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.

The Queen - Project Update

Several weeks back I had written a piece about working in photographic projects. I am pleased that I am meeting all my self-imposed deadlines. As per the suggestions in that post, I started with a plan for a dozen images and waited to see where that took me. I now have 14 images in the project, after which I felt that I had run out of both ideas and the desire to keep photographing the statuettes. So the project ended up ‘telling me’ when it was over.

I am now at the stage where I am ‘fine tuning’ the already processed images to give them a consistent look. Some of them had vintage type edges while others did not. Some were leaning towards a greener yellow tone and others towards a redder yellow. Of course, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with edges or no edges or greener vs redder yellows in any individual image, but that is one of the things about working in projects……I believe there should be some type of stylistic similarity that pulls it together. So in the ‘fine’tuning’, I am trying to give them that consistency. The tones need not be exactly the same nor does each and every image need to have the exact same edge effect, but, in my mind, some consistency helps hold them together as a group.

Once that is complete (the end of October was my deadline) I will be working on putting the project into a presentable folio and making a PDF type e-book.

And now, may I present…..The Queen:

The Queen

The Queen


Working In Projects

No question about it, it’s great to make a fantastic photograph…..that ‘greatest hit’ image that goes up on the wall. But working in ‘photographic projects’ carries a different sort of appeal. It allows you to take the time to interpret something in real depth. Once you make the obvious photos you have to really work to understand ‘how else’ you can see, portray, and transmit the feel of your subject. I certainly don’t intend to write a treatise on working in projects, but I thought I would write about why I enjoy projects and how I approach them in the hope that, perhaps, some part of that might resonate with readers.

You can build a project around almost anything. You most likely have a project already completely photographed in your Lightroom (or whatever other processing software you use) library, though you may not even know it. A project can focus on just about anything - places, inanimate objects, living things, people, ideas, colors, weather, feelings, and, well, almost any subject or idea that catches your fancy. The challenge is to have a very clear idea about what the project is about, so that you can draw associations between the images thereby allowing them to work together as a topic.

In order to transmit real emotion with your images, the project should be about something that you love or at least have a strong interest in. As they say, ‘shoot what you love’, because, if you don’t, you likely won’t come up with a cohesive body of work. It can most definitely be difficult to ‘keep going’ when the subject doesn’t move you.

From a project I’m working on entitled “A Mother’s Treasure”

From a project I’m working on entitled “A Mother’s Treasure”


But, personally, I do have some difficulty with projects. I love working in projects but, while I start many of them, I often either don’t finish them or they go on for…..well, quite a long time. That isn’t to say that I never finish them. In fact, I am quite happy with my Carrie Furnace, Cathy, and Empathy projects. But I have started many more that have not come to completion. So I have done some introspection about this and have put together several thoughts, ideas, and recommendations to help myself bring more projects to completion. These are ideas that pertain to me, but I thought they were nonetheless worth writing in a post in case others might find some of them useful, as I suspect that I’m not the only person to struggle with this issue.

I believe that one of the most important things that keep me from completing projects is fear! Fear that the work I’m doing isn’t ‘good enough’ or that ‘it’s been done already’ or that ‘people will think it’s dumb’. It’s easy to say ‘just ignore that feeling’ or that ‘nobody will do it just the way you’re doing it’ but that just doesn’t seem to work for me. Here are some things that I have started trying that I believe do help:

From a project I’m working on entitled “A Mother’s Treasure”

From a project I’m working on entitled “A Mother’s Treasure”


1) Define the project size from the start - how many images do I think I will need to complete the project? This gives me a goal to work towards. And it can certainly be revisited. If I start by planning for a project consisting of ten images and I get there rapidly and easily and find myself wanting to make more photographs for the project then the goal can be expanded. If I get to the initial goal and feel like I have said most of what I want to say then I have a complete project. If I get stuck after three images that I think are good and can’t make more, well, then maybe it isn’t a topic or idea that I have enough interest in. Move on. Nothing wrong with recognizing that the interest just isn’t there. Who knows, maybe I will come back to it one day.

2) Define how the project will be presented - wall display, magazine submission. PDF, folio, web display? All of these? By defining what the end result of the project will be I get a sense of purpose and I know what I am working towards. These endpoints can be re-examined and changed depending on how the project proceeds.

3) I don’t consider an image ‘done’ or work towards ‘completely finishing’ an image before moving on to the next one in the project. For a project to be cohesive there needs to be some consistency in style. Therefore, when I reach the goal number of images, I plan to review them, see which ones work together, and finish editing the images together as a group to ensure there is some type of consistency and visual flow among them.

4) When the images are completed, processed, and edited in terms of which ones I will include in the project, I plan to actually put them together into whatever the plan was for their final presentation. That takes work, be it printing, posting, learning to make a PDF etc, but if it is worth doing the project then it’s worth assembling the final presentation. I won’t consider the project complete until the planned presentation method is completed.

5) Deadlines - I plan to give myself a deadline to reach that initial number of images so that the project doesn’t drag on. Don’t get me wrong, if things are going well and revisiting the project size leads to a desire for a larger project, that’s a good thing. Then I can make a new deadline for the expansion. There are some projects that are short term projects and some that may take longer periods of time. All good, as long as there is actually work being done towards a goal and the expansion also has a deadline.

As an example, the images in this post are from a project that I had started but never finished. I have now resumed it with all the recommendations I made above. The project consists of photographing a pair of statuettes that were meaningful to my mother, who passed away recently. They were one of her prized possessions, and I decided to put together a project photographing them. My initial goal is for the project to have a dozen images and to have the photographing and processing completed by the end of October. I would like to have, as a finished presentation, a folio and a PDF which I can work on (I will determine a deadline for each) once the images are completed.

Do you have any ideas that motivate or push you to complete projects. If so, please share them in the comments. I would love to hear them.


Back to the Cathedral of Learning, an educational building that is part of the University of Pittsburgh. One of the things that I have enjoyed about photographing in the cathedral is that there are lots of doorways and openings as well as small nooks and crannies to explore. The plethora of doorways and arches give ample opportunity for ‘framing’ compositions with related elements, as seen in this photograph. This one is actually ‘frame in frame’, as the second arch serves as a frame to the back wall. It really find it quite enjoyable to search for these types of photographs.

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


More Ceiling!

When I was thinking about what to title a post with another photograph of the ceiling of the Cathedral of Learning, the first thing that popped into m,y head was “More Ceiling”, which was reminiscent (if you are old enough to remember) of “More Cowbell”. If you aren’t old enough to remember then you can give yourself a treat and visit a classic SNL skit just below the photo!

More Ceiling © Howard Grill

More Ceiling © Howard Grill


And as for the “More Cowbell”:

And see here for more info on this truly classic SNL skit!

Hogwarts Study Hall??

Yes, yes, it’s another image from the Cathedral of Learning. I had previously mentioned that shooting there has become ‘a thing…..a project’. I had never been to this side of the building before and was fully expecting more hallways similar to the last couple that I posted. But when I ran across this scene, complete with table and bench with mystical looking light coming in through the window and shaped by the curved ceiling, my first thought was ‘this looks like something out of Harry Potter’. So there you have it, a study hall at Hogwarts!

© Howard Grill

© 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

Studying In The Cathedral

The Cathedral of Learning is an open and public area, but when I go there on Sunday mornings there usually aren’t many people there. Nonetheless, it is a place where students come to study. I know that photography is allowed, as my friends have asked, and there are frequently security officers around who have never hinted otherwise.

I was intrigued by the idea that there were people using laptops in this environment that seemed so ancient. I’m sure that when the structure was built there was never any idea of anyone studying here without books!

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


One More Detail

I’ve gotten to processing the last close up photo of the carved wooden hand rest on the first floor bench at the Cathedral of Learning. Now it can serve as a triptych with the other two characters. There was actually a fourth carving, but that one has become a bit damaged over the years. This one looks like he is in a state of dreamlike euphoria!

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


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


A Mother's Treasure III

I continue to work on my series of compositions making up a mini-project I call 'A Mother's Treasure'.  Details can be found here.  

This particular composition comes from an ornate area on the back of the regal clothes that are worn by the 'king'. I liked the repetitive rainbow shapes placed within the more complex engraving.

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

A Mother's Treasure II

A couple of post's back I found myself wondering if there was a series to be had in photographing two decorative statues that were handed down to me by my mother, who is in poor health. That original post was entitled "A Mother's Treasure".

I think it will, in fact, end up a series. At least I find myself drawn to making more images of these statues (I'm sure that isn't the correct term for them). The only question is whether I will find enough to make it a short series or if it will capture my attention for a longer while. Even when doing a series, I tend to produce the finished images slowly....this is #2 and I'm sure there will be more to come.

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


Why Photograph Cemeteries?

As I make more cemetery photographs and potentially see this series evolving into a project, I feel like I must ask myself what the project is really about.  What am I trying to say?  What am I looking for in the images? What is motivating me to make these photos? What would I like to make photos of but have not yet found a way to do so?

Sometimes getting a project started involves far more questions than answers.  But I think that is potentially a good sign!

"Patiently Waiting"    © Howard Grill

So here are some of the answers I have come up with so far, knowing that not all the questions have been asked and that not all the answers are complete.  A few weeks ago  was just going and shooting at a new place and I would not have even thought of any of the questions nor started to formulate any answers. The fact that I am thinking about these issues is what has clarified to me that this is likely a 'project in the making'.

What is this project about and what am I trying to say?

It seems to me that there are several themes underlying this potential project.  First, I know what it is not about.  It is not about cemeteries being scary, haunted, or creepy.  It is not even about them being spiritual. I am not interested in ghosts or in creating backdrop scenes for horror movies.

Most of all, it is a celebration of life.  It is about that we can be remembered by someone long after we are gone. It is about my bringing back memories of people who may have been long forgotten.  There is no way around the fact that it has to be a little bit about dealing with the fear of death as an inevitability.  It is about the fact that ultimately nature reclaims everything. It is about things that are likely dwelling in my subconscious that I don't even realize yet.


What am I looking for in the images?

After being out photographing numerous times I have broken down the image 'types' into several varieties:

  • gravestones that tell or hint at a story, such as the image "Patiently Waiting" in this post
  • gravestones that have a touch of humor, either subtly or blatant...believe me, they are out there
  • patterns within stones or made by stones
  • details of statues
  • mausoleum architectural details
  • a sense that it is not all gravestones; that there is nature in the cemetery as well
  • images that send the message that ultimately nature reclaims all


What would I like to make photos of but have not yet been able to do so?

This one is easy.  I have no images yet that include human interaction. That is hard for me because I am not one to ask people I don't know if I may take their photograph (though it doesn't necessarily require that). The cemetery is  a place where people come to visit their relatives and friends.  But it is also a pretty place where people go to walk, run, ride their bikes least the one I photograph in is that sort of place.  I would like to have some images where people are seen doing all those things in addition to grieving or remembering.  I would also like to have some images that depict wildlife such as deer and birds among the graves. We will see how it all transpires and what the project turns into.


I often have ideas for several photographic projects floating around in my mind. Sometimes the idea comes first and I have not yet made any photos that would fit it. Other times the idea comes after I have made a series of photos, when it suddenly occurs to me that I might have the start of a small project without having planned it. 

Such is the case with this cactus photo processed in black and white. This is the first photograph I have chosen to process from a small series of cactus images I already have taken.

Euphorbia species of cactus

I will simply have to see if I am able to make and process enough photos of this subject to actually put together a full portfolio. Time will tell!

Projects II

In my post entitled "Projects", I talked about what can be done to garner an audience for your project utilizing my "Floral Forms" project as an example.  In that post I had discussed physical prints and in this post will discuss digital media opportunities. Website:

I plan on putting the project on my website.  Pretty straightforward!


Here is where it gets both interesting and challenging based on the various options and software.  I do plan to make an e-Book out of the project. But in what format? For various reasons, mostly involving software choices, I have decided to go with the PDF format.  But one could also construct an e-Book in the proper format to sell or distribute as an app for the i-Pad.  And if one wanted to, multimedia options can be added, like I did for my Carrie Furnace e-Book.

But here is the most intriguing aspect of the e-book project for me.  I am going to be collaborating with a writer that I have never met in 'real life'.  She is, among other things, a poet who I have corresponded with on-line after reading some of the truly wonderful poems she wrote to accompany her own photographs. After some discussion she has started writing poems specifically for the photos that I want to include in the e-Book.

I am invigorated by the project for a number of reasons. She is a wonderful poet and her words will add a new dimension to the photos and the book, the poems are going to be written specific to the individual images, and I think the idea of working with someone who you have met solely through social media is truly a sign of the times.   More on this to come.....


What does one do when a self-contained project appears completed?  Or at least completed enough that it can stand alone now even if more were added later?  This is an important question if one of your goals is to get your work 'out there'......if you want to get it seen. Brooks Jensen, the editor of LensWork, has commented on this issue many times in his writings and podcasts.  In the current era there are many, many ways to get your work seen by an audience.  In fact, any one person might choose to put their project into several different formats in order to have it available to a larger audience.  For example, an exhibit is only available to those who live locally.  Putting together a folio that one could sell might limit the number of people that can see your work because of the necessary price point. Brooks has advocated having multiple formats/media so that you do the work in order to make it easier for others to view and appreciate what you have put together.

Now that I have finished my black and white flower project entitled "Floral Forms" and written an artist's statement, I thought it might be worthwhile to enumerate my plans for the project in terms of making it available to an audience.  One of the issues, of course, is that (unless you are intimately familiar with all the software involved) it does take a good deal of time to learn the software and, at least for me, a lot of time to get the jobs done. This takes time away from new projects or from working on the large amount of images I have waiting to be edited and processed.  Nonetheless, I do think it is time well spent because, in the end, if very few people see the work it might as well just stay on your hard drive!

So without further ado, here are some of my thoughts and plans regarding "Floral Forms":

Exhibit The Prints:

Yes, but where?  When looking for a place to have a show one has to be reasonable in terms of how your project might mesh with the venue.  And, oh yes, you must have thick skin and be able to take rejection well.  I thought the project would go well at the botanical garden where I took a good many of the photos.  But how does one present this possibility, especially when unsolicited?

I am sure there are many ways, but the following is what I typically do.  I don't send digital images when seeking a display that was not solicited.  It seems just too easy to me to click through rapidly and be done.  Since I am proud of my prints, I send a series of 8x10 prints, and not on proofing paper.  I send them on the final fine art paper.  That way the recipient has your best work and is able to handle and interact with it.  I send a cover letter explaining the project and why I think it would be appropriate to display in their particular venue along with a short artist's statement.  If the project is a large one I might send 10 or 20 prints rather than the whole project, to give a solid taste of what the quality is.  Really, it just isn't that expensive a thing to do, especially if you compare it to the cost of matting and framing if the recipient is actually interested in giving you a show!

In addition to giving an email address to return contact, I also mention in the letter that I hope it is all right to follow up with a phone call in a week or two in order to see if they are interested.  You need to make the effort to follow up.  The recipient might well be interested but gets bogged down in a million different different things until your prints disappear under a pile of paperwork.  Just because you don't hear back spontaneously doesn't mean they aren't interested.  Also, if they are not interested, the call still gives you that contact and perhaps an informative explanation of why you are being turned down. There are things one can learn from rejection!

In the case of my project, I found out who the correct contact would be to send the prints to at the botanical garden and they are quite interested in displaying the prints in the gallery they have in their lobby. They are booked until next fall and they would like to consider a show for the spring or summer of 2015.  Yes, it is a way off.....but still a great potential opportunity that I am pleased to have received.


If you are not familiar with the folio concept (also created by Brooks Jensen) you can find information about the two prior folios I have put together here.  I do plan to make folios from this project as well.  Because the folio holder only comfortably holds ten prints with the supporting material, this project will have a volume 1 and 2.

This post has covered what I plan to do with physical prints.  In my next post, I will talk about my plans using electronic media.  I have one plan that I am particularly excited about that involves a collaboration......but more on that next time!

The Artist's Statement

The artist's statement can be very difficult to write. It is often filled with artspeak that is incomprehensible to the average everyday viewer. I found myself wanting to write a very plain and simple statement to go with my black and white botanical project which I am calling "Floral Forms". I wanted it to clearly state what the project was about without a lot of verbiage that would make the average "non-artist" viewer roll their eyes. The following is what I came up with. Have I succeeded?


One of the most prominent characteristics of flowers are their brilliant and varied colors. So why would anyone want to portray them in black and white?

We don’t live in a monochrome world. Colors are our reality and one of the first things we tend to notice. In fact, the more vivid the color the more it attracts our attention and becomes an object’s dominant characteristic. Removing that color from a flower, or any other object, allows us to concentrate on other attributes. We can start to appreciate a flower’s form, shape, curves, and lines. We can pay more attention to the various characteristics that previously had to take a “back seat” to color.

It is my intent that these images allow the viewer to see a flower’s beauty in a new way; a way that might have been easily overlooked. Black and white allows us to see differently. It affords a way of seeing that focuses on “Floral Forms”.

Thinking About The Presentation

I think I am slowly nearing the end of collecting my first series of black and white botanicals. Not that there won't be a second series! There might also be other categories sych as cacti, leaves etc..  Yes, I have a bunch of those as well. But at some point one needs to try to assemble a cohesive group into a series that stands alone.  As I think about what 'holds together' the following comes to mind:

1) Subject - While one could have flower macros as well as flower groupings, I think the idea for one project is flowers. By that I mean that if it is flowers it shouldn'e be interesting leaf macros.  The leaves will be another series.

2) Toning - I believe there needs to be a coherance between the sepia toning among the group.  Interestingly, If I apply the same toning settings in Silver Efex Pro, that doesn't necessarily give me results among the series of photos that seem to hold together.  I suspect this is related to the fact that there I like a difference in toning strength between highlights and shadows.  I tend to like purer white highlights that don't look 'muddy' and so I apply less toning to the highlights.  But holding a higher key image next to a lower key image makes it appear as if there is discrepancy in the toning.  This is something I suspect I am just going to need to adjust by eye, as opposed to having a one size fits all recipe.

3) Editing - Obviously one wants to only show their best work, but, even with a number of photos that might be appropriate, you still need to cull the number down (or up) depending on the presentaton.  The 'proper' number for a show (which itself will be somewhat reliant on the amount of wallspace and image size) will be different from the number that might be optimal for a folio or a pdf or an ebook.  Along the same lines, the image size will also depend on the presentation venue.

I suspect this will still take a couple of months, but I am starting to feel that it is time to start thinking about putting things together into a stand alone project.

Copyright Howard Grill