Category Archives: Photoshop

Adobe’s CreateNow Event: New Photoshop 13.1, Muse, Creative Cloud For Teams

Apparently, the new Retina versions of Photoshop and Illustrator were just the tip of the iceberg. Besides announcing those, Adobe is announcing major updates to the Creative Cloud service and upgrades to Photoshop (besides the Retina enhancement) and Muse, Adobe’s webpage builder for non-coders. The biggest announcements have to be multi-seat Creative Cloud subscriptions for enterprise teams and Creative Cloud Connection for synching the 20GB+ of cloud storage with users’ desktops. Click here to see the CreateNow announcement live this morning.

Photoshop 13.1: Conditional actions, CSS output and more

For whatever reason, Adobe opted to announce Photoshop’s new Retina display support last night at midnight—before the CreateNow event. It ends up that Photoshop 13.1 has many more new features available today:

  • Blur Gallery and Liquify filters can now be saved as non-destructive Smart Objects. Non-destructive edits are wonderful time-savers and I recommend using them whenever possible.
  • Conditional Actions: Insert if-else logic that executes one of two actions depending on set criteria.
  • Layers can now be exported as CSS code for web developers to apply to their projects.
  • Improvements to the Crop tool.
  • Better OpenGL 3D shadow previews and better lighting controls.
  • Note that 512MB video RAM is now required for 13.1. Moreover, Windows XP is no longer supported.

Out of all the new features, the CSS export baffles me the most—Adobe had moved away from outputting code with their creative applications, perhaps because the code has never been very clean. I got my hands on the 13.1 build a week ago and have been looking at the CSS code produced by the new Photoshop (see below). It’s much improved. Photoshop generates CSS class rules for one or more layers that are absolutely positioned, z-indexed for the correct layering, and given background-image rules referring to PNG files for each layer (“images/Layer 1 copy.png”). I do not see a method for extracting those PNGs, which is strange. It’s also strange that the CSS uses inches instead of pixels for measurements, but my document is using inches so that makes sense.

.Group_1 {
position: absolute;
left: 0.767in;
top: 0.26in;
width: 6.753in;
height: 5.51in;
z-index: 6;
}
.Layer_3 {
background-image: url(“images/Layer 3.png”);
position: absolute;
left: 0in;
top: 0.107in;
width: 4.87in;
height: 4.877in;
z-index: 5;
}
.Layer_1_copy {
background-image: url(“images/Layer 1 copy.png”);
position: absolute;
left: 0.477in;
top: 0in;
width: 6.277in;
height: 5.51in;
z-index: 4;
}

Also, Photoshop can generate CSS code for single layers or a single layer group but not the entire document. This makes sense because developers often want just snippets for specific elements, but if the CSS output is all about positioning and specific measurements then I’d want code for all the elements so I don’t have to figure out how they line up.

My pick for the new features that’s great but could be a lot better is the Conditional Actions. In theory, they should be great: the action can execute one of two things depending on a condition in the document. However, two things hamper its usefulness:

Conditional options in Photoshop 13.1
Conditional options in Photoshop 13.1
  • You can’t specify one of two commands to be executed—only actions. So if you want an image cropped a certain way if it’s landscape but another crop if it’s portrait, you have to save both crops as actions and apply them that way.
  • The conditions to be met are hard-coded into Photoshop and there’s 24 total. Most are based on the document’s status (color mode, pixel depth) or layer’s status (mask, adjustment layer, effects).

It’s obvious that overcoming these two points would require a very robust interface for selecting commands and creating conditions, so I am cool with not having it in 13.1. I would love to see this be developed further in version 14 (CS7?).

Creative Cloud: New teams, training service and desktop sync

Creative Cloud has some major momentum—200,000 members have joined in the last four months and most of them select an annual plan. I see this growing as Adobe continues to add value to the subscription and legacy users decide to stop purchasing standalone software. The new Creative Cloud for teams is going to accelerate the process.

David Wadhwani, senior vice president, Digital Media, Adobe, says, “Our goal is to make Creative Cloud the ultimate hub for creatives, where they can access the world’s best creative tools, store and collaborate around their work and ultimately showcase their creations. Now with the availability of the new Creative Cloud offering for teams, we’re making it easier for workgroups to create and collaborate.”

Creative Cloud for teams has some features that you find in subscription-based enterprise services:

  • Virtual workgroup management
  • 100GB of cloud storage per user (up from 20GB)
  • Expert support services
  • An admin interface for adding/removing seats
  • Easy migration from individual to team memberships
  • Annual contract is billed $69.99/month or $49.99/month for first year for users of CS3 or newer

I am really digging the Creative Cloud Connection, Adobe’s new desktop synchronization service for Creative Cloud. There are several cloud services out there now—Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, Box and more—and they all provide some space for free, but it is not a lot. SkyDrive offers the most at 7GB. Creative Cloud isn’t free but subscribers do get a good 20GB along with all the Adobe programs. Some cloud services can sync files to users’ computers but not all; Creative Cloud can do so now today. Note that folder sharing is coming soon.

Adobe is also announcing today the new Creative Cloud Training service for subscribers. It’s a collection of training videos from various providers available free to subscribers. I wouldn’t be surprised if many customers already have subscriptions to these video providers such as Kelby Training and Lynda.com (who isn’t listed on the press release, so I don’t think they are participating) but it’s a good added value for those who don’t.

Muse: Better for tablet and mobile web layouts

Create new tablet and mobile layouts in Muse
Create new tablet and mobile layouts in Muse

Adobe Muse gets one major updates but it’s quite major: it can now create web layouts for the desktop, iPhone, iPad and other devices. Designers can work with all views within Muse, which is handy. I haven’t seen the new Muse so I don’t know whether it is generating a responsive website or just building multiple versions of a site—if it’s the latter, it’s unclear if Muse provides the code for device detection and serving up the correct version.

Availability

Tune in to see the full details unveiled at the Create Now online event at 10am PT with new Creative Cloud capabilities, including Creative Cloud for teams, available for download and purchase starting at 11am PT/1pm CT. Unless specified, everything announced today is available to users at that time.

Adobe Photoshop CS6 and Illustrator CS6 Now HiDPI Retina Display-Enabled

The rumor is true: Adobe has updated two flagship products for the ultra-high-resolution Retina Display screens. Photoshop CS6 and Illustrator CS6 is now capable of high-resolution graphics on Retina displays (such as those on the newest MacBook Pro models); Creative Cloud subscribers can log in and grab the update immediately as of 9PM PST/12AM EST, yet another bonus for users who subscribe through the Creative Cloud.

I’ve been running the Retina-capable Photoshop CS6 for several days now and the product works well–the user interface is sharp and clear, and views at various zoom settings work as expected. I wish Adobe was able to push this update sooner than this–the Retina models have been on the market for almost six months now–but I’m happy to see it here now.

More news?

Adobe probably has more in store for us today: their “Create Now” event to be broadcasted live on December 11 at noon CST says we’ll “explore what’s next in Creative Cloud.” I bet we will see more new features, or perhaps a Creative Cloud offering for enterprise clients (which has been often requested.) Click here to see the “Create Now” livecast on Facebook.

Alien Skin’s Eye Candy 7 Plugin Released

Eye Candy 7 interface

Alien Skin has announced that version 7 of their popular Eye Candy plugin for Photoshop will be released next month. Eye Candy has always had some spectacular effects, but what I’m most excited about in this version is a new modern user interface that looks like a big improvement. (You can see some images of this UI on Alien Skin’s blog post here.)


PRESS RELEASE

Alien Skin Software Announces Eye Candy 7 Graphic Design Effects Plug-In for Photoshop

Realistic effects look natural, including the new Lightning, Electrify, and Clouds. All effects are now in one user interface, making experimentation easy.

Raleigh, North Carolina – November 14, 2012 – Alien Skin Software today announced Eye Candy® 7, the new version of its graphic design effects plug-in for Adobe® Photoshop® and Photoshop Elements. Eye Candy 7 renders realistic effects that are difficult or impossible to achieve in Photoshop alone, such as Fire, Chrome, and the new Lightning. The completely redesigned user interface lets you quickly browse all of Eye Candy’s effects through icons and instant previews.

Eye Candy 7 contains the spectacular new Lightning, Electrify, and Cloud effects. There are over 1,000 presets that handle every design situation elegantly, from slick Web interfaces (Chrome, Glass, Perspective Shadow) to tasteful logos (Bevel, Brushed Metal, Extrude) to spectacular titles (Chrome, Corona, Fire). Realism sets Eye Candy effects apart from the generic filters built into Photoshop. Effects like Animal Fur, Smoke, and Reptile Skin are rendered in exquisite detail down to individual hairs, turbulent wisps, and shiny scales. Eye Candy helps designs look more natural and organic.

Eye Candy’s new, modern user interface makes it easy to explore and design looks. In Eye Candy 7, the effects are chosen through easy to recognize icons rather than text menus. As users move their mouse over presets, the thumbnail preview instantly shows how they will look within the design. Effects adapt to the size of artwork, so preset can be used without any modification.

“I’m proud of our big simplification of the Eye Candy 7 user interface,” said Terence Tay, the designer of Eye Candy. “Now you can browse effects visually, which is how designers naturally work.”

Eye Candy is made for professionals in demanding production environments who need support for 16-bit/channel images and CMYK mode. Eye Candy provides multiple techniques for non-destructive editing in Photoshop, including Smart Filter support and rendering effects on a new layer.

Pricing and Availability

Eye Candy 7 will be available in December 2012 through www.alienskin.com for $199 USD. Owners of any previous version of Eye Candy may upgrade for $99 USD. Free upgrades will be automatically sent to all users who purchased Eye Candy 6 directly from Alien Skin Software in September 2012 or later.

Host Requirements

Eye Candy 7 is a plug-in and requires one of the following host applications:

  • Adobe Photoshop CS5 or later
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 10 or later

System Requirements

Microsoft Windows users need Windows 7 or later.
Apple Macintosh users need Mac OS X 10.7 or later.
An Intel Core 2 processor or compatible is required.
A monitor with 1024×768 resolution or greater is required.

Updates to Adobe Touch Apps: Photoshop Touch 1.3 and Proto 1.5

Adobe Photoshop Touch and Adobe Proto, two of Adobe’s Touch Apps designed for tablets, were updated in the past month. Today, Photoshop Touch was updated to version 1.3 with a few new features designed for iPad users with Retina screens. Last month, the web design app Proto was updated to version 1.5 with more integration between desktop and cloud applications.

Photoshop Touch 1.3: High-resolution improvements

Adobe Photoshop Touch

According to Adobe’s blog post, Photoshop Touch 1.3′s primary goal is to support the new batch of high-resolution Retina screens being used by Apple in their new iPads (3rd generation). The app also supports images up to 12 megapixels, including print-quality resolutions. (The blog post makes it sound like you have to sacrifice the number of layers you can work with in order to gain the extra pixels.)

Other improvements include:

  • Two new Effects: Shred and Colorize
  • Smoother animation and scrolling in the organizer, tutorial browser and file picker
  • New three-finger tap gesture to toggle 100 percent view and fit screen
  • New pixel-nudging mode for precise movements
  • Support for Apple Photo Stream on the iPad

Adobe Proto 1.5: Little improvements can mean a lot

Adobe Proto Logo

Proto is one of my favorite Adobe Touch Apps (see my review of it here), but Proto 1.5 provides some very useful improvements that should have been in the original release. The more comprehensive list of improvements is here on John Nack’s blog, and here’s a selection of that list:

  • Email interactive wireframe as attachment or share via Dropbox and other Adobe Touch Apps
  • Copy and paste objects to different pages
  • Share common objects across pages
  • Navigations can now be pinned on all pages
  • Z-index (stacking over) can be changed via Context Menu
  • Show undo/redo count
  • Objects snap to both CSS Column and Design Grid
  • Code generated is now ordered according to the appearance in the page
  • All pinned objects generate a separate common CSS file (common.css)

Generally, the improvements provide a more productive workflow within Proto, a more efficient use of materials like common navigation elements, and more useful code outside of the Proto environment. Dreamweaver users should watch this Adobe TV clip to learn how to bring native Proto files into Dreamweaver CS6.

For more information, check out the product pages for Photoshop Touch and Proto or the Adobe Touch Apps homepage.

BOOK REVIEW: Joe McNally’s Sketching Light

Sketching Light cover

Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash is the third of photographer Joe McNally’s books that I’ve reviewed, and I never really grow tired of reading his stories. The quality of his storytelling and the depth of knowledge he has gained from years in the field is what makes his books so interesting, and Sketching Light is no different.

As you can gather from the title, Sketching Light focuses on using flash in photography and there are a variety of stories about the topic. Unlike The Art of Photographic Lighting, which I just reviewed, Joe’s chapters are full of text, intriguing and imaginative photography, and a lot of storytelling. All this is on top of technical details supported by first-hand field experience. The book really is an awesome read, and I’d recommend it to any professional photographer. (Amateurs and prosumers will enjoy it too, but Joe’s writing as a professional and some material just doesn’t apply to what they are shooting.)

I was also inspired by some of Sketching Light that did not really pertain to lighting. Joe works with a lot of models and subjects and he writes quite a bit about working with people. There’s also a section, “How Do You Get Fired from LIFE?”, that I was particularly interested in because I grew up reading LIFE magazine in the 1990s and surely saw Joe’s work without knowing it. He doesn’t even mention lighting in this section; instead, the section is about the actual value of accolades and how temporary the perfect gig can be.

There’s a couple criticisms I want to make about Sketching Light. Joe has published three highly-regarded books now, and I think the content is starting to sound the same. The previous book, The Hot Shoe Diaries, is also about lighting and I’m not sure another book about lighting was the best idea. The content is appealing but it also seems too similar to the other two books. I’ve also noticed that Joe’s writing style is very conversational, which I usually enjoy, but it makes for longer books. Sketching Light is over 400 pages long, and I think some editing could pare that down to 350 or even 325. Some of the verbiage in Sketching Light is not necessary. I criticized Eib Eibelhaeuser for an unusually dry writing style in The Art of Photographic Lighting, but I’d say Joe McNally’s writing style could be more streamlined and direct without losing its impact.

Despite this, Sketching Light is a wonderful book and any pro photographer would do well to have it on his or her shelf. I’m putting my copy next to Joe’s other two books, which I refer to regularly.

Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash
Joe McNally
Published by New Riders
US $49.99
Rating: 9/10
Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Photographic Lighting

Art of Photographic Lighting cover

Eib Eibelhaeuser’s The Art of Photographic Lighting is an interesting book and not the typical book that I see written for photographers. Many books about photo lighting focus on the fieldwork—lighting setups, equipment, handling natural light and other details. The Art of Photographic Lighting is part history book, part art theory book and part photo lighting book. I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing.

Eib’s writing style is clean and clear, which I appreciate. There aren’t many anecdotes or stories from the field, so the writing is not very vivid or interesting like other photographers’ books. (Joe McNally’s books on lighting are practically the opposite.) I also was somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t more actual writing in the book: subjects are sometimes given just a few pages, and the pages often have plenty of white space and photography. The book design is nice and clean, but there is not as much content as I’m used to.

The content is solid. Eib is knowledgeable about many different aspects of photography lighting, including light bulb structure and history, flash configurations, color temperature, and quality of natural light at different times of day. I liked the chapters on natural light the best, and sections were well-defined (“Day,” “Night,” “Indoors” and more). As mentioned above, The Art of Photographic Lighting does not dive deep and these subjects aren’t always covered in detail.

Many pages in The Art of Photographic Lighting are devoted to photography, but quite a bit of it is bland and not very memorable. They do a good job of illustrating the lighting principles described in the text, and the images are technically good, but they are really just not too imaginative, exciting or artistic. I’m not sure how I feel about this because The Art of Photographic Lighting seems more of a textbook and the images do their job. Maybe Eib should strive to find or make images that do more than that.

Ultimately, like I mentioned above, The Art of Photographic Lighting is a good example of a textbook on photographic lighting. Its spare, clean style and comprehensive survey of lighting history and composition make it a very useful guide. However, I think the artfulness of lighting is lost and there’s very little text that sparks the imagination. That should be added to this book if it is ever given a second edition.

The Art of Photographic Lighting
Eib Eibelhaeuser
Published by Rocky Nook
US $44.95
Rating: 6/10
Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Photographically Speaking by David duChemin

I enjoy David duChemin’s books because he speaks about artistry and philosophy, and not just about the technical details in his photography. Many photographers do the same thing and talk about composition, light and other aspects of photography beyond the camera, but David really brings his thoughtfulness into his writing.

duChemin book cover

Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images is David’s latest book and one more example of his inward-looking style. The book considers what makes a photograph successful and how to apply these qualities of visual storytelling to future images. There are many techniques illustrated here that you can get in many other books—the rule of thirds and the golden spiral come to mind—but the real takeaway is how David explains these concepts and examines them at their most philosophical level.

For example, there’s a small sidebar on “reading” versus “viewing” photographs where David describes the difference between passive viewers and active “readers” of images. I learned a similar concept when I was studying music history: to really understand a work of art, you have to go beyond your superficial reaction to it. In today’s saturated world of images, it’s easy to jump at first impressions when viewing photography, but David is wise enough to avoid that and frame the discussion with that single word.

The last section of the book—almost 100 pages—is devoted to 20 of David’s photographs. Those are a lot of pages to devote to just 20 images, but I appreciate the focus. In this section, Photographically Speaking applies the concepts of visual language that were developed in the previous section, such as orientation and the rule of thirds. I enjoy the philosophical aspects of the first section more than the technical focus in the second, but it does help make the book well-rounded.

Photographically Speaking is a very enjoyable book with beautiful images and very thoughtful writing from David. Photographers who have a firm grasp of their craft and want to really think through the images they produce can’t go wrong with this book.

Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images
David duChemin
Published by New Riders
US $44.99
Rating: 10/10
Buy from Amazon.com

REVIEW: Lightroom 4 Prepares For The Future

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 has been available a few months but only in the last week Adobe has included Lightroom in Adobe Creative Cloud subscriptions, which is potentially even bigger news than the new version 4. Photographers who have purchased Creative Cloud subscriptions now get Lightroom whenever and wherever they want it, and that makes Lightroom even more relevant than before. I’ve been working with Lightroom 4 since it was released and Adobe has made some smart improvements to the application that embrace new digital technology.

I believe the most vital improvements in Lightroom 4 happen in the new adjustment brush features. Lightroom became much more useful when the adjustment brush was added a couple years ago, but Lightroom 4 lets photographers make spot adjustments to counter moiré, reduce noise or adjust white balance. The white balance adjustment is very useful and I was surprised no one thought to spot-adjust white balance before. I was so surprised I actually launched Lightroom 3 to confirm it!

Lightroom 4 white balance adjustments

Basically, the Temp and Tint sliders in the Develop module can now be adjusted within a single adjustment brush point on the photo or as a general adjustment across the photo. My color correction techniques have always emphasized correction across entire images—color casts and white balance mistakes will almost always affect everything the camera sees. However, there are a few times when multiple light sources can skew results in a part of an image. There are also many photographers today who want to be more creative with their images than just getting the color correct. These photographers will really enjoy the new controls available in Lightroom 4.

I am also really excited that Lightroom 4 now supports video formats. Prosumer cameras have been shooting video for a few years now and it’s becoming mainstream—some photographers like Vincent Laforet are experimenting with the art form while wedding and event photographers are supplementing their income shooting video as well as their usual photos. Adobe worked to make Lightroom 4 provide a complete video workflow. I don’t think Lightroom 4 provides a complete workflow—it’s missing basic features like sound editing, though Creative Cloud users will have all the software they need for video editing. But Lightroom 4 does provide easy importing and exporting to Facebook and Flickr as well as to your hard drive. I think exporting to YouTube is essential though.

Lightroom 4 does provide Quick Develop module tools for video editing, which is where workflow comes in. Photographers can change exposure, white balance and all the tone controls used for images. You can also trim clips and capture a poster frame for presenting the video. This is the extent of video editing in Lightroom 4, and I think it’s a decent enough editing suite for photographers in the field but a photographer who wants to sell his video footage should invest in Creative Cloud, CS6 Production Premium or Adobe Premiere Elements. Amateur videographers should really consider Premiere Elements, though serious photographers might want to invest in CS6 Production Premium (or, better yet, hire someone who already has mastered Adobe’s video applications.)

Lightroom 4 map module

One of the most visually spectacular new features in Lightroom 4 is the Map module, powered by Google Maps, that lets photographers place their photos in specific locations. It’s a thrill to navigate the world in Lightroom 4 and see exactly where your photographic journeys have taken you, but I have a feeling Adobe will have to constantly play catch-up with advances in GPS and mapping technology. 3D mapping is starting to emerge and I think tagging photos by building floor as well as GPS location would be useful. I also thought the process of matching photos up with their locations was tedious (except when the photo already had location metadata). If there’s no location data, you can drag-and-drop photos onto the map to set their location. This is probably as good of a manual system as you can get, but it’s still a slog.

Lightroom 4 boasts improved shadow and highlight recovery, and you’ll have to learn some new sliders in the Develop module to master this. In Lightroom 3, the Basic sliders in the Develop module included exposure, recovery, fill light and blacks along with brightness and contrast. (Brightness and contrast have been together in Adobe’s settings lineup since the early days of Photoshop.) In Lightroom 4, exposure and contrast are together and the other four sliders are highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. It’s confusing to consider whites and highlights two separate things (same with shadows and blacks) and there aren’t many differences between the two that I can see. Generally, the Highlights and Shadows sliders will affect darks or lights without ruining the other and will avoid excessive contrast. I still prefer working with the Tone Curve settings to pinpoint the tone regions I want to work on, though I like how fast and easy I can produce results with the Highlights and Shadows sliders. If you don’t have time to work with the curves, try the new sliders.

Lightroom 4 soft proofing

For photographers who make prints of their work, the new soft proofing in Lightroom 4 might be useful. A “soft proof” is an on-screen representation of the final printed product, and it’s often hard to get a precise soft proof since a screen and a sheet of paper are two totally different substrates. I’ve relied on hard proofs on paper since the beginning of my career. Lightroom 4′s soft proofs look like they might be helpful but I still don’t trust them completely—there are too many factors in printing that can skew the results. But what I do find really useful in Lightroom 4 are the new gamut warnings which will show regions that are too bright or too dark to display any detail. Lightroom 4 will provide not only printer gamut warnings but monitor gamut warnings too, which I’ve not seen before.

Lightroom 4 book module

Lightroom has always had a fairly robust set of output modules (Slideshow, Print and Web) but in version 4 there is a new Book module for creating photo books. I have seen photo books offered by several photo production websites but I usually like to design my own in InDesign. I wondered if Lightroom’s Book module would be easy to use as well as robust, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn there’s a balance between software-generated layouts (see the Auto Layout panel in the sidebar) and fine controls. The Cell panel lets you put white space around images on all sides or each side separately. I found the caption and type tools very intuitive—text was overlaid on images right where I wanted them to be and I didn’t need to handle text frame corners. Everything is done inside the Book module sidebar. I found one user interface element to be particularly annoying: the inability to add photo cells on my own. The pages’ photo layouts are determined by the Auto Layout presets; you can make your own presets but they still adhere to predetermined layouts. You cannot simply drag and drop new images onto the page either, unless a photo cell already exists. The only real way to tweak photo placement is to add padding to photo cells, but this isn’t a great way to do it.

Lightroom has had integrated social sharing for awhile now, but it’s been improved in Lightroom 4 in a way I didn’t really expect. If you share to comment-capable albums (a Facebook album, for example), photos’ comments will be shown in Lightroom 4′s sidebar and you can write your own there as well. Your comments will then appear on the Facebook album entry. I thought this was a really neat way to leverage Facebook’s API and integrate social comments directly into Lightroom. I also love how you can include your Facebook albums in the Publish Services panel and push photos up to it just by dragging them onto the album name.

Lightroom 4 is another quality upgrade for a quality product, and its inclusion into Adobe Creative Cloud makes it available to even more people. On the other hand, I feel Lightroom is a mature application now and some of the features are not so exciting or unique. Other mature applications, including Photoshop and Illustrator, deal with the same problem sometimes. But the improvements in spot adjustments, shadows and highlights, and photo book layout in particular make me say Lightroom 4 is an upgrade worth buying.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4
Adobe Systems
US $149 full/$79 upgrade
Included with Adobe Creative Cloud
Rating: 8/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Visual Stories by Vincent Laforet

Visual Stories cover

I wrote in my recent review of Jerod Foster’s Storytellers that the best storytelling techniques seem to span across art forms and can be applied to writing, composing and design as well as photography. I think that is one reason I really love Visual Stories: Behind The Lens With Vincent Laforet—the storytelling comes through not just in the pictures but in the words and the storytelling in the book itself. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Vincent is a top-notch photographer with a diverse portfolio—he shoots landscapes, people and nature equally well (though I think his people shots are the best). He’s also shot for a variety of publications and has lived and worked in many different locales around the world, so his subject matter and light are always changing and providing opportunities. The breadth of material makes Visual Stories a great resource for photographic storytellers.

The real gems of storytelling in Visual Stories come through in the writing. I’m not sure what makes Vincent’s stories compelling, but I think it’s through experience. Vincent writes about shooting in a Pakistan refugee camp; catching match point in an Olympic fencing match; making only two decent shots at a Super Bowl; and many more exotic situations. Vincent is lucky—not many photographers get such juicy assignments. His lucky break with the fencing match, described on page 91, just might make you sick with envy. (Don’t worry, I’m sure there are five failures for every success in Vincent’s career.)

Fortunately, Vincent’s luck and his ability to write stories have given Visual Stories beautiful writing to go with the photography. His stories are vivid and sometimes fairly personal, which I also like—this is a book about a photographer as much as it is a book about photographs. Visual Stories does provide some good details on lenses and camera settings, but they are not emphasized often.

I don’t really have anything bad to say about Visual Stories. I enjoyed reading it and photographers of all kinds will find it fascinating. All photographers have some stories to share, but Vincent seems to have more than most and they paint a vivid picture. The book’s price is a little high but it’s worth purchasing.

Visual Stories; Behind The Lens With Vincent Laforet
Vincent Laforet
Published by New Riders
US $54.99
Rating: 10/10
Buy at Amazon.com

REVIEW: Adobe Photoshop Elements/Premiere Elements 10

Elements 10 box

The Photoshop Elements/Premiere Elements bundle version 10 has been on the market for several months now but I wanted to review the product and give my impressions of it. Ironically, it has been just a couple weeks since Adobe released the Adobe Creative Cloud, which delivers their Creative Suite applications via a subscription. This is pertinent to the Elements products because, out of all Adobe’s products, they probably have the highest hurdles to overcome in order to convince home users to upgrade.

Photoshop Elements 10

The most game-changing and impressive new feature in Photoshop Elements 10 is the Smart Brush and its variety of effects and pattern overlays. The Smart Brush is comparable to Photoshop’s Adjustment Brush, but instead of adjustments you can apply one of almost 100 artistic effects, filters, adjustments, patterns and color fills. These are applied with a mask based on where you brush with the Smart Brush.

Smart Brush

The Smart Brush does a good job detecting boundaries for masking, similar to the quality masks produced by Photoshop Touch (though not as good as ones you can create in Photoshop). The Smart Brush effects are layer-based, so you can revise your work in the Layers panel or just click on other effects in the drop-down menu to apply them. This is a feature that seems simple but has a lot of usefulness, especially if you enjoy creating fun and interesting images. Users who just want to color correct and polish up their family photos might want to browse the Portrait subset of Smart Brush effects but otherwise won’t have too much use for this feature. There are better tools for color correction, such as Levels and Curves.

Elements’ Organizer has become smarter in version 10 and offers a few new features based on detection algorithms. Duplicate Photo Search, for example, uses a simple algorithm to detect and warn users about duplicate images. The Visual Search algorithm—which is new to Mac users in version 10—is integral to the new Object Search feature, which runs Visual Search on selections of photos in order to detect and display photos with a common object like a building or animal. It does a remarkably good job but the results depend on the clarity of the photos it’s given. Typical tourist photos and photos with a clearly defined foreground are great candidates. There’s not much control over Object Search: you can refine your search to focus on color or shape just like Visual Search.

Visual Search

People Recognition, which has been in Elements Organizer for some time, is still your best option for facial recognition. Adobe has integrated Facebook data with People Recognition to enable users to tag photos with Facebook friends. I think this is a really smart use of Facebook’s API to make photo tagging more fun and less hassle. It’s particularly cool for users moving a lot of photos from Photoshop Elements 10 to Facebook albums.

Photoshop Elements 10 also has three new Guided Edits to steer users through complex effects:

  • Orton Effect provides a soft, dreamy look for portraits and glamour shots
  • Picture Stack will segment an image into individual layered images suitable for a collage
  • Depth of Field produces a bokeh-like blurring of image backgrounds
  • depth of field

    Guided Edits have been a part of Photoshop Elements for a few versions and with each upgrade they release a few new ones. These are fun to use and I am glad two of them are for more professional-looking images—bokeh is a professional term for basically what the Depth of Field edit provides. However, the new features are not groundbreaking. The same can be said for Photoshop Elements’ new “Text on a Path” features, which insert text on a path, shape edge or selection.

    Photoshop Elements 10 Plus hasn’t changed from earlier versions and still provides 20GB of storage—the regular product provides only 2GB—as well as some tutorials and the ability to share photos on iOS and Android devices. Other than the Smart Brush, most of Photoshop Elements 10′s new features are nips and tucks, extensions of existing features or additions that should have been in place already (such as the ability to save JPEG and PDF files).

    Premiere Elements 10

    Premiere Elements 10′s most exciting new feature is the Pan & Zoom Tool, which lets users put together movie clips based on photos and animated with pan and zoom implemented by a framed interface. To use the Pan & Zoom Tool, you use rectangular frames to define where the shot should focus, the duration of the pan/zoom and how long it should hold at each frame position. Animators and anyone who has dabbled with Flash, Edge or web animations will be familiar with the approach. I’m frankly surprised the Premiere Elements team would have considered an animation paradigm to build a video production feature, but it is intuitive and makes sense. I think the user interface might be a little clunky and it can be hard to revise frame durations after the fact, but it’s a powerful little tool as is and I think it’s a nice addition.

    Pan and Zoom

    The Pan & Zoom Tool might be the most exciting new feature in Premiere Elements 10 but the AutoTone & Vibrance effect might be the most useful. This effect applies high-quality color correction to clips and I know from my experience in color correction with Photoshop that quality color really makes both videos and images look their best. I think color correction is given less attention in home video production so AutoTone & Vibrance is sorely needed. And since the Elements Organizer integrates with Premiere Elements 10 now, the application uses a Project Bin to provide file management for projects.

    AutoTone

    AutoTone & Vibrance’s primary benefit is to punch up color saturation without making skin tones look excessive. I tried this effect on a few clips and generally the performance is very good—colors look snappy but faces and hair remain natural. The effect also makes the shadows darker and richer, which generally improves the contrast. To maximize what you get out of AutoTone & Vibrance, be sure to click Edit Effects after applying it, uncheck Auto under AutoTone and edit the settings manually. There are five settings: Brightness, Contrast, Exposure, Black (shadows) and White (highlights). There’s also a single Vibrance slider to manage color saturation. These settings provide a simple but powerful way to color correct your clips.

    3 Way Color

    Adobe also added one more color correction effect: the Three-Way Color Corrector. Unfortunately, this effect is very complicated compared to the simple AutoTone & Vibrance effect. The Three-Way Color Corrector basically provides a large interface for changing the saturation and balance of highlights, shadows and midtones. You can use an eyedropper to set the balance or drag an anchor point on a color wheel in the effect settings. The results are effective but the user interface is complex, perhaps too complex for average users. The good news is the Three-Way Color Corrector encapsulates aspects of Curves and Levels, the two most important color correction procedures, which AutoTone & Vibrance does not do (that effect is more closely related to Camera Raw). However, I think the Three-Way Color Corrector can be made more efficient and easier to use.

    Premiere Elements 10 has been able to import AVCHD video since last version but now the application can also export and share movies in the native AVCHD format. You can also burn AVCHD footage to a DVD or Blu-ray disc for playback on a DVD or Blu-ray player. And one more note for Mac users: Premiere Elements 10 now includes the SmartSound feature which will let them add music to movie and dynamically adjust the length to match the movie length. This is a really nice feature I like to use, and I’m happy to see it now on the Mac.

    Users who like to post their movies on Facebook and YouTube will be happy to learn version 10 of the Elements Organizer has an interface for posting videos to both social media sites. The uploading process to YouTube is easy and clean but doesn’t leverage all of YouTube’s settings, such as tags. You also can set a video to be public or private (restricted to specific YouTube users) but not unlisted, which I think is more useful in several situations. The interface for sharing to Facebook is more robust but Facebook actually has fewer settings to manage anyway.

    Conclusion

    Adobe deserves praise for staying on top of the photo/video industry’s changes—their support of AVCHD and social media sharing are all important features that needed to be in this release. Both applications have received a worthy upgrade in version 10 but, as with many software upgrades, the necessity of upgrading depends on the user and I think the Photoshop/Premiere Elements 10 bundle has wide appeal but isn’t for everyone. I think many would make the switch just to work with AVCHD footage. Photoshop Elements 10 doesn’t have a new killer feature like Premiere Elements 10 has, but the Smart Brush is quite useful.

    Users should look at the upgrade price, look at their existing and future cameras and camcorders, and make the decision. Upgrading to version 10 offers a lot of new features—particularly for prosumers—but not everyone needs them.

    Photoshop Elements 10 / Premiere Elements 10
    Adobe Systems
    US $149.99 full, $119.99 upgrade
    Rating: 8/10
    Buy from Amazon.com