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 Edges Are Always Interesting

There is a saying in photography that goes something like this:  'if you are looking for something interesting to photograph always look at the edges'. The edges are where interesting things occur. Look for photographic opportunities where water meets land, where sky meets horizon, where storm-clouds meet clear skies. It is where 'the battle' takes place. I think that looking for interest at the edges is a good strategy even for simple everyday things. Like plants.


Edges    © Howard Grill


Simple Graphic Lines

I enjoy images that have simple, graphic lines that make up the composition.  I was carrying my little Olympus camera when I was walking in Barcelona on vacation this last summer. I was immediately attracted to this scene near Park Guell.


Street Corner, Barcelona, Spain    © Howard Grill


The photo is not really about the corner or the staircase (well, OK, it's about that a little bit). It is really more about the straight lines made by the staircase, banister, corner, and lightpost in contrast to the sweeping curve of stone at the top of the image.

The Rule Of Thirds

I think the "Rule of Thirds" ought to be called the "Guideline Of Thirds".  It is certainly a good 'rule' to keep in mind and most often gives very pleasing results.  But to call it a rule implies that nothing good will ever come from breaking it.  A guideline is, well, a guideline.  Something to be considered and used when appropriate, which is not always. 

The "Rule of Thirds" says that the strip of land at the bottom of this image should take up the entire bottom third of the photograph. But when making the photo (this was one from my trip to the Palouse last spring), I found myself thinking about what the image was really about.  It was really about the sky.  So I made it about the sky and left only a thin strip of land at the bottom in order to 'ground' the photo.  Rule broken.  For the better in this case, at least I think so!


Palouse Sunset


As an aside, my blog commenting problem that existed for some browsers in some circumstances has now been remedied. So, if you are so moved, comment away!  It is always fun to get comments....

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

Birches In Snow

With it having snowed last weekend, I could not ignore my very public New Year's resolution to get out in the cold and make more photographs this winter than I have in the past.  So out I went.

Birch Trees In Snow

Copyright Howard Grill

I was particularly drawn to the way the tree trees lined up and the way that the snow simplified the photograph and made it all about lines and shapes.

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


Every photographer has a different style.  It usually takes a good deal of time to understand what exactly that style is when the photographer is yourself.  As I have mentioned in the past, one of the things I understand about my own photography is that I like portraying clean, simple lines and shapes in my images.  One of the ways to do this is to simplify the photograph.   By this I mean removing clutter and isolating the parts of the image that portray just what you are feeling about the subject. It is often said that what is outside the frame can be just as important as what is inside the frame.  I first saw this demonstrated almost 10 years ago when I 'returned' to photography after a long hiatus (see my bio).  At that point, I attended a photography workshop by John and Barbara Gerlach.  During one of their lectures, John showed a photo of a cluttered, messy forest scene with no organization whatsoever. It revealed what the location looked like when he walked into a forest clearing.  He asked the workshop participants if they could see a picture within the clutter.  He then showed a series of images that slowly honed in on the final composition, with each photo placing more and more of the landscape outside the frame until he ultimately ended up with a beautifully composed image.  Truth be told, I don't even remember what the final image was anymore.  But I don't think John would mind; the fact is that I remember that very important lesson......a lesson that was meaningful enough to me that it ultimately became part of my style of photographic expression.

What brought all this to mind?  In my last post, I showed this photo that I took at Jennings Environmental Education Center (for more on Jennings see the 8/3/11 post):

Blazing Star

Blazing Star

Liatris spicata

Copyright Howard Grill

What I didn't show was what the prairie scene looked like when I first came upon it.  When I looked out on the prairie, the first thought that came into my mind (after admiring and being amazed at its beauty) in regards to composing a picture was the lesson that John Gerlach had taught that day.

Some photographers have styles that are very effective at communicating a feeling using the whole prairie at once.  But without a foreground that could be set apart from the rest of the image, I felt a strong need to simply simplify.


This photograph was taken during my recent trip to Cuyahoga National Park.  Because of recent torrential rains, our focus was drawn away from the water, which was colored a cocoa brown from mud and silt that had run into the river and eroded from its shore.  Not very photogenic! While hiking along the shore, I was drawn to a dogwood tree that seemed to be in the final stages of blooming.  My goal was to make an image based on the idea of simplicity.  Using a fairly wide aperture, I selectively focused on the center of just one flower.  At first, I was concerned that the flower was not perfect, showing early stages of wilting on one of it's petals, but then I decided that this actually added to its appeal.

I liked the image in color, but a toned black and white conversion seemed to better convey the mood I was looking for:


Copyright Howard Grill

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

Move Towards The Light

Images of people walking through tunnels or dark spaces towards a bright light seem to have a universal draw.  One of my favorite zone plate images (Dreamscapes #4), which I have recently posted on this blog, is just such an image.  I recently ran across an article specifically about such compositions with numerous excellent examples and thought I would share it with the readers of this blog. So check out this article on the Fotoblur website entitled "Tunnel Of Light" by Lance Ramoth.