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Archive for the ‘Photoshop’ Category

A Pillar of Rock at Grand Canyon National Park

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

Rock Pillar, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
Rock Pillar, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Twenty20 (formerly Instacanvas) is a art and photography print-on-demand (POD) service that I joined earlier this year just to see about using it as a means of selling my mobile photography posted to Instagram. That didn’t last long. I rather quickly decided to start posting artwork and my DSLR photography to Instagram/Twenty20 – rather than photos taken with my smart phone’s camera.

One aspect of Twenty20 that has kept me adding new content is their challenges in which members are encouraged to submit images to theme-based contests. I most recently decided to submit a photograph to their Rock Formations Challenge and was quite pleased when I got an email from Twenty20 telling me that my contest submission was being featured on the Twenty20 home page. NOTE: My day in the sun has already come and gone but the Rock Formations Challenge is still underway.

It took some time for me to locate a photograph that emphasized a rock formation. Actually I have lots of photographs of rock formations but finding one that I wanted to submit was the challenge. I finally settled on a photograph of a pillar of rock photographed from the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Adding to the drama of the scene that day was the stormy weather – far more dramatic than clear blue sunny skies.

There are two interesting points I would like to make regarding this photograph. First, the photo I posted to the contest has a significant portion of the image cropped out. In part this was to satisfy Twenty20’s square aspect ratio requirements. The other consideration was cropping the image for composition purposes in order to emphasize the rock pillar.

The second and far more interesting point is that this photograph was never meant to stand alone. It was one in a series of bracketed exposure photographs to be used in the construction of an HDRI (High Dynamic Range Imaging) photograph. By bracketed I mean taking multiple photographs of the same scene varying only the exposure time. I take three or more photographs: one or more under-exposed, one correctly exposed, and one or more over-exposed. The over-exposed shot reveals details in the dark regions of the image while the under-exposed shot preserves details in the bright regions. Stacking and merging three separate photographs together produces an image rich in detail and color. In Photoshop the creation of an HDR image is most simply accomplished by selecting the individual images using Adobe Bridge and then using the Merge to HDR Photoshop tool option.

Three Full Frame Exposures for Rock Pillar Grand Canyon
Three Full Frame Exposures for Rock Pillar Grand Canyon

It was the HDR version that I was going to submit to the contest. However in looking at each of the three individual exposures as photographs in their own right, I was struck by the mood created by the underexposed photograph. I happened to open up the Photoshop channels palette to check out each individual RGB channel. Individual channels are gray scale images and it was seeing the photograph in black and white that led me to desaturate the photo. To my surprise I found the black and white version much more appealing than the color version. And that is how I came to submit an underexposed black and white photograph – rather than an HDR photograph – to the contest.

With respect to the image cropping, you can compare the cropped version of Rock Pillar Grand Canyon at Twenty20.com with the uncropped version of Rock Pillar Grand Canyon at Artflakes.com

The moral to this story is to keep your options, your eyes, and your mind open when it comes to the creative aspects of art and photography. Make it a point to explore and consider alternatives. Your work will be the better for it.

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Exoplanet in the Large Magellanic Cloud

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Exoplanet in Large Magellanic Cloud
Exoplanet in the Large Magellanic Cloud (cropped here)

It has been quite some time since I’ve created a work of astronomical art. Strike that. It’s been some time since I’ve finished a work of astronomical art. In fact I’ve not done a very good job of adding such art to my web site. No I didn’t make a new year’s resolution to do more astronomical art. I’m not sure what possessed me to take a break from my other projects and create this piece of art. Last year I had started work on an exoplanet project. I had painted a number of exoplanets and for a while was quite devoted to it. One of the things I did was to create a database of both the exoplanets and their stars. I previously wrote about this initial foray in The Small Stars of Exoplanets.

My plan was to use both my art and an analysis of the data I’d collected to create a presentation on exoplanets. This would be an addition to my current lineup of lectures, talks, and presentations (I should point out that I do space exploration and astronomy presentations in my role as President of the Chicago Society for Space Studies and as a NASA JPL Solar System Ambassador).

Artistic Inspiration

The artwork consists of three main components: the exoplanet, the nebula, and the stars. While the exoplanet was drawn solely from my imagination, the nebula was inspired by NGC 2035. In fact, the specific image that I used as a reference is The star formation region NGC 2035 imaged by the ESO Very Large Telescope. This image is described as:

The Large Magellanic Cloud is one of the closest galaxies to our own. Astronomers have now used the power of the ESO’s Very Large Telescope to explore NGC 2035, one of its lesser known regions, in great detail. This new image shows clouds of gas and dust where hot new stars are being born and are sculpting their surroundings into odd shapes. But the image also shows the effects of stellar death – filaments created by a supernova explosion.

Artistic Process

I created this art using only Adobe Photoshop CS4 and my Wacom tablet. I used a variety of custom brushes I had previously created specifically for painting astronomical art.

My first step was to paint the neublar structure. I did this using a variety of brushes. One feature that greatly increased the flexibility I had was to take advantage of Photoshop’s brush mode option. The mode option makes it possible for your new brush strokes to interact with previous brush strokes in different ways. This is a very useful technique that is most probably greatly underused as I don’t think I’ve ever seen it mentioned in any astronomical art tutorials for Photoshop.

Having completed the nebula, my next step was to create the starfield. I did this on a separate Photoshop layer. Separating the stars from the nebula allows me to work on the two independently. It’s worth pointing out that this is a fictional starfield. For the starfield the main question I had to answer was sharp or soft: did I want stars with sharp edges or soft edges. I opted for soft edges because the first stars I painted were those in front of the nebula.

I created my exoplanet in a separate Photoshop document. I did this for several reasons. First and most important I wanted to create the planet on a scale much larger than the size it would have in the final composition. Second, because the planet involved a number of layers, I wanted to keep them together as a separate document. This path facilitates my ability to reuse all or part of this exoplanet for other projects.

Once I was satisfied with my exoplanet, I copied the planet as a single layer back to my original Photoshop document. I now resized and positioned the exoplanet. Fortunately I knew exactly where I wanted to place the planet and used that knowledge in creating my exoplanet. To better tie the exoplanet to the nebula, I arranged for the cloud structure to continue the nebula’s pattern as can be seen by observing the 3:00 position of the exoplanet’s limb. Okay – that might be a little difficult to observe since the original painting is 20 x 15 inches and what is shown here, if printed, would only be 2 x 1 inches.

Exoplanet in the Large Magellanic Cloud Digital Painting

To see the uncropped version, as well as some small full-size sections, see Exoplanet in the Large Magellanic Cloud Digital Painting. I’ve added this artwork to my Space Art Gallery as well as to my Astronomical Art Gallery. As is my custom, I’ve limited the number of limited edition prints for this piece to five.

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Adobe Creative Cloud and the Photoshop Photography Program

Friday, September 6th, 2013

Making Art with Photoshop
Making Art with Photoshop

As a digital artist who regularly uses Adobe Photoshop and other Adobe Design Premium products irregularly, I follow Adobe to keep up with their software updates. With the CS6 release of the Adobe product family, which includes Photoshop, Adobe announced their Creative Cloud licensing model. The Creative Cloud has pluses and minuses. For me the principle drawback is the software license. Instead of the perpetual-use license you get when you buy the software’s boxed version, the Creative Cloud license limits your use of their product to that period of time for which you have paid the licensing fee.

The Creative Cloud licensing model has certainly generated a lot of heated debate in the Adobe user community. Unfortunately a fair amount of it is poorly informed and betrays a basic misunderstanding of what the Creative Cloud entails. On the plus side, the licensing terms make it possible for people to use Adobe’s software on a month by month basis at a fraction of the cost of what one would have to pay to buy the boxed version of the software. On the minus side, there are many users who prefer to pay for the boxed software because of the perpetual license.

For me the question is does the Creative Cloud model make economic sense given "my" circumstances. It’s important to note that I am not one of those users who rushes out and buys the new version of Photoshop the minute it is released. My Photoshop upgrade path has been as follows:

  • Photoshop 5
  • Photoshop 7
  • Photoshop CS
  • Photoshop CS4

Based on my situation, it did not make sense for me to go with the Creative Cloud. I looked around for alternatives to Adobe CS6 and the Creative Cloud. I wrote about my findings in the article Free Software Alternatives to Adobe CS6

In recognition of the opposition some Adobe users have expressed over the Creative Cloud model and in the spirit of the free market, Corel now has a special offer for those disgruntled Adobe users. The Corel promotional page reads "Welcome CS Users… Looking for an alternative to Creative Cloud?…Try Corel software today for free" For complete details, see Corel’s special offer to Adobe CS users

Adobe has evidently been paying attention because they are now providing Photoshop users with a brand new option – the Photoshop Photography Program. Adobe customers who own Photoshop CS3 or higher are eligible for a special Creative Cloud membership offer that is priced at $9.99/month and includes the following features:

  • Photoshop CC (Creative Cloud)
  • Lightroom 5
  • 20 GB of online storage
  • Behance ProSite package
  • Access to Creative Cloud Learn’s training resources
  • Ongoing upgrades and updates

Visiting the Behance web site, Behance charges $11/month or $99/year for their ProSite package. Given that this is included in the Adobe Photoshop Photography Program package you are basically getting a Behance ProSite for free. For more, see Behance’s ProSite

Adobe’s Photoshop Photography Program is a very tempting offer. Fortunately I have until December 31 to make up my mind on whether or not I’ll buy in. Additional program details are available at
Adobe’s Photoshop Photography Program blog post.

The Art Used to Illustrate This Post

The image I used to illustrate this post is a screen shot of a cityscape that I am working on in Adobe Photoshop. It is just one of my many experiments in digital painting and may never progress to becoming a finished work of art. Only time will tell.

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OpenSCAD, 3D Objects, and 3D Printing

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

OpenSCAD 3D Object as Art
OpenSCAD 3D Object as Art

I recently joined the Workshop 88#1 Google group after attending one of their meetings. In going through some of the group discussions, I came across one regarding 3D printing and the choice of software that people made in order to create 3D objects for printing. One of the software selections mentioned was OpenSCAD, an open source product that I have been aware of but never used.

The software is described on the OpenSCAD web site as follows:

OpenSCAD is software for creating solid 3D CAD models. It is free software and available for Linux/UNIX, Windows and Mac OS X. Unlike most free software for creating 3D models (such as Blender) it does not focus on the artistic aspects of 3D modelling but instead on the CAD aspects.

OpenSCAD is not an interactive modeller. Instead it is something like a 3D-compiler that reads in a script file that describes the object and renders the 3D model from this script file.

The power, and weakness, of OpenSCAD is its use of a programming language (script file) to build models. This is in contrast to a traditional 3D modeling program digital artists use, like Lightwave, that supports an interactive mouse-driven style of object creation.

The OpenSCAD user interface is pretty straight forward. Of course that is because the work of creating 3D objects is done via coding. One of the most common complaint about traditional 3D programs is the complexity of the user interface – which makes sense when you consider the variety and complexity of the operations users are performing interactively.

With OpenSCAD, I was able to create simple 3D objects fairly quickly by getting a handle on the scripting language’s syntax. In fact I have illustrated this article using a 3D model I created. The object is composed exclusively of cylinders on which I executed a series of translations and rotations. I should point out that for the illustration of the model I used a Photoshop adjustment layer to alter the hue of the image as rendered in OpenSCAD and used a Photoshop layer style to add a drop shadow to the image.

I do own Adobe Photoshop Extended. Photoshop Extended is the version of Photoshop that supports working in 3D with 3D objects. OpenSCAD saves 3D objects in the STL (Standard Tessellation Language – for more see the Wikipedia STL entry) format. Unfortunately STL is not a 3D format that Photoshop Extended CS4 recognizes. Also unfortunately the selection of 3D file formats that CS4 supports is extremely limited. Surprisingly neither the CS5 or CS6 upgrades have added support for any additional 3D file types. That means that if I want to work with the 3D objects created by OpenSCAD, I will either have to use software other than Photoshop or I will have to use an intermediary program to convert the STL file into one of the very few formats Photoshop recognizes. My preference is to not use Photoshop.

Will I Use OpenSCAD?

There are a plethora of 3D programs available today. Some, like OpenSCAD, are designed for the CAD market. Most aren’t. However, the explosion of 3D printing has generated new interest in CAD programs – especially within the hacker and maker community. For my part, I expect that I will continue to explore OpenSCAD and will attempt to find opportunities to make use of it. I must confess that I do find the programmatic nature of the 3D object creation process appealing.


Note #1: Workshop 88

Workshop 88 hackerspace in Glen Ellyn
Workshop 88 hackerspace in Glen Ellyn

Located in Glen Ellyn IL, Workshop 88 is a hackerspace – also referred to as a makerspace. On their web site, Workshop 88 is described as being focused on science, technology, mechanics, culture and the digital arts and offering a space where people with diverse backgrounds can socialize, collaborate and learn. For more, see the Workshop 88 web site. While my principle interest in investigating the group is to potentially teach a Processing class for them, my secondary interest is in learning more about 3D printing. Given that they have a 3D printer and I don’t, this provides an excellent opportunity to learn more about that aspect of digital creativity.

References

If you are interested in learning more about OpenSCAD and 3D model making, you may want to check out the following.

On the subject of models, I’ll leave you with a quote from John von Neumann: The sciences do not try to explain, they hardly even try to interpret, they mainly make models. By a model is meant a mathematical construct which, with the addition of certain verbal interpretations, describes observed phenomena. The justification of such a mathematical construct is solely and precisely that it is expected to work.

I’ll close by recommending that if you are interested in creating 3D models then give OpenSCAD a try – it’s free so you’ve got nothing to lose.

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What To Do With Bill Nye?

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Bill Nye, Planetary Society
Bill Nye, Planetary Society CEO

I attended the Space Tech Expo in Long Beach CA in May because:

  • I’m an advocate for space exploration
  • I’m a lecturer on the subjects of NASA, newspace, and space development
  • I was covering the expo as a reporter for Ad Astra magazine

I came home with quite a collection of photographs, mostly of the conference but some of the neighborhood of the convention center and some from the Aquarium of the Pacific which I visited after the expo ended. I hate to say it but even though two months have now passed, I have yet to do anything with the photographs. The only work I have done with them was to select and process the photos that I felt would make good illustrations for my article in Ad Astra magazine.

For non-space folks, the best known person at the expo had to be Bill Nye The Science Guy, currently CEO of the Planetary Society. I got a number of nice photographs of Mr. Bill but what exactly to do with them is the question. I’ve determined to do a portrait but how to do it. As you can see from my Portrait Gallery index page, I generally eschew normal portraiture. For me, the fun lies in dreaming up some non=standard/non-traditional way to represent my subject. In fact if I did your portrait, your own Mother (hopefully) wouldn’t recognize it as being you.

So the question is what to do with Bill Nye? Do I simply create a digitally painted portrait? Maybe I should algorithmitize him? Should I spatially derange him? Do I dismantle him? Do I turn him into a planet (Planet Bill)? Do I create a geometric-based representation? Do I turn him into a nebula? I did that once creating what I called the Godzilla’s Head Nebula. A bit of playfulness on my part.

The one certainty in this is that I will use one of my own painting programs, of which I have created quite a few. The programs are quite primitive in that they lack any sort of GUI. Instead I rely on keyboard shortcuts to control and modify a program’s behavior. Because these programs are written by me for my own personal use I don’t have to worry about niceties like a user interface or user friendliness or extensive features or help documentation. Creating a program just for my own use in specialized situations allows me to focus my energies on the business end of the program — which is the creation of new painting tools.

Adobe Photoshop has a very nice brush engine and I have used it to create many custom brushes. For an artist to limit themselves to the set of brushes that Adobe provides with Photoshop is to really limit their creative possibilities. If you are a Photoshop user who is still using only the brushes that came with Photoshop, I suggest you do a web search on &quotePhotoshop brushes&quote as there are many free custom brushes out there that you can download and add to your installation of Photoshop. Even better, practice, practice, practice creating and using your own brushes.

As good as the Photoshop brush engine is, it does not provide me with the degree of freedom and versatility that I seek. This is one reason why I write my own painting programs (another reason being that I actually really enjoy this part of the creative process). One limitation common to all my painting programs is that I have never attempted to incorporate multiple layers. Yes – I’m stuck with using just one layer. Which is one big reason why, most of the time, I use both my own program(s) and Photoshop together to create my art. I paint one layer in my program, save it, and then open it in Photoshop for additional "processing." Sometimes I go back and paint a second version, save it, bring it into Photoshop and merge the two separate paintings together using Photoshop’s layering features.

Well, what started out to be a commentary on how to do a painting of Bill Nye has morphed into a peak into my creative work flow. So back to the question of what to do with Bill Nye — at this moment I have no idea, which means that it may be some time before a painting of Bill Nye shows up in my art gallery. If you have any ideas, I’m all ears.

In closing I’ll leave you with the words of British mathematician Professor Sir Erik Christopher Zeeman which seem appropriate to this discussion:

Technical skill is mastery of complexity while creativity is mastery of simplicity.

Ad Astra, Jim

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Free Software Alternatives to Adobe CS6

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Adobe CS6 Alternatives
Adobe CS6 Alternatives

In 2012 Adobe released CS6. What set this release apart from previous versions was the licensing path that Adobe has chosen. For more information about the Adobe Creative Cloud model, see Adobe’s Creative Cloud FAQ.

While I have been using Photoshop since Photoshop 5, it wasn’t until CS4 was released that I bought my first full Adobe suite. Adobe Design Premium CS4 included:

  • Acrobat 9 Professional – for PDF creation
  • Dreamweaver CS4 – for web site creation
  • Fireworks CS4 – preproduction and mockup for web page creation (combines Dreamweaver and Photoshop features)
  • Flash CS4 Professional – Flash creation
  • Illustrator CS4 – for creating vector graphics and for graphic design
  • InDesign CS4 – for desktop publishing
  • Photoshop CS4 Extended – Photoshop with 3D capabilities

Of the programs that make up the Design Premium suite, Photoshop is where I live and is the application which I am most qualified to comment on. I must say that I have become increasingly disenchanted with Adobe’s approach to the software/graphics market. This has strongly influenced my decision as to whether or not to continue to upgrade my Adobe products. From one review of CS6 we have this summation:

"No creative professional will deny the need for Adobe Creative Suite, and 2012’s version, CS6, focuses on some of the toughest demands designers face in an interactive, digital, multimedia landscape."

From a corporate perspective, that is probably true. Once upon a time you could not get criticized if you bought IBM products. With the advent of the desktop computer, Microsoft became the safe buy. With respect to visual creative software, Adobe holds the corporate safe to buy crown. But I am not a corporation. Nor do I have the deep pockets that would allow me to continue to ride the Adobe Upgrade Train.

So this article is for those who are in search of an alternative to Adobe. For this article, I am only going to look at those alternatives that are free. However, I am not going to do this for every program that is a part of the Design Premium package – just those that I use.

Acrobat 9 Professional

When it comes to creating PDFs, I have never had to make use of the advanced features provided by Acrobat. Instead I have found the capabilities of OpenOffice/LibreOffice Writer’s Export to PDF function to be sufficient for my needs. I will note that Acrobat has come in quite handy when it comes to editing PDFs that I did not create.

If all you need is to create simple PDF versions of documents you’ve created then I suggest using Writer – which is available as a tool in either OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

Dreamweaver CS4

While I have experimented with using Dreamweaver as a web site creation tool, I’ve always had a certain disdain for WYSIWYG web site creation tools. Once upon a time I used NetObjects Fusion professionally. If Microsoft FrontPage was a nightmare, then Fusion was a dream. But I never opted to use Fusion for my personal web sites. I much preferred the hand-coded approach – and still do. As the focus of this article is on graphic software, I will comment no further on Dreamweaver.

Fireworks CS4

Fireworks I’ve used a couple times just to give its web page creation tools a try. As I am not engaged in web design as a full time professional pursuit, I was unwilling to devote time to learning how to use this software, preferring to create quick graphic mockups in Photoshop.

Flash CS4 Professional

I confess that I have never even opened the Flash application. I have never had an interest in using Flash to create digital art and as a web designer have deliberately avoided using Flash for the web sites I’ve done – a strategy that in hindsight appears to have been the right one to follow. So no recommendations here.

Illustrator CS4

I’ve never been much of an Illustrator user so am not really qualified to testify on its strengths and/or weaknesses. All I can say is that it has worked for me when I’ve needed it.

As to free alternative vector software it seems that Inkscape is the most popular option. It is worth noting that Draw, which is another of the software components of both OpenOffice and LibreOffice, is also used to produce vector-based art and diagrams. Draw is the one component of OpenOffice/LibreOffice that I have never used. (Note that my chief reason for migrating from Microsoft Office to OpenOffice was that I viewed OO Impress as a superior product to MS Powerpoint at that point in time). Inkscape is available for the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms.

Inkscape – inkscape.org

InDesign CS4

My use of InDesign has been minimal. For the most part the documents I create are simple enough in terms of layout that they can be created in OpenOffice/LibreOffice Writer. However, for people who need the capabilities of a desktop publishing (DTP) application then Scribus is worth a look. This free software is available for the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms. Oh – it is amazingly enough also available for those running OS/2 Warp (my favorite operating system of all time!).

Scribus – http://www.scribus.net/canvas/Scribus

Photoshop CS4 Extended

Photoshop – the software I love to hate due to its frequent crashes and operational glitches. I must say that it seemed to me that each new version of Photoshop crashed more often than the previous version. I was able to eliminate many of the crashes with CS4 by turning off all OpenGL features – which has the unfortunate side effect of reducing Photoshop’s functionality – but I prefer losing features to losing work!

As to free alternatives to Photoshop, there are many. The oldest and most well known of the free alternatives is GIMP. My use of GIMP has been limited but fruitful. My main problem with GIMP is that I would have to learn the GIMP way of doing things. Having used Photoshop for so long, I just know how to do what I want to do without having to think about it. Migrating to new software is always painful in that time must be spent in learning both the GUI and the tools. GIMP is available for the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms.
GIMP – www.gimp.org

It is not just photographers using Photoshop, but artists as well. Photoshop’s paint brush engine is quite powerful and allows artists to create many painterly effects – serving as a challenge to Corel Painter. One of the free, open source painting software alternatives is Krita. Krita started out as KImageShop, a component of KOffice, a free open source office suite, which was available for Linux, Mac, and Windows. Calligra has apparently stopped development on KOffice (2012) which does not impact Krita. The next version of Krita, 2.7, is expected to be released next month.

Krita is available for Linux and Windows with a beta version available for Mac OS/X. Windows users note that the "highly experimental MSI installer" installs the entire Calligra Suite which includes the applications Words, Stage and Sheets, Flow, Braindump, Karbon and Krita.
Krita – krita.org

Another free open source painting program for artists is MyPaint which is available for the Linux and Windows platforms. What I find appealing is this part of the site’s description of their software: "MyPaint supports pressure or tilt sensitive graphic tablets and comes with an easy-to-use brush collection. There is a complex interface for creating your own brushes, focusing on brush dynamics (changes with speed, pressure, randomly)" Creating my own brushes is one of the Photoshop features that I regularly use so this capability is a must for me.
MyPaint – mypaint.intilinux.com

Adobe Camera Raw

While not listed as a separate product, Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) played a big part in my decision to upgrade from CS to CS4. Adobe did a great job with ACR. In my opinion, it was the best modification made to what was a part of my core work flow as I do a lot of digital photography.

For photographers who are looking for a free alternative to Adobe Camera Raw, one product that is highly rated is RawTherapee which is available for the Linux, Mac, and Windows platforms.

RawTherapee – rawtherapee.com

In Summary

For me, the hardest part of migrating to new software is the loss of knowledge and experience I acquired using my current software. When I started with Photoshop there really were no good alternatives out there. For my money, I prefer to stick with my CS4 software vs upgrading to CS6 or migrating to alternative solutions. However I do anticipate the arrival of a day when I judge some free alternative to my Photoshop CS4 to be of superior quality.

In closing, for artists or photographers who are just starting out and do not have a history of using Adobe products to consider and are not seeking employment that requires a knowledge of Adobe products, this is a great time to investigate the many free software options that are available to you.

Happy Computing, Jim

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