How Photoshop Changed my Photography

Hey everyone, Matt Kloskowski here again. Thanks once again to Scott, for giving me his blog for the day. I’ve had a topic I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, so here goes: How Photoshop changed my Photography. It’s not what you think though. I’ve heard plenty of stories of how Photoshop is a game changer because of the ways that we can now enhance our photos so quickly. We can make blue skies bluer, green grass greener, remove blemishes, clone out wires, etc… But my photography-life-changing experience is a little different.

I Started with Landscape and Travel Photography
See, I started with landscape and travel photography. That was my favorite. Landscape and travel is what got me excited about taking my camera out of my bag. I sound like a total dork, but I’d have a hard time sleeping the night before I was going someplace cool to shoot. I steadily picked off some must-see places that I had always wanted to photograph. To this day, I still love landscapes. They don’t talk back, I love the peaceful feeling I get when I’m standing in front of a beautiful place like Mesa Arch, Moraine Lake, or Multnomah Falls and soaking it all in.

While teaching in Dubai, I spent some time at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. Words can’t describe what a beautiful, pristine, quiet and inspiring place this was to photograph.

Switching to Portraits
I slowly started to make the move to portraits. A friend asked if I’d take some photos of his family. Then a friend of his friend asked the same thing when they saw the photos. And it grew. Before long, I found myself shooting a number of family portraits. To this day, I still love to capture family moments.

I also found I really enjoyed it. Especially when kids were involved. The kid in me really liked the challenge of getting them to smile and laugh. And I guess (because of the age that I must act), I really seemed to make a connection with the kids I was photographing :-) That eventually led to me doing some studio and lighting work too. But something was missing for me. Believe it or not, it was the art of post processing. I’m a Photoshop Guy and I’ve chosen this as my career because that’s what I love to do. I realized that the deeper I got into portrait photography (while artistic in it’s own way), the further away I got from being artistic with Photoshop.

Something Changed
A couple of years ago I saw a cool ad for Mountain Dew. It incorporated a skateboarder with motion graphics. I thought it looked so cool so I sat down one night and created this composite. I was hooked.

It hit me like a bag of bricks. Bam! I immediately realized, compositing is what I want to do more of. But that was just the beginning. I knew right away that this would change the Photoshop side of my life. But what I didn’t realize, is how it would change the photography side of my life.

Will You Get to the “How” Already?!
See, as I got more and more into compositing, the entire world became fair game for compositing/photography opportunities. The more Photoshop work I did, the more I realized that sure, I can create smoke in Photoshop, but it never looks as real as the real thing. Not to mention, it’s too time consuming. So I’d rather shoot a photo of smoke and drop it in. Sure, I can create dramatic clouds in Photoshop with brushes and filters and all, but it’s much easier to photograph dramatic clouds. Then I simply make a “Clouds” folder and put those photos in it, so I can find them when I need ’em.

Take Your Camera Everywhere!
I’ve often heard people say this. Honestly though, I was a total light snob. If the light wasn’t great, if I wasn’t in a studio, or if there wasn’t some kick ass scenery right in front of me, I didn’t bring my camera. I was so used to only pulling out my camera for beautiful landscapes or in the studio, that I let everything else pass me by. But now, anything is fair game. Alleys, fences, brick walls, empty parking garages, city skylines on bla hazy overcast days, garage doors, dogs, water fountains (because you never know when you need water coming out of a water gun), you name it.

Heck, I even take photos of cracks in the street because you never know where you’ll use them :)

My artistic side in Photoshop has caused a place for an entirely new world of photography opportunities to open up to me. I’d never put my tripod down in the middle of a tunnel to take a photo. I mean, why? It’s only a tunnel right? And it wasn’t even a good looking one to begin with. But when you add a motorcycle (that was lit in only the way you could light it in the studio) to the tunnel, now we’ve got something.

Now I get to put my passion for photography, my desire to create something, and my passion for Photoshop together. Not just sharpening and color correction. But really sitting down and being artistic, as I put a composite together. The light sources, the shadows, special effects, all that stuff. Things that we need to know about in photography I can now work with in Photoshop too. I love it!

So, have I stopped shooting landscapes?
Absolutely not! I still love shooting travel and landscape photos. In fact, if you walk through my house, that’s what I have on my walls. Personally, no matter what composites I create, no matter what portraits I’ve taken and no matter how much I may like the lighting on on one of my subjects, I’d have a hard time putting a photo of a person (who’s not closely related to me) on my walls at home. That’s just me though. But if it’s on my wall, it is either a spectacular place I’ve visited or a photo of my family. So landscapes will always hold a close place in my photography portfolio. But now, because of Photoshop, my camera gets used so much more.

Thanks again to Scott and everyone here for giving me a few minutes of your time today. I’m so passionate about this stuff that I actually just wrote a book called Photoshop Compositing Secrets (Amazon (link) | Barnes & Noble (link) | Kelby Training (link)). If any of this stuff sounds interesting to you, I hope you’ll check it out. Have a great weekend! :)

  1. Matt, I agree, PS has changed my photography and just as much NAPP and all associated sights have too! I tell every person I meet starting in photography to follow all of you guys and the training. Thanks for helping me turn out some awesome stuff.

    1. Ditto! Joining Napp and learning all of the cool things I could do with PS and Lightroom, completely changed the way I look at things! I’m out shooting brick walls, pavement cracks & even rust on the side of dumpsters (PS: That’s where the best rust always seems to be!). Thanks to all of you guys for the awesome learning experience that is NAPP & Kelby Training! Rock on!

  2. Cracking post, Matt. Instructive, inspirational and a great illustration of how life and work is a story of continual progression. Great pictures too. Congratulations!

  3. My dear Matt, Hi …..

    Thanks for sharing your Experiences, It is like a guide line for those who love to work with
    Photoshop and Photography.

    There is always difference between knowing the path and Walking the path.

    Thanks again and Best Wishes

    – Ali

  4. While I know it wasn’t your intent with this post Matt, what I took away from it was simple…you are one extraordinary photographer. Looking at these images I’d say you are unfairly characterized as a Photoshop expert. I’d characterize you as a world-class, uber-talented, master photographer who also happens to be a damn fine Photoshop practitioner. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Geez if I didn’t know better I’d think you’d reached into my head; this is exactly how I feel about things Matt!

    I love getting out ‘on location’ and ‘shooting’ a client but I’m happiest when I’m in the studio working on a series of images that I’m going to be compositing…there’s just something really quite exciting about working on an image from start to finish…concept, the shoot and then the compositing in Photoshop.

    I got into this business through first of all using Photoshop and then as more Photography work came in began to use Plug Ins such as OnOne Photo Tools to speed up my editing time. Sure it got the work done, but self satisfaction was lacking, not to mention the fact that my skill level in Photoshop was decreasing.

    So, a year or so ago I made a decision and removed the plug ins (except for Silver Efex Pro) and began doing more of what I love … Photoshop and Photography and in particular Compositing, and I’m buzzing!!!

    I could go on, but all in all I’m loving what I’m doing and the challenge of getting better and better is an enjoyable ride and one I don’t want to get off; like you….I’m hooked :)

    Thanks for a great post; real good to hear someone with the same outlook!


  6. Super post, Matt. I’ve seen a few of the posted photos on your website, but others I haven’t, so thanks for sharing those. I’m sure your new book is CAKB. Can’t wait to get it!

    Are you having Pete sign all the books ordered from KT this time to give your hand a rest? :)


    1. Hey John,
      Unfortunately Pete doesn’t know how to write yet ;-)
      I’ll be signing all of them if you preorder from kelby training. Shoot me an email and I’ll take care of your book like we did before


      1. Matt, that’s a shame about Pete…he had so much potential. Give him some of Scott’s books to read, as well as yours, and show him how it’s done! 8)

        I’ll shoot you an e-mail when I place my pre-order. Thanks so much!


  7. I expected the great photographic talent-what caught me by surprise was hearing Matt’s voice as I read the post. Great job all the way around. Tim

  8. Great write up Matt. Thanks for sharing your expriences. I have recently started photographing families and it’s a real joy. A small kid- bonus :)

    I agree with Soctt Bourne, completely.

  9. Matty Matt K!

    I hope all is well buddy! Amazing photographs, amazing post!
    These photographs you shared here are supadupasexy :)

    I could relate to that story somewhat so I was reading like, “I digg that….oh yeah…that’s me to…and daym Matt’s a great photographer and editor!

    I love those landscape shots as well, you had me laughing about the part where they don’t talk back! Another thing they don’t do is annoy you about the other shoots from the session…my simple answer to that is, “When you look at a magazine cover, do you see the entire photo shoot or the best image?” haha

    Scott, I hope all is well.
    You all keep putting this great content out here; we love it!


  10. Excellent post, Matt. I’m looking forward to getting your book. As a complete amateur, I take classes, pour over Kelby Training videos, and read all kinds of blogs and the message has come through loud and clear.. it’s all about the LIGHT. When we’re off on a travel adventure, my husband will say.. ‘aren’t you going to shoot that.. and more often than not I find myself saying, nah, the lights not good, the photo will not be that great. And, as a result, I’ve found more and more I just don’t pick the camera up all that much. Which, of course means I missing out on the other training message that has sunk in.. practice, practice, practice is the way to become a better photographer. Your post offers another perspective that I hope will get the camera back in my hands and return the joy of shooting to my daily life and travels.

  11. Matt,

    Awesome blog today! Wow, you got my creative juices flowing this morning! I’m not really good at Photoshop, that’s why I joined NAPP and started reading your blog and Scott’s blog. Compositing is something I wanted to try, but never was good enough in Photoshop to try it. You have given me the inspiration to try it out! I will definitely check out your new book and go from there!

    Excellent Blog today! I’m sure you’ve got a lot of people’s minds swirling!



  12. Hey Matt,
    Great post. Like you said here, Photoshop has changed my photography, but more importantly NAPP has changed mine. I saw Ben Wilmore in Arlington Tx in Dec. 2006. I joined NAPP that day and have never looked back. I only wish I would have known about the great things “Kelby Everything” does for educating the masses a lot earlier. When we were on the cruise around Hawaii in August 08, (Have some great shots that I still visit) I only thought I knew something. Moose (after telling me many times) finally got me to hold my camera properly. (Gotta love the Moose) I learned so much during those 7 days. Now after countless seminars, 3 PSWs and another right around the corner, I know I don’t know much. However, I grow every day thanks to guys like you.
    Thanks for a blog post that got my mind going again. ;)
    See ya again in September!

  13. I need Photoshop to make my photographs look like the images in my imagination (I’m not so interested in recreating what my eyes saw :D)

    So now I’ll stop blathering when someone asks if I’m a photographer and just say, ‘Yes, I am.’

  14. Funny you should write about this today. The last few days I’ve spent a considerable amount of free time planning a few shoots with the thought of compositing. Lo-and-behold, you’re writing about it and the Strobist has a link to one of Dave Hill’s behind the scenes videos. To see a crazy level of compositing, see the “Adventure Series-Exposed” at:

  15. Thanks for sharing Matt. I really enjoyed reading and looking at your images. I echo what Scott Bourne said. You are an amazing photographer in addition to being a great photoshop guy. You compositing images are so realistic. I think I need to check out your new book. Will you be doing a class on kelby training on compositing?

    1. Hey Steve. I’ll definitely be doing something in the future on shooting and compositing. My plate is pretty full right now but hopefully toward the end of the year.

      – Matt

  16. Inspiring and involving. Thanks Matt for sharing so openly about your travels with photography and challenges in Photoshop. It’s great learning from a highly skilled, humble “practicing photographer.”

  17. I recognize compositing as an art format, and it involves capturing light. In reality some of the lighting included is not legitimate to the created circumstances as you reveal in the reference to the motorcycle with studio lighting pasted in a tunnel.

    Unfortunately, compositing becomes questionable as true photography in the same way that a UP photo that is doctored becomes less acceptable. When I see the label “photography”, I expect to see an image from the camera with minimal manipulation. My stubbornness is not intended to devalue photographic compositing as legitimate and admirable art format.

    1. What I find most troubling about this is this entire culture of “true photography -is- this… Or -is- that”

      While I can agree that there are instances where manipulation should be limited, in an artistic environment believing those rules need to apply is very naive.

      Id venture to say that if you thought it was a respected art format, the latter wouldn’t be qualified with “true” photography….

      I appreciate your willingness to keep it simple and truthful, but I think we should truly appreciate the art form and spend less time belittling it.

  18. Great post Matt! I’m all about the art of compositing myself and look forward to getting my hands on your new book! Really hoping well see someday soon a series of videos available on Kelby Training as well???

  19. Great post Matt! I asked Larry to get some resources for compositing on the NAPP member site and Kelby Training. Really glad to see that happening with Calvin Hollywood, Jim Divatale, Joel Grimes and now your new book. Compositing gets you the best of both worlds. I absolutely love realistic commercial advertising composites. It lets you be very technical and artistic at the same time.

  20. Hi Matt:
    Great post. It really resonated with my creative desires in photography. I have pre-ordered your book from Amazon. In the meantime, do you have any suggestions for articles about learning to do selections.

    1. Very cool Ray! It just goes to show you how different landscape and travel photography can be. So many people think that landscape photography is just showing up and putting your tripod where X marks the spot. But it’s not. We all see it differently. I love your view of it!

  21. Way beyond yonder cool! As soon as I got to the link, I ordered a copy. How impulsive!

    I am working my way through your new Layers book and I must respectfully disagree with your advice in the intro., that if you have the first Layers book you don’t need the second. I have both, and am thankful that I bought the second one too. Well worth the investment!

  22. Awesome blog Matt. Im a graphic designer/photographer and your ideas and suggestion are a great help. I never thought of taking simple locations and textures pics. Thanks for the inspiration!

  23. Nice post Matt. Interesting how we get there, I started out with fine art, oils, watercolors, etc. Also spent a lot of time studying with and about painters. In that world, a landscape painter has no qualms about taking something out, or adding to a scene, so when It came to photography and software, I took the same approach.

    That being said, I still consider it very important to learn your camera and software, so you have as much control as possible right from the get go, which is obviously the case with your work. Your images are very impressive and really speak for themselves.

    Thanks for sharing, it’s always great to see how other people work.

  24. It just goes to show that when creativity is involved, it doesn’t matter whether it’s landscapes, portraits, or whatever – the art will shine through. Great work, Matt. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly, that which is essential is invisible to the eye”.

  25. Hi Matt. Just like you, I take photos of just about anything in hopes that I can use it later in one of my compositions. You never run out of subjects this way! I like using textures to enhance my photography, but I’d really like to master realistic lighting and seamless compositing.

    I just pre-ordered your book in hopes of learning and mastering your secrets. I can’t wait to receive it!

    Thanks so much for everything you do for we NAPP members. All of you inspire me in ways I never imagined possible. Keep on truckin’.

  26. Thank you for sharing your journey. These are refreshing highlights that inspire new dreams and vigor to pursue them.

    Perhaps, if you’d come across the father of photographic composite, Jerry Uelsmann, your path might have changed. Imagine the effort without pixel benders of any sort.

    Thanks again for you Good Works. Shutter On!

  27. Hi Matt, great work — great vision.

    Matt, Rusty Tripod and RC allow me some personal thoughts …
    I believe that for quite sometime we will still be hearing different views of what photography really is or what has become of it. These debates will pass in due time as we allow for the natural process of the evolution of thought to occur, one that is based deeply into most of our cultures. Photography for the longest time and through its mechanical process was identified by the masses as a means to depict realism — the ‘perception’ of a given truth, so for this reason alone I do understand what the commotion is all about. By understanding it it does not mean that I accept it.
    Let’s face it, it took quite a while even for photography to be recognized as an art form. Once that became a new order of acceptance then there was no turning back and the amazing revolution of digital capture/software only brought to the artist photographer a much wider basket of tools to be uniquely creative.
    No ifs, no buts, it is what it is. It’s that simple. Let’s open our arms and hearts.

    Now, what I think it should be a good practice is to identify the different expressive photographic mediums, such as ‘realism’ , impressionism, HDR, composite, journalism, abstract and so on. After all just about any other art form has its own definitions or categories and we do want photography to be considered an art form, right?
    My wish is for anyone that is still troubled by the evolution of photography, to think out of the box and experiment with everything that is presently given. I guarantee that regardless of the outcome, you will definitely grow as an individual and consequently become a better artist.

    Rui Lopes

  28. Kind of spooky Matt. I too started out with landscapes and travel photography. The images supplemented articles I wrote for a few magazines. It grew from there. Honestly, it led into what I do now for a living.

    Like you, I started moving into portraits, and then again like you I’ve gotten hooked on composites over the last year. I’m actually launching a new service in my own business for composting.

    Didn’t even know you were such a trend setter, did ya? Thanks for sharing, tells me I might just be on a good path!

  29. I’m just reaching that point in my photography. Up until just recently, I’d been using only Lightroom to process my photos. It is pretty amazing what one can do with a little brush and some split toning in LR! But then I bought PS5, got Scott’s book, got some tutoring from a friend and have learned how easy it is to do some things in PS that would take 30 minutes in LR (getting rid of garbage cans, etc.).
    So now I’ve also started collecting backgrounds, crack, clouds and other objects and am looking forward to doing some composites myself!

  30. Thank you Matt for not making me feel guilty about using Photoshop. I feel as though a there are lot of purists out there who look down their noses at compositing or Photoshop in general, suggesting that the photo should come out of the camera perfect. I’m all for a good starting point but to me it’s just that, a starting point. The part of photography that I enjoy the most is what comes next. How can I manipulate and heighten my digital images through the computer to create something really mind-blowing?

  31. Hi Matt, your post was very interesting. You and Kelbytraining convinced me to upgrade from CS4 to CS5 but I was very disappointed with the price policy of Adobe. As I am living in Switzerland Adobe wants me to pay twice the US price for the exact same copy (english / download). USD 199 at the US Adobe store and CHF 312 (USD 380) at the Swiss Adobe Store !

  32. Very interesting blog entry Scott.

    Honestly I never would have imagined being a professional retoucher when I was a kid. Heck, I never would have imagined being a photographer either. Somehow Photoshop brought these 2 wonderful things together for me. I really wanted to be a firefighter :)

  33. Get what you’re sayin’. Went to an airshow a couple of years ago: lots of clouds, sometimes the planes disappeared. But what great clouds! Grabbed lots of shots of them to use for — who knows what? — it’ll happen. When I suddenly think “nice picture, but I wish I had some clouds behind it” I can go to my clouds folder. I think I’m gonna have to create a bunch more folders, and take a bunch more photos that, while they may not provide a centre of interest, can definitely provide the environment I want in a shot! Thanks for the ideas!

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