I always enjoy receiving a review copy of any book from Rocky Nook Press because I know two things about it in advance: (1) the book itself will be printed on Acid-Free paper, and will still show its illustrations with brilliance and clarity for years to come, and (2) the book will be bound in such a manner that it will behave itself and lie open beside my computer without the necessity of putting weights on each side of the open volume in order to make it lie down quietly and allow me to enjoy the content rather than having to fight the pages as though they were reluctant to allow me to read. Actually there’s a third thing I can count on as well; the book design will never be written so far into the gutter that I have to break the book’s spine to read all of the page contents.
I recently received a review copy of Rocky Nook’s Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3: A Photographer’s Handbook by Stephen Laskevitch. I always enjoy receiving a book from Rocky Nook to review because they print their books on acid-free paper and the reproduction quality is as outstanding as the content.
As a workshop teacher I am always interested in another teacher’s approach and quite admire the methodical, logical, and easily-understood approach that Stephen Laskevitch uses in Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3: A Photographer’s Handbook.
Steven Laskevitch is an Adobe Certified Instructor who uses his comprehensive knowledge of Photoshop and Lightroom to introduce the two as a working pair rather than use the more usual approach of dealing with each application seperately. This approach caused me to rearrange my computer room while reviewing this book (more on that in a moment).
“Serendipity” is the way to describe a recent interaction between myself and a colleague of mine. It produced several interesting photographic days for me.
n. pl. ser·en·dip·i·ties
the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: a fortunate stroke of serendipity | a series of small serendipities.
I had just written to Britt Stokes to comment upon the Lensbaby article that he had written and his response was to inform me that he had just dropped my name to the Marketing Manager of the Lensbaby company to suggest that I might enjoy reviewing one of their specialty lenses. He knew me too well; of course I would enjoy it.
Editor’s Note: Wouldn’t you know? Just as we released this article, a newer 2.3 version with a vector editor has been released. Dr. Roach will review it at a later date.
Back in April, 2009 I last reviewed BeLight’s ART TEXT and found it a useful headline and logo designing tool, but time passes and the new 2.2.2 version appeared as a review copy (from BeLightsoft. Com)on my desk with a new, revamped look and a greater ease of usage.
About a year and a half ago (January 7, 2009 to be exact) I wrote a review of Pixelmator as a potential light-weight image-editing software. At that time I found it a very useful and inexpensive image-editing software that was well worth its $59.00 cost. (Download from Pixelmator.com)
A new version of Pixelmator (1.6) is available as a free upgrade to current Pixelmator owners, but a word of caution goes along with it. Pixelmator has been rewritten for Snow Leopard 10.6 and the new version will not run on 10.5 Leopard. Much of its underpinnings have been rewritten for 64 bit support and tuned to take advantage of the multi-core CPUs that Mac has been utilizing for some time.
The results are increases in speed, with Pixelmator claiming starting up twice as fast as previously, and opening images two times faster than Adobe’sPhotoshop©. It’s new painting engine claims to run four times faster than the previous version, and claims that filters are applied faster than those in Photoshop©.
One of my favorite software companies, Topaz Labs, has just released an upgrade to their DeNoise software, rasing version 3 to version 4. This is a free upgrade to version 3 owners and is a major upgrade. Check it out at here. It’s not just that the “look” has changed, but the new layout makes it much easier to navigate and also incorporates a new “IntelliNoise” technology.
Rocky Nook Press recently sent me a review copy of Michael E. Stern’s new book Build A Better Photograph: A Disciplined Approach To Creativity, and since I am always interested in the creative process (especially when it involves disciplined thought), I was happy to sit down with it for some quality time.
I gravitate towards that word “disciplined” because I am an analytical and systematic individual. My trusty Mac computer dictionary provided the following:
With that in mind, I have to add I also like insights into the actual step-by-step thoughts in the designing process for a photographer, and I look for good illustrations and well-written tutorials done by an enthusiastic photographer. All of these are well covered in Build A Better Photograph: A Disciplined Approach to Creativity. Add a DVD with additional images, 360 degree panoramas of studio shots in progress, some short videos of photographic sessions, references, and tutorials and you have a concise and worthwhile package.
Mr. Stern writes in an easy-going style that makes the reader feel that they are in the presence of an out-going teacher who enjoys sharing his techniques and learning experiences‚ both the good and the bad‚ and he is not ashamed to admit to mistakes made in that they provide part of the lessons learned that he would share with the student. It is no wonder that he has had a wide and varied teaching career in addition to his studio work. Among the places that he has taught are Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Art Center College of Design, Glendale Community College, Burbank Unified School District, Julia Dean Photographic Workshops, Studio Arts, Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, and Brooks Institute.
Mr. Stern’s professional career involves some seventeen years working for the Disney Studios, extensive architectural, product, and portrait photography. He cites a deeply committed relationship to Adobe Photoshop and its importance to the digital studio of today.
Build A Better Photograph: A Disciplined Approach To Creativity (ISBN: 978-1-933952-18-5, US $34.95 CAN $41.95) covers four major areas.
The first is environmental portraiture, and in it he delves deeply into the process of designing the portrait and how to load the image’s environment with telling clues that give insight to the depth of the personality of the subject. Along with that he gives serious tips about controlling and predicting color output. Workflows on the computer with an emphasis on organization (remember that word “Disciplined” in the book title?) are considered in depth as well.
The second major area that Mr. Stern discusses is involved in compositing techniques using the computer and Adobe Photoshop. How to light and shoot a myriad of different images and to bring them together in a final composite is painsakingly described with a variety of tutorial screen shots showing the multiple layers and layer masks necessary to produce the final image result.
The third area that is discussed gives lessons on using the scanner in place of the camera and takes a trip into personal style and creativity. It attempts to open up the student to looking at shape and form in the small world in order to sharpen the student’s design skills and to realize that not all images have to come via the camera lens.
The final section of the book looks at product photography and how to light a product in such a way that it is easy to vary background and key colors and to composite separate product images into final images.
Throughout the entire book several ideas continue to travel side by side with the craft and techniques of both photography and Adobe Photoshop as skills. One of those ideas is that the photographer must sell himself or herself continually to the client. This is necessary because there are many photographers who are skillful as photographers but who do not maintain a pleasant working relationship with the client. The job of the photographer is to satisfy the client with both the product and a pleasant personal working relationship. A photographer walks a thin line as he or she trys to promote their own ideas and creativity, and at the same time to deal with the preconceived ideas that the client may bring to the conference table. Satisfying the client in part means that the client must feel that they have contributed to the design concept greatly even if the photographer has promoted his or her own creative design successfully. Each photographer must know when to listen and when to speak (and how to do it tactfully) as the photographer and client come to terms with the final design.
Dealt with indirectly, but explained well, is the difficulty in dealing with the chain of command in large organizations. The filtering process between the ultimate client in the chain and the photographer is a delicate one because each individual in the chain of command feels the necessity of placing their own mark on the final product‚ else they cannot justify their own position in the hierachy. Putting it bluntly, this is hell on the creative process and can lead to difficulties.
I found Build A Better Photograph: A Disciplined Approach To Creativity a good read; it will provide a great deal of insight to the creative process and the day-to-day managerial skills and personality necessary. Definitely a must read for the aspiring photographer who feels that mastering photographic and computer skills are all there is to the photography business.
His book has been published by Rocky Nook Press. Their books are printed on acid-free paper and the color in their books will survive long after the technical skills described in each volume will be replaced by the advances in our technology. Sometimes we get so caught up in the latest information that we forget how we receive that information. The “how” in this case is also important and should be acknowledged.
The work of artist-photographer Robbie Lacomb is currently on display at Alpha & Omega Fine Art Photography Gallery in Austin TX. The exhibition will remain on show through the end of January 2010.
Photographer, digital artist and printmaker Robbie Lacomb resides and works in East Texas and teaches art and art history at Angelina College in Lufkin. She exhibits her prints and photographs in the U.S. and abroad, including Morocco, Ireland, Russia and Paris, France. In the year 2000 she served as Artist in Residence to the Tangier American Legation Museum in Morocco. In 2006 she lectured at Oxford University, England, in a Science and Art round-table. At Angelina College, she received the 2007-08 nomination for Piper Foundation Award for teaching and academic achievement. Lacomb’s artwork is most influenced by nature and mankind’s place in the natural world. Her work reflects this relationship, which is sometimes adversarial, sometimes symbiotic. Revealing the miracles of nature, which are often perceived by humans to be ugly or dirty, is a goal of the artist in her work.
Robbie Lacomb's work is on display at the Alpha & Omega Fine Art Photography Gallery in Austin, Tx. through the end of January 2010.
For more information, visit the gallery's meet-up page.
I just found a Shareware program that had me reaching for my credit card within fifteen minutes of first downloading it to try out. From mooSoftware.com is TABLETDRAW® a simple drawing program that uses the pressure sensitivity of the various Wacom tablets to allow you to draw freely. It’s a sketching and drawing program with the look of pencil, pen, or felt marker. It runs on Intel-based or PowerPC Macs and requires Mac OS X version 10.4 or later. Sorry, PC users, this one is Mac only.
What makes it different than some other pressure-sensitive drawing programs is
- cost—it’s only $35.00 US
- given most modern computers, it will have no trouble staying up with the freely-drawn variations in curving lines.
The MENU BAR has most of the things that you would normally expect, but there are a couple that should be noted. Under the FILE MENU is an EXPORT FOR PHOTOSHOP function that exports an image as a .psd file. Under the MODE menu the increase and decrease pen size do not require a modifier key and are simply “[ “(decrease) and “]” (increase). The VIEW menu allows you to access a COLOR PICKER to pick intermediate colors rather than simply BLACK, RED, BLUE and YELLOW, and the HELP menu has the SHOW KEYS function that brings up a complete listing of the key combinations available. I include the SHOW KEYS listing further along in the tutorial.
“Finally, a drawing program for artists,” that’s what mooSoftware calls their program. Here’s the TOOLBAR outlined in red below. The first row has the pencil tool that allows you to select a Pencil, Pen, or Marker from the TOOL PRESETS column. New is the Eraser which allows selection of the Small Soft Eraser or Big Firm Eraser.
The second row gives us a Lasso to select a portion of an image, and next to it is the Move tool that allows you to move the selection.
The tird row gives us a Marquee Rectangle or Oval to select an area in an image, and there’s also a Hand tool that, like in ADOBE PHOTOSHOP® allows us to move the whole image within its frame.
Last row is a bit different in zooming in and out of an image. Select the mangifying glass and then while holding shift and spacebar use your pen and draw a line upward on your image. This will zoom in an image view. Holding the shift and spacebar and drawing the line downward will zoom out the image view. Finally, that circle with the arrows allows you to rotate the image to allow you to work on the image as though it were a sheet of paper that you rotated to allow your pen to make strokes that are natural to your hand.
I’ll insert all the keyboard shortcuts here to get you thinking about your shortcut keys.
If you are drawing a freehand image then the screen size can be chosen beforehand and is a matter of choice. Obviously, if you are opening another image it will determine the screen size because the image will try to open at the native size of the image which may be much too large for the computer screen and it may be necessary to zoom out on the image to bring the size down to a workable view. I’ll explain how to zoom a bit later.
If you are drawing a feehand image the height and width of your image can be set in Inches…
…or Centimeters, Millimeters, Picas, or Points.
The tool presets give us a PENCIL (very light in tone) a THIN BLACK LINE or a THICK BLACK LINE or the effect of a MARKER. Remember changing the size of the selected tool is simply a matter of using the “[“and “] “keys for decreasing on increasing the tool size by 1 pixel. Adding the shift key decreases or increases by 5 pixels.
BLACK is the default color of the PEN tools while the MARKER can be BLUE, RED, or YELLOW. The ERASERS can be decreased or enlarged in size as well. If BLACK is not your choice to draw with, go to the VIEW MENU of TABLETDRAW® and choose COLOR PICKER; it will appear above your working image and will allow you to point and click on a new color choice.
Notice that in the TOOL PRESETS that there is a small arrow to the left of each tool. If you check that arrow you will find that there is an adjustment set that allows you to adjust the minimum and maximum size of the tool, the color of the tool, opaciy and an ink mode.
The LAYERS menu can create an infinite number of LAYERS which can be manipulated in all the customary forms for anyone familiar with ADOBE PHOTOSHOP®. NEW layer, COPY, MERGE, FLATTEN and DELETE are possible…
…and the LAYER BLEND MODE allows BLEND MODES similar to other programs which use LAYERS.
Here’s a picture of myself sitting in a coffee shop. This image was made with the camera in my 17″ MacBook Pro notebook computer. Let’s take it through the drawing process so we can get a look at the way the tools work in TABLETDRAW®. Remember, we have a WACOM® TABLET attached to our computer.
Here’s the same image processed with Akvis SKETCH®. Remember Akvis SKETCH®? I wrote a review and brief tutorial for it only a few weeks ago. For my purposes there is too much background visible in the image and the lines tend to be the same in weight in too many places. There is not enough variety to the lines to give the image the kind of “life” that is commonly associated with a hand-drawn image. But, it’s somewhere we can start.
In the image below, which I have opened in mooSoftware’s TABLETDRAW® I have begun to erase the background with the BIG FIRM ERASER chosen from TABLETDRAW®’S tool presets.
Now I continue to erase the background of the image. Like a real eraser, the BIG FIRM ERASER does not erase everthing in one pass; it takes several passes to erase the majority of the background, and we don’t have all of it yet. We’ll get all the rest as we clean up later. Right now, we’ll just lighten up the overall background so we can concentrate on my head and shoulders.
OK, I didn’t quite stop erasing above; I decided to remove the figure who was behind my shoulder on the right.
Now I’ve added a blank layer above the image and selected the MEDIUM BLACK PEN from the tool presets and using the presure-sensitive quality of my pen with my WACOM® tablet, I have begun to draw on the blank layer on top of the image, and by varying the pressure with which I push down with the pen I begin to try to add character to the lines that represent the most dynamic parts of the image.
Now I start to pick out the most important parts of the image that I want to emphasize. I’m trying to find parts of the image that represent stresses in the fabric of the shirt and vest and places that represent bumps and creases in my skull, mouth, neck and ears. The glasses get some work as well.
More bumps and creases in the skull follow; and then some defining of the beard line. Finally a touch or two in the shirt will give it a bit more form.
Look closely at the diagonal strokes done in the beard using the light touch and pressure sensitivity of the WACOM® pen.; there are a few strokes on the neck and in the shirt collar starting to show up now. We’re closed to finished; there are only a few more things to do.
To finish up our transition from a stylized and somewhat artificial shetch-looking image to something closer to a hand-drawn one, I went back with a smaller eraser–the SMALL SOFT ERASER from the tool presets–and lightened places in the vest and shirt on the lower layer, and I also finished erasing the background. I had to lighten the area seen through the eyeglasses on the left where the background had produced a dark area, and a few diagonal swipes were made through the face and beard to increase the hand-drawn look. Oh, and I lightened the bump in the top of the skull.
If desired there are still two things I could have done. One, would have been to “turn off” or make invisible the original image. REMEMBER, we are working with two layers at the moment. Turning off the original image layer would have left a black-lined image with very little of the gray tones showing through. That was not what I wanted, but it could have been done. Secondly, I can export this image to ADOBE PHOTOSHOP® if I wanted to. That is an option that can be selected from the FILE MENU in TABLETDRAW)r). I haven’t chosen to do that either, so we’ll simply stop here with a drawing that looks much more hand-drawn and natural than we had where we started. You can’t do this with a mouse; only with the pressure-sensitivity of a pen and tablet can you achieve this effect.
Granted, you could have done this same effect using the LAYERS in ADOBE PHOTOSHOP® with a pressure-sensitive WACOM® TABLET and PEN.
But, and here’s the “Big But…”.TABLETDRAW® only cost $35.00 US and ADOBE PHOTOSHOP® costs hundreds. Take a look at mooSoftware.com and download the trial version; it works completely correctly except LAYERS are limited to two instead of unlimited, and undo’s are limited to five instead of unlimited.
How’s that for a chance to see what you could do with it? I could have done this image with the trial version, but at $35.00 Shareware, it is too good to pass up, so in the interest of the new Federal Regulations about disclosure I BOUGHT IT for myself; so go try it out for yourself; I suspect you’ll have to buy yourself a copy.
The road from getting the color you see on the computer monitor to that you see on an inkjet print is a long and torturous path. What-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) is not what is going to happen with a printer right out of the box, your monitor, and bargin inkjet paper from the office supply store.
Without taking time in this article to give you a background in additive color(projective color—ie: your monitor—color built with Red, Green, and Blue) and subtractive color(printed color—ie: your printer—color built with Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and black) suffice to say that because they come from different color spaces and one is made with light and the other with pigment that they will never exactly match, but they can come close. That's where color calibration of your monitor comes in because we can adjust our monitor's color with only minimal difficulty where adjusting the printing ink color is a major undertaking.
Making adjustments for the type of paper we are printing on is another adjustment we'll save for later. Right now we are trying to get what you see on the monitor to match a known standard so that we can make adjustments from a standard. The problem is that with a multitude of different manufacturers of monitors, the color that you see on those monitors matches whatever the manufacturer decides for the default. They may be adjusted to a standard of that manufactuer or may be allowed to simply occur—that is, they come off the production line without adjustment.
So, the first thing you need to do is get your monitor to match some standard that is acceptable to the paper and ink manufactuers for comparison in making decisions. To do that we need two things: (1) a sensor that can be placed on the screen of the monitor to read specific colors as they are generated by (2) the software provided by the manufacturer of the device. Once the system has been run, the colors on the monitor are as close to a standard as that particular monitor can be adjusted. Laptop monitors do not have as much potential adjustment as does a stand-alone monitor. Some photographers will tell you that they can get very close as they produce a profile for their laptops, but a separate monitor should produce even better results.
I use equipment and software from XRite with the specific device being called Eye1Display2. Why am I really doing this and why an Eye1Display2?
WHAT I WANT TO HAPPEN
My studio has four MacBook Pro laptops and one MacPro. I want them to match as closely as possible so that an image seen on one machine looks the same there as on any other machine in the studio. When my wife prepares her art for printing on our older Epson wide format 7600 printer I want the images on my 30" Apple monitor to match what she was working on when she designed them. Done that way it keeps a lot of piece in the family and saves a lot of ink, paper, and time. What I print will be what she wants. The only additional change I will have to make will be that which occurs when I soft proof an image.
I want before and after results in order to see what the profile adjustments do to an image. I want as nearly as possible neutral grays when I print black and white prints. I want it to be consistent, relatively quick, and easy. All of those goals are satisfied for me with the Eye1Display2.
WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN
When the software for a particular color calibrating system is activated, it will ask that you place the color sensor (sometimes called the "puck") on the center of your monitor screen. A cord connects the sensor to a USB port on the computer, and a small counterweight is attached somewhere on the cord in order to offset the weight of the puck and to keep it hanging and resting on the computer screen without accidentally or easily moving.
First, the software will ask you what kind of device you want to calibrate. In this case you will select MONITOR.
The software will ask you what kind of monitor you are working with, that is whether it is a laptop screen or a LCD or CRT screen.
As you can see above we are choosing LAPTOP from the choices of monitor type.
Then the software will ask you to make decisions about the WHITE POINT, GAMMA, and LUMINANCE you want in your screen profile.
Once you have made those decisions the software will ask you to position the puck on the display of your monitor.
Once the procedure has begun, a series of white rectangles will appear on an otherwise black screen. These rectangles will appear at what appear to be randon positons until they have pinpointed the exact location of the puck—the sensor. In this illustration the gray is really black; it is lightened here so that the puck does not disappear against the black screen.
Once the puck location has been determined a series of color and value rectangles will appear and the sensor will read the colors to determine what is seen vs. what is intended to be seen. The colors will appear to repeat themselves as the sensor narrows down the differences and adjusts the monitor to match the standard.
The progress of the procedure is visible in the progress bar visible on the top right of the monitor.
Once the procedure is finished you should notice a difference in the screen colors from what you had when you began the program. The software will save the profile that it has developed for your screen and will use it as a basis to show all your art or photographs from now on.
However, and there's always a "however", computer monitors age and change color almost on a day to day basis. Therefore, the software asks you to set up reminders on when to run the profile again whether it is daily, weekly, or monthly. This is not something that is done once and then forgotten. What has happened up to this point is that the monitor and the printer standard have established rules by which they can talk to one another. What should have happened at this point is that what you see on the computer monitor and what you get as a print should be closer together though they may not be perfect—the effects of specific papers are not yet in the equation.
Why is it not perfect? Because each manufacturer's paper by the nature of its production has the potential for a color bias in it. The paper itself may have a blue, cyan or other cast to it that cannot be seen by the naked eye but will be visible when it reacts with ink. That bias is also called a profile—though in this case it is a paper profile and not a monitor profile. The paper profile is taken into account when "soft proofing" from inside of Photoshop or whatever printing software you are using.
But our concern at this point is producing the monitor profile that is our beginning point. That's the XRite i1Display2. It's available from XRite for $259.00 and from a number of color service providers and retail stores for a slightly discounted price. I estimate I paid for it in ink and paper I saved in the first show I prepared for. It has made waiting on a final print a lot less breath holding. After applying the soft proof, now what I print is what I have on the monitor screen.
For those of you who follow The Luminous Landscape web site, Alain Briot's name will be a familiar one from his informative and insightful writings for the photographer. If you are new to his writings you will be in for a treat in his second book published by Rocky Nook (his first was Mastering Landscape Photography).
Rocky Nook produces beautiful volumes printed on acid-free paper that reproduce the dynamic tonalities of the fine-art prints that they showcase, and the long-term viability of their volumes mean that they will be as visually dynamic a number of years from now as they are today. This is particularly valuable when examining Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity, and Personal Style because the beauty of this book almost makes it a coffee-table volume as well as a thought-provoking intellectual examination of the mind of the creative photographer. This is a blending of art and technique in that the artistic concepts more often used in the discussion of paintings are combined with the technology and craft of the camera, lens, and printing processes.
Briot says it best:
"…you can control the colors in your photographs as if you were a painter in contol of your color palette rather than a photographer at the mercy of the camera."
It is the point where the photographer has added his style, viewpoint, and emotion to a photograph that the photograph moves from merely factual to artistic. An artistic photograph is actually more about the photographer and their viewpoint than it is about the actual subject of the photograph.
An examination of the way Briot has arranged the book will give you insight into his thought process and his philosophy of art.
He begins with the differences between what we see and what the camera sees. In order to understand how he produces art with his camera you first have to learn that the camera has limitations as a tool and it is the control of those limitations that separates forensic or scientific photography from Art photography. What the camera sees is a version of reality, not necessarily the exact reality. That reality is certainly not the emotional state that comes from the photographer who shapes reality into Art though the use of the camera as only one of their tools. The other tools are composition in both color and in shape; in other words the selective and designing eye that first "sees" and selects and then manipulates color and value to load the composition with emotion, and not simply to accept what the camera saw as a machine subject to the limitations of the sensor and lens.
Briot discusses the differences between composing with light, composing with color, and composing in black and white. He considers the elements of a strong composition and the creative process, and he gives us insight into finding inspiration. By examining a series of images he leads us through exercises in creativity and developing a unique vision for each individual photographer. That vision becomes a personal style.
A well-developed personal style is a saleable commodity if the photographer analyzes their audience and matches their style and the audience. How to deal with the practical aspects of print numbering, presenting images, and the art show circuit are considered.
Finally, Briot gives us a technical and creative checklist that will help develop a skill level that defines the difference between a good photographer and an Artist. This comes about when technical competence has reached a level that allows the photographer to devote most of their energy to design and creativy and the technical is merely a palette that the Artist draws upon to produce an emotional translation of what they saw when they first approached the subject of their photograph. The technical takes place in the field and should result in shooting to the photographer's hearts' content. Then, in the studio at the computer, comes the analytical time where images are selected, comtemplated and modified. Early on, Briot suggested that the photographer keep a written notebook with both technical, compositional, and emotional descriptions of the scenes being photographed. In the studio the photographer can then attempt to modify the image that the camera made within the limitations of lens and sensor to bring to life what the photographer "saw" at the moment the photograph was made.
I, personally, sometimes wonder when looking at files what it was that I saw when I shot an image? Written notes would alleviate that sense of negative wonderment that comes in the studio days or weeks after a particular exposure was made. Briot has explained some pithy things about color, camera sensors, the printing device, the human eye, and the creative process that have given me some serious thoughts on the creative process as it applies to myself. While the goal of every photographer is to get out and shoot images, simply shooting without thinking seriously about the technology limitations and the goal of the images is a waste of time. I consider the time spent reading Alain Briot's Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativy, and Personal Style as being time very well spent to improve a photographer's understanding of both themselves and their technology. It is this understanding that allows the development of the full potential of any image, and that full potential is the difference between mere representation and Art.
Mastering Photographic Composition, Creativity, and Personal Style
352 pages, paperback
US $44.95, CAN $ 53.95.
This volume was provided for review by Rocky Nook, Inc.
Read (PDF) Excerpts:
– Sample Chapter
Gus Mueller, the guiding light behind FlyingMeat.com and the newly released version 2.0 of Acorn calls his software "The image editor for humans" and it truly is a moderately priced image editor at US $49.95 with an upgrade from version 1.0 at US $19.95. At 7.8 megabytes in the compressed zip download form, it only takes a brief time to reach your computer. Acorn is a Macintosh only (Snow Leopard OS X 10.6 and later) software this is truly an image editor that is easy to use and powerful in implementation.
But I am going to rave about Acorn’s ability to serve in preparing lessons or tutorials from it’s screen capture abilities as well as its serving as a image editor. As a workshop instructor I often get asked two questions: "What is an INEXPENSIVE image editing program?" and "How did you prepare the tutorials that are on the workshop tutorial CD’s that you hand out?" I’ve been using Acorn in its 1.0 version pretty much since it appeared; and having the new additons to the application has made it a really good bargain as an image editor and made it even more useful to do tutorials. The only thing that it can’t do (so far) that I would like it to do is allow me to draw an arrow to point to something.
I’ve extracted a bit of the data off the FlyingMeat.com website (http://www.flyingmeat.com) for a quick look here and I encourage you to go to the website and download the two week trial version of Acorn and see for yourself how useful it can be.
Some Highlights of Acorn’s capabilities:
- Layers and Blending Modes allows for easy placement of text
- Brushes that let’s "you draw, scribble and sketch right on your image"
- A great selection of filters and the additon of vector shapes makes this app a robust image editor as well as great screen grab software.
- Magic wand and other selection tools
- Web export
- Python-based plugibn architecture
New in Acorn 2.0 according to their website:
- Improved Screenshots You’ve now got a new preference to have every window on its own layer when making a screenshot.
- Rulers Bring up rulers for your image.
- Raw Image Import Open up your Raw images and adjust exposure, temperature, tint, and more.
- 64 Bit Support Acorn is ready for the future.
- New Dodge, Burn, Clone, and Smudge tools Some important photo retouching tools have been added to Acorn.
- Layer Groups Organize your layers into hierarchical groups.
- Perspective Transform A new Perspective Transform tool, along with much improved Transform and Crop tools.
- Render Clouds Filter Render Clouds has long been a staple in the designer’s toolbox, a great starting place for textures.
- Use for Free After the trial period is up. Acorn will disable some advanced features, but you can keep on using it anyway. Find out more.
- And Plenty More! Check out the release notes for all the details.
Let’s activate Acorn and see what will open the first time.
If you have not previously told Acorn NOT to give you a splash screen, it will ask you whether you want a NEW IMAGE, OPEN IMAGE, or ONLINE HELP AND DOCS? Almost as important, it will remind you that Acorn can take screen shots. This is kind of hiding on the page and, of course, is really only useful if you intend to do some tutorial preparation.
PREFERENCES will tell you that CMD>Shift>6 is the default key combination to take screen shots; but more importantly check USE LAYERS WHEN TAKING SCREEN SHOTS and you will find that every element on the screen will be on a separate layer which can be turned off to hide it and thus eliminates the necessity of retouching much of the page as you are working on a tutorial or shot where you desire to give instruction.
Even more exciting is the fact that Acorn does not have to be foremost in order to activate the screen shot function. Just have it open and sitting in the background while you work in another program if that is your choice. Take a screen shot via CMD>Shift>6 and the screen shot will automatically appear and bring Acorn to the foreground at the same time. This will work no matter what application you happen to have on top when you use the screen shot command. Selecting the screen shot brings it to the front and makes Acorn’s tools available at that point. If they don’t appear, then go to WINDOW to make them visible.
Here’s a screen grab of the monitor. If you look closely you realize that Photoshop CS4 is open and Acorn (now active) shows us the multitude of layers that comprise the desktop and Photoshop and the image being worked on and the Photoshop toolbars (hidden under the Acorn tools).
|.||Here’s a layer breakdown of everything visible on the desktop with each item saved to its own separate layer. This way you can turn off all system readouts you have added to the top of your computer (battery, monitors, time machine, clock, airport, Growl, etc.) and isolate any single item on the monitor screen while preparing a tutorial|
|Moving on to the working part of Acorn and examining the menus we can see that the menus available will remind you of most image editors, but you may have to hunt for a few things that occur in menus positions that are not quite what you expect. Note the key commands.|
|The EDIT menu is quite normal in appearance. Note the key commands.|
|The VIEW menu has the ability to zoom in and out and show rulers and full screen in a conventional manner; however, you may also increase and decrease the brush size as well as Select, Reset, and Swap colors. The TOOL menu (see below). Note the key commands.|
|The tool menu allows you to directly select the tools that can be otherwise selected from the toolbox. Learning the key commands from this menu will measurably speed up the artists’ workflow. Note the key commands.|
|The IMAGE menu is standard except there is the direct ability to get an image from the Apple iSight camera without the necessity of returning to the desktop to do so. Note the key commands.|
LAYERS menus gives you more key commands that speed up operations, though some items such as New Shape Layer and New Group Layer can only be accessed from this menu or the bottom of the Layers palette. Most of this palette can be considered conventional to someone comfortable with the usual image editors.
|One of the coolest filters was the last one in the list with NEW IMAGE WITH CURVED DROP SHADOW. This produced the effect of a slightly curling image rising on either end on a flat table and casting a slight shadow. This effect is very subtle but seems to add a very faint white space around the image along with the slightest suggestion of a shadow.|
|The SELECT menu has the expected items but it also contains the important Inverse and Feather functions. These functions will be available any time an area of an image has been selected with one of the selection tools. Note the key commands.|
|The WINDOW menu gives us access to Tools, Colors, Fonts, and the Brush Designer. Note the key commands (OK, I won’t mention Key Commands again).|
|The HELP menu does not require that you be on line in order to access many of the topics. Typing a phrase or question in the Search window accesses online help almost as fast as you can type. Typing a word such as "transform" will open a window with several related words or topics. Choosing one of them will open another window with a floating arrow pointing to the particular tool.|
|Looking at the TOOLS menu we can begin with the move tool which allows us to move any selected item including text.|
|As you would expect, the magnifying glass signifies the ZOOM tool. It defaults into magnify and selecting the OPTION key shifts the zoom from "+" to "-" and makes the image smaller. I, personally, like the message that a space is intentionally left blank; this keeps me from wondering if there is something that I am missing at this point.|
|The CROP tool allows you to select a part of the image to be saved with the external parts to be lost after double-clicking on the selected portion of the image.|
|The PAN tool is the equilivant of the hand tool in Adobe Photoshop where you can shift up/down/left/right on the image when it is too large to be wholly visible on the monitor screen.|
|Selecting the BRUSH/PENCIL tool drops you into the DRAW mode and gives access to various sizes and opacities of brush and pencil lines. These are readily adjustable and as Bit-Maps they can have Anti-alias edges and be controlled by tablet pressure if you are using a Wacom or other pressure sensitive tablet.|
|The SELECT menu can define rectangular, oval, free or polygon select points, or be configured as a magic wand. When in the magic wand mode the threshold or sensitivity can be modified. Holding down SHIFT allows you to add to a selection and holding OPTION allows you to subtract from a selection.|
|The ERASER size can be adjusted as well as the opacity of the erasing stroke. The eraser can be a block or a circle (anti-alias) and be controlled by tablet pen pressure with a Wacom or similar pressure-sensitive tablet.|
|The TEXT tool will allow a text block to be drawn; this may be a horizontal or vertical block depending on the drag-click of the mouse or tablet pen. Text color will be the default of the foreground color and the type Family, Style, and Size as well as the baseline spacing, the character space, line space, and left, center right or forced alignment can be chosen. Type defaults to a new layer when the type tool is chosen.|
|GRADIENTS can be Linear or Radial and are determined by the foreground colors already chosen.|
|FLOOD FILL will fill any area that is selected, or if nothing is selected then it will fill the entire image or layer area.|
|The CLONE tool window also gives access to Smudge, Dodge, and Burn as well as the clone tool itself. Option-clicking with the Clone tool defines the clone source, and the size of the cloning brush can be increased (right bracket) or decreased (left bracket) as is found in other editing programs.|
|The SHAPE tool acceses a stylus that can define a circle or a rectangle with either fill or stroke capabilities, with the corner radius definable as well as the stroke width. A stroke can be solid or a dash with the gap in the dotted line also definable. A straight line can be drawn with the narrow pen-like shape but there are no arrowheads available. The color is set by the color choice in the foreground color sample. Shapes default to a new layer above the original image when they are selected.|
The FOREGROUND COLOR is the upper circle and the BACKGROUND COLOR is the lower circle; however, these can be reversed with the two headed arrow or black and white rectangle seen below. The eydropper clicks to a set of cross-hairs that can be placed precisely on an image to select that exact color
|LAYERS can be stacked above one another and an upper layer can be moved below another layer without the necessity of changing or modifying (renaming) the lower layer. All those blending methods normally found in an image editing program are available. The opacity of each layer can be individually adjusted as well.|
|New layers can be added or a layer modified or deleted via symbols at the bottom of the layer palette.|
|The COLOR PICKER is standard, and is made visible by selecting COLOR in the WINDOWS menu at the top of the page.|
|The FONT selection is also made visible by choosing it in the WINDOWS menu at the top of the page.|
Accessing a RAW file will result in a frame with adjustments available for Exposure, Bias, Boost, Shadow Boost, Color Temperature, Tint, and scale. Sharpening may be chosen, but the amount is not defined, and Progressive Chromatic Noise Tracking may be chosen as well.
Choosing "OK" will result in the image opening…
…if the TOOLS window is selected in the WINDOW menu it will open with the image. If it was not previously selected you must select it and COLOR and possibly TYPE if needed.
Acorn is a lot of product for a reasonable price and I am quite taken with it and make tutorials with it as I have mentioned. But I did have to use another program to add the arrows. If Mr. Mueller gets around to adding arrows it will simplify my workflow. Version 2.0.3 is available for Snow Leopard. This review is written for version is 2.0.1 but the advanced versions correct a couple of bugs and make Acorn happy with Snow Leopard.
While you are at the FlyingMeat.com website take a look at two other of his creations: VoodooPad and FlySketch. Both are extremely creative products as well, but we can discuss them another time, right now I’m still learning new things to do with Acorn.