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 Shots Never Processed

If you are anything like me, you have thousands of shots in your archives that have never been processed. There may be many reasons for this, though I suspect the two most common ones are i) there simply wasn’t enough time to process them or ii) it wasn’t recognized at the moment that the image was really pretty good. I suspect that even if I never made another photo I would have plenty to work with in my unprocessed archives to keep me busy for some time (though not making more photos is definitely not the plan).

I decided to take a trip into the archive and see how long it took before I found something that caught my eye. Something that I had never processed. I started with my Pittsburgh photos. It didn’t take very long to come across this 2015 photo that I took from Mount Washington.

I should really spend some more time going through my old photos.

How about you? Do you find that you have an archive that’s waiting to be looked at and might have some buried treasures?

Pittsburgh Dawn © Howard Grill

Pittsburgh Dawn © 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


Details, Details....

Most of the photographs I have taken at the Cathedral of Learning have been of large subjects: rooms, arches, hallways and doorways. But the last time I was there I ran across some small details that cried out to be photographed.

On the first floor there is an old wooden bench I found that had hand rests, with each one ending in a carved wooden caricature with varying tonality based on the grain of the wood. It was an interesting change from what I had been photographing while there before, and I found myself wondering what those caricatures would have seen over the years had they been ‘alive’.

Bench Hand Rest, Cathedral of Learning © Howard Grill

Bench Hand Rest, Cathedral of Learning © Howard Grill

Bench Hand Rest 2, Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill

Bench Hand Rest 2, Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill


Cathedral of Learning: A Hallway

The Cathedral of Learning has quite a few hallways that are lit with old fashioned incandescent lights. In this particular hallway, I was drawn to the zebra-like stripes of light and dark that the lights made on the wall. The emptiness of the hallway also gave me a bit of a ‘spooky’ and lonely feel that I tried to transmit in the image. It definitely looks like the Cathedral is turning into a small project!

Hallway at Cathedrtal of Learning

Cathedral of Learning: Nationality Rooms

Lest I’ve bored you with multiple photographs of the architecture in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning, there is more than just architecture to be found here. Inside the cathedral are multiple “Nationality Rooms”. These rooms were designed to represent the culture of the various ethnic groups that settled in Allegheny County.

At this point I have only photographed in one of these rooms, the Austrian Room. I was taken with how it seemed like one was entering a separate world when going through the door from the poorly lit hallway. I wanted to try to convey that feeling by photographing the room from outside of it, rather than the inside.

Austrian Nationality Room © Howard Grill

Austrian Nationality Room © Howard Grill


Here is a short video about the room itself:

Cathedral of Learning IV

Two more of the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning photos are included in this post. The first is a new image and the second is one I have posted before, but it has been reprocessed.

Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill

Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill


I had previously posted the next photo as an example of color grading, but it was presented as a blue toned image. This version is sepia toned to fit in with the presentation of the other Cathedral images.

Cathedral Of Learning Stairwell © Howard Grill

Cathedral Of Learning Stairwell © Howard Grill


Over time there will be more to come!

Cathedral of Learnng

I have very much enjoyed the two times I have been out to photograph the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning with my friends. The architecture is truly wonderful. For more on the Cathedral see here.

It’s been a while since I’ve really felt drawn to photographing one particular thing, but I think I may be feeling a series coming on……

Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill

Cathedral Of Learning © Howard Grill


Color Grading

I recently finished viewing one of the fantastic ‘art summits’ over on Shift Art. If you aren’t familiar with Shift Art you really should have a look at it as it is a really superb resource. Their Color Grading Summit went over in detail the many ways to ‘color grade’ a photograph in order to alter the mood it transmits. These techniques included the application of color gradients, gradient mapping, using color look up tables (LUTS), filters, and curves. I thought that the Gothic architecture of my recent photo trip to the Cathedral of Learning would be a great subject for me to try out some of what I had learned.

In this particular photo I decided to try to give the image a ‘suspense’ or ‘horror’ type feel through the use of color. In this case I utilized a LUT applied through a color lookup adjustment layer in Photoshop. It is quite intriguing to see how color alone can really add a mood to an image.

 Gothic architecture at Cathedral of Learning at University of Pittsburgh

The Cathedral of Learning at the University of Pittsburgh

Last weekend I had the opportunity to photograph in the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning with several friends, a location I had not had the chance to make photos in before. The indoor architecture is quite Gothic, which is not surprising since the building was designed by Charles Klaude, one of the leading Gothic architects of the era. At the time construction started in 1926, the Cathedral was to be the tallest building in Pittsburgh. While it lost that distinction some time ago, it still remains the second tallest university building in the world at 787 feet.

The Gothic architecture certainly lends itself to many different and interesting compositions and I wanted to share some of the images I made. I think the building holds a lot of photographic opportunities that we have just begun to explore.

For starters, I was very taken by the flow of the lines and beams in the Commons Room!

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


Photo Walks

As the weather warms I have decided that it would be fun to occasionally let the tripod go and just capture some of the things that catch my taking photo walks. It seems to me that it would be good for photographic practice, good to become more facile at another type of shooting, good for developing other ways of seeing and oh....not bad to get a little extra exercise either. Who knows, I might even work up the nerve to ask strangers if I could photograph them! This could end up being very interesting.....

Here are two 'things' that caught me eye on recent walks.


Man Eater    © Howard Grill


The Look    © Howard Grill


Repeating Patterns

Recently, I have had somewhat of a renewed interest in photographing architecture. Not so much the 'literal interpretation' of the building (though that is fun to do as well), but more so the details, particularly in an abstract way. I am particularly fond of repeating patterns and contrasts.

I was recently photographing at Carnegie Mellon University and had an interesting experience. In the past, when photographing buildings in downtown Pittsburgh, I have had building security guards tell me to leave because I am not allowed to photograph 'their' building, based on rules from building management. Of course, they fail to recognize that this is the United States and that one IS, in fact, allowed to photograph any building they want (short, I believe, of Federal Buildings and military installations perhaps) as long as they are on a public street and not on private property. I have made several posts over the years about being kicked out of various areas for doing perfectly legal photography.

At any rate, I went to Carnegie Mellon to make some architectural photos and there was a CMU police car parked in front of the first building I went to photograph. Inside was a police officer apparently guarding the building. Rather than get involved in debate (since these are not city policemen, who I assume would know the law) I decided to go photograph another building first and then return later. The image I made at that other building is the one seen below. I liked the repeating pattern and the repeating contrast.

So, what became of the first building? Well, the story ends well.  I went back and there was no longer a police car there. I set up to photograph, standing in a public street.  As I was photographing, the police car returned and drove up the street. I try to look nonchalant and pay no attention. However, as I was looking into the viewfinder of my tripod mounted camera, the car pulled up along side of me and the officer rolled down the window. "Here we go again", I start thinking.

But to my surprise, the officer said "They don't build them like that any more, do they? It's a great building to take pictures of!". And with that we got into a very pleasant conversation regarding craftsmanship and architecture in years gone by. In fact, he told me some other places he thought I would enjoy photographing!

I guess there is a lesson here. It is probably a good idea to expect the best in people and be prepared for the worst than to expect the worst to start with. All in all, it was a very pleasant morning out photographing on the July 4th holiday weekend.

Station Square

Some time ago I was out on the Smithfield Bridge trying to make some images for my Pittsburgh Bridge series.....but it just wasn't happening. I wasn't seeing any good compositions that included the bridge. I'm not sure if it was the weather, my mindset, or what.....but I did find myself drawn to this building in Station Square (which is situated at one end of the bridge). The colors and shapes just all seemed to come together in my mind.

Station Square, Pittsburgh    © Howard Grill

Pittsburgh Skyline And Gulf Weather Beacon

A few weeks back I had the opportunity to take some more shots of the Pittsburgh skyline from Mount Washington. This time I went  more long than wide in terms of focal length.  For this shot I focused in tight to make a composition of a grouping of downtown Pittsburgh skyscrapers placed in the center of the photo with the edges of two other buildings making up the left and right edge frames.  Like the last image I posted from Mount Washington at sunrise, this one is also an HDR composite using several exposures blended into one because the contrast was otherwise too great to allow details to be seen in both highlights and shadows. The sunrise was really pretty amazing and lit the sky up in orange tones, though the temperature was a bit cooler than I would have liked it to be.


Pittsburgh Skyline And Weather Tower    © Howard Grill

Speaking of temperature and weather, see the building that is dead center with the multi-colored lights on top of it?  That is the old Gulf building and the lights are actually a weather beacon that relay information about temperature, precipitation, humidity, and wind velocity based on the color of the lights.  Here is a guide to decoding the information.  Using the information in the decoding manual we get a temperature of between 33-49 degrees Fahrenheit, less than 0.25 inches of precipitation, humidity less than 50%, and a wind speed of less than 10 miles an hour.

Personally, I think it's easier to open my Weather Bug app!

Piazza Lavoro By Ned Smyth

For quite some time I have enjoyed making photos of small abstract sections of painted murals, particularly the ones I have found close to home in Pittsburgh.  This  photo, while not an abstract portion, is a segment of a beautiful tile mural on Pittsburgh's North Shore (remember, we have three rivers, so we have shores).  



Segment of Ned Smyth's Piazza Lavoro    ©Howard Grill


This particular mural by Ned Smyth was installed in 1984 and is called Piazza Lavoro.  The mural was commisioned by the Heinz family (maybe you have heard of them :) and, as the accompanying plaque notes, "This two-part sculpture recognizes the significant contributions of Pittsburgh to American labor history by a symbolic representation of labor's role in our nation's development. The human figures populating the facades are engaged in this activity, while the palm trees and marine life are reminders of the delicate balance between civilization and nature."

More information about the mural/sculpture as well as photos of the entire piece can be seen on the Pittsburgh Murals website, which is an absolutely fantastic resource I ran across.  Delve in deep and in one location you can find pictures, maps, and artist information about most of the street murals in the city.

The Doors Of Pittsburgh OR Why I Photograph

I have a fair number of photographs of interesting doors from in and around the Pittsburgh area.  These types of images are pretty common and, in fact, I am sure most people have seen those posters of "Doors Of (fill in the blank)".  But I guess those posters are around because interesting doors are, well, ....interesting.....and fun. They always makes you wonder both what and who is behind them.  

It occurred to me that, though I have a lot of this type of image, I have actually processed very few of them. As I started to consider the possibility of processing a few, I remembered this one photo in particular that I had been meaning to process "for a little while now".

In fact, though I don't remember the exact street in downtown Pittsburgh where I took this, I do remember taking the photo in vivid detail.  I remember the weather, I remember waiting for the cars to go by so I could get into the street to take it, and I remember it was a Sunday. I remember the whole process.  And at this point in life I can't say that I have the world's greatest memory. So I was surprised when I looked at the metadata and saw that the photo was taken just two months shy of NINE YEARS AGO!

And that is one of the reasons I photograph.  It makes life and memories that much more vivid and indelible.  Had I walked by this storefront without making a photograph I'm sure it would just be a faded memory long forgotten.


Big Science Recording Studio    © Howard Grill


Using A Texture To Add Warmth

Some time back I had posted an image of the interior of The First Presbyterian Church Of Pittsburgh, along with a short story about how I came to be able to photograph the interior of the church that day. I always liked that picture of the interior, but in that same post I also showed a photo of the beautiful exterior doors of the church.....however, I never really felt that the photo of the doors was quite right.  It just didn't pull out the deep warm hues and the depth of the wood of the imposing doors.

In the past, I had tried several things to try to achieve the effect I felt the door deserved.  This included increasing contrast with an "S" curve, increasing saturation, painting with a warm color on a separate layer using the color blend mode and blending the image with itself using soft light or overlay blend modes. No matter what I tried, the image just never seemed .....well, I think "rich enough" or "deep enough"  are probably the best words I could use to describe it.

But I finally got it to look the way I have always envisioned it.  And I did so in a bit of an unusual way.  I had been playing around with some textures and wondered if one with warm, rich colors might give me the effect I was looking for. I picked one that I thought might work and tried blending it into the image with the soft light blend mode.  Lo and behold, it gave me the exact feel and color depth I was looking for without really screaming 'this is a texturized image'.  In fact, even viewed large, for all intents and purposes, you really can't tell that there is an underlying texture applied at all.

The final image is seen below, and I will show you what came before.


Doors of The First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh

© Howard Grill


Below is the image before the texture was applied, but after I had made all Lightroom and Photoshop adjustments. There is what appears to be a bit of glare off the surface of the varnished wood and not as much 'depth' as I had hoped for.

Doors of The First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh

Doors of The First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh


The texture below is the one that I used for the blend.  Nothing else was done to the image other than blending in the texture using a soft light blend mode at 100% opacity and making a very trivial curves adjustment .  The difference exhibited by the final image is relatively subtle, but I think very important to its feel. Sometimes the little things do make a difference. 


McConnell's Mill State Park: Pittsburgh Nature Photography II

Time for the second installment in my compendium of suggestions for nature photography in the Pittsburgh region.  As I had mentioned in my first Pittsburgh nature photography post, the ground rules for this series are:

  • I have to have personally photographed at the location and have images to show
  • The area must be within 1-1.5 hours from Pittsburgh so that it is a comfortable 'day trip'
  • The area has to be publicly accessible so that anyone reading this may go

McConnell's Mill State Park is a wonderful place to explore and photograph.  In my mind I have always divided my park excursions up into four different areas:  

  • The old mill (hence McConnell's Mill)
  • The hiking trails right around the old mill
  • Hell's Hollow
  • Other area in the park 

The mill building itself is usually closed to the public, though there are several times a year when one can go inside, but, for me, the attractiveness of the mill is what lies outside.  

The mill overlook and waterfall in McConnell's Mill State Park.

© Howard Grill

View of Slippery Rock Creek taken from the mill overlook in McConnell's Mill State Park.

© Howard Grill

In addition to the building itself, there is a man made waterfall which was, at one time, used to power the mill.  There is also a very nice walkway/balcony that affords views of the waterfall as well as views up and down Slippery Rock Creek, which is actually more the size of a small river. 

Portion of the waterfall by the mill in McConnell's Mill State Park

© Howard Grill

The covered bridge adjecent to the mill parking area, McConnell's Mill State Park, Portersville, PA

In addition to the mill, there is a lovely old covered bridge just to one side of the mill parking area.

The trails that are on either side of the mill are pretty easy in terms of hiking and terrain and if you want to be minimally more adventurous you can very easily climb down the small hillside to the numerous boulders that line the sides of the creek. You can also climb up the hillside to areas with small waterfalls that might not be present depending on the water runoff and time of year (the highest water levels tend to be in spring with the winter snow melt along with the spring showers and thunderstorms).


A transient waterfall caused by heavy rains.  I have never seen this falls form again.

© Howard Gril


The Hell's Hollow region of the park is hands down my favorite area to photograph. It is also not directly connected to the main park and a bit out of the way to locate....but don't worry, I will tell you how to get there at the end of the post.

In the spring there is an incredible array of wildflowers....trillium, phlox, trout lilies, columbine, and wild geranium to name a few. And with the water levels being high at that time of year, Hell's Hollow Falls puts on a nice show (I am not posting any images of the falls as, though I have taken many, I still don't feel that I have processed any that truly capture their essence). In the autumn the forest puts on a nice show. Summer is green time.  And in winter, well, lets not talk about that as I hate going out in the cold. Yes, I am a temperature wimp!


Trillium grandiflorum, Hell's Hollow, McConnell's Mill State Park

© Howard Grill


Trillium erectum forma luteum, Hell's Hollow, McConnell's Mill State Park

© Howard Grill


Trout Lily, Hell's Hollow, McConnell's Mill State Park

© Howard Grill


And then there are the other areas of the park.  There are lots of them, as the park encompasses 2,546 acres of forest, creek, and bridges.

Getting There:

From Pittsburgh, take 279 North to 79 North and get off at Exit 96.  Turn left at the end of the exit ramp and continue driving through Portersville, PA.  A few miles down the road there will be a small sign indicating that you need to turn left to get into the park.  The sign is not, shall we say, big. The sign for the pizza place (which you can only see the back of from this direction) is larger than the park sign.  If you pass the blue water tower on the right you have gone too far.  Once you make that left turn there are no side roads until you get into the park. 

Once you enter the park you are at a "T" and must turn left or right.  Turn left and there will be two parking areas with restrooms  a short distance from each other on the right.  The second parking area is larger.  Or follow the signs down to the mill where there is another parking area, but it is small and only accommodates six or seven cars.

What was that?  You want to go to Hell's Hollow?  Here is a link to the park map.  From the mill parking area cross Slippery Rock Creek using the covered bridge (you can't miss the bridge) and continue along McConnell's Mill Road (which is what you are on) to Fairview School Road and turn left.  Continue on Fairview School Road which, at one point, will make a sharp 90 degree turn to the right.  A mile or two down the road turn left onto Shaffer Road (there is a really, really small and low to the ground sign on the side of the road saying Hell's Hollow as you make the turn).  A short distance down the road, after you cross the very short one lane bridge, you will see the Hell's Hollow parking area on the left.  Trust me, it is worth the drive!

Where To Eat :

One place, three words: Brown's Country Kitchen. It is in the town of Portersville, PA, which you drove through after getting off at Exit 96.

Brown's Country Kitchen, the place to eat in Portersville, PA

Brown's Country Kitchen, the place to eat in Portersville, PA

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