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.

Imbuing A Feel

Lately I have been experimenting with the idea of ‘imbuing a feel’ into photographs… 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



Every so often it is interesting to redo an image. When you are in a different mood, or your outlook is different, or maybe you just want to try out another style…..sometimes the results of such a ‘redo’ can be interesting. Here is one of my ‘revisitations’.

The original:

Evergreen In Fog

And the redo, during which I wanted to give it a cleaner and a more vintage look:

 Captue sharpened only
Canon IPG 2000
Ilford Gold Fiber Silk
M0 profile
Relative colorimetric

A Way To Portray Finale (For Now Anyway)

In my last three posts (here, here, and here) I explained how I had found a way to display my bare tree images in a way that really focuses on what I wanted to show….their shape. Today, I am posting another two pieces of ‘tree art’.

In addition, while I am not much of a writer, I decided to (believe it or not) write a poem to accompany the tree images. Maybe I should stay away from the poetry and stick with the imaging!

In the winter,

When most living things

Cover themselves for warmth,

Trees take the opposite tact,

Shedding their leaves,

Exposing themselves to the frigid cold,

And baring their souls.

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


A Way To Portray II

In my last post I explained how it dawned upon me to display my bare tree images in a way that accentuates their shape and makes the intriguing shapes that nature can take the center of focus. For the next few posts I would like to show some other images from that series, which I continue to work on.

Tree #2 © Howard Grill

Tree #2 © Howard Grill

Tree #3 © Howard Grill

Tree #3 © Howard Grill


A Way To Portray

For many years, I have enjoyed taking pictures of trees and portions of trees that have interesting shapes. However, when viewing those images I have never felt that they demonstrated what I was trying to show or say. They never seemed to fully express my intent. That is, until I recently had an idea.

It suddenly dawned on me that if what I wanted to show was the shape of the tree, than I should just focus on the shape and make it an image about shape and nothing else. In my mind, the way I thought about doing that was to make the tree totally black and ‘blow out’ the background sky. Then I could blend the tree into a pleasing texture which would show off the tree’s shape. I tried it and really liked what I got:,

Two Trees © Howard Grill

Two Trees © Howard Grill


I am definitely going to be trying a few more of these.

Ancient Tree

A few posts back I wrote about an image I had constructed and even made an instructional video showing how it was done. I have now completed a second piece using these techniques. As you can see, I am a fan of trees, birds, and mysterious text!


Ancient Tree    © Howard Grill


But what you might not have guessed is that there are actually two 'base images'.

First, the obvious one:


The obvious base image of a tree      © Howard Grill


But the second one might not be quite as obvious:


The not so obvious base image of a flower      © Howard Grill


The 'base images' are clearly of differing shapes and so the flower image had to be transformed to fit over the image of the tree. Here is the flower pulled onto the tree image:

Flower pulled onto tree

Flower pulled onto tree


And then transformed (CTL-T on Windows) to cover the entire tree:


Flower transformed to fit over image of tree      © Howard Grill


And now with the blend mode changed to soft light:


Both images blended using the soft light blend mode      © Howard GRill


While the blend doesn't change the tree image to a very large degree, it does add some interesting shadows in the field and lower parts of the distant trees while generally brightening up and adding contrast to the image and making it easier to combine with the darker textures. The following textures were also combined with the image:


© Paree Erica

© Fly Edges

© Fly Edges


© 2 l'il owls


And, if anyone is interested, here is the Photoshop layer stack.

Hope you enjoyed seeing how the image was construcyted!

Daydream In Red

I photographed this scene during a few days I had off and was able to go out with some of my 'photo buddies' to shoot fall colors. The nice thing about going out to photograph with friends is that you feed of each other, sharing both enthusiasm and creativity. When I saw this row of trees with their red leaves I made several different types of abstract images using zoom and multiple exposure techniques, but none of them seemed to convey the 'dreamlike' feeling I was after. So instead I started with one of my 'straight shots' and got to work trying to make it look like the feeling I had in mind.....that feeling of waking up in a hazy dream. The final print was processed using negative clarity, some glow from Color Efex Pro, and two different texture applications. Now it looks the way it felt.

"Daydream In Red"    © Howard Grill

By the way, the title and feel of the image was inspired by a song entitled "Daydream In Blue" by the British electronic group "I Monster". For those fans of the TV show "Mr. Robot", the song was used in the opening show of the new second season (great show though admittedly a little creepy).

OK then, Daydream In Blue.....this is the harder to find slow acoustic-y version which I prefer (yes, it is a bit of a lusty song :)  Oh, and remember that if you get these posts via e-mail the videos don't seem to come along so you will have to go to the actual blog post itself if you care to watch/listen!

And a bit of Mr. Robot, Season amazing show:

Reflections From Callaway Gardens

Something just draws me to photographing trees. I am sure it has to do with their graphic lines and shapes and the idea of making order out of chaos by isolating portions of the trunk and branches.

While at Callaway Gardens photographing with friends (the same trip on which I made the 'Butterfly and Texture' image), I was making photos of a scene from a wooden bridge. I saw this bare tree reflected in the water and had the idea of making a 'tree abstract' where one isn't entirely sure what orientation they are seeing.

The image is of a portion of a tree on land at the top, with the bottom of the photo consisting of its reflection in a stream. The original image was obviously in color, but I thought the black and white treatment brought out the lines and shapes that enticed me to make the photo in the first place.

Reflections    © Howard Grill

Reflections    © Howard Grill

Cuyahoga National Park

Sometimes it takes me quite a while to get around to processing photographs that I have taken.  How long?  Well this one that caught me eye is from....2009!  And looking back in the folders I saved from this trip to Cuyahoga National Park, I found quite a few images that I really like.  I sort of just tucked them away and never edited or ranked them.  By the way, Cuyahoga, located in Ohio, was designated as a national park in 2000 and is America's smallest, weighing in at 20,339 acres.

I have many photos from years gone by which I have never really gotten a chance to go through.  It's like those papers at the bottom of that big pile on your desk.  They were important, but you got along without them. I think there is a wealth of material for me to work on buried in deep crevices and nooks and crannies!  I will ultimately need to sort through them all.  Ultimately.


Fall Foliage In Cuyahoga National Park    © Howard Grill


Backlit Tree; Hocking Hills

Photographing Cedar Falls was one of the highlights of my trip to Hocking Hills this last spring. The falls is down in a valley of sorts, so there was plenty of time to photograph before the sun rose high enough to 'end the party' by causing bright highlights on the water.  While on the hike back to the car, I was walking along the base of a cliff and happened to notice that the sun had risen just over the top of the cliff and was nicely backlighting a group of trees, leaving the rock wall in the shade.  The dark rock provided a nice contrasting background for the tree and it looked like a nice 'set up' for a photo.

To process this image I first made some contrast and brightness adjustments in Lightroom and then converted it to black and white.

Why black and white? In my mind the image was about the contrast and backlight.  While the flourescent green of the leaves was interesting, the cliffs themselves had an orange hue and, even though far darker than the green, I thought it detracted from the contrast and lighting which was what had really caught my attention.

I liked a quick initial conversion, and, once I saw the direction the photo could take in black and white, I spent some time in Silver Efex Pro getting it to look just the way I wanted. In images like this, care has to be taken to make the backlit leaves bright but, at the same time, avoid having them 'blow out' to pure white.


Backlit Tree, Hocking Hills    © Howard Grill


Pink Fantasy

Some weeks back I posted an image of a pink flowering tree from my "Unfocused" series. At that time I mentioned that I had taken some 'in-focus' photographs of the same tree.  I had to work a while to transform one of the focused photos into an image that I really liked by cropping, adding contrast, and enhancing detail in the flowers while subtly darkening the bottom of the image and cloning out the bright pathway in the background.  It's art, I can do that!

At any rate, I finally was able to produce an image that transmits (at least to me) the feeling of being there.  If it doesn't transmit that feeling, it doesn't see the light of day.

It just seemed right to call this one "Pink Fantasy"!

Pink Fantasy    © Howard Grill

Pink Fantasy    © Howard Grill


First Spring Photo - Trees

It has been a long, hard winter here in Western Pennsylvania.  Certainly not nearly as bad as in some places, but, still, the last two winters have been colder and harsher than any I can remember after living here for 25 years.  So it was with great enthusiasm that I had made plans for the first outdoor photo session in quite some time with several friends .  Well, you can't always win, and even though it was the beginning of April it was still only 34 degrees out there.  But a plan is a plan and we went anyway.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that one of the first things to catch my eyes was a stand of trees (I always seem to love photographing trees) with the sun highlighting a small number of them that had lighter bark.  And I thought these trees looked better in black and white than the original color.  Though as my friend said when I showed him the finished image......"You think everything looks better in black and white!".


Trees In Moraine State Park    © Howard Grill


Black And White Cleans Up

There are many reasons why a black and white presentation might be a good choice for an image.  One, which was the reason that I converted this image to black and white, is that it tends to simplify the scene. The shape of the tree branches and the echoing of the branches by the smaller tree in the lower right hand corner is what attracted me to this scene.  It is the reason I took the photo. At the time I made it I had fully intended for it to be a color image.  But when I looked at it on the screen it simply didn't work.  There were too many shades of green and too many leaf shapes distracting the viewer's eye from the broader lines and shapes.  It was the larger shapes of the trunk and branches that drew me in, not the micro-details in the leaves.

So I decided to give it a try in black and white with a higher key effect to help lessen the details in the leaves.  It worked for me.  The image became much closer to my original vision. Black and white saved the image.......or at least allowed it to transmit what it was that I was feeling and what it was that made me take the photograph.

Twisted Tree

One last picture to remember the passing fall season:

"Twisted Tree"

Copyright Howard Grill

I have always had great difficulty in motivating myself to go out and make photos in the cold, but this winter I am planning to push myself.  I like the idea of Lake Arthur frozen and covered with snow!