I’ve been thinking about this the last few days. It’s a challenge, to say the least, and it’s not just limited to photography. Think of every creative service industry that’s been affected by a transition to digital: photography, music, art, advertising, etc. They’ve all been inundated with new talent that’s able to learn and produce at a rapid pace. If you can see the results of your work right away, you can progress through those 10,000 hours much quicker. The baseline for what is considered acceptable work changes as well. As an example, look at audio. When the digital revolution started, audio professionals slammed MP3 for it’s crappy compression and frequency response. And where are we now? The pros still slam MP3. And MP3 is the dominant audio format. Not “cd quality” files. Not HD audio. This kind of market ‘attitude’ adjustment has happened in every field affected by digital. And it’s not completely a bad thing. It’s great, for example, to be able to get a beautiful print out of today’s printers without worrying about CMYK or color separations or any of that stuff. So how can you stand out in your field among all this change?
Heads up – it’s geek-out time now.
One of the things that’s always bugged me about Photoshop is that there is no keyboard shortcut for showing/hiding the current layer. A lot of times, I like to quickly do some before/after checks to see if the adjustment layer I just added is working. Usually I’m clicking on the show/hide eye icon to do this.
The most recent version of CS6 supports conditional actions. So now you can do something akin to “if this, do that, otherwise do that”. This is perfect for creating a show/hide layer option. Here’s how to do it:
First, create 2 actions. One is called Show Layer, and the other is called Hide Layer. For the Hide Layer action, have a new layer selected (anything other than the locked background layer), start recording the action, and then go to the Layer menu and select Hide Layers. Stop recording. For the Show Layer action, do the same thing, except make sure the layer is not visible when you start recording the action.
Now that those actions are created, create a new action called Layer Toggle (or whatever) and start recording. For the first step, click the arrow at the upper right of the action palette and select “Insert Conditional”. The conditional action window will pop up. Make it look just like this:
Stop recording and give that action a keyboard shortcut. You should now have 3 actions like this:
And you’re done! From now on, when you hit that shortcut, Photoshop will look to see if the current layer is visible. If it is, it will make it hidden (and vice versa). I’ve got this assigned to a button on my Wacom tablet and it’s working great.
If you haven’t had a chance to check out GuessTheLighting.com, I recommend you give it a look (especially if you are into lighting like I am). Ted Sabarese runs the show over there, where he dissects images and offers his take on how he thought the lighting for an image was done.
Always entertaining and informative, it will give you a good primer on lighting if you are new to it. If you are a veteran it will offer you some great ways to think about how to light your next shoot. In any case, you will get a laugh with each post as Ted pontificates on the behind-the-scenes drama of a particular shoot.
So, in deference to Ted, I offer my own “Guess The Lighting” post to breakdown his bio picture:
Let’s discuss how this shoot was accomplished:
Camera: Canon 5D Mark 2 with 50mm lens, on a tripod, remotely triggered from 5 feet away. Shot at 1/100, f5.6, ISO 800
Lighting: Tungsten light bulb, camera right, 10 feet off the ground. Otherwise known as ‘porch light’. Ferrari headlight, camera left, 40 yards back.
Wardrobe: Nike hunter green parka with matching hoodie, 2006 (discontinued.)
Comments: This image was taken at the winter home of Sean Connnery. On this rainy day, Ted was tasked with walking Mr. Connery from his house to the photo set (which involved a 2014 Ferrari concept car and a Louis Vitton bag). Ted managed to keep Mr. Connery dry for the 7 minute walk to the car (and its pre-activated heated leather seats).
You can check out Ted’s great posts at GuessTheLighting.com.
Debbie emailed me last November from Atlanta. She’s a wedding photographer and was looking for ways to change things up in her lighting and the post-processing of her work (including her portrait work as well). A “creative bootcamp”, as she put it, in her initial email. She asked if I did any workshops. I didn’t have any plans for one anytime soon. She began suggesting that she be a ‘guinea pig’ for a full-day one-on-one training thing. We emailed back and forth, and it finally worked out this past Friday. She came into town and we spent all day covering lighting and post production. I had no secrets – we opened every image she wanted and I discussed in detail what I was thinking on set and I how I did the work in Photoshop afterwards. We talked about lighting modifiers, how they affect the light, and how to get more efficient use out of her gear.
We also enjoyed an Italian lunch at Mandola’s. I probably would have been there that day anyways because I like fresh mozzarella (being half-Italian and all).
Debbie showed up with images that she wanted to discuss, and she took great notes:
And I made use of a whiteboard to, well, “sketch” things:
It was a great time! I could see doing it again.
It’s been about a month since the last post. In
some many ways, the holiday season is my busiest time. In addition to my commercial/editorial work, I pick up a fair bit of Christmas card work as well. I’m looking forward to wrapping things up over this week so I can get to some Christmas shopping and baked-goods gluttony.
In the meantime, I had the great fortune to do an interview with Frederick Van Johnson of This Week In Photo. It’s my hands-down favorite podcast and, to borrow a phrase from co-host Alex Lindsay, ‘you should definitely check it out’.
You can find the entire interview here. We talk about my work prior to photography (including a stint at the Pentagon, web design, and a little film music scoring too).
I hope your holidays are off to a great start!
If you’re a member of PPA, check the November issue of their magazine. There’s a story on my custom Christmas card work. Plus, a shot I submitted got an honorable mention for the cover contest. This is the second year in a row I’ve made the HM list. One day, I will make the cover :)
Start a personal project
Some photographers do a 365 project (where they take an image every day). Unless that idea is super-appealing to you, I’d instead look for a way you can merge photography with an interest you find fascinating. Perhaps you volunteer at the local animal shelter, or you are an expert on Ford Mustangs made before 1984. Whatever it is, build a personal project out of it. I recently started one of these based on a shoot from over a year ago. It’s more of an endurance event than a short period of focused work, and I’m looking forward to the end product!
Take a class
This could be something as simple as a short workshop, a dvd/video class, or even a conference. Specifically seek out one that covers something you don’t know. Don’t get caught only going to classes that you know your friends will be at (this is super-important at conferences.)
Trade for practice
Come up with an idea for a shoot, and trade that (for free if necessary) just to get the practice in doing it.
Read non-photo-specific things
It’s easy to collect a list of photo blogs in your rss reader to lean on for inspiration/etc. Try instead to read books about creativity and business that don’t specifically deal with photography. Some of my recent favorites include The War Of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle by Steven Pressfield and The Power of Full Engagement
by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz.
Inside-out learning (on a lens, modifier, etc)
Pick a lens, modifier, or light, and spend a weekend learning as much as you can about it. Some photographers recommend using that piece of gear exclusively until you know it inside and out.
Find a photo you love and spend the time to create an image exactly like it. Don’t worry about putting it in your gallery (since it’s a copy). The exercise of creating the image will be a great learning experience, and eventually you will take a small piece of that technique and merge it with your style.
Reach out to someone you admire
Social media tools like Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus have made people more accessible than ever. Find you someone you admire and reach out to them. You don’t need to send them a 5 paragraph email with a ton of questions. A quick “Hi – I really enjoy the work you’ve been doing!” can get the door open to future communication.
Force variation (at least 5)
Along the lines of inside-out learning mentioned above, try forcing variations on yourself. Shoot a subject the way you would normally, and then force yourself to get 5 different looks of the same subject. You could try different angles, lighting, nighttime vs daytime, lenses, etc. Getting into this practice is good for you, because it always comes in handy on jobs for paying clients.
If you haven’t rented gear before, it’s worth the effort. Most online rental houses have the process down when it comes to shipping you gear and making it easy for you to return it. With some sites you can get a special deal on weekend rentals (3 days for the price of 2, etc). And be sure to check out any local companies in your area that rent gear. I use a mix of online and local rental options, and I will always be renting certain types of gear vs. buying. I love Lensrentals.com online and Texas Grip locally.
Break from social media
This is the toughest one in this list, and I find myself struggling with it all the time. When I find myself spending too much time on social networking sites, I try to remember that there are plenty of incredible photographers who don’t have any interest in social media. Go try to find Dan Winters in some social network online, for example. Realize that great photographers get great ultimately by doing, not just by networking.
I hope some of these have been helpful. If there’s a technique that has helped you out recently, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.