About a year ago, I attended my first Photoshop World conference. Not only did I learn a great deal, but I had a blast doing it. So much so that I decided to attend the next one in Orlando earlier this year. Once again, I learned a lot and had fun doing it. That was enough to convince me to return to the next one in Las Vegas. Guess what? I still learned even more and still had a great time doing it. That says quite a lot about the people who put on the show, the instructors, and the people who attend. I’ve been to many different conferences in my career, but Photoshop World (PSW) is clearly the best of them all. That means you’re quite likely to see me attending again in Orlando next Spring.
My day job has nothing to do with photography or design, so PSW happens on my vacation time. I pay for the conference and any associated fees. I pay for my travel. I pay for my meals. I almost paid for my hotel, but didn’t have to do it. You see, I am the Paris Hilton of Photoshop World. By that, I mean that I enjoyed living a luxury lifestyle without ever having done a thing to earn it. How does this happen? I have friends who are degenerate gamblers. When they heard I was booking a hotel room, they told me to cancel the reservation and put me in a comped suite at Mandalay Bay. I spent a couple of days before the conference at Encore on my own dime, but my generous friends kept me in good shelter for the duration of PSW. They also stuffed me during lunch at Olives overlooking the Bellagio Fountains and at Nob Hill in MGM grand. It’s a strange feeling to be wined and dined without any expectation. Make me wonder why the hell they like me enough to do all of that, but I’m very grateful for it.
During my last two visits to PSW, I attended a pre-conference course. This time, I didn’t do it because I wasn’t sure if I would be in town. When I finally decided to come a few days before the conference, the pre-cons were booked up. I’d thought about taking the HDR course with Matt Kloskowski and R.C. Concepcion, but I waited too long. After arriving at Encore on Sunday evening, I spent the next couple of days out shooting in Las Vegas. When I checked into Mandalay Bay on Tuesday and walked to the registration area, I found R.C. out with part of the HDR pre-con group and I had a mild case of envy — they were all smiling and appeared to be having fun. As we walked by each other, R.C. surprised the hell out of me. He recognized me, smiled warmly and shook my hand. The reason I’m surprised is because we really don’t know each other. Perhaps he remembers my face from the last PSW, or because we both attended Scott Bourne & Trey Ratcliff’s HDR workshop in Tampa earlier this year. Either way, I was really impressed by the man’s gracious welcome. Seriously, the guy is really very cool.
The Forum Party & Tweet-Up
The folks on the PhotoshopUser.com forum got together for a party at Burger Bar in Mandalay Place, and then there was another party among the Twitter users in Mandalay Bay. It seemed like about 30 folks showed up and finally discovered how to talk to each other in person, rather than online. This really turned out to be a great thing for me. While I’ve done PSW alone in the past, I found new friends and almost always had someone from that group to share a conference session with me. Shortly after we settled into our tables, we were joined by Scott Kelby, Matt, and R.C.. They pulled up a chair across the table from me and chatted with us for a while. I’ll probably say this too many times during the review, but they were really great guys. We had a nice conversation and they all gave me the same advice — I need to buy Call of Duty for my XBox 360.
After dinner, we headed to the Tweet-up and joined an even larger crowd of folks. Nancy Masse @NAPP_News) is the voice of NAPP on Twitter and she rounded us all up for the party. I’ve missed this event the last couple of times, either due to being on the Photo Safari with Moose & Joe or because I had a deadline to edit photos from the Concert pre-con to try and win a prize. One of the advantages of not taking a pre-con is hitting the party. Folks setup some studio lights and take photos all night.
Scott Diussa, one of the instructors from the concert pre-con was there and we had a nice chat for a while. The man travels quite a bit and I got some insight to his world, including his passion for music and aviation photography. Sharon Peterson came over to our table for a while, I think to escape some smoke, and joined the conversation. I’d never met her before, but I’m glad she joined us — she just seems like a wonderful woman. A bit later, Moose Peterson came along to join her. Do you recall that warned you I’d say too often that people were really great? Moose didn’t disappoint, either. He politely introduced himself and reached out for a handshake — exactly the kind of man my parents raised me to respect. I follow his blog and training online, so I respect his abilities very much. It’s comforting to meet folks who exceed your expectations. Scott, Sharon and Moose made great company.
After that, I spent a bit more time just talking with my newfound forum friends. In fact, we closed the place down. Everything was cleaned up and carted away before we finally left our little table for the evening.
The Photoshop World Keynote
Like most conferences, PSW starts with a keynote session to set the tone for the conference. I bought a Speed Pass, as I’ve done in the past. A Speed Pass allows you to have preferred seating at the Keynote, each of the classes, and the wrap-up at the end of the conference. Not everyone wants to pay extra, but I’ve always been pleased with the opportunity to get up front. Unfortunately, there was a problem. Several of us with Speed Passes were standing right by the entrance waiting for them to call out for our early entry. It never happened, though. They just started letting people in, and that caused some confusion as to why we didn’t get the benefit we purchased. I asked the NAPP staffer inside why they didn’t call for us and he said they did. I asked other Speed Pass folks and they said that they never heard anything until general entry. Once we got to the seating area, the front was filled.
Once again, I asked a man who was directing seating there about sitting in the Speed Pass area and he told me it was full. I mentioned that there wasn’t any notice, but all he could say was, “Well, I’ve been in here for an hour. This area is full.”
It irked me. People make mistakes and I understand that. Clearly, some folks were let in early to fill up those seats, but they weren’t the folks standing by the door. Several Speed Pass users were with me and they were also kind of irked about it. it. Quite simply, you expect the benefit you purchase. However, that wasn’t really what bothered me the most. It was the fact that my concern was merely dismissed. Mistakes happen. A good rule for customer service is to acknowledge the mistake and apologize. I didn’t expect that he could fix the issue at that time, but I was rather nonplussed by being somewhat casually dismissed. It left me with the perception that this was my problem, not his.
There are some reasons I bring up this issue. It seems completely out of character for the type of customer service have always experienced from NAPP. This is an organization that’s gone out of its way to provide excellent customer service in the past. Of course, then I realized that the person who dismissed me wasn’t a NAPP employee, but was one of the instructors — basically, a freelancer for the show. Perhaps he hasn’t received the same customer service training that the NAPP staff members receive.
I’d like to stress that this is the only issue I found during the show, or during the past three shows. That’s quite impressive to me. There were no problems using my Speed Pass later, and I’ve always found NAPP staffers to be really friendly people. I brought up this issue because I’d like to recommend some changes for the next PSW:
- Be very clear about where Speed Pass users should enter. If you want them to come to a specific door, let us know in advance. When you announce it’s time for us to enter, be very LOUD about it. There’s a large crowd outside and you need to ensure you’re heard when you make that announcement.
- Train your instructors and other folks who help so they know how to deal with issues and complaints. It’s easy to be nice when things are going well, but these folks need to know that paying conference members also like courtesy when things go wrong. A kind smile and apology for a problem can go a long way toward soothing someone’s feelings and, more importantly, protecting your brand. You’ve worked hard to build an image. Don’t let someone else destroy it with a dismissive attitude, particularly at the very start of the event. This is where you set the tone for the whole show. You don’t want that tone to be a negative first impression.
A big reason I bought the Speed Pass is because I wanted to shoot the keynote opening, and you just can’t do that from the back rows. Since I didn’t get the seating I expected, I figured I was justified in getting up to shoot the show from a reasonable distance, so I had a little fun.
Last Spring, the Concert Photography pre-con was a lot of fun. The truth is, I wanted to shoot a band again and this was one of two opportunities to do it during PSW. The theme for the show was a rock event. They opened with a VH1 Where Are They Now video covering an old band — NAPP. As you can tell, it was a KISS parody with a Photoshop twist. Scott Kelby and Felix Nelson both played live. Dave Cross and Matt Kloskowski were on stage, but had some stunt doubles performing backstage (Tony Llanes and Scott Stahley, respectively). Not only did they sound great, but the stage was alive with lights and smoke. They had everything but explosions and it made for a fun song to shoot. I was behind Laurie Excel and briefly entertained the thought of shooting my own version of “Where is Laurie’s Hair?”, but I kept focused on the band.
Learning New Stuff
You can’t see everything. When you’re sitting in a classroom, you’re missing all of the other sessions. That’s why they give you a book — lovingly referred to as “the phonebook” — filled with course notes for the sessions you couldn’t attend. The trick is to decide what you have to see while you’re there. Last Spring, I focused almost entirely on the photography track. There’s plenty of Photoshop training available online, but first-hand knowledge is a good thing. It also had the advantage of being in the same room, so I really didn’t have to go anywhere to attend the next session. Zack Aris, Joe McNally, Moose Peterson — they all came to me!
This time, however, I decided to split things up a bit. I started with Zack Arias talking about Stuff You Need to Know to be a Photographer. It was technical, inspiring and terrifying all at the same time. I took copious notes in that session and almost every other one, so perhaps I’ll share more in a later blog post. Suffice it to say he packed a lot of good information in that first hour.
Next up was Matt Kloskowski with Five Ways to Select People. I realized I’d never attended one of Matt’s courses in my previous PSW conferences, so I made up for it this time. I think he was a presenter in at least three sessions. Poor guy may have seen me in the front row and worried that I was stalking him. I was actually a bit concerned about this course, because I suck at selections. Truly, I’m awful. Even when I select something, it seems like there’s a little ring around the selection after I make some change. No more, though. Matt’s instructions were excellent and easy to understand. Techniques that were previous obscure enough to seem as black magic before now seem rather trivial to perform. That’s a pretty good result for an hour’s worth of training.
The APC HDR WalkShop
I could bore you with a plethora of detail about everything I learned in my sessions, but I’ll break things up now and talk about some of the events. Wednesday night was pretty busy for me, as I signed up for an HDR event sponsored by Artistic Photo Canvas (APC) and lead by Brian Matiash.
Quite simply, we loaded about 30 people into a bus and headed down to Fremont Street to spend a couple of hours capturing brackets for HDR images. Brian shared his knowledge and techniques with us, and was yet another cool guy to meet. During the ride down, Brian posited an idea that contradicted advice I’ve previously heard about HDR photography, and even heard later during PSW. I’ve always heard to keep your camera in Aperture Priority Mode while shooting to keep it from changing the depth of field. It seemed to make sense, and that’s what I’ve always done. I heard it from Matt Kloskowski in his HDR course on KelbyTraining.com and from Trey Ratcliff during his HDR Workshop in Tampa. It had to be the only way, right?
Not so. Brian correctly pointed out that shooting in Aperture Priority affects how you meter the scene. To make sure you meter the right portion of your scene to get the middle exposure correct, you need to set it in manual mode. My immediate concern was that the Auto-Exposure Bracketing would change the exposure by affecting my aperture and/or shutter speed. Apparently, that isn’t so. Bracketing in Manual Mode only changes your shutter speed, not your aperture. Effectively, it controls the +/-exposures in the same way as Aperture Priority mode — by changing the shutter speed. You don’t lose control over your depth of field and you gain more control over your exposure by shooting in Manual. Who knew? Brian knew, and that was just one of the lessons he shared with the group.
We broke up and walked around Fremont, apparently confounding the local business owners and visitors alike. Imagine 30 folks with cameras on tripods suddenly showing up in your area. On the downside, it took us a while to spread out enough to get some images without another photographer and tripod in your scene. I think we all screwed up some compositions for each other until we just moved far enough away.
Another thing we all shared was the questions from people around us. The security guy from one of the local nudie bars came up and asked me what was going on with all the camera, as did a few other vendors. A number of visitors asked the same question, which was then followed by questions about which camera they should buy. One guy asked me which aperture he should buy. I could only think to tell him “Apple.” He didn’t get it.
The folks at APC were great hosts. They passed out t-shirts and discount cards for a future purchase, as well as holding a nice time at Border Grill after we got back for some free drinks and appetizers. APC is a pretty small company based in Florida, but they work on a grand scale. I had recently received my first canvas from them and appreciated their quality and customer service. Running their business and attending PSW pushed them pretty hard, but they did it all in great style. There were plenty of great examples of their work in the expo hall and that’s what earned my trust to give them a try. I’m definitely a satisfied customer and will return, so the HDR event was just icing on the cake for me. Try them out with your own images and see what I mean.
The PSW After-Hours Party
This turned out to be a very long first day. I’m tired, I’m sweaty and I’ve been lugging around heavy camera gear all day. Still, I’m not going to miss this party. It had already started before our bus returned from Fremont Street, so I hurried up to my room after the APC cocktails to shower and change before hitting the party. Once I arrived at the House of Blues, the band was up and playing, the crowd was loving it and I immediately pulled out my camera and worked my way to the front of the room to start shooting.
One of the cool things about this party is that it’s all open for photographers. You don’t have to beg for access if you have a ticket. Come in the door and shoot as much as you want. The band is into it as much as the photographers. They gave us all plenty of great moments to capture. More important than that was the fact that they’re just great players. I’m not just saying that because I’m kind of snobbish about musicians. It’s not because I’m great — I haven’t picked up my guitar in nearly four years. However, my brother Don truly is great. He’s more than great, he’s phenomenal. Growing up around him gave me an appreciation for the real thing. Scott Kelby and his bandmates delivered. They also brought up Scott Diussa, one of the instructors for the concert pre-con, to play guitar. That’s him ripping through the notes in the image above.
It seems like I was sweating again in no time, but I didn’t care. There was a cool band in front of me and I had access to shoot. Front of the stage, the left or right, side-stage, from the back of the room over the crowd — I got it all. Hundreds of live concert images are just begging to see which ones I’ll pick. It’s an embarrassment of riches and I wish I could shoot like this all the time.
Model Tableaus and Expos
Every conference needs an expo hall for vendors to show their wares. If you go, here’s a tip. Some of them will drop prices on Friday to clear out inventory. Even if they don’t, there are often show specials to save you money compared to regular prices. I like to buy my Hoodman CF cards at this show because I save $50 apiece and this show was no different. I love these cards. The first reason is because they’ve never had a reported case of corruption, so I trust that my images are safe. The second reason is that they’re fast — 675x fast. During PSW this trip, I filled up three 16 GB Hoodman cards and one of my old Kingston 133x 8 GB cards. When it came time to download images from the CF cards into Aperture on my iMac, it took longer to download the one 8GB Kingston card than all three of the Hoodman cards combined! That’s some serious speed. I’m using the Hoodman FireWire CF card reader for all of my downloads, so the only variable to affect performance was the card itself. When I was shooting the keynote and band at the after-hours party, I never once had to stop and wait for my buffer to empty out before I could shoot again while using my Hoodman cards. I won’t buy anything else. I just wish I could afford the 32 GB versions.
One of the big draws at the Expo Hall is a set of tableaus provided by Westcott. They contract with a local modeling agency and bring in some really great scenes to support the lovely models. They do this to show off their TD5 Spiderlites. Honestly, I’m not a fan of those lights, but it makes sense to use continuous lighting in this kind of circumstance. Could you imagine trying to pass around a PocketWizard to use strobes in this kind of crowd?
That’s the crowd on a light period. Imagine the scene with three times as many photographers, and many of them don’t want to leave once they work their way up to the front of the pack. I’ll write a separate post on my experience with this situation, the lights, and dealing with the vendor rep. For now, suffice it to say that my only other negative experience happened with the vendor and I will NEVER give any of my business to Westcott again.
The models, however, were lovely and did their very best to accommodate the crowd. As I showed yesterday, people went home with some really cool photos from this part of the expo hall.
Wrapping it Up
I am not a man who wins at games of chance or contests. I don’t expect to win anymore. That’s why I’m surprised that I won a number of things at PSW. Here’s the list:
- I played video poker and won $5. You may not think that’s much, but I had to cash out once I got $5 ahead just so I could leave happy. I count this as a win.
- I won a DVD from Zack Arias (One Light). To win, I had to ask Vanelli what was in his shorts.
- I won a DVD covering retouching techniques from David Cuerdon at his excellent session on Fashion Portraits. That was because I remembered that Shift+ cycled through various Blend modes in Photoshop.
- I won an APC print of a photo that Alan Hess took of Scott Kelby during the first concert pre-con. You had to be present to win. I was, but the person they drew before me wasn’t. Perhaps I’ll mount that one here in my home office so I can imagine Scott Kelby questioning my decisions when I process images. “You’re going to use Pinlight blend mode on that shot? Seriously?”
Despite my long-winded account of the event, I left out a ton of stuff. My plan is to go into a bit more detail of specific portions of the conference in other posts this week. What I hope you can take away from my review of PSW is that it’s really a great event full of nice people and great information. Yes, I had a couple of quirks, but that’s it. Just two things. Certainly nothing to ruin my experience or take away from all the good things I encountered. When you consider all the complexity of putting on a conference for thousands of people, I’m amazed that NAPP continues to produce such an excellent experience twice a year. I wish I could be around this group of people all year long. Next Spring will be here before you know it, though. See you in Orlando.