photo Of Keith Emerson From Works Volume 1 Album
Copyright David Montgomery

The first thing that ran through my mind was 'Whoa, I've seen that before!'. To me it looked like essentially the same image as the iconic photograph of Igor Stravinsky taken by Harold Newman in the mid 1940's. For those not familiar with that photo, I have copied it below.

Copyright Harold Newman

I thought the similarity was clear. I would be curious as to whether Montgomery thought that the Newman image was so well known that people would realize that it was a copy of the idea and that it was almost a 'spoof' on the image or if it was a situation where Newman's image was not well known at the time. Not that it makes much difference at this point, I suppose. It is just that I was taken aback by the similarity between the two photos. Coincidence? I doubt it. Spoof....I don't know!

Daniel Stainer

Every so often you run across someone who seems to be similar to yourself. And so it is with Daniel Stainer. I ran across his blog entitled "Illuminations" and noticed that we share many of the same philosophies and tend to photograph in many similar ways.

I actually e-mailed him and, as it turns out, we only live about an hour or so from each other and had briefly met under non-photographic circumstances eight or nine years ago, though I hadn't initially recalled that. So we decided to go out photographing together and had a great outing at a place called Frew's Mill. The light wasn't all that great by the time we got there, but we still enjoyed the experience of photographing nonetheless. Below is one of Daniel's moody images taken when the lighting was more conducive to making photographs.

Frew's Mill
Copyright Daniel Stainer

So check out his blog and his image gallery as well. There are some inspirational images and writing to be seen and read!

Chris Friel

Having recently acquired a Canon tilt-shift lens, I have been avidly trying to learn how to best use it. This includes using the shift mechanism to avoid converging lines for architectural photography as well as using the tilt mechanism for altering the plane of focus to allow front to back sharpness while making landscape images.

But I was also interested in other creative ways in which to use the lens. And that is when I ran across Chris Friel's work.Chris uses the tilt-shift mechanism to create images with selective planes of focus. Rather than utilize tilt to try to bring everything into sharp focus, he often uses it to make most of the image, save a small area, out of focus. In addition to the use of tilt-shift lenses, much of his work is abstract and involves hand holding long exposures (sometimes in conjunction with tilt-shift lenses). His photographs are very powerful, pulling the viewer in and really making them think about the image.

Copyright Chris Friel
Taken With 24mm Tilt-Shift Lens

Copyright Chris Friel
Long Exposure With Camera Movement

Chris's Flickr stream can be found here. His formal website can be found here. Spend some time...these are remarkable images.