Advanced Photoshop Magazine contacted me to contribute for their feature article, Photoshop for Photographers – issue 71 back in 2010 and still holds relevance to today. This article explores how Photoshop tools and options have been and are at present excelling photographic styles and themes. I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts and methods.

Channel Selections

Become very comfortable with using the RGB channels panel to create dynamic selections for compositing images.

Hard Drive Failure

Always backup your work in three different places with three different medias: RAID drive, DVD’s, and online storage.

“Borrowed” Creativity

Steal ideas from as many artists as you can because in the process you will develop your own style.

Advanced Photoshop Magazine: Can you please tell us some of the most contemporary effects you’re seeing in digital photography at present and which styles do you apply to excel your work?

Jim Lind: I am seeing a lot of hyper-real multi-lit scenes these days. Digital photographers are bringing their strobes and speed lights with them wherever they go to create dynamic lighting situations. While I don’t use 6-12 strobes like Dave Hill or Jim Fiscus, I do use a variation of speed lights, strobes, and reflectors in my own imagery. That way I’m able to control and shape the light while not having to rely heavily on available light.

AP: Which traditional artists have been the main influences for modern digital styles? Why do you think their styles are so significant?

JL: Visionaries such as Oscar Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson from the late 19th century are the forefathers to modern composite photography as they were working with combining dozens of glass plates to create a single image in the darkroom. A lot of modern digital styles start from a sense of storytelling. Photographers such as Diane Arbus, Nicholas Kahn, and Richard Selesnick are a few that achieve such storytelling with fantastic imagery.

AP: Can you tell us about some key preproduction effects you must apply/produce before compositing your imagery on screen?

JL: In preproduction, it’s important for me to previsualize the image by drawing it out on paper. With my artistic background beginning in drawing, I find it to be the most efficient way to understanding an image. This helps establish the perspective needed to begin photographing as well as the subject matter. From there, I make a list of every detail needed to complete the scene, including time of day, locations, props, models, clothing, permits, and anything else that pops into my head. That way I’m not fumbling around during the production and post-production stage.

AP: Attention to detail is paramount when achieving successful styles. To what extent do you deliberate over your images elements, getting that realistic finish?

JL: Some images fall into place much quicker than others. For instance the image In Ruins with the burning house came together in a day. While other images such as City Exit took much longer to achieve. The biggest obstacle was using displacement maps to get realistic reflections and ripples within the water. I guess it just depends on whether or not the Photoshop gods are smiling down on you that day.

AP: Can you please share with us how you apply Photoshop color adjustment tools and others to create lighting effects in your digital images?

JL: Whenever photos are composited into a single image, I often get subtle color shifts that don’t work well together. A quick fix is by using a color balance adjustment layer to equalize the highlights, midtones, and shadows. Layer blending modes are also very important in the way I stylize my photos. Overlay, soft light, screen, color, luminosity, and color dodge modes are the ones that I use the most often. Nik Software also offers an amazing plug-in called Color Efex Pro to achieve a wide range of results.

AP: Can you explain what sharpening techniques you apply to your images through Photoshop? How do you get the correct effects for individual elements, and why is this such a key aesthetic in contemporary styles?

JL: There are two different sharpening methods that I apply in different situations. If I want to fake sharpening while increasing contrast, I will duplicate the layer, desaturate it, reduce the shadows, and set the blend mode to soft light. To simply sharpen an image without changing its contrast, Nik Software’s Sharpener Pro plug-in has proven successful for me. Contemporary digital styles seem to have that edgy, gritty and hyper-real feel to them which is often enhanced through such sharpening techniques.

AP: Depth of field is an essential factor when creating realism. Do you have any effective and aesthetic ways to replicate this? Mention as many as you can please.

JL: Depth of field is something that is best mastered in camera. The previsualization stage helps to better understand the important elements of the photograph in both the foreground and background. From there it’s much easier to choose whether I want shallow or maximum depth of field as well as what needs to be in focus. However there is a plug-in put out by Alien Skin called “Bokeh” that in combination with layer masks you can achieve very realistic results in post.

AP: How has Photoshop’s latest versions (and in general) accelerated the creative potential for photo effects and compositing? Give examples relating to your existing (supplied) work and working process.

JL: What used to take hours now takes minutes with Photoshop’s batch open and stitch feature. The base scenes for all my composites are created with about a dozen or more images, which I blend together for an extremely high-resolution file. Other advancements like non-destructive adjustment layers help me to refine the color in a body of work once all of the images are complete.

AP: What are the best ways to educate yourself in contemporary styles? How did you learn the techniques you apply in your design?

JL: The Internet is an infinite source of inspiration and knowledge. I find that I’m scouring this vast amount of blogs, how-to’s, and portfolio sites every day. However the best way to educate yourself is by working with or under a photographer that you truly admire. I had the great pleasure of interning for Annie Leibovitz, which really opened up my eyes to the amount of work needed during preproduction, production, and post-production stages.

AP: How does digital hardware add to your creative process, making it a more effortless process? This can relate to preproduction and postproduction tools.

JL: It’s hard for me to remember my photographic workflow before I had my Wacom tablet and MacBook Pro. During shoots I’m able to tether my camera to my computer no matter where I am to make sure my images are sharp and on target. I opted to a mobile computer solely for this reason. During preproduction, my Wacom tablet is essential in speeding up the process. It doesn’t strain my wrist like a traditional mouse or trackpad and I can make very detailed drawing motions that I’ve grown accustomed to.

AP: Can you tell us how you use plug-ins, with Photoshop, to create your high-end styles?

JL: The two big plugins that every photographer should have in their arsenal are onOne’s Genuine Fractals and a noise reduction plug-in (I happen to use PictureCode’s NoiseNinja). They are worth the price and you will see great improvements in the details if you plan on printing larger photographs but can’t afford an expensive high-end camera with a large sensor.

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© Advanced Photoshop Magazine 2010