Friday, January 26, 2007

Nashville Expressive Photographic Interpretation Workshop - March 12-15


Join me for an Expressive Photographic Interpretation workshop in Nashville, Tennesse this March 12-15. Expressive Photographic Interpretation is a creative tool for adding a personalized hand-wrought sensibility to your images. The workshop introduces photographers and artists to this process, providing the basis for implementing a lucrative product niche into a studio's product offerings.

The workshop will be divided into two 2-day sessions: Introductory and In-Depth. Take the one that suits your level, or take both for full immersion in the Expressive Photographic Interpretation process.

The Introductory session will guide you through the process of combining Adobe®Photoshop® and Corel® Painter™ to transform photographs into painted results. I'll simplifies things by demonstrating and teaching the specific tools and principles required for the job. Utilizing exploration-encouraging Safety Net techniques, the class will learn by working along with me on the same image. In two days you'll be transforming photographs into works of art!

In the In-Depth session, using either the concepts learned in the Introductory session or your own advanced Photoshop and Painter skills, you'll apply expressive painting techniques to your own photographs. Areas of focus will include image preparation in Photoshop, digital lighting-enhancement techniques, and emphasis of the the subject's face. I'll be using students' work-in-progress to demonstrate specific technical and creative solutions to the class.

Tuition for either of the 2-Day sessions is $350. Or take both for $600!

For more information and registration, you can visit the Nashville Workshop webpage.

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Genie is Out of the Bottle

There is a lively discussion going on at the TexasPhotoForum debating the validity of "photoshopped" images represented in the International Print Competition held annually by the Professional Photographers of America.

One point of view is that the notion of "pure photography"—photographs unmanipulated by imaging software—is being superceded by heavily manipulated imagery (I cringe at the word "manipulated"; it has a negative connotation undeserving of the world of creative results achieved by talented individuals).

I am PPA member and have an image represented in the PPA International Print Competition. I have another point of view.

I do a lot of "straight out of the camera" photography, and have been doing it for more years than I care to admit. I also have a background in painting. Much of my painting-applied-to-photography has been utilized commercially in the area of interpreted portraits—photographs made to appear as oils or watercolors. I eventually wanted to utilize this skill and associated tools (Painter, Photoshop) in conjunction with my personal photographic work. I like to shoot scenics that have already-present abstract quilites in them.
Here's an example:

Click on image to view full size.

When I reviewed the series of photographs that the above image came from, I was immediately struck with how much it inherently had an almost abstract expressionist painting quality. It became the canvas upon which I applied my painterly strokes.
Here is the result:

Click on image to view full size.

I am in the process of pursuing what has become a lifelong goal: To blur the distinction between photography and painting. Why would I do that? Well, both photography and painting are creative mediums that I am adept at. Technology has leveled the playing field. These two formerly exclusive mediums now co-exist effortlessly on the computer monitor. I can now literally dip my paintbrush into a photograph!

The genie is out of the bottle—there is no going back with respect to tools like Photoshop and Painter as applied to photography. That's not to say that there isn't room for pure photography. I still love shooting what I see in an effort to freeze a moment and its unique emotional charge.

Photographs of this intent are difficult to add to with any of the myriad of technical gee-gaws we now have at our disposal. I have banged my head against many such images in an attempt to "improve" them with little or no success: the image stands on its own—further interpretation detracts from the original moment.

I think that the headlong rush of technology and its impact on photography is straining the PPA's International Print Competition to its current limit. Photography is in the throes of a major sea change. There will always be—and must be—a place for pure photography, but as I said: the genie is out of the bottle.

Photography will continue experience upheaval as photographers become acquianted with the new tools that are emerging. Let's not fail to recognize that ever since the first photographic image was developed there have been subjective decisions applied by the photographer.

I'm guessing that the PPA higher-ups will be adjusting the categories and criteria for the Print Competition in the near future. As many who visited the PPA Print Competition recently in San Antonio have noted, it is becoming top-heavy with manipulation. No—make that top-heavy with creative expression.

I would love to see an expanded categorization that allows each approach to shine on its own. I will always believe that there is room for creative expression within any medium.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Art from a Nut!


I've gotten a few emails asking about the meaning of the acorn I use (you can see it in the backround wallpaper of this blog, for example). It also appears on various marketing pieces for my workshops, as well as my business card and stationary. Here's the skinny:

I have been involved with printmaking in one form or another of for over 30 years. A caché of the printmaker is the chop. A chop is a unique mark signifying that a print is approved by the artist/printmaker. It is commonly applied to a print as a blind emboss—a raised graphic without the addition of color. The mark can be anything as long as it is unique. It usually has a personal reference contained within it. I thought long and hard about a mark that would be indicative of my personality as well as provide a unique graphic element.

I was on a daily run through the woods along a favorite trail one day, thinking about a unique symbol when I noticed several acorns laying on the ground nearby. Then it hit me: an acorn! It is an element in my daily life, plus it has the metaphorical association of something large growing from a small beginning—from little acorns mighty oak trees grow. Like creative ideas.

The other thing I like about it is that it also means: Art from a Nut: me!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Rangefinder Publishing Launches Spinoff: AfterCapture


Rangefinder, a monthly publication dedicated to the advancement of photographers, has spun off a new magazine, AfterCapture. If you are photography professional or avid amateur, you owe it to yourself to subscribe to this interesting publication...it's free, after all! Skip Cohen, Rangefinder's president, states that "the magazine is dedicated to everything that happens to an image after you click the shutter and to the latest in imaging-output technology."

I'm excited to see Rangefinders' photographic orientation expand into what I think of as the creative side of photography. The technology of photography is rapidly changing and AfterCapture is positioning itself cover this artistically oriented craft. AfterCapture's website is still in development as of this writing, but you can currently get a rough preview. You can sign up for AfterCapture at the website.

I'm pleased to say that I have been profiled in AfterCaptue's inaguaral issue, which is being distributed as a double issue with the January publication of Rangefinder. You can download a PDF file of the profile here.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Layer Blending Modes Demystified

Many digital artists get confused with regard to Blending modes (Compositing Methods in Painter). Multiply? Screen? Overlay? What do these layer types do and what are they good for? I'm not going to go into great detail, but I am going to unlock a key piece of the Blends Puzzle for you.

A Blending mode applies a layer's pixels—using a formula designed to produce a particular result—to any underlying pixels it finds beneath the layer. To demonstrate how Blending modes produce different results based on a formula, I'm going to use a White-to-Black gradient on a layer and change its Blending mode, then observe the differences.

When the gradient layer's Blending mode is set to Normal (Default in Painter), the gradient is opaque. The Multiply mode treats White as transparent and Black as opaque. The Screen mode is just the opposite; Black is transparent and White is opaque. In each case, the opaque color graduates to transparency.

Click on image to view full size.


The next three Blending modes are different; Overlay, Soft Light, and Hard Light treat 50% Gray as transparent. At the ends of the gradient layer, underlying pixels are lightened (White) or darkened (Black). The grayscale in-between Black and White graduates to full transparency, which is the 50% Gray value in the middle of the gradient. Essentially, these Blending modes combine the earlier described Multiply and Screen modes. Lighter-than-50% Gray shades are Screened, Darker-than-50% Gray shades are Multiplied.

What makes these three Blending modes visually different from each other is the manner in which each formula is written. Overlay saturates underlying color, as well as lighten and darken. Soft Light is subtle—it lightens and darkens without saturating. Hard Light is visually the truest to Multiply and Screen—Black and White are totally opaque.

Click on image to view full size.


This is all interesting, but how can it be put to practical use? The answer lies in Non-destructive tonal editing techniques. A 50% Gray-filled layer set to one of the Overlay/Soft Light/Hard Light modes is transparent. It is invisible until lighter or darker tonalities are applied. This layer/Blending mode arrangement makes an excellent non-destructive dodging and burning layer. By using an airbrush and toggling between Black and White, an underlying image can be locally tonal adjusted (e.g., highlights and shadows).

Another novel use of a 50% Gray layer is as a non-destructive texture. A texture applied to 50% Gray has highlight and shadow detail in it. The shades towards 50% Gray will allow the underlying imagery to show through unaffected. The lighter and darker tonalities associated with the highlights and shadows will appropriately affect the underlying image, resulting in a convincing addition of texture.

Because these techniques are layer-based, the Opacity of the layer can be adjusted to control the emphasis of the tonal adjustments. Best of all, the base artwork is not permanently altered.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Beyond Apple's iPhone

Steve Jobs' unveiling of the new Apple iPhone has created a lot of buzz in the past couple days. It definitely has the coolness factor that Apple is known for. This breakthrough design has the potential to literally change the face of mobile phones forever. But I think that the announcement of Apple's iPhone ultimately has more to do with the future of electronics and appliance user interfaces than the immediate splash of the iPhone.

I can easily imagine Apple’s MultiTouch soft interface being applied to numerous devices. Current devices’ hard-wired interfaces dictate that the funcionality be buried in a deep heirarchy requiring the user to maintain a mental map of arcane key combinations to access specific specific features.

The OS X/touch-sensitive screen/MultiTouch user interface trifecta enables a wide, shallow interface in which the map IS the territory. There is no need to memorize shortcuts. This alone eliminates the eternal “flashing 12:00″ syndrome that plagues current electronics and appliances.

An iPhone-style interface enables so much more access to multiple functions than is currently available. Combined with the emerging technology of e-paper, inexpensive and easily read panels would enable a highly simplified approach to interaction with complex tools. A pressure-sensitive tablet could have an embedded e-paper screen that displays its control panel. The user would download and update the driver directly to the tablet. Changes would be reflected in the updated control panel.

Imagine accessing the user manual of an electronics device such as a video recorder or an appliance like a refrigerator. All that would be needed is an embedded chip in the device and a handheld reader with an interface similar to the iPhone. Place the reader in proximity to the device and you're reading the manual. Send it to a printer for a hardcopy.

I predict one day we'll look back and wonder how we managed prior to Apple’s grand contribution.

Monday, January 8, 2007

My Dirty Little Secret

I have a dirty little secret. Shhh! I use—gasp!—Adobe® Photoshop®! I used to be a closet Photoshop user, but I’ve decided to come out and publicly admit it. As good a tool as Corel® Painter™ is, there are some things that I prefer to use Photoshop for. First, let’s look at each application’s strengths.

Photoshop is at its best when given an existing image to process. Note that the word “photo” is in its title. For many tasks, Photoshop emulates the step-by-step workflow of a darkroom. This methodology is formulaic in nature—repeat the same steps, get the same results.

Painter excels at starting with a blank canvas and building up an image. “Paint” is what Painter is all about. The artist’s studio is a birthplace of visual ideas. Quite often, an artist in the heat of creativity will arrive at a result with no idea of the exact steps taken to get there. This methodology is intuitive—from here to there is not always a straight line.

These two tools' uses can and do get blurred. There are users that paint great images in Photoshop, just as there are users that perform retouching magic in Painter. So why use Photoshop in addition to Painter? I often use a photograph as a starting point. I prefer to shoot my photos in the RAW format. Photoshop’s ancillary application, Adobe® Bridge®, handily processes these files then transfers them to Photoshop for further enhancement in a 16-bit color format. I then employ Photoshop to make color corrections and contrast adjustments. When I’m finished, I convert the image to 8-bit color format and save it in the Photoshop PSD file format.

The PSD file format is the portal through which Photoshop and Painter speak the same language. Layer masks, alpha channels, and layer groups are maintained in the PSD format. Painter reads PSD files and retains the majority of crucial data. Both Photoshop and Painter have specific features that are not translatable by the other.

For example, Photoshop cannot interpret Painter’s unique Watercolor and Impasto layers. These layer types will lose their unique characteristics when saved in the PSD format. However, they will visually remain the same when opened Photoshop. Equally, Painter cannot interpret Photoshop’s Adjustment Layers, they will be ignored. With these caveats in mind, it is a simple matter to save backup files that retain each application’s unique characteristics.

I also like to finalize and print my images from Photoshop. Any last minute color and tone adjustments are done here prior to printing. I call this workflow a PS/Painter/PS sandwich—Photoshop on the outside and Painter in the middle. Together, Photoshop and Painter make great collaborative partners. The Photoshop-Painter relationship is getting so well-known that Painter is regularly featured in the courses offered at Photoshop World.

Even if you are not a Photoshop devotee, you’re still in luck. Corel Paint Shop Pro XI (Windows® version only) and Painter IX.5 can interchange imagery via the RIFF format, providing users with a similar PSP/Painter/PSP workflow.

In this topsy-turvy digital imaging world, photographs and bare canvas co-exist effortlessly in the same space. The playing field has been leveled. It all comes down to using the right tool for the right job. Photoshop and Painter have tools designed to support their strengths. By having and utilizing both, my creative range is expanded to encompass photographic realism and expressive mark-making.

Now that my dirty little secret is out of the bag, I think I’ll clone my mother-in-law out of that family vacation photo before I turn it into a painting.

Welcome to My Blog

I've been contemplating starting a blog for a while. So, as a New Year's resolution, I've made the plunge. I will be using this space to provide tips, techniques, tutorials, interesting news...whatever seems appropriate for Corel Painter users in particular, and digital artists in general.

It'll probably take me awhile to get up to speed, but I intend to publish here regularly. I welcome all comments, suggestions, etc.

I hope you'll stop by occasionally to see what's new.

Viva la Painter!

-john