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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