Dave Black summed it up nicely in the closing comments of the show. Photoshop World is like summer camp for photographers. Never thought of it that way before, but he’s right. We gather, we make new friends, we do arts & crafts, we learn, we play, and then it’s over before you know it. This was my fourth consecutive trip since I started going in the fall of 2009, and I’m hooked on it. In fact, I’ve already signed up for the next show this fall in Las Vegas. By signing up during the show, you can save $200 off the full price, rather than just the $100 early-bird registration discount.
So what keeps me coming back to this event every half-year? Is it the opportunity to listen and learn, to participate, or to make new friends? That question is a bit of a setup, since if’s all of the above and the fact that I have fun going each time.
That’s not to say that I don’t experience any disappointment during the show, but I excel at finding new ways to disappoint myself. I have no complaints with the folks who put on the show. In fact, I’ve found the, to be more gracious and accessible to the show participants than any other event I’ve attended. They spend time speaking with us, answering questions, or just having a little fun. For example:
That’s Ken Toney in the photo you see being held by RC, Matt and Larry. Ken become an unofficial mascot during the show, making appearances on recordings of D-Town and The Grid. He couldn’t make it to Photoshop World in person this time, so Michelle Hedstrom brought him in spirit (and print). I think Ken made some more appearances, but I wasn’t there to capture all of them.
The Fashion Theme
Each year, Photoshop World comes up with a new theme to kick off the show. My first year, it was football. Last year, a rock concert. This year was fashion. They all work, since each one is a great theme for photography. The main stage for the opening ceremonies was a runway featuring models wearing designs from students at the International Academy of Design & Technology. I’m slightly familiar with them, as they’re a sister school to one of my former employers (Le Cordon Bleu).
The opening video was a take-off on Project Runway and featured some of the folks from NAPP as designers. I was sort of rooting for Brad Moore to win, but it didn’t work out that way.
One of the interesting aspects that I didn’t expect was a photo contest among the alumni that had attended 4+ times and, oddly enough, that included me. I’d never shot a runway show and there was no way to know exactly what lighting or action would appear on-stage. The winner would receive a new iPad 2. I made the final three, but my shot (shown last Friday) didn’t win the prize. A few folks asked me where I came up with that title. Quite simply, it’s a line in the David Bowie song, “Fashion.”
Before the show started, I looked around and noticed a big net full of balloons above the stage. The drop wasn’t a surprise to me, and I thought it was a cool visual experience for the runway show. What happened next, however, I didn’t anticipate.
Scott Kelby came on stage and announced that the balloons were courtesy of sponsor B&H, and that some of them had coupons inside for prizes. Then as he tried to continue his speech, he was overwhelmed by the sound of popping balloons. Hundreds of them. It was literally a show-stopper. Things eventually settled down and they continued with Adobe’s presentation. Before closing, Scott reminded folks about prizes in the balloons and the noise started all over again.
I’m guessing that the show this fall in Las Vegas will feature confetti instead of a balloon drop. It’ll be quieter.
Arts & Crafts
If Photoshop World is summer camp, then the classes are the Arts & Crafts portion of the week. Each time, Photoshop World includes a mix of old and new classes. I try not to repeat the same courses, but there are exceptions. One exception was a pair of courses taught by Joe McNally on small flash. I felt that I needed a refresher.
During the first course, Joe ran into some technical difficulties with the tether from his camera to the computer. However, I think that Joe and his team handled it very well. We may have lost ten minutes of time, but he used that time to interact with the audience and also warn them that things like this can go wrong on a live shoot. I saw for myself that everything was working perfectly before Joe took the stage. His staff tested out the system and then it just failed when Joe picked up the camera. Shit happens. Joe expressed his apologies, but I think the audience was very understanding and we still ended up with a great class. I was happy to get my small flash refresher and see some of the creative possibilities of a single speedlight with some interesting modifiers.
I sat in a couple of Scott Kelby’s classes on Travel Photography and Portrait Photography. These classes didn’t focus so much on photographic techniques, but rather, how to finish the images in Photoshop. The very first lesson Scott taught in the Travel Photography class was so obvious — and I had so obviously missed it — that I was blown away by its simplicity and impact. That reminded me why I attend Photoshop World. It’s very easy to get in your own rut and miss some great possibilities to display your work.
So what was it that he showed that made me want to smack myself on the head for nothing thinking of it? It was a technique to force the eye to your subject in a bright place. Quite simply, he duplicated the layer and changed the Blend Mode to Multiply to make it dark. He added a layer mask and then created a very large, soft brush (about 1500 pixels) to touch on his subject. Instant gradual light fall-off and it directs your eye exactly where he wanted you to look. I’ve used tools like Nik’s Darken/Lighten Center in Color Efex Pro to do something similar, but this was quicker, easier, and offered much more control than using a filter. I felt like an idiot for not thinking of it on my own.
Scott’s Portrait Retouching showed many new, quick workflows to improve images, which coincided with his new book on the subject. In fact, the first copies of the book were delivered to Photoshop World before they were available on Amazon or other sources. I was similarly impressed with the lessons he taught in the course that I went down immediately to buy the book. I’m generally not one to go for autographs, but he mentioned it in class and I decided to see if he was still there (I had to return for another event). Turns out mine was the first one he was offered to sign, but I’m sure he had plenty of other opportunities.
The Talent Show
What’s summer camp without a Talent Show? There’s an After-Hours party at each Photoshop World, but this was the last time it would feature Big Electric Cat for the entertainment. I skipped this show last year in Orlando because I was staying home — about 30 miles away from the convention center — and talked myself out of driving back & forth again for the show. This year, I decided it was worth the money to get a room in the area. Not only did it save my mileage, but also my sanity. Events like this one are not only great entertainment, but they’re also a part of the community of Photoshop World. It’s a bonding experience. Dozens of photographers are around the stage to get some concert photos, people are dancing, and it’s generally a good time all around.
If you’re on the fence about whether to go to the After-Hours party at a future Photoshop World, I’d suggest you go. Don’t focus on the cost and whether it’s “worth it” or not. The value comes in the fun of the evening. This was my second time attending the party and I thought the band was great. There’s plenty of food, but the real value is in spending some time with other Photoshop World attendees. It’s just a fun time. What more can you expect from a party?
The Expo Floor
It seemed a bit smaller to me this time, but I got what I wanted from the Expo floor. The first thing to consider is that there are discounts to be found. I’ve always used this time to add to my collection of Hoodman RAW cards. Four Photoshop World conferences, four new 16GB Hoodman RAW CF cards. They aren’t cheap, but they’re fast and don’t fail. In fact, the man who sold my cards even asked if it was true that people held off on their purchases until this show to buy things. I confirmed that was the case, not only buying a 16GB CF card, but also a 16 GB RAW Steel SDHC card for my Coolpix P7000.
Next, there is training available on the Expo floor. Not only are there stages for additional training, but there are scheduled events inside some of the vendor booths themselves. I watched Matt Kloskowski in the Manfrotto booth. Scott Kelby taught there was well, and also in the Wacom booth.
Perhaps no one had more training on the floor than Westcott. They once again provided a number of photo set designs and models with various themes, from ancient warriors to fairy tale settings. Many times, they had instructors at these booths to show people how to get the most out of the lighting and their photography. I have mixed feelings, thinking that it was both a good idea and had some negative aspects of it. However, I’ll save that for a later post to discuss in more detail. For now, I’ll say that I think Westcott has addressed my criticism of its product with the new TD6 lights and I have a more favorable view to share. Are they good enough to sway me away from strobes? I’ll let you know tomorrow.
You can probably tell that I enjoy Photoshop World very much. That doesn’t mean that everything goes perfectly. There were a few technical glitches here and there, and occasionally some things haven’t gone as expected. I think that’s inevitable in a live environment where so many of the actors — show staff and attendees — end up doing things that just aren’t foreseeable. What impresses me about the NAPP staff is how well they adapt to these changing circumstances and compensate for them. They truly want their guests to have a great experience, and they work quite hard to keep things rolling. They also remember those who can’t be there, so a crew of folks captures the events happening and creates a series of images, videos and blog posts to help those folks stay connected. That takes great dedication to customer satisfaction.
Attending Photoshop World is exhausting. I don’t get enough sleep, food in the convention center is miserable, and on top of all that, we had some tremendous storms in Orlando during the week. I wouldn’t have missed it, though. Whatever whining happens is really inconsequential in the overall perspective of the event. There are so many interesting things are happening all over the place and you can’t catch it all, but you can try. Besides, that gives you something to talk about with the friends you make at the event. “Did you see the Samurai posing with the Geisha?” Damn! No, I missed it. However, my new friend Craig Thoburn captured it!
The community of people I meet at Photoshop World is what keeps me coming back. I’m a hobbyist, so these trips are coming out of my vacation time and the expenses are all mine. If it wasn’t a great experience, I wouldn’t continue repeating it twice each year. In fact, I took advantage of a show discount to sign up for the next Photoshop World in Las Vegas at a reduced price. It’s become that important to me.
Dave Black was right. Photoshop World is summer camp for photographers. You go far away, learn new things, make new friends and connect with old ones, then come home exhausted. I love it.