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.

Carnivorous Plants - The Sundew

I have previously mentioned that I’ve taken up growing carnivorous plants- insectivorous would really be a better term - in my basement under fluorescent lights. One of the most interesting of these plants is the ‘sundew’. In addition to being fascinating, alien appearing, beautiful, easy to propagate, and inexpensive, they are also very easy to grow under lights. What more could you ask for in a plant that also helps rid your basement of small insects?

If you’re an insect you don’t want to find yourself anywhere near those gooey tentacles that are so enticing to visit. Once a small insect touches the ‘dew’ droplets they become stuck, and as they struggle come into contact with more of the flypaper-like droplets. Then the tentacles, as well as the entire leaf itself, wrap itself around the insect and secrete digestive juices to obtain a nitrogen laced meal.

The entire process can be seen in the video below the photographs of my very own Drosera capensis “albino”, the albino form of the Cape Sundew which is native to South Africa. The albino form has greenish, as opposed to red, leaves, though under strong light the tentacles take on a pink blush. There are other Sundew species native to different regions with different leaf shapes and growth habits. But they all have goo.

Drosera capensis “Albino” having a bite to eat © Howard Grill

Drosera capensis “Albino” having a bite to eat © Howard Grill


Did I mention they were easy to propogate? This is the graceful emerging flower stalk from the same plant. The small flowers self-pollinate and form seed in this particular species!

Drosera capensis “albino” flower stalk

Drosera capensis “albino” flower stalk


And for some real action, watch a short sundew time lapse from the BBC!

Isn’t nature amazing. I mean you can’t make this stuff up!

A Disturbing Trend In Photography Article

I have this messy tendency…..I save things in my email box that I think are interesting and want to come back to. Every 6-12 months I say ‘OK, no more of this’ with plans to clean out the email box and either delete things I don’t need, read some of the things I’ve saved, and move tutorials and such that I still want to listen to or read into a more permanent folder. The mess ultimately accumulates again, but that’s my problem and not the point of this post :)

I was just starting to do some cleaning when I came across an article that I had saved from 2016, and that meant that it had continued to be saved over many cleanings… probably worth reading. And indeed it was, so I thought I would share it.

The article was originally published on PetaPixel in May of 2016 and is entitled “Opinion: A Disturbing Trend In Photography”. Well worth a read. If you happen to read it and have an opinion, I would love to hear it….do feel free to comment!

The End Of The McConnell's Mill Hike

Several weeks back I decided to take a hike in McConnell’s Mill State Park. I hadn’t done so in some time and the hike I had been thinking about was short, but not the most accessible in terms of terrain. I had heard that if one hiked on this route they would be treated to some interesting water flow. And so I was. And it was definitely a hike worth taking.

I find myself wondering what this location will look like with the heavy fall rains we usually get or after the winter melt. I guess there is only one way to find out….

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


Black & White Magazine Pinhole And Plastic Camera Contest

I am very pleased that one of my images was selected for publication in this month’s Black & White Magazine’s ‘Pinhole and Plastic Camera Contest’. This photo is one I took a few years back at McConnell’s Mill State Park with a Zero pinhole camera using…..wait for it…..FILM…..which I developed in my basement and then scanned on a flatbed scanner in order to convert it to digital!

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

Shooting film with a pinhole camera is definitely fun, and part of that fun is not really knowing what you are going to get until the film is developed. But I haven’t done it in some time. These days, if I am going to shoot ‘pinhole’, I am apt to do it with a digital camera. While one looses that fun anticipation of waiting to see what you’re going to get, it is, nonetheless, easier than developing the film! And it also allows you to make adjustments in the field to get what you want in terms of framing and exposure. Pinhole photographs, whether film or digital, certainly have a character all their own.

Venus Flytrap

Back in August, I had mentioned that I had taken an interest in and started growing some ‘carnivorous plants’. There are actually several different species of plants that look at insects as if they were small fertilizer pellets, but probably the most known to everyone is the Venus Flytrap or Dionaea muscipula. Indeed, Dionaea are quite exotic looking, but you don’t have to go to anywhere exotic to find them, as they are actually native to North America and particularly North Carolina, though they grow elsewhere as well.

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

Why doesn’t the rain or the wind cause the traps to close with no prey? What can the flytrap eat? How many times can it open and close? What makes it open and close? How does it close so quickly that a fly is trapped when I can’ even hit a fly with a fly swatter?

It’s an interesting plant, isn’t it?

Here are some answers that you might find interesting.

Answers by the Botanical Society of America.

Even better, see it in action in this BBC video:

I suspect you will see more photos of the Venus Flytrap as well as of various other species of carnivorous plants scattered across the coming months!

Farmhouse In Fall

Continuing on the fall theme for another posting…..

It was several years ago that I made this photograph and, though I posted it at that time, truth be told I was never really happy with it, as I didn’t think it really conveyed the feeling I had in mind. So going over some of my old fall images, I revisited this one to rework it. I think this version, which now includes some newer techniques to me (like luminosity masking) and some ideas garnered from my ‘digital art’ course (such as adding a texture and running it through some filters - Topaz Studio and Nik Color Efex but not just accepting the default settings) gives it a much more painterly and ‘storybook’ feel that far better conveys what I had in mind.

It can definitely be a good idea to go through some of your older images with a fresh eye, particularly the ones that didn’t quite make it or didn’t express exactly what you wanted them to!

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


Hello, World!

Quick Quotes: Alfred Steiglitz

I realized that it really has been quite some time since I published one of my photography "Quick Quotes".  So here we go:

"As a matter of fact, nearly all the greatest work is being, and has always been done, by those who are following photography for the love of it, and not merely for financial reasons. As the name implies, an amateur is one who works for love."

Alfred Steiglitz

So there you couldn't come on better authority!

More Pete's Lake

This is an image that I have actually posted beofre, but as a straight photo. I reworked it using several techniques in order to better have it reflect what it felt like at sunrise at this beautiful location (Pete's Lake near Munising, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula).

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

What did it look like before I attempted to go beyond a 'straight' photograph? It was an equally valid image that I believe also transmits, in a slightly different way, what it was like to be at this idyllic location at sunrise. However, I believe that one has to recognize that the 'straight' photo is also really just my interpretation of the RAW file meant to transmit my impression of what it was like there. So perhaps I shouldn't call it a 'straight' photo, but, rather, a 'straighter' photo. No photo is truly 'straight'; not in the digital age nor in the analog age.....but that is a discussion for a different day. 

The 'straighter' photo:

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

Again, I think they both work in different ways. Which one works best for you? Why? I would love to know!

In The Woods

Now this is something really different for me, but I am committed to at least trying different things. I think I at least owe that to my parents after years of not eating my veggies :)  The background is composed of three of my tree photos taken from different images and composited together. My idea was not to make an entirely convincing background but, rather, to make an interesting one. That is why the overlap of some of the trees doesn't look quite natural, or perhaps looks a little 'odd'. They were blended together to be just a little 'off', to raise an eyebrow or make you wonder whats not quite right about it.

But when I was done with the background, it needed a subject. So I dropped in a model image that came with the course I am taking (fully licensed for any use, of course). Well, she didn't exactly simply 'drop in' since she was in color, much bigger etc. Lets say she was gently manipulated into the photo in an attempt to make her presence at least look realistic against the background.

Definitely not my usual type of work, but I am having fun playing!

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill



When I was at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris a few years ago, they had a display of paintings by one of the grand old masters.....unfortunately, I can't remember who (if a reader knows, by all means, please remind me). At any rate, given some of the techniques I have been learning and practicing I couldn't help but 'grunge up' the photo I took of the painting a bit. Well, maybe more than a bit. I sort of made it mine. With apologies to that grand master of painting.

old master.jpg

Another Self Assignment

Another self assignment to digitally transform a photograph utilizing fractals and by 'painting with light'. What are fractals?  See those wavy green and orange lines behind the doll....those are fractals, which are blended into the image at low opacity. And 'painting with light'? That is an enhancement of the yellow glow behind the doll done by using the color picker in Photoshop to choose the color of the existing glow and then painting with a soft, low opacity brush in the appropriate area on a new empty layer. Looks messy, but then change the blend mode to color, or soft light, or just experiment...the messy looks goes away and it all blends together nicely. I also obviously added in the musical note embellishment.

Where is this all headed? I don't know, but I do know that I'm having fun with it all!

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


Self Assignments

In my last post, I wrote about trying to get my photographic thoughts and plans together after having 'completed' my Empathy Project.  One of the ideas I had mentioned was delving further into 'Photoshop digital artistry'. I had taken an excellent course in this some time ago, but had really gone through the tutorials listening and watching but not doing.....and that's a mistake. So I have started going through it again, this time giving myself self-assignments to utilize the techniques taught in the tutorials of compositions that seem to be in a style that I like.

And so I thought I would post some of my self assignments, of which this is the first. The assignment was (utilizing my own main image):

Construct a background from multiple textures

Add the main image and mask out the edges  using a 'grungy' brush

Add the frame with the main image 'spilling out'

Add some embellishments to create visual interest, including scribbles that I make and scan in myself

Blend in a 'line drawing' version from Topaz Impression


And the final result is below.


© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


What To Do When The Project's Over?

Readers of my blog know that over the last year or so I have been working on my Empathy Project, which took up quite a bit of my time. It really was an all encompassing project for me, both time-wise and emotionally. I ended up with 32 portraits and interviews. Once I had completed those, it took me a couple of weeks to prepare the material for submission to a magazine (more on that in a future post, when I hear back). Once that was completed.....well, it's sort of a let down. What does one do next?? How do you decide on the next project? How do you know where you should redirect your efforts? Because I hadn't really done any longstanding projects like this before (well, maybe one, The Carrie Furnace Project) it's a problem I haven't really previously faced. And I know it may sound trivial, but I really am unsure as to where to find inspiration next.

So I am doing a few things to help me along. First, in the past, I have had an interest in and taken some courses on 'Photoshop Artistry', the idea of using photographs and Photoshop to create composited pieces of artwork. Though I had gone through the courses and used some of the techniques, it isn't something that I really delved into deeply. And, while I had tried to do some of the 'assignments', I am really not too good at following other peoples project suggestions (despite it being a good way to learn). It just isn't a way that I take to very well. So, I am taking another tact. I am reviewing some of the lessons and when I review a tutorial that shows work and technique that is in 'my style', that I can see myself using, I make up my own assignments to practice the technique. I think I can work and practice better that way.  It is something I am trying and we will see where it goes. Who knows, maybe I will even describe and show some of the self assignments and results here.

The second thing is that (and here is something that readers probably don't know about me) many years ago I used to raise orchids as a hobby. In fact, I had constructed a growing room in my basement using with high intensity lighting and various sorts of climate control. I finally gave it up because the time involved became too overwhelming. At one point I actually had an article published in 'Orchids', the journal of The American Orchid Society, about how to construct and maintain such a growing area.

Well, I am starting to do some growing again, but in a much more constrained way.....on a stand under  some fluorescent lights. And in addition to growing a few orchids that I kept, I have also taken to growing something new that has captured my fancy....carnivorous plants. The reason I mention any of this is that the plants are so bizarrely interesting that I would like to make photographs of them. Think I'm crazy? Well, check this out...... 

This is a beautiful book with wonderful fine art images of carnivorous plants.

And then there is Beth Moon's wonderful black and white portfolio entitled "The Savage Garden", named after the classic carnivorous plant growing manual by Peter D'Amato

Several years ago Beth's carnivorous plant portfolio was published in LensWork. These plants really are bizarrely photogenic in a very abstract way.

At this point, I am just trying to put ideas together. If anyone would like to share ideas about how they get inspired or get motivated to 'move on to the next thing', I would love to hear them! 

Blazing Stars - The Annual Pilgrimage

Every year, at the end of July through the beginning of August, my 'photo friends' and I make our annual pilgrimage to Jennings Environmental Education Center to see the blooming Liatris spicata, more commonly known as Blazing Stars. While you can perhaps find them growing in gardens, the open prairie of Jennings is the only place in Western Pennsylvania where they grow naturally. The open prairies of the Midwest is otherwise their natural habitat.

Every year, besides the 'standard' type photographs, I try to do something a bit different. This time around, I tried to not only photograph the plants, but to also photograph what it felt like to be there surrounded by them out in the open fields.

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


Canon ImagePrograf 2000 Disaster - Epilogue (Part 2)

Part 1 of this post about my experience with Canon and my ImagePrograf 2000 printer can be found here. At this point I will simply carry on with the story.

After two boxes of printer parts had been confirmed as having arrived at my home, the repair appointment was scheduled. When the repairman opened up the machine he found something very unusual and unexpected. We had thought that the ink was being 'sucked' out of the cartridge and being deposited in the maintenance tank (the tank where excess and discard ink from cleanings etc goes). But there it was. The ink. All pooled INSIDE THE PRINTER and contained within a portion of the machine's 'innards'. it wasn't in the maintanance tank at all.

Before explaining what happened, I need to explain a bit about how the printer works (at least this is the way it was explained to me). Each ink color has it's own sub-reservoir. A volume of ink is drawn into the sub-reservoir from the main ink cartridge and, when you print, the ink going to the print head is drawn from the sub-reservoir tank and when that tank reaches a certain level it draws more ink from the main cartridge. The printer is engineered this way so that when the chip on the main cartridge reads 'empty' things don't come to a grinding halt. There is enough ink left in the sub-reservoir to finish the print job and even to continue with some printing until you can get a fresh ink cartridge of that color. Only when the sub-reservoir is near empty do things come to a grinding halt.

Apparently my printer developed a leak in the sub-reservoir tank (I presume around either the intake valve drawing ink into the reservoir or around the exit valve that feeds the ink down the tubes to the print head). All the ink leaked around this valve into the bottom of the part that holds half the sub-reservoir tanks (there are two groupings of six inks, each of the six with a sub-reservoir tank). Once this was figured out, the repairman knew what parts of the printer needed to be replaced. Of course, nobody anticipated this as the problem and the parts had to be ordered. And there were a lot of parts that would need to go into this 'hemi-transplant'!

Several days later I received three more large boxes of printer parts delivered to my home and another repair was scheduled. This time a huge 'hunk' of printer was replaced, including the sub-reservoir tanks on the side that serviced magenta ink.

So two questions remain: 1) how did this happen and 2) did the fix work?

How did this happen? Nobody seems to know the answer to this question! The repairman and the slew of engineers he spoke with say that they have never seen this happen before, though this model printer is relatively new. In fact, they wanted the parts that were removed as defective to be shipped to them so that they could examine them and perhaps get some type of idea regarding if this was a 'freak' one-time occurrence or if there was a potential manufacturing and/or design problem. 

Did the fix work? I am glad to say that thus far it does appear to have eliminated the problem. Before the fix my large magenta cartridge would be empty within 48 hours of inserting it into the printer. The printer has been 'post-op' for 5-6 days so far and the magenta ink level on the software monitor seems stable. Although nothing was done to the print head, I do notice that on my test prints there is a slight color shift in the highlights, where the yellows are slightly more magenta. I can tell this by comparison to some old test prints I had kept. But I suspect that this color shift (which is very mild) will likely be resolved by recalibrating the printer and making new color profiles.

So far so looks like I have my printer back. Not, however, a fun ordeal! And now we will see how easy or difficult it is to get Visa to pay for it using the extended warranty benefit.

Canon ImagePrograf 2000 Disaster - Epilogue (Part 1)

Back in May I had written a long post about the apparent demise of my Canon ImagePrograf 2000 printer. For full details, those that are interested can revisit that post. Suffice it to say that I switched over to Canon because of multiple head failures on my Epson 7900 (a well known defect that Epson has never owned up to - just Google Epson 7900 print head failure), with the Canon having a user replaceable print head. While I found the prints from the Canon to be every bit as good as the ones that rolled off my Epson, the printer developed a 'terminal' problem just when it was out of warranty.

The printer seemed to empty my magenta ink cartridges in 24-48 hours instead of the almost a year that the ink cart should last. Nobody at tech support could figure out what was going on and I wasted several hundred dollars in magenta ink. Because the printer was out of warranty, Canon wanted $1500 to come fix it without providing much in the way of a warranty for their work and without knowing what the problem was. When I complained about the price, they said I should call my local Canon Worldwide authorized repair service and maybe they could determine what the problem was when they came and examined the machine. They were going to charge me $1500 because they didn't know what the problem was but, if the problem was identified then perhaps it could be fixed for significantly less. I did what Canon suggested, and while the local repairmen weren't sure what the problem was for sure, they thought they might be able to fix it with a $30 part and a $180 visit to install the part. But, of course, there no guarantees. Nonetheless, I took the gamble. But two days after their 'repair' (replacement of the print head service module) the machine 'gobbled up' another $175 magenta ink cart. The printer was far from fixed.

Enter my 26 year old son......

"Hey dad, too bad you didn't use one of those fancy credit cards to buy the machine. You know, the ones that extend the manufacturer's warranty"

Turns out I raised a genius :)  It just so happens that the credit cards that offer that benefit don't have to be all that fancy. And when I checked, I had 'unwittingly' purchased the machine on just such a Visa card! After submitting the appropriate paper work, and after a few delays and missed deadlines on their part, followed by my making several phone calls they agreed that this fit into the manufacturers warranty extension benefit and that they would cover the cost as long as I got it repaired within 6 months. 

So I made a call back to Canon to get the $1500 repair deal. Except now the cost 'would have been' $1000.....would have been because Canon claimed that since I already had 'someone else' work on the machine they could no longer get involved with the repair.

WTF? I follow their instructions, call who THEY suggested, get the machine worked on by an authorized Canon Worldwide dealer who charges me over $200 and still doesn't get the machine functional, and have now poured several hundred dollars worth of magenta ink into the printer and now Canon can no longer work on it because 'someone else' initiated a repair???? I asked to speak to the tech support supervisor. He couldn't help me but said he would bump it up to a customer service supervisor. That supervisor said they couldn't help me but said they would bump it up to another supervisor. Finally, after pushing through three supervisors they agreed to repair the machine for $1000 paid up front (which I planned to submit to Visa once all was said and done). The repair was finally scheduled.

The first step was to speak with a very interested and supportive repair person who, like the others, said they had never ever heard of this happening but that he was going to call some engineers to get some ideas. He called back and said that two boxes of parts would be arriving at my home before he was scheduled to have a look at the printer.

Want to know what the problem was and how/if it got fixed? Tune into the next post for the answers. After all, one post can only go on for so long :)!

Could John Turner Be The Next Undiscovered Vivian Maier?

If you're not familiar with Vivian Maier you can check her story out here. I have some of her books and they are wonderful.

But here is a new discovery and, while Turner certainly doesn't match Maier in terms of being prolific, he does, in my opinion, match in terms of, shall we say, 'wonderfulness'! The video is on CNN so I can't embed it, but it is definitely worth a watch. I particularly like the irony of the image where the 'beggar' is asking the woman who is collecting money herself for a donation. He really had an eye for irony and for catching 'the moment'.

Have a look at the short video: entitled "Photos Found In Suitcase Show A Different Time". A very enjoyable few minutes! 

The Empathy Project #32

It feels a bit bittersweet, but The Empathy Project will more or less be coming to an end with this installment. It just feels to me like it is time to take a bit of a break and move on to some other projects. It is quite possible that I might resume the project at some point in the future, but for now I feel I need to move on to other things I'd like to explore.

This has been a very meaningful project for me and I do hope that others found it enjoyable to see and listen to! And I thank everyone for the comments along the way.

This gentleman speaks very openly about what it's like to have and deal with heart disease at a younger age. "When you wake up and see the sun you know you have another day!"

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


Back in September, I had introduced my Empathy Project. The idea behind this 'humanism in medicine' project is that doctors often see patients without nearly as much time as they would like to have in order to get to know them  as 'people'.  It's easy for doctors to lose sight of the fact that patients have the same types of lives as they do, with the same ups and downs, and with interesting events that they have either witnessed or lived through. This project is an attempt to recognize 'patients as people' by having me take their portrait and record their stories at the end of their visit to my office.

As I make these posts, the portraits and audio will be added to my Empathy Project Portfolio, where all the entries can be seen and listened to in a group.

If you receive my posts by email, the audio won't come along with the, if you would like to listen, check it out on the blog itself at

The Empathy Project #31

WARNING: Do NOT, I said do not play cards with this woman if you want to hold onto your  money :)  I also love when she flips the interview and asks me how old I was when JFK was assassinated!

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


Back in September, I had introduced my Empathy Project. The idea behind this 'humanism in medicine' project is that doctors often see patients without nearly as much time as they would like to have in order to get to know them  as 'people'.  It's easy for doctors to lose sight of the fact that patients have the same types of lives as they do, with the same ups and downs, and with interesting events that they have either witnessed or lived through. This project is an attempt to recognize 'patients as people' by having me take their portrait and record their stories at the end of their visit to my office.

As I make these posts, the portraits and audio will be added to my Empathy Project Portfolio, where all the entries can be seen and listened to in a group.

If you receive my posts by email, the audio won't come along with the, if you would like to listen, check it out on the blog itself at