Category Archives Guest Blogger

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I know—I’m not a guest. But I looked at my calendar yesterday afternoon to see who I had scheduled as my guest for “Special Guest Blog Wednesday” and it was completely blank. I’m really not that surprised, because as my wife will attest; I have the memory retention of a hamster, and I guess I just completely forgot to get line up a guest blogger for today. So, you’re stuck with me today as your guest blogger, but next week I’ll have an actual special guest, so at least it won’t happen two weeks in a row.

An Odd Admission From A Book Author
This may sound kind of weird coming from a guy who makes his living writing books, but I don’t think there’s any method of learning that compares with being a part of a live seminar or workshop. As good as a book or a video is, it’s a one-way experience; there’s no interaction with the instructor; no opportunity to get that one question answered that’s been driving you crazy, and as passionate as an author might be, you just don’t get that excitement—that buzz—that energy you get from a great live seminar or workshop.

That’s why I love teaching workshops so much, and it’s also exactly why each year I try to attend as many of other people’s workshops as I can, as a student (I’ve recently taken workshops on everything from shooting food, to shooting home interiors).

I think for a teacher like me, it’s particularly important to learn new things, new techniques, and new ways of looking at things, so you don’t get in a rut—you need to feed that side of you that made you want to be a teacher in the first place, and for me, learning new stuff just feeds my passion (well, that and buying new camera gear, but that’s a whole different problem. Or story. Depending on how you look at it).

The Art of Being a Good Student
Now, up to this point, I’ve been talking as “Scott the instructor” or “Scott the Photoshop Insider Guy,” but what I really want to talk to you about today is something I’ve learned as “Scott the student,” so from this point on, I’m giving you my perspective as just another student in the workshop, so please keep that in mind from this point out (but I’ll check in again as regular Scott toward the end of this article). I want to talk about ‘Being a Good Student,’ and making the most from the live learning experiences you’ll come across.

There’s One in Every Crowd
When I go to a workshop; I’m there for one reason—to learn from an absolute expert on a topic. But in a couple of the workshops I’ve attended lately, one of the students literally “Hijacked” the class, which had a really negative effect on:

  • The other students
  • The instructor
  • The “bad student” himself

I’ll give you an example of how one student somewhat hijacked a recent class I was in. It was Architectual/Interiors shooting workshop Matt and I attended out in California. The instructor would tell the class, “Here’s how I would set-up and compose a shot of a room like this,” and as soon as those words were out of his mouth, “Bad Student,” would step in and say, “Well, that’s not the way I would shoot it, and he would proceed to show the instructor how “He” does it (which, of course, is exactly the opposite of what the instructor just showed us). The problem is; he’s not just showing the instructor off to the side. He’s now showing the entire class. He’s directing his comments to the instructor, but we’re all now standing there watching another student showing the instructor his methods, during our class time.

Now, this guy might be a phenomenal interior photographer. In fact, he might even be much better than the instructor (we, as a class have no way of knowing; we all just met 30 minutes earlier). Or, he might be a total hack. We just don’t know. But we do know this; we paid to hear the techniques from the instructor—not this student—but there we are—all standing around listening to the student.

Now the instructor has to spend time justifying to the “Bad student” why he uses the technique he originally demonstrated (while we all stand around), and then he continues his lesson to us. About two minutes later, after showing how he sets up a flash, the “Bad Student’ interupts and asks the instructor, “Well, wouldn’t this technique also work?” and he proceeds to move the flash over to a different location and he shows how he’d light the room. The instructor is frustrated. The students are frustrated. This guy is “hi-jacking the class.”

The instructor once again has to show why he uses the technique he does, and then we finally move to another room. The instructor starts his lesson, and the Bad Student kicks in again. Thankfully, another student who’s already got steam coming out of her ears, finally steps in and says directly to the Bad Student, “Your technique might work, but I paid good money to learn how to do this stuff from him [she points to the instructor]â”not you.” All the other students chime in immediately with a “Yeah, we paid to hear from him!” and he backed off for about 10-minutes, and then he was right back at it.

Now, you might be thinking, “It’s the instructor’s fault; he shouldn’t have let things get out of hand!” I can tell you from personal experience, it’s very tricky dealing with a hi-jacker, especially in a small group like we were. I thought the instructor did a good job of trying to give this guy a visual que (through his facial expressions), that he was holding up the class, and by trying to cut his interruptions short as possible without being rude, but with this guy, it wasn’t easy. Even a sharp, direct comment from another student didn’t slow him down.

This same thing happened to me when I was a student in another workshop earlier this year, and while I won’t go into the whole story here, the woman wanted to let the class know she was a big time pro—more of a peer of the instructor than a student (however, this could not be further from the truth, as was evidenced by a display of her work before the class started). Sadly, she proceeded to hi-jack the class big time between challenging the instructor’s techinques, and monopolizing his time.

Here’s the thing; both ‘bad students’ paid to attend these workshops. I would like to believe that they signed up because they wanted to learn about the topic from the instructor they paid to learn it from (that’s why I signed up), but then they get to the class, and they spend the day trying to become the focus of the entire class. I just don’t get it.

Thankfully, this didn’t happen in the class I took last weekend from Mary DuPrie, but there’s generally “One in every class.” Don’t be that “One.” If you pay to go to a workshop to learn something new, shut up and learn. There are other students in that class who paid, too—and they paid to learn from that instructor—not one of the students. Be a good student; stand back and just take it all in. That’s why you’re there.

Outsmarting The Class
Here’s a tip for getting the most of on-location photo workshops. I’ve been a student at many of these, and I’ll use the “Digital Landscape Workshop Series” workshops as an example. We’ll get up at the crack of dawn, drive out to our shooting location, and then Moose Peterson (world famous photographer and head of DLWS), gives us some tips for shooting that location, and then we set-up for our shoot. So far, so good. But there’s “Always One” student who thinks they’re going to “outsmart the class and the instructors” and they break away from the group—away from the instructors, and go off by themselves to get that “one shot nobody else will get.”

This is another form of “bad student.” Here you have the incredible Moose Peterson, and co-instructors Joe McNally (Yes, that Joe McNally) and amazing landscape photographer and total gear-head Laurie Excell (who runs NAPP’s own photo gear desk) right there—at your disposal. They’re there, on location, to teach you how to shoot landscapes. They’ll show you composition ideas; talk about which lenses you might use, where to set-up, what to capture, and basically share one-on-one knowledge you can’t get any other way. What an incredible opportunity for the class. Except for the One student who headed off by themselves so they could “get that one shot nobody else got.”

So, what did this student learn from their morning with Moose, Joe, and Laurie? Not a darn thing. If you’re going to wander off, totally ignore the instructors, and do you own thing; why pay for the workshop in the first place? Just fly to a nice location, wander around by yourself, and save the money. The reason people go to these workshops is not just to shoot in beautiful places—-you can do that on your own—it’s to learn from world class instructors. Be a good student, and not only will you come home a better photographer, you’ll have invested your workshop money wisely.

Why I care
There are two reasons:

  1. I’m a student, too. And just like you, I really want to absorb as much as that instructor has to share. I spent my time and money to attend the workshop, and I really want to hear what that instructor has to share.
  2. I’m an instructor, too. When I do a workshop, I really genuinely want it to be a fantastic learning experience for my students, who spent their hard-earned money for their travel, their time, and for their workshop registration fee.

I take my workshops very seriously, and I have everything planned out, and a written outline for every hour, of every day, of the entire workshop (even if it’s a full week long). Sadly, I’ve had students hi-jack my own workshops, and in those cases; nobody wins. Not the students, not the bad student, and certainly not me, because it takes my class outline and tosses it in the trash. It derails my plan for the class, it totally makes me lose my focus, and it hurts the entire workshop for everybody.

The Moral of the Story

Be a good student. Go without any expectations. Go without any preconceived notions about what you should or shouldn’t learn, and just allow yourself to soak it all in. Respect your fellow classmates and the instructor’s time. Ask questions when its appropriate, but make sure you remember it’s not a private workshop, and leave time for others to have their questions answered.

Workshops and seminars are really what you make of them. If you go in with an open mind, it will come out full. If you go in already knowing everything, there’s not much room for anything new to find its way in. Go in with the idea that you’re going to learn a ton, and you’ll get double your money’s worth, you’ll make new friends, and you’ll be a better, more-informed, well-rounded person for sharing in the experience.

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Greetings from Planet Photoshop! So first let me say it's a real privilege to be able to share some thoughts with you all today and as an added bonus, I have prepared a special video tutorial (found at the bottom) exclusively for this post. But before we get to that, I wanted to briefly touch on the subject of creative exploration.

I am often asked how I come up with some of the stuff I do in my tutorials. To put it simply, it's a lot of experimentation. When it comes to Photoshop, the only limitations seem to be that of the artist or photographer using it. One can spend a tremendous amount of time learning the textbook functions of Photoshop but to achieve something remarkable one must be willing to look beyond the obvious and strive to present something in a new or unusual way, or even create something no one has ever seen before.

So where do you start? I often engage in a little creative exercise I like to call creativity farming. What I like to do is spend an afternoon at the bookstore, pouring through most of the magazines on the newsstands and just feeding that visual data into my brain. When you are faced with a creative challenge your mind is at work flashing images through your thoughts of things, places, people, objects and making connections between them. Well, it cannot create these connections or ideas if your brain has nothing to refer to. Look at it this way. Just turning the oven on and waiting doesn't produce a cake. You have to get the ingredients together, mix them up, then let it cook for a while. It's not just magazines and books either. I have found inspiration in places like the web, restaurants, and even the movie theater. When you go to the movies. Don't just look at what's on the big screen. Look at all the movie posters and banners in the lobby. There's a host of good ideas everywhere. Now I am not suggesting you copy someone else's design altogether. You may just notice a small part that interests you, like the background or the text. It's just building one idea on top of another. You would be hard pressed to find any artist, designer, or photographer whose work isn't influenced by another, even if they aren't aware of it.

So how does this translate to working in Photoshop? This is where experimentation comes into play. To be honest, playing is probably a more accurate word. Playing with the tools is where I discovered a lot of interesting stuff. Have you ever been in a situation where you would ask: What if I did this? It's that attitude that you need to have when playing around in Photoshop. Sure, the Levels can adjust the contrast, but what if I move this slider way over here? You won't know until you try. Most of the time it's something pretty unexciting, but every now and again there is that ‘aha’ moment. Even if that discovery isn't necessarily what you are looking for at the moment. Save that file, brush, or layer style right then and you may use it later. Have you ever remembered something you once did but couldn't remember how you did it?

Which brings us to the bonus video tutorial. What I wanted to do was to show how I go about experimenting with Photoshop and how one idea can build on another and produce another idea altogether. By discovering one simple technique that can be explored in many different ways and produce so many different results, you will have a library of techniques at your disposal. When you see something that interests you, the mind will bring those components of technique and creative thought to harmonious fruition.

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Photoshop and I are getting old(er)! I started working with Photoshop 1.0.7 in May 1990, only a few months after its release. It's hard to believe we are both 18 years older. It's been amazing to see Photoshop grow over the years and an honor working with Adobe as a beta and alpha tester since version 2.5. I've seen a lot of products over the years attempt to compete with Photoshop. Anyone remember Color Studio, X-Res, or Live Picture?

One of the most exciting image processing products I've worked with since the introduction of Photoshop is Lightroom. For those of us working with Photoshop for many years, Lightroom represents (excuse the clich©) a quantum paradigm shift with respect to image processing. Mark Hamburg, Lightroom's architect has described Lightroom as being "The Anti-Photoshop". It's OK for Mark to say this considering he was the chief Photoshop architect for years before creating Lightroom.

Applying a Photoshop bias towards Lightroom can be problematic; Lightroom operates in a totally different manner. Lightroom targets a core user group, provides a unique set of functionality while having the ability to work with lots of images at once. Photoshop is a pixel editor targeted to many groups of users. From day one, it was designed to work on one image at a time. Sure, you can use Droplets, Actions and Automate commands to process multiple documents, but essentially you're opening each, full resolution pixel based document into RAM, altering some or all pixels and saving these newly baked pixels back into the document.

At its core, Lightroom, like its older brother, Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) is a raw processor that creates idealized pixels using metadata-based instructions. You define these instructions and the original data, which is never altered, is used to build a new, desirable appearing image. You're never baking a color appearance into a pixel-based image until you export or print this new data.

Some Photoshop users dive into Lightroom's Develop module and expect the controls to behave like Photoshop's controls. That's often a risky expectation. For example, both ACR and Lightroom's develop tools are presented in an optimal working order; top down, then left to right in the case of ACR. Some old time Photoshop users gravitate directly to Lightroom's curves since in Photoshop curves are the tool to alter color and tone. Yet Lightroom's curves are presented below other develop control sliders. It's really designed for fine-tuning. While you can work with the tools in Lightroom in any order you wish (Lightroom is real smart about automatically applying all the metadata instructions in the ideal processing order), you may end up chasing your tail by ignoring this orderly design. This is vastly different in Photoshop where you're affecting pixels on a per-edit basis and working in differing order, even altering the position of adjustment layers, can cause undesirable results and wasted time.

I recently had a conversation about Lightroom's Develop controls with the head of the photo department at a major university. He told me he didn't like the sliders and I asked why. "They remind me of the Photoshop Contrast and Brightness sliders and we all know these are poor tools". The sliders in Lightroom don't behave at all like Contrast and Brightness in Photoshop. Plus the hair on the back of my neck always rises when someone says "but we all knowâ¦.". We don't all know. In fact, there are situations where these tools could provide a desired result. I tried to convince this new Lightroom user that he should remove his Photoshop bias and try working with the controls in the order provided. If at such a time he can't produce the desired color and tone appearance, then we might investigate if this is indeed a flaw in the application (not likely with the pretty smart Adobe engineers) or if there's a flaw in the usage of the toolset. Its often the later. Suggesting that curves in Photoshop and Lightroom should operate identically fails the logic tests because the source data is so different as is the final image processing. You can see the same disconnect if you play with the exposure tools on a Raw in Lightroom versus the Exposure or Shadow/Highlight tools on a rendered image in Photoshop. The tools may have the same name, yet the processing and results are often significantly different.

Another bias I've seen is the idea of being very casual in handling your raw rendering and "fixing" the image later in Photoshop. There's a kind of macho mentality, (or maybe its just due to familiarity), that cause some users to dismiss rendering the best possible image data before using Photoshop. This is the old "I'll fix it in Photoshop" mindset. Never forget GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out! The result of edits applied in Lightroom and ACR is a totally new image, from either an existing rendered image (TIFF, JPEG) or better, raw. Edits are applied on high-bit linear data using the greatest color gamut from the raw data. It therefore makes sense to do all the heavy lifting, in terms of producing the desired color appearance, with such tools, long before you even consider launching Photoshop.

Those who've used Lightroom for a while often say, "I'm doing so much less work in Photoshop". Some may find this alarming, almost criminal. Photoshop hasn't lost its shine and is still an indispensable tool. Lightroom and ACR provide new ways of bringing ideal data into Photoshop. Use Photoshop's vast arsenal of tools to do the work that makes most sense: Layers and blending modes, compositing, precise retouching, and perspective control, to name a few. Global tone and color "correction"? Not if you can create the preferred, global and tone rendering of new pixels using Lightroom. The toolset in Lightroom and Photoshop do overlap in some areas, but both complement each other. The message here is abandon the bias and use the right tool for the right job.

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The Zen of Photowalking
When Scott first started the Guest Blog segment he told me that I was going to be on the hook for one in the future. I figured it was no big deal, I mean hey, I blog every day, right? What could be so hard?

Then he started rolling out the parade of superstar personalities that reads like a Who's Who of the Photography world. I wasn't really sure how I was going to contribute anything of value after the likes of Vincent Versace, Joe McNally, Moose Peterson, and so on.

Then the other day Scott and I were talking about the plans for his World Wide Photowalk and I knew I finally had my in. Having hosted several photowalks I can say with some confidence that I know my way around these events. With that being said, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on what makes a photowalk so special and how you can maximize your experience when participating in one.

Most photographers have walked, camera in hand, through unfamiliar spaces, shooting their way along their route. So what makes this any different from a photowalk? It's the social aspect of sharing the experience that makes photowalking so unique. Many of the photowalks that I have hosted were attended by complete strangers but they all had two things in common, a love of photography and a desire to share their passion with like-minded people. I was reminded of this fact during my last photowalk in Georgetown.

(more…)

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Digital Photographers and the iPhone/iPod touch

More and more photographers I know are now carrying around their portfolios in their pockets. The iPhone and iPod touch makes for a perfect portable pocket sized slideshow device. At a minimum you have 8GB’s of space, which is quite a bit for small JPEGs. Also, if you were only showing your best work, you would only need to show your best 20-24 shots anyway. So storage space is not really a concern. Also these devices have really nice large 4″ displays. The color is fantastic and the brightness is great.

I not only use my iPhone to show off my portfolio, but I also don”t hesitate to whip it out (the iPhone of course) when people ask me “how’s the family doing?” I have the latest shots of my two girls on it all times. I also have older photos too so that they can see how much they’ve grown. Although the iPhone integrates quite nicely with Apple’s software products such as iPhoto and Aperture, I’m a Photoshop Lightroom user. I also shoot in RAW almost exclusively. So I need a method to get those RAW files into manageable JPEG files and to get them over to the iPhone.

Luckily, whether you’re on a Mac or a Windows PC, you can use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to automate the entire process. It’s all in the Export presets. I have several Export presets setup in Lightroom for all the various ways I share photos. I also have one setup specifically to go to iPhoto. Now I realize iPhoto is a Mac only app. Don’t worry PC users, I’ve got you covered too. Hang in there with me. Since the iPhone can sync which ever photos and albums you specify in iTunes from iPhoto, it makes sense to take advantage of this app since it comes with every new Mac.

Let me be clear! I don’t use iPhoto to manage my photos. I use Lightroom. However, I do take my best/favorite shots from LR into iPhoto as JPEGs. Once those shots are in iPhoto I can then sync them to my iPhone, iPod or Apple TV.

Here’s how to set it up:

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1) Open LR and select one or more photos
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2) Either click the Export button or choose Export from the File menu to bring up the Export dialog box.

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3) Next you’ll need to set up your settings. First you’ll need to choose a folder to export your images to. I’ve created one in my Pictures called “For iPhoto”. You can also setup if your File naming if you want it to be custom. Otherwise it will use your existing file names.

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4) The next section is for File Settings. Here is where you set the format to JPEG. Color space to Adobe RGB and quality of 60 or higher. I like 80 personally.

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5) In the next section we have Image Sizing. This is where you set the maximum size of the images that are going to be exported. If your images are going to only be shown on an iPhone or iPod touch, then you can set the dimensions to 480 x 480. If your images are going to be shown on an Apple TV or an iPhone/iPod connected to a TV, then make the width 1920 and the height 1024. This is 1080 HD resolution. There’s no need to go any higher than that as the TV won’t show them any bigger than that. I set mine to 1920×1080, which is the most I’ll ever need, and the iPhone and iPod touch will size them appropriately as they sync. As far as the resolution goes, 72 PPI works fine.

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6) There’s not much of a need to do anything in Metadata here as these images are just for show and not being seen on a computer. So you can skip down to the Post-Processing section. If you’re a PC user. You’re done. That’s right, your export will go to the folder we setup in step 3 and you can use iTunes to point to that folder to sync your images to your iPhone, iPod or Apple TV. Simply click the Add button to add this as a custom preset and give it a name. Have a nice day. However, if you’re on a Mac, you can take it to the next level by having LR send the photos directly to iPhoto after they’ve been exported. There is an “After Export” popup menu in the Post Processing area. Click it and choose “Go to Export Actions Folder Now”. This will take you back to the Finder and show you your Export Actions Folder.

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7) Find the iPhoto application icon in your Applications folder. You’re going to make an alias of iPhoto into your Export Actions Folder. The easiest fastest way to do this is to hold down the Command and Option keys and drag the iPhoto icon into your Export Actions Folder. You should see an alias of iPhoto (an icon with a little curved arrow on it) in your Export Actions Folder. Also your iPhoto application should still be in your Applications folder. You can now close these folders and go back to LR.

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8) Now from the After Export popup, you should be able to choose iPhoto. Once you do, click the Add button on the left to add this custom export preset to your menu. You can click Cancel and give it a spin. Choose Export from the File menu and choose your new “For iPhoto” preset. This will export the JPEGs to a folder that are the right size and resolution and then if you’re on a Mac, it will import them automatically into iPhoto. From there you can arrange them into albums.

Hey, if you want to see me do this whole thing from start to finish, check out this video:

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A few weeks ago Scott invited me to start thinking about a topic for an appearance as guest blogger. I had come up with an idea that I'd been fleshing out when I read Stephen Johnson's column last week. I'm telling you this to make it clear that my column is not in response to Stephen's, nor it is intended as a rebuttal - if anything, it's just interesting timing that my column follows Stephen's.

I think it's also important to note that after reading Stephen's column I chose not to read any of the comments since I wanted my thoughts to be mine alone, not influenced by the comments of others (although I certainly plan to go and read those comments once this column is published). So with that bit of background information (disclaimer?), here's what I have in mind.

In my travels as an instructor (I always wanted to start a sentence with "In my travelsâ¦") I get the wonderful opportunity to meet and chat with lots of very interesting people. Often our discussion revolves around two schools of thought: "get it right in the camera" versus "fix it in Photoshop". When asked which approach I take I usually answer with either "it depends" or, "there's a third possibility" (more on that later).

Generally speaking my goal is to get it right in-camera - or at least to get it really really close to what I want, so that I can tweak it a little in Photoshop. When I was in Maine last Fall I had the time to set up my tripod and experiment with settings and I'm pleased to say that the majority of my photos needed very little adjusting. I came very close to getting the result I wanted, right out of the camera. I didn't rely on Photoshop, but it did provide some valuable assistance here and there.

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Last August I had the pleasure of visiting Alaska and ran into a slightly different situation. We had taken a boat from our ship and had been wandering around a small town for a few hours when I came across a really interesting location I wanted to shoot. Just as I started to get set up I heard the call that the boat was leaving, so I figured I had two choices: miss the boat to get the perfect shot, or grab a quick shot knowing that I might be able to get what I wanted by creating two exposures from Camera Raw (which I did and I was very happy with the resulting photo). In this case I did rely on Photoshop to "come to my rescue" because of the circumstances.

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So this is where the "it depends" comes into play: I strive to get the look I want in-camera but when the circumstances call for it, I take advantage of the tools available to me in Photoshop and Camera Raw to tweak my photos. I don't think of that as "fixing it" as much as fine-tuning to get the result that I want. So, I change my approach slightly, depending on the situation.

But I think there's a third option, and this one excites me the most, and that is to shoot with Photoshop in mind: take advantage of digital technology to create things you never could (or would be much harder to do) traditionally. To create images that combine great photography with the power of Photoshop. There are plenty of examples of what I mean, for instance photographers such as Joey Lawrence and Dave Hill who have "signature" looks that combine great lighting/photography with post-processing. [links: Joey Lawrence and Dave Hill]

Or photographers who capture separate images with the intention of combining them in Photoshop. Here's an example from the work of NAPP member James Quantz Jr. He creates wonderful images from photos that he takes with the express purpose of compositing them later in Photoshop. [http://www.quantzphoto.com/]

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I love taking multiple photos while I picture in my mind how I will combine them in Photoshop. Does that make the end result less of a photograph? Maybe in the traditional sense it does, but I don't think we can discount this as a photographic art form: rather than attempting to capture the scene as my eyes saw it, I'm creating the illusion of something that never was.

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I think there's a place for all these different approaches: get it right in the camera, tweak it in Photoshop and shooting to take advantage of Photoshop. I also believe that there are different breeds of photographers, and that some of us really enjoy the Photoshop process and see it as part of making a great image. And I don't think there's anything wrong with taking advantage of Photoshop - just as I applaud the goal of getting it right in-camera or making minor adjustments. Just as there's many different ways to achieve something in Photoshop, there's various ways to take advantage of our cameras and the technology that's available to us. What a great possibility that offers us.

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