As I write this, it’s Sunday night after I spent a full week in Las Vegas to attend the latest Photoshop World. My body aches in places I never knew had any nerve endings. Trips are nice, but it’s good to be home to relax. Of course, I wasn’t smart enough to relax, as I booked a model shoot for this evening (more on that another day).
Overall, I had a wonderful time. Photoshop World is more than just a conference with training opportunities. It’s a place where I connect with a community of people who understand and share my interest and passion for creating images. Many of us keep in touch online over the year, but this conference is our time to get together. As good as the training is, I think the community of people is truly the biggest draw to keep me coming back to Photoshop World.
The Thrill of Photography
As a photographer, Photoshop World is a great place to explore new ideas. I’ve recently developed an interest in combining my HDR scenes with portraits via compositing. The idea never occurred to me until I saw Joel Grimes on an episode of The Grid. He showed his images and I was blown away. At the risk of being a copycat, it appealed to me because it combines two of my favorite aspects of photography to create something I can envision, but may not be able to create in one click. With that in mind, it was extremely gratifying to see that Joel was an instructor this year and he shared his insights and a bit of technique on how he creates his images. Furthermore, he explained the economic advantages. Compare the cost of paying for a photo permit for a site, bringing out a truckload of people with catering to perform a shoot (and hoping the weather cooperates) vs. showing up there one day with a camera & tripod and shooting the subject at another time on white seamless paper. The money he doesn’t have to spend on a crew may go in his pocket, or allow him to remain competitive in an age when budgets are being slashed.
Access to instructors who work daily with photography is great, but so is the opportunity to see the latest tools of the trade. Both Nik Software and OnOne were able to demonstrate updates to their software. I think they both really raised the bar on already impressive products. I particularly wanted to speak with OnOne to better understand their software on this trip, because I really haven’t been using it. The names of the filters seemed to be evocative of scenes or emotions, rather than just telling me what the hell it did. As a result, I didn’t use the software that I owned. With this latest release, OnOne has changed its user interface and, to some extent, naming convention, to address almost every question that I wanted to ask. They’ve combined the full suite of products into one interface using Perfect Layers as a base. Although it still works with Aperture, Lightroom and Photoshop, it also operates as a stand-alone product now. I won’t go over all of the changes here, but I’d recommend taking a look at OnOne Software’s suite to judge for yourself. It’s an impressive update.
Nik Software updated Color Efex Pro, which is my most used filter, and it now takes some cues from OnOne in that you can stack filters inside the interface before committing them to Photoshop. It doesn’t have the blend modes available in OnOne’s tools, but you still have access to use them in Photoshop.
As for training, there seem to be two types. One is demonstration and the other I’ve labeled as “show & tell.” Both are valid and useful. For demonstration, I particularly enjoyed Scott Kelby’s Travel Photography, Joe McNally’s Small Flash and Joel Grimes compositing (I also meant to get to Matt Kloskowski’s course on compositing, but got my schedule crossed up and missed it). On the “show & tell side”, I’d include Greg Heisler’s session titled Appropriate Response. It was an interesting insight to portrait photography and how he adapts his approach to tailor his subject. Dave Black showed some outstanding sports photography, including some very dramatic action portraits. However, he also combined that session with practical information on how he got those shots. It wasn’t demonstration, but it was still informative if you wanted to try his technique.
The Agony of Design
One thing I heard repeatedly from my friends who are designers was that Photoshop World is appealing to them much less than it has in the past. So much so that they didn’t think they’d come back in the future. I found the same sentiment in another person’s blog who reviewed Photoshop World. It was his first time and he found himself on the Expo Floor much more the in classrooms. Some designers who were there on a company account were happy to peek into some photography classes, but those who are self-employed seemed to find little value in the conference.
I’ve been told that it was quite the opposite in the past, where photographers lamented that Photoshop World was too design-oriented. My guess is that NAPP and the Kelby crew are responding to the feedback and market. Photographers asked for courses and we’re getting them. Designers, if you find this conference is lacking content that appeals to you, I can only encourage you to provide some feedback to NAPP and the Kelby folks who run the show.
My Happy Moments
Having gone to every Photoshop World conference since attending my first one — both east & west coast — it’s fair to say that I really enjoy it. Connecting with my friends is my happiest part of Photoshop World. Learning some new technique that I can bring to my own images is always a happy moment for me. I love learning, particularly when it changes the way I create.
That said, Friday turned into a really great day for me because I won prizes. Everyone loves prizes. It’s almost more fun to win something than it is to know what you won, but I won some really cool shit!
It started Friday morning. I had breakfast with my friend Michelle (after skipping the first class of the day because we’re tired) and then we headed for the Expo floor. Michelle is outstanding at networking. She knows everyone and she knows what’s happening. As a result, she paid attention to Twitter messages and won two prizes on the Expo floor the day before. Hell, I couldn’t even get a network signal to access Twitter down there, but that’s another matter. While we were waiting for the Expo to open, she saw another note about a give-away from Adorama & ThinkTank. Having just one a Domke bag the day before, she tipped me off about this one. The first person to reach their booth and shout “I love ThinkTank Bags!” wins the prize.
It was such a surreal moment. I’m far too big and fat to be running, particularly with a camera bag strapped to my back. However, run I did! The first booth I passed was the Adobe booth. Every single one of them stopped and looked at me. All I could do was tell them that this was my silly moment of the day. Had any other person been there to race me to the Adorama booth, they would’ve won. Fortunately, most everyone seemed to be more intent on racing to the Westcott shootout booths. Fine with me. I got there, proclaimed my love for ThinkTank bags (which is true, as I have two of them) and won the prize — a ThinkTank Airport Ultimate 2.5. That’s great with me, as it wasn’t one that I already owned. I thanked them, posed with the bag for a few pictures, and ambled my way over to the Westcott Booth for my own shots.
The next prize came at the closing ceremonies. The shot I posted on Friday was my entry into a contest for 4+ conference alumni. I also entered in Orlando earlier this year, but didn’t win. In fact, I almost didn’t submit my entry this year, but Michelle urged me to do so. Once again, thanks to her, I won! It’s a bit of a shot in the dark to figure out what will or won’t win a competition like this one. I made shots of each runway model and other aspects of the show. Some of them were probably technically better than this one, but I went with my gut to find a shot that conveyed the runway aspect of the show. I wanted motion, not just a shot of the model as she strikes her pose. Ultimately, the shot I chose had that motion. One model had this great flowing material and I shot her as she walked away from me, straight down the runway. Honestly, I didn’t have any idea if it would appeal to the judges or not. I made my edits in Photoshop and, as a last minute call, I slathered it with more Glamour Glow from Color Exex than I’ve ever used on an image. I didn’t even know what the contest winner would get as a prize. When Larry Becker called my name, I’m not sure it registered. My head snapped a bit and I finally made my way up to the stage to receive a new iPad 2. Now that’s a VERY cool prize for taking a quick snap at a fashion show.
Not long after, Larry started going through the conference evaluations to pick winners for the prizes donated from the vendors. I’ve never had my name pulled out of a box for anything good, so I didn’t expect it to happen this time. Besides, I’d already won two prizes. What were the odds of getting picked again? I remember lusting after some of the prizes other folks received (like a Really Right Stuff BH-55 ballhead). Sometime after that, Larry called my name. Again! I won a $150 gift certificate from Image Wizards for an AluminArte print. Once again, it’s an outstanding prize. I lusted after the beautiful images on display in their booth, but I didn’t know if I’d ever try it or not. Well, now I will.
There was a bonus win on Saturday, too. During my entire week in Las Vegas, I hadn’t gambled a penny. I decided to play a little video poker after breakfast before heading to the airport, just to say I tried. Mind you, my experiences typically aren’t really gambling. I put in money and it stays there. This time, I dropped a pair of Twenties in the machine and started getting little hits — a pair of face cards, two pair. Basically, not winning, but not losing. After a couple of minutes, I hit a full house and was up to $60. I paused a moment considering my options. I could play the extra twenty and leave with my original bet, or I could just stop now. I chose the latter. Instead of thinking about it as an extra $20, I prefer to consider it a 50% increase on my investment.
Of course, my cab trip to the airport and tip took away all my winnings. In the end, Vegas gets your money.
The Thing I Noticed Most
When you fill out the conference evaluation form, there’s a line that asks what made the biggest impact on you (or words to that effect). I really gave this some thought and was disappointed to provide my answer. Despite having a great time myself, I’d say the thing that made the biggest impression upon me was an undercurrent of negativity. People were whining and complaining about the slightest little things and it was infectious.
It started with the old man who snapped at me on Wednesday morning. I was talking to a friend trying to answer he questions on how to approach the fashion runway shoot and he was trying to listen to someone speaking. It’s understandable that he was a tad frustrated, though I didn’t think we were talking loudly. What I don’t understand was that his FIRST instinct was to snap at me in an angry tone. Try to understand, I wasn’t raised that way. Even if I’m frustrated or annoyed with a stranger, the first words I use to let them know about it will include some variation of “please”, “may I”, or “thank you.” Polite words in a reasonable tone. Not only is there no need to snap at anyone, but it’s really not a good strategy to get what you want. Perhaps the person is unaware that they’re frustrating or upsetting you, so give them a chance. Now mind you, if they persist after that polite request or don’t return the behavior in kind, I’m perfectly OK with unleashing a stream of vile profanities to educate them in clear terms as to why they should make some adjustments. You just don’t do that right off the bat.
People were complaining about everything. People were forgetting their manners. In short, people were childish and selfish. To some extent, this affected the instructors and staff, too. That’s not to say that they were behaving that way, but rather that instructors who were engaging at previous Photoshop World conferences were more stand-offish at this one. Not all of them, of course. RC was as warm and friendly as I’ve always known him to be. Brad Moore had a smile every time I saw him. Dave Black just seemed happy every time I saw him. A few other instructors, though, you could see looking out of the corner of their eye and they just had an expression that indicated (to me) that they didn’t want to be bothered. Perhaps it’s because they’ve been bothered a bit too much already.
My group of friends discussed this and we noted that this trend hasn’t started at the conference. It shows in the Kelby podcasts and some of the blog posts. They’re getting much more defensive. I don’t doubt it, because people are whining so much more these days. I traded a note with Nancy Masse and she let me know about the unbelievable backlash because the new magazine — Light It — was only available on the iPad. Well, no kidding! If you’re in business, you go where the market exists and the iPad is leaving other tablets in the dust.
The examples of this kind of petty behavior are too numerous to mention. Lest you think I’m holier than thou, I caught myself doing it on occasion. Like I said, it’s infectious. I try to contain my whining to my friends, since they weren’t the object of my scorn. Everyone needs to vent now and then. Gathering a couple thousand people together with different tastes and preferences is bound to cause some friction. I get it. How you behave under stress says much about your character. Some folks, I’m sad to say, are making things worse for everyone because they just can’t accept that the universe doesn’t revolve around them. It’s not that you were left behind, but maybe it’s just not your turn yet.
The Conference Wrap-Up
With all of that negativity in mind, I have to say that the Kelby crew does an absolutely brilliant job of closing its conferences. It’s a celebration of the past few days, with presentations from some of the instructors, outstanding video from the conference team who captured almost every moment and stayed up all night to edit it for this last show. Dave Black may have a past in gymnastics, but he has the soul of a cheerleader. During one of the presentations, he was literally running around the conference room cheering, clapping, inspiring the audience to join him. Fortunately, that spirit was also infectious.
The final presentations, give-aways and closing remarks put an uplifting and positive spin on a week that was, when you think about it, pretty damn cool.
If I were smart, I would stop now. However, I have some thoughts about things I’d like to see happen to improve Photoshop World in the future. It’s not much, but since this is my blog, I figure I can put down whatever I want.
What I want, quite simply, is to provide my class feedback online. It would be nice if the Photoshop App had some form to fill out that let me submit my comments, as opposed to remembering to bring the forms from the back of the show Workbook. There were a couple of courses where I didn’t provide feedback because I ran out of those forms. I realize that connectivity was spotty in the conference center, but it worked fine in other areas. You’d get the feedback once we got to a place with better coverage.
Another issue is to ensure that the presentation matches the course description. For the first time, I marked an instructor down with the lowest possible rating because he completely missed the mark. It was supposed to be a course on how to be effective in business. That’s great! Many of us have provided feedback that we want this kind of info. What we got, however, was a show & tell on “here’s what I’ve done”, rather than a “here’s how I did it” presentation. Show & Tell is fine, but please don’t mislead us with the descriptions. I know we can leave to go to another session, but some instructors give a bit of background before they get into the meat. By the time I was 30 minutes into this course, I realized there was no meat. It was a bit late to join another session. His presentation, if accurately described, was fine. It just didn’t match the course description.
With those thoughts in mind, I’d like to say that I’m still impressed with the product and the people who serve it. A few technical difficulties happened here or there, but so what. Think of all the moving parts involved in producing a show like this twice each year. When something happens, they address it immediately. The people who run the show are friendly and approachable. I spend two weeks of my vacation on this show every year. It’s that meaningful to me.
Sadly, I don’t know if I’ll be at the next one in D.C. I most certainly want to go, but my employer is laying off people and my future is uncertain. Time will tell.