Free Photoshop course coming up this week

One website I visit pretty regularly is put forth by CreativeTechs, a group of Mac-oriented smart folks out in Seattle. On their tipsblog the offer up very useful information not only about Macs but about Photoshop, InDesign and other programs as well.

Now they're offering a free online Photoshop CS4 class that starts in just a few days. What's the catch?

The class is free. CreativeTechs are betting, they say, that they can do better in the long run by exposing people to these classes than by charging for what might be called "private" workshops where only those who can make it to the Sheraton on Route 5 can learn what they have to say.

I've signed up. Even though I know a fair amount about Photoshop, there are always new tips and tricks and methods that surprise me and end up helping my workflow. Having dished out $100 and more from time to time in the past few years to drive down to the Sheraton on Route 5 for these things, the fact that I don't have to pay anything to learn something seems like a pretty good deal. All I had to do was register with my email address, which doesn't seem to me to be exactly an invasion of my privacy. (Hint -- I want people to know how to contact me, because they might be trying to hire me.)

So, the catch is that there seems to be no catch. Go sign up. The first class is this Thursday, the 26th, starting at 2pm e.s.t. in the U.S. For those of you in Seoul, Toyko or Perth, you'll have to set your alarms to wake up a little before before 4 in the morning. So maybe there's no catch if you live in the few time zones around Seattle, but if you're on the other side of the planet you're not going to catch much sleep.


My RadioPopper PX units have arrived!

Last night when I got home from a shoot far, far away I found that the very nice UPS man had left me a box containing my new RadioPopper PX Transmitter and three PX receivers.

For now I've not had a chance to do much other than stick Velcro on them and figure out the many menu options. But soon I'll have a larger review.

One thing that I've been wondering about is how well the new transmitter might work with my old P1 receivers. Reading through the manual, it seemed that I had to set up the transmitter to specifically emulate the old model. That's fine, but that meant that it would not fire the new receivers unless I set them to also emulate the P1 system. And that, it seems, would limit their functionality in some other areas.

However, it looks — and I should stress that I haven't fully tested this yet except as how it works in the distance from my office chair to my light table — like the old receivers work correctly even without the transmitter being set in P1 mode. I'll try to get a real world field test in soon, but if that is indeed the case, I'll be pleased. I've got a lot of SB-800's and I'm not sure I need all new receivers to make them work.

And I've already figured out another (better??? Yes.) way to attach them to my flashes. I'm just not groovin' on the idea of the receiver hanging half-off into space. But more on that later.


PocketWizard annouces new eTTL equipment

PocketWizard has announced today a new generation of transmitters that are designed to let you take advantage of the e-TTl capabilities of Canon flashes. This looks pretty exciting, and is a departure from the traditional mode of merely firing your flash from a distance, which they have done very reliably for many years.

So far they do not have the gear available for Nikon flashes, claiming that will all be available in the 2nd quarter of 2009. And I don't know yet what the system will do with studio lights. But in general, I think this heralds a big step in the evolution of lighting, and will likely be followed up in the coming months and years by a significant rethinking of how flashes are made and how they can work with your cameras.

More information can be found from the right-now-terribly-sluggish PocketWizard site, and you can also read a very thorough review over at David's Strobist site.

At a glance, they seem to work differently than RadioPoppers but with an eye toward giving you the same capabilities (and more). It could be a good year for lighting news!


Joanne & Scott's engagement

Joanne & Scott are going to have a great wedding in Baltimore at the Engineer's Club later this Spring, and we had a chance to get together recently to shoot their engagement portrait. Luckily, we had one of those rare (though, maybe getting more common lately) warm days in February, and it allowed us to make some fun photos down near the Baltimore waterfront.

Of course, in winter, as the sun starts to go down the temperature drops, so eventually we all had to put on our coats. But the setting sun also brings in some nice color to the skies and it bounces off the water, which is always beautiful.

With the engagement portrait shoot going this well, I'm sure the wedding is going to be spectacular.


RadioPoppers high-speed sync with Alien Bees!

If you wander over to the RadioPopper blog they have a posting up now that offers some exciting news about the new JrX receivers. They claim that these will enable you to use your Alien Bees monolights in sync with high shutter speeds. They demonstrate this on a video on the blog that's long on excitement and not so long on meaty nuggets. But it's worth a watch.

I just ordered my new PX transmitter and three PX receivers, which will replace my old P1 setup. That should be here in just a couple days, and I'm eager to try it out. Frankly, because the JrX receivers aren't shipping yet I hadn't thought about the possibility of high-speed sync, though I have been thrilled about the possibility that I could use them at all to control my Bees. But the high-speed sync thing does take it to another level.

PocketWizard also has a tease to something new on their website, to be formally announced on Monday the 16th. I've heard some speculation that they are trying to do something along the same lines as the RadioPopper people, and that maybe there's even some cahooting going on, but I guess we'll find out Monday.


Masking local adjustments in Lightroom 2

The localized adjustments pane in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2.2 has a nice little feature that I didn't pay much attention to at first, but now I use pretty frequently. When you are using the Adjustments Brush in the Develop Module you can view the area that you're brushing by means of a mask that Lightroom creates.

Use the "K" key or click on the brush icon to call up the local adjustments brush.

You can do this either by having the mask turned on while you're painting, or you can use the "O" key (for "Overlay" I suppose: not zero) to toggle the mask on and off to show where you've painted and where you haven't. This is very useful if you are trying to just apply an adjustment to a specific area and don't want the nearby areas to be affected.

Even more useful, you can change the color of the mask, which is something I really love.

The green area shows where I have painted with the adjustment brush.

A few years back I got very comfortable with the QuickMask feature on Photoshop, but I found the the default reddish-orange color of the mask was hard to work with because it is sometimes fairly close to the skin tones of people in my pictures. In the sunset photo above I've got a lot of red going on in the photo in and around their faces, and a red mask might make it hard to tell where I'm working.

In Photoshop you can change the color of the mask using the color picker, so in that program I went in and changed it to the brightest fluorescent neon green I could find, which is a color that hardly ever shows up in real life in my pictures. If I were primarily shooting in the rain forest, I might pick some other color, but this suits me fine.

Lightroom offers 4 different options for mask colors. (No pun intended.)

In Lightroom, the default mask color is red, which isn't quite as subtle as the default QuickMask color in Photoshop but still gets in the way from time to time. If you use the "SHIFT-O" keyboard shortcut, you can cycle through two or three other options for the colors, and it turns out that one of them is my good old fluorescent neon green. The other colors are white, and black, but each of those gives the appearance of being a screen and I don't find them as useful for my needs.

Usually when I'm painting in an adjustment, I don't start with the mask showing, because I like to see how the effect looks as it's being applied (and not just see where it's being applied.) That way I can adjust my brush flow or the strength of the effect if it starts out being too much or too little. Then, to check that I've got the effect applied every where I want it and excluded from everywhere I don't, I press the "O" key and the mask pops on to indicate where I've worked.

One thing I should point out is that you don't have to actually apply an effect to an area to make the mask. That is, you could have all the brush options set to zero (or their middle points on the sliders) and paint the mask, and then apply the effect after by moving the sliders. But normally I have some idea of what I want to do, and how much of it, so it's rare that I would just make the mask. But if you want to paint it first to see that you're going to apply the effect exactly where you want it, you can.

If I've overpainted, then the magical and wonderful Option key comes in to play (Alt on a PC). By pressing it down, the little plus sign over your brush circle becomes a minus sign, and you can erase your mistakes. If you need, you can change your brush size, feather or flow while you're erasing, but you need to keep holding down the Option key while you're doing this.

Because I have this much control, it's fairly uncommon that I ever need to use the "Auto Mask" feature, which you can turn on with the little checkbox. This feature, I think, is named poorly because Lightroom is always creating a mask for you. It might be better to think of this as the "auto apply" or "auto zone" button.

With Auto Mask checked Lightroom tries to be smart enough to paint just where you want.

The Auto Mask feature is supposed to automatically apply the adjustment where you want it, and not apply it where you don't. It does this based on the color in the image directly under the little "+" sign in the brush circle. This works great when you have, say, the edge of a building or the petal of a flower that you want to adjust, but with the subtle gradations in most people's skin tones I find that it leaves a kind of choppy effect that is not what I'm looking for. So I generally leave Auto Mask unchecked and just adjust the flow of my brush as needed with the number keys on my keyboard. Press "0" (this time it IS zero) for 100% flow, or "6" for 60% flow, "3" for 30%, and so on. If you press two keys quickly, like "68," you get 68% flow.

In areas where the colors are similar to what you're painting, Auto Mask sometimes has trouble
hitting the mark and can spill over in to neighboring areas where you don't want to apply the
adjustment. Here, it's easier to use the Option key to undo the painting than to try Auto Mask.

As you can tell, I'm a big fan of using my keyboard to make quick changes in the settings and dialog boxes in Lightroom. If you'd like a complete list of them, you can find a downloadable PDF at Rick Miller's Adobe Education Technologies blog. Very useful to have as a quick reference.

For all of these examples I've overdone the painting and correction to show the effect of the mask and its options. My apologies to my humble subjects, who really do look better than I've shown them here.


A new baby in the home!

Elsa Sophia (what a beautiful name) is the new daughter of proud parents Errol & Sara, who let me photograph their wedding at Hendry House in Arlington in 2005. They were joined that day by a group of their friends from the Peace Corps, whom Errol & Sara had met when they were working in Africa. It was a great party. Now that the parents are settled down in the States again they've enlarged their family with this wonderful little girl, and they again invited me in to their lives to photograph her.

It is truly an honor when couples allow me once again in to their homes and their lives to make these images that will be so important to their families. It's one of the reasons I love this work.