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.

My Squirrel Hill

Most people reading my blog probably don’t know that I live in Squirrel Hill, about three blocks away from last weekend’s horrific Tree of Life Synagogue mass murder. This was not the Squirrel Hill I have known and loved for close to 30 years, a richly diverse community where all are welcome and all are treated like neighbors - what else would anyone expect when they are literally living in Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Here, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and people of all colors have lived together in peaceful harmony for many years, taking joy in discovering each others differences. This can be seen in the ethnic restaurants, in the street fairs, and most easily by just walking down any street. Squirrel Hill is just about the last place in the world I would have expected something like this to happen. Sadly, if it can happen here, it truly could happen anywhere.

Perhaps nobody and no place is safe from a madman with a weapon who is intent on inflicting harm. Perhaps the mettle of a place is its response to adversity. If that’s the case, than I shouldn’t be surprised at the response of our community. Within hours of the murders there was a vigil on Murray and Forbes - the epicenter of ‘The Hill’ - which was organized by the local Presbyterian Church and several Taylor Allderdice High School students. Hundreds upon hundreds of people from our community and the communities that surround us attended. A wound that has been inflicted upon anyone here is treated like a wound inflicted upon us all. This was the Squirrel Hill that I knew.

The next day there was a more ‘official’ vigil/service for the entire city at Soldiers and Sailors, a large memorial hall “dedicated to honoring the men and woman of all branches of service, from all generations and conflicts”. This seemed uniquely appropriate given what our soldiers have fought for through the centuries - our freedoms, including the freedom of religion. On this night, there were not hundreds upon hundreds, but thousands upon thousands of people who came to show solidarity and support.

There were inspirational talks from the clergy of all faiths. There were words of support from our Mayor and other elected officials. Their words all led to the same conclusion - that we will not tolerate hate here. That we stand together as brothers and sisters to fight hatred and to call it out wherever we see it, so that it will not have an opportunity to grow.

The Muslim community has raised over $120,000 for the families of the victims and the synagogue. They have volunteered to do whatever is necessary to help, even stand guard outside our synagogues and other houses of worship (a short video worth watching). They offer this because, besides being brothers, our entire community, Jews and Christians alike, treated them with respect, dignity, and equality after 9-11. To quote (via NBC News) Tarik El-Messidi, the founder of CelebrateMercy “We are tired of being grouped along with the crazies, they scare us just as much as any American”. “We need the administration to talk about the 3 million Muslim Americans who just want to pursue life, liberty, and happiness just like everyone else in America”.

That night, as a community, we also all gave and continue to give gratitude to the police officers from all locations that converged in Squirrel Hill that afternoon and ran straight into mortal danger, risking their own lives for people that they had never met. We can only hope that the injured officers along with the injured, but surviving, congregants recover fully and quickly.

That night I once again saw the Squirrel Hill that I knew, a place of peace, a place where all stand together against hatred.

Squirrel Hill will never be the same, yet Squirrel Hill hasn’t changed one iota.

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!

Life On The Road

Who doesn't have dreams (at least at certain times and at certain ages) about living a portion of their life traveling and experiencing the world. But, for how long? And for what reasons? What kind of life is it? It's pretty easy to think about the positives, but what are the negatives? There is a lot I could try to say about photographer Jimmy McIntyre's heartfelt and wonderful (I think so anyway) article entitled "Why I'm Giving Up Life On The Road". I found it a very interesting and worthwhile read and wanted to share it. I do find that I like his current idea of two week trips!   

Of course, seven years on the road is quite a long time and I would think that one probably has to give up such a lifestyle at some point in time and at some age, no matter how good the reasons for adventure are. So in many ways I take it as an article that would encourage me to travel were I younger. The tough thing is knowing exactly "when the party is over".  

Image Fatigue

There was a time in the not too distant past when a photograph of a beautiful sunrise seen through fog surrounding a mountain range, complete with alpine glow on the tips of the mountains, would be an image that one would ponder for a bit of time. One could well imagine it hanging in a gallery. As a stock photograph it could be expected to draw two to three hundred dollars per sale. Maybe more. That time has seemingly come and gone.

One need only direct their browser (you don't even have to leave the house) to Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, or Google Plus to see hundreds, no, thousands, of photographs like the one described above. True, some are better composed, better processed, or convey feeling better than others.....but there is no denying that there are still many thousands that can be reached with a click that, frankly, are really, really good!

And as one  browses through such images they might find themselves scrolling through them faster and faster and faster. I believe it's image fatigue.......we get used to seeing so many images, photographs that in another era, before the internet was able to feed us image after image after image, we would have spent time pondering...... that we now just zip through spending a second here or two seconds there. Even photo genres that wowed us just a year or two ago (think milky way across a navy blue sky with a well light-painted foreground) are now available in profusion.

It seems that the strategy for some is to go photograph in ever more exotic and hard to get to places. I'm not saying that this is a 'bad' strategy, it's just that one has to have a good deal of time, money, and good health to make it happen. And, of course, while everyone wants to see something or someplace they haven't seen before, rare or unusual or far away doesn't necessarily make the images 'good'; it just makes them images of someplace most people haven't been to (think Antarctica or Iceland). And the more these destinations catch on, the harder it is to be original, even in distant locations. How many pictures of ice on an Icelandic beach have you seen, for example.

Image fatigue.

Others try to photograph from more and more precarious and dangerous viewpoints (think of those photos shot by folks standing on a wall at the edge of a skyscraper with no tethering or protection from a fatal fall). Yes, everyone wants to look at them, but doing these sorts of things to get more 'likes' is just plain stupid.

Lets face it, everyone with a cell phone is now a photographer. And I don't mean that in a negative way. "iPhoneography" has become a medium in and of itself, and there is an incredible array of apps and post-processing possibilities that enable one to make art (as opposed to snapshots of your lunch - I still don't get why people do that and why they think others care about it - but maybe that's just because I'm old). 

So......what is one to do to avoid having their work get lost in a sea of images, in order to try to maintain some artistic individuality, and to have one's work seen, and, dare I even say, to stand out from the crowd? I certainly don't have all the answers, but have been thinking about this quite a bit lately. Here are some of my thoughts on this, but please feel free to comment and chime in with some further suggestions. In fact, I would love for you to do so. Here are some thoughts and ideas:

  • Not to state the obvious, but shoot what you love, not the hot subject of the day. Only by shooting what you love will you make images that might move people
  • Shoot projects - I'm not implying that one shouldn't take 'best of' images that are meant to hang on a wall, but also do some 'project photography' - examine a person, place, topic, or subject in depth. I think that by photographing projects you are more likely to make meaningful images that reveal more of yourself
  • Consider learning a new technique to see where it takes you - for example, extreme macro, very shallow DOF, long exposure, stop-action, etc
  • Don't fret about having a huge audience - worry about having an audience that really cares about your work
  • Think about trying to have your work published - I think that we tend to look longer and harder at images that are in print, as opposed to flipping through those on Instagram and Flickr. Well, at least that's true for me, though I'm not sure about millenials who grew up with the internet. Images that are published also seem to carry more 'weight' 
  • Learn the art of making prints - yes, I know it's somewhat last century :), but the fact is that it is an art unto itself and, in my opinion, more difficult than making an image look good on screen. It gives the image a physical presence. Holding a print made on a fine art paper is a very different experience than viewing the image on a monitor. And it does set you apart from the many that don't make prints (or don't make them well). I believe it is an art worth learning

Please chime in.....

George Frena And 'The Big Wheel'

Unfortunately, I suspect George Frena is no longer with us. Nonetheless, I would like to introduce you to him. I'm sure that is what he would want and, in fact, he gave me permission to use all the photos and audio in this post in any way I wanted to.

Who is George? He is, or was, a patient of mine who I had very much enjoyed seeing. By 2010, I had been taking care of him for a number of years and on each visit he would often tell me stories about when he was a 'blister gunner' (you know, the guys that were in the rotating, see through bubbles with machine guns) on a B-29 bomber in World War II. He started telling me these stories after he learned that I enjoyed photography because, you see, he was an artist as well.  A painter. Not a house painter, a picture painter. In fact, because he was a painter, when he joined the Air Force  his crew elected him to design and paint onto the fuselage the insignia for the bomber they were to fly. He had the opportunity to do that because the crew took the plane 'right out of the factory'.  I will tell you more about the insignia in just a short while.

George loved telling his stories and, as they say, he wasn't getting any younger. So one day I asked him if at his next visit he might consider letting me take his photograph and interview him. He was delighted to do so! I walked him right out and booked him an hour appointment (no charge - try doing that these days) for a couple weeks down the line.

George was a bit less animated 'on tape' then he was without being recorded. Or maybe I only thought that was the case because I had heard the stories before. At any rate, the audio below is my 12 minute edit from a 30 minute interview. He was glad to let me take his portrait as well. But he loved that cap and wanted to keep it on.

The interview occurred back in 2010 and I was recently thinking about it. I could have sworn that I had written a post about the visit we had a long time ago, but no matter where I looked I couldn't find it. I also couldn't find any edited audio, so it all must have sat on my hard drive for the last six years. Today it finds its way off that drive and out into the world.


George Frena - WWII B-29 Blister Gunner    © Howard Grill


Ultimately, I was able to find information online about B29 bomber 'nose art' and there it was.....a photo of George's plane, complete with the fuselage painting he had personally done. I printed out the information and gave it to him on his next visit. You never saw such a big smile! I would attribute these photos, but I can no longer find that online source. 

Directly below is a photo (from that source) of Frena and his crew in front of their plane "The Big Wheel". I am uncertain which one George is. I would guess one of the four men with similar jackets in the front row since I believe there were four gunners (one under each wing, one at the tail, and one on the top of the bomber).

"The Big Wheel" And Crew

And here is what started it all.  This photo is of a painting that George did of his insignia for the plane. He decided to make the insignia in the shape of a wheel with the center and each segment of the wheel meant to represent one of the eleven men on the plane.  The center of the wheel is meant to represent the pilot, who was from Arizona, and hence the 'bucking bronco'. The bombadier was from Arizona and is represented by the cactus. Florence is George's wifes name. The 'tail gunners' girllgriend was 'Little Audrey'. The engineer was represented by the pliers. The radar operator was signified by the radar scope. The 'top gunner' and radio operator were both from Texas, hence two Texas longhorns. Another one of the gunners was attending the  University of Mississippi and the school mascot (at the time) was  'Colonel Reb' at the bottom of the wheel. The navigator's wife (or girlfriend....he wasn't sure) was Phyllis and the co-pilot's was JoAnn. And thus was born "The Big Wheel".


George told me it took him two days to actually paint the design onto the bomber's fuselage, and below is a photo of 'the real deal' taken back during the war.


Based on his age and condition at the time I was taking care of him in 2010, I suspect George is gone. I don't know for sure, as I moved on to another job later that year after having worked at the same institution for 25 years. 

He had given me his phone number when I left but I never did give him a call. I feel bad about that as I am sure it would have meant a lot to him, and to me as well. It's just one of those things that we mean to do but never get around to. Now I can't because, well, I don't really want to learn for sure that he is no longer with us. I can hope that maybe he is.

Unfortunately, there aren't many people around anymore that lived through what George experienced. I hope nobody else has to experience anything like it again.

Is The Tide Turning?

There has been a good deal of talk recently (by photographers whose work I truly respect) about the possibility that landscape photography has slowly been getting quite cliche, and that this process has been exacerbated by social media.

You know the type of image I am talking about.  They often tend to be wide angle, often (over)saturated, often (over)sharpened images made at sunrise or sunset in iconic locations. These are the type of images that tend to trend well on social media.  I don't have to try to verbalize the issue, as it has already been done extraordinarily well by others.  Here is some light reading for you about this (seriously, these are really worth reading):

"Cliche, A Four Letter Word" by black and white photographer Chuck Kimmerlee in his blog The Unapologetic Photographer. Chuck's work makes a personal statement even when made in the most iconic of locations and his thoughts about photography are ones that I deeply respect. I recently participated in a fantastic workshop with him, John Barclay, and Dan Sniffin.

"Closure" in Thomas Welborn's Hololight Journal blog.  Thomas is a photographer whose images sing about the Oklahoma landscape

"Photo Consumption, Conformaty, and Copying in Landscape Photography" by Sarah Marino in her Nature Photo Guides Blog

"Will the Real Landscape Photography Please Stand Up" by Ugo Cei in his blog

OK, go read those.  No, really, you should....then come on back!

So what are my thoughts about this? Perhaps there is not any strong reason you should care, but, heck, it's my blog so it's what I get to do!

I understand the logic in these posts and actually totally agree with them....but with a bit of a different twist:

Chuch Kimmerlee perhaps said it best during the opening hours of our workshop.  I paraphrase, but he said something along the lines of ".....see what it is that you can ADD to the conversation".  I like that analogy because it still allows for me to take the cliche image, in order to get it out of my system. Let's face it, it is hard to say no to the rising sun illuminating Delicate Arch.  I have never been to Arches National Park, but if and when I go, yes, I probably do want to get that shot (if I can manage to get there before the other fifty tripod laden photographers, that is).  If I don't, I will always wonder what type of image I could have made. But does the world need yet another photograph of Delicate Arch at sunrise......probably not.

But here is the important part (sticking with the conversation analogy). To me, making that cliche photograph is like the opening part of a conversation with someone you have never met. It is the "Hi, I'm Howard, what's your name.  Oh, where 'ya from, what do you do, and how long have you been photographing?" part. But once you get that stuff out of the way, if you feel a connection to each other you keep talking.  Maybe it takes an hour, maybe it takes a day, maybe it takes years,  but if you keep talking to that same person at some point you will know something about them that not many do. You will start to generate your own impression about what they are all about. And THEN, you can make photos that add something new to the conversation!

Making that cliche image can be like a 'warm up', getting to know the location in a superficial way.  Once I get by that I can hope to perhaps speak with my own voice about what a location means to me and add to the conversation.  Those images are the first step in what my teacher Nancy Rotenberg used to call 'going beyond the handshake'. But first you have to get the handshake out of the way.

What about the social media issue....about how these warm up images are so pervasive there?  So what, I don't pay attention.  You know that study where it was shown that, on average, people look at each picture in a gallery for only a couple of seconds?  Well, I think that is what you get on social media. The vast majority of people scroll through images quickly and like or plus or comment 'great shot' in a matter of seconds.  That doesn't bother me because my expectations of social media are low.  Do I like getting plusses and likes...sure, who wouldn't.  And you can give them to me here and here if you want. But my expectation is not that I am going to have deep and meaningful discussions about art, photography, and images on these sites.  Not to sound cliche, but it is what it is, and what it is is people scrolling through rapidly often expecting a quid pro quo.  Sure, on occasion there is a meaningful comment made by someone who you immediately feel you would like to speak with (that's how I 'met' Thomas Welborn and several other good friends who I have never actually met 'face to face').  And if you can get those people to visit your blog and spend some time with your images then the social media thing was well worth it. Better to have a smaller and more involved audience than a larger one that flits by, at least in my opinion.

So, in summary, I do hope the tide is turning. But I do also take those cliche images to warm up and start the conversation.  Perhaps they should be taken and not shown. I only hope that a significant number of the pictures I show are sentences from when the dialogue gets good.  Only you can judge that. And as for the social media aspect, I think that will always foster the trendy and the popular.

Just my two cents!

"Stone Trees" from my Scene In Stone Portfolio  © Howard Grill

"Stone Trees" from my Scene In Stone Portfolio

© Howard Grill


© Howard Grill

Quick Quotes: Bruce Barnbaum

"For the photographer striving to be creative, the recognition of the vast difference between the scene in front of you and the photograph you can produce is the beginning of your transition from recording a scene photographically to expressing how you feel about a scene emotionally"

Bruce Barnbaum

It has always been my feeling, and I know this is not an opinion held by everyone, that fine art photography is about transmitting what something felt like, not what it looked like.  That is why I never understand why someone would attest with bravado that their photo is 'straight out of the camera'. Sure, that is interesting, but we aren't taking about photojournalism and I am far more interested in one's interpretation of the scene or object than what the camera recorded when it was simply pointed in that direction.  

Besides, if someone is showing me a jpg then it isn't truly 'straight out of the camera', it is just that the photographer chose to let the camera software make the processing decisions for them.  'Straight out of the camera' would be a RAW file, and they look nothing like reality either, being of low contrast, unsharpened, and usually less saturated than the scene that was in front of the lens.

Some time ago I wrote an article about this topic entitled "Photography and Truth".

Along the same lines, people unfamiliar with the likes of Jerry Uelsmann may not recognize the fact that photo-manipulation started long before the digital age (if you are not familiar with him you owe it to yourself to Google his name).  To use a second quote from Bruce Barnbaum as it regards prints made by the great Ansel Adams, which many believe are 'truth':

"Photography has often been equated with reality - what you see is what was there.  It becomes reality.  This is the reason people feel that Ansel's famous "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexixo" was a special moment in time, when in fact, it's an image so greatly manipulated that it can be truthfully stated that the moment never occurred.  It was largely created.  The actual moment was used as a starting point for the image, while the image is a dramatic alteration of the starting point.  It is a wonderful interpretation of that moment by Ansel"

Bruce Barnbaum (two "Quick Quotes' for the price of one today!)

"Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" by Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - 

"Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" by Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - 

By the way, both of the quotes in this post come directly from Bruce Barnbaum's latest book:

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Nature Photography: How To Eliminate The Competition

With the advent of digital photography, it seems like photographers and their images are everywhere.  Some sobering statistics:

  • Based on 2013 data there are 350 million pictures uploaded to Facebook A DAY
  • In 2013 Facebook hosted 250 BILLION images (sure, a good portion of them are my pet cat riding on the back of my pet dog, but many of them are also good photos).
  • Image Shack 20 BILLION images
  • Flickr - 135 million images FREE for use under Creative Commons
  • Salable photos?  In 2015 iStock had 11.3 million while Shutterstock has over 42 million of them.   
  • Microstock too cheap?  How about Reuters 25 million, Alamy 19 million, AP 6 million, Corbis 4 million

Yes, there are images everywhere. So how do you eliminate all that competition?  It can be done in two easy steps.  Here's how:

  1. Ignore them all.....forget about all those millions and billions of images and hundreds of thousands of photographers you think you're competing with
  2. Become your own biggest competitor.  Try to make images that speak clearly and loudly and are meaningful to YOU. And then try to make your next one speak even more clearly

One thing is for certain, and that is that with the explosion of digital photography you could literally be learning new techniques all the time and not spend enough time on any one single technique to master it.  You could literally study so hard that you might never have time to actually make a good photo.

I can't be an expert at Milky Way photography (even if I could find a dark sky where I live), light painting, panoramas, HDR, HDR panoramas, focus stacking, video, time lapse and a host of other modalities and styles.  I can't photograph at Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Southwest or any number of other places throughout all the seasons and at all times of day. I can't be an expert at all those things.  I can only hope to learn the techniques that advance my style of imagery.

Recognize that you can't eliminate the competition.  Moreover, why would you want to?  Their audience is different from your audience.  But if you are true to your vision and make images that speak to you and for you then you will garner an audience that likes hearing what it is that your images have to say.  They will be YOUR audience.

There are 7.62 million people in the world as I write this (you gotta check out that link for real time world population!) and they won't all be interested in my work.  They won't all be interested in your work.  But wouldn't it be nice if a few hundred or even a few thousand really cared about what YOU produce because it also has meaning to them? You can't attract those folks by copying somebody else's work. There is already an audience for that work.  And why would that audience come see you try to copy that style when they can see the original? You can't attract people by trying to do something that you aren't passionate about. It will show.

The secret then, I think, is to make photographs of things that you care about, that you are passionate about, and to welcome with open arms the audience that speaks your language whether that encompasses 5 or 500,000 people.

And, by the way, I am not implying that you shouldn't learn new techniques or visit Yosemite to make photographs.  But do it because it is something you have developed a true passion for, not because you think it is a card that needs to be punched on the way to stardom.

This writing was inspired by a post on photographer Stacy Butera's blog, which got me thinking about these issues.

<Steps down from soapbox :)>

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Squarespace - The Cons

When I first decided to write a post about the cons of using Squarespace to build and host my website I actually had a far larger list than I do now.  Like any tool, it takes some getting used to.  Let me state at the outset that now that I have finished putting together the site I am extremely pleased with Squarespace overall and can VERY HIGHLY recommend it to those interested in building and hosting a website.

I should add that the site is now live (which I guess you already know if you are reading this) at  

Also, see my post about the 'Pros' of Squarespace.

So what do I think could be improved?

  • The 'blocks' from which you build your pages are mostly a big plus and the various types of 'blocks' are varied (text, image, forms etc.), but when moving them around it can sometimes be difficult to drop them exactly where you would like them to go.  Its pretty easy if you want the whole page in, say, two columns.  But if you want one column in half the page and two in the other half (such as in some of my Carrie Furnace with audio pages) it can get a bit difficult to get the blocks to behave.  In this instance I found it far easier to build the two column part first and then drop in a single column above or below. But I wasted a fair bit of time discovering that.
  • Although you can add custom code to the templates there is still a bit too much restriction.  For example, I can't have my home page play an auto-run slideshow without every other gallery also being on auto-play.  My home page configured as a gallery can't display text on it.  If I configure it as a 'Page' with a 'Gallery Block' I can have text, but then the image won't be as large.
  • Although the degree of configurability and options are quite good there are some simple options that are missing.  For example, having the ability to have a border around your content, or to have a stroke and a watermark automatically added to uploaded images.  I would think options such as that would not be too difficult to add. The ability to make changes to one specific page's appearance would also be welcome.
  • The blog pages functionality and appearance vary greatly from template to template. Since blogs are often a large draw into a website and often the most updated and added to portion of the website there needs to be more options and customization. SOME templates have a good number of blog options, but this one that I chose did not. There is no sidebar in which to insert a search function or calendar to pull up old posts.  No blogroll. It was a battle to even get the header with the title Motivation onto the blog page and it took some manipulation and custom coding.  These are real shortcomings for a blog page. I did finally manage to at least make a blog summary page that has a search function and calendar but those are things that are out of place on a separate page. 
  • What, no preview mode for unpublished posts?
  • The e-commerce function uses a credit card processor only (at a very reasonable rate I should add) but there is no ability to use Paypal.  Paypal is so popular these days that this should really not be the case.

Switching away from the negatives, I also want to mention their customer service.  It simply doesn't get any better and I should have mentioned it in my last post.  Response time is always under an hour and mostly significantly less than that.  Unfortunately they will NOT help you with any custom coding, however, I can well understand why that might be the case. And when there is something you want the template or service to do that it can't they will right out tell you they can't do it.  But let me point out two examples of what they can do besides help you accurately and rapidly with the routine built in building functions:

  • My product search block on the template simply wasn't working properly.  It clearly was a problem with the template code and not anything I did.  They didn't BS me.  They told me there appeared to be a problem and told me they were referring it to the tech side to work on, but that they couldn't tell how long it would take.  I gave it up as a lost cause. Like many things with the templates, I found a work-around that did the job another way. But three days later I got an email saying they hadn't forgotten and they fixed it.  Sure enough, it worked.
  • My domain name is held elsewhere and I couldn't figure out the myriad of settings that needed to be made over at the company that held the domain in order for the URL to point to my new site.  It took about ten emails back and forth with the Squarespace customer service.  But they responded every thirty minutes like clockwork with screenshots and specifics of what settings on the screenshot needed to be changed and what to change them to.

In summary, nothing is perfect, and neither is Squarespace.  But given the myriad of specifics that I wanted, it was clearly the closest to perfection that I think is out there.  In fact, if they would just make all the template blog pages as good as the best ones they already have they would be 95% of the way to being pretty perfect.

With the knowledge of the above issues, I recommend Squarespace highly and without reservation.  Give their free trial a try if you are thinking of building that website that you really do need!


Technibition......sure it's a word.  But I wouldn't try using it in Scrabble just yet because I just coined the term.  So do your best to make it go viral and don't forget to attribute it to me! What is technibition?  It is when the various choices made available by technology leads to the 'paralysis of analysis'.  Perhaps it can best be explained by example.  You are out in the field and presented with a beautiful landscape.  In the old 35mm slide days you found the best composition and took the shot after deciding on the appropriate aperture and shutter speed for the exposure. Maybe you take two or three photos, bracketing the exposure. After all, film is expensive and in the end you can only choose one exposure (of course, as we moved later in time there was the opportunity for scanning the slide and making more decisions from there).  But these days, if one is technically savvy, there are more options. One can do exposure bracketing for HDR, multiple exposures for focus stacking, and since there is no cost for each exposure why not multiple shots changing the point of focus a bit to see what works better in the final image.....same with the aperture and depth of field, multiple shot panoramas, multiple shot HDR panoramas, can get a headache just thinking about it.

And then when you get home and download the images you will have a whole array of the same shot to choose from.  And that is where things get difficult, because it is now work to choose the 'right' one from the bunch.  Do you compare every single one to see which is sharpest.  Do you really need focus stacking or did that shot at f16 have adequate depth of field?  Is that f22 shot better or is it softer because of diffraction?  Or maybe the image is good, but not good enough to merit going through the work of doing all those comparisons.

There you have it. That last sentence is the result of 'technibition'. Technology has thrown a sandbag in your path because of all the options it offers and perhaps for that reason you end up not making a print at all.    And technibition is far more common when the lighting is perfect or when you are on that once in a lifetime trip.....because you want to make sure you got it right. I know, because I have been 'technibited' many times!

Having been technibited, I have given this some thought.  I believe the answer is not that there is too much technology at all.  It is simply the result of the photographer's uncertainty as to what the goal or endpoint is.  If one has a better idea of what their vision is and exactly why they are making an image then the technology becomes a partner to achieve a superior result.  If the vision isn't clear, then the technology becomes a confusing distraction.  That is not to say that one can't have a clear vision but also have more than one usage in mind and therefore make the photograph using more than one technique or technology.  But in my mind, the key is to then have multiple discreet, thought out ideas and not do random shooting.  One thing is for sure, it isn't always easy!

Well, that is my opinion.....and it is just that, one person's opinion.  I would love to hear other opinions.....what do you think??

What Is Real?

Way back, in 2005 I believe (well, that IS way back in digital imaging years), I wrote an article entitled "Photography And Truth", which was published in Digital Outback Photo. That article can be read and downloaded in pdf format here. In the interim, software has become even more advanced.  What made me think about my 2005 article is a recent purchase I made of Thomas Knoll's  (the developer of Photoshop) Knoll Light Factory.  It certainly isn't inexpensive but I was very intrigued with what it could do.  It allows lighting effects with exquisite control of every aspect of a digitally produced light source.  Any and every aspect of the artifical light and its artifacts, including many that I would never have thought of, is under software control.  The developer really knows and understands light.  For an example of what the software can do, see this short training video by Mark Johnson.

I believe the main users of this software are those that use artificial lights as part of their images (ie portrait and product photographers) but there is also the possibility of using it to enhance landscape photography. This is my first attempt at trying this software.  It is easy to use and very deep in terms of control. Below is my original photograph of the 528 Boat Ramp at Lake Arthur in Moraine State Park.

Copyright Howard Grill

My first attempt at using Knoll Light Factory was to add some sun, causing a subtle, but nonetheless important, change to the image, as seen below.

Copyright Howard Grill

I was able to add the sun on the left, controlling the size of the disc, the clarity of the edge of the disc and the haziness of the glow around it to reflect the cloud cover and could have added flare effects had I wanted to.  For a first attempt I think the effect is realistic.

Will the sun ever, during the course of the year, be in that position......I don't know.  Is it "OK" to do this with 'fine art photographs' that are not photojournalistic?  I certainly can't answer that for everybody.  The thoughts and conclusions in my article "Photography And Truth" reflect my own thinking.  Is it OK for a painter to paint the sun into his image if it isn't out?

The Perfect Lens

by Howard Grill I have written before about issues regarding 'good' and 'bad' copies of the same lens, mostly by referencing some of Roger Cicala's great articles.  Well, Roger has done it again.....demonstrating the wide variety in lens test results from different copies of the same lens and also showing that for the most part, when it comes to making photographs and not pixel peeping, the variations make very little difference.  These variations will never be eliminated unless a company wants to sell single lenses for a small fortune each.  There are however, some grossly faulty copies that occasionally sneak through and these should, in fact, be removed by quality control and do visibly effect the appearance of the photo.

The article makes for an interesting read and can be found here: "There Is No Such Thing As a Perfect Lens".

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!

'Be Wrong As Fast As You Can'

This last weekend I read an article in The New York Times that really hit home for me.  It was called "Be Wrong As Fast As You Can" by Hugo Lindgren, and the link will take you right to it.  And the article was very apropo to both photographic projects and New Year's resolutions. In the article, Lindgren, an editor/writer, speaks about all the great ideas that went through his head at one point or another.  He speaks about the great ideas that went through ALL our heads at one point or another.  All those great photo projects that never made it past the thought process of how good it would be.  The one's that never made it past maybe putting one or two images into a Lightroom collection.  Maybe because those one or two  images just came to you  easily, but the rest of the project, well, that's the hard part.

They go nowhere for lots of reason's.  Maybe it turns out it wasn't that hot an idea.  Maybe it turns out we are just too lazy.  Or maybe it turns out that we find ourselves thinking the whole thing sucks as soon as we actually start working on it and seeing the pieces that we have to work with and how they fit together.

Well, don't worry about that and just start working. Here is what John Lasseter, the founder of Pixar, had to say about the process of making his movies (quoting from the Lindgren article) "Pixar's in-house theory is: Be wrong as fast as you can.  Mistakes are an inevitable part of the creative process, so get right down to it and start making them.  Even great ideas are wrecked on the road to fruition and then have to be painstakingly reconstructed.  "Every Pixar film was the worst motion picture ever made at one time or another," Lasseter said.  "People don't believe that, but it's true.  We don't give up on the films."

At another point in the article Lindgren says "Ideas, in a sense, are overrated.  Of course, you need good ones, but at this point in our supersaturated culture, precious few are so novel that nobody else has ever thought of them before.  It' s really about where you take the idea, and how committed you are to solving the endless problems that come up in the execution."

So where is this going for me?  A few posts back, I wrote about photography projects.  The Lindgren article reaffirmed for me that the best way to finish a photography project is to start a photography project.  So I did.  And work on it until it is done. And I will. 

My first project of the year is going to be to turn my Carrie Furnace images into a full fledged packaged folio.  I have taken the leap and will report back when it is completed.  I had thought about making it into a Blurb book, but after reading a bit on-line it seem that, while results for Blurb with color photos have been excellent, the results with black and white have been more hit and miss.  So with a large folio I do the printing myself and am able to make certain that I get what I want.

The other question I asked myself is why push forward doing more work on a project that is 'complete' as far as the photographs themselves go?  And the answer is that it was a lot of work that yielded results that I am truly pleased with.  So it seems to me that to not develop it to it's full potential would simply be selling it short. I believe that thinking about how you can further develop some of the work that you have already 'completed' might be a worthwhile endeavor for many people.  Don't sell short or waste what you already have!

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.

Lloyd Chambers

There is a sense that everything available on the internet should be free of charge.  Well, there is certainly a lot of free material, but how much of it is good....I mean really good. When I first found the information that Lloyd Chambers makes available as subscription sites, I wasn't overly interested because you had to pay.  But something kept nagging at me.  The "Table of Contents" to his on-line writings sounded good.....I mean really good.  I figured what could I lose but a few bucks, and so I subscribed to one of his subscription only sites.  It was well worth every cent.

Lloyd has put together material that will educate you, help you make choices, and help you to become a better photographer.  His work centers around the technique and technical, as opposed to the aesthetic.  His in depth writing covers topics deeply, leading to your having truly garnered a better understanding of any subject he writes about.  Within a short time I ended up subscribing to three of his topical sites and am glad that I did.  My favorite?  His work entitled "Making Sharp Images".

Check out all his writing.......

His free blog is here.

"Making Sharp Images" is here.  VERY HIGHLY recommended!

His "Guide To Digital Infrared Photography" is here.  If infrared is an interest of yours, this contains a wealth of information.

The "Guide to Zeiss ZF/ZE Lenses" is here.  Don't bother spending your hard earned money on a Zeiss lens until you read what Lloyd has to say about each one.

Finally, his "Guide To Advanced Photography" is here.

Here is a selection of Lloyd's articles that he makes available as sample freebies.

If the table of contents of any of these series captures your interest, just will definitely be glad you did.

Move Towards The Light

Images of people walking through tunnels or dark spaces towards a bright light seem to have a universal draw.  One of my favorite zone plate images (Dreamscapes #4), which I have recently posted on this blog, is just such an image.  I recently ran across an article specifically about such compositions with numerous excellent examples and thought I would share it with the readers of this blog. So check out this article on the Fotoblur website entitled "Tunnel Of Light" by Lance Ramoth.

Spirit Photography

The zone plate imaging that I have been doing produces soft focus and ethereal looking photograpahs. Seeing the 'ghostlike' results that are obtained made me think about the phenomena of 'spirit photography' that began in the 1860's. At that time, there were people who purported to being able to take photographs in which spirits or ghosts appeared in the image that had not been visible to the naked eye.

Bill Jay wrote a marvelous essay on the history of 'spirit photography' entitled "A Case Of Spirits". It is really a fascinating read and one that I think will be enjoyed by those interested in some of the more bizarre aspects of photographic history . If you have never read Bill Jay's writing before, you are in for a real treat. I have previously posted about the extensive number of his essays and writings that he makes available on his website. There is plenty more interesting material to read after finishing the essay on spirit photography.

Photography And Truth, Part II

If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to read Part I of this discussion, I would urge you to do so here.

I suspect that the main reason behind the expectation of a photograph portraying ‘reality’ (which, by the way, ignores the fact that what one person perceives as reality might well be a bit different from the way another perceives it) is the historical use of photographs in journalism. This raises two issues. The first is whether one should expect the same ‘rules’ that apply to journalism to also apply to fine art photography, and the second is just how much ‘truth’ is depicted in an ‘unmanipulated’ journalistic photograph.

There exists a certain ‘code of ethics’ regarding the use of photographs for journalistic purposes. One can certainly understand that images used in this way should not be ‘altered’. But, in reality, an ‘unaltered’ image doesn't necessarily depict total truth either. As previously mentioned, the choice of focal length used will effect the apparent facts in the image. Exactly how far away is the subject, as opposed to how far away does the photographer want the subject to appear to be? Does the subject know they are being photographed?

But, I believe this issue is a minor one compared to the issue of in-camera cropping. What is just outside the frame and left out can, at times, tell as much about the situation as what is included. I will never forget a piece that I read which showed a photograph of a young person seemingly caught in the act of violent revolt. This image had been used as news in many prominent newspapers and magazines. One photographer, however, had the wherewithal to take a photograph of the overall event. What was actually occurring was that there was a group of perhaps 30 or so photographers all crouching down (just outside the frame) and taking the same image. The subject was now seemingly ‘enjoying’ his portrayal of revolution. Meanwhile, each of the photographic journalists had independently and conveniently cropped out all the others. There was no apparent enemy and the photographers certainly did not seem concerned about exposing themselves to danger.

Viewed from this standpoint, the story seemed to change. It now appeared that the subject was posing for the shot and the image seemed more like propoganda than news. Was it real? Can the presence of one camera change reality? What about 25 or 30 cameras all trained on the same subject? What urging, either actual or subliminal, might have been taking place to get the subject to perform?

Just to be clear, I am not a journalist and have never been one, so I apologize and am certainly willing to accept correction if any of the details above are erroneous. Nor, I should add, am I a conspiracy theorist. However, it does appear to me that, at least to some small extent, every image conveys only the reality that the person behind the lens wants it to. It would appear, then, that there are some similarities between journalistic and fine art photography.

However, bringing the discussion back to the topic of fine art photography, I think the biggest issue involving ‘truth’ as it applies to photography in the digital era comes in the form of ‘innocent’, as opposed to overt, manipulation. What is this rather sinister (said sarcastically) impediment to the portrayal of truth. Why, none other than the RAW format itself!

While the casual point ‘n shooter typically sets his or her in-camera parameters and shoots in .jpg format, all the while not necessarily thinking about the fact that the camera is doing its own post-processing, the serious photographer most often shoots in RAW format. The interesting thing is that RAW not only allows, but DEMANDS, post processing interpretation of the final image because the initial RAW data, which has not had any post-processing applied to it, is quite bland and just as ‘untruthful’ as an image that has been heavily manipulated. So the final result of an image taken in RAW format must then become, at best, only a representation of reality based on one person’s memory.

In the end, the debate regarding digital manipulation is likely one that will never end. 'Truthfulness' in imaging, as in many other things in life, is ultimately only as honest and factual as the person behind the lens.

Nonetheless, I do suppose that ultimately some conclusions can be drawn. For one, though there may be no 'right' answer about what represents truthfulness in photography, it is quite important to at least give the issue a good deal of thought despite the fact that the resultant guidelines might only serve as personal ones. In fact, since there is no 'right' answer, going through the thought process may well be more important than the conclusions.

My (current) personal guidelines are as follows:

1) For photography presented as art, I believe 'anything goes'. Viewers may not like the artist's style if it involves 'over the top' manipulation, but I don't believe that one's artistic expression should be limited simply because the medium happens to be photography. Nor do I think that such art needs to come with a 'disclosure statement' stating that it was manipulated. My one exception to this is #2.

2)I believe that wildlife photography is a separate and special situation and that it should be clearly indicated if the subject was photographed in captivity. Likewise, if anything has been done to substantially change the meaning of the photograph with cloning etc, I think that should also be indicated. It would also be acceptable to simply and clearly state that the images have been altered.

3)Though I am not a photojournalist, I would hope that images where there is misrepresentation (as in the example of the 'revolutionary' given above) would be treated as if they were manipulated.

4)If asked, be truthful...never represent known manipulation as no manipulation.

For further interesting and far more eloquent discussion of how one might consider thinking about these issues as they regard fine art photography, have a look at Alain Briot's essay entitled "Just Say Yes", which can be read here.

So that is my list......have you thought about yours?

"Photography, as we all know, is not real at all. It is an illusion of reality with which we create our own private world." ----------- Arnold Newman

Photography and Truth - Part I

I have never understood why photography is essentially the only artistic medium in which people seem to expect literal, factual interpretations of a subject. It is not at all unusual for someone, after looking at and seemingly enjoying a photographic print, to turn around and question if there has been 'manipulation' of the image because of the intensity of color or contrast, the perspective of a particular lens, or the use of shutter speeds that provide an unexpected appearance. Unfortunately, many of these comments are made in a derogatory fashion; there is seemingly no artistic vision or expertise involved if there were ‘adjustments’ that were made……it is as if to say “well, once you are allowed to make adjustments I could have done that as well”, and therefore the perceived ‘value’ (and I am not talking about monetary value here) is lessened.

I simply don’t get it! I have never heard anyone complain to a painter that their work wasn’t good because they painted the sky bluer than it was on that particular day. No one tells a writer that something couldn't have looked as they described it. Sure, people may not like the painter's or writer's style, but that is quite different from not liking an artists’s work because it does not portray reality.

As an aside, the whole situation reminds me of a famous story regarding Picasso, which goes something like this (who even knows if it is true at this point). A tall patron asked Picasso why he portrayed people the way he did, despite the fact that ‘they don’t really have angles like that’. Picasso reportedly asked him if he had a photograph of his wife with him and asked to see it. The person did and showed it to Picasso. Picasso then took his thumb and forefinger and, in an animated fashion, used them to measure the size of the woman’s head in the photograph. He then held his now separated fingers up to the light and said to the tall patron, “How odd, your marrying a woman with such a small head.” Point well made.

The issues and concerns regarding manipulation have certainly ‘gotten worse’ in the digital era, where anyone can cut out their bosses head and place it on a monkey’s body. Clearly, however, ‘manipulation’ occurred long before the digital age by making choices as simple as deciding what focal length lens to use or even what type of film to load into the camera. For more complex manipulation using film, one need look no further than the type of magnificent work Jerry Uelsmann does today using ‘only’ film and the darkroom.

What it seems to essentially boil down to, at least in my mind, is that most people expect photography, even if presented purely as art, to accurately reflect reality. This expectation is simply not present in essentially any other artistic medium.

To Be Continued.........