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.

Quick Quotes: Timothy Allen

"It can be a trap of the photographer to think that his or her best pictures were the ones that were hardest to get."

Timothy Allen

It is a trap that we almost all fall into.....thinking that traveling far, waking up for sunrise at 4AM, and standing in the freezing cold along with other personal discomforts adds merit to an image.  Fortunately or unfortunately, the viewer only cares about what the photo looks like and not what the photographer had to go through to get it.

This quote makes you think twice about the fact that sometimes the best pictures may be had close to home.  It flies in the face of the idea that to make better pictures one has to go to more and more exotic places.  And that is one reason that I like this quote so much.

Lloyd Chambers

There is a sense that everything available on the internet should be free of charge.  Well, there is certainly a lot of free material, but how much of it is good....I mean really good. When I first found the information that Lloyd Chambers makes available as subscription sites, I wasn't overly interested because you had to pay.  But something kept nagging at me.  The "Table of Contents" to his on-line writings sounded good.....I mean really good.  I figured what could I lose but a few bucks, and so I subscribed to one of his subscription only sites.  It was well worth every cent.

Lloyd has put together material that will educate you, help you make choices, and help you to become a better photographer.  His work centers around the technique and technical, as opposed to the aesthetic.  His in depth writing covers topics deeply, leading to your having truly garnered a better understanding of any subject he writes about.  Within a short time I ended up subscribing to three of his topical sites and am glad that I did.  My favorite?  His work entitled "Making Sharp Images".

Check out all his writing.......

His free blog is here.

"Making Sharp Images" is here.  VERY HIGHLY recommended!

His "Guide To Digital Infrared Photography" is here.  If infrared is an interest of yours, this contains a wealth of information.

The "Guide to Zeiss ZF/ZE Lenses" is here.  Don't bother spending your hard earned money on a Zeiss lens until you read what Lloyd has to say about each one.

Finally, his "Guide To Advanced Photography" is here.

Here is a selection of Lloyd's articles that he makes available as sample freebies.

If the table of contents of any of these series captures your interest, just will definitely be glad you did.

Genesis Of an Image

People sometimes ask me how some of my images got to look a certain way, particularly when the finished photo does not appear as we naturally see things, such as a black and white image. So I thought I would use the blog to show the genesis of an image that really changed quite a bit on its way from camera to print. When I took this picture, I originally envisioned it as a toned black and white print. I had actually visited this location to make this photograph several times, but initially was unable to get a good exposure either because the wind was blowing the leaves around or the lighting was too harsh resulting in high contrast and deep shadows. Ultimately, I ended up visiting on a bright overcast day, giving me just the right conditions to take the photo.

Here is the image as it came out of the camera and the processed RAW file:

Three Trees In Schenley Park, Pittsburgh

The Image Straight From The Camera

Although I had initially planned on including the whole height of the trees, I found the sheer volume of leaves distracting, since what drew me to the scene in the first place was the placement of the trees in relation to each other and the shapes of their branches and trunks. So I decided to go with a rather severe crop.....much more than I usually would. Sure, I wish I had thought of that in the field, but sometimes the insight just doesn't happen until later. And luckily I use a Canon 5D MKII camera which has enough pixels to allow me to throw away all that data and still retain enough information within the crop to make a large sized print. I am not recommending random shooting and severe cropping after the fact, but sometimes it just happens that way!

Here is the image after the crop:

Image After Cropping

Cropped Image

I think the crop really pulled the image together and brought the focus to what attracted me to the scene in the first place. Looking at the picture reinforced the feeling I had from the start that this should be a black and white or toned black and white print. The sheer amount of 'green' simply distracted from the shape of the trees in much the same way that the volume of leaves had. So......I tried making black and white versions using both the Photoshop black and white layer technique as well as by using the Nik Silver Efex Pro plug-in, and, while they both gave pleasing results, I liked what I was able to achieve with the Nik version better.

Black And White Version

Finally, came the toning. I thought a sepia tone would give an 'old fashioned feel to the picture' and though I generally don't like vignettes that are bright (if I use a vignette it is typically one that is darker than the image in order to force the viewers eye into the picture), in this instance I thought that a bright vignette added to the old photo look. I actually did not like the vignette that Silver Efex generated and so I modifies to it by 'painting in' a bit of brightness along the bottom of the image in addition. Here is the result of the toning and vignette:

The image following conversion to black and white and toning.

Toned Image

Of note, depending on the accuracy of the color calibration of your monitor, the exact toned color you see with your computer may or may not be correct, and this is particularly an issue with monochromatic images.  On my carefully calibrated "Photoshop" monitor the photo has a nice sepia tone while on my cheap laptop it has an odd pinkish brown hue.  The actual print is sepia/brown toned.

The last, somewhat subtle (at least in this small web-based image) thing I did was to remove the toning from the brighter highlights. I find that I generally like my brighter highlights white, as opposed to the bit of muddiness that toning can add to the brightest areas of the image. And, thus, we have the finished image:

The final image with the brightest whites excluded from the toning process.

"Standing Firm" - Final Image

Copyright Howard Grill

A slightly larger version can be seen on my website, here.

Graphic Shapes

Mark Graf made a comment on my last post about Gargoyles, saying that I should consider photographing them in a cemetery.  I mentioned in response to that comment that, in fact, I live not far from two old and locally historic cemeteries.  And, while I have gone to photograph in both of them (I should probably put some of those images up on the blog at some point), it has not been for gargoyles. At any rate, that comment got me thinking about those few cemetery trips I took and the images I came back with. During one trip, I thought I was going to shoot photos of interesting headstones.  However, one of the things that has always grabbed my attention when I am making photos is graphic lines and shapes; the simpler the better.  On this particular trip, I vividly remember that I started to lose interest in the headstones (though I did take this previously posted photo on that same visit), but that my eye was caught by a cement ball that was on top of the brick entrance gate to the cemetery (I am sure there is an official architectural name for this, but it escapes me, if I ever knew it).  So, on this visit, I ended up spending more time taking photos of this cement ball at the gate than of any actual graves or headstones in the graveyard itself.

Cement Ball

"Cement Ball I"

Copyright Howard Grill

Cemant Ball II

"Cement Ball II"

Copyright Howard Grill

It is sort of funny.  You might think that it would be a simple thing to take a picture of a cement ball, but I actually spent quite a bit of time with it, shooting at various apertures to change the depth of field, cropping differently, and generally moving around to make differing compositions.  It ended up being an exercise that was really quite enjoyable......and certainly a different one than I had expected to be doing when I left the house that morning!

Winter Wimp

I admit it... I'm a winter wimp.  Every winter I tell myself that I am going to get out to the local areas that I enjoy photographing during  the spring, summer, and fall in order to get some different images.  Most years I end up not doing it.  Why?  Because I hate the cold! I haven't gone out once this year to make photos in the snow.  As I look out of my kitchen window, there is probably 4-6 inches of snow on the ground and the thought of going out in it when I don't have to is enough to make me cringe.  I also find it distracting and hard to concentrate on photographing when I am uncomfortable.  I can't be the only one though.  I frequently go shooting on Sunday with a group of fellow photographers who decide ahead of time where to go... and we haven't ended up outdoors once in the snow.  You know who you are out there and you are just as bad as me  :>)

And yet, I do enjoy looking at beautiful winter photos.  And there is something about the covering of snow that removes distractions and adds a more graphic, clean-lined quality to an image.  Living in a location that has four distinct seasons also adds incredible variety to photographing locally as things are always changing.

And so I am using this opportunity to publicly state that I will get out at least once, if not more than that, this winter to photograph in the snow and post some winter photos.  And if I don't you can all harass me.

In the meantime, let me share a photo or two from those relatively rare times during past winters that I have managed to get myself out in the cold.  Check back, as I have a feeling that there will be some winter shots from this year coming.

In the meantime........Go Steelers!

McConnell's Mill State Park

Icy River

Copyright Howard Grill

Mellon Park, Pittsburgh, PA


Copyright Howard Grill

Snow Covered Staircase, McConnell's Mill State Park, Portersville, PA

"Walking Into Winter"

Copyright Howard Grill