Guest Blog: Photoshop World Instructors, Part 2!

If you’re still wondering whether you should register for Photoshop World, here are just a few more examples of what you might learn, or be inspired by, from our instructors. Below are excerpts from just a few of our favorite Photoshop World instructors’ guest blogs. Click on their names to view the full posts. And if you find inspiration in these, just imagine what’s in store for you at Photoshop World! It’s coming up on August 30 – September 1, so don’t wait to register.

Tracy Sweeney: Newborn Photography

Often, when styling newborns, I include seasonal elements. I think about the cyclical nature of life and documenting a baby’s entry into this world in a seasonal fashion adds interest and meaning to my images. Since I live in an area where seasons are so distinct, I am rejuvenated throughout the year with the transitional colors and textures and my images are always changing.

I do this either through natural elements, in fall for example: pine cones, leaves, pumpkins and apples, or with color: gold, brown, orange and red.


Similarly, I do this for all the seasons with various natural items or nature inspired textures.




However, remember: one set, many images. I recognize that not everyone will necessarily want a seasonally focused image, or they do not want many. So, I begin with the full set, and then detract items for a simpler look.

Tip: Do not invest a lot money in seasonal pieces as they are only used for a short amount of time and trends change quickly. Find natural items outdoors that you can incorporate (i.e. pine cones, leaves,  flowers, wood, etc. Inspect everything carefully for bugs and debris prior to using. If you photograph in an urban area or prefer artificial elements, check the sale aisles after the holidays and seasons for discounts.

Kirk Nelson: Special Effects for Photography

Smoke is generally a difficult element to work with as real smoke is dangerous. More people die from smoke inhalation than from fire, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Smoke is also difficult to control as it generally stems from fire and not something I like to have in my studio space!

There are products on the market that do a great job of creating smoke safely, and I’ve used smoke grenades before for some fun setups with models, engaged couples, grads, etc. But for crafting digital resources to use in compositing, I like using something a little more controllable, cheap, and easily attainable: Dry Ice. Mixing dry ice and water doesn’t produce smoke, it produces water vapor, but that looks identical to smoke and behaves in a very similar fashion. Plus, it’s completely safe to breath around! The primary difference is that smoke rises, and water vapor sinks. That just means you have to find a way to elevate the container producing the vapor, and that can be as simple as a cookie sheet on the edge of a table.

Dry ice is readily available at most grocery stores and is relatively inexpensive. There are a few warnings you should know before working with it though. It is so cold that it can burn our skin with prolonged contact, so gloves are highly recommended. Plus, it evaporates quickly so be sure to use it within hours of procuring it, otherwise it will literally just disappear on you.

Working with the dry ice images in Photoshop proves to be one of the easier effects to manipulate. The white smoke on the black background means that Screen blending mode becomes our best friend! The other great thing about these images is that if the focus is slightly off or the images are too grainy, it’s easy to fix as smoke is a very forgiving medium. Our eyes don’t expect to see sharp details in smoke so blur out that grain, use those slightly out-of-focus images, use the warp transformations without fear, it all works out!


Sian Elizabeth: Discovering Who You Are As A Photographer

You should be able to see the improvement in your work, even if it might take you longer to see it than others.  A great way to track progress is to keep a separate portfolio of your best 5-10 images each year and just explain a little next to it why you chose those images. They don’t have to be the ones that you were paid for or that someone else liked – this is for YOUR own development.

I found that once I looked back and saw how far I had come, it gave me a sense of self-success, a feeling I hadn’t stopped and appreciated before.


We all get down days, and in this industry there are many. This is why we need to stop and look at our own achievements, however small they might seem at the time, and notice our own incredible abilities and self-worth.

Plans and goals are important to make but I got so wrapped up in trying to always achieve the next goal that I forgot about just enjoying the here and now and really taking it all in.

Photography is horrendously competitive and can be exhausting at times to maintain, especially keeping up with social media too. Your online presence (both website and social media) is incredibly important and that is an area I am working on improving this year.


My next goal will be offering workshops in Beauty and Fashion Photography after my ‘test’ workshop days went wonderfully well. Teaching is something that has always interested me but has taken a little time for me to feel confident and ready – now that I am, I am excited what the future will bring!

Bret Malley: Five Tips for Creating and Editing Composite Images

  1. For creating in-frame composites (ones where all the material is in the same framing), lock down your camera and settings, and use either an intervalometer—or better yet, the wifi or bluetooth wireless tethering capabilities of your camera and phone/tablet app if it has it. Not only can you see and control the live image on your phone or tablet screen, but you can easily see exactly how to better position every single element and push your concept and pre-visualization to the next level.
  1. Again, for in-frame compositing, select each piece you want to bring into the composite using the rectangular marquee tool (M) and give loads of room around each element you drag to select—then copy (Cmd+C/Ctrl+C) and use paste in place (Cmd+Shift+V/Ctrl+Shift+V) in your master composite file. This will paste the selected content exactly where it was copied from, leaving out the guesswork and the wasted time spent having to tediously move the element to properly match up with the background content. Mask as needed—you may not even need to use Select and Mask, and rather, just paint with a soft brush around the subject and edges of the copies (if there is nothing overlapping behind it).
  1. Sometimes a single layer can be slightly too light, too dark, too warm, cool, etc. than the others (even those taken during the same setup!)—use clipped adjustments when this happens. This tip is an obvious one for some, but if you are not yet using clipped adjustments, you are definitely missing out on the amazing potential to isolate adjustments from layer to layer without globally adjusting your composite from the top down. To clip an adjustment layer to affect a single layer, place the new adjustment (or any layer with an altered blending mode that you want to only affect the one below it) directly above the one you want to clip to; next, hold down Alt/Opt while you click directly between the two layers. Just before you click, you should see the mouse pointer change to a clipped icon indicating the hotspot for this killer feature. Adjustment layers also come pre-equipped with this capability in the form of a button at the bottom of the properties panel for the adjustment layer.
  1. When creating composites such as adding a subject to a completely different background (such as those taken in studio being transported to outside or a different location in general), don’t just match lighting direction and quality (this should be a given, hopefully ;-), but match both original background image focal length (check the essential metadata in Bridge or Lightroom to see your settings) as well as frame position and distance of the subject to the camera. This will not only make your compositing SO much easier in post, but it will definitely make it look more believable as our eyes pick up on even small things that are off—even if we can’t exactly put our finger on it.
  1. One trick I use to better color continuity in all composite scenarios is to desaturate all the various elements, then bring in your own color cast effects or filters—then increase the vibrance as a global adjustment (not saturation). For warmer tones, try something like a new solid fill layer that is a yellow-orange. Change its blending mode to Overlay and decrease the layer’s saturation to under 15%. This always adds some nice warmth to a composite without muddying the highlights like the Photo filter often does. Another thing to play around with is the Color Lookup adjustment layer as this adjustment has some quite interesting presets that you can toggle through much like phone photography app filters. You can always use the adjustment layer’s opacity slider to bring in however much you want or don’t want for the desired effect.

See the full instructor roster, schedule, and register for the conference at!

Leave a Reply
Previous Post

Photoshop Ethics

Next Post

Blind Photo Critiques with Scott Kelby and Erik Kuna | The Grid Ep. 526