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.

Sun Ball

Since Sunday was a rainy day, I went with some friends to our usual ‘nasty day’ photographic haven, Phipps Conservatory. The display is going to be changing over to to the Fall Flower Show fairly soon and I had photographed the current show several times already. But the ‘Sun Balls’, as they are known, was something I hadn’t previously noticed. Or maybe they just hadn’t been in bloom yet.

Sun Ball or ‘Craspedia globosa’

Sun Ball or ‘Craspedia globosa’


These lovely flowers are native to Australia and New Zealand and are perennials. Their common names are ‘Sun Balls’ or ‘Billy Buttons’.

I thought it would be interesting to show what the scene looked like before I isolated the flower and processed it to give the look I was trying to achieve. The cell phone shot I took of the scene is posted below. I often take cell shots like this when at the conservatory so that I can reference the names of the plants after the shoot.


Callaway Gardens Iris

Sometimes it can be difficult to get an image to look the way you envision it as in your mind. Take, for example, this iris. I have been playing with it on and off for quite some time and even posted it before, but I could never really get it to look the way in envisioned it in my mind’s eye.

A couple days ago I decided to give it another try. And somehow, for some reason things just started to click and it finally came out the way I had envisioned it all along!

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


Blazing Stars - The Annual Pilgrimage

Every year, at the end of July through the beginning of August, my 'photo friends' and I make our annual pilgrimage to Jennings Environmental Education Center to see the blooming Liatris spicata, more commonly known as Blazing Stars. While you can perhaps find them growing in gardens, the open prairie of Jennings is the only place in Western Pennsylvania where they grow naturally. The open prairies of the Midwest is otherwise their natural habitat.

Every year, besides the 'standard' type photographs, I try to do something a bit different. This time around, I tried to not only photograph the plants, but to also photograph what it felt like to be there surrounded by them out in the open fields.

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill



During my April trip to Georgia, the group I was with went to visit the Callaway Gardens Chapel In The Woods, a very peaceful location.  A few purple irises were growing at the edge of the water just in front of the chapel. I spent a good deal of time working on the camera position to try to get a background that didn't detract from the beautiful simplicity of the flower.

Working to get a good composition and a clean background can really make or break a photograph. I like the results I got in this composition.  I positioned the camera relatively high so that the water behind and in the distance from the flower would serve as a clean background. The focal length of the lens was 300mm (using my 100-400 zoom) which was able to blur any details in the water because of the limited depth of field at 300mm, even at f8. The sky was blue and thus the water itself had a bluish tonality, complementing the flower.



Backlit Tulip

Photography is all about light, and I think one of the most dramatic types of light is backlighting, particularly when the light is coming through or around a transparent or translucent object.  At the end of March I was walking indoors through the small botanical garden near my home (Spring still seemed a long way off, though it should have already arrived) when I saw sunlight streaming through one of the glass walls of the greenhouse.  That is usually a good sign to check and see if there are any flowers that are appropriately shaped to take advantage of backlighting.  There were some freshly blooming tulips, and one in particular was right in the 'beam' of light that was streaming in behind it.  The yellow tulip seemed to be on fire and lit from within.  

The tulip was growing in a window-box of sorts and so it wasn't too difficult to make the photo at 'eye'level'.  I decided to put the focus on the area where the stem turns into flower and let the rest of the bloom simply explode into a blur of yellow flames.

New eBook - Photographs And Poems

The Floral Forms eBook

The Floral Forms eBook

I am pleased to announce that I have recently completed another eBook! The Floral Forms eBook is a book of photographs and poetry that is a collaboration between myself and and writer/poet Michelle Levasseur. 

I 'met’ Michelle and discovered her poetry on Google Plus. She wrote poems to accompany her photographs. Her words added meaning to her images, peeling away their outer context and enhancing them. I was a fan of her poetry and she was a fan of my photography. We commented on each oth­er’s work. A collaboration seemed appropriate. One of the wonders of the internet is that we were able to carry on the collaboration without ever meeting, as I live in the eastern portion of The United States and she lives in the western portion of Canada!

The 24 photographs in the eBook are from my "Botanicals In Black And White Portfolio" in which I concentrate on the easily overlooked forms, lines, and shapes of flowers.  These qualities are much more evident in black and white than in color.

Michelle has written 24 poems, each one as an emotional response to a specific image.  Her heartfelt and passionate poetry adds depth and meaning to the photos.  As I read each poem, it became clear to me how the words were joined to and specific for each individual photograph.

I am offering the 60 page eBook with all 24 images in high resolution along with the 24 poems for $2.99.  That's right, less than the cost of your morning a matter of fact, it might make for some pretty cool reading to go along with that latte, as it is also formatted for mobile devices! Click here for more information; just scroll down to Floral Forms or click here to purchase.

As a 'teaser', here is a sample from the book:


A whirlpool of dancers

Chaotic, hypnotic

Mating in shadow

Meeting in the shade of now


See me, see you

Through a gauzy veil

The haze of numb love

As the silent dancers tumble and turn us

Like leaves in the wind

We move to that silent beat



Savor the sudden lull

The quieted breath held

Hear whispers, dulled roars

A heartbeat begins to fill our souls, fire our spirits

A beat that lives elsewhere

A beat from the outside




Photo Copyright Howard Grill

Poem Copyright Michelle Levasseur


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The Palouse In Spring

There seem to be two prime times to visit the Palouse in Eastern Washington / Western Idaho. The first is around June, when the various crops are in their early stages, with patchworks of abstract greens and browns (from areas being allowed to lay fallow), and the second is in August, when the harvest occurs.

One of the bonuses of visiting in the spring is the possibility of finding bright yellow fields of canola in bloom.  Why do I say 'possibility'? The first reason is that there are not all that many canola fields and the second is that the canola flowers don't bloom for very long.

Well, sometimes you're lucky and sometimes you are just with the right people who know where to look (like John Barclay and Dan Sniffin).  We ended up finding several fields of canola during the workshop I attended in the Palouse, of which this was one.

I decided to break the usual photographic compositional rules here and allow the frame to be divided exactly in half.  Sometimes it works and the rules should be broken.  It seemed to work in this image, at least for me! I don't think it would have were it not for the clouds, which further subdivided the blue portion of the image.


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

Trout Lily

One of the wildflowers that I seem to have missed in years past is the trout lily. They are quite small, which is one reason I may have missed them, but they also have beautiful speckled leaves.  This year I was a bit early, as they were out, but the flowers had not yet fully opened.  However, even closed they possess a very dainty beauty.  They are a bit tough to photograph on their long stalks with the flowers drooped downwards, as the slightlest breeze makes them bounce all over. It was this constant movement that made me want to make a photo with a shallow depth of field, which I felt would impart that feeling of motion by blurring most of the flower but still show the delicateness by leaving a small area of the plant sharp.  The connection of the stalk to the flower seemed to me to be the best area to focus on.

Trout Lily


What does one do when a self-contained project appears completed?  Or at least completed enough that it can stand alone now even if more were added later?  This is an important question if one of your goals is to get your work 'out there'......if you want to get it seen. Brooks Jensen, the editor of LensWork, has commented on this issue many times in his writings and podcasts.  In the current era there are many, many ways to get your work seen by an audience.  In fact, any one person might choose to put their project into several different formats in order to have it available to a larger audience.  For example, an exhibit is only available to those who live locally.  Putting together a folio that one could sell might limit the number of people that can see your work because of the necessary price point. Brooks has advocated having multiple formats/media so that you do the work in order to make it easier for others to view and appreciate what you have put together.

Now that I have finished my black and white flower project entitled "Floral Forms" and written an artist's statement, I thought it might be worthwhile to enumerate my plans for the project in terms of making it available to an audience.  One of the issues, of course, is that (unless you are intimately familiar with all the software involved) it does take a good deal of time to learn the software and, at least for me, a lot of time to get the jobs done. This takes time away from new projects or from working on the large amount of images I have waiting to be edited and processed.  Nonetheless, I do think it is time well spent because, in the end, if very few people see the work it might as well just stay on your hard drive!

So without further ado, here are some of my thoughts and plans regarding "Floral Forms":

Exhibit The Prints:

Yes, but where?  When looking for a place to have a show one has to be reasonable in terms of how your project might mesh with the venue.  And, oh yes, you must have thick skin and be able to take rejection well.  I thought the project would go well at the botanical garden where I took a good many of the photos.  But how does one present this possibility, especially when unsolicited?

I am sure there are many ways, but the following is what I typically do.  I don't send digital images when seeking a display that was not solicited.  It seems just too easy to me to click through rapidly and be done.  Since I am proud of my prints, I send a series of 8x10 prints, and not on proofing paper.  I send them on the final fine art paper.  That way the recipient has your best work and is able to handle and interact with it.  I send a cover letter explaining the project and why I think it would be appropriate to display in their particular venue along with a short artist's statement.  If the project is a large one I might send 10 or 20 prints rather than the whole project, to give a solid taste of what the quality is.  Really, it just isn't that expensive a thing to do, especially if you compare it to the cost of matting and framing if the recipient is actually interested in giving you a show!

In addition to giving an email address to return contact, I also mention in the letter that I hope it is all right to follow up with a phone call in a week or two in order to see if they are interested.  You need to make the effort to follow up.  The recipient might well be interested but gets bogged down in a million different different things until your prints disappear under a pile of paperwork.  Just because you don't hear back spontaneously doesn't mean they aren't interested.  Also, if they are not interested, the call still gives you that contact and perhaps an informative explanation of why you are being turned down. There are things one can learn from rejection!

In the case of my project, I found out who the correct contact would be to send the prints to at the botanical garden and they are quite interested in displaying the prints in the gallery they have in their lobby. They are booked until next fall and they would like to consider a show for the spring or summer of 2015.  Yes, it is a way off.....but still a great potential opportunity that I am pleased to have received.


If you are not familiar with the folio concept (also created by Brooks Jensen) you can find information about the two prior folios I have put together here.  I do plan to make folios from this project as well.  Because the folio holder only comfortably holds ten prints with the supporting material, this project will have a volume 1 and 2.

This post has covered what I plan to do with physical prints.  In my next post, I will talk about my plans using electronic media.  I have one plan that I am particularly excited about that involves a collaboration......but more on that next time!

The Artist's Statement

The artist's statement can be very difficult to write. It is often filled with artspeak that is incomprehensible to the average everyday viewer. I found myself wanting to write a very plain and simple statement to go with my black and white botanical project which I am calling "Floral Forms". I wanted it to clearly state what the project was about without a lot of verbiage that would make the average "non-artist" viewer roll their eyes. The following is what I came up with. Have I succeeded?


One of the most prominent characteristics of flowers are their brilliant and varied colors. So why would anyone want to portray them in black and white?

We don’t live in a monochrome world. Colors are our reality and one of the first things we tend to notice. In fact, the more vivid the color the more it attracts our attention and becomes an object’s dominant characteristic. Removing that color from a flower, or any other object, allows us to concentrate on other attributes. We can start to appreciate a flower’s form, shape, curves, and lines. We can pay more attention to the various characteristics that previously had to take a “back seat” to color.

It is my intent that these images allow the viewer to see a flower’s beauty in a new way; a way that might have been easily overlooked. Black and white allows us to see differently. It affords a way of seeing that focuses on “Floral Forms”.

When Color Becomes Black And White

As I have been working on my flower photographs, I have found that some images just seem to 'work' in black and white.  And I have found that it can sometimes be difficult to predict when that is going to be the case.  What I have therefore been doing is to take photos where the flowers have interesting forms and shapes and quickly try a black and white conversion.  By that I mean spending 60 seconds on it, or, at times, just looking at it in Lightroom by hovering over a series of  black and white presets that I have, even though I don't do my conversions in Lightroom (I use the Silver Efex Pro plug in for Photoshop......not that you can't do a great conversion in can). If one of these quick exercises look promising, then I will start over and spend the amount of time needed to really work on getting the conversion I would like. This generally involves first making a color image with good color and tonal separation (which might mean that it doesn't look the way I would particularly want the finished color version to look), spot it, and convert to black and white with Silver Efex Pro.  I then generally work on local areas of the image with curves and, more recently, both curves and a dodge and burn layer.

To illustrate, below are three color images.  Two of them did not seem to 'work' for me in black and white.  I force myself to 'give up' when I find I am really pushing and pushing and can't make it work.  Which one became the one with a black and white conversion that 'worked' and will become part of my black and white botanical project? Don't cheat.....scroll down slowly and just look at the color images first! See what you would predict.  The black and white versions with my opinion are further on down.

Trillium erectum forma luteum

Copyright Howard Grill

About Face

Copyright Howard Grill


Copyright Howard Grill

And now for the black and white versions:

Trillium erectum forma luteum

Black and White Version

Copyright Howard Grill

The image above (Trillium erectum forma luteum) is the one that 'works' for me in black and white.  There is a nice range of tones and contrasts, from the black background to the dark center with white petals and gray leaves.  I liked it as soon as I saw it.

Aas for the two black and white images below........they don't seem to work for me.  They don't have a wide enough tonal range with enough contrast and they are not going to be included in my collection. However, I wasn't sure of this before I made the conversion.

Both images are ones that I learned a lesson with.  I liked the color versions and kept spending time 'pushing' to make a black and white version that I liked.  But it just wasn't working.  My lesson was that when it comes to these conversions you will generally know pretty quickly if it is going to work in black and white.  If the time you are spending isn't fine tuning, but, rather a continued effort to make the black and white version work....well, there is a reason for that!

About Face

Black and White Version

Copyright Howard Grill


Black and White Version

Copyright Howard Grill

Springs A Comin'

To quote The Beatles, "it's been a long cold lonely winter".  Yes, this winter has been quite bad, particularly in my neck of the woods, and perhaps in yours as well. Sub-zero wind chill, constant snow, and gray skies.  I know some people thrive photographically in the monochrome of winter, but I am not one of them.  Call me a wimp, but I just find it difficult to be creative when I am ....well, cold and uncomfortable.  And this year has been worse than most. But we can soon put that behind us because, as the title of this post suggests, springs a comin'.  And soon.  And spring is my absolute favorite time of year for photographing.  One day I look forward to being able to photograph throughout spring and not just a day here and a day there.

One of my favorite spring subjects are trillium.  I find it particularly difficult to make compelling trillium images because of the forest debris that typically is scattered all among the flowers, but, still, every year I go out there and try.  Even when you don't come away with winning shots (why does it always seem windy on the days I get to go out) it is hard not to enjoy shooting on a spring morning.  It's the process, not necessarily the product!

The following trillium photos from years gone by were all taken at one of my favorite spring wildflower locations, Hell's Hollow, an out of the way area that belongs to McConnell's Mill State Park.

White Trillium

Copyright Howard Grill

Trillium erectum forma luteum

Copyright Howard Grill

Sea Of White

Copyright Howard Grill

Unfocused II

Some time back I had written a post about an image that I had made that was purposefully unfocused at the time it was taken.  It had a certain feel to it that seemed to convey a 'dreamlike' state where the colors and shapes took over from reality.  That post, called Unfocused, can be read here.  Well, one would think that it would be easy to make a series of images like this......just aim, throw off the focus, and shoot.  It is easy enough to do, but I found it terribly hard to produce images that conveyed the feeling I was looking for.....a dreamlike, 'trancelike' image. I am pleased that I now have another image in the series that, to me, matches the feel of the original.  The second in the series.

Unfocused II

Copyright Howard Grill


As I work on and process individual images from my growing collection of black and white botanicals, I tend to process and tone each individual image as a 'stand alone' photograph.  My ultimate aim however, once I have a nice collection, is to put my favorites together as a unified project.  As a scan over the finished images, I can immediately see some difficulty.  The toning, while optimized to my eye for any individual image, is a bit different for all.  Some tend towards the paler and less saturated sepia tone and others are more saturated. Ultimately they need to all hang together as a unified project with some consistency to 'the look'.  This is yet another issue to take into account when dealing with a project, as opposed to a single wall hanging.

Copyright Howard Grill

Old Images; New Projects

Every so often it is a worthwhile endeavor to review your old, unprocessed photos to see what is lurking there that you may have missed.  When you go back at a much later date you sometimes see things differently and with a fresh eye.  In my case, I also let a lot of images go unprocessed just because of a lack of time coupled with the fact that I might not have been thinking of a specific use or project that the image might fit into. Having recently embarked on my little project of putting together a series of black and white botanical images, I thought that it might be worthwhile going through some of my older flower images that I never processed.  I found some that are, in my opinion, worthy of addition to the series.

This is the first one that I have uncovered on the old hard drives that I thought worthy of processing. Old images can be definitely be useful additions to new projects.

Copyright Howard Grill

The Orchid Show

During the winter, when it is just too darn cold out, I frequently go to the botanical garden near my home on Sunday mornings to make photographs. Most of the time the displays are pretty static except, of course, for what happens to be in bloom at the time. But several times a year they have special shows......a winter flower show, a sping flower show etc.  Well, last weekend was the opening of their "Orchid and Bonsai Show".  I have always liked orchids, 'the most sensual of all flowers'.  In fact, at one point I used to raise them in a growing room I had constructed in my basement. But I had always found it a bit difficult to make photographic compositions that did them justice beyond a straight 'this is what it looks like' shot.  This last weekend, during the show opening, I did get several orchid photos that I am pleased with. And, of course, I tried to move some into my ongoing black and white botanical project.

Cattleya Orchid

Copyright Howard Grill

May The Muse Be With You!

This post, in many ways, seems like a good follow up to my prior post on Receptivity. I am intrigued how sometimes one can visit the same location and really 'see' and at other times find nothing to photograph at the exact same spot.

Just last weekend I went to the local conservatory for my Sunday morning photo session with my friends .  From the start I felt the creative muse joining me.  It seemed the exact opposite of those days when you go to photograph and just feel ahead of time that you aren't going to have vision and you know there won't be any keepers. It happens.

This time, however, I started seeing images everywhere I looked.  I started seeing compositions in multiple locations.  I found the image I made below the most interesting of the bunch for one simple reason. I had passed by these same flowers several weeks in a row and could not find a way to photograph them.  No interesting compositions. Nothing.  It was difficult to photograph them because they are actually quite flat and relatively two-dimensional.

But, today was different.  I found many ways to photograph them and took several photographs that I like quite a bit.  But the one below is my favorite.

I saw a rocket ship with fins.  I saw laundry blowing in the wind.  I saw pink banners.  The point is that I saw...... I guess that happens when the muse walks with you.

Copyright Howard Grill