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.

What Do You Do When You Get Home After A Photo Workshop

I recently had the opportunity to co-lead a week long photography workshop on the Oregon Coast. It was a truly wonderful experience and was made that way because of the great group of participants that were on the trip. Once everyone was happy and settled in at the various locations and had their questions answered I was able to do some shooting as well (while still always being open and available for questions). I thought a good follow up to that trip would be a blog post about how to approach all those photos once you get home. Obviously, what I do doesn't necessarily apply to everybody, but you may find some good suggestions in my list that also work for you:  

1) The obvious first step is to download your images if you haven't done so already, and not to delete any back-ups you made on the trip until you are sure that you have the images where you want made back-ups while you were away, right? Please tell me that you did! 

Cards are so relatively inexpensive these days that I keep the originals on the cards and just put a new card into the camera when I need to. If I have my laptop with me, I download the card to the laptop but don't delete the card and then make a copy of the files on a small portable hard drive.  When returning home I put the small portable drive into my luggage that is being checked. That way I have a copy of the files in my checked luggage as well as on my laptop and original cards. Now, if the airline loses my checked luggage or if someone steals my carry-ons in the airport I still have copies of those images saved.

2) Once I download the files at home, I make a backup to a large external drive  and then the small drive I use on trips and the camera cards can all be reused.

3) So lets get editing....whoa there.....that's not what I do next, though it may be tempting! Why not? Because the images are still too up close and personal to me. When all the pleasant memories are still fresh its very easy to get lulled into thinking that your images are fantastic or that they are terrible. There are probably some of both......but it is far easier for me to be objective after having distanced myself from them for a period of time. More importantly, as time goes on, I am going to forget things about the shots, such as the location each image was made. So my next step is to keyword them as to location, subject etc, before the memory fades. 

4) After keywording, I go through and stack (using Lightroom) the various iterations of the same shot made with different apertures, shutter speeds etc. That way if the image ultimately becomes one that I want to work on I have all the iterations to compare neatly together. Also, if I did any exposure bracketing sequences for HDR I will stack the brackets together and color code them so I know the stack is a HDR sequence.

5) OK, now I can get down to editing (with ruthlessness) my shots and choose the ones I want to spend time processing. Alternatively, I might let them sit a bit longer to be able to evaluate them more objectively.

That's my post-trip protocol. If you do anything differently or have other suggestions please do comment!



Death Valley Warm Up

I recently returned from a workshop photographing in Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park and Death Valley in California. The workshop was run by John Barclay, Dan Sniffin, and featured black and white 'specialist' Chuck Kimmerlee.  Needless to say, it was absolutely fantastic from start to finish, from the instructors and the arrangements they made, the teaching they gave,  to the terrific like minded people I met.

The title of this post has nothing to do with global warming or the temperature in Death Valley (though it was a VERY pleasant 70-80 degrees during the afternoons, compared to my returning to sub-zero temps here in Western Pennsylvania) and everything to do with how I start warming up to begin processing images after a workshop.  Right or wrong, I generally don't jump right in the moment I get home.  Instead I do all my downloading, keywording, and stacking similar images and any HDR or panorama sets together.  I do this for three reasons. First, things have a way of not getting done if you don't do can quote me on that. Second, I forget things.  If I don't get them keyworded by location fairly soon after my return I have a tendency to forget where they were shot.  Thirdly, when I come back from a trip like this I am 'hyped up' and there is a tendency to think that things are a lot better than they truly are. So I like the idea of mellowing out a bit and letting the excitement wear off so that I can approach sorting the keepers more objectively.

One thing that we did, which turned out to be an incredible amount of just plain fun, was to go out right after we all arrived in Las Vegas to photograph the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, a building designed by architect Frank Gehry. If you don't know that building....don't worry, I will display images of it in coming posts. It truly is an amazing structure and to me looks like something Dr,. Suess would dream up!

But first, I needed to jump into processing with something a little simpler. So I looked at the images I took when I turned around after starting to shoot the Ruvo building. Across the street from Ruvo is the World Market Center. What I saw wasn't so much a building as abstract shapes and color contrasts.  It seemed a good place to start my post-trip processing:

World Market Center, Las Vegas      ©Howard Grill

I mentioned some posts back that I was going to try to write more about how I process my photos.  To me, the type of image above is all about the lines.  If they weren't straight and they didn't line up then the message is lost.  Needless to say, this photo could not have been taken with the lines aligned properly in camera. First of all, this was not a composition that appeared on the first floor of the building where the camera could have been kept parallel to the market.  It was something I visualized higher up, so the camera had to be tilted up which immediately throws the straight lines out of whack.  I had a 90mm tilt shift lens, but that would not suffice because this photo was made at a focal length of 170mm using my 70-200mm lens.  So to get the lines straight, after making some basic exposure and contrast adjustments in Lightroom, I took the image into Photoshop (yes, I know Lightroom has some straightening adjustments but it was going into PS anyway).  I then duplicated the background layer and used the "Skew" command to pull and push the lines as close to pure horizontal and vertical as I could get them, using guides to help me out.

By the way, when doing capture sharpening in Lightroom I used the "Mask" slider quite heavily (it was all the way up to 40) because, again, I wanted the attention to be drawn to the lines and there really is no detail worth emphasizing on the white tiles. It was really just the edges that needed sharpening and not much was needed on the flat tiles. I also used some creative sharpening in Photoshop to further subtly enhance the horizontal and vertical lines in order to draw the eye there.

Finally, I made a selection of the brown portion of the wall and a selection of the white portion and using curves and hue/saturation made adjustments to contrast and saturation as needed for both segments.

Oh, and there was a special focus on black and white imagery on this workshop.  So here is the black and white version.

World Markey Center, Las Vegas  © Howard Grill

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!

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!


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'.

Time And Digital

In my post entitled "Editing" I talked about how I came to realize the importance of editing images in a timely fashion.  And I have been doing just that.  This weekend I finished editing down the couple thousand images I had taken over  the course of a week in the Smokies to what I considered the best ones, which totalled about 50, and put them in a "Smokies 2012" collection in Lightroom. It was a fair amount of work and took a good deal of time, during which I was not doing any processing or printing.  Nonetheless, I believe it was clearly an extremely worthwhile endeavor, even if I don't end up processing or printing all 50 RAW files. At least I have them all in one place and can work on them as I want to or need to.

However, while doing this editing I did have a few thoughts that I thought might be worth sharing.  Digital has made it very easy to take many images at essentially no cost.  And that is a good thing.  However, I find that in the field it becomes very easy to make many variations of the same image.  Some with different f-stops to  try to maximize depth of field vs minimizing diffraction.  Some with the focus placed in slightly different locations, some with multiple exposures for HDR, various HDR sequences with different exposure values, some with multiple focus points to try focus stacking, some to use as panoramas etc.  When all is said and done you can end up with a somewhat confusing panoply of pictures that need to be grouped and labeled ASAP in order to remember what you did.

One lesson is to try to minimize this in the field as much as possible, though the fact is that after traveling to a location like this I know I won't.  I like making several variations and being able to choose when there is more time to evaluate them.  However, lesson two was more important for me.  And that is that when editing multiple versions of the same image it is easy to take inordinate amounts of time making comparisons between them to see if one is slightly sharper than the other etc.  There comes a point where the loss of time available to work on images exceeds the benefit of this type of editing, which could conceivably take many, many hours.  This is particularly the case when choosing among a series and it is not at all clear that any in the series are going to make the final cut anyway. 

So, it became clear to me when looking, for example, at differences in sharpness at 100% that it isn't woth micro evaluating every pixel.  I believe the best approach is to scan around the images at 100% in Lightroom's comparison mode and if there aren't any really obvious differences choose the one with the better histogram and move on.  Don't spend 30 minutes microanalyzing at this stage.  If it turns out that the photo makes a really fantastic image when processed and that it is going to be printed large you can always go back and spend hours micro-examining every pixel between different images in the series at a later date.  But it isn't an exercise for every series of images.  Not when you come home with thousands of pictures.  Everything has some degree of tradeoff. 

Just my two cents!!


I recently had the good fortune of selling a large number of prints to a local hospital system via a gallery they use to choose and install the artwork.  Because of the gallery's standards regarding artwork in health care facilities, there were certain types of scenes that they were particularly interested in and others that they did not want to display.  They therefore wanted print options for display beyond what I have on my website.  Based on their interests I had to go back through my archives and generate completed files from my unedited RAW files.......and I have to admit that for the most part I really liked the images choices I generated for them. But the point of this post is not that sale.  The point is that I had years and years of unedited images.  And by that I don't mean unprocessed, I mean unedited. As in picking the keepers from the throw aways, the wheat from the chaff, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I realized that I have thousands of images (many of them duplicates with slightly different apertures, focus points etc) with no separation of the ones that might be worth showing or printing other than the ones that I thought were my absolute best images. It turns out that what I thought was my best was not always what they thought was my best.  And though they picked some that I thought were among my best works,  they also picked a good number that I would not have considered five star images.  But I still thought they were good.  And there they were, hidden among the hundreds and hundreds of other images.  And since I just went through them with an eye for the particular types of images they wanted,  I know there are other good ones in there that didn't fit what they told me they were looking for.  How much easier would it have been had I, years ago, done at least some sort of star ranking and not just print the few I thought were 'portfolio material', leaving the rest behind.

I am not talking about keeping lousy images or showing work that is garbage in the hopes that someone likes it.  I am talking about knowing which are your good to very good photographs.  Ones that you can still be glad to be associated with even if they are not your portfolio star performers.  I now recognize the importance of this for two reasons.  One, not everyone necessarily agrees with the artist's taste and ideas and the 'consumer' might absolutely love the photograph that you think is just good.  Peoples' tastes are different.  Secondly, there may be (as there was in this case) extraneous rules or limitations about what can be used by a potential client who may be looking for a very specific type of image that is not a 'star performer'.  The best chocolate cake in the world will not satisfy someone who is shopping for apple pie.

So, with this knowledge, I am changing my habits and changing them now.  About two or three weeks ago I went on a fantastic trip with two of my photography buddies to Smoky Mountain National Park.  The trip had initially been planned for wildflower season but, because of the unusually warm February and March, the April wildflowers bloomed a month early and we totally missed them.  Nonetheless, there were still abundant photo ops and we had a great time and came away with many good images.  However, as anyone reading this probably knows, to get many good ones you often take hundreds that don't quite make the cut and never see the light of day.  I will not let these 1500 or so images fade into obscurity.  It takes a good deal of time, but I am editing all of these and all  future  images as I go.  Though I may do preliminary processing on all the top picks I clearly will only print my favorites, which may only number ten or so.  But I will have at least separated out the really good ones into a Lightroom collection that I can show while having easy access to a number of images that are culled and ready to use.

I think this is a good practice that I had not been doing regularly.  If you aren't doing this perhaps you should consider it as well.