7 Highlights of Photoshop World 2011

September 12th, 2011

This year’s Photoshop World just wrapped up in Las Vegas and I thought that I’d share my personal highlights with you.

7. Joe McNally - Small Flash Basics

As Joe says, the ballroom of a convention centre is a really terrible place to take pictures. But oftentimes, that’s exactly the sort of situation you find yourself in as a photographer.  A photographer’s life is not all waterfalls and exotic gardens! In “Small Flash Basics”, Joe McNally took one light and demonstrated numerous ways to use it to capture portraits in just that environment.

Joe selected a different subject from the audience to demonstrate each lighting set up. On this day it was invariably a subject who was reluctant to come forward. It always seemed to be someone who did not like having their picture taken.

Despite this, the terrible location, and the fact that he was in front of a live audience, Joe produced a series of amazing portraits. By the end, each subject became a convert and were thankful for the opportunity to have been photographed.

You couldn’t help but notice though that there was something else going on - and it did not have anything to do with speedlights. In fact it probably had more of an effect on the portraits than anything else. You observe it in the way he addresses his subjects. Before each click of the shutter, he is completely attentive to the model and says “You look fantastic!” or some variation on that theme. You notice how it puts the subject at ease. It helps them relax. It engages them and helps them feel that they can be part of creating a great image.

Yes Joe is a master of small lights and big lights and no lights. But the genius of Joe is not just about lighting. It is in his photographer/subject relationship - and on this day you were presented with an opportunity to watch a genuine master at work.

6. Jay Maisel - Light, Gesture and Colour - Faces of 9/11

It was slide show time with Jay Maisel. In contrast to other photographers, Jay opens up his “Faces of 9/11″ series. There is no soundtrack. There are no fancy video effects. What we have here is simply a collection of images.  He flips through them one by one. The room is silent. Image after image comes up on screen and you are struck by the genius of this man.

This is 9/11. It is a story told through a succession of street portraits, portraits of bystanders, witnesses to the destruction of this day.  Faces filled with disbelief, tears and dread. Collectively, they convey the essence of what was lost that day more than any single picture of the wreckage of the Twin Towers can.


5. Jay Maisel - Light, Gesture and Colour - Amanda

Jay has a personal collection of images entitled “Amanda”, which chronicle the life of his daughter. You wonder “Why is he showing us his family pictures?”

But this is not merely a collection of the standard snaps. He doesn’t just capture her when she was small and cute. He captures an angry young girl and an an awkward teenager. He captures a young girl in pain. He captures a young woman on her prom night. He captures her as she is - a full person.

I’ve seen this collection twice now, and each time I’ve been left with a lump in my throat. The collection is overwhelming. 

I am also struck by how this collection seems to be changing. Some of the photos I saw were new. The collection changes and is not stagnant. But at the same time it seems to make perfect sense since his subject is changing and evolving too.

This is an incredible inspiration to me, as a parent, to record the lives of my children, the good and the not so good and to keep these collections as dynamic.  And to look to present these collections to an audience.  So that they too, may be inspired as I was.


4. Julieanne Kost - Art of Digital Photography

It is every presenter’s nightmare. You are in front of an audience of 2,500 people. You have respected photographers to your left and right. You have rehearsed your presentation multiple times. But suddenly, without warning a server goes down and you experience a glitch. Then you revert to plan B and you encounter another glitch. Then plan C and well, nothing is going your way.

Anybody who has ever stood up in front of an audience can empathize. She can’t show part of her presentation because it is up on the cloud and the servers went down and she says “That’s why they call it a cloud - as opposed to a nice sunny day!” The ballroom erupts in laughter.

Julieanne recovered from her troubles to show a fascinating collection. You need to know in advance that I’m a big fan of a more painterly approach to photography. The camera exists simply as a tool of self expression.  Just because we have the technology to produce sharp, exact images doesn’t mean that that is necessarily what we always should do. Who is to say that this should be the only mode of self expression?

Her collection of “”blurred landscapes” evoked impression-era painters and was beautiful and haunting.

I learned the next day that she shoots these images out the window of her car. (No, not while she is driving but rather when she is a passenger.)   It’s time to go for a drive!


3. Joe McNally - Art of Digital Photography

Joe McNally. Photographs of the heros of 9/11. Tears everywhere. Standing Ovation.

Enough said.


2. Joel Grimes - The Art of Compositing


Compositing created a big buzz at Photoshop World this year. Matt K’s book on the subject sold out in the Kelby bookstore in the first afternoon. There were absolutely no more copies to be had.

You probably knew going in that compositing was big. After PSW you had no doubt.

Joel pointed out a number of the advantages of compositing over traditional capture methods.

  • Shoot cost is lower because you can shoot the subject and the BG separately rather than having to have a large crew at a location shoot.
  • You can HDR the BG creating a more painterly and dramatic effect.
  • You have the flexibility of tweaking the design in post by moving the elements as required.

Compositing truly is the future of photography. It is an incredibly creative pursuit. It is not going away any time soon.

That would have probably been enough but Joel drove the point home by opening up one of his “real life” projects in Photoshop and reconstructing a finished ad image from the various components.  There was something about this special combination of the why and then the how, that left you feeling truly inspired.

His talk provided a rare glimpse, a glimpse of the road map for the future of your photography.


1. Dave Black - Speedlighting

Dave Black (Second from the left)
For me, this was far and away the highlight of Photoshop World. Dave Black is a gifted speaker / communicator. He understands the importance of repetition and example in presentation, and this may have been the finest execution of it that you’re ever going to see.

“If you want to make something interesting, don’t light all of it.”

“Knock the ambient down by a stop and then add a shaft of light.”

“Think about the triangle. The light can’t come from anywhere, it has to form a triangle. The light cannot be on camera.”

Then he hits you with this tremendous collection of before and after shots that drive this point home. Ambient down by a stop. Add a shaft of light. If you want to make something interesting … over and over and over.

He’d show these shots and say “Anybody in this room can take this shot.” Then he’d show how to take it to the next level. There was the swimmer in the pool, the motorcyclists on the track. Then the same shots with the light added. It was a notch higher. It was the difference between an editorial photographer on assignment and an artist.

It was a privilege to be present in that classroom. You could not have come out of that room without being transformed.


 I could go on. I haven’t mentioned the Westcott booth with the live model shoots. That really created a buzz. The expo floor had great energy.  I got a chance to have a book signed by Scott Kelby himself (see above). There were the incredible presentations at the closing ceremonies. (I’m not quite sure that I could do them justice.)

This was definitely a show to be remembered. Kudos to Scott and all the folks at NAPP for their hard work in putting this event on.

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