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.

Seeing The Abstract

Lately I have found myself thinking about style, or, more specifically, about how people see.....about how I see. They are the same thing, style and how you see, more or less. I think it really is an interesting topic for everyone to ponder. What lenses you most often use gives some insight into this. For me, I tend to use a macro lens and lenses with longer focal lengths more than my other lenses. Of course that doesn't mean ALL the time, but there is a definite preponderance.

I tend to see things in little segments or abstract pieces. It's just the way I naturally see best.

Glass Abstract    © Howard Grill

Glass Abstract    © Howard Grill


The image above is a segment from a very large piece of glass art which was on display at a show in the botanical garden that I frequently go to. The piece is actually a massive pitcher plant, but I enjoyed the abstract shapes and colors that you could see in small portions of the glass even more than the piece as a whole.

Mural Abstract    © Howard Grill

Mural Abstract    © Howard Grill


Another good example is my "Mural Project", where I make photographs of very small abstract sections of large urban murals. I got to make some more of these on a trip to San Francisco a week or so ago. The Mission District is absolutely wonderful for murals (and food too)!

How do you see? How is that reflected in your photography? Give it some thought.....

More Molecules

It turns out that all murals are not the same when it comes to photographing small sections of the whole. In my post where I explained my thoughts behind this "Molecules Of Art"  project, I showed several examples from one mural I had photographed. That mural was painted onto a relatively smooth concrete wall with a very thick layer of paint. The next mural I have been working with has a very different substrate. In this case the mural is painted on a very rough and textured concrete wall with a thin layer of paint, making the texture of the wall itself become integrated into the mural.

In some ways the integrated texture makes the abstract nature of the image harder to work with, as I would prefer to direct the viewer's mind to the colors and shapes. On the other hand, maybe there is something different here. Maybe the texture just becomes part of the experience. 

Needless to say, I am still playing with these ideas.


Mural Abstract 4    © Howard Grill


Molecules Of Art?

There is an idea I have had for a photographic project that has been nagging at me for several years. I keep trying to ignore it because I don't know if others will find it interesting, but it just won't let go. Realizing that others not finding something interesting is really not a good reason to not pursue it, I decided to give in to that little voice.

So what is this project? I have spoken about it before, but just touched on what it is about. The truth is that I am not yet sure exactly what it actually is about.....but perhaps that makes it a good idea to talk about.

Murals. I see murals. Well everyone sees them. You know the kind I am talking about.....the kind that are painted on the sides of buildings. Well, I can enjoy the mural taken as a whole and as the artist meant for it to be seen. But then I see these little segments of it. Little segments that themselves look like small pieces of abstract art in a way that is different from the original intent of the artist


Mural Abstract 1


These small pieces of the whole somehow look like they could be complete works to me.

Mural Abstract 2

A somewhat bizarre thought, that a piece of artwork could be composed of many, many smaller pieces of art that have nothing to do with the whole and don't resemble it in the least. Molecules of art?

Mural Abstract 3

The colors are vivid, but I think it also works reasonably well in toned black and white.


Mural Abstract In Toned Black And White    © Howard Grill


Chapel In The Woods

While at Callaway Gardens in Georgia, I had the opportunity to visit their gorgeous Chapel In The Woods (the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel). It was just outside the chapel that I took the picture of an iris that I posted a few weeks ago. I had the opportunity to go into the chapel at just the perfect the sun was streaming through the stained glass windows:


Window I    © Howard Grill


Window II    © Howard Grill


In Camera Texture

One thing I am growing more fond of is layering textures on photographs. But despite the appearance, that is NOT what today's blog post image is.  In fact, except for the conversion to a cyanotype tinted black and white image and the edge treatment, this image was made totally 'in-camera', which is why I couldn't resist taking the photo. And I should add that despite the fact that I took the photo right after the recent big snowstorm (well, it was big on the coast, but being about 400 miles inland we only got about 5 inches of the white stuff) it was not snowing at the time the shutter was clicked!


"Snow"    © Howard Grill


So how did the image get this textured appearance? As I was going on my post-snowstorm photo-walk, I took a stroll through a nearby college campus.  As I walked by the library, I noticed that the front facade of the building was covered with a dark brown granite or granite-like polished stone that had large 'flecks' of other colors in it.  If you stood at a specific angle to the stone you could, because of the way the sun was hitting it, see a strong reflection of a university hall, lampost, and a snow covered stone wall that was behind it. I thought it looked pretty cool!

After taking the photo through Lightroom to make basic adjustments it was brought into Silver Efex Pro to convert it to black an white and apply the vintage edge. Then , in Photoshop, I used a curves adjustment layer to increase the contrast a bit and I applied the slightest amount of Gaussian Blur to try to decrease the harsh edges of the 'flecks'. Then I toned the image a blue color to fit the cold subject.

I thought the final image had an interesting 'dreamy' appearance such that you know what it the subject is, but with a sense that you aren't quite sure if it is 'real' or how it was made.

Blue Period

Don't most artists have a 'Blue Period"? Well, here is one from my own blue period :)

Lake Superior Abstract

This is a long exposure of Lake Superior from my recent trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  I liked the simple juxtaposition of the different shades of blue with the hard edge between them contrasted with the soft edge of the clouds. The long exposure was to smooth out and simplify the water in order to make the image a contrast of colors alone without having to think about 'what it is'. I also willingly broke the 'don't cut the frame in half' rule.

Mosaic Abstract, Piazza Lavoro

A few weeks ago I had posted an image from my mural series, taken from a portion of Pittsburgh's Piazza Lavoro mural by Ned Smyth.  I had the opportunity to visit that location again recently and became fixated on another aspect of the mural; something I hadn't seen before.  It is interesting how at times one's mind sees one thing and on other occasions at the same location it sees things which are totally different.

On this occasion, rather than seeing 'stand alone' portions of the mural (as in my prior post), I kept seeing very small segments which made abstract patterns and lines.  I couldn't help but take a whole series of compositions.  This is the first of the bunch that I have processed.


Mosaic Abstract From Piazza Lavoro    © Howard Grill


Mesquite Dunes Abstract

In my last post I spoke about how making photographs of the Mesquite Dunes in Death Valley required a different "way of seeing" since the process was more about making abstracts than it was taking photos of sand dunes.  Well, while out making those photographs I took a few minutes to see if I could take the process one step further by making abstracts of abstracts!

How so?  I decided to try making some 'swipe' images.  These are photographs that are purposefully made into  abstracts  by moving the camera while the shutter is open during the exposure.  You simply 'swipe' your camera across the scene.  This is a process I have used before, but usually in the vertical direction while photographing trees (you generally want to move the camera in the same direction as the strongest lines in the scene).  Here, photographing the dunes, the strongest lines are in the horizontal direction and thus the movement is in that direction.  I still kept the camera on the tripod during the process as the support from below helped me to stay more horizontal during the movement.  Somehow I managed to stay horizontal enough to keep the ridges in the sand fairly smooth in the final picture.

The final adjustments and adding a bit of skew as well as the conversion to black and white with toning were all added in Photoshop.

Mesquite Dunes Abstract    © Howard Grill

Mesquite Dunes

During the workshop I recently attended in Death Valley, the group had two occasions to photograph the magnificent Mesquite Sand Dunes.  The size and vastness of the dunes are hard to describe! The time to photograph the dunes is in the morning or evening when the sun is low in the sky, particularly on a cloudless day.  With few clouds and the sun low in the sky the light is very directional and certain areas of the dunes that are brightly lit are juxtaposed with areas in shadow, drawing abstract patterns across the landscape.

Making photographs here requires a different way of seeing.  No longer are you photographing sand dunes but, rather, you are making abstract photographs based on lines, shapes, and tones. In my mind, converting the image to black and white removes the last vestige of 'what it is' and allows the viewer to simply dwell upon the these abstract features.

This is the first photo of the dunes that I have processed since returning from the trip.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley    © Howard Grill


I love abstract images and wish I took the opportunity to make more of them, or at least process the ones that I have taken.  With that thought in mind, I went back to process one that I have been meaning to work on since I took it last summer. Of course, abstracts are not at all about what the actual object is but, rather, about what it makes you feel and think.  That said, I know that after I take a bit of time to 'take in' an abstract photo I often wonder what it really was a picture of....not because it affects the image in any way but just out of curiosity.  So I will leave you to ponder this photograph for a few moments and then you can sneak down below it to see what it is (just in case you are curious).

Copyright Howard Grill

So what is it a photo of???  This image was made in the same old car and truck graveyard as this one and is a cracked car windshield.  The image was converted to black and white and then toned.

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Motion Abstracts

Sometimes my mood determines what images I decide to process. A few days back I wasn't feeling quite so happy as it had become quite clear that winter was here to stay.  As you might have guessed, the cold and the snow is not something that particularly excites me.

Many folks probably know how this type of image is made, but, for those that don't, it is done entirely 'in-camera' and not after the fact in Photoshop.  This is actually a stand of tall trees and with the camera on a tripod (though these can certainly be done hand-held as well; the tripod simply makes it easier for me) a long shutter speed is chosen (sometimes, depending on the lighting conditions, a polarizer or neutral density filter will need to be used to decrease the amount of light reaching the sensor and allowing for a longer shutter speed).  The camera is moved up and down during the exposure.  Like a pitch or a golf swing, it is best to start the movement before releasing the shutter and to 'follow-through' with smooth, continued motion after the shutter closes in order to ensure that the motion doesn't stop or start abruptly during the exposure itself. Of course, you don't have to limit yourself to movement in the up and down direction, you can be as creative with the motion as you would like.  Try anything; nobody gets hurt.  The worst that could happen is that images that get deleted.

As you might imagine, the results are very hit-or-miss.  Most don't work. But when they do, they can be very intriguing.


Purple Haze

Copyright Howard Grill

At the time I was working on this image 'Purple Haze' just seemed to be the right title.  And a friend assured me that it is perfectly all right to call it that even though it isn't purple.  

For any readers that are too young to understand the 'Purple Haze' reference, start your education here :)

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Palouse Patchwork

Back to my recent trip to the Palouse...... Photographing in the Palouse was pure joy because there was a photo to be made almost anywhere you looked and in almost any light.  Because there were different crops being grown side by side, and because the different crops had different shades of green and different rates of growth, the landscape was just a patchwork of color that took on an abstract feel.

I have always enjoyed photos where a small detail is important or helps to define the image. In this image I feel that the tree, even though it is quite small in the photograph, plays an important role in 'grounding' and orienting the image to the viewer.

"Palouse Patchwork"


In my post entitled "Interesting Things Everywhere", I described how using Photoshop's invert command converted an abstract image I had made into a much more interesting photograph.  As such, I thought it might prove interesting to try it with my black and white flower images, perhaps one that was particularly abstract appearing. The inversion yielded quite an interesting result with this mum, at least I think so. As a friend of mine pointed out, the inverson seems to really make the spirals far more apparent than in the original, which is below the inversion. I wonder if that is because the inversion removes the idea of the photograph being a flower and allows our brain to now see more, without it being constrained with  pre-conceived ideas about what the subject is. Once free of the label perhaps we can become more aware and start to see shapes and patterns.  I don't know.....just a thought.  But I think this may be something that is worth trying on subjects that have a particularly abstract appearance to them.

Mum.....The Inverted

Mum....The Original

Copyright Howard Grill

Interesting Things Everywhere

One can find interesting things to photograph anywhere!  It is just a matter of seeing. Taking a break from photographing old cars, I took a short walk down what looked like a pretty bland street.  I am by far not the greatest 'see-er' but I happen to be in a creative mood and one thing did catch my eye.

There was an old store that was partially boarded up with plywood sheeting that had been painted white.  The wood was old and the paint was peeling.  Underneath the peeling portions the wood was black and made interesting patterns.  I took a series of shots thinking they would make interesting abstracts, but when I processed the images I couldn't quite draw out of them what I was hoping for. The large expanse of white paint made them look too bland despite the abstract patterns.  Until I tried inverting one of the images......

Wood Abstract

Rolling Hills Of The Palouse

As I mentioned in my last two posts, I recently returned from a superb workshop in the Palouse region run by John Barclay and Dan Sniffin.  The workshop started with a visit to a location meant to orient us to how to see and photograph what is so characteristic of the area.....rolling hills that seem to go on forever.  The best way to portray them, at least in this particular area which did not have barns or grain elevators (and, yes, we visited many areas that did have both and that added another dimension to the photos), was as abstract images using a long lens.  The long lens (in this case a 400 mm f5.6) was able to isolate interesting areas of the landscape while also 'compressing' the distance between the hills. As you can see from the crop, even a 400 was barely long enough on my full frame camera.  So if you visit, bring the longest lens you have and/or a body with a crop factor that uses less than a full frame sensor.

The rolling hills of the Palouse form an abstract image.

Rolling Hills