Monthly Archives: December 2007

Photoshop & "The Paradox of Choice"

Shopping for strollers this weekend (oh yes, it’s getting to be that time), my wife and I found ourselves adrift amidst dozens and dozens of similar models.  Multiple cupholders, detachable Cheerio hoppers, quick-release "infant inserts," heated leather-wrapped winches with built-in fondue pots (<–okay, I only wished for that last one)–it all makes your head swim.  God, how do you make The Right Choice™?

Finally I said, "You know, if we walked in here and there were only one stroller, we’d probably say, ‘Looks great, we’ll take it.’"  And with that, we chilled out, made a choice, and walked out happy.

This is just one example of the bafflement people face on a daily basis.  Whether it’s 175 kinds of salad dressing or 6 million possible stereo combinations in a single store (both real examples), says psychologist Barry Schwartz, this "infinite choice" is paralyzing.  According to the TED Web site that hosts his entertaining and enjoyable 20-minute talk on the subject,

[It’s] exhausting to the human psyche. It leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them, and blame our failures entirely on ourselves.

His example about buying jeans ("I want the kind that used to be the only kind!") is particularly dead-on: "All this choice enabled me to do better… but I felt worse."  Why?  Because choice raises expectations, and "With perfection the expectation, the best you can hope for is that stuff is as good as you as you expected."

I think about this issue with Photoshop all the time.  For years I’ve argued that the problem isn’t that people can’t accomplish something; it’s that they think there must be an even better way to do it, and that they’re therefore failing to achieve perfection.  Thus they can get better results while feeling worse.

So, what can we do about it?

A simple response is just to hide things, offering "simple" and "advanced" modes, or the like.  Photoshop does this in a number of places, via menu customization (try the "Basic" workspace) and More/Fewer Options buttons in dialogs like Shadow/Highlight.  The thing is, this doesn’t work all that well.  People just say "Show me everything."  Why?  Because no one wants to be the guy who drops three grand on an SLR, then leaves it in moron mode.  No one wants a Ducati with training wheels.

A better solution, I think, is to make Photoshop more task-oriented.  We need to help people bring forward what’s needed, when it’s needed, and put it away when it isn’t.  We need to emphasize best practices–showing the constellations among the stars.  The Photoshop team can’t do this on its own: we need to help users blaze their own trails, then share the solutions with others.  We group these ideas under the heading "Lighting the Way."  Instead of offering unlimited choice, or putting irritating constraints on it, we’ll work to provide just the right choices most of the time.

Finding the balance is no easy challenge, but that’s what makes it fun.

Related interestingness:

  • In "Challenging the Apple Archetype," Cameron Moll argues for letting people customize their user experiences.  Rather than assuming that "Father knows best," we should help people tune things to taste–within reason.  He envisions "The LEGO archetype."
  • In the NYT, Janet Rae-Dupree talks about how "Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike"–and the problems that can result.  "I have a DVD remote control with 52 buttons on it," says author Chip Heath, "and every one of them is there because some engineer along the line knew how to use that button and believed I would want to use it, too."
  • To dig a bit deeper into Schwartz’s ideas, see also his article "The Tyranny of Choice."

PS–I sometimes have to chuckle when people talk about the complexity of Photoshop, or any professional software for that matter.  Sometime I should post screenshots of what features look like while in development.  A dialog like Shadow/Highlight might have literally 50 or 100 control points that can be used to fine-tune the settings.  ("I’ll give you something to cry about!" ;-)) Much of the work in developing the app is to boil that complexity down to something workable–maybe four or five controls that offer the most bang for the buck.  The trick is to make things "as simple as possible, but no simpler."  ("A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.")

Photoshop news: Video training, printing tips, and more

  • Congrats to Scott Kelby & his whole crew on the launch of their new video training subscription service.  It looks like a terrific resource for the design & photography community.  Annual subscriptions cost $199 ($179 for NAPP members), or you can pay $19.95 a month ($17.99/mo. for NAPP members).  Previously, Scott writes, "Our online classes used to be around $70.00 each."  Check out Scott’s blog post for all the details.
  • Photographer and Photoshop/Lightroom expert Ian Lyons has posted a wealth of info on the subject of printing from Lightroom on OS X Leopard.
  • Design a video game cover, win fame and prizes.  That’s the promise of PhotoshopCAFE’s 8th annual design challenge.  Organizer Colin Smith writes, "This is possibly the largest and longest running design contest on the web.
    By the time we are done the prize pool will total somewhere above $12,000 in prizes. Best of all, it’s all for fun. There is no entry fees and no one makes a penny (except the winners).  It’s a true community event."  You can also check out last year’s winners & finalists.

Speaking of Photoshop contests, I groaned while watching Die Hard 4 last night and said to my wife, "Man, they must have been feeding the screenwriters ‘Preposteroni, the Pasta for Hacks.’"  I was all proud of my little funny, but upon Googling the term I found that, yep, someone already thought of it–and amidst a Photoshop contest, and on my birthday, no less. ;-P

What's with Adobe & the shady server name?

Thanks for all the feedback on this morning’s post about Adobe, Omniture, and (non) spyware in CS3.

In truth, I think I did miss a key point: in this instance the objections seem to center not so much on whether Adobe apps are contacting a server, but rather that the server is named “,” rather than something obvious and communicative like “”  People are rightly asking why that is, and unfortunately I don’t know the answer.  I’m way out of my depth on the details of IP addresses, ports, etc., so I hesitate to comment further.

Instead I’ll work on getting some details from people with more expertise.  Given where we are in the holiday period, it may take a little time.  I’ll post more info as I get it.  Thanks for your patience.

This is a great example of why I said that “Adobe could and should do a better job taking security concerns into account.”  Even if an application’s behavior is ultimately innocuous, it’s important to be transparent and forthcoming about what’s going on.  I don’t want software sneaking around behind my back any more than the next guy does, and Adobe (like all companies) needs to make sure it’s not abusing users’ trust.

[Update: I posted updates here and here. The complete set of posts is here.]

Adobe ate me baby!!

Ding ding ding!  We have a winner.

Every year around this time, the online community latches onto some story (CS3 icons last year; “Microsoft to buy Macromedia” before that; etc.) and goes nuts with speculation.  The specualtion is all the more thrilling given that the affected companies are only lightly staffed right now, making it hard to provide a meaningful response.

This year it’s “Lies, Lies, and Adobe Spies“–a story noting that some Adobe apps contact a Web address associated with Web analytics company Omniture.  The story is getting echoed & amplified on Valleywag (“You’re not the only one watching what you do in Adobe Creative Suite 3… Adobe is watching you, too”), CenterNetworks (“I am not suggesting that Adobe is doing anything wrong…” but then “Shame on Adobe, shame“), Daring Fireball (“Assuming this is true, it’s a disgrace, whatever the actual reason for the connections” [emphasis added]), and I’m sure elsewhere.

Whoa, Nellie.

As I say, now is the perfect time for people to throw around whatever wild assertions they’d like, given that so many people are out of the office and can’t respond.  Even so, I’ve been able to find out a few things.  According to Doug Miller from the team, “Omniture is Adobe’s web analytic vendor for There are only 3 places we track things via Omniture anywhere in or around our products.”:

  • The welcome screens (these things) in some Adobe apps include a Flash SWF file that loads current news, special offers, etc.  These requests hit servers and are logged, like regular browser-based traffic, by Omniture.
  • Adobe Bridge embeds both the Opera browser and the Flash Player, both of which can be used to load Adobe-hosted content.  These requests are also logged.
  • Adobe apps can call various online resources (online help, user forums, etc.), and those requests are logged. [Update: To clarify, those contacts are made only if the user requests them–e.g. by choosing Help->Adobe Exchange.]

This, as far as I’ve been able to discover, is the extent of the nefarious “spying.”  If I learn anything else when more people get back on email, I’ll update this post.

Now, let’s get down to brass tacks:

  • There are plenty of reasons, from phishing to Facebook to the NSA, to be concerned about & to debate security & privacy.  But when people cry wolf, making no apparent effort to find out the truth (yeah, let’s assume it’s a disgrace–and please don’t ask anyone at Adobe), they actually make it harder to pay attention to the significant issues at hand.
  • I’m a huge advocate of improving the desktop experience through online connectivity.  There are lots of details to get right here as we work to find the right balance between privacy & connectedness.  Let’s absolutely have those conversations–but let’s not drown them out with a bunch of shrill, irresponsible FUD. (That would be a disgrace.)
  • Adobe could and should do a better job taking security concerns into account.  Including Apple’s Bonjour technology in CS3 apps was meant to make it easier for users to connect to their servers, but the company’s (unintentional) lack of communication caused people to suspect the worst (over the holiday break, naturally).  It’s because we know what these technologies are doing that we may not remember to see them as others might, and to explain what’s going on (and what’s not).  As I say, as the line further blurs between the desktop & online experiences, Adobe & all companies will need to do a better job communicating & giving users choices.

And so, at last, I’m pleading for a little common sense, and for people to give Adobe the benefit of the doubt–or at least to check the facts before screaming “Your Privacy Is An Illusion!”

[Update: Please see this update as well.]


PS–Tracking user habits can be a good thing that benefits customers by helping software creators notice trends & improve their tools.  When Adobe has pursued this kind of thing, it’s always been on a strictly opt-in basis.
PPS–I’m just miffed that if people are going to besmirch a whole company, they don’t also bother to extend the common courtesy of a crude Photoshop job. 😉

Print your own beating heart & more

Zeppelin inspires art

Given all the iconic images that Led Zeppelin has inspired over the years, a chance to add to that legacy sounds like a dream commission:

  • A few weeks back I saw Led Zeppelin’s complete works being advertised on iTunes, and the graphic up top struck me as in the vein of Obey Giant auteur Shepard Fairey.  Sure enough–he was asked to do the work.
  • UK-based illustrator/animator Steve Scott got the nod to create an animation that would accompany the band’s recent reunion concert.  "So after four weeks of hard work there I was watching Led Zeppelin play Kashmir live in front of the world’s largest monitor–a 28 x 12 meter giant–and 20,000 screaming fans."  Here’s the result (B.Y.O. contact high); screenshots are on the main page of his site.  See also The Society of Victorian Mutants & other solid illustrations on his site. [Via]

Sharks eating cameras, Infrared shooting, & more

Holiday break = catching up on photography online:

  • The Nikon D80: Great camera/delicious shark meal (i.e. lousy shark-be-good stick). [Via]
  • The NYT features a great perspective on a slide, showing ballplayer Luis Aparicio coming into third in 1962.
  • Photojojo has a solid round up of resources on shooting holiday lights (with a camera, thankfully).
  • Gear:
    • PopPhoto talks up The New Infrared Revolution, made possible by digital cameras.  Too bad that for most cameras the process of removing the IR filter is somewhat expensive & renders the cams unable to shoot regular photos.  The accompanying gallery of IR shots includes some good (and some sorta marginal) stuff.
    • The Zigview S2 Digital Viewfinder “clips onto the optical viewfinder of your DSLR, adding a swiveling live 2.5-inch LCD display that can not only be extended on a cable as a remote, but can also automatically trigger the camera when it detects motion.” [Via]
    • "Your popup flash doesn’t have to suck," reports Adobe’s Terry White in reviewing the $30 Lightscoop.  My wife tried to score one of these for me for Christmas, but thanks to publicity from David Pogue & others, they’ve been sold out.
  • Artistry:
    • Patrick Winfield achieves a kind of fragmented impressionism in his Polaroid composites (not entirely safe for work). [Via]
    • The Nocturna installation uses stereoscopic imagery to unusual effect (ditto on the warning).
    • For whatever reason, gigantic “people pictures” were all the rage in the early 20th century.  [Via]
    • Speaking of large images, Nils Nova’s Opposition of Memory uses very large inkjet prints to create an interesting optical illusion. [Via]
  • Matt Kloskowski shares an omnibus list of 28 Lightroom Resources. [Via]  On a related note, Carlo from South Africa writes in to note that he’s uploaded a set of B&W presets.
  • I get a kick out of Sony’s new ad campaign, illustrating the importance of timing by showing famous photos ruined by some intruding object.  Unfortunately I can link to just this one example, though others appear in banners, etc.

What's Russian for "Photoshopping"?

Ah, Russia–home to 50-rouble copies of your favorite Adobe apps.  Photoshop team member Heather Dolan recently returned from a service trip there & reports that pirated software remains ridiculously easy to obtain.  When a street merchant learned that she was from Adobe, his response was to double his asking price for the Creative Suite!  (You’ve kind of got to admire the chutzpah…)

Even so, Adobe’s business grew by 260% in Russia this past year.  And what’s more fun, Photoshop was honored at the KinoBlender film awards.  Moscow-based Adobe marketer Olga Manannikova writes, "This award was conferred on the brand ‘Adobe Photoshop’ for most often and successful unintended mentioning in Russian movies in 2007."  The team attended the event & got a groovy little trophy & everything. [Via Winston Hendrickson]

We have quite a few Russian folks on the Photoshop team (Irina, Domnita, Nikolai, Iouri, Alex, plus others who’ve moved on).  I asked localization czar
Iouri Tchernoousko how to render the product name in cool-looking Cyrillic characters.  Ta-da:


Iouri noted, "In Russian, you say it pretty much just like you would in English, but in a much lower tone of voice. :)"

As long as we’re on the subject,

  • I dug this illustration in the NYT, from artist Valentin Kalininskiy.  Achieved with the help of ФОТОШОП, maybe?
  • Check out this crazy monitor-testing routine.  (Do Russian Circuit Cities keep crossbows lying around?  And whose consumer electronics need to survive ball-peen hammer attack?)  I’m sure I could ask a friend to translate, but the language barrier adds to the inexplicable fun. 🙂 [Via Ellis Vener]

Cool new Photoshop plug-ins

Lots of good plug-ins have emerged in the last few months:

  • Alien Skin has unveiled Image Doctor 2.0, a set of tools that tackle a variety of retouching tasks.  The Smart Fill feature in particular promises some nifty results (roll over the image).  They’re offering a 10-20% discount via  More info is in their press release.
  • Nik Software has announced the new Color Efex Pro 3.0.  Offering “52 filters and over 250 effects,” the software’s U Point control system “lets you identify and isolate objects within a photograph by placing a Control Point on the object or area to be affected.”  I got to see it in action at PhotoPlus this fall, and it does look cool indeed. [Update: Get a discount & learn more via photographer/instructor Moose Peterson. [Via]]
  • The guys behind Filter Forge, the visual editor for creating your own Photoshop filters, have announced Filter Forge Freepack 1, “a set of seven photorealistic metal textures and effects.”  They plan to release seven Freepacks over the course of the coming year; see details.
  • Mr. Retro is now offering Vol. I-IV of their Machine Wash image filters in a single bundle for $49.95. [Via]  These filters came in for some love in designer Cameron Moll’s well-known series on “That Wicked Worn Look.”
  • onOne Software (publishers of numerous former Extensis products) have announced that their plug-ins are now Leopard-compatible.  The goods include Genuine Fractals, Mask Pro, PhotoFrame, PhotoFrame, Intellihance Pro, and PhotoTools.
  • Pixels Vistas’ PhotoLift plug-in adjusts local contrast in images.  According to developer Matthew Hollingworth, it’s “like ‘clarity’ in Adobe
    Camera Raw, but on steroids.”  The plug-in is Windows-only for now, with a Mac version on the way.

All I want for Christmas is my dang RAM back

I’ve recently become fascinated–fixated, maybe–by watching my Mac’s resource usage numbers.  I’ve got a pretty cherried-out MacBook Pro (top of the line a year ago), and yet more often than not the system lags as I hear my hard disk thrashing.

I’ve traced the problem, I think, to Microsoft Entourage and Rosetta.  I can boot up my system & see a nice big swath of unused memory (all green) ready to rock.  Almost immediately, however, the blue "inactive" memory slice starts ticking upwards, at a rate of several megabytes per second.  I rebooted my machine this week, then took a shower; when I was done, here’s what I saw (note the blue). I’m running just a Web browser on a system with 3GB of RAM, and yet I’m down to 16MB free? Super!

The problem seems to be that the invisible Entourage "Database Daemon" app bleeds memory like a stuck pig.  Killing the process arrests the inexorable growth of the blue inactive memory.  I don’t know whether the fault lies with Entourage or with the Apple Rosetta emulation technology on which it runs.  Doesn’t matter much to me, though: my expensive computer bogs terribly as a result.

Facing this situation, some of my colleagues have given up and moved to Apple Mail.  I’m sure Mail is great, but it doesn’t play well with our Outlook-centric calendar system, and I’ve got 8 years worth of mail organized in Entourage. Switching horses isn’t a small matter.

Now I’m drumming my fingers more than ever, waiting for Microsoft to release–at long last–their Intel-native upgrade to Office for the Mac.  I couldn’t care less what other features it offers, as long as it stops bringin’ me down (ELO-style).  It’s kind of sad to hit that point: I was once a great fan of Entourage (so much better than Outlook), and of its Mac Outlook Express forebear.  It was thoughtfully designed, replete with useful shortcuts, and able to handle whatever I threw at it.  Alas, the app hasn’t received much love in many years.

So come on, Office team: tell me to keep hope alive!  The new year–and new software–can’t come soon enough.

I got yer brains, *right here*…

The ol’ noggin provides endless inspiration for artists:

In other skullduggery:

  • Brawndo "will make you wonder why you haven’t ever crushed a human skull with your bare hands!!"  Delicious!!  (I need to order a case of this stuff for the Photoshop team.)
  • The Skull-a-Day blog provides just that. [Via]
  • For next Halloween (or, just to be weird, maybe Valentine’s, or Arbor Day), you might hang onto these pumpkin skull templates. [Via]  I still think they’d have a time beating my wife’s Dia De Los Muertos-inspired doppel-pumpkin.
  • If this stuff is up your alley, see previous for lots more.

Borrow from Flickr -> Live to regret it

Through Google Image Search & the like, it’s almost ridiculously easy to find pictures of nearly anything you can imagine–and just as easy to drag them into editing tools for your own use.  Do it to a motivated photographer, however, and the practice can end in tears.

Last week, an image taken by photographer Lane Hartwell was used without permission in a parody video posted on YouTube.  She wasn’t pleased, contacted the band, and filed a takedown notice with YouTube.  CNET’s Stephen Shankland recaps the events to date, then interviews Hartwell.  She notes that she’s had to deal with similar incidents frequently (five in just the last two weeks).

Over in the NYT, David Pogue talks about “the generational divide in copyright morality.”He lists a number of the scenarios he mentions to gauge audience reactions to what kind of media copying is acceptable.  Short story: older people see shades of gray, whereas younger people think that anything goes.

I wonder what these folks would say about appropriating a piece of photography, artwork, or software.  If a college kid did a painting that got used in a GM ad campaign, I’m betting he or she would feel entitled to some compensation.  Now, if that painting got used in an amateur video on YouTube, would that be okay?  What if the video promoted a hate group?  Do these guys think that the creators of intellectual property deserve to have any say over how their work is used & whether they’re compensated?  Without any of their skin in the game, the general answer seems to be no.

[See also: Lawrence Lessig’s talk on “How creativity is being strangled by the law.”  Also, Derek Powazek has posted some sensible thoughts about collaborative media.  Rule 1: Ask First.]

Old-school Star Wars, Lego graffiti, & more

Mo’ betta illustration:

  • Star Wars goes old old school Euro in Baroque Wars. (Dig that crazy Death Star.)  [Via]  Coincidentally I just stumbled across this Wikipedia-hosted rendering of similar-looking Landsknechte mercenaries.
  • If, like me, you’re a no-good, non-gift-buying slacker, you can try to compensate by banging out festive imagery for loved ones.  These Photoshop brushes could help. [Via]   (I’m doing a mid-day mall sprint after publishing this; hopefully my boss isn’t keeping up on the blog. ;-P)
  • Street art :
    • A graffiti artist has found Jesus in the urban landscape. [Via]
    • Legos visit the Summer of Sam era with some stop-motion train-tagging.  (In light of recent world history, I wouldn’t be tossing around the phrase “train bombing” myself.)
  • Tyskie Beer commissioned some crafty flag renderings using its packaging as raw materials.
  • Kavel Rafferty offers “A reference for vinyl geeks and graphic artists” in Record Envelope–a whole blog devoted to record sleeve art.  I like the big-mouthed Knäppupp in particular. [Via]
  • The opening of Mark Ovenden’s Transit Maps of the World features a groovy subway map of the world.  (I take a weird pleasure in San José appearing (with accent!) on the map, but SF getting shut out.) [Via]
  • Hire An Illustrator will help you… um… bury people in Grant’s Tomb?  (Maybe it’ll just help you hire an illustrator.)
  • Edward Hann’s Internally Displaced People ’06 attempts “to demonstrate the scale of humanitarian crisis in Western Darfur and Eastern Chad,” and a quarter of the profits from its sale go to Amnesty International. [Via]  It’s too bad that the Web presentation makes it hard to see the work in detail, as I can’t really assess how it’s tackling the problem.

Trajan: The hack designer's friend

Trajan Trajan Trajan…”–it’s the Marsha Brady of fonts, at least when it comes to movie titles & posters.  Kirby Ferguson rips hack designers a new one in this very funny video.  Mark Hamburg quips, “If we want ‘cinematic’ UIs, then we obviously need to revise our typography…”

In other typography news:

Recent motion graphics goodness

  • The first four minutes of “The Kingdom” fly through “the history of U.S. involvement in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”  You could call this treatment fast food history, but the concluding image is the most indelible rendering of a bar chart I’ve seen.  [Via]
  • For their latest ad Guinness commissioned a huge set of dominoes in an Argentinian mountain village, culminating in cars hitting one another.  Here’s the vid.
  • Post-It’s drop f-bombs in this trailer for Douglas Coupland’s The Gum Thief.  (Books have trailers now?)
  • Things blow up real good in this spot for the Nissan Note.  In a world full of CGI, what look to be good old-fashioned FX can feel pretty refreshing.
  • Adobe’s Dennis Radeke runs The Genesis Project, a blog devoted to sharing examples, info, and tips to get you started in After Effects and other Adobe tools.
  • Microsoft’s Zune Arts project features all kinds of interesting, often incomprehensible animation and design.  Peep “Masks” for a good example. [Via]
  • Here’s a simple but interesting time lapse showing the growth of the NYC subway system. [Via]  If that’s up your alley, see also Transit Maps of the World.
  • The Mac Video Pro hosts an interview with After Effects PM Michael Coleman (blog) discussing his thoughts for the future.  By the way, I’m told that the AE update for Leopard is due extremely soon–maybe by the time you read this.

Printing tips for Photoshop, Lightroom

Adobe’s famous Russell Brown has created three new video tutorials meant to help get the best results when printing from Photoshop CS3 (with the 10.0.1 update) to various popular printers:

Russell points out that many of steps shown in the HP & Canon tutorial steps can apply to other printers from those manufacturers.  Links to the latest drivers from each manufacturer are on Russell’s site (scroll down to the Photoshop CS3 Tutorials section).

Meanwhile Lightroom PM Tom Hogarty has posted info about printing on Mac OS X Leopard with Lightroom 1.3.1.  Tom talks about geeky bits like the Mac’s transition from "Tioga" printer drivers (introduced in 10.0, now unsupported) to CUPS-based drivers (now required).  The upshot, says Tom, is that for proper results you should "seek out a fully Leopard compatible printer driver from the printer manufacturer."

Antarctica in HD, bug photos, & more

[Filed under Scientific & Technical Imaging]

Urban decay, pigs on mopeds, & other good photos

Friday Illustrations: Japanese cuteness, Grand Theft Auto, and more

LL Cool P: Ladies Love Cool P'shop

There’s an interesting article on TechCrunch, saying that according to software usage tracking company Wakoopa, "women spend about twice the time in Photoshop than men." [Via]

I’m not sure how they arrived at this stat, and I don’t see evidence of a gender-based usage difference in Adobe’s internal research numbers.  Here’s a funny one, though: women responding to those surveys seem more likely than men to have pirated Photoshop.  In fact, whereas women comprise 46% of the legal responders, they comprise 64%–nearly two thirds–of the suspected pirates! 

This finding prompted a chorus of "Aaarrghs!" from the women of Adobe Research, not to mention some ill-advised plays on the word "booty." ;-)  [Via Claiborne Brown, Julie Baher, & Bryan Hughes]

Would photography please "die" already??

Ah, the indestructable "Is Photography Dead" meme…

Oh, who gives a crap?  Sorry, let me explain.  I thought about noting this not-so-little trend some time ago, but I’ve never been able to invest much passion in it.  People have been manipulating photography in every which way–through their choice of what to capture & what to omit; through changes to the scene/subject (adding lights, building sets, moving bodies on a battlefield); and through tweaks to the captured results–since the dawn of the technology.  So what?  I think Bridge engineering manager Arno Gourdol hit the nail on the head:

Being aware of composition, balance, symmetry and "owning the frame" is the creative act. The creative act matters, and the moment at which it occurs seems secondary–whether it is when pressing the shutter release on your camera, when making a print in the darkroom or when sitting in front of a computer.  This echoes the early days when photography was viewed as an unfair and unworthy competitor to painting…

I dunno; much of this "is photography dead" discussion strikes me as sterile and pointless–and maybe a strawman that’s not worth beating up.  Yet I wonder whether it’s driven by veteran photogs feeling threatened–comercially and aesthetically–by so many affordable tools that make competent image-making so much more attainable. 

Sure, yeah, we can debate this camera or lens vs. that one all day long–but all this stuff absolutely rocks compared to what pros were using just a few years back (to say nothing of what Arbus, Capa, Cartier-Bresson, and co. had).  You can say that digital makes us lazy, and there’s some truth there; and yet it also fosters free experimentation & instant review of the results.  That quicker learning cycle, plus autofocus, good software, etc. helps get people "good enough" (technically, anyway) without years of slow and costly apprenticeship.  And when anyone can take a technically decent shot, then "good" becomes "trite," and people seek to define themselves by bucking the trend–making portfolios blurry or murky.

Therefore–and maybe I’ll live to regret writing this–we end up with a bunch of freaked-out oldsters (or just curmudgeons at heart) twisting up a Dick Cheney grimace and saying, "Bah, I don’t like this digital tomfoolery–not one bit!  In my day we had to huff developer until we saw Ernest Borgnine floating in the liquid–and we liked it fine!!  You kids are ruining everything."

Um, yeah.  Life, art, and expression move on.  If "photography" is something so brittle & exclusionary that it can’t bear evolution, then goodbye and good riddance.  (Don’t let the film door hit your ass on the way out…) It isn’t, of course, so maybe we can just bury the is-photography-dead schtick.  But I’m not holding my breath.

Preview Illustrator, ID docs on Leopard

Mac OS X Leopard introduced a rather handy feature called Quick Look, offering the ability to preview a number of file formats right in the Finder, without opening additional apps.  (Select a file, then tap the spacebar–slick.)  Unfortunately Illustrator (.AI) and InDesign (.INDD) files aren’t supported right out of the box.  That’s where the $15 SneakPeekPro comes in, adding EPS, AI, and INDD file support to Quick Look.  I’ve taken it for a quick spin, and it seems to work just as advertised.  [Via]

As someone helping steer Adobe Bridge, I was initially concerned that Quick Look might erode Bridge’s reason for being.  After all, if you’ve got quick previews in an app you’ve already launched (the Finder), why launch another?

Now that I’ve lived with Leopard for a month, however, I feel confident that each tool has its place & its unique value.  Bridge offers rich metadata display and editing; file rating & filtering; richer PSD previews (no composite required); Camera Raw integration; hand-off to Photoshop, InDesign, and other Suite apps (for automated vectorization, contact sheets, Web galleries, etc.); integrated slide show; floating Compact Mode; and quite a bit more not present in the Finder/Quick Look.  That’s not a knock on the latter, of course; as I say, different strokes for different folks.

We now need to keep working on Bridge’s launch time (making it feel as much like a no-brainer to launch as a Quick Look window) while revising the interface to help people discover the good stuff that’s already present.  And, wouldn’t you know it, that’s what we’re doing. 🙂

[Update: John Gruber points out this free QL plug-in for displaying the contents of ZIP files. Works great for me.]

Lightroom Podcast #47: Catherine Hall

"So much of it is having faith in your work and your vision," says photographer Catherine Hall.  "If you believe in yourself, and you believe in what you’re doing, and you illustrate your vision, then the money will come, and everything will fall into place."  Adobe evangelist George Jardine writes,

This podcast was recorded on Wednesday November 21st, 2007 at Catherine’s family home in Lafayette, Calfornia. Catherine sits down with George to have a conversation about how her personal work inspires her wedding photography, about her personal approach to working with people, and how having the opportunity to work with people from many different socio-economic backgrounds makes it all worthwhile.

The 32:18 podcast, labeled "20071121 Podcast – Catherine Hall," is in George’s iDisk.  It can also be found on iTunes by searching under Podcasts for "Lightroom," or via the Lightroom podcasts RSS feed.

Sculpting liquid metal & more

Stir-fried Wikipedia, with pimento

Knowing how I love to wikichet, my boss Kevin shared a little anecdote from China back in July:

I kid you not, “wikipedia” actually was the English translation for one of the dishes at a Chinese restaurant I just ate at in Beijing. Apparently, this restaurant believes that a wikipedia is some kind of mushroom, because there were two pages of the menu devoted to mushroom-focused dishes, and wikipedia seemed to be sprinkled liberally throughout.

He pointed out the restaurant’s site, but as it’s in Chinese it proved unhelpful, and I never got around to posting the story.  Now via Boing Boing I find that another dude made the same discovery–and this time he brought a camera.  Turns out that “wikipedia” goes great with everything from BBQ eel to bean curd.

In other funky Asian/English language news:

  • My photographer friend Clare is dating a guy from Okinawa, and he points out that the now-ubiquitous term “bokeh” (lens blur) refers not just generally to fuzziness in Japanese, but also Alzheimer’s disease in particular. The usage is apparently insulting.
  • From China comes the amusingly (and unintentionally) bizarre Benign Girl. [Via]

Gandhi as potato, Spam as art, and more

  • George Carlin points out that when considering life via license plate slogans, "Somewhere between ‘Live Free Or Die’ and ‘Famous Potatoes,’ the truth lies… I’m guessing it’s closer to ‘Famous Potatoes.’"  The Pfanni company might agree, and they cheerfully offer "Only good potatoes."
  • Guilherme Marconi‘s illustrations explode with color and detail. [Via]
  • Christopher Lee makes super fun, retro-fab creations.  Roll over the little hearts under the pieces in his illustration setup to see details & concept sketches.
  • Linzie Hunter beautifully subverts junk mail with her Spam one-liners illustrations.  [Via]
  • "My line paintings are painted using one continuous line with a beginning, and an ending," says Geoff Slater of his line paintings.  "Although it changes colour, the line never touches, or crosses itself. [Via]
  • MIT’s John Maeda talks about his process for creating an illustration for the NYT.
  • Creator & creation: There’s something in the water reminds me of Animator vs. Animation.
  • Veer offers a rad collection of vintage sci-fi imagery.  (I think I once had this guy as a gym teacher.)

Flash/Amazon-powered typography & more

  • Yugo Nakamura & Keita Kitamura’s Amazetype uses Amazon Web services to spell out artists’ names using pieces of their work.  Here’s an example done for "the Beatles".  [Via Miguel Marcos]
  • Marian Bantjes has drawn up a lovely influence map, cataloging the contributors to her style.
  • Pentagram’s offering a neat-looking wall calendar.  If calendars are up your alley, see also Massimo Vignelli’s inexplicably beloved (?) Stendig calendar. (Beware the pompous accompanying copy.)  [Via]
  • I love the simplicity of The Italic Poster. [Via]
  • I feel like pouring one out in mourning for Zapfino, the latest once-lovely typeface to get pummeled by every hack within range of a computer.  (Did it get bundled into CorelDRAW or something? >;-))  In its place, I quietly suggest Alejandro Paul’s Affair typeface (the same one seen in that Swash belt buckle).
  • BMW uses a thousand words to describe everything but the driving experience.
  • Paula Scher’s beautifully type-heavy paintings are on display in NYC. [Via]
  • Flickr hosts a set of images showing spelling via body parts (nothing NSFW, mind you).   [Via Miguel Marcos]
  • I don’t speak Japanese, but that doesn’t dilute the impact of this text-centric poster on global warming. [Via]

Lightroom updated to v1.3.1

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom has been updated to version 1.3.1, and the update is available for download for Mac and Windows.  Fixes include the following:

  • The Lightroom 1.3 Print Module could previously cause the application to crash on either OS X 10.5 or 10.5.1 during template usage.
  • On Mac OS X 10.5 or 10.5.1, the import process from a card reader or other device into Lightroom could fail to import all or a portion of the selected images.
  • A decrease in Develop slider responsiveness introduced in Lightroom 1.3 has been corrected.
  • The Lightroom 1.3 Develop module could cause the application to crash if adjustments were made in quick succession.
  • Compressed raw files from the Nikon D100 were read incorrectly in Lightroom 1.3.
  • A possible artifact in raw file support for the Olympus E-3 has been corrected.
  • The Lightroom FTP Plug-in provided as sample code with the Export SDK did not function properly if the password was not saved with the selected FTP preset.
  • Editing or creating a new FTP preset immediately prior to using the FTP plug-in provided as sample code with the Export SDK would cause the FTP process to fail.
  • Using the Export as Previous option did not work with the FTP plug-in provided as sample code with the Export SDK.

[Via Tom Hogarty]

Camera Raw updated to 4.3.1; LR to follow

Photoshop’s Camera Raw plug-in has been updated to version 4.3.1 (download for Mac, Win) to address two problems discovered following the release of v4.3 a couple of weeks ago:

  • Compressed raw files from the Nikon D100 were read incorrectly in Camera Raw 4.3
  • A possible artifact in Camera Raw 4.3 raw file support for the Olympus E-3 has been corrected

The same fixes plus a few others are slated for inclusion in Lightroom 1.3.1, due shortly.  Tom Hogarty has posted additional details on the Lightroom Journal.

SlideShowPro Flash gallery comes to Lightroom

I’m glad to report that Dominey Design’s excellent SlideShowPro Flash gallery is now available for Lightroom.  As the site notes, you can “change any of SlideShowPro’s 60+ parameters and preview your changes inside a real, working preview of SlideShowPro before you publish.”  The gallery offers a slick full-screen viewing option (click the icon in the lower right corner of the example here).  From within the Lightroom Web module you can upload directly to the Web server of your choice.  You can also upload to Dominey’s SlideShowPro Director hosting service, which offers online tools for browsing and managing your uploaded library.  The gallery costs $25, and hosting is available at various rates (free for 14 days).

In covering this announcement, Rick LePage from Macworld also notes that Felix Turner’s great Airtight Galleries for Lightroom (previously downloadable on their own) are now included with Lightroom 1.3.  So, if you’ve run the update and haven’t looked at your Web module for a while, take a peek; you might be pleasantly surprised.

[Update: At Inside Lightroom Michale Clark talks about SlideShowPro in LR, calling it "one heck of a deal for the money."]

[Previously: You can also create SlideShowPro galleries and Airtight galleries directly from Photoshop.  See the whole Web Gallery category for more.]

Wacom's Cintiq monitor/tablet gets smaller, more affordable

I’ve long admired Wacom’s Cintiq line of pressure-sensitive flat-panel monitors, and I’ve watched professional animators and retouchers really rock out on them.  At 20"/$1999 and up, however, they’ve remained mostly in the league of dedicated pros.  Whenever I’d see Wacom folks, I’d encourage them to find a way to make the technology more broadly accessible–only to get a knowing, "Patience, grasshopper," smile and wave.

That’s why I’m really happy to see the Cintiq 12WX debut.  It’s built around a 12.1" LCD, and its $999 price should help make on-screen drawing a reality for many more artists.  The tablet weighs 4.4lbs–roughly 2/3rds the weight of my MacBook Pro–and the 1,280 x 800 pixel resolution should make it useful as a secondary monitor. has more info, specs, and photos.  On the whole it’s great to see this new option for digital artists.

Solid state drive goodness (via Arlo Guthrie)

Every now and then I try to share info related to hardware developments that may eventually impact Photoshop (e.g. What’s up with Photoshop & 64-bit computing?).  Lately I’ve been hearing more questions about solid state drives.  As Photoshop architect Russell Williams notes,

The access time to get a
random piece of data would be significantly less [than for traditional hard drives]. A disk has to move
the read/write head to the correct track and then wait for the right spot
on the disk to spin around (not unlike Arlo waiting for the right spot in
the chords to come around again so he could sing the chorus of Alice’s

I’ve spotted some related news that’s worth passing along:

Now, I should note that we can’t yet characterize the performance impact of using these exotic tools (the team is accepting hardware donations ;-)), but we hope to be able to share more info after we’ve done some testing.

Adobe: The second quarter-century begins

On December 2, 1982, John Warnock and Chuck Geschke started Adobe Systems.  Today the once-tiny maker of printer software begins the next quarter-century of its existence.

In 1993, my freshman year in college, I attended a meeting of the Notre Dame MadMacs user group.  I can’t tell you a single other thing about that evening, but I remember that they played a video (on a computer! my God!!) from a company I’d never heard of.  On screen an animation depicted a hand opening up to reveal (as I remember) an eye on its palm.  “Imagine what you can create,” read an arcing line of text above the hand.  And below, “Create what you can imagine.  Adobe.” 

And then I realized…like I was shot…Like I was shot with a diamond…a diamond bullet right through my forehead…  Okay, perhaps that’s a bit much–but I thought, “I don’t know who these guys are, but I’ve got to find out.”  Photoshop was shortly to make one hell of an impression on me, and all these years later, I can’t believe–still cannot believe–that I work here.  (Some part of me still suspects that my car drifted off the road after they cancelled LiveMotion, and that all of this is playing out in ultra slow-mo, Owl Creek Bridge-style.)

If you’re interested in the history of Adobe, check out Pamela Pfiffner’s excellent Inside the Publishing Revolution, released to coincide with the company’s 20th anniversary.  Excerpts & some fun photos (David Hockney meeting Photoshop; young Steve Jobs) are on  I’d love to see an updated edition, one that includes the history of Macromedia (and the various companies that formed it) and more.

As for the future, one goal comes to my mind over and over: radically improving the user experience by radically democratizing how Photoshop* is developed, and by whom.  Instead of measuring the Photoshop team in the dozens, let’s measure it in the thousands–or the hundreds of thousands.  Let’s leverage the ol’ series of tubes, helping anyone with a good idea share it, opening the application skin to far more developers, even upending what a document can be.  Photoshop belongs to a whole lot more than one company or group of developers; it belongs to a global community of the visually expressive.  It’s this team’s job to keep anything from blocking the light.

Here’s to the future,

* I’d speak on behalf of other apps, but it’s already presumptuous enough for me to speak on behalf of Photoshop.

Upload from Lightroom to Flickr, SmugMug, & more

One of the sleeper improvements made in the recent Lightroom 1.3 release is the introduction of a beta export SDK.  That is, developers can now hook their tools into Lightroom’s export pipeline.  Jeffrey Friedl has leveraged the SDK and is now sharing upload plug-ins for Flickr, SmugMug, and Zenfolio.  I haven’t gotten to try these out yet myself, but I’m excited to see developers stepping up to provide some much-requested capabilities.  [Via]

On a related note, PixelNovel’s FlickrShop plug-in enables uploading from Photoshop to Flickr.

Stoners, puzzles, & photos that aren't there

  • “In college, take a year off and drive across the country, and camp along the way,” “Old Geezer” advises young photographers. “Do it with good friends that are smart; not dumbasses that just want to get high. Bring some books. Bring some audio books if you can’t read.”  Also: “Always order good catering. That’s all the client really cares about.” [Via]
  • “This is a picture I did not take…”  On Unphotographable, Michael David Murphy describes the ones that got away. [Via]
  • Befuddlr creates interactive puzzles from the contents of Flickr.  To get one of your images into the game, you can–according to the folks at Photojojo–“Upload your photo to the Photojojo Flickr group, go to Befuddlr and click “photojojo”, select your photo, and scramble it into an online puzzle game! The site will even time your unscrambling attempts, making for a perfect mid-day office-wide showdown.” [Via]
  • Speaking of Flickr, Jason Kottke test-drives the Eye-Fi wireless memory card, which enables direct upload from your camera to Flickr–no cables required.  (This strikes me as cool tech, but I’d much rather have the perhaps impossible GPS-on-a-card.)  Elsewhere, offers up 36 Reasons Flickr is a Photographer’s Ultimate Tool.
  • DIYPhotography shows a cool way to make heart-shaped bokeh (lens blur). [Via]  Hmm–maybe we should add hearts as a shape option for Photoshop’s bokeh-making Lens Blur filter (see related tutorial).  If doing stuff like this is up your alley, check out their other tutorials–e.g. “Cheapest ring light ever” [Via] and high-speed photography at home (champagne glasses, BB gun, and subsequent eye patches sold separately).
  • Speaking of high speed photos, check out this beautiful collection of liquid art & droplet photography. [Via Dave Story]
  • Ecocentric offers a foxy camera bag made from old belts. [Via]

Best Vector Graphics Ever, and more