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.

Rolling Mountains

Sometimes the whole of an image just doesn't work, but within it is a portion that does.  Such was the case with this photo from my recent trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  The entire vista contained in the original image didn't seem interesting enough to hold my attention.  But within it I saw a portion that I liked because of the shapes the lines of the rolling hills made. So I limited the image to what I liked about it.  Sometimes, you just have to know when to crop!

Copyright Howard Grill

32 Bit Lightroom Processing - First Attempt

A few posts ago, I recommended a tutorial on processing 32 bit images in Lightroom, which produces HDR type photos that tend to be halo free and more photo-realistic (I know you can make photo-realistic images with Photomatix and other HDR software, but it just seems harder to do so).  Well, I took my own advice and tried it. My first attempt was actually with an image that I didn't think would benefit much from that type of processing, but, nonetheless, I just wanted to give it a try and see.  The image was from my post of April 29th, and I have copied the original (non-32 bit) processed photo below.  This was processed from an underexposed image so as to give a more dramatic view of the sky and to silhouette the mountains.

Copyright Howard Grill

The 32 bit processed image allowed me to maintain the silhouette, but pull out detail in the midtones to darks that were not easily extracted before and certainly not without more noise.  After Lightroom 32 bit processing, the image was finished with tonal contrast applied in Nik ColorEfex and some local layer adjustments for the sky.  I also cropped a bit off the bottom for better balance. The result is below and I do believe the 32 bit processing gave a superior result:

Copyright Howard Grill

As you might expect, the differences are much more apparent in larger images!

Where I've Been

As I mentioned in my review of the Gura Gear Bataflae 32L, I recently had the opportunity to spend a week photographing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It really is a fantastic (and exhausting) experience to be able to devote a week to just photography, especially when you get to do it with a few similar minded friends! Having returned, I have just finished the job of importing, keywording etc.  The editing job is now beginning.  Below is an early 'pick' that I put through some quick processing as a taste of more to come.  One of the defining characteristics of the Smokies is the amazing layering of the mountain ridges:

Smoky Mountain Ridges

Copyright Howard Grill

Interestingly, I took a series of exposures of this scene anticipating an HDR image but, while reviewing the photographs, realized that this single image really conveyed the feel of being there.  So why make life complicated.  This single exposure says it all.

Morton's Overlook

Last April, when I was on my trip to Smoky Mountains National Park, I had the opportunity to photograph sunset at the well known Morton's Overlook.  I wrote about that in a post back in August describing my first panoramic image. Recently, I was going through some of the photos that I had ranked highly from that trip but not yet processsed.  One of the images was not a frame that went into the panorama, though it could well have been.  Interestingly, what I found was that I actually liked this single frame and it's format more than the panorama simply because it brought focus more directly on what had attracted me to the scene in the first place, which was the overlapping shapes of the mountains.

A good is always a good idea to pay attention to what draws you to a scene in the first place in order to make the strongest possible composition and visually communicate what you were thinking.

Morton's Overlook

Copyright Howard Grill

The Other 1%

When out in the field photographing, 99% of the times things don't go exactly the way you might like them to.  Then there is that 1%. During my trip to Smoky Mountains National Park back in April, I was photographing on Clingman's Dome. I was taking shots of a group of dead trees using a 70-200mm lens.  Suddenly I saw a bird land on top of one of the dead trunks.  I thought it would make a very nice silhouette picture, but it needed a much closer viewpoint than the 200mm lens could provide.  I had my 400mm f5.6 lens with me but never thought the bird would stay put long enough for me to change over to it.  So I clicked off a few shots with the 70-200. Not expecting success, I decided to try to make the switch over to the 400mm.

So I went ahead and took the camera off the tripod and switched lenses.  I was amazed to find that the bird was actually still there!  Then I started moving quickly because I thought there might actually be half a chance of making the image.  I composed, manually focused with live view, and knocked off a shot or two.

Then I got greedy.  The way I composed the image the best pose,in my mind, would be for the bird to look off to the left where there was more empty space as well as another tree.  Yup, the bird did it and I took the picture.

It doesn't usually work out this way, but I was glad it did!

Bird And Tree

Copyright Howard Grill

In terms of processing, there was little I had to do to the image.  First, I added just a touch of contrast and a bit of sharpening to the main silhouette of the tree and bird.  The image was actually made at sunrise with fog in the air and the actual color was a very muddy orange, which just didn't look all that appealing to me.  So I decided to turn the clock back an hour or two and changed the color temperature to a much cooler bluish hue.

Sometimes it comes easy.  Most of the time it doesn't.

Summer Trees II

A few posts back I related a story about someone watching me photograph summer trees and how difficult it was for her to see anything of interest in the arrangements the trees made.

I thought I would offer one more picture from that session: 

Summer Trees II

Copyright Howard Grill

I added just a bit of softness and 'glow' to the trees and leaves in post-processing to try to convey the feel of being surrounded by these trees!

Summer Trees

I enjoy making photos of trees.  But let's face it, it is a whole lot easier to do in the fall when the forest is filled with color, in the winter when the bare trees make interesting minimalist shapes, and in the spring when the trees are covered with colorful, fluorescent appearing buds.  I personally find the summer the most difficult time to make images of trees.  They are!  This was an issue during my recent trip to the Smoky Mountains.  As I mentioned in a prior post, I missed the wildflowers because they bloomed a month early this year and the mountain laurel still had not come into bloom. There were fantastic mountains, sunrises, sunsets, water, and trees...lots of green trees. When out hiking I was constantly looking through the viewfinder, generally with my 70-200 lens, trying to isolate interesting patterns that the trees made. I am was never really quite sure I knew what I was looking for but I would always know when I found it.  It usually revolved about finding an order or a pleasing pattern to the trunks, branches and leaves.  At one point, I was on a trail that was fairly heavily used.  As I was walking and looking through the viewfinder at patches of trees that I thought might contain what I was looking for, I found a pleasing pattern  I stopped and set up my camera and tripod.  I honestly can not recall if the image in this post was that particular one or not, but it really doesn't matter.

A woman who was hiking by walked up to me with some interest and asked what I was photographing.  "Trees" I told her....and she visibly registered disappointment, hoping for something more interesting.  "Why trees?" she asked as she was about to walk away.  Hoping to regain her interest, I told her that it wasn't really the trees that I was photographing but, rather, the interesting shapes they made when you just looked at a area of them.  And I asked her if she wanted to see what I meant by looking at the picture on my LCD.  "Sure" she said.  I showed her the Live View image and she still looked at me quizzically.  "It's just trees" she said, and she walked away.

Summer Trees

Copyright Howard Grill


I had previously mentioned in my post about editing that I had gone on a photo trip with two friends to Smoky Mountains National Park and that I was spending a bit of time editing those images.  I have completed the editing process and have just finished processing the first of these images.

Smoky Ridges I

Copyright Howard Grill

Smoky Ridges II

Copyright Howard Grill

These are obviously the same image with different toning.  I find the journey to a final image is often interesting and frequently unplanned, at least for me.  This image started as an HDR sequence, but when going through the sequence I found that I particularly liked one of the underexposed images which turned the mountain ridges into simple graphic shapes. I therefore abandoned the HDR idea and stuck with the one exposure that drew my attention.  And that underexposed version had a brownish sepia color that seemed to suit the image. I also noticed that many of my early morning images had a decidedly blue tint, and I enjoyed that as well.

So how did I end up with these final photos?  I felt that the 'simple graphic shape underexposed image' could be simplified even further by converting to black and white in order to remove any color that was not the pure tint.  I did the conversion using Silver EFex Pro 2 and made two versions, a sepia/brown one and a cyanotype/blue one.  I then cropped off the bottom 25% or so of the image, as I found that the darker tones at the bottom of the photo drew attention away from the more interesting changes in tonality evident at the top.

Finally, I found the image (particularly the sky) to be a bit too bland and therefore blended some textures into the photograph.  I ultimately used two textures for each image, one for the sky and the other for the mountains.  The sky texture is the same for both, though applied at different opacities, while the mountain textures are different for each version.  I felt the gentle application of the textures gave the images a more interesting and 'grittier feel'.


I recently had the good fortune of selling a large number of prints to a local hospital system via a gallery they use to choose and install the artwork.  Because of the gallery's standards regarding artwork in health care facilities, there were certain types of scenes that they were particularly interested in and others that they did not want to display.  They therefore wanted print options for display beyond what I have on my website.  Based on their interests I had to go back through my archives and generate completed files from my unedited RAW files.......and I have to admit that for the most part I really liked the images choices I generated for them. But the point of this post is not that sale.  The point is that I had years and years of unedited images.  And by that I don't mean unprocessed, I mean unedited. As in picking the keepers from the throw aways, the wheat from the chaff, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I realized that I have thousands of images (many of them duplicates with slightly different apertures, focus points etc) with no separation of the ones that might be worth showing or printing other than the ones that I thought were my absolute best images. It turns out that what I thought was my best was not always what they thought was my best.  And though they picked some that I thought were among my best works,  they also picked a good number that I would not have considered five star images.  But I still thought they were good.  And there they were, hidden among the hundreds and hundreds of other images.  And since I just went through them with an eye for the particular types of images they wanted,  I know there are other good ones in there that didn't fit what they told me they were looking for.  How much easier would it have been had I, years ago, done at least some sort of star ranking and not just print the few I thought were 'portfolio material', leaving the rest behind.

I am not talking about keeping lousy images or showing work that is garbage in the hopes that someone likes it.  I am talking about knowing which are your good to very good photographs.  Ones that you can still be glad to be associated with even if they are not your portfolio star performers.  I now recognize the importance of this for two reasons.  One, not everyone necessarily agrees with the artist's taste and ideas and the 'consumer' might absolutely love the photograph that you think is just good.  Peoples' tastes are different.  Secondly, there may be (as there was in this case) extraneous rules or limitations about what can be used by a potential client who may be looking for a very specific type of image that is not a 'star performer'.  The best chocolate cake in the world will not satisfy someone who is shopping for apple pie.

So, with this knowledge, I am changing my habits and changing them now.  About two or three weeks ago I went on a fantastic trip with two of my photography buddies to Smoky Mountain National Park.  The trip had initially been planned for wildflower season but, because of the unusually warm February and March, the April wildflowers bloomed a month early and we totally missed them.  Nonetheless, there were still abundant photo ops and we had a great time and came away with many good images.  However, as anyone reading this probably knows, to get many good ones you often take hundreds that don't quite make the cut and never see the light of day.  I will not let these 1500 or so images fade into obscurity.  It takes a good deal of time, but I am editing all of these and all  future  images as I go.  Though I may do preliminary processing on all the top picks I clearly will only print my favorites, which may only number ten or so.  But I will have at least separated out the really good ones into a Lightroom collection that I can show while having easy access to a number of images that are culled and ready to use.

I think this is a good practice that I had not been doing regularly.  If you aren't doing this perhaps you should consider it as well.