Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Adobe Seminars -- are they worth it?

First the answer to that question: yes.

However, some are more worth it than others. Sound a little trite? Kind of obvious? Well, OK, but let me elaborate a bit.

Adobe is the undisputed expert when it comes to making photo manipulation software. Undisputed by me, anyway: PhotoShop is the standard that other products aspire to. But they haven't rested on these laurels: their vector graphics program (Illustrator), their web development product (DreamWeaver) and Adobe Acrobat for pdf files are tops: so is, supposedly, InDesign for page layout, although I haven't used it because I don't do much page layout and the old PageMaker (Adobe, of course) is good enough for me. That's the good news.

These programs are all massively deep. The learning curve is humungous. One could spend a year doing nothing but Photoshop and studying it, and still not know it all. So Adobe has gotten together with Scott Kelby to provide training in how to use their products. Kelby & co. designs, creates and markets a variety of training courses and presents them in a variety of locations, including Toronto. But it all comes back to the people who do these courses and some are better than others.

Bottom line: with a program, or a topic with as much depth as Photoshop, unless you use the tools all the time, you're not going to remember how to do so without in-depth workbook materials and I personally felt that was the area where this last seminar fell short.

Last year, I attended the Photoshop CS3 for Photographers workshop. It was wonderful. Ben Willmore, who probably didn't design the course all by himself, realized that, and the methods and techniques he presented stuck with me. I learned a lot. And I have the workbook to fall back on when I can' t remember how to do things.

Last week, I was at the "Down and Dirty Tricks" seminar put on by Corey Barker. If the Willmore session was a 9 on a scale of 1-10, Barker's was a 5. Why?

Well for one thing, the seminar was directed at Graphic Designers. Not at photographers. One of the first things he said was that he wasn't going to teach us how to use Photoshop, just some tricks. Fair enough, that's what the course description said going in. But here's the problem: he went 'way too fast, for me anyway. Right near the beginning, I put down the workbook, because I had to focus on what he was doing and looking away to look at the book, I would have missed stuff. Important stuff because skipping a step in some of those techniques, they don't work.

Anyway, Corey knew his stuff. He was an articulate speaker but he wasn't a teacher. Oh, he had a few glitches, sometimes things didn't work as planned (if I recall, Bill Gates, when he introduced Windows XP, had a "blue screen of death" right there in the presentation!) and often he had to take a minute to look at his notes to remember what or how to do the next step. But my main issue was that he would perform a function, often loading a pre-designed image like an existing selection, do the 15 steps to come to the desired result, show you the finished product for about 10 seconds, then kill it and go on to the next thing.

Having attended this seminar, knowing now what I do, would I attend it again? Yes. In addition to some neat tricks and graphic techniques (reflections, for instance, or painting with light, or using the vanishing point tool, I learned an important thing for me: I already use a lot of these techniques and I have a good basic background knowledge in graphic design that I shouldn't be afraid to use.

Do I recommend Adobe seminars for everyone? No. I think you need to get beyond the basics and become comfortable with the concepts of the program being taught before attending one, or you will be frustrated because you won't be able to follow, or later implement any of the techniques.

I'm going to try to use some of these techniques in the weeks to come and I'll post some images here. Watch this space.

In the meantime, I can't leave you without a couple of pictures to look at. Here's a pair of hairy woodpeckers that visit my feeder regularly.

Hairy Woodpecker Couple (picoides villosus). The male woodpecker (red patch) has a peanut in his mouth. But he didn't get it from the feeder, the female did and gave it to him. Manipulated some in photoshop with "poster edges" filter applied to increase the detail and texture layers. I used the art-history brush for the edge effects on the vignette.

A few nights ago, I was sitting at the computer at 1:00 am and a crash outside caught my attention. I thought it was the bear that had visited last week but this time it was a raccoon. Cute, but destructive. He worked diligently at tearing my peanut feeder apart, then sat on the ground gorging himself on peanuts. I happened to have the camera handy, and I took 50 exposures ranging from available light (the floodlights on my deck), to the pop-up flash on the camera, to my SB-600 external flash and finally to the flash with the Gary Fong diffuser on it. The low light shots were done at very high ISO so the noise was obvious, but with the bigger flash, I was able to bring that down to a reasonable level.

Now animals have very big pupils, especially if they're nocturnal, and the flash created really ugly reflections. So I used the techniques I learned from Hilarie and re-drew the eyes, or at least added catchlights. Pretty good, if I do say so myself!

This is the "before" image: as taken. I used the Gary Fong diffuser on the external flash
to light this shot and look what it did to the eyes!

...and this is after working on the eyes. Hilarie taught us that drawing a soft reflection of the catchlight on the opposite side of the eye makes the eye really pop out.

One final thought: Microsoft seems to have gotten their act together with Internet Explorer 8. I downloaded and installed it and it works well. Among other things, I can now read the fonts onscreen MUCH better. Websites have a much cleaner look. And their "Accelerators" seem to work well. I hope I'm not speaking too soon when I say I like it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Top O' the mornin to ya

Here I am up in Minden, on a beautiful summer day. It almost seemed that summer would never really appear but here it is! I've been working on some other things and haven't spent much time behind the lens but hopefully I can change that.

Here are a few shots I took at the house. The tree is just outside my front door and the attraction is a couple of bird feeders. By the way, a small black bear came by the other day and ripped one of them down, for a few peanuts. It's the first time I've seen one on my property. I just wonder where momma was!

Blue Jay (cyanocitta cristata)

Cedar Waxwing (bombycilla cedrorum)

Purple Finch (carpodacus purpurpeus). This fellow was hard to identify. I actually bought a "Birds of Ontario" book and looked him up, without success. Finally I posted this picture and sent the link to a site called "whatbird.com" where I had an answer within about 10 minutes!

At the end of this week, I'm attending Adobe's "Photoshop CS4 Down and Dirty Tricks" seminar. I was at one of their sessions last year and came away with a bunch of new techniques and ideas. Hopefully the same will happen this time. Watch this space for some neat stuff.

On July 4th weekend, Whitewater Canada is having a Whitewater kayaking race event, called "Gullfest". It's being held at the Minden Wildwater Preserve which is 6km from my house. I've contacted them a few times to request press accreditation, but nothing yet so I'll have to take my chances. Here's a link to the event (click here).

I had posted some pictures here a few weeks ago last time I was there. I went again this weekend with the intention of trying some different techniques. I was only moderately successful. Last time, I froze the action with a high shutter speed, this time I decided I wanted to bring some motion into the shots by using a slow speed. I quickly settled on shutter speeds between 1/20 sec and 1/30 sec. Anything slower and there was too much camera shake (well I did it deliberately a couple of times but it's really hard to control).

Normally, you would pan with the moving target (the kayaker) but if you watch these guys, they tend to stay in the same position on the water. So the best technique is to hold still and use the slow shutter to capture moving water. Like I said, very hard to control and I didn't get a lot of successful images. Here are a few, though.

1/30 sec at f/18, ISO 200, 24-120VR lens set at 70mm. I love the water motion in this picture. I didn't really do anything to it in Photoshop, and it's just slightly cropped from the original.

Exactly the same exposure, zoomed in to 120mm, taken a few seconds later. I think you can see what I mean: he's holding the kayak in position, not moving. By the way, if you haven't figured it out, these guys generally point their boats upstream. I imagine they'll be facing the other way when they're racing next weekend, unless they're trying to get through some slalom gates.

Again, this is the same exposure but I moved the camera as I took the shot and got this abstract effect. Very hard to control.

Let me leave you with one image that I really like. I'm not sure exactly why... just the feeling in the image. I call the shot, "Together".

This couple was doing the same stuff that the little single kayakers were doing, but less aggressively. They then moved over to this calm spot, took the boat out and portaged it upstream so they could run the part of the river that I think is called the "Otter Slide". Go to my June Smugmug gallery to see them back enjoying the action after this quiet moment.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Quiet Month

Despite the fact that I haven't had much time to get out and shoot pictures, I feel the need to post here to update the Blog. I haven't been totally idle: for instance, I participated in the B.A.D. Ride with over 1000 other motorcyclists. It was a long day since I rode back up North right afterward, but it was a day of "participation", not "observation". In other words, I didn't shoot a lot of road pictures as in previous years. I did get a couple of good images, including this one during the demo from the Toronto Police "Winged Wheels" Precision Motorcycle Team.

I had decided in advance that I was going to do some slow
shutter speed shots. It's tricky.
I didn't shoot anything in the city for a couple of weeks. But when I went up North, I went for a short bike ride (disappointed: the Fiery Grill in Dorset is closed on Mondays!) and took a few shots while I was there. There were some brightly coloured things, like picnic tables, windows, etc. And a long pier that called to me..."wide angle", it said. "Wide angle..."

I used the Perspective control while cropping this image in Photoshop. It wasn't anywhere near as wide as this when I shot it.

Then finally, when I got home, I saw a guy go out on the lake on a seadoo. The attraction of this toy escapes me. He went out for 5 or 10 minutes, did a few donuts and then returned to the dock. I'm sure it's fun for a few minutes, but what do you do after that?

Well, back to the city on Thursday. I'm slowly working on my next book and dealing with some other issues. Watch this space for our plan to run at least one course this summer... we're still trying to decide what level we're going to teach. All kinds of people are asking for a basic DSLR course, and basic Photoshop, but we want to do something more advanced. Now's your chance to let me know what YOU might want. email me.