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.

Textured Tree.......In Black And White

I decided to see what I might come up with if I tried converting some of the ‘textured trees’ I had posted a few weeks back into black and white images. It turns out that I like the way they look in black and white quite a bit. That does make sense as the focus of the silhouettes is on line and shape, which tends to be accentuated in black and white photographs. Here is an example of one of them after having been transformed to black and white.

textured tree.jpg

Atomic Levels

I know it’s a little unusual, but one thing that I really enjoy reading are layman’s books (by which I simply mean that the math isn’t delved into deeply) that explain and discuss some of the findings and unusual paradoxes that are generated by quantum mechanics. And so for some time I have been particularly drawn to abstract images that seem to illustrate principles of physics, and quantum mechanics in particular. When I saw these shadows on my bathroom wall (made by wooden window-shade slats on a sunny day) I couldn’t help but think of electrons jumping from one energy level to the next… the camera came out to capture them.

Atomic Levels I © Howard Grill

Atomic Levels I © Howard Grill

Atomic Levels II © Howard Grill

Atomic Levels II © Howard Grill

Cathedral Of Learning Ceiling

This installment of my Cathedral of Learning project (yes, it’s become that) is an abstract image of shapes and lines from the ceiling of the Cathedral. The ceiling is so high that it actually required my 100-400 zoom to isolate this segment of it. In addition to the lines, there is also an interplay of tones because the small lights and windows tend to illuminate the ceiling harshly in some places and much less so in others. I smooth out some of this in post processing in order to obtain a more pleasing look.

 Capture sharpened only
Canon IPG 2000
Ilford Gold Fiber Silk
Grill M0 Profile

Cathedral Of Learning: Above The Lights

My photographing at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning has moved from a random place to make photos, to a series, and I suspect is now a full-fledged project. I made this particular photo because I liked the way that the lights seemed to illuminate the column while also throwing a circle of light on the floor. The whole scene seemed to look fairly mysterious to me, particularly with the two arched and dark doorways in the background.

Inside The Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill

Inside The Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill


Black & White Magazine People's Choice Award

I was very pleased to learn that my image "Cactus Spines" won the "People's Choice Award" in the Flowers/Plants/Fruit category of Black & White Magazine's 2018 Single Image Contest (Issue 125).

The photo is a focus stack of approximately 30 or so images, each focused a mm apart (using a focusing rail) in order to maintain sharpness throughout the entire length of the spines. Without doing this type of compositing, it would be impossible to keep the spines sharply focused from tip to base, even using a small aperture for maximum depth of field.

"Cactus Spines"    © Howard Grill

"Cactus Spines"    © Howard Grill

More Cacti

The "Cactus Project" continues, in black and white of course!

The focus stacking that I talked about in my last cactus image has gotten me thinking much more carefully about the idea of focus in a composition. Is the image really one where I think selective focus with a limited depth of field would best portray what I am trying to convey, or would front to back sharpness better convey what I am trying to transmit? I had previously been 'bothered' when I wanted to use front to back sharpness and things were 'almost' all sharp. It's not easy being compulsive :). Now, I am more apt to use focus stacking when I seek true front to back sharpness, with the caveat being that compromise is necessary in some situations, such as where there is subject motion. I think my photo buddies and I would be willing to pay Phipps to just turn those fans they use to ensure air movement off for two hours on Sunday mornings :)

In this first photograph of Senecio talinoides flowers, I wanted the depth of field to be limited so as to have the stems and background fade away.

The Flowers of Senecio talinoides    © Howard Grill

On the other hand, in the image below I wanted sharpness throughout, at least for all the spines. That couldn't be achieved in one shot this close up because the angle the cacti were growing at precluded the option of getting the camera parallel to the surface of the 'stem'. Therefore, this image is a blended focus stack of probably 10 or so shots, each made two mm apart without adjusting the focus of the lens.


Opuntia 'Pricckly Pear' Cactus    © Howard Grill


The Camera Is With Me

About the same time that I decided it would be a good idea to take some "Photo Walks", I decided that it would also be a good idea to try to take a camera to work with me because you just never know when you might see something interesting on the way there or the way home. I usually treated my photo outings as discreet events not coinciding with anything else, but I am trying to make that change.

At any rate, last Friday I woke to snow coming down and had a camera with me on the way to work. I had a very early off-campus meeting I had to go to and needed to drive to my main workplace after that. By the time I got to the meeting the trees were looking quite white and beautiful (I will admit that snow looks nice, though I dislike the cold, the shoveling, and most other things that go along with it). After the meeting I decided it would be just fine to take five or ten minutes for myself in order to take some hand-held shots of the trees at the edge of the parking lot.

It is nice to have a 'real' camera with you when things start happening. 


Cactus Spines

I have been fascinated by the spines of this Echinocereus species cactus at Phipps Conservatory for some time. In fact, I have taken several photos of it in the past but have never been happy with the images for one reason. The spines are so long that when I fill the frame with them using my 180mm macro lens it simply isn't possible to get all the needles sharp along their entire length, even at f16 or f22. The depth of field just isn't great enough. 

I really should say that it isn't possible to get them all sharp in one single frame. Last weekend I took out all the stops and brought along my macro rail. The rail lets me take a series of tripod mounted images without refocusing, by manually moving the entire camera and lens closer to the subject as a unit, bit by bit. As the lens moves closer to the subject, a different area is brought into focus. 

I took 35 shots, each spaced 1mm apart (probably more than I needed to) and combined them using Helicon Focus focus stacking software. The software uses computer algorithms to take the sharp parts of each of the 35 frames and combine all of these sharp areas into one single image.

The result is shown below, converted to a sepia toned black and white photo. Those needles deserve to be shown in sharp focus throughout their entire length. And those tips are mighty sharp!

Cactus Spines    © Howard Grill

Euphorbia canariensis

Continuing on my black and white cactus journey of the last couple of blog posts, we have Euphorbia canariensis. As opposed to the other two images, this one was actually made a number of years ago on a trip to London, at the famous Kew Royal Botanic Gardens.

I enjoy these images in black and white because removing the green color allows one to focus on the lines and shapes of the cactus which, to me, is the real 'essence' of these plants.

Euphorbia canariensis      © Howard Grill

Black And White With The Canon ImagePrograf 2000

As I have mentioned in a prior post, I have been very pleased with my new  Canon ImagePrograf 2000 large format printer. I started by using it for color printing and found it to be comparable to my Epson 7900, which is to say that it is able to produce very high quality, vibrant, sharp prints. So I decided it was time to try printing in black and white.

I took this photograph of One Mellon Bank Center in downtown Pittsburgh. I have always liked the lines and shapes of this building's architecture and wanted to relay the feeling of it being something of an impenetrable edifice. Rather than trying to keep the straight lines straight, I purposely tilted the camera as I thought the 'off kilter' look better conveyed the feeling I was after. 


One Mellon Bank Center    © Howard Grill


We're going to get just a little technical here:

The image obviously started out as a color photo which I converted to black and white. I wanted to try using the printer's 'Black and White' only mode, as opposed to sending the image to the printer in an RGB color space using a color icc profile. The reason for this is that using the black and white only mode supposedly produces blacks that are a bit darker than those that are achieved when printing a black and white image in the printer's color mode. At least that is what I have read. 

One issue to deal with when using the black and white printing mode is that it is somewhat of a 'black box', in that there is no ability to soft proof or correct the output using an icc profile (well, read on, there actually is a way) to ensure that there is linearization of the output (meaning that all the levels of black are equally spaced from a tonal standpoint) with the biggest potential problem being compression of the dark levels and loss of shadow detail. Truth be told, the black and white only modes of printers have generally improved quite a bit over the years, to the point where this is often not a problem. However, I recently purchased an X-Rite i1Pro2 spectrophotometer to make color profiles and fortuitously had read an excellent article by Keith Cooper at Northlight Images about making icc profiles for the black and white only mode using the spectrophotometer and Quadtone RIP shareware. These profiles can only be used for neutral, untoned black and white prints. Nonetheless, I really wanted to give it a try!

The only difficulty was that every article I could find on making such profiles (I found Keith's to be the most detailed and helpful) assumed some knowledge beyond the basics of how to use the i1 Profiler software (knowledge I didn't have). With a bit of Keith's help and a lot of experimenting, I did get it all figured out! In fact, I am thinking of writing a 'how to' post so that anyone else that is considering doing this but is a bit short on profiling experience can easily accomplish it.

So how did it all turn out in the print? I do have to say that the image printed using the profile I made did match the soft proof image to a closer degree than those made in the black and white only mode without the profile or by printing in the color mode using a color icc profile. It also had more tonal separation in the shadows. Not by a tremendous amount, but definitely visible. I made the print on Ilford's Gold Fiber Silk paper which has a slightly warm tone to it. I like the way it looks quite a bit.

Black and white turns out very well indeed using the Canon IPG 2000.

Reflections From Callaway Gardens

Something just draws me to photographing trees. I am sure it has to do with their graphic lines and shapes and the idea of making order out of chaos by isolating portions of the trunk and branches.

While at Callaway Gardens photographing with friends (the same trip on which I made the 'Butterfly and Texture' image), I was making photos of a scene from a wooden bridge. I saw this bare tree reflected in the water and had the idea of making a 'tree abstract' where one isn't entirely sure what orientation they are seeing.

The image is of a portion of a tree on land at the top, with the bottom of the photo consisting of its reflection in a stream. The original image was obviously in color, but I thought the black and white treatment brought out the lines and shapes that enticed me to make the photo in the first place.

Reflections    © Howard Grill

Reflections    © Howard Grill

Tree In Snow

As we approach what is hopefully the end of winter (from my perspective it can't end too soon),  I thought I would post one more tree in snow.  This was taken at the same time and location as the "Minimalist Tree" image I posted a couple weeks ago. I kept the tripod right where it was and just swung the camera around to photograph a different tree using a much longer focal length. It was a great vantage point!


Minimalist Tree

The nice thing about snow (and when you are me you really have to look long and hard to find anything good about it) is how it gives the landscape a minimalist look. I went shooting in the cemetery during a recent snowfall and came away with this.  It isn't the most original of photographs, but the minute I saw the scene it just called out to me.

Tree In Snow    © Howard Grill

How To Remove Toning Beyond The Edge Of A Photo

For some time I have been thinking of trying to produce some Photoshop video tutorials.  But let's face it, there are a ton of them out there and I didn't want to simply repeat what has already been done.

I had been trying to figure out how to remove toning from beyond the edge of a photo.  If you apply toning as well as an artistic edge to a black and white photo, either on your own or using a Photoshop plug-in like Silver Efex Pro, the toning extends beyond the edge of the photo and all the way out through the border of the image.  This is the case even if you use a Photoshop adjustment layer to apply the toning, which gets applied to the white border as well as to the image. This looks very unnatural, as the toning should stop at the edge of the photo, which has been moved 'inwards' by the applied edge effect.  If you were to print the image you would now have the toning extending beyond the artistic edge, forming a perfect toned rectangle around it which itself is surrounded by the white of the paper.  Not the effect one wants.

I couldn't find the fix for this by Googling it. So when I figured out the simple antidote for myself I thought it would make a perfect first video tutorial. I created a "Howard Grill Photography" page on YouTube and posted it.

Turns out it's not as easy as one might think to make a professional appearing and sounding video tutorial.....but this is just my first attempt. So have a listen if this is something that was bothering you as well.  And feel free to give me a thumbs up on YouTube if it helps!

First Spring Photo - Trees

It has been a long, hard winter here in Western Pennsylvania.  Certainly not nearly as bad as in some places, but, still, the last two winters have been colder and harsher than any I can remember after living here for 25 years.  So it was with great enthusiasm that I had made plans for the first outdoor photo session in quite some time with several friends .  Well, you can't always win, and even though it was the beginning of April it was still only 34 degrees out there.  But a plan is a plan and we went anyway.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that one of the first things to catch my eyes was a stand of trees (I always seem to love photographing trees) with the sun highlighting a small number of them that had lighter bark.  And I thought these trees looked better in black and white than the original color.  Though as my friend said when I showed him the finished image......"You think everything looks better in black and white!".


Trees In Moraine State Park    © Howard Grill



I love abstract images and wish I took the opportunity to make more of them, or at least process the ones that I have taken.  With that thought in mind, I went back to process one that I have been meaning to work on since I took it last summer. Of course, abstracts are not at all about what the actual object is but, rather, about what it makes you feel and think.  That said, I know that after I take a bit of time to 'take in' an abstract photo I often wonder what it really was a picture of....not because it affects the image in any way but just out of curiosity.  So I will leave you to ponder this photograph for a few moments and then you can sneak down below it to see what it is (just in case you are curious).

Copyright Howard Grill

So what is it a photo of???  This image was made in the same old car and truck graveyard as this one and is a cracked car windshield.  The image was converted to black and white and then toned.

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I have always enjoyed photographing objects, be they man made or natural, that have very distinctive lines, shapes, and patterns.  Recently, while in the Palouse, I had the opportunity to solidify this idea and make some photographs very focused on geometric shapes.  There are several that I took that I like quite a bit.  Perhaps they may be the start of a new photographic project?

Farmhouse Door


In my post entitled "Interesting Things Everywhere", I described how using Photoshop's invert command converted an abstract image I had made into a much more interesting photograph.  As such, I thought it might prove interesting to try it with my black and white flower images, perhaps one that was particularly abstract appearing. The inversion yielded quite an interesting result with this mum, at least I think so. As a friend of mine pointed out, the inverson seems to really make the spirals far more apparent than in the original, which is below the inversion. I wonder if that is because the inversion removes the idea of the photograph being a flower and allows our brain to now see more, without it being constrained with  pre-conceived ideas about what the subject is. Once free of the label perhaps we can become more aware and start to see shapes and patterns.  I don't know.....just a thought.  But I think this may be something that is worth trying on subjects that have a particularly abstract appearance to them.

Mum.....The Inverted

Mum....The Original

Copyright Howard Grill

Interesting Things Everywhere

One can find interesting things to photograph anywhere!  It is just a matter of seeing. Taking a break from photographing old cars, I took a short walk down what looked like a pretty bland street.  I am by far not the greatest 'see-er' but I happen to be in a creative mood and one thing did catch my eye.

There was an old store that was partially boarded up with plywood sheeting that had been painted white.  The wood was old and the paint was peeling.  Underneath the peeling portions the wood was black and made interesting patterns.  I took a series of shots thinking they would make interesting abstracts, but when I processed the images I couldn't quite draw out of them what I was hoping for. The large expanse of white paint made them look too bland despite the abstract patterns.  Until I tried inverting one of the images......

Wood Abstract

Black And White Cleans Up

There are many reasons why a black and white presentation might be a good choice for an image.  One, which was the reason that I converted this image to black and white, is that it tends to simplify the scene. The shape of the tree branches and the echoing of the branches by the smaller tree in the lower right hand corner is what attracted me to this scene.  It is the reason I took the photo. At the time I made it I had fully intended for it to be a color image.  But when I looked at it on the screen it simply didn't work.  There were too many shades of green and too many leaf shapes distracting the viewer's eye from the broader lines and shapes.  It was the larger shapes of the trunk and branches that drew me in, not the micro-details in the leaves.

So I decided to give it a try in black and white with a higher key effect to help lessen the details in the leaves.  It worked for me.  The image became much closer to my original vision. Black and white saved the image.......or at least allowed it to transmit what it was that I was feeling and what it was that made me take the photograph.