Category Archives: Adobe

Robben Ford in Hong Kong // Learning Photoshop

Guitarist Robben Ford appeared at the Sha Tin Town Hall in Hong Kong on April 29th.  Ford is a “guitarist’s guitarist,” a true master of his instrument. He first came to fame as a member of Tom Scott’s L.A. Express in the 1970s, backing up Joni Mitchell and others. I saw him live and became a fan when he was a member of Miles Davis’s band in the 80’s.  It’s kind of indicative of the Hong Kong music scene that Ford just sold out several nights at the Blue Note in Tokyo and then followed that with just a single night in Hong Kong – in an out-of-the-way-for-most venue, no sponsors, and probably only 50% sold out.

To be honest, as much of a fan as I am of Ford’s playing, his music leaves me kind of cold. He had a great band – Ricky Peterson on the Hammond B3, Brian Allen on acoustic and electric bass, Wes Little on drums, fantastic musicians all, and all given plenty of space during the course of the show to stretch out.  But I find Ford to be an average singer and his material rather bland. The solos were great and he talked enough with the audience but I didn’t get any feeling of emotional involvement with what the musicians were playing, nor did I find the show to have any sort of pacing that might lead to a rousing climax. Given the reviews I read of his shows in Tokyo, it could well be that they were feeling dispirited by the meager turn-out in Hong Kong; it’s difficult for me to say.

Anyway, here’s one shot from the show (more to follow):

Robben Ford in Hong Kong

Robben Ford in Hong Kong

Let me veer off from a concert review into a somewhat related topic – learning Photoshop.

I’ve had Photoshop sitting on my computer for a long time. Mostly I load the program and look at all of the tools and palettes and windows and think to myself, “Where do I even start?” It’s daunting to the novice. And there’s so much educational material out there that I couldn’t figure out how to even start learning this program.

And then I came across this video by photographer/instruction Terry White on YouTube. It’s called How to Get Started With Adobe Photoshop CC – 10 Things Beginners Want to Know How To Do.  Catchy title, eh? But this 46 minute video really does show you how to do the ten things photographers might most often want to do, and while the lessons are obviously going to be brief, they are good enough to get you started.

The point being, once I stopped crying “Photoshop is hard, I can never learn it” and actually sat down and started using it, I found that I could pick up the basic stuff easily. Becoming a master at Photoshop – that’s something else, that will take weeks and months of actual usage. But for the first time, I actually feel as if it is something I can – and will – accomplish.

So I started off with something a bit simpler – this photo in which I liked keeping his vintage-looking Fender amp in the photo.


But that bit of the mike stand in the upper right is annoying, right? Of course, taking out a small thing like that, against a black background, is super easy to do.


I wanted to challenge myself a bit more.

So, back to the first photo in this blog poast.  Here’s a tiny bit of my workflow on that photo, starting with the original photo.



This was shot with my Nikon D800 and my Nikon 70-200mm F2.8 lens at 130mm, 6400 ISO, 1/200th of a second, F2.8.  Of course I’m shooting RAW, and here’s the original photo, unretouched except for exporting out of Lightroom as a jpeg.

I was shooting with white balance set to auto, as I almost always do, but that’s pretty easy to correct in Lightroom when you’re shooting RAW. And then I crop pretty ruthlessly, as I tend to do. A few more adjustments here and there left me with this:


Now the “old me” would consider that photo as finished.  But I looked at it and found the blue band on the right hand side distracting.  With my newly acquired Photoshop skills, it was a simple matter to get rid of that. Simple, except that there are about 20 different ways to do each common task in Photoshop and different people have different paths to similar results. So in my case I tried 2 or 3 different things – finally settling on something that would also allow me to get rid of those distracting green water bottles in the bottom left of the photo.

The key was in figuring out how to properly use the Quick Selection Tool.  But what I didn’t know about until this week was that after one has gotten the selection one wants, there’s that little button up top labelled “Refine Edge” – and that’s where the magic comes in.

Oh, by the way, a lot of stuff in Photoshop gets easier when you are doing things with a tablet and pen rather that with a mouse. The medium size Wacom Intuos tablet costs around US$200, is incredibly quick and easy to set up and just gives you so much better control when you’re doing things. I highly recommend it.

I’m not convinced this was my best shot of the night, but it was definitely one that gave me room to stretch and improve my post-processing skills. I’ll be going through the rest of the shots in the next few days and will add a gallery page soon.



Adobe Creative Cloud for the Cost of 2 Large Starbucks Coffees

Adobe’s about to release a new package for their Creative Cloud. You will get Photoshop CC, Bridge CC, Lightroom 5 and 20 gig of online storage for US$10 a month.  That’s $120 a year, less than the cost of the boxed version of Lightroom alone.

In order to get this price, you have to be a current Adobe customer (Photoshop version 3 or higher) and you have to sign up before the end of the year. The launch date in the U.S. is September 17th; no word on international availability.

I’m currently paying US$20 per month for Photoshop CC and some other stuff (Lightroom isn’t included in my subscription). I am glad I never upgraded to Lightroom 5 and I’ll switch to this package as soon as I can.


Adobe Photoshop CC

In case you haven’t read it elsewhere already, this week Adobe announced that Creative Suite 6 (aka CS6), the product set that includes Photoshop and Lightroom, will be the last version of CS. Going forward, there will only be Adobe Creative Cloud (Adobe CC) and all of the products (with the exception of Lightroom) will only be available via a subscription model.  This has caused an uproar in some segments of the online photography community and, frankly, I’m at a loss as to why.

Here’s one example, from a photography blog that I (mostly) like, Sound Image Plus:

Well as far as I’m concerned they can ‘Go forth and multiply’ or words to that effect. CS6 is the last time they get any money out of me. I will have nothing to do with a company that tells me how I should work. I will have nothing to do with a company that forces me to do something I do not want to do. They can stuff their ‘cloud’ where the sun doesn’t shine, I want nothing to do with it.

Why the vitriol?

First of all, I don’t see how this is dictating how one should work. The difference between CS6 and CC is that instead of buying a box of discs in a store, you’re downloading stuff to your computer. You’re not working through a browser, you’re not working through some cloud connection, you’re working off software that has been installed to your hard disk, just like every version of Photoshop in the past.  The major difference is that when the software starts up, it will check to see if your subscription is still valid and if it isn’t, it will not run. Otherwise, your workflow remains the same.

The drawback in this model, I suppose, is that if I bought CS6 and never purchase an upgrade, CS6 will run forever without my spending another dime.  If I subscribe to CC, it will not run forever, it will only run as long as I keep paying.

For me, the advantages of CC outweighed the disadvantages.  The biggest advantage for me was that I could get one subscription and install that one subscription everywhere I work.  A Lightroom license gives you both the PC and Mac versions but a Photoshop license does not.  So when I wanted to get into Photoshop, if I wanted to run it both on my desktop Windows PC and my laptop MacBook, I would have had to buy it twice – at $699 each (currently discounted down to $601 on Amazon).  So that’s $1,200.  But with Adobe CC, and because I owned an earlier version of Photoshop, I was able to subscribe to the Photoshop-only portion of Adobe CC for $20 per month, $240 per year, and get both the Windows and the Mac versions.  So I saved almost $1,000.

CS6 is offered in a bewildering number of packages at a variety of prices. On the low end, the “Design Standard Student and Teacher Edition” retails for $449.  On the upper end, the “Design and Web Premium” edition lists for (gulp) $1,899.  My understanding is that if one goes for the full Adobe CC package, that’s what you’ll get, at a cost of $600 per year instead of $1900 per pop.

So at the end of a year, if you don’t renew your subscription, you’re out $600 and have no software to run (your files and projects all remain).  Versus spending $1900 and having something that would run forever.  But I don’t need all those bits – and Adobe has various levels of subscription packages ranging from a Photoshop-only package to the whole shebang.

Some think that Adobe is doing this as a way to combat piracy.  That’s just ignorant.  As Adobe themselves have admitted, since the software is downloaded to your computer, hackers can and will be able to get at the underlying files, work out an installation package and a hack – and I think that’s already happened.  (As someone who occasionally earns income as a photographer, I decided early on that if I don’t want people pirating my work, it would be unethical for me to pirate other peoples’ work – and that goes for the tools I use as well.)

Clearly Adobe expects to make more money this way. They’re not in the business of losing money and they have to increase their revenue every year, just like any other company.

At the end of the day, this is Adobe’s product and they can price it and sell it however the hell they want and the market will decide if it’s right or not.  If the model works, if they’re making money, this will continue.  If it doesn’t, it won’t.  If you don’t like it, don’t buy it, don’t subscribe to it, download Gimp for free and work with that instead.

Me? I think that all this noise is coming from a vocal minority and that the majority of people will see the advantages and fall into line.  I think this is merely the next evolutionary step and not the final state. Some day in the relatively near future, when bandwidth gets even larger, when internet connections are even more ubiquitous, when browsers become more advanced, you will no longer download this to your computer, you will work through a browser.

So me, my biggest complaint was that it took Adobe forever to get CC to Hong Kong (my subscription is through the US) but hopefully they have now worked that out.  Their web sites still suck though.


Lightroom 4 Is Killing Me

I love Adobe Lightroom for its functionality and ease of use.  I freaking hate it for its speed which is the equivalent of the three-toed sloth (the slowest moving animal on Earth).

Okay, I get that the Nikon D800 RAW files are massive.  Each photo is 75 megabytes on average.  I realize that’s not trivial.

I’ve gone to Adobe’s website and followed all of their instructions for speeding up Lightroom.  And then I’ve done a few things on my own.  I know that my catalog file is huge (around 40,000 images) and that can slow things down.  So this morning I’m trying to edit last night’s shoot by using a new catalog that only contains the 400 photos I shot last night.  Plus I put both the RAW files and the catalog on a Solid State Disc (SSD).  The only thing I can’t do is to shut down the other programs that are currently running, though I killed all but the most essential ones.

I’m seeing a slight speed-up, but nothing as dramatic as I was hoping to see.  It’s like, I click on the crop tool and then see my mouse pointer change into a spinning circle for 5 seconds.  I crop, slowly, because after each adjustment I get the spinning wheel again.  Finally I’m done cropping, I click on that crop tool, and now I see on the task bar all these little “shadow process” windows opening and closing.

Now I don’t think that my PC set-up is too shabby.  I’m running 64 bit Windows 7.  I’ve got an Intel Core i7 2.67 GHz.  I have 12 gig of RAM installed.  I have an AMD Radeon HD 6800 video card with 1 gig of RAM – not top of the line but should suffice since I’m not into playing games on my PC.

This is affecting my editing AND my shooting.  My editing because now I’ll sit and ponder over each edit, is it worth the 10 seconds it will probably take?  And my shooting – last night I very consciously shot less than I normally would because I figured more photos would mean more time editing.

This morning it has, so far, taken me about 4 hours to go through 236 photos and edit 118 of them.  And it’s not as if I’m doing anything more than minor edits.  No gradient filters.  No touch-up brushes.  Just some sharpening, some adjustments to exposure, clarity, sharpness, contrast – cut and paste the settings from one photo to the next, a few minor adjustments as called for, a bit of cropping now and then.  I should be able to do each photo in 30 seconds or less.  Instead each one is taking 2 to 3 minutes.

Right now I don’t know what the answer is.  Are there other steps I could take to speed this up?  Should I switch to a different RAW processor?  Suggestions?

(One thing I’m thinking of – doing my editing on my MacBook Pro, which seems a bit zippier than my PC and also I could be working there with no other programs running.  On the other hand, I’d have to do my editing on an external drive.)

Oh, here’s one of the photos from last night ….


Adobe Creative Cloud? Not in Hong Kong

Adobe’s been making quite a splash with their new Creative Cloud product.

Adobe® Creative Cloud™ is a digital hub that gives you access to every Adobe Creative Suite® 6 desktop application, plus online services and other new apps as they’re released, giving you the freedom to create anything you can imagine. The vision of Adobe Creative Cloud is to turn previously difficult, disparate workflows into one intuitive, natural experience, allowing you to create freely and deliver ideas on any desktop, tablet, or handheld device.

This is a big deal for people who use Adobe products.  You can buy just a single month of this for US $75 and then for one month have legal access to just about every Adobe product on multiple platforms, plus 20 gigs of online storage and hosted web sites.   You can get a one year subscription that works out to US$50 a month – or US$30 a month for one year if you’re upgrading to this from a previous version of certain Adobe products.  This is a huge savings over buying the regular versions of their stuff.

One reason this is of interest to me is that I’m someone who uses both Windows and Mac.  With Adobe Lightroom, if you buy it once, you can download both Windows and OS-X versions.  But not with Photoshop.  So I’d need to buy it twice, once for my desktop and once for my laptop.  Or I could have a single subscription to the Creative Cloud and get it everywhere for one price.

However, if you live in Hong Kong, Creative Cloud is nothing but a pipe dream, at least for now.

Adobe intends to make Creative Cloud membership as widely available as possible. Currently, it is not available in your region. However, Creative Suite 6 software is available, and you can purchase software licenses for individual products or Creative Suite editions — just as you have always done.

When you think about it, this makes zero sense because Hong Kong is a major global city when it comes to photography, design, marketing, publishing and so on.  Hong Kong is also an area that is traditionally big on software piracy.  Creative Cloud is a great way to combat piracy and not making it available from day one in Hong Kong is just plain stupid.

Fortunately I have a U.S. credit card with a U.S. billing address.  But what about the other 99% of people here?

By the way, here’s another way that Adobe says “fuck you” to Hong Kong.  If you’re in the U.S., you can buy CS6 from Amazon for US$620.88 (list price $699).   If you’re in Hong Kong, CS6 will cost you HK$6,530 – that’s US$850.  There’s simply no excuse for this disparity in pricing.