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.

Textured Tree.......In Black And White

I decided to see what I might come up with if I tried converting some of the ‘textured trees’ I had posted a few weeks back into black and white images. It turns out that I like the way they look in black and white quite a bit. That does make sense as the focus of the silhouettes is on line and shape, which tends to be accentuated in black and white photographs. Here is an example of one of them after having been transformed to black and white.

textured tree.jpg


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


Back to the Cathedral of Learning, an educational building that is part of the University of Pittsburgh. One of the things that I have enjoyed about photographing in the cathedral is that there are lots of doorways and openings as well as small nooks and crannies to explore. The plethora of doorways and arches give ample opportunity for ‘framing’ compositions with related elements, as seen in this photograph. This one is actually ‘frame in frame’, as the second arch serves as a frame to the back wall. It really find it quite enjoyable to search for these types of photographs.

© Howard Grill

© Howard Grill


Remembering The Dead (Discovering Dry Plate Photography)

In my work travels, I recently met someone who gave me an interesting gift. Several years back he had been driving down a back road in Virginia and came across an old, abandoned farmhouse. He stopped and peeked in to see if anyone was using the place (you can’t be too careful about what you run across that looks abandoned these days), and saw only cobwebs. He went in and found an interesting box:

Seeds Dry Plates - The Company Was Founded In 1883

Seeds Dry Plates - The Company Was Founded In 1883

Dry plate photography was developed after the wet collodion process. With dry plates, glass plates that had been factory coated with a photographic emulsion were boxed after the emulsion dried. They could be stored and loaded into cameras as needed and developed at any time after exposure. The process was therefore far more convenient than the wet collodion process, where glass plates had to be hand coated with a wet, light sensitive emulsion just before exposure and then developed almost immediately thereafter. The dry plate process was first introduced in 1871, and, in particular, the Seed Dry Plate Company was founded in 1883 and purchased by Eastman Kodak in 1902. That would date this box as well over 100 years old.

My friend opened the box and found exposed dry plates inside, which appear as a negative image! Recognizing that the farmhouse was obviously abandoned and that if he left the plates they would likely be lost forever, he took the box. After a few weeks of our working together, he found out about my interest in photography and one day brought the box in and gave it to me as a gift.

The dry plates themselves (of which there were 8 or 9) were not in particularly good shape, probably because that had been exposed to the elements for decades. This an example of one of the dry plates that was better preserved, with an apparent negative image:

Glass Dry Plate

Glass Dry Plate

I chose some that looked promising, put them on my flatbed scanner and scanned them. I then brought them into Photoshop, inverted the negative black and white image, added a bit of contrast and sharpened them. In some instances, I was able to produce a pretty reasonable image of people who are presumably no longer among the living. For example, this was the reult of scanning the dry plate pictured above:

girl from dry plate.jpg

And for a closer, zoomed in look at the young girl:


And another couple of examples. The many black dots are areas where the emulsion has degraded and worn off. I have to say that it is at the same time exciting and yet somewhat eerie to see people ‘reaching out from the dead’.

Family Dry Plate.jpg

To me, this next image appears to be the same two women pictured above:


And yet another:


And this final image does appear a little ‘ghostly’.


Perhaps this serves to bring back, in some small way, the memory of these people. Should any reader know who these folks are (I know the odds are one in a million, but stranger things have happened) do please let me know.

Quick Quotes: David duChemin

“Comparison to others is the diet of a creative soul that’s dying on the inside. Comparing yourself to others will steal your voice, or so infect it with the desire to do what they’re doing, or do it like they’re doing , that the things that made your voice what it was in the first place will die of starvation”

David duChemin in The Visual Voce

I wanted to share this quote by David duChemin, which was said in relation to finding one’s personal artistic and photographic voice. It seems particularly apropos in this age of social media and ‘Instagram Influencers’. And it isn’t so much a statement about social media itself as it is about how we can use and abuse it (says the blogger with his social media links below the post - though I have been spending less time on general social media and focusing more on specific groups).

Also of interest is the short book by Trey Ratcliff entitled ‘Under the Influence - How to Fake Your Way into Getting Rich on Instagram: Influencer Fraud, Selfies, Anxiety, Ego, and Mass Delusional Behavior’ in which he exposes the ‘dark underbelly’ of Instagram. The book is available on Amazon and is a very interesting read.

A Window View

The main study/event room in the Cathedral of Learning is a full four stories high. But even the areas that are not in the majestic center room have wonderful architecture. This was made from a second floor overlook out into a two story hallway. I liked the repeating patterns of the columns and how the chain from the light divided the image in two. I tried to get the chain to divide the image in the middle perfectly. It looked like I did in camera, but it turns out to have been the very slightest bit off.

 Capture sharpened only
Canon IPG 2000
Ilford Gold Fiber Silk
M0 profile

Atomic Levels

I know it’s a little unusual, but one thing that I really enjoy reading are layman’s books (by which I simply mean that the math isn’t delved into deeply) that explain and discuss some of the findings and unusual paradoxes that are generated by quantum mechanics. And so for some time I have been particularly drawn to abstract images that seem to illustrate principles of physics, and quantum mechanics in particular. When I saw these shadows on my bathroom wall (made by wooden window-shade slats on a sunny day) I couldn’t help but think of electrons jumping from one energy level to the next… the camera came out to capture them.

Atomic Levels I © Howard Grill

Atomic Levels I © Howard Grill

Atomic Levels II © Howard Grill

Atomic Levels II © Howard Grill

Light And Shadow

I have previously posted several of the images I have made at the Cathedral of Learning. In making this photograph, I was drawn not only to the way that the columns led up to the ceiling and then seemingly continued as ‘ribs’ across it, but also to the interplay of light and shadow on the ceiling itself.

It’s fascinating to just look up inside the cathedral. A stiff neck and the possibility of injuring yourself by walking into something while looking up are very real risks that are taken when photographing in this location. It’s just one of those risks that we take as photographers!

Light And Shadow © Howard Grill

Light And Shadow © Howard Grill


The TK Actions Panel

I have been using the TK Actions Panel in Photoshop for many, many years. It is a Photoshop extension panel that easily automates image processing using luminosity masks. In the earliest versions generating luminosity masks is about all it did, but as each version has progressed it has taken on more and more functionality. The TK Actions Panel version 7 has just been released by Tony Kuyper (hence the TK), and, as has always been the case with each new release, Tony adds more and more functionality, improvements and speed.

I use the panel extensively in Photoshop. I won’t say I use it on every image, but I will say that I use it when processing the majority of my images. It is one of the most indispensable Photoshop plug-in type tools that I own.

I could describe it further, but I think the best description and demonstration comes from Tony Kuyper or photographer Sean Bagshaw’s website. In addition, Sean has some excellent video tutorials on its advanced use.

I have absolutely no connection with either Tony or Sean. I don’t know them personally, I am not an ‘affiliate’, and I have no financial arrangements with them. I am only a very satisfied customer and have been for many years.

If you use Photoshop and are intermediate or advanced in your skills I can’t recommend this product highly enough. I suggest you check it out!

Musical Interlude

Every saw often I like posting a musical interlude to my photographic musings, and I realized that I have not done so in quite a while. I also realize it isn’t usual to have these types of posts in a photography blog, but they just seem like fun to throw one in now and again.

This particular musical interlude is even educational. I am not musically talented myself, even though I love music. So listening to this video was really a bit eye opening in terms of understanding why one of my favorite bands appeals to me!

The Shots Never Processed

If you are anything like me, you have thousands of shots in your archives that have never been processed. There may be many reasons for this, though I suspect the two most common ones are i) there simply wasn’t enough time to process them or ii) it wasn’t recognized at the moment that the image was really pretty good. I suspect that even if I never made another photo I would have plenty to work with in my unprocessed archives to keep me busy for some time (though not making more photos is definitely not the plan).

I decided to take a trip into the archive and see how long it took before I found something that caught my eye. Something that I had never processed. I started with my Pittsburgh photos. It didn’t take very long to come across this 2015 photo that I took from Mount Washington.

I should really spend some more time going through my old photos.

How about you? Do you find that you have an archive that’s waiting to be looked at and might have some buried treasures?

Pittsburgh Dawn © Howard Grill

Pittsburgh Dawn © Howard Grill

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.

More Ceiling!

When I was thinking about what to title a post with another photograph of the ceiling of the Cathedral of Learning, the first thing that popped into m,y head was “More Ceiling”, which was reminiscent (if you are old enough to remember) of “More Cowbell”. If you aren’t old enough to remember then you can give yourself a treat and visit a classic SNL skit just below the photo!

More Ceiling © Howard Grill

More Ceiling © Howard Grill


And as for the “More Cowbell”:

And see here for more info on this truly classic SNL skit!

100 Year Old Arctic Negatives

Sometimes I run across photography based stories that are just too interesting not to share. This is one of them.


Here is a story about a box discovered buried in Antarctica containing never before seen negatives from Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1917 expedition that was stranded during a blizzard when their ship blew out to sea (they were ultimately rescued, but the negatives were left behind). Read about it here and get a closer look at some of the processed photographs here. More information about that expedition, known as the Ross Sea Party, can be had here.