Thursday, May 27, 2010

How To Be A Better Photoshop Artist

Becoming Rich Creating Stock Photos
I have been invited to make a presentation at the San Francisco Photoshop Users Group next Thursday. I spent the better part of today going through my images and putting the presentation together. That process reminded me of a couple of things. First, how much I love creating images. Ten years ago I thought I would become rich creating stock photos...and I have. But that wealth is not in money, but in being able to spend my time doing something I love so much.

Archimedes, Raw Materials, and Photoshop Artistry
The second thing that struck me was that to become a better Photoshop artist I need to become a better photographer. That old saying, garbage in, garbage out, is as true with digital imaging as it is with anything else. It was Archimedes who reportedly said, "Give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth ". Along the same lines I say, "give me the raw materials, and I can do anything in Photoshop!".  Of course, if you have the right raw materials, creating an image in Photoshop really is easy. For me to become more efficient and to create better images in Photoshop I need to pay more attention to the details of my photo shoots and to prepare more thoroughly.

Visualization, Detail, and Consistency
To become a better Photoshop artist it behooves me to pre-visualize my images in the most detail I can. Visualize exactly how I want the final image to look, and what is necessary for each individual part to work together to create the whole. What angles will I need?  What is the quality and direction of the light…and how can I make sure that the parts I photograph will be consistent in that quality and direction?

Hair, Fur and Stripping Out
Will there be hair and fur…and if so…how will I deal with it? Can I shoot it against a background that will meld with the one I will be putting it into? How can I shoot it in a way that eliminates or best facilitates the stripping-out process? How can I shoot my subject with the appropriate amount and color of light wrap around?

Perspective, Details and Motion
What kind of perspective problems might I encounter? What tiny details will take the image to the next level? Will motion be an issue…and how can I shoot something that will best indicate that motion? If I shoot something in motion, how can I do so in a way that will facilitate that stripping-out process?

Out of Focus, Or Blur Filters?
Will it be better to shoot something out of focus, or use the various blur options in Photoshop? How out of focus do I need to shoot? Do I need a particular kind of sky for a background (you can never be too thin, too rich, or have too many skies!).

A Detailed Sketch, Preparation, and the Best Possible Job
If you want to be a better Photoshop artist pre-plan your image to death. Make a detailed sketch of your upcoming image, number and label each potential problem area, and make sure it is addressed in the photography. That is a habit I developed when creating my Animal Antics imagery.  It is not a bad idea, either, to look at photos similar to what you are undertaking to offer an even more concrete vision of just what exactly you need to do the best possible job. Of course, even with extensive planning and preparation the unforeseen will probably crop up, both good and bad. But you will be way ahead of the game, and if you get into that magical “flow” you won’t have it rudely interrupted by some annoying detail that could have been avoided. Your work will be better, and maybe more importantly, you will have more fun!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Extra Effort and Big Rewards

A Little Effort and A Big Reward
A Little extra effort can make a big difference. I was perusing my sales database last night looking for insights into which of my images are selling the best. I noticed that an image of an audience, on a balcony in a theater, giving a standing ovation is doing quite well…over $500.00 in the last several months. I remember shooting the photo, and that it almost didn’t happen.

A Standing Ovation
I had rented a theater in Buenos Aires. I was doing a gang shoot with several of my associates that involved over thirty models. We each were doing our own thing rotating from area to area and periodically switching up models. It was late in the afternoon, things were winding down, and I was exhausted. One my associates was just finishing shooting in the balcony area; I was below amid the theater seats. I felt done for the day and was about to put away my gear when I looked up at the models standing up and starting to disperse. As they stood up it reminded me of a standing ovation. I hesitate a moment, not feeling like expending the energy to do yet one more shot, but, heck, it wouldn’t take more than a minute or two. I yelled up at them to pretend to give me a standing ovation and fired off a half dozen frames as they did so, and that was that.

The End of a Shoot, And Several Thousand Dollars
I have been in similar situations many times; it is the end of a shoot, I am tired, and not wanting to shoot anymore. Sometimes I will make those last couple of efforts, and sometimes not. But looking back at it now, it is almost invariably worth it. The balcony image isn’t the best selling image from that shoot, but it will certainly bring in several thousand dollars over the course of its effective life…and maybe a lot more. I also know that more than once an assistant or associate has prompted me to take one last shot that has had a similar financial impact.

Extra Effort and Significant Increases in Sales
A while back the creative director at Blend Images, Sarah Fix , suggested to me that I could increase my sales significantly by putting a little more effort into “finishing” my images. They do quite well as they are, for the most part, but she is right in that I tend to get impatient with the images and don’t take the time to really take that extra step that separates the good from the great. I think a great example of someone who does take that extra step is Colin Anderson . When you look at his work it is obvious that he puts extra effort into his photos. Now, as I approach the completion of one of my composite images I think about Colin to inspire me to take the image to the next level. In the long run such extra effort pays off big dividends.

The Most Productive Kind of Effort
“Extra” effort is the most productive kind of effort, and is never wasted. If you can build the habit of extra effort, whether it is in servicing a client, squeezing the most out of a shoot, taking your images to the next level, or even maintaining a sales performance database, then I believe your success is guaranteed.