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ShutterFest 2017 – It’s Never Too Early to Plan for Next Year!

by Skip Cohen

Okay, I get that it’s May and April, 2017 seems so far away, but this is one of those “you snooze – you lose” blog posts. If you haven’t been to ShutterFest, Sal Cincotta and the team just finished the 2017 promotional video I’m sharing below. The video pretty much says it all, but having been involved in all things “Shutter” since the beginning including Shutter Magazine, here’s a little more perspective on what ShutterFest really is.

ShutterFest is a community of friends and associates who all share a passion for imaging. The ShutterFest Forum on Facebook is a constant exchange of support, information and often plenty of humor. What makes it especially unique is that it’s become a troll-free zone. Everybody knows each other and as a result, nobody’s hiding behind the anonymity of a computer screen.  It’s all about the community and support for each other.

I know it sounds like a line from a series of consumer products, but ShutterFest is about “real people, real passion and real education”. Take it a step further into the consumer products world and it’s a conference “built by photographers for photographers.” And, while I know this stuff is sounding pretty hokey, there’s a reason why it’s become such an incredible event each year for so many of us.

So, stop procrastinating and register early! Click on the banner above to find out more and take advantage of the early bird registration price and also lock in your hotel reservation NOW! Then, once you’ve registered get yourself over to the ShutterFest Forum on Facebook so you can keep track of events coming up and get to know the rest of the family!

See you in St Louis April 18-19, 2017!

SkipCohenUniversity – SCU Blog

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Photoshop Layers and Layer Masking for Beginners

Arguably the most versatile adjustments in Photoshop are the layering and masking tools. Together, layers and masks make up a large portion of the work most photographers do in Photoshop, both for subtle and complex edits. However, if you are just beginning to work in Photoshop, these two irreplaceable tools may not be completely intuitive. In this article, I will cover some basic tips and techniques for using layers and layer masking in Photoshop – laying the groundwork for far more advanced post-processing adjustments.

Note: This article is specifically written with Photoshop in mind, but nearly all photography programs that use masks (such as GIMP, among others) work in similar ways. I use Photoshop CS6, but all of this information applies to any modern version of Photoshop as well, including Photoshop CC.

1) Introducing Layers

In order to visualize layers in Photoshop, it helps to think of a physical, paper print. If you have several prints, you can stack – or layer – them on top of each other easily. Layering in Photoshop works the same way, although your stack is made of digital images rather than physical prints.

Both in print and in Photoshop, the first rule of layering is simple: the layer on top is the one that’s visible. In other words, if I stack a red print on top of a blue print, I’m only going to see a red print. The same is true with the layers in Photoshop (the layer tab is highlighted in red):


The versatility of digital layers, though, is that you can change their strength using the opacity option in Photoshop. The lower the opacity, the more you can “see through” the top layer. So, as I reduce the opacity from 100% to 0%, this photo becomes progressively more and more blue. At 50% opacity, for example, the image is purple, halfway between red and blue:


Opacity is incredibly useful for any work in Photoshop, since it lets you change the strength of your adjustments. However, there are more variables at play than appear at first glance.

2) Putting Layers into Practice

Every time that I open Photoshop, my first step is to duplicate the background layer – the one that has the lock symbol next to it – with the shortcut Control + J (Command + J on a Mac). Why do I do this?

The main reason is simply because I want to avoid making changes that I can’t undo easily. For example, if I make ten edits to a single layer, I can’t delete the first without undoing all the others. However, if each edit is its own layer, it is easy to delete the one I don’t like (or simply reduce its opacity).

Adobe knows all this, and that’s why they put a “lock” on the background layer in the first place. This lock makes it impossible to do certain edits to the background layer, since there would be no way to undo them selectively. If you want to unlock this layer, it’s very easy – just double click, then hit “enter.” However, it’s a good safeguard that reminds you to use layers whenever you can.

Another important part about layers is the ability to change their names. This might not matter when you only have two layers – red and blue – but it is crucial if you have dozens, or even hundreds of layers. The title “Background Copy 14” doesn’t tell me anything, but “Sharpening Layer” does. To rename a layer, just double click on the layer’s current title and type the new name.

Lastly, the opacity tool is far from the only way to adjust a layer’s transparency. Instead, Photoshop has another valuable tool up its sleeve: the power of layer masking

3) Layer Masking

At its simplest, layer masking gives you extreme flexibility in deciding which portions of a layer are important or not. It’s easier to show an example than to describe one, so I’ll include a screenshot of a layer mask in action. Here, I “masked out” part of the red layer, revealing the blue layer below:


It’s clear that this is a dramatic change, and it proves that masking is a powerful tool. Using this technique, I can make selective edits to individual portions of the photo. Do I want to brighten a person’s face, but leave the rest of the photo unchanged? No problem – layer masking does the job. So, how does it work?

Layer masking isn’t that difficult, but it helps to follow along while you use it. The first step is to click on the layer where you want a mask. Then, create a mask by clicking on the “Add Layer Mask” tool.


In the world of Photoshop, a mask does absolutely nothing if it is completely white, which is how it appears at first:


When a mask is perfectly black, the opposite is true; a black mask is the equivalent of using 0% opacity, resulting in a transparent layer. For example, notice the black line painted on the mask in this section’s first screenshot; that line corresponds to the blue that shows through the top layer!

You aren’t confined just to painting white and black when you work on a mask; in fact, you can paint in any shade of gray. A dark shade of gray leads to a nearly-transparent layer, while a light shade of gray only shows a faint impression of the layers below. As you might expect, a 50% gray mask corresponds to a 50% level of opacity.

However, masking is much more flexible than the opacity tool, since it lets you adjust specific parts of the layer, rather than the entire layer. As I mentioned earlier, a mask lets you brighten just a small portion of the photo, such as someone’s face, which would be impossible with the opacity slider.

Finally, note that it is impossible to paint any colors other than white, gray, and black onto a mask. This makes sense, since whatever you do to a mask doesn’t directly appear in a photo; it simply tells Photoshop which portions of a layer to reduce in opacity.

4) Masking on Adjustment Layers

The sections above cover most of the basics of layers and layer masking. However, there is one other important aspect to cover: adjustment layers.

If you want to make color, contrast, brightness, or many other changes in Photoshop, adjustment layers are one of the quickest tools at your disposal. The process is quite easy. First, click on the adjustment layer tab at the bottom of your Photoshop window:


Say, for example, that we want to increase the brightness of the sky in this photograph. Let’s add a brightness adjustment layer:


Notice something interesting? The brightness adjustment layer is already a white mask. Notice what happens when you paint black on portions of it:


Now, the sky has gotten much brighter, but the black part of the mask eliminates all effects on the ground and water. They stay just as dark as they would without any adjustment at all. That’s the power of layer masks!

(Note that I mentioned earlier that I always duplicate the background layer upon import. This is usually true, but in this particular case there was no need; the adjustment layer is already separate from the background, so I can delete it whenever I want.)

5) Conclusions

This article is only the briefest of introductions into layers and masking. The more time you spend in Photoshop, the more you will learn about masking techniques, tips, and tricks. However, a comprehensive article on masking would be the length of a book, and it still wouldn’t cover everything there is to know. The best way to learn about advanced masking techniques is to practice in Photoshop yourself, then look up new strategies online if your old methods are insufficient.

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Don’t Trade in the Car Just Because You Got a Flat!

© highwaystarz

 “Giving up on your goal because of one setback
is like slashing your other three tires because you got a flat!”

sI shared the tweet above this morning on Twitter, but it’s so good and so on point, I thought I’d add to it.

Lately, I’v met a few photographers who are frustrated the Success Fairy hasn’t left anything under their pillow yet. They’re ready to give up and move on to their next dream. 

Mary Ellen Mark once told me she has all her students cover up the screen on their cameras so they can’t chimp. Why? Because the best image, the decisive moment, may not have happened yet. Photographers look at the screen, think they got the shot and move on when the most emotional moment may not have happened yet. 

Well, business and achieving your dreams are no different. You can’t look at a setback, no matter how disappointing it might be and think that’s it. You can’t just walk away believing that you’re defeated. 

So, this is just a reminder about those moments when you hit the wall. Use your network and confide in a trusted friend. If the challenge is pure business related and you feel your skills aren’t strong enough then chase somebody like me down. I might not have the answer, but I sure do have a network of friends who do.

The point is, don’t give up on your goals – just consider you might need to take a different path. I shared the video below a long time ago – and it’s time to bring it back!

SkipCohenUniversity – SCU Blog

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“Why?” – with Matthew Jordan Smith

Image copyright Matthew Jordan Smith. All rights reserved.
We look at great images all the time, but the thoughts behind them, the “why?” directly from the artist, is rarely shared. There are ten images in the series so far, each one from a different artist. With each new “Why?” there’s another story as unique as the images and the artists themselves.

Matthew Jordan Smith kicks off this week’s series with an image that’s as much about visualization as it is a demonstration of the creative roots in his mind’s eye. If you know Matthew, or have heard him speak, you’d expect no less.

Just click on the image to visit his website and read more about Matthew, but as always, I enjoy putting my own spin on his bio. We’ve spent a lot of years hanging out together and Matthew is all about inspiration. Even something as simple as grabbing lunch together can be the stimulus for a series of in-depth new ideas and energy. Then again, what would you expect from somebody who always signs his emails, “Alway Dream Big!”

An artist, educator, writer and loyal friend he’s supported by some of the industry’s most prestigious manufacturers. He’s an X-Rite Coloratti Pro and one click on the logo below and you can find out even more about him and the rest of the Coloratti team.

As with all the artists featured to date, a big thanks for their support and especially taking the time for a quick sound byte to share their special images and giving a blog post a second dimension.

SkipCohenUniversity – SCU Blog

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Giving in to GAS with the Nikon 1 J5

It’s been 9 months since I wrote my review of the Nikon 1 J5 and I finally gave in to a bout of GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) that has been lingering for some time, purchasing a J5 this week. I had resisted the temptation to buy this particular camera as I was waiting for the new 20.8MP BSI sensor to find its way into an updated Nikon 1 V-series camera. With the recent earthquakes in Japan delaying various Nikon products the timing seemed right to buy a J5. I have some things planned for the second half of the year where the improved sensor performance of the J5 will be appreciated.

I haven’t had too much time to put this new camera to use, but I did manage a quick photo walk through town and a short visit to Bird Kingdom.


NIKON 1 J5 + 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, ISO 800, 1/40, f/8.0

When buying new gear it is always important to clearly define how it will be used and what specifically it does differently, or better, than existing equipment. For me, the Nikon 1 J5 will be my primary camera for landscape images, as well as for flower and insect photography, especially when extension tubes are used. It will also likely become my preferred camera for street photography.


NIKON 1 J5 + 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, ISO 160, 1/30, f/5.6

The new 20.8MP BSI sensor in the J5 performs noticeably better than the 14.2MP Aptina sensors in my trio of Nikon 1 V2’s. The dynamic range is rated at 12.0EV compared to 10.8EV according to DxO. Colour depth is also significantly better at 22.1-bits compared to 20.2-bits with my V2’s. This should help create better end results with my landscape, flower and macro-type images.


NIKON 1 J5 + 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, ISO 800, 1/320, f/5.6

The sensor in the Nikon 1 J5 also does not have a low-pass filter so images are slightly sharper coming out of the camera. This should have a positive impact on images containing finer details.


NIKON 1 J5 + 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 67.6mm, ISO 400, 1/250, f/5.6

There are some challenges of course. The Nikon 1 J5 does not have a viewfinder which is a bit of a hassle for me as I have never liked composing images from the rear screen of a camera. No doubt I will get used to doing this but I think it will be more difficult and a bit more time consuming to achieve the exact framing that I want with my images not having an EVF.


NIKON 1 J5 + 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 60.4mm, ISO 280, 1/250, f/5.6

As a result I will likely end up using a monopod or tripod more often than I have in the past with my Nikon 1 gear. I expected to do this anyway with my landscape photography as it will allow me to shoot under a wider range of lighting conditions at ISO-160 which is the base for Nikon 1 cameras. And, as we all know, shooting any camera at base ISO delivers the best dynamic range and colour depth performance.


NIKON 1 J5 + 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 50mm, ISO 160, 1/250, f/5.6

The Nikon 1 J5 will likely get some sporadic use during my client video work when I need to produce low angle or higher angle video clips as the tilt rear screen will allow me to frame clips without having to get on my belly or mount a ladder as frequently. The absence of an EVF and the inability to use an external microphone with the Nikon 1 J5 are limiting factors for my video business.


NIKON 1 J5 + 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 100mm, ISO 160, 1/200, f/8.0

The sensor in the Nikon 1 J5 does perform quite a bit differently than the Aptina sensors in my Nikon 1 V2’s in terms of measured ISO. At the exact same manual exposure settings the Nikon 1 J5 (and the J4 and V3 for that matter) will underexpose images and video clips when compared to my Nikon 1 V2’s. It is quite common for digital cameras to have differences between the manufacturers’ stated ISO’s and the actual measured ISO as I discussed in a recent article on my photography blog. In the case of the Nikon 1 J5 there is about a 1/3 to 2/5 of a stop difference.


NIKON 1 J5 + CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 264mm, ISO 3200, 1/100, f/5.6

For example, at a manufacturer’s stated ISO of ISO-3200 as in the image above (i.e. the ISO setting on your camera) my Nikon 1 V2’s are actually shooting at ISO-2416. This compares with ISO-1853 with a Nikon 1 J5 or ISO-1750 with a Nikon 1 V3. Differences between manufacturer stated ISO’s and measured ISO’s aren’t of concern to many photographers as all that really matters is getting the right exposure, regardless of what their EXIF data indicates. When matching up video clips from multiple cameras when all manual settings are used it can complicate things.


NIKON 1 J5 + CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 272.4mm, ISO 500, 1/500, f/5.6

So, while I will use the Nikon 1 J5 to capture specific types of video clips, my trio of Nikon 1 V2’s with their compliment of 7 batteries will remain the workhorses of my client video business. I usually shoot industrial scenes using multiple cameras so having consistency of exposures is important in terms of reducing editing work in post production.

GAS 10

NIKON 1 J5 + CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 272.4mm, ISO 1600, 1/250, f/5.6

I very quickly came to love the increased 20.8MP resolution of the J5 compared to the 14.2MP of my V2’s. This allows for a lot more cropping potential. And, when shooting under good lighting conditions will also provide more print enlargement potential.

GAS 11

NIKON 1 J5 + CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 3200, 1/250, f/5.6

While I dislike the use of micro-SD cards in the Nikon 1 J5 I can put up with that given the image quality benefits the camera delivers. Not having an EVF and being saddled with a smaller buffer that takes far too long to clear, limits the J5 for birds-in-flight and other types of action photography.

GAS 12

NIKON 1 J5 + CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300mm, ISO 1600, 1/100, f/5.6

As a still photography tool the Nikon 1 J5 is a significant improvement over my Nikon 1 V2’s and you will see many more of my articles featuring images from this camera in the future. At about $ 500 US including a 10-30mm f/3.5-5.6 PD kit lens I think the Nikon 1 J5 is a great little camera for the money.

Article and all images Copyright 2016 Thomas Stirr. No use, adaptation of any kind is allowed without express, written consent. Photography Life is the only approved user of this article. If you see it reproduced anywhere else it is an unapproved and illegal use.

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