2008.02.27

Atopsy of a Photoshop Demo

01.08.26 - Mark

Photoshop is a tricky program, I've been using it for years and I'm still learning stuff. Part of the problem is how massive it is, part of it is your numerous options for doing any one trick, even the level of customization it offers and then there's the lack of a "right" answer when you edit a photo. Those elements are why it's such an indispensable powerful, and praised program. It's also why it's a real bitch to teach.

The question quickly becomes where do you start? Do you do an overview of the tool pallet, talk about the info and layer boxes? Attack the menus? Memorize hot keys and command strokes? Or do we assume the learner can figure out the icons and run though the concepts behind the program and go over darkroom technique? Or should we plunge into the deep end and tackle photo manipulation? Classrooms, demonstrations, books, websites, and adventurous individuals have all tackled these questions and there's no one answer, just like everything photoshop.

I've been playing with some of these questions for over a month now, since my local photo club asked/drafted me and another photoshop user to do some demonstrations tonight, and I'm thinking about what i did right, and what I fumbled on.

Lesson one: Plan on getting there early, then show up even earlier than you planned. At the very least you're going to need to drop files to the computer you're using. If they're big files, and the system can handle it open them up in advance. That's why you get there early. The reason you show up earlier than that is the technical snafu you're going to face. Murphy loves photoshop demos. If you're using a projector, check the screen resolution and calibrate the thing - don't trust the display profiles. Photoshop needs a lot of screenspace and not all projectors adapt well. And if you're using photoshop and don't know why you calibrate the colors on your display, I'm sorry but I can't help you - go back to Microsoft Paint, you'll be much happier. Then there's everything else you may need to fix, from scratch disks to mouse tracking. It sucks when you have to do a half assed fix in the middle of the presentation, especially if people start throwing out suggestions

Lesson two: Have files prepared in advance, have a cheat sheet prepared in advance, have talking points prepared in advance. Multitasking is hard. Multitasking two tasks that both require a large part of your attention is near impossible, and despite what you may think about instruction, to do it well you need to concentrate on what you're saying/doing and how the audience is reacting to what you're saying /doing. As for photoshop, you'll be juggling hot keys, menu locations, and the image files themselves around in your head. Even if you know that you want to hit V to bring up the move tool, B for the brush, and E for the eraser and [ or ] to scale the tool sizes, the audience doesn't know that and you'll be working magic while the audience is 10 steps back. Or you'll be trying to talk while drawing a vector path and completely blank on the modifier key you need. Help yourself. Prepare the files and notes in advance then use them.

Lesson three: Practice, Practice, Practice. Yes, you know how to use photoshop, great. You probably know how to talk too. But would you give an important speech without practicing it a few times? I didn't think so. Using your prepared files and notes run though the demonstrations a few times. You may feel like you're going nuts, and you may well be, but practice the steps working with your files. Take a break and go postal if necessary but you need to practice with the files you'll be using.

Tip one: Have a few prepared ideas. That means more than one The one thing I'm really glad I did the way I did was I had three things to sets prepared. Stitching a panorama, creating a dynamic range increase photo from two exposures, and using paths and layer masks to remove the background. That's two more than I had been planning on, and ended up being one less than I needed. If I only had one of those prepped I would have flopped bad and the demo would have gotten tedious for everyone involved. By having three distinct demos ready I got to run though several concepts and was able to impart some of my knowledge, and hopefully a skill onto everyone there - from the "I don't own photoshop" guy to someone who's taken a class. It also gave me a degree of flexibility to improvise.

Tip two: Expect to improvise, and be able to improvise. Stealing one from the teaching textbooks the time when anyone, young or old, is most receptive to learning is when they're asking questions. Unfortunately that's probably the one time you're least able to teach. That's why some teacher's hate questions, and other's love them. Shortly after I arrived I was asked if I could show how to put in "ghosts" of people into a landscape. I didn't have a photo of people but because I knew how to do it a couple of ways I figured something out (a giant ghost of a cellphone floating over a greenhouse) and got to make some good points about photoshop. Thank you improvisation.

Tip three: Advanced tools for the experienced, fundamental concepts for the beginners. As pointed out above I had the whole range of photoshop users in the audience, and my demos were intermediate and up, but a lot of the concepts were on the face pretty simple. How do you make a selection? You've got the selection tools in the tool box, but let me show you the paths tool, which we can use to get better results... How do you remove the background? You could use the eraser, but that's a destructive method, and you'll loose all that extra information when you save the files. Let's use a layer mask instead, that's nondestructive. The seasoned pros get a how to on using the tool, the beginners get a better understanding of the tools and why they should ramp up their skills, and you have something to talk about when you're trying to remember what modifier key you need or why that menu item, which should be working, isn't working.

Tip four: Final product, in advance because you're not getting a good copy from the demo. Have your final product ready and separate from the demonstration files. The middle of a demonstration is not the time to be indulging in perfectionist tendencies so you will not get a good example of a finished product unless you're stupid (ignoring the audience) or lucky (self-explanatory). Your target is "good enough" because your focus should be on your audience as much as possible. If you're trying to decide if the red output level needs to be 240 or 230 your attention is not on the audience. Show them the extremes then settle in on a happy medium and move on to the next step. If you don't like that idea, have those numbers in advance so you can plop them in as needed.

Tip five: Don't worry too much, unless you're out of your league. Chances are if you're doing a demo you know what you're doing, and it's a good bit more than the audience, so don't get too hung up on your screw ups. If it's really bad they'll correct you, if it needs repeating they'll ask (just make sure to let them know questions and comments are welcome when you start) if you're moving too fast there's a better than good chance that they will let you know before their brains shut down from information overload.

Last tip: Have fun, and find your own way to teach. Seriously.What worked for me may or may not work for you. This has just been my thoughts on what I did right and what I needed to improve on when demonstrating photoshop. Just like people learn best in different ways, people teach in different ways. If you've got the skills to teach find a way you can share that knowledge and get to it. Maybe you can prepare an insanely good pdf howto, or maybe you can create a kick ass video series, or maybe its one on one tutoring.

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2007.10.22

Converge South 2007

16.01.11 - Mark

Ignoring some of the advice given in the Better Blogging Session yesterday at Converge South, I'm not going to try and write a great lead in. There's too many great things to say about the event to even attempt to try and cram it into a single paragraph.

I've been going to ConvergeSouth since it's first year, and this year has been the best by far, the only regret I have is not making the effort to go up Friday for the Journalism and Music.

Session: Social NetworksI found the morning alright as a whole, to me Converge South has always been more about the discussion, and not lectures, and the morning just felt like a series of lectures. There were enough good points raised, and enough scraps of conversations to make waking up at 6:30 worthwhile, but I think that a lot of great questions and conversations were lost to the monologues.

It's established that people are sharing their lives online, how they're sharing their kids lives online from conception on, and how we have golden age grandmas getting their life story online with the help of their families. But what's to say this data will last? Elisa Camahort from BlogHer was talking about how the online content being created now will be the source material for documentarians 100 years for now, but last I checked the standard advice is to upgrade your backups formats every 5 years or so - that's a bit of a difference that in past years probably would have started a discussion and prompted questions like who's done this? How do we archive this stuff, how do we record these stories?

Another topic I think got left by the wayside was activism. There's no doubt in my mind that blogs, social networks, and the internet in general has changed the way activists work. It's reasonable to say the internet is producing bigger, louder, and stronger movements than anything created before the web took off in the 90's, but how does the amount of influence compare? 100,000 emails is easier to ignore than 100,000 people at a protest march.

As silly as the group sing-along was last year, maybe that's what's needed to get the audience talking first thing in the morning.

The AudienceI am glad that someone mentioned the demographics of the audience, and that it did get a group conversation started for a while. One of the great things about Converge South is that it brings in everyone, men and women of different ethnic and social backgrounds. Someone asked why the "missing" group was the twenty-somethings. There were a few of us there, but I think the reason that age group is underrepresented is that blogging and new media is approached differently. The audience at Convergesouth is using higher end tools, Wordpress, Movable type, Typepad, Drupal, etc, and topics they want to cover. People under 30 or so (as a guess), are using free tools like livejournal, xanga, facebook, myspace, and use the same general technology as a journal for a closed network of friends and online acquaintances.

Session: J-School and B-SchoolThe split sessions after the first break didn't do anything for me. I started the hour in J-School and B-School mainly hoping for some insight on how newspapers and journalism should see themselves in relation to the audience. I saw some promise at the start, one of the panelists started out with the question along the lines of What should we be teaching journalism students about blogs and new media? But by halfway though it didn't seem like they weren't really looking for those answers and I walked out. I don't like walking out on sessions, but between what I saw and this description of the session I think I made the right choice.

The alternative session, Images and Video on the Web wasn't much better. I guess it was pretty focused on what Current TV is and why it's different from youtube. At least that sticks out in my mind more than the few notes I jotted down in my notebook. As I understand it they control it and try to filter for "quality" - they're looking for high production standards and facts, but one of the panelists (I think one of the ones from Current) pointed out that the most compelling video in the last 10 years has been pretty bad quality. Cameraphone video clips, stuff shot in movie mode on a digital camera, maybe some lucky guy who had a home video camera on hand at the right moment. The other thing was that the real power is when you turn it over to the audience and let them rework it.

Session: Why Most Web Video StinksLunch brought on some good discussions, nothing really worth commenting on but it provided a good break. Once that was over I went to the Why Most Web Video Stinks. I'm probably echoing the crowd at this point, but it's easily the best session I can remember attending at any Converge South. Tom Lassiter did a great job of balancing being a moderator and being the designated expert. Within the hour we covered everything needed for a good web video, from hardware to scripting and planning to getting good audio and video quality, to editing and publishing. I've posted a few videos and would say I've got intermediate video production skills, so I mainly tried to answer questions and offer tips, but I still picked up a handful of ideas to try out.

Last session I went to was Better Blogging, which had some good tips. Most of them I knew but I sat in and chimed in on some topics. I think that the timing was pretty good on this session. By the end of the day the vibe I was getting is that we're moving beyond the discussions of how do we define what a blogger is, what's this or that technology, and people's obsession with monetization. Those topics still pop up, but they're bullet points rather than chapter headings. The new conversation, and I think more interesting conversation, is "How can I do cool stuff online?", "How do we get other people to do cool stuff too?", and "How do we connect this all together?" If Converge South keeps moving in that direction, and from the wrap up session it sounds like it will, I'll keep looking forward to attending.

Converge South Film FestivalAfter the conference ended there were a number of people loitering around talking. One of the people I talked with was Brian Russell, who organized Podcastercon, and I'm a little disappointed that it sounds dead for now. It had some overlap with Converge South, but brought in a different group of people. Talked with a few other people, but it didn't take long before Jeff Martin suggested regrouping at Natty Greene's on Elm Street, and about 6 of us went over. Beer and drinks until 6 when we broke up to go to dinners. I ended up at the Table 16 dinner, which had an interesting group of people. Upscale place with good food, but next time I'll probably seek out a cheaper dinner. Our table talked for a while and by the time we got out of the restaurant the Film Festival was at least an hour in. The films and vlogs were a mixed bag (true of any film festival) but the event was worth sticking around for. Andy Coon did a great job of putting on the event and had some hilarious films mixed in with some serious stuff. While there wasn't anything I really wanted to get a personal copy of, I've got a handful of ideas kicking around in my head that now need exploring.

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