Thursday, September 23, 2010

Travel Photographer Glen Allison Creates Cool Photoshop Actions!

This photo of a Mongol girl on horseback was converted from a color picture to an infrared Black and White with Glen Allison's Photoshop Actions.
I used Glen Allison's Photoshop Actions (Infrared Fury) to convert this young girl on horseback that I photographed in Mongolia from color to black and white infrared. It worked beautifully!.

Looks like the entrepreneur in you has teemed up with your inner artist. You're now offering some pretty cool Photoshop actions at a very attractive price. Can you fill us in on this new undertaking?

Thanks, John, for asking. Though I try to accomplish most of my basic image correction in Lightroom, where adjustments are stored as metadata, still I always seem to spend a lot of time in Photoshop. This is especially true when I'm trying to massage my images with nuanced control in localized areas for different colors or tonal ranges. Since I'm on the road continuously, my Photoshop time is quite precious which led me to develop these first three very intense actions. My premise was to pack each one with just about everything I'd ever need to adjust when using the action with a wide range of image types. Simple actions usually don't work for every image. Localized control is essential, which means there's always a fair amount of work still to do after running these new actions. To make adjustments quick, I've isolated each aspect of the effect into a separate layer and the intensity is controlled by varying the layer opacity.

Since color wavelengths respond differently depending on the light source, and I like to be selective in my control, the first aspect of these actions is to quickly isolate the six main color categories of red, blue, green, yellow, magenta and cyan. But these are relatively narrow spectrums and I soon discovered that though it was easy to do a Color Range selection in Photoshop for each one, the results almost never gave me what I needed when trying to automate the process in an action. The blue Color Range selection, for example, never captured all the sky since there's a fair amount of cyan in skies. And the green Color Range selection never captured all the foliage since trees and grass are never pure green. There's always yellow in the mix. So I spent a huge amount of investigation and testing to create my own color spectrum range for these six main colors. My selections for each one also include aspects of similar colors on either side of the main hue. The result is that now most of my skies, foliage, etc., are instantly selected when the action runs.

I applied these strategies to each of the three actions: INFRARED FURY, PASTEL PASSION and TONAL TEMPTATION. While each of the three deals specifically with the respective effect, the way the actions work in terms of execution is very similar and speedy. The word "speedy" is relative, of course, when you consider that much of the creative work for each image is still yet to be accomplished after the action is run. These actions are more like workflow actions that save time. The Pastel action generates 35 layers in the final image and most of them are set by default to zero opacity, which means you don't see much effect until after you've added your creative input. This suits me fine because I need total control. And when you consider that this action utilizes a staggering 761 steps to accomplish the feat, then you start to realize how "speedy" the action really is and the volume of time it saves just in experimentation alone. Imagine trying to remember every one of these individual steps for every single image you wanted to play with. Whew! BTW, the idea is to trash all the layers not used before saving to keep the file size down.

I decided to virtually give away these new GASP Actions at a buck ninety-nine each just so I could treat myself to a nice Starbuck's coffee every once while for the effort. There are many free actions floating around the Internet but probably nothing like these. Only brave souls who want intense action should check them out. If you want quick, then go to Mr.Nik. Or to Mr. Kubota. Each has crafted some awesome actions that I've used in the past, though their prices reflect powerful marketing strategies and the associated overhead for staff. And in many cases I felt restricted by the lack of nuanced manipulation in localized areas of my image.

Though one could go wild with my little actions, for myself I usually use them for very subtle effects and nuanced massaging. I like to create images that tend to jump off the page but ones that you can't really tell what I did to accomplish the magic light or what is causing the image to have more of a three-dimensional look. Most of the GASP image samples on my web site, however, are those that demonstrate more exaggerated results but that's because I needed to make it more obvious at a glance what each action might accomplish. But in my opinion, the real art will be created with subtle moves.

Do you have plans for more actions along these lines?

Over time, I'll be developing more. I'm possessed by even wilder ideas. But now I'm going back to traveling and shooting. When I started creating these first three, I was in Malaysia for what I originally thought would be a two-month shoot but I quickly got overwhelmed by the magic of these actions and wound up spending six weeks straight at 16 hours a day to wrap up this little project. Yep, it was very intense. Though I went to Malaysia to shoot photos, I only did so for about two hours one afternoon after the first month of my marathon Photoshop action pursuit when my brain finally got fried at the computer.

I know you are on an eleven-year shoot. Are you doing this work on a laptop or do you have a tower stashed away somewhere?

I'm doing every single bit of it in my hotel room on a 17-inch MacbookPro loaded to the hilt with 8 gigs of RAM and a 7200 rpm hard drive as it sits here whirring away and getting a bit hot. At least it keeps my coffee warm. The non-glare display on this unit is amazing. I find there's no need to spend money returning to a base for more power or a bigger monitor except for the larger screen real estate. I quickly got comfortable working on the small screen and trained myself to keep my head dead center to judge brightness, contrast and color so that the light falloff would not affect my final results. After being on the road for exactly one year now, I've had no reject images from numerous stock photo outlets.

How about your travel odyssey? Is that going well?

Yes, I've having extreme fun; I'm like a kid gone wild at a mega toy store in Tokyo. But I'm not moving as fast as I thought I might be. During the past year I've shot photos in India, Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Nepal, Cambodia and almost Malaysia. To reach my goal of 200 countries I must shoot 18 per year so I'm already way behind schedule. But, hey, I'm flexible. Joy is more important and I have no boss. There's quite a bit of downtime doing post-production, uploads and a huge amount of time spent writing my travel blog. I decided early on to try and craft posts that were hopefully fun and a bit entertaining.

Are there any new developments in your stock photo undertakings?

Yes, radical changes, at least for me. I've pretty much decided that I will curtail most of my commercially oriented travel stock photo pursuits because in today's marketplace these efforts don't necessarily turn out to be the best investment . . . at least for travel images measured against travel expenses. Truth be it, however, I got bored doing the same old stuff.

So, I'm shifting gears for the thrill. 

I'll still shoot some travel oriented images if a great stock photo jumps out and grabs me. But my focus will now be to shoot very interesting people in remote and exotic locales. I'll be going for the "dignified" environmental portrait of mostly indigenous people. I want to celebrate their lives. I'll be using an array of portable lighting gear for dramatic effect. Now I must travel with an assistant for security, translation and to help manage the gear, which so far includes four Canon Speedlites, a small softbox, a shoot-thru umbrella with misc. reflectors, light modifiers, small stands with boom arm, domes and clamps and a ring flash for smooth lighting on the fly plus five TT5 PocketWizard radio slaves. My focus will be to create a "boutique" body of work that will only be licensed as Rights Managed images, photos not easily accessible or accomplished. I don't want to dilute their value. Yes, there is not much market for this type of imagery but one of my goals is to live an exciting life even if it might mean scraping by on whatever meager funds I might garner if it turns out that way. I'll decide the best marketing strategy as I go along. My mind is occupied by zero worry. 

My ultimate goal is to celebrate human dignity through extraordinary travel experiences.

I'll see where it leads me in terms of creative development. 

First stop: back to India on October 1st for a three-month shoot. 

So please don't dare ask me to write any more actions at the moment. :-)

Are there any other developments we should know about?

Well, now that you ask . . . yes. 

Once I get a few of these new images under my belt, I'll be starting a another blog called "Stroborati" in which I will not only show a final image using my portable lighting but I'll also include shots and explanations about the lighting setups and probably some views of the hordes of curious onlookers I'll be attracting. My lighting setups won't be extremely complicated or elaborate but they won't be inconspicuous either with strobes strapped to trees or a softbox being held by an eager, agile young kid balancing on the back of a water buffalo for extra height in the twilight. I'll also include some interesting details about the unique cultures I'll be visiting.

Most importantly, however, I'll strive to share the inside story about the people who have so graciously posed for a photograph.

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