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

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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

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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

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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

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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?

4 More Photo Tips Gleaned from the 365 Full Frame Project

We are in the final week of the 365 Full Frame Project, and it seems fitting to share four more photo tips I have picked up over the past year. You can read the first six tips here, which include framing, the rule of thirds, minimalism and sunrises/sunsets.

And with that, let’s begin.

1) If It’s Not Sharp, then Don’t Post It (Unless)

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It’s tempting to post a good capture with a subject that you like even though it’s a little fuzzy. Don’t do it. You need the subject to be in focus. Yes, there are photos that have fuzzy continuation or depth of field and bokeh, which make for a great image. But those photos have a subject that is clearly in focus.

A fuzzy pic is not a good pic, no matter how strong the subject and composition is. The only reason to keep it is for sentimental value. If that’s the case, cool. Memories are precious.

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There is another exception, which is if you are intentionally blurring or distorting a photograph. In that case, go for it. Art is art.

2) Rich Vibrant Color Is a Technique

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People remark on the color I get in my photos, particularly in the skies. They often assume the shots are HDR. Probably one in every 25 photos I post uses HDR processing. In reality, a good part of rich coloring is the way the photo is shot and edited.

One critical aspect of color is exposing for it. When you shoot manually, you can choose what you expose in your photo. So when I take a sunset or sunrise pic, I expose for the sun or the most colorful part of the sky.

Remember, a camera is just a computer that interprets light. Most cameras offer several interpretations (e.g. Standard, Flat, Portrait, Vivid, Landscape) for the same shot. When you manually expose a shot, you are helping the computer by directing its function rather than letting it make a best guess.

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On the editing, HDR lets you expose for the sky and then take a second or third photo and expose other aspects in the scene and then blend. This produces rich color and detail throughout the photo. But not everyone likes HDR, nor does every photographer have the patience to blend the images.

When I expose a single shot for the sky, I open the highlights to reduce glare and pull out the rich color. I adjust whites and blacks accordingly. From there, normal edits on vibrance and contrast finish the job.

I also open the shadows in Lightroom to expose the foreground or the dark parts. But that’s not a universal approach for me. Sometimes I leave the image silhouetted like I did in this pic.

3) Use Filters Mindfully

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Whether you create presets of your workflow, buy presets or use a tool like Intensify, you are using filters. I have heard the no filter argument, and I know what classic photographers used to do. They altered their photos in the darkroom.

When you edit photos using presets others filters, it’s an attempt to make it better. Generally, people like the photos more.

The above photo of the Ngorongoro Crater was very difficult to produce. The crater had some intense light elements with diverse shadows and light. There were cloud walls on the rim and to the left, somewhat filtering the sunset. The final production involved merging three different photos (one to the left, one in the middle and one to the right, but not an HDR overlay) in Photoshop to get the right exposure across the crater, significant Lightroom time, and about three different brushed Intensify filters in parts of the photo.

The real issue that happens with filters is when people mindlessly filter images without thinking about what they are communicating. While the haphazard filtered movement produces a few diamonds, the real product is rarely photography. However, it’s what makes people happy when they Instagram or Facebook or whatever. This also gives a real photographer an opportunity to distinguish themselves with strong unique images.

I believe a photo is a person’s interpretation of something they witnessed, realistic or abstract. Each photo is a unique experience. I never use the exact same edit or a universal filter for touch-ups.

4) Black and White Works

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A good color photograph almost always makes for a good black and white photo. But so does a photo with blown out highlights, bad light (for example, your atypical middle of the day shot) or muted tones. I try not to produce photos that are shot in mid-day, but sometimes you don’t have a choice.

Often I produce these shots as black and white works. The above shot is the el train in Chicago, and it was shot in the morning blue hour before dawn. However, it came out looking dusty and blue. So I went black and white.

The editing was done as an HDR edit in Photomatix using three exposures merged on top of each other. I significantly boosted the contrast further and gave the photo a vignette to make it even more brooding. As Serge Ramelli notes, going over the top in black and white seems to work.

What tips would you add?

Robert Scoble on Data, Algorithms and the Future of Marketing

Robert Scoble on Data, Algorithms and the Future of Marketing

Robert Scoble and Shel Israel have written a defining book for the big data marketing automation era, the Age of Context (read my review). The two teamed on similar book in the early social media days called Naked Conversations that accurately predicted the forthcoming impact on business.

Given their many successes over the years and the powerful ideas in Age of Context, Geoff decided to interview successful blogger Robert Scoble for Vocus. You’ll find an insightful interview on marketing, media and society as a whole.

GL: What prompted you to write the book?

RS: Rackspace pays me to interview innovators, usually startup founders,
but also people who are doing leading edge work inside big companies. Back in early 2012 I saw a bunch of new patterns, due to that work. Sensors were increasing exponentially. So were social data, big data, and wearables. That led to discussions with Shel and eventually to the book, “Age of Context.”

GL: Will the age of context last longer than the age of conversation?

RS:Yes, I think so. Why? Because I’m seeing sensors inside R&D labs that won’t be able to be productized or perfected for consumer market for eight years or more.

GL: Context seems to be about taking the data from sensors, phones, location, etc. and creating useful offerings and information from that data. You discuss this as precision marketing. How important are data skills for marketers +today and +tomorrow?

RS: Well, the big trend is that we’ll need to know 100x more about our customers than we do today. So, yes, data skills are huge. But so are skills in building systems that use that data in a non-freaky way. If I walk into your business and you know everything about me you could easily freak me out, or miscast me and serve me poorly. So we’ll need humans to make sure that the databases don’t enable poor customer service too.

GL:What’s the best way to learn how to analyze data?

RS: The companies at the leading edge have people skilled at machine
learning. That’s what I learned when I visited Prismatic, which is a news service. Learning how to do what those very advanced people are doing? Very hard. Probably requires going to Stanford and getting a computer science degree. But you can start to think about data analysis — watch what journalists do with data and start learning how
to push around data in databases.

Gary Vaynerchuk says he built a database of everyone who tweeted about him. That seems to be a good place to start. Do you know who is tweeting about you or your competitors? If you don’t, then you need to get there and get there
fast (in my industry we already have teams of people and specially-written software to do that, so I have to be far more
advanced than that to keep ahead).

GL:What outcome do you see for communicators who can’t/won’t learn data analysis?

RS: When we wrote Naked Conversations eight years ago we predicted a world where marketers would have to be on social media otherwise they would limit their career opportunities. That absolutely has happened today. The best marketers are on social media and/or run teams that do it.

Tomorrow? If you don’t know your customer in very deep detail you will be run out of the marketing world. Why? Because customers will tend to go to where they are being served better. Uber will beat taxis unless taxis respond. Why? Uber knows its customers in far deeper detail than taxi companies do (down to the point of knowing where you are standing
in the street before they arrive).

GL:You touched on the importance of permission in the 12th chapter on privacy. What’s the future of permission?

RS: I look at Uber. I gave it permission to know a LOT about me, even where I’m standing and my phone number. Why? Because I get a LOT of utility out of that. So, the future is “give utility first, then ask
for permission.” In the book Marc Andreessen calls this “free ice cream.” People will hand over their private details in exchange for a metaphorical free ice cream. I agree.

GL:I remember giving the DNC permission to email me, and I still get spammed despite opting out from their lists numerous times. Is giving permission really just the death of “quiet?”

RS: Google and Apple are working on contextual operating systems. These will know what you are doing. Who you are doing it with. Are you in a meeting? Google knows, it’s on your calendar. So it can shut up any of these lame advertisements. In fact, look at the new Gmail. That DNC email already is going to the promotional folder. It knows about the context of that email and that it’s not from a trusted friend. So, no, I think context is the rebirth of quiet. You’ll get these kinds of messages when you want or need them, not earlier.

Marketers will need to learn to be far better about serving these messages out, too. In a perfect world the DNC would add a feature to its emails like Facebook has “show fewer of these messages” or “show these messages only during
the month before an election” or something like that. But marketers don’t think about customer service so Google will force the issue, just as it has with Gmail’s promotional folder that removes this kind of stuff from the inbox.

GL:What about algorithms? What happens if someone is “abnormal” and breaks the routine assumptions of an algorithm. Will they break the machines, so to speak? Will they be forced to conform to an algorithmic path?

RS: The system is crude right now. It won’t work for everyone. My son is autistic. He isn’t able to give these systems enough of a pattern for them really to serve him. Well, I take that back. He already loves YouTube and Netflix and both keep serving him more videos that are associated with the ones he already likes. He loves that feature.

I don’t see these things “breaking.” I do see them as serving back poor choices. For instance, when using Saga last year, it kept telling me about golf services. Why? I live on a golf course but I hate golf. It didn’t have a way to correct it. These early attempts will seem quite quaint in a few years. The better ones are correctable. I’m also finding that I’m changing MY behavior because of these systems.

Why? I put addresses on all my Google Calendar items now, for instance. That’s because the newer apps like Google Now and Tempo work better when I do that.

GL:Is the ultimate luxury of the future going dark?

RS: The ultimate luxury of the future is to have exclusive experiences that demand your full attention. Burning Man is one that a lot of my rich friends say is pretty great. High demand sports like skiing or surfing are others (try skiing while looking at your smartphone or even the wearable computer in your Oakley ski goggles — I’ve tried and it’s impossible, but once the run is down everyone reaches for their digital devices).

Even with Burning Man I noticed that lots of people were using Waze to get up there and using photo sharing services and social networks to keep in touch back home, even though far lighter than usual.

But, yes, a real “vacation” for your mind is to go dark and discover new experiences. Once you get home, though, you’ll retrain your contextual systems pretty quickly. Say you go to Bali for three weeks. Try a lot of new food. Discover you like sushi. Well, when you get home you will start looking for sushi restaurants.

GL:What do you think the impact will be on thinking? Will we be limited because the machine suggests outcomes for us?

RS: Do you remember phone numbers anymore? I don’t. Our thinking has already been changed by modern machines. In the future we will have to remember less of even more things in our lives. Even how to drive. But
that will give us more time to spend our mental energy on other things. Maybe watch another TED video and learn something new? So, I’m not worried that we’ll get to be dumb. We’ll use these technologies to make our lives better and we’ll spend our mental energies in areas the machines aren’t good at.

This interview originally ran on the Vocus blog.