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.

Science And Ultra-High Frame Rate Photography

What The Heck Is A Prince Rupert's Drop Anyway?

This is some very cool information that one of my sons sent me and I just had to share it because it really is fascinating! Plus, it uses photography in the form of ultra-high frame rate cameras to help understand what's going on. In the old days Eadweard Muybridge used high sequential frame rates by mounting twelve cameras in a row and firing them sequentially in order to better understand animal gaits. Today we use frame rates many orders of magnitude higher than Muybridge did (and all in one camera) to better understand our world.

So what is a Prince Rupert's drop? It is what occurs when molten glass is dripped into cool water allowing the outside of the glass 'glob' to solidify well before the inside. As you will see in the video below, this yields a solid structure with unusual tensile strength.  It's fascinating and explained in the video well better than I can in writing. So head to the video below and learn something very cool. But don't stop there! Continue to the video below that to see just how strong and unusual a Prince Rupert's drop can be.

So now you get the idea of what the drop is. But just how strong is it? The video below demonstrates that it is very, very strong indeed. Like stronger than a speeding bullet strong!

Though I do wish someone that knows more physics than I would explain why, since the Prince Rupert's drop isn't held in place, the bullet shatters as opposed to simply pushing the drop out of its path. At any rate, it really is amazing what we can see and understand using ultra-high frame rates in photography!

Michael Shrieve At Woodstock

OK, a momentary brief respite from photography for a great video and a rock lesson for any of you 'young folks' out there. From time to time I do like to share occasional non-photographic finds. I hope I haven't posted this here before, but if I did it must have been years ago. Sometimes I forget what I have and haven't posted!

In 1969 Michael Shrieve was the drummer for Santana. He also happened to be, at age 20, the youngest musician playing at Woodstock. So what do you do when you are the youngest at the play your heart out with an amazing drum solo that goes down in 'rock history', that's what.

This is really an enjoyable video (though I don't particularly love the split screen) and one of the few that show's Shrieve's full solo (the others I have seen edit it down to just a few seconds), I assume because the song is a relatively long one. His solo starts at 3:05 on the video, but wait, c'mon, don't skip there; you have time to watch the whole thing!

Interestingly, in an interview later in life (Santana himself was only 22 at Woodstock), Carlos Santana explained his contorted facial expressions during his guitar playing for his set (which is evident in the above video). Apparently, the band was actually scheduled to go on stage in 12 hours when he took LSD, but, oops, a switch in the schedule and your're on now. He said that he thought the neck of his guitar was an electric snake that was battling him and that this was something he would never do again.

Here is his explanation (note in the music that follows the interview that the drum solo is essentially edited out).

Since then Shrieve has collaborated with many musicians as well as playing with his band Spellbinder, but relatively recently he reunited with Santana for their newest album, where he again played drums for the band. Here he is today:

Then and now.....

shrieve 2.jpg

Neither image is mine....I am not certain who the photographers are.

Addenda: One of the readers of this blog, Ed Wolpov, just commented on this post. In his comment he gave a link to photos he made at Fillmore East in the 1970s. They are absolutely fantastic and I wanted to put the link here so anyone that stops by this post can have a look:

Floral Dreams

Another selection from my black and white botanical project.  I  had taken this photo some time ago but never felt the right inspiration for processing it.  I was recently looking at some work by a photographer/artist I admire who is very expressive and really pours her soul into her artwork.  She is less concerned about the technical perfections of an image and is more about the feel and mood she creates.  Her work inspired me to process this photo in the way I had intended when I took give the feel of just starting to emerge from a dreamlike state.

Floral Dream

Copyright Howard Grill


For me, becoming involved in social media as it pertains to order to share images, see images, and generally connect with people who are passionate about photography as art..... has been less than fulfilling.  Let's face it, Facebook is mostly for semi-personal communication among friends (despite the artist and company pages), Twitter is for communicating in short half sentences with link sharing, and, somehow, Flickr just never did anything for me. But I recently tried exploring Google+.  Now, social media may not be the end all and be all, but I was very pleasantly surprised at how the Google+ network works for those with an interest in photography (and I would assume for those with other deep interests as well).

So what are the differences between Google+ and Facebook, particularly when it comes to photography?  In my mind there are lots of them:

1) For starters, as opposed to "Friends" you have "Circles", or groups of people that you pool together under a single category (and the people in it, while they know you have them in a circle, have no idea how you define that circle). And isn't that how it works in 'real life'?  You want to tell some things to your kids, but not to the rest of the family...fine, set up a circle and call it 'Kids'. Want to announce something to close family members but not to all your friends and acquaintances....fine, set up a circle called 'Family'.  Want to share your fine art photos with other photographers but not force your friends to see them....fine, set up a circle called 'Photography'.  The point is that it is VERY easy to  share specific posts, links, images etc with just who you want to and not everyone else. You can share a post with the world or just one of your 'circles', or anything in between.  As a result of this, it is easy to make connections with people you don't know because you and they both know that  they are there for a mutually agreeable reason.  It isn't a big deal to "friend' someone you don't know because they only see what you think is appropriate for them to see and vice versa.

As a result, it is far easier to follow others and to gain 'followers' that are interested in seeing your work.  In fact, circles filled with people interested in a specific topic are often shared so you can get 'introduced' to a large number of photographers very, very quickly.

2) Storage and display of photographs are, in my opinion, far superior than what is available on Facebook.

3) In addition to the above there are 'Communities'.....groups of people that come together with a specific interest, like landscape photography or black and white photography, sort of similar to the groups on Flickr

I would definitely recommend giving it a try and I don't think that you will find yourself going back to Facebook except to send small blurbs to your friends.....and to post that photo of your friend stinking drunk!

If you do give it a try, look me up and put me in your photography circle.   I think you can start by clicking the red G+ sign on the blog sidebar.  I just put it up so I am not sure what it really does, but I don't think it will wreck your computer :>)

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman was not a photographer.  What can I say, taking the liberty to occasionally post about non-photographic subjects is part of the joy of being a blog owner. So who was Richard Feynman and why do I feel compelled to mention him?  As regular blog readers may know, I have recently had some interest in broadening my understanding of quantum mechanics, which initially took the form of reading In Search of Schrödinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality".  Based on a reference in that book I discovered Dr. Richard Feynman, a Nobel prize winning physicist who died in 1988 at the age of 69.

Dr. Feynman was not only noted for his work, but was one of those rare people who was also noted for his teaching ability (he also apparently had quite a few eccentricities, but don't we all).   How good a teacher was he?  Good enough that after watching several of Dr. Feynman's videotaped lectures from the 1960s, Bill Gates  commented that if he had watched those lectures earlier in his life he might have become a physicist instead of a software entrepreneur.  Good enough that after seeing a series of seven taped lectures that Dr. Feynman gave at Cornell University (they were guest lectures, as Feynman was a professor at CalTech) he felt a strong need to preserve them for future generations and did so by buying the rights to them in order to make them available on the internet.

So, while planning to watch the series of lectures, I felt immediately compelled to watch the one on quantum mechanics.  Feynman takes a teaching approach that is contrary to the way everyone had been teaching the subject.  Rather than teach the ideas of quantum physics by discussing how the field was built by progressive historical experiments and thoughts, he instead starts with a lecture that goes right to the heart of the matter.

Let me explain.  Feynman's concern was that by moving through the subject historically one becomes lulled into the erroneous idea that one can understand quantum concepts by making analogies to the macroscopic world we live in.  As he puts it, this is a blind alley from which few can escape.  The properties of (dare I call them) particles in the atomic realm act like nothing we have experience with and to try to make them seem such is fraught with hazard.  So he starts by describing an experiment that immediately demonstrates the conundrum (to us) of atomic particles.  And, he is quick to say that the experiments provide mere descriptions of how nature acts......and that nobody knows why it is so.  It just is.

If you would like to be entertained for an hour while gaining a better understanding of the world around us (and, I might add, without the need for any real knowledge of math), then you owe it to yourself to listen to this lecture.  Though I am not a physicist, I believe the information in this lecture is as true today as it was then (meaning that in the interim years nobody has shown any evidence to dispute what is contained in this video from the 1960s)

It can be found here or on the Microsoft site here.  Just scroll to the lecture entitled "Probability and Uncertainty - The Quantum Mechanical View of Nature".

Way Off Topic

Yes, I know this is way off topic, but one of the nice things about having one's own photography blog is that you can write an off topic post when moved to do so. Last weekend I saw the new film "The Perks of Being a Wallflower".  WOW!!!  What an amazing and powerful film!  The story, the acting, the soundtrack, the filming.....all amazing.  It is a 'coming of age' story that I think outdoes anything like it in the past.

Oh, and it is filmed in my own town of Pittsburgh, PA, and what a job it does of showing the city as it is today.  And this is probably because the writer of the now 15 year old novel, Stephen Chbosky, (who also directed the film, his first) is a Pittsburgh native who grew up here.  As an added bonus, I saw it on opening night and Mr. Chbosky attended and had a Q&A session right after the 7pm show ended, which was really terrific.

It is a deep and moving film that is different from any 'kids in high school' film that you might have seen before. I highly recommend it!

The Continued Story Of Photographer's Rights

In the past, I have written several times about photographers rights.  (That link will bring you to the results of a search on this blog for that topic, but for some reason there are a few off-topic posts that get thrown in with the relevant ones). These posts were precipitated by my being told by security guards at various skyscrapers in downtown Pittsburgh that I could not take photographs of  the buildings they were 'guarding'.  In fact, at this point, I can just about guarantee that I will be 'shooed away' if I go photographing in town. The whole thing is pretty absurd since, if you go to Google, you can get more pictures of each and every one of these buildings than I could ever hope to take in a day.  And if my goals were nefarious, why would I allow myself to stand out by taking photos with a tripod, dSLR, and a backpack as opposed to moving in close with a point and shoot or micro 4/3 camera?

My continued interest in this subject leads me to post this information about photographers being inhibited from taking photos in public spaces.  Now, this is a bit different from what I had been writing about previously as it involves photojournalists getting into the thick of things, but the idea, and the rights, are the same as those making fine art and street photographs.

I particularly like this quote from the article....."We look at the images that come out of Syria and Libya where people risk their lives in order to get images out. Most of those images that we’ve seen are coming from citizens with their cellphones. They risk their lives, and we consider those efforts heroic. And yet in this country, somebody doing the very same thing is considered suspect. I have a real problem with that."

Want to know your specific rights as a photographer?  Check them out here.

You Just Never Know What You Might Find

I think it is interesting that no matter where you go with a camera you can always be surprised by seeing the unexpected.  Perhaps that is because when you are out with the purpose of making photographs you are in the mindset to look and see deeper and use a visual process that is different from your everyday one. Case in point.  I wasn't really sure where I wanted to go two weeks ago to try to make images.  I ended up telling myself I would take a quick trip through a very large cemetery not too far from my home.  I had been there before and frequently found some interesting headstones.  There is also a small pond and a large willow tree there.  But the pond is artificial and things grow pretty wild in it, so I didn't expect to find much at that location.

I guess I was never there at this time of year before, because the pond was filled to the brim with water lilies.  In fact, there were so many growing every which way that it wasn't particularly photogenic.  I thought things might be simplified if I photographed an isolated one close up, but they were seemingly all too far away from the shore for that. So I took a walk around the pond and found one, only one, that was close enough for me to take its portrait:

Lotus Blossom

Copyright Howard Grill

You just never know what you are going to run across when making photographs is your main objective.  And I think that is part of the joy of photography!

The Carrie Furnace Project

Several times over the last few weeks, I have mentioned a photography project that I have been working on for some time.  I was initially waiting to completely finish it prior to showing any of the images, but sometimes unexpected events just get in the a broken printer! Which, by the way, is now officially dead.  And I have to say that I am quite peeved, as it has died very prematurely for this type of machine and the repair cost is essentially the price of a new one. Despite the fact that I have a bit more work to do before the project is complete, I would like to start showing what I have done.  After all, blogs are supposed to be for projects still in the works.

So let's start with this question: What the heck is the Carrie Furnace????  Carrie is an old abandoned blast furnace located just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It had been used to produce iron that was then shipped across the river to the Homestead works to be used in steel production.  In it's heyday, it produced up to 1250 tons of iron daily and the furnace was literally in use 24/7/365.  Carrie dates back to when Pittsburgh was at the center of the world's iron and steel production and it was closed, after 97 years of service, in 1978.  At the time, the workers were not actually told they were being laid off.  Instead they were told the plant was being closed for routine maintenance....and they were never called back.

For many years, the site lay dormant and was vandalized by scrappers (which continues today) and then changed hands several times with associated environmental concerns about the site.  Currently, only two of the initial seven furnaces remain standing (the others were taken down over the years).  Ultimately, Carrie ended up in the hands of Rivers Of Steel, a non-profit Pittsburgh organization dedicated to the preservation of Western Pennsylvania's iron and steel history.  It currently remains closed to the public (except for specific scheduled tours) and is behind barbed wire (to protect it from vandals and scrappers).  However, Rivers Of Steel's efforts to repair and make the site into a historic landmark is slowly coming to fruition through the help of many unselfish individuals who donate their time and efforts to help perform the needed renovations.

Interestingly, what most people wanted to see in my furnace images was 'historical documentation', but that is not what initially attracted me to the site.  I was attracted to the surreal beauty of the astonishing array of graphic lines and shapes made by the furnace, stoves, and pipes.  An interest in how iron was produced and what it was like to work here came later.  As part of that interest, I was able to interview Mr. Gault, who had worked at Carrie when he was a teenager and into his early twenties.  Talking with him was one of the absolute delights of working on this project, as one could not imagine a more interesting and articulate person to help understand what it was like to work here.

Over the next few months, I would like to start presenting some of these images, along with audio clips that I edited from my interview.  These are not necessarily the final clips to go with each photograph, as I had the opportunity to photograph at the furnace just yesterday and may well rearrange things a bit, with the final project to be posted to my website when complete.

So with this bit of background, the first image and audio clip will be posted on Wednesday (I need a day or two to make sure I can get audio into the blog!) do come back and visit.  And I  appreciate your feedback on the project as I present the images and audio content.

Where Images Go

It is good to be back! First, an update.  As some readers of this blog may know from my last post, I recently had  a retinal tear and ocular hemorrhage.  I have improved significantly.  The acuity of my vision has improved dramatically and has essentially normalized.  I still have some 'floaters' that are irritating in that they move in and out of my visual field but one gets used to it and moves on....... So, I have been thinking quite a bit lately about what happens to all the images we take. Where do they end up?  Sure, I have printed a good number of what I initially considered my favorite shots.  But I also have many good images from workshops that I have attended, images from my local forays to natural areas around my home, and various interesting 'experimental images'.  And where do these all live?   Unprocessed on my hard drives!  What good do they do there, especially unprocessed?

I am not advocating spending time on sub-optimal images.  However, it is clear that photographs that might not qualify as 'best ofs' might be wonderful images as part of a themed photo project or body of work.  Likewise, there are plenty of photos that might not be destined for wall hanging but could nonetheless be important to a larger project.

Not to get too dramatic, but if they are not put 'out there' they might never be seen by anyone.

For these reasons, I have been spending some time thinking how various images that are disparate in some ways might, nonetheless, be grouped together.  For example, the keywording on my hard drive has images grouped by the workshop or location that they were taken in. It is quite possible that a one week workshop in New Hampshire might not have yielded enough good images to produce a location based project or folio.  However, by removing the idea of location, it is quite possible that some of these images could find themselves in a theme based project such as waterfalls, fall color, or reflections.  By simply regrouping them, many more options for using the images become evident.

Since I started thinking about this, a very interesting essay came out on The Luminous Landscape website about project or theme based photography that is definitely worth a read.

Where I've Been

Readers might have noticed that I have not written any posts in over a week.  The first few days this was related to my last topic regarding distractions and my desire to get more image processing done.  However, I did have posts planned for this weekend but ran into some difficulty.   Seemingly out of the blue (turns out that, in reality,  people that are near-sighted are at risk and it isn't all that uncommon) I developed a retinal tear with an ocular hemorrhage.  It was very 'sixties-like' in that all of a sudden I saw swirling black ink making all sorts of odd psychadelic shapes that quickly evolved into the appearance of walking through a sandstorm.  Two emergency room visits later that day, I found myself on my back in a chair, a speculum in my eye, with a retinal specialist pressing on my eyeball with an external probe while firing a bright green and mildly painful laser beam into my eye in order to seal a retinal tear. It is a bit difficult to type this, as the vision in my right eye at the moment is quite poor, but I am told that it will be back to normal in about a week.  In the meantime, all photographic endeavors have stopped.  So please bear with me......the blog will be back!  I just need to be able to see.

Under Rt. 80

Last weekend I went on a photo trip with my "Sunday Morning Shooting Buddies" to Cuyahoga National Park, just over two hours from my home.  It was a great weekend and we managed to get in a very reasonable amount of 'shooting time' despite the very frequent downpours.

One of the things I discovered during the trip was a greater self-awareness of what I would have to call my photographic 'style'.  I realized that, even when making nature photographs, what I was really drawn to was the arrangement and organization of lines and shapes in the frame, even more than the specific subject matter.  That is perhap one reason why, despite the nature orientation of the trip, I found myself compelled to make some photographs underneath the trestles that support Route 80, the Ohio turnpike!

Under Rt. 80

Copyright Howard Grill


Today is the first time I have 'played with' the really very interesting Silver-Efex 2 plug in by Nik Software.  Version 2 really blows away the first version.  The original photo above was made using a black and white conversion layer in Photoshop.  I tried Silver-Efex Pro 2 on the image and in very short order was able to generate what is, in my mind, a more compelling image!

Under Rt. 80

Processed Using Nik Silver-Efex Pro

I Have A Bad Copy Of Lens X

When reading about different lenses or browsing through used lens ads (don't all photographers do that??) it is hard not to read that this is 'a great copy' or a 'soft copy' of any given lens.  We all want those great copies......right?  Well here is a great article about why that great copy of a given lens might not be so great on your particular camera body........that, and lots of other interesting information about why manufacturing tolerances guarantee differences between samples of any lens on today's high resolution digital cameras. This is a really interesting read.  Check out "This Lens Is Soft And Other Facts" here.

Using The Singh-Ray Vari-N-Duo Filter

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

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

Var-N-Duo Filter

Quick Quotes: Albert Einstein

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle."

Albert Einstein


One might ask what this quote has to do with photography.  My answer would be....everything.  It has everything to do with photography.  After all, isn't it those miracles that we try to show others in our photographs?  If we live as though nothing were a miracle, what would there be to photograph?

A Rainy Day

Readers seemed to like the  last time I went through the steps of how I processed an image, so I thought I would do so again. I do most of my nature photography early in the morning.  The reason, besides the light being best in early morning and late afternoon, is that it is easiest to get out in the morning while the rest of the family sleeps.  So, this last weekend when it was just me at home  and the rest of the family was away, I saw the opportunity to get out and shoot in the early evening hours instead.  I decided I was going late no matter what, even if the weather report did call for rain.

I headed out to Moraine State Park, about an hour from my home and, of course, the skies opened up with pouring rain just as I arrived (doesn't it always happen that way).  However, since no one was waiting for me at home, I decided to 'wait it out'.  During the rain, I drove around looking for the type of scene I had in my mind when I drove out to the park.  I wanted to make photographs of the soft appearing, pastel colored buds that were emerging on the trees.  And I wanted red ones!

After a bit of driving with the windshield wipers going, I found exactly what I was after. So, I pulled over onto the grass and waited until the rain turned into just a drizzle.  Once it was a drizzle (it never did actually stop), I got out the tripod and equipment and started taking some photos, all the while planning that the final image was going to be an interpretive one.  By that I mean I wanted the final image to depict not just how it looked , but also how it felt to be at that location.

It felt light and airy, as there was a gentle breeze, and it felt bright in a strange way since the sun was just starting to peak through the clouds.  The rain made all the colors very saturated.  And I had an image in my head of the whole scene being very soft focus.  That's how it felt, and that's the way I wanted the image to look.

And so here is the way the photo came out of the camera with no adjustments in the RAW converter.  Not terrible, but it definitely didn't convey the feeling I was looking for:

Straight Out Of Camera

Copyright Howard Grill

How then to get the image to 'speak'?  I used the sliders in Lightroom to make it brighterr and actually added negative clarity in order to give it a soft, ethereal feel.  This was somewhat of an experiment for me, as I don't often dial in negative clarity.  By the time I was done using the RAW converter the image looked like this:

After Processing in Lightroom's RAW Converter

Copyright Howard Grill

I am getting closer here, but it still isn't as bright, open, and airy as I would like it to be.  I brought the image into Photoshop and

1) made the whites whiter using curves

2) added contrast to the midtones using curves

3) removed a bit of the yellow/green cast from the whole image and even more from the tree trunks

These manipulations yielded the final image, which seemed to convey what I had in mind!

Trees, bloom, buds

Final Processed Image

Copyright Howard Grill