Every artist draws from a pool of tools that help him excel at his chosen craft. In addition to his favorite camera gear, Dad has three post-production tools that he can’t live without. While times have changed drastically since he started using these about 20 years ago, they are still Dad’s “go-to” tools.
Adobe Photoshop first hit the markets in the early 1990s. At the time, Dad was shooting film and paying a retoucher to correct any problems in his photos. (See my earlier blog post about Photoshop here) His advertising clients were happy, but Dad saw the writing on the wall. He knew he needed to learn how to use Photoshop A.S.A.P.
The photo industry was changing quickly. After exhausting my short supply of Photoshop knowledge Dad signed up for an actual Photoshop class where he learned more than the basics of retouching.
Photoshop did have a steep learning curve, though. There were and are so many tools and tricks that Dad spent hours practicing on photos. He also had to buy better computers that could handle the enormous RAM requirements from Photoshop. But it was worth it. His newfound knowledge and tools kept the clients coming back for more shots and gave him a competitive edge.
When one of his commercial advertising clients wanted to shoot a patterned couch for an ad, Dad solved the nasty moray pattern problem with Photoshop. Prior to Photoshop there wasn’t much you could do to eliminate moray patterns that were caused by a combination of the lens and film issues. With Photoshop, you could add a slight blur that left the product still in focus, but eliminated the moray. Problem solved. Everyone was happy.
Photoshop saved photographers time and money because they didn’t have to reshoot or pay retouchers. But Photoshop also opened other doors for Dad in his Western shooting.
Dad had lots of old West photo ideas floating around in his head. Many of them required intense cowboy action in scenic locations. Sometimes the two parts didn’t work together due to photo restrictions at the scenic location or just the expense of transporting cowboys and animals to the location.
Photoshop changed everything. It gave Dad freedom he hadn’t experienced before. He could shoot pieces of a photo and then blend those pieces together in Photoshop to create one image. Dad was no longer was limited to the traditional one-shot photo.
Take, for example, his photo Buckboard Cowboy. Dad photographed the sand dunes in Utah, the tumbleweed in Tucson, the sky and the mountains in various Arizona locations. Then he shot Red Wolverton and his buckboard at the Wolverton Mountain Movie Ranch in southern Arizona.
Red was actually driving down a sandy hill he created at his ranch. Dad merged all of the pieces to create a dramatic buckboard ride. The image floating around in Dad’s head now came to life in a way not possible before.
You can see that Photoshop had a major impact on Dad’s photography. Coming from the commercial advertising background, if Dad could “dream” up a photo he could create it in Photoshop.
So what are the down sides to Photoshop? As I mentioned it does require a significant time commitment to learn Photoshop. But it allows artists to create amazing images, control color, sharpen a photo and do a myriad of other things.
Another negative is really more of a caution. You can over do Photoshop. There are so many whiz-bang things Photoshop can do, it’s easy to go overboard. You know what I mean. Some photos just look fake because the artist used over-the-top color or didn’t blend the layers leaving a halo around the subject.
Dad tries never to loose sight of the point of the photo. In his Buckboard Cowboy image the point was to convey an intense ride in a precarious situation. Adding more flying sand around the buckboard might be cool, but adding too much of a good thing can be a distraction from the focus of the photo.
A final down side to Photoshop is the cost. Until recently, you purchased the software outright for about $600-700. Adobe now sells Photoshop as a monthly subscription. It can range anywhere from $10-$70 a month depending on the package you pick. Some photographers aren’t too happy about this. Dad and I still use our older versions of Photoshop because they still work.
For the pro or semi serious photographer, Adobe makes Photoshop Lightroom. This program contains many of the tools that the regular version of Photoshop offers, but not the full package. A lot of professional photographers use Lightroom to manage large quantities of images and do basic editing on location. Lightroom runs anywhere from $76-135.
For the beginning or hobby photographer another option is Adobe Elements. Elements allows you to do a nice range of photo corrections: manage color, correct red eye, stitch photos together and move objects within the photo. It runs about $60.
Neither Dad nor I have used Lightroom or Elements; however, the reviews we’ve read suggest both programs are a pretty good investment. We’ve never regretted the money spent on Photoshop. To get the skinny on all three programs visit www.photoshop.com/products .
Dad loves Ultimatte KnockOut. It cuts objects out of photos like greased lightening and it leaves no clues behind. It even takes the shadows behind the objects into the new composite. Dad first learned of Ultimatte in the late 1990s. Like many of Dad’s tools, Ultimatte harkens back to the movie industry.
According to the Ulimatte website, “Petro Vlahos is a Hollywood special effects pioneer who developed the color-difference blue screen process for the Motion Picture Research Council…today Ultimatte users are able to create completely seamless composites which preserve fine details such as hair, smoke, mist, motion blur and shadows…The total realism achieved allows for the creation of scenes that would otherwise be too dangerous, impossible and impractical.”
Sounds like a program after Dad’s own heart! Ultimatte combined with Photoshop allowed Dad to create some amazing photos like Longhorn Roundup. Dad shot the cowboy action sequence in this composite photo at a ranch in Colorado. He shot inside a corral, but 16’ blue screen panels surrounded the entire corral. The blue screen makes it easy for Ultimatte, functioning as a plug-in to Photoshop, to cut out the cowboy and cattle seamlessly. Dad then placed these characters in an image he shot at Big Bend National Park in Texas.
Ultimatte really shines when you need to cut out a subject with intricate details like a hummingbird wing. It quickly and accurately creates a selection in half the time it would take Dad in Photoshop.
Dad shot a black-chinned hummingbird against a green screen background. Ultimatte cut the bird and flowers out quickly. Then Dad dropped a more pleasing background into the image using layers and blending tools in Photoshop. This would have been tedious project without Ultimatte.
When Dad first started using Ultimatte about 15 years ago, the software out shone Photoshop’s selection capabilities. But in the last couple of years, Photoshop caught up to Ultimatte. There’s no need to buy two programs unless you own an older version of Photoshop.
The down side to Ultimatte is two-fold. You must have a computer with an enormous amount of RAM to run both Photoshop and Ultimatte. When he bought the program years ago Dad added an additional 10 gigs to his Macintosh. So that’s an added cost.
Second, Ultimatte isn’t cheap. The plug-in runs about $700. That’s an additional $700 beyond Photoshop. Dad, however, has easily made back that investment with the images he’s sold over the years. For the beginning to semi-serious photographer we’d recommend just purchasing the latest version of Photoshop for one whopping payout of about $120-$700 depending on the options you choose.
To learn more about Ultimatte Knockout visit their website at www.ultimatte-software.com/ultimatte-advantedge-price-match-plus.htm .
As with many of his tools, Dad discovered Perfect Resize when one of his commercial advertising clients need a small photo blown up large for an ad campaign.
Photoshop is a great tool, but if you take a small file and try to enlarge it, a couple of things happen. You loose sharpness and you gain noise (strange graininess created by the software “guessing” what should be in the extra spaces). This isn’t Photoshop’s fault. It’s just a natural result of taking something small and making it large.
Nonetheless your photo looks less than stellar. Enter Perfect Resize. Dad decided to give it a try because he had nothing to loose in his situation. It was nothing short of amazing. Dad was happy. The client was happy. The enlarged image looked just as sharp and crisp as the original photo. Dad had a new tool in his arsenal.
So how does it work? According to the folks at On One Software, it contains fractal-based interpolation algorithms that create the enlargement data. What that mumbo jumbo really means is you can blow it up really big without loosing sharpness or detail.
As Dad said, “I don’t know what tricks they have in their bag, but it really works!”
The program functions as a plug-in to Photoshop. You simply open the image in Photoshop, choose “File” and “Automate” and then “Perfect Resize”. The program then takes you to the Perfect Resize screen where you select the width and height you’d like. Hit apply and you’re done.
We use Perfect Resize to make photos for our clients everyday. A great example is The Great Horse Chase. It was shot on 35mm film and the Photoshop file is a mere 10”x18”. However, we offer the image as a whopping 30”x40” canvas wrap. The details are crisp and sharp despite the giant jump in size. That’s all thanks to Perfect Resize.
There is one thing to keep in mind if you buy the software. Perfect Resize won’t make your images sharper than you shot them. It just prevents fuzziness from creeping in as the image is enlarged. So you still need to shoot for technical excellence in the field.
Perfect Resize is much kinder to your pocket book than Photoshop. You can buy the latest version for a mere $150. It also works with Photoshop Lightroom and Elements.
You can get the details at www.ononesoftware.com/products/resize8/ .
So there you have it, three of Dad’s favorite pieces of postproduction magic. What tools have you found that help process your photos?