The Things They Carried

Posted in Books on April 16th, 2014 by Howard

Every so often I take the liberty of writing a blog post that has nothing to do with photography. This is one of those times.

I recently finished reading a book by Tim O’Brien entitled The Things They Carried The Things They Carried. It is ostensibly a book about the war in Vietnam. But it really isn’t. It is a book about war in general, except it really isn’t that either. It gets closer to say it is a book about what it is like emotionally to be a soldier in a war, but it really goes deeper than that as well. To me it is a book about dealing with the unfathomable, not only in war, but in life. And thus there are some personal, non-war related aspects of the author’s life mixed in among the remembrances of war. But these blend perfectly and seamlessly into the narrative.

Take for example when his first ‘girlfriend’ died of a brain tumor when both he and she were the tender age of nine. O’Brien dealt with it by visiting her in his dreams. His mother was concerned when he consistently wanted to go to bed early. Of course, she couldn’t know that he was going to bed to visit her in his dreams, where she was very much alive.

During one of the dreams he asks the girl what it is like to be dead and she thinks that this is a silly question.

She smiled and said “Do I look dead?”

I told her no, she looked terrific. I waited a moment, then asked again, and Linda made a soft little sigh. I could smell our wool mittens drying on the stove.

“Well, right now,” she said “I’m not dead. But when I am, it’s like…….I don’t know, I guess it’s like being inside a book that nobody’s reading”.

“A book?” I said.

“An old one. It’s up on a library shelf, so you’re safe and everything, but the book hasn’t been checked out for a long, long time. All you can do is wait. Just hope somebody’ll pick it up and start reading.”

Lest you think the book is morbid, it’s not. It is a book that has been highly acclaimed by an author who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist. I was initially attracted to it because I am old enough to to have lived through the Vietnam war with memories of it nightly on the TV news, but young enough not to have had to go. But again, it really isn’t about Vietnam. It is a very worthwhile read. In fact, I am now starting to look into O’Brien’s other books. The Things They Carried The Things They Carried……highly recommended!


Quick Quotes: Edward Weston

Posted in Quotes on April 11th, 2014 by Howard

“To consult the rules of composition before making a picture is a little like consulting the law of gravitation before going for a walk.”

Edward Weston

I know there are those of you out there who eschew the formal rules of composition! Rules are there as guides.  They provide a firm foundation in what can work, but, once you get the idea, breaking the rules can open up new ways of seeing.  Edward Weston seems to think so anyway, and his word is good enough for me!


Photographic Personality

Posted in Arizona, Nature Images, Workshops on April 6th, 2014 by Howard

Over time, I have been to many photographic workshops that I have really enjoyed. But several years ago I went one that was was the only workshop that I did not like attending.  And the reason for that helped me to understand a bit about my photographic ‘personality’.

This particular workshop was about five or six days in duration, and during that time we photographed at Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Monument Valley, and Canyon De Chelle.  What could be bad?  Well nothing really, as long as you like moving from spot to spot fairly rapidly and are OK with ending up being at some prime spots during the bright afternoons when conditions for photographing are not optimal.  It made me realize that my photographic ‘personality’ is to move slowly and take in all the nuances of a location; to steep myself in the feel of a place and photograph it under many conditions and times.  I would much rather have spent the entire week, or at least half a week, at one of those locations and gone back to multiple areas within it for sunrise and sunset and to get an opportunity to explore it more fully rather than get the classic roadside shots that have made the locations famous for being a photographer’s paradise.

Please understand, I am not complaining about or denigrating this particular workshop.  I am just talking about how participating in it made me realize more about my personal photographic technique.  Not that it’s always good.  I often do need someone to push me along a bit, lest I not move for hours to see what is around the bend.  But it is the way I am most comfortable working.  Others like to shoot and run, and that works for them.  But I do think it is helpful to understand the way you work best and plan accordingly.

This particular image was one where we ended up at the right place at the right time.

mittens1 Photographic Personality

Monument Valley ‘Mittens’

Copyright Howard Grill

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The Artist’s Statement

Posted in Black And White, Botanicals, Projects on April 1st, 2014 by Howard

The artist’s statement can be very difficult to write. It is often filled with artspeak that is incomprehensible to the average everyday viewer. I found myself wanting to write a very plain and simple statement to go with my black and white botanical project which I am calling “Floral Forms”. I wanted it to clearly state what the project was about without a lot of verbiage that would make the average “non-artist” viewer roll their eyes. The following is what I came up with. Have I succeeded?

flower The Artists Statement


One of the most prominent characteristics of flowers are their brilliant and varied colors. So why would anyone want to portray them in black and white?

We don’t live in a monochrome world. Colors are our reality and one of the first things we tend to notice. In fact, the more vivid the color the more it attracts our attention and becomes an object’s dominant characteristic. Removing that color from a flower, or any other object, allows us to concentrate on other attributes. We can start to appreciate a flower’s form, shape, curves, and lines. We can pay more attention to the various characteristics that previously had to take a “back seat” to color.

It is my intent that these images allow the viewer to see a flower’s beauty in a new way; a way that might have been easily overlooked. Black and white allows us to see differently. It affords a way of seeing that focuses on “Floral Forms”.

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Epson 7900 Printhead Failure: The Fix

Posted in Printing on March 27th, 2014 by Howard

I have had my share of problems with my Epson 7900 printer. As a matter of fact, I am already on my second one, wise decision or not! I outlined my 7900 saga in a series of posts ending with “Epson 7900: More Frustration”. But I now have the answer…..the cure…..and here it is for all to see:


Quick Quotes: David Alan Harvey

Posted in Quotes on March 23rd, 2014 by Howard

Don’t shoot what it looks like.  Shoot what it feels like!

David Alan Harvey

Photojournalism is one thing, but when it comes to fine art photography this is something I have always agreed with.



Posted in Nature Images on March 18th, 2014 by Howard

I know I have posted this photo on the blog before, some time ago.  But it sees to convey what I am feeling, so out it comes again.  We need spring here in Western Pennsylvania.  I know people have worse winters than ours…….but it really has been a brutal and never ending frigid winter here.  It has to end soon…..I just wish the Earth would get through this tilting thing and get us oriented in the right direction.

This is what we need.  Some warm green growth with flowers that you can walk among without being bundled up.  And a nice tree to sit under as well!

This particular photo was taken at Jennings Environmental Area.

spring Spring

Copyright Howard Grill

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When Color Becomes Black And White

Posted in Black And White, Botanicals, Creativity on March 13th, 2014 by Howard

As I have been working on my flower photographs, I have found that some images just seem to ‘work’ in black and white.  And I have found that it can sometimes be difficult to predict when that is going to be the case.  What I have therefore been doing is to take photos where the flowers have interesting forms and shapes and quickly try a black and white conversion.  By that I mean spending 60 seconds on it, or, at times, just looking at it in Lightroom by hovering over a series of  black and white presets that I have, even though I don’t do my conversions in Lightroom (I use the Silver Efex Pro plug in for Photoshop……not that you can’t do a great conversion in Lightroom….you can).

If one of these quick exercises look promising, then I will start over and spend the amount of time needed to really work on getting the conversion I would like. This generally involves first making a color image with good color and tonal separation (which might mean that it doesn’t look the way I would particularly want the finished color version to look), spot it, and convert to black and white with Silver Efex Pro.  I then generally work on local areas of the image with curves and, more recently, both curves and a dodge and burn layer.

To illustrate, below are three color images.  Two of them did not seem to ‘work’ for me in black and white.  I force myself to ‘give up’ when I find I am really pushing and pushing and can’t make it work.  Which one became the one with a black and white conversion that ‘worked’ and will become part of my black and white botanical project? Don’t cheat…..scroll down slowly and just look at the color images first! See what you would predict.  The black and white versions with my opinion are further on down.

Trillium erectum forma luteum When Color Becomes Black And White

Trillium erectum forma luteum

Copyright Howard Grill

gerbera When Color Becomes Black And White

About Face

Copyright Howard Grill

orchid When Color Becomes Black And White


Copyright Howard Grill

And now for the black and white versions:

trillium erectum When Color Becomes Black And White

Trillium erectum forma luteum

Black and White Version

Copyright Howard Grill

The image above (Trillium erectum forma luteum) is the one that ‘works’ for me in black and white.  There is a nice range of tones and contrasts, from the black background to the dark center with white petals and gray leaves.  I liked it as soon as I saw it.

Aas for the two black and white images below……..they don’t seem to work for me.  They don’t have a wide enough tonal range with enough contrast and they are not going to be included in my collection. However, I wasn’t sure of this before I made the conversion.

Both images are ones that I learned a lesson with.  I liked the color versions and kept spending time ‘pushing’ to make a black and white version that I liked.  But it just wasn’t working.  My lesson was that when it comes to these conversions you will generally know pretty quickly if it is going to work in black and white.  If the time you are spending isn’t fine tuning, but, rather a continued effort to make the black and white version work….well, there is a reason for that!

about face When Color Becomes Black And White

About Face

Black and White Version

Copyright Howard Grill

orchid1 When Color Becomes Black And White


Black and White Version

Copyright Howard Grill

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Quick Quotes: Robert Henri

Posted in Creativity, Quotes on March 9th, 2014 by Howard

Two quotes for the price of one today.  Both from Robert Henri’s book on painting (well, it’s really about any art form) entitled “The Art Spirit”.

“For an artist to be interesting to us he must have been interesting to himself.  He must have been capable of intense feeling and capable of profound contemplation”

“Don’t worry about rejections.  Everybody that’s good has gone through it.  Don’t let it matter if your works are not “accepted” at once.  The better or more personal you are the less likely they are of acceptance.  Just remember that the object of painting pictures is not simply to get them into exhibitions.  It is all very fine to have your pictures hung, but you are painting for yourself, not for the jury”

Robert Henri

Very wise words that speak just as meaningfully now as they did in 1923, when they were first published.

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Springs A Comin’

Posted in Botanicals, Nature Images on March 4th, 2014 by Howard

To quote The Beatles, “it’s been a long cold lonely winter”.  Yes, this winter has been quite bad, particularly in my neck of the woods, and perhaps in yours as well. Sub-zero wind chill, constant snow, and gray skies.  I know some people thrive photographically in the monochrome of winter, but I am not one of them.  Call me a wimp, but I just find it difficult to be creative when I am ….well, cold and uncomfortable.  And this year has been worse than most.

But we can soon put that behind us because, as the title of this post suggests, springs a comin’.  And soon.  And spring is my absolute favorite time of year for photographing.  One day I look forward to being able to photograph throughout spring and not just a day here and a day there.

One of my favorite spring subjects are trillium.  I find it particularly difficult to make compelling trillium images because of the forest debris that typically is scattered all among the flowers, but, still, every year I go out there and try.  Even when you don’t come away with winning shots (why does it always seem windy on the days I get to go out) it is hard not to enjoy shooting on a spring morning.  It’s the process, not necessarily the product!

The following trillium photos from years gone by were all taken at one of my favorite spring wildflower locations, Hell’s Hollow, an out of the way area that belongs to McConnell’s Mill State Park.

trillium 2 Springs A Comin

White Trillium

Copyright Howard Grill

Trillium erectum forma luteum Springs A Comin

Trillium erectum forma luteum

Copyright Howard Grill

20070506 XO9F5775 orig1 Springs A Comin

Sea Of White

Copyright Howard Grill

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