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.