Fours years ago, shortly after I was unexpectedly bitten in the arse by the photography bug (in the form of a Rebel XTi from Santa), I purchased “The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers” from a local bookstore. I had no previous knowledge of Scott Kelby, but was immediately hooked by his clear, informative and entertaining writing style. I have since purchased more of his books, attended a few his traveling seminars, and early this year went to the first Google Plus for Photographers Conference here in San Fran (sorry but I’m not yet hip enough to call my new home “The City”). And so, when I had the chance to attend the grandaddy of all photog conferences, Photoshop World in Las Vegas, I HAD to go. My head is still spinning, some 5 days later, and the conference definitely lived up to the hype. Rather than recount my experience blow by blow, I’m going to share my 10 most memorable takeaways from the 4 days that were PSW12 (hit the "read more" link below).
Sean Gabriel’s Top 10 Lessons Learned at Photoshop World 2012:
1. Don’t be dumb, use smart objects. Numerous PSW instructors hammered this point home during their training sessions. A smart object is basically just a container for layers, allowing you to apply effects such as transformations and filters, without affecting the pixels on the layer within. This means you can re-tweak filters endlessly without destroying any pixels. I use filters all the time, so this is huge for me. Excuse me while I smack myself in the forehead for not learning about smart objects sooner.
2. Photoshop brushes are versatile. Sure, I use brushes all the time, but only to paint masks in/out. I’ve never tried to use them creatively. At PSW, I saw Burt Monroy create surreal landscapes out of thin air, Faye Sirkis transform animal portraits of animals into works of art, and Joel Grimes simulate arena-style lighting, all with various brush techniques. Sirkis, a traditional fine artist, moved her entire workflow from Corel Painter to Photoshop, so the brush tools must be good, right? For some realistic, free brush presets, check out her download on the PSW site.
3. F2.8 for concert photography. Alan Hess and Scott Diussa put on a great pre-con workshop about concert photography, which is a subject near and dear to my pixelated heart. Hess’ strategy of starting every shoot at F2.8, ISO1600 and at 1/250 and in manual mode is definitely something I have to try my next time out. The idea is that you adjust your shutter speed to freeze the action, and when necessary, bump up the ISO. I also really enjoyed their insight on the unwritten rules of working on the pit (note to self, remember not to break the plane of the stage when shooting!) Hess wrote book that I’m definitely going to check out, called All Access. (Image below taken during the pre-con concert workshop.
4. Twitter is important. Scott Bourne and Rod Harlan, who have gazillions of Twitter followers between them, served up a reminder that Twitter is a legitimate and powerful marketing tool. Bourne went so far as to say it’s his [highly successful] company’s most valuable media asset. Target your audience with an advanced search by keyword and location (do a normal search, then click the gear icon to access “advanced search” page). Then just reply to their tweets, offering help and advice when appropriate. This strategy works much better than solicitation, and you never know when your kindness will come back to you in the form of new business! Also, they suggested that if you’re going to comment on something, take a stance on it, be provocative, and be consistent. Interesting tools they shared include Tweriod.com (free analytics to find the best times to tweet) and Hootsuite.com (for managing multiple sources of social media).
5. Photoshop does video. How did I not know Photoshop could do this?! Probably because I have yet to own a copy of Photoshop Extended or CS6, which offer the timeline window and video functionality. I discovered that you can do some pretty schweet stuff in Photoshop CS6, such as; open a time lapse image sequence as a video track in just a few clicks, apply filters and masks to create some amazing effects (provided you convert the track to a smart object, first), and quickly export to any of the popular video formats. Rod Harlan and Richard Harrington have some really good stuff for you here, and here.
6. Refine radius tool. I can mask out a background as cleanly as the next guy, but it takes me time. A lot. Of time. I noticed that a number of the presenters were using the “refine edge” feature (available from the select menu after you’ve made a selection) to quickly perfect their selections. And more specifically, using the “refine radius brush” within the refine edges dialog box to paint the edges in/out with more precision. Unless you want to pay extra for a masking tool like OnOne’s Perfect Mask, this refine radius tool will definitely save you time. Here's a good tutorial on the Photoshop masking techniques.
7. Find your passion and run with it. I had an inspiring 15 minute portfolio review with Rafael Concepcion (R.C. for short), and learned a few valuable lessons. As I watched him flick through my portfolio photos, I couldn’t help but feel nervous. It’s like telling someone, “here is my blood, sweat and tears... please judge me.” He immediately picked out the photos that defined my personal style, and exuded my passion for photography. As difficult as it was to hear, he also picked out the images that didn’t stand out. It was no coincidence the images he liked most were the same images that I had spent the most time refining in the digital darkroom. I’m discovering that my niche is in creating images with motion, and energy, and experimentation. I can’t tell you how encouraging it is feel just that much closer to defining my style, and I encourage everyone to work hard to do the same!
8. Networking is invaluable. Yeah, no breaking news here. But what I discovered is that the best place to meet people is actually on the expo floor. The instructor/student barrier is gone, and everyone is just browsing the latest software and gear together. One of my favorite digital artists is Burt Monroy, and he was kind enough to pose for a picture with me (see image below). I was also able to approach Corey Barker and get some great ideas for some new images that I’m working on. As long as you’re polite and respectful, the pros are very approachable.
9. Scott Kelby is a total goofball, and so is his crew (Concepcion, Kloskowski, Barker, etc.). They’re always cracking jokes, riffing on each other, and entertaining their herds of followers. They never take themselves too seriously. They are also consummate professionals and highly respected experts in their field. When they are not teaching, they are out there just like you and I, making pictures. Honestly, I wonder if they ever have time to sleep... a luxury I would gladly forgo for the chance to work with them! You can’t help but want to be a part of that energy.
10. Vegas blows. Ok, I know this isn’t exactly Photoshop-related, but I’ll pay you for the counseling session later, I promise. From the vomit-inducing, perfume-masked cloud of cigar smoke that you have to walk through every day, to the outrageously overpriced food ($19 for a hamburger?!), to the endless packs of drunk frat boys and slot-machine-obsessed blue-hairs, I find nothing endearing about Vegas. Sure, the shows are good, and so is the food, but it’s so overpriced that it’s really difficult to enjoy. In my limited world travels, I’ve learned to appreciate the amazing feeling that you get from being immersed in a foreign culture. Travel should give you perspective and new understanding. My approach to life changes for the better every time I travel... except when I go to Vegas. There is no culture in Vegas. In fact, it is the antithesis of culture, and celebrates nothing but excess and commercialism. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas? Indeed. If only I didn’t live on the west coast, I would be heading to the Orlando for the next PSW. Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all!
If you have never been to Photoshop World, and you’re either a photographer or a Photoshop enthusiast, you owe it to yourself to attend this conference at least once. It really is that good. You’ll make new friends, learn new techniques, and find inspiration at every turn. I’m completely exhausted, still, 3 days later, and I can’t wait to go back next year.
For more info on Photoshop World, Kelby Media and the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, check these links:
If you also attended Photoshop World, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below!