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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.

Lemons To Lemonade

Every summer I make my ‘pilgrimage’ to Jennings Environmental Education Center to see the annual blooming of the Blazing Stars (Liatris spicata), which grow naturally on this glacially carved prairie in the middle of the rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania. Alas, this year the bloom seems limited, and the flowers that were in bloom seemed mainly further out on the prairie, as opposed to being accessible near the trail. While it is possible that the larger portion of the bloom is yet to come (typical peak bloom is the mid to end of July and the beginning of August), I suspect that, for whatever reason, this year is simply not going to be a banner year for them.

Rather than lament the lack of Blazing Stars along the trail, I decided to photograph what was accessible to me. Only after getting home and doing an internet search did I think I identified this plant. I believe it is Yellow Foxtail (Setaria pumila).

At any rate, the foxtail itself was not overly attractive in its immediate surrounding, so I ended up layering in a texture. Even then the photograph looked as if it needed something additional, so I took another image of the Blazing Stars in the distance that I had made on the same morning, sized it appropriately, and layered it into the button of the photo. That gave me the result I was after.

 
Yellow Foxtail © Howard Grill

Yellow Foxtail © Howard Grill

 

In terms of what the Blazing Stars look like, I will share a photo of them I took a couple years back, from right along the trail:

 
Blazing Stars © Howard Grill

Blazing Stars © Howard Grill

 

Imbuing A Feel

Lately I have been experimenting with the idea of ‘imbuing a feel’ into photographs…..to try to recreate the emotional impact of ‘being there’. Such is the case with this weeping willow tree, which I photographed in a local cemetery. The final image is a combination of an in focus and an out of focus photo, as well as conversion of the image to partially appear as a painting with limited detail and with the layering in of textures. The tree itself was large and the center-point of the entire area next to a pond. I have photographed it several times but have never ‘published’ any photos of the tree before. It felt as if the fronds could wrap themselves around you if you closed your eyes.

 
“Weeping By The Willow” © Howard Grill

“Weeping By The Willow” © Howard Grill

 

Solitude

Several days ago, I went out to Moraine State Park, a location that I have gone to photograph frequently. It was a foggy morning and the prevailing feeling I felt there, alone in the morning fog, was peaceful solitude. Although I frequently prefer higher contrast and more saturated images, I let the feeling of that morning guide me in the processing of the photo. I think that’s probably a good idea in general.

“Solitide” © Howard Grill

“Solitide” © Howard Grill

Leaf Self Assignment #4

This is the final image from my self assignment of trying to make several interesting photographs from just a single leaf taken during a visit to my local botanical garden. The others in the series can be found here, here, and here.

I was pleased with the results of this self-challenge and will likely continue with them again when I feel my creativity wane. Sometimes, when the creative juices seem to be lacking, too many choices lead to not doing anything at all because none of the choices are ‘good enough’. Remove those choices so that there is only one thing that you allow yourself to focus on and you have no choice but to start making photos and end up with little else to concentrate on but trying to see what it is you are photographing in many different ways. As Minor White famously said “One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are”.

 
Leaf Close Up #4 © Howard Grill

Leaf Close Up #4 © Howard Grill

 

I do have one addition to today’s photograph. Internet friend Lynn Wohlers (check out her fantastic photo blog called ‘bluebrightly’) suggested to me that I try processing these as black and white images. I did that (along with some toning) and ended up with the image below. I found this version quite fascinating because when I removed the color it also removed the immediate recognition that the object was a leaf and rendered it in a far more abstract way. My first thought upon seeing this version was that it could just as well look like an aerial shot of a river winding its way across the landscape, or a seawall, or many other things! Remove certain ‘cues’ and it seems the brain can really wander in an unrestrained way. Or maybe my brain is just ‘weird’ :)

So thanks Lynn!

 
Leaf Close Up #4 Toned © Howard Grill

Leaf Close Up #4 Toned © Howard Grill

 

Leaf Self Assignment #3

I thought I would continue showing some images from my self assignment of trying to make several interesting photographs from just a single leaf taken during a visit to my local botanical garden. I do like how the series flows and shows many aspects of just the one thing.

My friend and teacher, the late Nancy Rotenberg, used to say that by spending time focusing on and photographing just one ‘thing’ you could push yourself to go ‘beyond the handshake’; getting to know it and showing it to others in more depth.

 
Leaf Close Up #3 © Howard Grill

Leaf Close Up #3 © Howard Grill

 

Leaf Self Assignment #2

In my last post, I wrote about my self assignment of trying to make several photographs from a single leaf during a visit to my local botanical garden. And so here we have the second composition. The first can be seen here. I did find this self assignment challenging and hope to have a few more images in the group.

 
Leaf #2 © Howard Grill

Leaf #2 © Howard Grill

 

Self Assigned Challenges

Last week I found myself, along with several friends, at Phipps Botanical Gardens, a place we photograph at quite a bit in the colder weather. Now, I have mentioned on the blog that I plan to try to get out in the snow to make photos this winter, but right now it’s cold, the fall color is gone, and there is no snow. So it was off to Phipps.

This time I ended up deciding to give myself a challenge. A self-assignment, if you will. And self- assignments always seem to be a good way to spur creativity.

As I was walking around the botanical garden looking for inspiration I just wasn’t feeling any. So the self assignment I gave myself in order to try to see further was….could I make several images that I liked from one single leaf? It actually turned out to be quite a bit of fun to see what I could come up with and I did start to feel the urge to create return! I hope you might be interested to see several views of this particular leaf over the next few posts.

In the meantime, I heartily endorse the idea of self-assignments when you just aren’t feeling it…..if you know what I mean.

 
Leaf Macro I © Howard Grill

Leaf Macro I © Howard Grill

 

Carnivorous Plants - The Sundew

I have previously mentioned that I’ve taken up growing carnivorous plants- insectivorous would really be a better term - in my basement under fluorescent lights. One of the most interesting of these plants is the ‘sundew’. In addition to being fascinating, alien appearing, beautiful, easy to propagate, and inexpensive, they are also very easy to grow under lights. What more could you ask for in a plant that also helps rid your basement of small insects?

If you’re an insect you don’t want to find yourself anywhere near those gooey tentacles that are so enticing to visit. Once a small insect touches the ‘dew’ droplets they become stuck, and as they struggle come into contact with more of the flypaper-like droplets. Then the tentacles, as well as the entire leaf itself, wrap itself around the insect and secrete digestive juices to obtain a nitrogen laced meal.

The entire process can be seen in the video below the photographs of my very own Drosera capensis “albino”, the albino form of the Cape Sundew which is native to South Africa. The albino form has greenish, as opposed to red, leaves, though under strong light the tentacles take on a pink blush. There are other Sundew species native to different regions with different leaf shapes and growth habits. But they all have goo.

 
Drosera capensis “Albino” having a bite to eat © Howard Grill

Drosera capensis “Albino” having a bite to eat © Howard Grill

 
 

Did I mention they were easy to propogate? This is the graceful emerging flower stalk from the same plant. The small flowers self-pollinate and form seed in this particular species!

 
Drosera capensis “albino” flower stalk

Drosera capensis “albino” flower stalk

 

And for some real action, watch a short sundew time lapse from the BBC!

Isn’t nature amazing. I mean you can’t make this stuff up!

The End Of The McConnell's Mill Hike

Several weeks back I decided to take a hike in McConnell’s Mill State Park. I hadn’t done so in some time and the hike I had been thinking about was short, but not the most accessible in terms of terrain. I had heard that if one hiked on this route they would be treated to some interesting water flow. And so I was. And it was definitely a hike worth taking.

I find myself wondering what this location will look like with the heavy fall rains we usually get or after the winter melt. I guess there is only one way to find out….

 
© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

 

Follow The Path To Miner's Falls

While on my trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula this fall, I had the opportunity to visit Miners Falls. The falls were great in their own right, but on the walk down to them from the parking lot I noticed how the path made an "S" shaped curve......and we all know to never pass up an "S" shape!

Walking along the path into the forest it felt sort of magical, so, in processing, I brightened the pathway to give it a "Follow The Yellow Brick Road" appearance. Because the trail dips down about halfway through the frame, you lose sight of it and really can't tell where it leads to. I felt that this too added an air of mystery.

 
Path To Miner's Falls    © Howard Grill

Path To Miner's Falls    © Howard Grill

 

The Rock House - Hocking Hills

Several years ago, I payed a visit to Hocking Hills, a wonderful area close to Columbus, Ohio and about a four hour drive from my home. It was a really great few days photographing with several of my friends, and over the last few years have posted several images taken there on this blog. However, making photographs in the Rock House, which is a cave that had been used by native Americans many years ago,  was very difficult because of the extraordinary dynamic range related to various openings letting the light in. I had tried processing the photo in the past by blending seven exposures using various HDR software brands as well as 'Merge To HDR' in Lightroom, but was never happy with the result because somehow the color just always seemed wrong.

I recently gave SNS-HDR a try, as there was a Black Friday sale for $18 and I had read comments in various forums that it gave natural looking results. Although there is still a bit of an 'HDR look" (which, frankly, I ended up intensifying a bit in further processing by adding contrast) it left the color very natural looking and requiring only a few tweaks in Photoshop to get it to look the way I remembered it. Overall, I like the result and am pleased with the intuitive SNS interface.

 
Rock House - Hocking Hills    © Howard Grill

Rock House - Hocking Hills    © Howard Grill

 

Pete's Lake - Sometimes Things Stay The Same

I've just returned from a fantastic week long photography trip photographing fall colors in Michigan's Upper Peninsula with several of my "photo buddies". I have been to the Munising area of the Upper Peninsula to photograph four times, and it never fails to offer up a plethora of photographic opportunities. Even when I was there two years ago and we missed the fall colors with our timing, there was still plenty to photograph. I am glad to say that this year the colors did not disappoint.

I have not yet had the opportunity to download, keyword, or process any of the images. But while I was at one particular location I found myself fascinated by something. This image was made on my first trip to the Upper Peninsula in 2004, at a wonderful sunrise location called Pete's Lake.

Pete's Lake, Michigan's Upper Peninsula   © Howard Gril

Pete's Lake, Michigan's Upper Peninsula   © Howard Gril

I was able to photograph at Pete's Lake once again this year. Not only were the yellow trees on the left still there (I guess that really isn't all that surprising), but the same driftwood in the lake to the right of the trees was still there as well! It was like the scene had become frozen in time, and that made it feel like I was being transported back to 2004. Of course, once my shutter clicked, I was back in 2017. As Kurt Vonnegut Jr. used to say.....and so it goes.

What Happens On My Day Off

Recently, I have had a few "use 'em or lose 'em" days off at work, so who isn't going to use them? Who could argue with a day off here and there to go out shooting. When I come back after the day off people often ask me what I did with my free day, the last of which was a week ago Friday. The answer? I went to Moraine State Park and did this (now that's a fun day off):

Lake Arthur And Clouds    © Howard Grill

View Down The Youghiogheny

 

Print Of the Month Returns

It has been some time since I offered my "Print Of The Month" special. This was because of the demise of my Epson 7900 printer, my wait for the new Canon printer models to come out, and the time needed to become facile in the use of the new printer. I am pleased to announce that I now feel quite  comfortable' with the new printer and am truly pleased with the results I am getting, which in many ways I like more than the prior Epson. Which means I am ready to bring back my half priced "Print Of The Month". Click here for all the information.

For the return of "Print Of The Month" I offer this image, entitled "View Down The Youghiogheny", which I made just a few weeks ago. I was experimenting with long exposures in order to give the water, which is slow moving at this portion of the river, a blurred milky appearance. This one minute exposure was my favorite of the many photographs I made of this scene.

View Down The Youghiogheny    © Howard Grill

Azaleas

Callaway  Gardens in Georgia is known for their azaleas. While our group went there with high hopes of arriving in peak season, we actually arrived late in terms of the peak flowering.  However, there were still some very nice areas. When you are going out of town to try to photograph things directed by nature, you are always at her whim. But independent of perfect timing or not, there are still usually beautiful things to be found.  

I actually spotted this grouping of azaleas and trees some distance from where I was shooting and was only able to 'access it' using my 300mm lens.

Azaleas And Trees    © Howard Grill

Callaway Gardens, Pine Mountain, Georgia

A few weeks ago I posted some indoor images I had made during a trip photographing with friends at Callaway Gardens in Georgia. Those particular images were made indoors because it was raining quite hard outside. But that was not the case for the entire trip. We also had some great weather conditions.

I was drawn to make this image because of the light, the pink leaves, the reflections, as well as the way the tree branches swooped gracefully. During processing, I tried to bring these features out. It was a very peaceful location indeed!

 
callaway-gardens.jpg