on being the weirdo who's not on Facebook

by Heather Young

I never joined Facebook. Not when it was the hot new thing all my fellow college students were signing up for, not when seemingly everyone I knew gave in and signed up all at once, not when I became a freelancer and everyone told me it was a necessary tool for networking and drumming up business.

I know it makes me kind of... eccentric. I'd like to think it's in a cool freethinking bad-ass rebel kind of way:

Lisa Simpson, role model for life.

Lisa Simpson, role model for life.

 

But I know, to a lot of people, it just makes me a weird loner freakazoid.

I am not, for the record, a weird loner freakazoid. A weird disco nerd? Sure. A charmingly offbeat obsessive bike geek? Again, yes. But really, not a loner. I have friends! We talk regularly! See each other in person! And do other ordinary things that friends have done since time immemorial without difficulty, long before social media was a thing.

There's a simple internet maxim that explains the main thrust of my objection to Facebook:

 

If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

 

Ain't nothing for free in this world. These tech companies don't spend billions developing and maintaining their websites, brands, infrastructure, etc. because of a cuddly, altruistic love for uniting humankind. They do it so they can show you advertising for you crap you don't need, and so they can sell highly personal targeted profiles of you to other corporations so they too can join in the fun and sell you even more crap you don't need. I'm an American consumer; believe me, I already have enough crap I don't need. I don't really feel the need to make it easier for corporations to persuade me through the means of impossible aspirational images of slickly packaged glamour and artificial happiness that my already unusually fortunate and happy little life is insufficient, that I'm doomed to be uncool or ugly or miserable or unloveable unless I rush out and buy Product X.

I'm all too happy to pay for worthy products. I pay for a bookmarking service, an RSS manager. I pay for apps in the App Store. I decide I need a thing, I research my options for the thing, I choose a thing, I pay for a thing, I get a thing. It's a nice system!

The cost of allowing the alluring falsehoods of targeted advertising into my life isn't worth it to me personally. My choose-a-thing, buy-a-thing system, imperfect though it might be, works beautifully without the help of advertisers. But not everyone is a research-loving dweeb like me. Some people — mostly advertisers, as far as I can tell — like to assert that advertising is not only not annoying, but useful. And plenty of people think that Facebook provides a valuable service, and that the cost of allowing Facebook to mine their personal data is a reasonable one. They look past the humblebragging, tedious small talk, petty drama, and nauseatingly ignorant political opinions that Facebook friends are famous for, and find real value.

I don't know, though. Whatever value Facebook supposedly provides, I kind of doubt it trumps the sadness social networking can inspire:

 

By showcasing the most witty, joyful, bullet-pointed versions of people’s lives, and inviting constant comparisons in which we tend to see ourselves as the losers, Facebook appears to exploit an Achilles’ heel of human nature. And women—an especially unhappy bunch of late—may be especially vulnerable to keeping up with what they imagine is the happiness of the Joneses.
— The Anti-Social Network: Is Facebook Making Us Sad?

 

Questionable value aside, the idea of allowing a for-profit entity to monetize your personal relationships for their own financial gain is just fundamentally bizarre to me. Especially when the for-profit entity is as relentlessly creepy as Facebook has proven itself to be.

It's not that Facebook has made a few tiny accidental errors that can be construed as creepy by ungenerous, nitpicky critics. Creepiness is at the heart of Facebook's business strategy, a strategy whose success is dependent upon their users being too lazy and ill-informed to care about the endless litany of creepy things it does. Here's a random selection of stories about Facebook being creepy:

Facebook apologizes for toying with your emotions

Facebook is keeping track of what you're buying at the drugstore

Facebook is trying to get its hands on every photo you take on your phone

Facebook has decided the age of privacy is over

the "creeper potential" of Facebook's graph search

"Every single thing you put on Facebook can be used by the company in advertising"

Employers exploiting Facebook's privacy loopholes to profile potential employees

The dangerous ramifications of the detailed profile Facebook creates about you

Facebook tracks you across the web

 

This is just a random selection of examples. Anyone could find dozens more without breaking a sweat.

So Facebook is contemptuous of the notion of privacy. What's the big deal? Who cares about privacy anymore? If you aren't doing anything wrong, what do you have to hide?

I care. I care a lot. MeFite saulgoodman sums it up better than I ever could:

 

Privacy is not just or even primarily about hiding bad things, it’s about having clean social and cultural divisions between public performance and private mental and functional space. We use private space not just to hide things we don’t want people to know for ethical reasons, but to experiment with and develop complex ideas and to reflect on and develop aspects of our interior lives that are not merely public performance. We depend at a fundamental psychological level on being able to keep those boundaries intact, and the operation of businesses also depend on privacy. It is impossible for human beings to develop personal character or integrity in the traditional sense without privacy.

To applaud the destruction of the concept of privacy is to applaud the annihilation of individuality and freedom in its entirety. People need private space to be able to work without interference or judgment for so many different reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with “hiding” things from others. Privacy is a lot more complicated and important than those who view it as being all about “having things to hide” seem willing to understand or acknowledge.

 

Facebook is lovely and useful for millions of people, I am sure, but for me I can't help but see it as a tedious, envy-inspiring, sad-making timesuck where the purest contempt for the very notion of privacy is making a bunch of smug, arrogant bros even more obscenely rich than they already are. Call me a weirdo, but it's a pleasure to opt out.

you know you're a hardcore photo editor when...

by Heather Young

• Your "busy season" is eleven months of the year.

• You buy a gaming keyboard and program it to maximize your efficiency in Lightroom.

• You occasionally find yourself lying in bed in a half-awake hypnogogic state where you're editing imaginary jobs in Lightroom.

• The phrase "jpg shooter" makes you involuntarily twitch.

• You're so busy working that you can't be bothered to update your twitter, pinterest, or even your poor precious blog. (Don't know about you, but if I only have a very limited number of free hours, I want to spend them riding my bike or drinking a Cafe Napoli at Keane Coffee rather than trying to keep up with the endless inanities of twitter.)

In summary: it's been a busy year. It's going to keep being busy until, oh, say February or so. But I always make time for friends and clients, so get in touch if you need me. Otherwise, I'll see you around when I emerge from work-related hibernation February 2014.

simple, free, incredibly useful Mac menu bar apps

by Heather Young

Caffeine: just click to keep your Mac from going to sleep, dimming, or activating the screen saver. You can choose how long you want it to stay in effect, from 5 minutes to indefinitely.

Alarm: makes it easy to create alarms. Gives you fine control over when an alarm should reoccur, whether it's a simple one-time alarm, or you want specify particular days of the week. You can choose the alarm sound (including music from your iTunes library). Can also be used as a timer or stopwatch.

Day-O: puts a calendar page icon in your menu bar showing the current date, so you can easily know the date at a glance. Click on the icon to see the calendar for the month. You can click forward and backward through the months so you can easily figure out what day of the week any particular calendar date was or will be.

Flycut: clipboard manager. Any time you ⌘C a bit of text, Flycut copies it. When you're ready to paste, add shift to the usual ⌘V, and you can scroll through everything you've copied recently, so even if you've copied other things since you originally copied the text you need, you can still get it in Flycut.

Switch: easily transfer a website open in one browser to another browser. It even closes the tab in the old browser when it switches to the new browser.

how to successfully outsource your digital post-production

by Heather Young

So, you're a professional photographer, and you're ready to start outsourcing your digital post-production.

That's great! The post-production company I work for gets rapturous testimonies from our clients; they tell us we've given them their lives back, freed up their schedules so they have more time to shoot and cultivate new clients, or even saved their marriage. Our clients routinely tell us that using our services is the decision they've ever made for their business.

However, whether you're a technically-minded Lightroom power-user with your own preset and a carefully refined workflow or a tech-averse computer-phobe who sees post-processing as a confusing but irritatingly necessary evil, entrusting your all-important images to another set of eyeballs can be an unnerving process. Here's a few tips to make sure your experience outsourcing your post-production is a successful one.

know what you want and articulate it clearly

Different photographers care about different things. Sounds obvious, right? But it's all too easy to assume that your personal preferences are the correct, obvious way to edit, and then find yourself disappointed to get back images that have been edited to meet a different standard. For example: some photographers take it as gospel that highlights must be preserved even if it means a darker overall image, while others are more concerned with making sure that the subject of the image is sufficiently bright, even if that means sacrificing the highlights a bit. Some photographers want to preserve the ambient light of a location, while others value perfectly consistent skintones and brightness across the entire job above all. Some photographers hate recovery and never use it, others love it so much they build it into their preset. The more clearly you can articulate what you want, even if you feel like you're saying something that should be obvious, the happier you'll be with the end results. Don't worry about seeming particular or fussy, or hurting our feelings. We're all professionals here; high standards and constructive criticism are good things.

be patient

Photographers can be a bit jumpy about handing over their images to someone else to edit. After all, when you're an independent photographer, your photographs are your brand and your brand is you. It's very personal. And — I say this lovingly — perfectionism and control freak tendencies are not entirely uncommon characteristics amongst professional photographers. It's can be tempting, when you get that first job back and it's not exactly how you would have done it, to just write it off and say, "I'm a special snowflake and no one can do what I can do, so I guess I just have to do all my own post-production on my own forever, free time be damned." But seriously, give us a little credit. Any respectable post-production agency will have worked with hundreds, perhaps thousands of photographers with every kind of preference you can imagine, each one special in their own way (and many undoubtedly much stranger than you) and we wouldn't still be in business if we didn't have the chops to keep them happy. Until mind-meld technology becomes readily available, it's just an unavoidable fact of life that it may require a bit of time and communication for two separate entities to achieve synchronicity. Getting back all those hours you'd be spending on digital post-production is worth a little patience and effort.

explain your process

It's pretty common for a photographer to send us their images to do a basic correction in Lightroom, then run a custom Photoshop action on those photos once they get them back. That's a completely reasonable way to work. But tell us! We'll be looking at your portfolio and/or blog to get a feel for your style, and if there's a secret Ps action in the mix we don't know about, it can skew the way we edit. You should also let us know if you've recently changed your style and your website isn't reflective of the look you're hoping to get from us. Keep us in the loop.

cull, cull, cull

Every post-production agency I know charges on a per-image basis, so it makes good economic sense to cull your images before you send them to us, or to have us do the culling for you. (It also makes things simpler and less overwhelming for your clients, and makes it more interesting for us to edit. Seriously, I'd take two well-cullled 750 image wedding over one unculled 1500 image wedding with lots of repetitive shots and photos of people blinking any day of the week.) If you haven't established a serious culling routine with your work (and you should!), now would be the opportune time.

always go over the samples with a fine-toothed comb

General practice for outsourcing a post-production job: you'll send the agency or editor your images, they'll send you a selection of sample images, then once you've approved those samples, they'll edit the rest of the job to match. Carefully evaluating these sample images, revising them if necessary, is an utterly crucial component of the post-production process. Even after you've successfully established a relationship with a post-production company, the price of good images is eternal vigilance over sample quality. To borrow a meme, if you approve samples that aren't really representative of what you want, you're gonna have a bad time.

If you really want to make your editor love you, you might consider preparing samples of your own. Some of the photographers I edit regularly like to prepare a few dozen samples for each individual job. Not every agency allows it, and it's a bit of an effort, but if you can, there's no better way to ensure that your images are edited exactly to your specifications.

Every post-production company and editor is different, but with patience, focus, and above all communication you can build a successful relationship that will make the endless hours spent at your computer editing your images a thing of the past.

Good luck, and enjoy your newfound free time!

Sparrow wishlist

by Heather Young

I really like Sparrow, the Mac email client. When I started using it, I wasn’t entirely sure an email client was all that necessary for my needs, but Sparrow’s attractive, user-friendly design won me over, and it’s become an essential park of my workflow. It doesn’t hurt that it’s generally a pleasure to use, as much as any email client can be a pleasure to use. But perfection is an impossible dream in this dysfunctional universe of ours, so I have a little wishlist of things that would make me that much more delighted with Sparrow.

•  Sparrow makes it so very easy to switch between email accounts. The downside is that you have to be extra careful about what email account you’re on before you fire off an email. Yes, the account you’re using will be listed on the email, but if you’re sending dozens of emails a day, it’s all too easy to ignore that little bit of text listing the current account. I wish the account outgoing account was more clearly defined in some way — maybe displaying the account avatar, or color-coding. Or maybe the ability to set up confirmation before sending on different accounts. Just… something. I live in perpetual fear that I’ll accidentally email a client from the email address I use for mailing lists (named after a weird-ass Guided by Voices song I’d have a hard time explaining to my clients, for extra awkwardness).

•  I like to think I’m reasonably careful before hitting the send button on an email; nevertheless, on occasion, I do need to stop an email from being sent after I’ve foolishly already clicked the send button. Sparrow doesn’t currently provide any means to stop sending, so my current brilliant solution is to cut off my internet connection.

•  Sparrow is so attractively and smartly designed that it surprises me that the way it displays attachments is so awkward: it provides a rather limited number of characters, so more often than not, the file names of my attachments is cut off. When you’re emailing zip files all day long like I am, it’s important to make sure you’re emailing the zips and not the originals, so having the file name truncated so you can’t see the extension is super annoying.

So, to sum up here: Sparrow, I love you, but I wish you’d do a bit more to protect me from my own stupidity.

UPDATE 7/20/12: Well, that was a short-lived fantasy. Sparrow's been bought by Google so they can use the Sparrow team on their own projects, which means there will no further development of Sparrow. Another day, another reason to resent Google.

a cheap holiday in other people's oddity

by Heather Young

I once edited a wedding where the groom was so aggressive about shoving the first slice of the wedding cake in his new bride's face that she was picking crumbs out of her eyelids, leaving big black smears of make-up around her eyes. Either the bride found it genuinely amusing, or she was talented at hiding her emotions, but she seemed to take it with good humor. Hooray for the happy couple and all, but I have to say every time I see this kind of thing, it squicks me out. Personally, I find these kind of displays mean-spirited and disrespectful. After all, brides spend a ton of money and effort on their appearance on their wedding day, in all likelihood more than they'll ever spend on any other day of their lives. The cake-smearing ruins that carefully achieved effect, meaning that in every photo afterward she'll look worse. Considering that those hours will be the most photographed hours of her life, and the fact that those photos will last for generations, having your make-up ruined on your wedding day is a very bad thing.

These days, most of my time is spent editing weddings. And weddings... they're odd. Oftentimes it's adorable oddness (the groom with Darth Vader boutonniere, the bride pushing her groom on a swingset, the officiant reading from a math textbook during the ceremony). And sometimes it's a groom humiliating his bride with irrepressible glee in front of all of their friends and family by shoving a cake into her face like he's trying to suffocate her with frosting.

I will probably never meet any of these thousands of people whose faces I encounter in the images I edit and I don't see it as my business to pass judgment on anyone. My job is to edit to the photographer's specifications — and that's all. And yet the ugly-weird things I see, like the new bride Mrs. Cake-Face, do get under my skin. I guess it's funny to some kind of people, and it's not my business, so who cares? At the same time, I'm a thinking, feeling human being with emotions 'n' stuff, and maybe it's ok and normal that I can't turn my feelings off and be totally disengaged. It's one of the unexpected things about digital post-production — other people's weirdness gets shoved in your face, and all you can do is deal with it and move on. I suspect Mrs. Cake-Face is a wiser, more forgiving woman than I am. Still, I have to say — not having cake embedded in my eyeballs is a nice feeling.

How disingenuous is Pinterest

by Heather Young

Maybe because it's been done to death, or maybe it's because people are finally getting squicked out about it, but "OMG Pinterest is a girly website!" is no longer the angle du jour for tech writers covering virtual pinboard site Pinterest anymore. Now you read about how Pinterest's user agreement seems to set its users up for potential copyright problems. From the Atlantic: Pinterest's Copyright Strategy Puts the Burden on Users:

Pinterest puts the burden on the user, rather than itself, asking Pinners (in giant, scary CAPS) to agree that risk related to the 'application of services' -- i.e. stealing -- remains with YOU. Further, it emphasizes that Pinterest is not responsible for all the theft the site encourages."

I'd be curious (in a purely abstract way!) to see how such such an agreement would hold up in court, seeing as pinning up images from every possible source is built into Pinterest's design: Pinterest describes itself as a place for people to "organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web" and provides its users with a bookmarklet they drag into the bookmark bar of their browser that makes it easy to create a pin on Pinterest whenever a user stumbles across an image they like while browsing the internet. Does Pinterest really believe that their users are really only going to use this bookmarklet only to upload images they personally own the rights to? Of course not. In fact, Pinterest's guide to "Pin Etiquette" explicitly advises users not to use Pinterest plug their own stuff too much:

Pinterest is designed to curate and share things you love. If there is a photo or project you’re proud of, pin away! However, try not to use Pinterest purely as a tool for self-promotion."

Just visit the boards of the members of the Pinterest team: do you really think those guys technically own the rights to the all of images they post? Or, you know, any of them?

Yet somehow I doubt terror over photo copyrights is keeping up anyone on the Pinterest team up at night. After all, what would that legal battle look like? "Boo hoo, your honor, due to Pinterest users pinning up photos from a wedding I shot, I got a bunch more new clients"? "Woe is me, Pinterest has brought a lot of traffic to my Etsy store, and now I have more people queuing up to buy my meme-themed pillows than I can handle"? Has anyone, anywhere, ever lost a single damn cent because an image they owned to right to was posted on Pinterest?

There have been stupider lawsuits, I suppose, yet I'm not holding my breath. And neither, I expect, are the journalists and bloggers who write overwrought articles about "Pinterest's potential copyright scandal". What's really stupid is that such a lawsuit is even conceivable under current copyright laws. If I tear a photo out of a magazine and show it to friends in the name of sharing my inspiration, should I be taken to court, even if I fail to acknowledge the source and/or photographer? Why should it be any different if I share that photo with friends online, as long as I don't pretend that I own it?

Even stupider than current copyright law (which is pretty spectacularly stupid!) is Pinterest's is lame, hypocritical, and disingenuous user agreement. It reeks of the most shameless, dishonest cover-your-ass bet-hedging. I'm not naive enough to expect companies, tech or otherwise, to not be evil. But it'd be nice if they weren't openly disrespectful and contemptuous to the users whose numbers and enthusiasm are the only reason they've been able to raise millions of dollars in funding.

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(Yes, I still have a set of pinboards of my own on Pinterest. For now.)

Things's embarrassingly overdue cloud sync public beta: why it's underwhelming, but doesn't change my love for Things

by Heather Young

Cultured Code has finally launched a public beta for cloud syncing for their task management app Things. Their implementation doesn't fill one with confidence: the logos for the beta are covered with big striped "warning" tape, they require a new, empty database, and they beg the user not to share the details ("We would therefore like to ask you to not post screenshots or write about the beta in public at this stage."). Even more embarrassing is how far behind the curve Things is, compared with other popular to do list apps, most notably OmniFocus. As Ben Brooks notes, "They have now caught up (not really) to where OmniFocus was in 2008."

And yet... I still use Things. I still love Things. It's possible that part of this is due to the old sunk cost fallacy. After all, Things wasn't cheap. $50 for the desktop version, another $10 for the iPhone version. But I don't think so. Things just works for me. It hits that magical sweet spot: incredibly simple and intuitive to use, but with enough depth for the power user. It's simply laid out: when you create a task you want to complete, you choose whether you want to do it today, next, or someday. If the task is part of a larger project, you can create a project, and add other tasks. If it's reoccurring, you can fine-tune how often you want it to reoccur (the first of every month, every Thursday through the end of the year, etc.) and when you want to be reminded about it. When a task is completed, it goes into the logbook, which you can easily peruse to see what you accomplished when.* You can add tags to tasks, so it's easy to find all tasks, current or past, relating to a particular subject. It also has the shiny bells and whistles power users need — keyboard shortcuts, options to add teammates and areas of responsibilities, etc. — but it's incredibly functional from the get-go, even if you decide you're not in the mood to struggle your way up yet another app's learning curve. For me, it handles everything from intricate sets of work with multiple deadlines to mundane daily errands to long-term goals with perfect ease and simplicity.

OmniFocus gets all the productivity nerd love nowadays, but I found it fiddly and constraining. (It's also quite a bit more expensive: $80 for the desktop version, $20 for the iPhone version: not a huge deal for something you'll hopefully be using intensively on a daily basis for years and years, but still — ick.) Wunderkinder's Wunderlist, with its super-friendly interface, easy cloud syncing, and magical price tag of $0 gets a lot of love too, but I found it too basic. (I still subscribe to their newsletter, though, because everything Wunderkinder does is so very pretty.) Clear, the new iPhone app, is even more basic, but so fantastic-looking and fun to use that it's sure to win the hearts of those for whom all the power user features of apps like Things and OmniFocus are just so much cruft (I use Clear for grocery lists, but can't imagine using it for anything more complicated). The danger of all this productivity nerd stuff is that you can end up spending more time and energy figuring out how to do things than, you know, actually doing them. There will always be shiny new apps, new techniques, new productivity gurus our there that promise to boost your productivity to heretofore unseen heights. Meanwhile, I'll be sticking with Things. Why should I waste time daydreaming about invariably overhyped new productivity products when I already have something, eccentric as it may be, that I personally enjoy using, and that simply, effectively, measurably, helps me get stuff done?

Still looking forward to that stable, non-beta Things cloud sync, though.

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  • The new database required by the public beta compromises the functionality of logbook, which is why I won't be using it.
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UPDATE 6/12/12

So, I guess ignore everything I wrote above: I bit the bullet and switched to OmniFocus. I still find the whole contexts vs. projects thing at the heart of OmniFocus a bit disorienting, and think that Things' method for presenting completed projects is a great deal more clear than OmniFocus'. Still, once you make your way up the learning curve, OmniFocus is indisputably better in a whole bunch of ways, most importantly in the syncing, which is one of those things that even if you know you'll like it, is in practice wonderful and life-improving in ways you couldn't have anticipated.

the under-appreciated pleasures of iPhone photography

by Heather Young

John Paul Caponigro (and Ragnar Th Sigurdsson):

The iPhone is smaller than most cameras. This makes it easier to position it in places you couldn’t place a DSLR[...] The iPhone’s small scale also changes interpersonal dynamics between the photographer and human subjects; people feel more at ease with what’s perceived as a more casual act, you can make contact with both eyes, and allowing the subject to see the picture while it’s being made (instead of after) provides a dynamic feedback loop of action and reaction or pose and repose.

Don't knock it, photo snobs. Still, I'm glad no one is asking me to edit iPhone photos. (Yet.)

how not to steal from photographers

by Heather Young

Here's a few things not to do if you're planning on "borrowing" a photographer's images for your own commercial purposes.

  • Don't put the stolen photo on a billboard by a busy freeway in the county where the photographer (or their helpful, ever-alert retoucher) lives.

  • If you're in a industry that requires photography only a relatively small number of specialized photographers can handle, and have had discussions with one of these photographers about the possibility of them doing work for you, don't go to that photographer's website and steal all their photos from their portfolio and put them all over your own website. Also, be aware that if one of these photographers recognizes your thievery, it's very possible that they'll recognize the work of other photographers you've stolen from on your site, and will then take a certain pleasure in informing those other photographers of your theft, thus turning the righteous indignant fury of one pissed-off photographer into a world of pain.

The Dunning-Kruger effect explains the phenomenon in which the very stupidity and/or incompetence of an individual makes it impossible for them to understand just how stupid and/or incompetent they are. Cases like the above illustrate the unexpected upside of the Dunning-Kruger effect: the people dumb enough to steal a photographer's images are also often too dumb to avoid getting caught. Kind of poetic, really.

Update: Lots of discussion on the same subject on twitter lately, after illustrator Jessica Hische was stolen from in a similarly brazen and foolish fashion, leading to the creation of this instructive site: Should I Steal Intellectual Property?

Incidentally, yes, I'm posting on twitter now.

the joy of Dan Margulis

by Heather Young

So, what have I been doing in these months and months I've been neglecting this blog? Working, of course, but also studying like the big old nerd I am. One of my current Photoshop texts is a certain infamous book by one Dan Margulis.

Dan Margulis is the sort of teacher who doesn't care if he terrifies you. All the lazy, cheap, quick tips you find in online tutorials by hacks who don't know any better fall by the wayside, and suddenly you find yourself in a starkly beautiful landscape where only hard-earned knowledge can show you the way. You're in Dan Margulis' world now. While other Photoshop books are repeating basic shortcuts you should have mastered 200 pages ago, Dan Margulis shows you grayscale images of the different channels of an image in RGB, CMYK, and LAB and commands you to figure out which is which. Without knowing the color of the original image. Note to people who don't know what channels are: this ain't a cakewalk!

Some of my Photoshop professors didn't even mention curves — they thought it was too complicated for us poor distracted college students. (I have clients who are still afraid of curves, bless 'em.) Meanwhile, Dan Margulis devotes chapters to every nuance of curves, and explains why you're a chump if you even think about using the Master Curve.

Dan Margulis is not the type to beg anyone's permission to have an original thought. I was reading a more conventional Photoshop book which blithely assures readers that there's no reason to ever use the Apple RGB working space. Meanwhile, Dan says, "I use Apple RGB! I'll tell you why and when in ten chapters, if your puny little brain hasn't exploded by then."

Maybe this seems a bit too demanding. That's fine, you can have your Auto Color. Me, I'll be over here, learning at the feet of the guy with the technique so mercilessly sharp that he was able to teach a colorblind guy how to color correct.

As if I didn't know it before, reading Dan Margulis has made me certain that I've chosen the right career. Not to say that I've become his obedient follower in everything — but I dearly love his rigor, his unapologetic emphasis on technical mastery, and how goddamn opinionated he is. An industry that embraces such a man is the industry for me.

don't fear the tablet

by Heather Young

Embarrassing confession time: I took way, way too long to get comfortable with graphics tablets. The first time I used one was at my first paid Photoshop-intensive job. I learned a lot at that job, but the work was, shall we say, not exactly high-end. A tablet wasn't seen as a necessity for the work I was doing, but I mentioned that I wanted to learn how to use one, and my boss kindly dug through his drawers and found an old tablet I could use. It was a tiny, tethered thing, several generations past its prime. Although I tried to use it as much as possible, I found it incredibly awkward, and allowed my delusional self to imagine that my mad mouse skillz made the tablet superfluous. No tablet was provided at my next big gig. I didn't mind, and moved on.

Then, some time later, a professional retoucher very generously took me under her wing. She let me observe her technique with her tablet and suddenly I felt like a complete idiot for not being more serious about mastering the tablet. My eyes opened, I started working with a tablet again, and much to my surprise and delight, it resulted in the single greatest leap in my skills since I got into digital post-production. As crucial as it was to have someone experienced teach me proper technique, it was every bit as important to use a tablet that is a) reasonably sensitive (you should be able to navigate menus without awkwardness), and b) a decent size. If you've struggled to get comfortable with graphic tablets, the problem may not be you; it might be the tablet. Once you've worked with a good graphics tablet, you will never go back to your sad little mouse.

While I'm being a shameless shill for the graphics tablet industry, I might as well just go ahead and say it: the Wacom Intuos4 is the business, and you should sell your mother to get one, if necessary.

Incidentally, if you look up 'graphics tablet' on Wikipedia, you'll find this little tidbit: "In 1981, musician Todd Rundgren created the first color graphics tablet software for personal computers, which was licensed to Apple as the Utopia Graphics Tablet System." Now you know. Also, Giorgio Moroder helped design a supercar, but that's a story for another day.

Are photo retouchers doomed to become obsolete? Content-Aware Fill and the future of retouching

by Heather Young

Recently, Adobe previewed an upcoming feature called Content-Aware Fill. It was so immediately obvious how cool this feature was that it received coverage all over the internet, even on sites that don't make a point of talking about Photoshop. If you somehow missed it, take a look now:

For an even freakier peek into Photoshop's possible future, watch this:

PatchMatch: Structural Image Editing from Dan Goldman on Vimeo.

The reaction to this sort of stuff is generally: 1) "cool!" 2) slack-jawed disbelief, or 3) ohmigod, I'm out of a job. But stuff like this no longer gives me career anxiety. Let me explain why there's no reason to be afraid.

In Ken Robinson's Ted presentation, amongst the many excellent points he make is that in designing our schools' lesson plans, no matter how prudent we think we're being, we're attempting to prepare students for a world that we just can't anticipate. So it is with image editing. You can take every Photoshop class your school offers, you can read every Photoshop book, watch every training video, or do every online tutorial, but the reality is that Adobe (or maybe, someday in the future, some other company that's surpassed Adobe as the dominant company in image editing—shock horror) may bring out some new feature that renders a task that used to require several (billable) hours dead easy. Say goodbye to the meticulous, carefully honed technique that took you years to perfect—if you can't do the new faster technique, your clients will find someone who can. Someone cheaper, probably.

(Also, as a side note, I have to think that whenever a video like this comes out and gets coverage outside of Photoshop-nerd circles, you worry if less-savvy clients will form even more fantastical ideas of what Photoshop can and can't do, and how long it actually takes to get things done in Photoshop. "Hang on, if you erase the top of the building in Photoshop, the sky will be behind it, won’t it?")

The unavoidable fact, if you're going to be a retoucher, is that you will have to be committed for the rest of your career to staying on top of the technology. You'll have to discard the techniques that took you months, maybe even years of blood, sweat, and tears to develop the moment something quicker comes along without a second thought. And you better not waste time mastering every important new technique that comes your way. No matter how good you are, the progress of technology will never stop. That's why I think that if you're going to survive in this industry, it's crucial that you are (or make an effort to become) the sort of person who never gets tired of learning new things.

Not such a big deal, right? Who doesn't think of themselves as the sort of person who enjoys learning new things? But try to imagine yourself in the future, imagine how you'll feel after years of dealing with ground beneath your feet constantly shifting. Sounds grim, doesn't it? Who wants to stand around waiting to be made obsolete?

Coincidentally, I just finished Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano, which depicts a dystopia in which technology has rendered all labor obsolete, except that of a tiny elite cadre of engineers. Although many of the particulars seem quaint (how worried are you about vacuum tubes making you redundant?), the fear that technology will make us obsolete is every bit as powerful today. I expect it's especially acute amongst those in careers that require dependence on changing technology, including photo retouchers. After all, history teaches us that not only is change inevitable, it is often terrifying, unfair, and inhumane. (No wonder those who predict an imminent apocalypse are always with us. Somehow it's very easy for societies to forget just how many wonderful things we have that our ancestors didn't. Things like not dying of the Black Plague, not being burned alive for one's beliefs, like children going to school instead of being maimed in filthy factories, and infinite other marvels that make it a pretty good time to be alive.)

The unpleasant fact is that the changes that will come as image editing technology evolves will not always be unmixed forces for good in our industry, just as Photoshop itself has always had a decided dark side. Someday all the most complicated things you can do, the things you considered you specialty, will be rendered so simple that the proverbial relative of a client who owns copy of Photoshop actually could do them. Or maybe, and this is more likely, you'll be able to do new things with the new techniques that the dabblers of the world couldn't even imagine. Because you know how to experiment in Photoshop, you have a honed and sophisticated understanding for what gives an image impact, your knowledge of Photoshop, and photography, and color theory, etc., is deep in a way they couldn't even begin to grasp. You will grow and change with the technology. It will be scary at times, but it will also be stimulating, even fun. If you're dedicated and experienced enough to choose to make photo retouching your career, at some point you passed through the wall of understanding and you began to see inside the image. You know what it needs, you know what it can do, you see the possibilities. When new technology comes along, you will be able to explore its possibilities in a way the inexperienced amateur couldn't even imagine. Even if Adobe came out with a one button interface in Photoshop that said "make my image beautiful" and came with a device your clients could plug directly into their brains, it wouldn't be able to do what a knowledgeable, artful retoucher could do. The technology is only a starting point. Embrace it.

so you want to see your photos in the magazines

by Heather Young

In photography, the difference between capable hobbyist and successful professional is huge, and not just in the quality of work. When you're a hobbyist, it's easy to lose perspective on just how an impact networking and paying your dues will have when it comes to building a lasting career. Courtesy of the invaluable advice-on-everything resource that is Ask Metafilter, here's the beginning of a bracing response to a non-professional photographer who dreams of being published in Real Simple: "The first step is not to connect with magazine editors, that is absolute last step. If they haven't heard of you, you have zero chance of getting in the door." It only gets more intimidating from there. It's definitely tough love, but it's always better to know what you're up against.

shooting in low-light situations and the superiority of digital

by Heather Young

Photojournalist Harry Benson talks to the New York Times' Gadgetwise blog about how taking quality photos in low-light situations is easier than you might think and the superiority of digital photography.

I shoot all digital now. I have a closet full of film cameras like Hasselblad, Nikon, and Rolleiflex, and every time I pass by the closet I hear, “Help! Help!” I feel terrible because they were all great cameras, but why should I use them when I’m getting better results with digital?

He also gets in the usual snide digs at digital post-production.

If I manipulated the photos, I would feel that everything I did was fake. I might take a scratch out but I don’t adjust lighting — that’s creating something that wasn’t there. When photographers start doing that, it can’t be called artwork."

Kind of amusing just how quickly and thoroughly the practitioners of a medium that only won the right to call itself an art after a bruising struggle lasting more than a century become experts on what counts as artwork and what doesn't. Must be nice to enjoy that kind of certainty.

20 years of Photoshop

by Heather Young

Adobe's celebrating 20 years of Photoshop with this cheerful anniversary video reuniting the original Photoshop team. It's a breezy, knowing little piece that's packed with surprising historical tidbits, Photoshop geek humor, and allusions to the scale of Photoshop's influence on photography, art, design (including web design: can you imagine how different the internet would be without Photoshop?) and culture at large.



Also of note: 20 Years of Image Editing: Photoshop from 1.0 to CS4 is an article in Mac|Life chronologing the evolving technology of Photoshop, its (lack of significant) competition, and its cultural impact. The most exciting bit what Kevin Connor, Photoshop's VP of Product Management for Professional Digital Imaging, had to say about the future of Photoshop:

From a technology standpoint, the big trend is computational photography. Increasingly, software algorithms are being used to derive photographs that could not be directly captured using traditional optics and sensors. Today, this technology can give us seamless panorama photos or wide-angle shots with no distortion, but in the future, it may even give us the ability to manipulate a photograph in three dimensions, adjusting vantage point and focus after the capture. Ultimately, it can also lead to software that is smarter about understanding the contents of a photo and can manipulate it as more than just a collection of pixels.

retouchers know

by Heather Young

There's a strange thing that happens to you when you start getting serious about photo retouching. You start to see Photoshop everywhere, in every commercial image. The texture-free skin, the hair blowing in the wind but without a single hair going too far astray, the overly soft or overly defined edges, the unnatural intensity of the colors regardless of the light source, the sloppy combination of images from different photos, freakishly bright and white eyes, and so on. Even if you were always a cynical/realistic sort who took it for granted that every commercial image was retouched, it's a bit disorienting to open a magazine and see that truth made suddenly, palpably, painfully obvious.

One day, a friend will notice you staring at a page at a magazine and ask you what's so fascinating, and you'll say something like, "ohmigod, look at the edge here, it's so obvious the retoucher's forgotten how to feather a selection, and how can anyone pose like that without causing any wrinkles, and hello, didn't she used to have freckles, and skin that was the texture of an adult human and not a baby?" And your friend will look at you with a mixture of confusion, bemusement, and just a teeny-tiny dash of pity, and you will realize that you have become a Photoshop nerd.

So when you see the cover of the latest issue of Vogue magazine, and you think it's the fakiest bit of Photoshop fakery that's ever been faked by a professional fakifier with an electrified faking machine, and holy cats, they've gotten rid of Tina Fey's scar, her scar which she's known for and has talked about in interviews... well, you may blog about it, but you make a mental note not to talk about it amongst the actual people you know in real life. Being a photo retoucher is tough!

speeding up filters in Photoshop

by Heather Young

Not in the mood to spend half an eternity waiting for Photoshop to process a filter on a large image? Here's a way to make things a little quicker. It's especially quick if you know your keyboard shortcuts.

  • Use the marquee tool to select part of the image. Select an area that's just big enough to give you an idea of the effect the filter will have.
  • Choose the settings for your filter, press ok or enter to apply.
  • Undo the filter. (Either go to Edit > Undo, or simply press Cmd + z if you're on a Mac, or Ctrl + z if you're on a PC.)
  • Deselect the area you selected with the marquee. (Either go to Select > Deselect, or simply press Cmd + d if you're on a Mac, or Ctrl + d if you're on a PC.)
  • Run the filter again. (Choose the first option from the Filter menu, or simply press Cmd + f if you're on a Mac, or Ctrl + f if you're on a PC.)
  • That's it!