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Posts Tagged ‘Photoshop’

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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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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Atmospheric Disturbance Added to Computer Art Gallery

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Atmospheric Disturbance computer art
Atmospheric Disturbance computer art

I just finished adding another work of art to my web site. Atmospheric Disturbance is a piece I created earlier this month and which I’ve added to my Computer Art Gallery.

The piece came about as a consequence of considering the invisible turbulence that a particle, ball, or planet creates when moving through some intangible medium. Actually it all started with thinking about that old idea that there was an invisible ether that permeated all space and which would affect the speed of photons as they moved through that medium.

I added Atmospheric Disturbance to my Computer Art Gallery because of the tools and workflow used to create this piece. This piece was created using a combination of my own personal computer graphics software and Adobe Photoshop.

I must confess that one of the reasons that I make use of my own software dates back to a number of years ago when I would be walking through the art shows at science fiction conventions. At that time the range of graphics software used by digital artists was less diverse than today and I prided myself on being able to correctly identify the software the artist used in the creation of their artwork. Especially easy to identify were those pictures created using either Bryce or Poser.

To escape being typecast it seemed best to avoid using mainstream software – Adobe Photoshop being the principal exception. It also seemed like a good idea to diversify and to not become too dependent on any one software package – once again with Adobe Photoshop being the exception.

In the early days I would write using the C programming language. Once Java came along I began using that language. In fact I’m proud to say that I used Java to create the first (as far as I know) web accessible database of Martian feature names which included cross references to Viking images. Java has changed substantially since then. Some recent and useful books on graphics programming with Java are:

In addition to Java, I also make use of a great extension to Java called Processing. While the Java programming language can be pretty intimidating, that is not the case with Processing and I highly recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in doing their own graphics programming. To learn more visit the Processing web site.

I seem to be getting off topic here so to conclude, for a better view of Atmospheric Disturbance, you should visit the Atmospheric Disturbance web page which has a link to a wallpaper sized version of the image.

Look for another new art addition tomorrow

Jim.

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New Wacom Tablet: Intuos4

Saturday, March 28th, 2009
Wacom Intuos4
Wacom Intuos4 Medium

Wacom has just released its new line of pen tablets – the Intuos4.  From the product write ups it looks like it might be time for me to upgrade. I currently use an Intuos2 tablet with my desktop for all my “real” graphics work. My Intuos2 was an upgrade from an older, smaller Graphire tablet which I still use on occasion with my laptop at home and when traveling.

I must say that once I started using a pen and tablet combination for my graphics work, any time I went back to use my mouse it seemed like a giant leap backward. For the Intuos4 it looks like the biggest advances have been made in the areas of pen sensitivity and responsiveness – the very features that attracted me to the Wacom tablet in the first place. If you have never used a pen and tablet in your graphics work, take this test. First, with a pencil and paper write in cursive your signature. Then, with the paint program of your choice, write your signature using your mouse. You will see that your mouse-created signature is no where near as smooth or as natural looking as your pencil and paper signature. Writing using a tablet and pen is very much like writing using traditional media. While not as versatile as a traditional paint brush, the Wacom pen is as close as you can come digitally.

I am not going to go into a detailed list of the Intuos4 features – there is a good summary of the features at the Amazon Wacom Intuos4 Medium Pen Tablet product page.

Once you’ve bought your Intuos4, you will be able to download several pieces of software that come bundled with the product. The software consists of the following two plugins for Photoshop:

  • Nik® Color Efex Pro™ WE6
  • Wacom Brushes 3.0 for Photoshop

and your choice of two of the three following software packages:

  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 Windows or Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 for Macintosh
  • Autodesk SketchBook Express® 2010
  • Corel Painter Sketch Pad

Given that I already have the full blown versions of Photoshop and Painter, I would download SketchBook. While I wasn’t able to find any information about Autodesk SketchBook Express 2010, I did find the following about SketchBook Express 2009.

Back to the Intuos4, it is available in four sizes (dimensions given are for the active area):

The size of my Intuos2 puts it somewhere between the size of the Medium and Large Intuos4. Based on that I will probably upgrade to the Wacom Intuos4 Large Pen Tablet as it is somewhat larger than my Intuos2 and is just over $300 cheaper than the Wacom Intuos4 Extra Large Pen Tablet. Also, the footprint of the Large is a manageable 18.7 x 12.6 inches whereas the Extra Large consumes a hefty 24.5 x 18.2 inches of desktop space.

Only one question remains: when I upgrade to an Intuos4, what will happen to my old but trusty Graphire since my Intuos2 will be reassigned to laptop service.

Ad Astra, Jim

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