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.

More Pete's Lake

This is an image that I have actually posted beofre, but as a straight photo. I reworked it using several techniques in order to better have it reflect what it felt like at sunrise at this beautiful location (Pete's Lake near Munising, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula).

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

What did it look like before I attempted to go beyond a 'straight' photograph? It was an equally valid image that I believe also transmits, in a slightly different way, what it was like to be at this idyllic location at sunrise. However, I believe that one has to recognize that the 'straight' photo is also really just my interpretation of the RAW file meant to transmit my impression of what it was like there. So perhaps I shouldn't call it a 'straight' photo, but, rather, a 'straighter' photo. No photo is truly 'straight'; not in the digital age nor in the analog age.....but that is a discussion for a different day. 

The 'straighter' photo:

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

Again, I think they both work in different ways. Which one works best for you? Why? I would love to know!

In The Woods

Now this is something really different for me, but I am committed to at least trying different things. I think I at least owe that to my parents after years of not eating my veggies :)  The background is composed of three of my tree photos taken from different images and composited together. My idea was not to make an entirely convincing background but, rather, to make an interesting one. That is why the overlap of some of the trees doesn't look quite natural, or perhaps looks a little 'odd'. They were blended together to be just a little 'off', to raise an eyebrow or make you wonder whats not quite right about it.

But when I was done with the background, it needed a subject. So I dropped in a model image that came with the course I am taking (fully licensed for any use, of course). Well, she didn't exactly simply 'drop in' since she was in color, much bigger etc. Lets say she was gently manipulated into the photo in an attempt to make her presence at least look realistic against the background.

Definitely not my usual type of work, but I am having fun playing!

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill



When I was at the Musee d'Orsay in Paris a few years ago, they had a display of paintings by one of the grand old masters.....unfortunately, I can't remember who (if a reader knows, by all means, please remind me). At any rate, given some of the techniques I have been learning and practicing I couldn't help but 'grunge up' the photo I took of the painting a bit. Well, maybe more than a bit. I sort of made it mine. With apologies to that grand master of painting.

old master.jpg

Another Self Assignment

Another self assignment to digitally transform a photograph utilizing fractals and by 'painting with light'. What are fractals?  See those wavy green and orange lines behind the doll....those are fractals, which are blended into the image at low opacity. And 'painting with light'? That is an enhancement of the yellow glow behind the doll done by using the color picker in Photoshop to choose the color of the existing glow and then painting with a soft, low opacity brush in the appropriate area on a new empty layer. Looks messy, but then change the blend mode to color, or soft light, or just experiment...the messy looks goes away and it all blends together nicely. I also obviously added in the musical note embellishment.

Where is this all headed? I don't know, but I do know that I'm having fun with it all!

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


Digital Artistry

An Instructional Video On How This Image Was Made

Some time ago I had signed up for a very interesting on-line course on how to utilize Photoshop not for digital image processing, but to learn how to composite images and apply artistic effects. I wanted to learn some of these approaches not so much to produce photo-realistic scenes but, rather, to produce not so realistic looking artwork.  There is obviously a rather large spectrum between 'straight' photography (which typically isn't as 'straight' as one might think) and surreal alternative worlds.  I wanted to discover where I might sit along that spectrum.

As can often happen, I was constrained for time and never really got to go through the course like I had wanted to. But there was recently a Facebook group formed by others like myself who sort of got 'left behind'.  So I decided to take it up once again, along with this group.

After learning from the video training, one is encouraged to perform weekly 'challenges'. These are an exercise to reinforce the techniques and typically come with very specific rules, such as take one of your images and choose two out of these 10 textures and then chose a vector from group one and then utilize a certain technique.  I'm not very good at following rules and doing exercises but decided to give it a try.  I became enthused by what I produced and started thinking about how the piece might look if there were no strict rules. I then reworked the image and ended up with this:

The composition was built upon the base photo below, which i took at a cemetery near my home during the winter last year.

Since I had wanted to produce more blog posts that show how I did things, I thought that this might be a good image to make a video about, showing how I put it together. I am new at this sort of work but would like to pursue it further and also integrate some of the techniques into my more traditional photography......but, on with the video!

If you are email subscriber, the video, unfortunately, does not come along with the email so you will have to go to the actual blog to view it or click here to watch it on youtube.

How To Remove Toning Beyond The Edge Of A Photo

For some time I have been thinking of trying to produce some Photoshop video tutorials.  But let's face it, there are a ton of them out there and I didn't want to simply repeat what has already been done.

I had been trying to figure out how to remove toning from beyond the edge of a photo.  If you apply toning as well as an artistic edge to a black and white photo, either on your own or using a Photoshop plug-in like Silver Efex Pro, the toning extends beyond the edge of the photo and all the way out through the border of the image.  This is the case even if you use a Photoshop adjustment layer to apply the toning, which gets applied to the white border as well as to the image. This looks very unnatural, as the toning should stop at the edge of the photo, which has been moved 'inwards' by the applied edge effect.  If you were to print the image you would now have the toning extending beyond the artistic edge, forming a perfect toned rectangle around it which itself is surrounded by the white of the paper.  Not the effect one wants.

I couldn't find the fix for this by Googling it. So when I figured out the simple antidote for myself I thought it would make a perfect first video tutorial. I created a "Howard Grill Photography" page on YouTube and posted it.

Turns out it's not as easy as one might think to make a professional appearing and sounding video tutorial.....but this is just my first attempt. So have a listen if this is something that was bothering you as well.  And feel free to give me a thumbs up on YouTube if it helps!

Digital Photo Art

I loosely consider that there are four types of Photoshop users.  Remember, this is a pretty loose definition!

  1. Graphic designers 
  2. Photographers who use Photoshop to 'develop' their RAW images and process their photos (ie everything starts out as 'real', no matter what it is ultimately made into)
  3. Digital artists that create work starting with a blank canvas and who fill that canvas with their own creations using the tools available in the program (ie nothing is 'real')
  4. Something in between, where 'real' photographs are composited with other photos, layered with textures, vectors, typography and other artwork

I have always fallen into group #2, and I am sure that, for the vast majority of time, that is where I will stay. But I happen to run across an intriguing course related to being a Type 4 user.  I was intrigued by it because of the course 'pamphlet', the enthusiasm of the instructor, and the fascinating pieces of artwork that one can create using these techniques.  It also looked far out of my comfort zone, which I think is a good place to go every so often! If nothing else, I thought that learning new Photoshop techniques could only help me with the work that I usually do.

So I signed up and took it! 

You couldn't find a more enthusiastic, invigorating, easy to follow teacher than Sebastion Michaels.......his philosophy about art and living an artistic life is one that closely matches mine and perhaps closely matches yours as well.

It was, without question, worth every penny. Many of the techniques have proven useful to know for 'straight' photography as well as for this type of work.  And, though I don't know how much of this type of work I will ultimately produce, I can attest to the fact that it is fun and an excellent way to release creatively..... a freewheeling way to experiment and exercise the creative juices.

It is with some trepidation that I show my first piece created with techniques I have learned in the class. The trepidation is because this type of work is way, way out of my comfort zone. This piece only just touches the surface of what can be done and pales in comparison to what some of the folks in the class who are more experienced in this type of work have been able to produce.

If you have an inkling that you might like to produce work like this, give the course a try.  I don't think you will be sorry.  And what you learn are skills that are definitely transferable to more 'straight' image processing as well.

Photoshop Composite

© Howard Grill

Using A Texture To Add Warmth

Some time back I had posted an image of the interior of The First Presbyterian Church Of Pittsburgh, along with a short story about how I came to be able to photograph the interior of the church that day. I always liked that picture of the interior, but in that same post I also showed a photo of the beautiful exterior doors of the church.....however, I never really felt that the photo of the doors was quite right.  It just didn't pull out the deep warm hues and the depth of the wood of the imposing doors.

In the past, I had tried several things to try to achieve the effect I felt the door deserved.  This included increasing contrast with an "S" curve, increasing saturation, painting with a warm color on a separate layer using the color blend mode and blending the image with itself using soft light or overlay blend modes. No matter what I tried, the image just never seemed .....well, I think "rich enough" or "deep enough"  are probably the best words I could use to describe it.

But I finally got it to look the way I have always envisioned it.  And I did so in a bit of an unusual way.  I had been playing around with some textures and wondered if one with warm, rich colors might give me the effect I was looking for. I picked one that I thought might work and tried blending it into the image with the soft light blend mode.  Lo and behold, it gave me the exact feel and color depth I was looking for without really screaming 'this is a texturized image'.  In fact, even viewed large, for all intents and purposes, you really can't tell that there is an underlying texture applied at all.

The final image is seen below, and I will show you what came before.


Doors of The First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh

© Howard Grill


Below is the image before the texture was applied, but after I had made all Lightroom and Photoshop adjustments. There is what appears to be a bit of glare off the surface of the varnished wood and not as much 'depth' as I had hoped for.

Doors of The First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh

Doors of The First Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh


The texture below is the one that I used for the blend.  Nothing else was done to the image other than blending in the texture using a soft light blend mode at 100% opacity and making a very trivial curves adjustment .  The difference exhibited by the final image is relatively subtle, but I think very important to its feel. Sometimes the little things do make a difference. 


Photoshop MSVCP110.dll Missing Error Message

By Howard Grill A note to my blog readers who use Photoshop and Nik Plug Ins and are now experiencing the error message upon starting Photoshop that says there was an error and that file MSVCP110.dll is missing.  Apparently a lot of people are getting this error message out of the blue.  Not to worry.....the fix is easy.

Apparently it is caused by a Nik update which was unannounced and 'forced' to the computer (which, by the way, now includes Nik Analog Effex) a few days back.  It has nothing to do with Photoshop so don't uninstall and reinstall.  It has to do with the update assuming that all computers already have the .dll in question installed.

The fix is very, very easy.  There are several ways, but the easiest is to download the Nik Collection trial from their website and install the trial version (should be v  If you already have the Nik Collection on your computer the trial version will simply overwrite the old files and you will not have to reactivate or retype serial numbers etc.  It will just work.  This newest version has the .dll files in it and they will be installed with the Nik Software.

Got this info when I went searching because I was getting the error message.  I had the same error.  I have done the above myself and can verify it worked.

Anyway, hope this is helpful to some folks out there.

Black And White Layer Blend

Those that read this blog regularly know that I don't post very often about Photoshop techniques, as there are many superb blogs dedicated to that alone.  However, I did recently learn of a technique that can provide a subtle but interesting effect, particularly, in my opinion,  for 'vintage style' images.  It could, of course, provide some interesting looks for other image types as well. The effect tends to bring in greater contrast or 'punch' while also giving the colors a bit more of a 'vintage' look.  But it does it in a reasonably subtle way.  For example, in the following two images compare the look of the bricks, the doors, and the sidewalk/concrete at the bottom of the wall.  I think they have a more interesting appearance in the second image.  If you like it as well, read on and I will tell you how this was achieved with the addition of one simple layer in Photoshop.



Copyright Howard Grill



Copyright Howard Grill

This relatively subtle effect is easy to achieve.  Simply add a black and white adjustment layer to convert the image to black and white.  Obviously, you will now see a black and white version of the photo.  Change the blend mode to Soft Light.  Now you have your color image back with the effect applied.  You can go back to the black and white adjustment layer and make further refinements to the conversion while still seeing the final color result on screen and watch as the effect changes.  The layer opcaity can also be tweaked to taste.

Give it a try....

32 Bit Lightroom Processing - First Attempt

A few posts ago, I recommended a tutorial on processing 32 bit images in Lightroom, which produces HDR type photos that tend to be halo free and more photo-realistic (I know you can make photo-realistic images with Photomatix and other HDR software, but it just seems harder to do so).  Well, I took my own advice and tried it. My first attempt was actually with an image that I didn't think would benefit much from that type of processing, but, nonetheless, I just wanted to give it a try and see.  The image was from my post of April 29th, and I have copied the original (non-32 bit) processed photo below.  This was processed from an underexposed image so as to give a more dramatic view of the sky and to silhouette the mountains.

Copyright Howard Grill

The 32 bit processed image allowed me to maintain the silhouette, but pull out detail in the midtones to darks that were not easily extracted before and certainly not without more noise.  After Lightroom 32 bit processing, the image was finished with tonal contrast applied in Nik ColorEfex and some local layer adjustments for the sky.  I also cropped a bit off the bottom for better balance. The result is below and I do believe the 32 bit processing gave a superior result:

Copyright Howard Grill

As you might expect, the differences are much more apparent in larger images!

32 Bit Processing In Lightroom

There was, in the latest edition of Photoshop User magazine, a very interesting tutorial. It spoke about merging bracketed exposures into an HDR file but, rather than tone mapping the file in HDR software, bringing the file into Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw and processing it using the sliders there. This apparently gives a nearly halo-free image with a more photo-realistic effect than that typically attained with HDR software tone mapping. Shortly thereafter, a friend sent me a link to a very nice on-line video tutorial by Mark Johnson about using this technique. I thought I would share the tutorial link. Just click here.

This is definitely a technique that I will be trying out!

Vintage Black And White Flowers

I had previously written that I was having trouble starting up a new photographic project or direction after having finished my Carrie Furnace folio.  I had also mentioned in some prior posts that I was pleased with how some of my flower images looked in black and white.  I decided to take it a bit further and see how the flower photographs would look if I tried a 'vintage appearance' with sepia and edges reminisecnt of an emulsion transfer.  And as it turns out, I am liking the look quite a bit. 

Copyright Howard Grill

I now have four images that I had previously printed in color processed this way.  This could be the start of the next project!

Another Photoshop Disaster

Previously, I have written several posts about disastrous Photoshop results that have made it past company scrutiny and out into the public arena.  Well here is a fascinating military Photoshop disaster.

Apparently the newest Iranian stealth fighter (with the image released by an Iranian news agency) is neither actually flying, nor real, nor able to fly at all at this point.

Check it out here.

If you are going to Photoshop you had best do it well!

First Panorama

I am not sure why, but I have never really attempted to make panoramas. When I left for my trip to the Smokies last April I had decided that the one new thing that I definitely wanted to try was making a panorama. And so I did, with the following result:

Interestingly, for some reason, the Photomerge command in Photoshop CS6 simply would not merge the three pictures from which the panorama is constructed. Which means I had to try another program. I downloaded the free trial version of PTGui and it worked like a charm the first time with no problems, so I sprung for the paid version in order to be able to merge them without a watermark.

Interestingly, even with the use of a level panning head, I still had to trim about an inch off the image following the stitching because of unevenness in lining up the photos.

The final photograph, composed of three separate images, was made at an overlook in Great Smoky Mountains National Park at sunset. If printed at 240 pixels per inch, the final print would be approximately 16 inches high by 51 inches long!

The Other 1%

When out in the field photographing, 99% of the times things don't go exactly the way you might like them to.  Then there is that 1%. During my trip to Smoky Mountains National Park back in April, I was photographing on Clingman's Dome. I was taking shots of a group of dead trees using a 70-200mm lens.  Suddenly I saw a bird land on top of one of the dead trunks.  I thought it would make a very nice silhouette picture, but it needed a much closer viewpoint than the 200mm lens could provide.  I had my 400mm f5.6 lens with me but never thought the bird would stay put long enough for me to change over to it.  So I clicked off a few shots with the 70-200. Not expecting success, I decided to try to make the switch over to the 400mm.

So I went ahead and took the camera off the tripod and switched lenses.  I was amazed to find that the bird was actually still there!  Then I started moving quickly because I thought there might actually be half a chance of making the image.  I composed, manually focused with live view, and knocked off a shot or two.

Then I got greedy.  The way I composed the image the best pose,in my mind, would be for the bird to look off to the left where there was more empty space as well as another tree.  Yup, the bird did it and I took the picture.

It doesn't usually work out this way, but I was glad it did!

Bird And Tree

Copyright Howard Grill

In terms of processing, there was little I had to do to the image.  First, I added just a touch of contrast and a bit of sharpening to the main silhouette of the tree and bird.  The image was actually made at sunrise with fog in the air and the actual color was a very muddy orange, which just didn't look all that appealing to me.  So I decided to turn the clock back an hour or two and changed the color temperature to a much cooler bluish hue.

Sometimes it comes easy.  Most of the time it doesn't.

Photoshop CS6 File Save Error

One of my most popular posts in the past was way back a few versions ago of Photoshop when I posted a fix to a Photoshop save error that was related to Version Cue.  Well, with the new Photoshop CS6, I have now run across another error related to saving (completely unrelated to the one noted above).  I hope this fix will be equally as helpful. The error in question is that when trying to save a TIFF file one gets an error message that "Could not save file (name of file) because the file is already in use or was left open by another application".  When one goes and tries to save the file again it generally does save but time is lost, particularly if the file is a large one, waiting for the save to occur the first time around.  As it turns out, this only seems to happen when Bridge is also open.  At any rate, the problem is more extremely irritating than deadly.

But there is a fix! In Bridge simply go to Edit>Camera RAW Preferences and under "JPEG and TIFF Handling" turn off TIFF support.  Problem solved.  It worked for me.  A discussion about the issue can be found here.


I had previously mentioned in my post about editing that I had gone on a photo trip with two friends to Smoky Mountains National Park and that I was spending a bit of time editing those images.  I have completed the editing process and have just finished processing the first of these images.

Smoky Ridges I

Copyright Howard Grill

Smoky Ridges II

Copyright Howard Grill

These are obviously the same image with different toning.  I find the journey to a final image is often interesting and frequently unplanned, at least for me.  This image started as an HDR sequence, but when going through the sequence I found that I particularly liked one of the underexposed images which turned the mountain ridges into simple graphic shapes. I therefore abandoned the HDR idea and stuck with the one exposure that drew my attention.  And that underexposed version had a brownish sepia color that seemed to suit the image. I also noticed that many of my early morning images had a decidedly blue tint, and I enjoyed that as well.

So how did I end up with these final photos?  I felt that the 'simple graphic shape underexposed image' could be simplified even further by converting to black and white in order to remove any color that was not the pure tint.  I did the conversion using Silver EFex Pro 2 and made two versions, a sepia/brown one and a cyanotype/blue one.  I then cropped off the bottom 25% or so of the image, as I found that the darker tones at the bottom of the photo drew attention away from the more interesting changes in tonality evident at the top.

Finally, I found the image (particularly the sky) to be a bit too bland and therefore blended some textures into the photograph.  I ultimately used two textures for each image, one for the sky and the other for the mountains.  The sky texture is the same for both, though applied at different opacities, while the mountain textures are different for each version.  I felt the gentle application of the textures gave the images a more interesting and 'grittier feel'.

Soft Proofing With Photoshop

I have frequently utilized Photoshop's soft-proofing when making prints.  While I have found it useful for getting a general idea of how the print might look, I have also found that the prints would come out with more contrast and with colors appearing far less out of gamut than soft-proofing might suggest. This despite having a monitor that is fully calibrated. Just recently, I saw an article that extolls the process of making hard copy 'soft-proofs' and thought it might be interesting to folks who read this blog.  It is called "The Hard Truth About Soft Proofs" and was written by West Coast Imaging.