4 Takeaways from Photoshop World

I attended Scott Kelby‘s Photoshop World in Las Vegas last week. Analyzing the body of work comprising the 365 Full Frame Project, I identified two core areas of improvement for my photography. The first was lighting, and I learned a whole bunch about that from Tony Corbell during his Santa Fe Photography Workshop.

The second was touch-ups and editing, and that brought me to Photoshop World. I learned quite a few things (lots of little tricks), but walked away needing to get down to basic blocking and tackling (lesson two below). Overall I had four big takeaways, which are below. All photos in this post were either edited at Photoshop World or were taken while attending the event.

1) Lightroom Is for Organic Edits, Photoshop Is for Cooking


Lightroom is my primary editing program (the above Potomac River photo is a Lightroom edit, no Photoshop). Most of the teachers at the conference do their basic corrections and touch-ups in Lightroom, which is a derivative of Adobe Camera Raw.

The Lightroom program uses image data taken from your capture, and allows you to strengthen and reduce elements of the light to correct your photo. You can significantly improve a photo in Lightroom, and also completely change its look and feel from literal realism (as determined by your camera) to surreal.

There comes a point where serious edits need to happen, and that’s when you move to Photoshop. It’s where the real cooking on a photo happens (this can be good or bad, depending on your tastes). Cooking is an industry slang term for serious image correction and manipulation. It’s what separates the true retoucher from those who are amateurs and photojournalists.

I would say more than 90% of serious photographers venture into the Photoshop realm. You have to do it, even if it’s just for corrections that can’t be performed in Lightroom.

2) Layers and Masks


If you want to become a Photoshop wiz, you need to learn how to use layers and masks. Smart application of these tools is what makes a surreal or incredible cover image fly in 90% of publications. I am a stumbling fool when it comes to layers and masks, particularly the latter. Unfortunately for me, building composites, smart object-based editing, and in-depth retouching all revolve around layers and masks.

Don’t get me wrong, I learned a few tricks besides the widespread use of layers and masks. For example, I now know how to better correct white balance and noise, use some nice blurring tool tricks, and have some additional liquify techniques. The above image (taken in Alexandria, VA the night before Photoshop World) uses a few of those tricks.

That being said, I find the Photoshop interface to be a nightmarish experience. One bad setting and it’s all off. Being self-taught, I can only blame my crappy teacher. Still, the UI is not my friend.

One resource I found was Adobe Photoshop Evangelist Julieanne Kost’s blog. She’s a fun person who creates some really unique images. She also happens to have a ton of Photoshop and Lightroom tutorials on her site. Check it out.

3) Everyone Is Using Filters and Plug-ins


Almost every photographer who spoke mentioned using filters, in limited roles or as a post-processing add on. Some use them as presets or layers and then alter their use. Others find the right post processing after effect. And others found them to be a great way to worsen a photo. For most, it is an approach, but not the approach.

This above photo of a homeless gentleman was taken outside of the New York, New York hotel. Most of the edits were done in Lightroom with a few small corrections in Photoshop. I didn’t like the B&W rendering in Lightroom so I moved it to DxO Elite Film Pack (which has lots of lovely “analog” overlays), and used one of the filters for the final B&W version.

4) You Can’t Cook Brilliance


One big takeaway, and perhaps the best one, is that it takes a great capture to make a strong photo. You can cook all you want in Photoshop, but it only disguises a bad capture to a certain extent. Even great retouched model portraits work off a good capture.

If you have a bad capture and want to make it better, you will spend excessive amounts of time in Photoshop. In addition, I have to say I walked away feeling some of the featured work was overcooked. A good photo stands on its own, even with flaws.

I don’t believe in straightening noses or creating abstract non-existent landscapes based off of wild composites of multiple places. That’s just me. I want to take a capture and present my interpretation of what I saw. Maybe this is the marketer’s version of photojournalism, un-pure and cooked and with steroids, but nevertheless a photo of what was seen, in studio or on the street.

Perhaps that’s why I appreciated Jay Maisel‘s session more than any other at Photoshop World. He cut through the graphic soup, and talked about capturing the spirit of the moment, of being present and photographing a scene through a lens. Maisel said focus on the remarkable and don’t worry about flaws, a good photo will overcome. He doesn’t edit his photos, by the way.

In reflection, I took a few pics in Las Vegas, but I thought the above red bridge photo was my best. It’s been edited mostly in Lightroom with a couple of corrections in Photoshop. There are nitpicks: I left the Eiffel Tower pillar on the left, and the awkward pillar shadow on the upper right ceiling. I also left the cheesy Vegas photo experience crew at the end of the bridge, though I did burn their images so they wouldn’t stand out. All of these things could have been edited out of the image in Photoshop with considerable time (and layers and masks).

But why? Perfection wasn’t what I saw. It’s inside a fricking casino. What I saw was a beautiful pedestrian bridge leading to the observation deck at the Paris Hotel Eiffel Tower. In fact, these red lights were the most remarkable thing I saw on this particular trip, at least to my eye. So my edits revolved around pulling out and enhancing the color and enhancing the vanishing effect.

Thanks to Scott Kelby and the KelbyOne crew for a thoughtful and well-run experience. I learned a ton.

I’d be interested in hearing how much editing is too much in your opinion?