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.

Ruins Of Detroit

If you have seen my Carrie Furnace Project (get the e-Book), you know that I like photographing old, abandoned places.  French photographers Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre have some amazing photos of old abandoned places.  Unfortunately, those places happen to be in the city of Detroit.  Nonetheless, they are quite stirring and conjure up images of what once was.  Photographs from their project "Ruins of Detroit" can be seen here.

Lee Plaza Hotel

From "Ruins Of Detroit

Copyright Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

Atrium, Farwell Building

From "Ruins Of Detroit

Copyright Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre

James Maher: Street Photographer

I don't do much 'street photography' myself, but it is a genre that I appreciate and have great respect for.   I happen to run across the street photography of James Mahr, whose work is mostly centered on New York City.  I guess it didn't hurt that I had just recently spent a long weekend there and lamented the fact that I didn't have my camera with me. At any rate, his is a site that is well worth digging into, and not just for the photography (which is great).  There are a host of informative articles, a very worthwhile eBook (which I purchased), and an interesting newsletter that you can sign up for.  So check out the photography of James Maher!

The Carrie Furnace Project III

For background information about this project see my post entitled The Carrie Furnace Project. To hear the 1-2 minute audio content click on the link below the picture, which will open the audio content in a separate page.

This post's audio content describes what the equipment seen in the image was used for and how the plant would try to reclaim as much iron as possible.

The Carrie Furnace Project

Copyright Howard Grill


The View From Mount Washington

As many readers likely know, Pittsburgh is a city of bridges.  These bridges are integral to crossing our three rivers (for you geography buffs, those would be the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio Rivers). Pittsburgh is also a city of hills.  One of the most noted heights in the city is Mount Washington, where lucky condo owners on one side of Grandview Avenue overlook the city below.  But if you live on the other side of the street or, in my case, another part of the city, there is no need to fret.  There are plenty of public viewing platforms along the avenue. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to awaken at 4:30 AM to meet my "Sunday Morning Shooting Buddies" at 5:15 to watch and photograph the sun rising over the city.  This image is from before the sun came up over the horizon:

Pittsburgh Sunrise Seen From Mount Washington

Under Rt. 80

Last weekend I went on a photo trip with my "Sunday Morning Shooting Buddies" to Cuyahoga National Park, just over two hours from my home.  It was a great weekend and we managed to get in a very reasonable amount of 'shooting time' despite the very frequent downpours.

One of the things I discovered during the trip was a greater self-awareness of what I would have to call my photographic 'style'.  I realized that, even when making nature photographs, what I was really drawn to was the arrangement and organization of lines and shapes in the frame, even more than the specific subject matter.  That is perhap one reason why, despite the nature orientation of the trip, I found myself compelled to make some photographs underneath the trestles that support Route 80, the Ohio turnpike!

Under Rt. 80

Copyright Howard Grill


Today is the first time I have 'played with' the really very interesting Silver-Efex 2 plug in by Nik Software.  Version 2 really blows away the first version.  The original photo above was made using a black and white conversion layer in Photoshop.  I tried Silver-Efex Pro 2 on the image and in very short order was able to generate what is, in my mind, a more compelling image!

Under Rt. 80

Processed Using Nik Silver-Efex Pro


I have previously posted about the fact that I like taking photos of interesting wall murals. I recently had the opportunity to make this photo of a terrific mural in Braddock, PA. I love the way the city scene becomes the woman.

City And Woman
Copyright Howard Grill

History Around Us

No matter where one lives, there are historical artifacts to be found. As many may know, Pittsburgh was once a major center of steel production. While the majority of the steel mills are now closed, their artifacts remain.

Some of these closed historic manufacturing facilities are difficult to get into to photograph. However, there are some remnants of the industrial age that have easy access for photography. One of the older mills land was sold off to make a shopping center near my home, but the mills' chimneys were not taken down. Rather, they were kept as an artifact of that age and stand as an aesthetic focal point of the mall.

Let me be clear that I am not at all a fan of building malls, nor a fan of steel mills and the pollution they produce. As a matter of fact, I find myself lamenting the fact that every large city in the US is starting to look the same with essentially identical malls and chain stores. Nonetheless, I am glad that in this instance it was decided to at least preserve the remnant of what once stood in this place.

Chimney Builders
Copyright Howard Grill

The photograph above is the door of one of the remnant chimneys. The color image was converted to black and white and then sepia toned.

Photographing local historical sites could potentially make for an interesting photographic project.

Pittsburgh Architecture

Those folks who have been following my Facebook page (just click the icon in the sidebar or click here) know that recently I have been doing a bit of urban architectural photography. In fact, I have been shooting in downtown Pittsburgh for the last several weekends along with two friends and have been enjoying it very much.

I find that I approach city shooting in much the same way that I approach nature and landscape photography, which is to say that I find myself attracted to graphic lines and shapes and generally simple compositions. I can easily see this becoming a small project, so I thought I would offer up two recent images from our outing to Union Station, which was built between 1898 and 1903 by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham.

Union Station II
Copyright Howard Grill

Union Station I
Copyright Howard Grill

I will likely post more images of Pittsburgh architecture as I slowly process my favorite shots from these weekend forays.


Odd as it may sound, I have always thought that stairwells would make interesting photos. Depending on where they are and how they are lit they can appear a bit creepy or menacing. Anything that conveys a feeling is always a good candidate for a photo.

Despite the above, there were several factors that kept me from taking photos in a stairwell before. For one thing, depending on the lighting, the contrast range can be quite high. Thus, I thought the image would best be made using several exposures with an HDR technique, which I was not using until recently. In addition, someone with a tripod and camera blocking a stairwell is sure to attract attention....I could just hear the security guards running, particularly after my prior run-ins with guards.

Recently, however, I decided it was time to give it a try. And the perfect place seemed to be at work. That way, if the guards came a-running at least I had an ID and they would know that I worked there and who I was. So I picked a time, very early on a weekend morning when I had to be at work anyway, and set up the tripod in the stairwell and took some shot sequences for HDR processing. Here is what I came up with:

Stairwell I
Copyright Howard Grill

I actually think that a series of different stairwells in various buildings with and without people might be interesting. But then we are back to that whole security guard thing........

Small Prints

I have generally tended to make large prints of what I consider to be my best images. But, I have come to realize that there is a problem with this method of sharing one's work. For one thing, there is always going to be a limitation in the amount of available wall space in any one location. Secondly, any image that is printed large and framed needs to be a '5 star' image in order to merit that sort of treatment and stand on it's own. Finally, unless one is dealing with a rather large gallery space or display area where multiple large images are hanging, the image itself tends to 'live' in isolation.

I have come to realize that I have many photographs that do not merit this sort of large scale, isolated display but are still one's that I think deserve to be looked at, if not in isolation than as part of a series designed to give an overview of a location or topic. Somehow, an 8 x10 or 11 x 14 image that can be hand-held and appreciated without necessarily being matted, framed, and hung seems to fit the bill and allows one to appreciate this type of artwork, which is to say high quality images that fit together but may not necessarily be part of a 'best of' collection.

As an example, take this image from the workshop I attended in Provincetown, on Cape Cod. Provincetown is an interesting mix of beauty and serenity with a touch of eclectic wildness. Part of the Cape Cod and Provincetown experience is not just the ocean, but also the beauty and quirkiness of the towns themselves. One thing that I was drawn to in Provincetown, believe it or not, was the signs. So many of the signs seemed to be colorful pieces of art in and of themselves. Take this one from the Land's End Inn for example:

Land's End Inn
Copyright Howard Grill

This image would not fare well printed as a 22x28 inch framed photo. There simply isn't enough to it to have it hanging on a wall at that size. And yet it does convey a what I found to be an intriguing part of the Provincetown experience, along with the lighthouses, beaches, and sand dunes.

Of course, this idea is nothing new. Lenswork editor Brooks Jenson has long advocated special treatment for these types of photos and has, in the last year or two, made it a reality by producing the now well-known Lenswork Folio series. For those not familiar with the folio concept, who could explain it better than Brooks Jenson himself, who states the following on the Lenswork website:

"What is a folio? Think of it as a hybrid between an individual print and a book. It’s a collection of unbound prints – book-size rather than wall-size prints. Because they are unbound, they can be handled individually, are meant for viewing by hand, but can be matted and framed if you choose to. The prints in a folio are presented in an embossed and die-cut art paper enclosure, and feel more like a single collection than a random pile of prints. Like a book, they are typically monographs or thematic, and contain a number of prints that explore a photographic theme more deeply than is possible with a single “greatest hits” image."

I have taken an interest in the folio concept because I think it allows one to share their work in a very accessible fashion and have taken some early steps to learn how to make them. I anticipate being able to produce one at some point in the next several months. I hope this will make it easier to share a broader selection of my work with a wider audience both at home and at work.

I'm A Photographer, Not A Terrorist

In the past, I have written a few posts about photographers rights which can be read here and here. I have also posted information about fashionable photographers rights wardrobe here. Who, after all, would want to be without their "I Am A Photographer, Not A Terrorist" tee shirt? Even I have one and I'm not known to be the most stylish guy in the world!

Having been personally and inappropriately asked to stop taking pictures in areas where it was clearly within my legal rights to do so, I am sensitized to this issue and always have my eyes open for similar happenings. Here is a fascinating story, published in The Independent, and entitled "Warning, Do Not Take This Picture" . It tells of repeated inappropriate limitations on public photographing that took place in England.

And finally, also based in England, an entire website devoted to the cause of not impinging on the right to take photographs. And what would the perfect name be for such a website....but of course, "I'm A Photographer Not A Terrorist". Don't miss the self portrait page of the site either. For those of you on Facebook, here is their Facebook page.

Although one might well argue that there are bigger problems in the world today, this issue is not a trivial one as it relates not only to the specific issue of photography but also to the bigger issue of rights in general.


I have always enjoyed taking pictures of wall murals. However, I have typically photographed only isolated small abstract portions of the murals. Usually these images have no hint of what the mural was actually a painting of and consist only of abstract splotches of paint that denote only color, tone, and shape.

When I was in Montreal about a year ago I saw a mural that I found interesting. However, instead of the usual abstract 'blotches' that I typically would take, I found myself drawn to a portion of the mural that was much larger than usual for me. It reminded me of Alice In Wonderland. A year later I still like it, though I am not quite sure why!

"Alice In Wonderland"
Copyright Howard Grill

Photographer's Rights: The Wardrobe

I have previously written several posts regarding photographers rights in the city of Pittsburgh. They can be read here, and here.

I have recently found a 'solution'. I don't actually think it will make one bit of difference, but at least when I get asked to leave a location my point will be made without my even opening my mouth. And a bit of humor always helps get a point across as well.

So here it new urban photography shirt. The image on Blogger is a bit small so let me tell you that it reads "I am a photographer (not a terrorist)"

Want one for yourself? I got it here. I have absolutely nothing to do with the company or sales.....I am just a satisfied customer!

The Wall

I recently walked by a wall that had a mural painted on it. I had my camera with me and decided to take a few pictures. A funny thing happened while I was photographing. I realized that I was not taking pictures of the mural itself, at least not in the sense of taking a picture that would show someone what the mural looked like. Rather, I found myself making abstract photographs of little sections of the mural....smears of paint, lines, twirls of color.

When I got home and started looking at the images, I really liked what I saw. I was intrigued that there could be so many beautiful pictures within another piece of art that were never purposefully put there to stand alone.

As in the image below, there was a bit of glare in the photos because of the time of day I happened to be passing by the wall.

Copyright Howard Grill

I plan to go back at a different time of day and take some more photos in better conditions and to also try to do some of this type of photographing when I pass other murals or graffiti. I actually think this would make a nice little project of its own!

A Bit Of Confusion?

I am quite pleased that I had two prints juried into a multi-artist show commemorating Pittsburgh's 250th birthday. The show is entitled "Pittsburgh Through AAP Eyes", with AAP being the Associated Artists Of Pittsburgh. The show runs from Feb 8th to March 9th at The Pittsburgh Center For the Arts and includes both two and three dimensional art. The two prints of mine that are going to be on display are:

Copyright Howard Grill

"Old And New"
Copyright Howard Grill
So where does the issue of confusion come in, as the title of this post would suggest? Twice in the past I have written about the rights of photographers in Pittsburgh. Those posts can be seen here and here. In addition, fellow blogger Billie Mercer recently wrote about two even more concerning episodes involving photographer's rights. Those posts can be read here and here.

Again, what is the source of confusion? The issue is that, on the one hand, there are apparently areas in the city where security guards feel that they can stop people from photographing, despite the fact that it is perfectly legal to do so and, on the other hand, a show can be put together to honor the city that contains images that, on another day, might have been unable to be obtained because of over-zealous security guards and building owners. The image entitled "Escape", for example, was actually taken while standing on PPG property, though not of the PPG Building. So, they stop you from photographing there, but, if you manage to get some shots, the images can be in a show commemorating the city! Figure that one out.

Photographer's Rights In Pittsburgh........Again

I have previously written about a run in I had with a private security guard while taking pictures at Gateway Center, a large skyscraper complex located in Downtown Pittsburgh. I thought this was likely just an isolated event, but I had a similar occurance this weekend. These types of events have been reported in many different places in the country, so I don't at all mean to insinuate that this is an issue isolated to the city of Pittsburgh. Anyway, on to the story.

I was out photographing in downtown Pittsburgh last Sunday, just walking about with my camera handheld without a tripod (not that a tripod should really make a difference on a Sunday morning with almost no people around) at PPG Place, another downtown skyscraper complex. I was looking for and taking pictures of reflections in windows, an idea that I had mentioned in my last post (this building has mirrored glass windows). A private security guard for PPG approached me and said that since 9/11 PPG has a rule that no one can take pictures of the building. I left after politely telling him that this was simply wrong and that PPG can't make such a rule.

I was curious to find out if this has happened to others, and, searching the internet as well as doing some reading on the largest Pittsburgh related flickr group, found that it has, in fact, happened frequently to many other people.

I was quite angry about this and had been thinking about how to approach 'fighting it' or at least making my rights clear to the powers that be. In the interim, I found several other resources about this issue and would like to take the opportunity to share them, which I will do at the end of this post.

Unfortunately, after reading them, it turns out that I can't press the issue based on this occurance as I was in the wrong, at least according to the letter of the law. In this instance, I was standing in the open air plaza between the buildings, which is private property, (though there is full public access including shopfronts, outdoor tables for everyone and a public ice skating rink), when the security guard asked me to stop. According to one of the articles I reference at the end of this post, I have every right to take pictures in this situation, however, since it is private property, I can be asked (or forced) to leave if I don't comply with the request not to take photos. However, what I find interesting is that because the locale is public (even though the property is private), I can't be legally compelled to give up the photos that I have taken prior to leaving or stopping photographing.

Equally interesting is that the security guard seemed to me to be approaching even before I stepped into the plaza and was still on the public street. Additionally, he didn't say that I couldn't take pictures while in the plaza, he stated that I was not 'allowed to take pictures of the building', implying from anywhere. In support of what I thought would have happened, here is a post from someone else regarding an occurance at the very same location where they were told that they could not take photographs of the building despite being on a public thoroughfare. There is also interesting discussion in the comments section as to what he did and the results he got while trying to 'right this wrong'.

I am still wondering if there is something more that I could do on a local level to express my anger about this.

Here is the list of references that I found as well as the one I listed in my original post several months back:

Photographers Rights in .pdf format
A nice article from USA Today, Part I and Part II
Another review of photographer's legal rights
An interesting blog entitled PhotoAttorney

Of course, needless to say,.............please do not construe any of the above post as legal advice as I am not an attorney, nor are the authors of many of the references that I site.

One Idea Begets Another

I think it's interesting that sometimes looking over photographs that one has taken can lead to ideas about making new types of images.

For example, I previously wrote about making abstract urban and skyscraper photographs. I recently decided to print one that utilized a telephoto lens to 'compress distance', leading to an image that, to me, took on an abstract feel. I was happy with the way it came out:

Old And New
Copyright Howard Grill

As I looked at it, I was amazed with the appearance of the reflections in the windows of the building on the left. Initially, looking at the image as a whole, they didn't take on that much importance, though their tone and warmth did add to the overall image. But as I continued to look at the reflections it seemed like they could take on a significance of their own, which led me to the idea that they could almost make a separate project. Such a project could entail making images of window reflections that appeared as abstract colors and shapes, rather than reflections grounded in reality. Here is a crop showing just the abstract color and shapes from one of the windows from the building on the left. Of course, it is unsharp because I have cropped only a small area of the entire image and enlarged it, but you get the idea....I could easily have walked closer to the building and filled the entire frame with the window:

Window Crop
Copyright Howard Grill

I am intrigued that the idea for a whole new set of images can come from looking carefully at a photograph that you have already made.

Window Shopping

In prior posts, I have mentioned that I find looking for compositions during urban photographing quite similar to composing while doing nature photography. At that time, I was speaking about looking for graphic lines and shapes when making abstract images. Those posts can be seen here and here.

I think other similarities exist as well. One of these similarities is the importance of looking for and being aware of the smaller details; akin to 'the intimate landscape'. For example, as I was walking around town, I began to notice that some of the department store window displays were quite interesting looking and I began taking shots of those that appealed to me. When photographing windows like this, it is a bit of a challenge to get an angle that avoids glare and reflections off the glass, yet still allows for an interesting composition.

I thought this particular display had a rather 'hip' feel to it.

Copyright Howard Grill

So, when walking around town, it's nice to have a camera handy and important to keep an eye on the small stuff as well as the skyscrapers!

Big Science

Yeah, yeah, yeah....I know doors have been done a million times before. But who can resist taking a shot of a really interesting doorway?

The small green lettering under "Big Science", which is quite sharp but just too small to show up in these Blogger picture sizes, says "Sonic Architecture".

So, if you need Sonic Architecture...."who 'ya gonna call?" I could just see Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd coming out of there like in "Ghostbusters".

"Big Science"
Copyright Howard Grill


Skyscrapers are one of the reasons that I enjoy photographing in an urban setting. There are just so many ways to compose an image with them that you could stand in one location and experiment for hours.

Despite the fact that skyscrapers have easily identifiable outlines, I find that my favorite images of them are ones that are taken when I consider them in the abstract; by removing from my mind the fact that they are buildings and, instead, consider them as lines, shapes and colors. Given the number of buildings like this in any major city, there is an almost endless array of composition and images that are waiting to be made.

Image taken In Downtown Pittsburgh
Copyright Howard Grill

As I mentioned in a prior post, I find it interesting that the mind set and compositional ideas I use to photograph the urban landscape are really no different than those that I find myself using to photograph nature. Before venturing out into the city with a camera, I thought they would be very different!