Ok, it’s time for my first ever self-interview! Well, it’s not quite that bad… you guys supplied the questions.
You’ll hear all about my past and future after the jump.
Jack Asks: "Will there be a CS2 version of "Photoshop Studio Techniques"?"
Ben: Yes! That’s the project that I’m working on right now (below is the new cover… just haven’t added the 2 to the title yet).
I’ll be sending the files to the printer on the 21st of this month. The
book will feature two brand new chapters: Adjustment Layers, and
Workflow. What’s taking me so long? Well, I was busy writing a brand
new book called Photoshop CS2: Up to Speed, updating the How to
Wow: Photoshop for Photography book, and updating my on-line class.
Jacqueline Asks: "Hi Ben, How much time do you get to photograph and what kind of equipment do you use – including tripods, head, lenses etc."
Ben: I shoot with a Canon 20D with the following lenses:
17-40mm 28-135mm, 100-400mm, 100mm Macro and a Lens Baby. I have a
Gitzo carbon fiber tripod with a Really Right Stuff ball-head and
ArcaSwiss style quick release. I’ve mentioned the tripod head in a
previous post with photos, etc.
How much time do I get to photograph? Not much lately. I’ve been
strapped to my desk updating three books, one one-line seminar and my
Photoshop for Photographers tour. I’ll start traveling again on July
18th and that’s when I should be able to start shooting again. Lately
I’ve been limited to what I can see out my windows… that has included
quite a few deer, elk and a bobcat (attached).
My house is up for sale and I’ll be living full-time on an RV after
the house sells. That will allow me to spend much more time taking
photos, even when I’m overly busy writing books (since I can be parked
at a national park or other interesting area).
William Asks: "I have to ask how much does this home on wheels cost approximately?"
Ben: I think William is referring to the fancy RV that I’ll
be purchasing as soon as my home sells. A brand new bus costs between
$1.4 and 2 million. I don’t charge enough for my books and seminars to
be able to afford that, so I’ll be purchasing one that is 5-10 years
old, which will end up costing about half as much as my current home
(less than 1/4 of the cost of a new one). I find that most of the
decisions that go into making a standard RV are completely based on
price, which makes many of the systems and finishes really cheap (wood
grain stickers instead of real wood in many areas), it’s only when you
get into these buses that you get to have the same quality as a very
nice home, which is what I’m used to.
Swami Asks: "What were you doing before Photoshop? How did you get started in Photoshop? How did you become so good in Photoshop?"
Ben: I’ll answer the "What were you doing before Photoshop"
part of your question later in this interview. For now, let’s talk
about how I got good at Photoshop.
After college, I got a job working for a creative director that went
out on his own. He used to work for a bunch of big time magazines back
when everything was done traditionally (marking up white boards with
instructions and waiting for a printing company to set all the type,
make halftones of the photos and put everything together). When he went
out on his own, he hired me to be his production department. That means
that I replaced a professional typesetter, a prepress technician, a
traditional paste-up person and many others. So, I had to learn really
fast. He was a very difficult boss, where he would notice if anything
(and I mean anything) was the slightest bit off. So, in order to
continue working for him, I had to learn how to be very precise with
everything I did. He was used to being able to send things back to his
old vendors and not have to pay for mistakes. I ended up having to pay
for my mistakes literally (if we output film for a project and it was
wrong, I paid for it).
Anyway, that got me on the road to wanting
to learn as much as I could and to find ways to avoid problems at all
costs. From there I went on the be a full-time graphic designer at
Mirror Technologies, which I’ll describe later in this interview. The main thing was that I was the sole graphics person at my next two jobs (Mirror and MacUSA), which meant I had to figure everything out on my own since there were no graphics co-workers who I could ask questions.
…fast forward to today…
I now keep with with Photoshop by
doing beta testing for Adobe, which allows me to talk to the
programmers and work with new versions of the program for 3-6 months
before it is announced to the public. I also watch a lot of bad
television with my laptop on my lap. I’ll pick one feature in Photoshop
and experiment with it until I bet bored, then I’ll watch some bad
television, which will entertain me for maybe five minutes and then
I’ll return to experimenting with that feature in Photoshop. I continue
this until I simply can’t learn anything more about the feature…
until I’ve used it for everything it can do and really understand it.
That might mean watching two bad movies while playing with something as
simple as transformations (scale, rotate, etc.). After doing that many
times and making it through most of Photoshop’s features, I’ve come to
really know the program. That and teaching Photoshop, which forces you
to refine and simplify your ideas.
Ammar Asks: "I wanted to ask you, is there a connection
between you and Photoshop’s engineers, that make you know the things
from the basics and then render it in such a great way?"
Ben: It does help to be able to get answers to all your
questions from people that work on the program (but the answers are techno-babble). But to be honest, that
mainly happens during beta testing before a new version is released.
Most of the time, I’m on my own to learn all this stuff. I find that
the more I study a particular area of Photoshop, the more overwhelming
it becomes and the more I use it, the more complex it seems. But then,
once you’ve explored all the nooks and crannies of a particular feature
or technology that I will suddenly understand the core concept instead
of being distracted by all the overwhelming details of how it’s
implemented. That’s when everything starts to really make since and all
the things that used to make things feel complex and overwhelming
become simple as well (since they all connect back to a simple concept
that underlies the technique). Then, when I teach, I start from the
simple concept that underlies a feature and slowly add the complexity
after someone really understands what’s behind everything. My brain
works by searching for simplicity in absolutely everything. I also
teach very often, which allows me to think about the concepts over and
over and get feedback from students, which helps to refine my ideas.
The second I stop learning when I teach, I’ll stop being a teacher.
Darren Asks: "How did you get started with Photoshop and digital media in general?"
Ben: Here’s a long answer to your short and seemingly simple question:
I got started with computers before high school (back when you had
to assemble them yourself or log into a mainframe). The first one I
actually owned was an Apple ][ with 16K of memory. I also attended
CompuCamp back in 1981 (see photo). I also owned a Mac back when they
came out in 1984 (will have the receipt… it wasn’t cheap!).
I learned how to run a tiny printing press while in high school and
was silk screening T-shirts. Then, when I got to college, I worked for
a daily newspaper called The Minnesota Daily and became the Advertising
Production Crew-chief, which means I was in charge of making sure all
the ads got done every day. That’s where I learned how to use a few
different traditional typesetting systems, a stat camera and do
traditional paste-up (known as keylining). I helped convert that
newspaper from traditional methods to using Mac’s and PC’s. I also ran
my own newspaper out of my home (it was called the Midwest States
Collector and was about antiques). I did all the production on the
paper and had a sales rep for ads and bought the editorial content from
a sister publication in Colorado.
My first film camera was one I built out of a kit in grade school.
In high school, I has a well paying union job, which allowed me to buy
a Minolta Maxxum 35mm camera with more lens than I currently one
(including fisheye and other specialty lenses). I also owned multiple
studio strobes and softboxes. When I started college, I purchased a 4×5
view camera with two lenses and annoyed my girlfriend by insisting that
she wait as I take photos on our vacation (it takes a while to setup a
monorail 4×5 in the field). I bought my first digital camera in 1995 and then slowly got away from photography
for a while as I became a full-time graphic designer and have only
recently gotten back into it.
Photoshop was just one of the tools that I used in my graphic design
career. I was an absolute expert in Photoshop, QuarkXPress and Aldus
Freehand (back when you could be a true expert in all three). I hated
rushour, so I’d stay late and learn and experiment with Photoshop.
I had my dream job, which was just 5 blocks from my house with the
best boss I had ever met. They marketed computer equipment for graphic
designers (scanners, printers, hard drives, monitors, etc.), so I had
the newest and best equipment (including a $80,000 video card that was
never released… that was the development cost actually, but it was a
one of a kind). When that company (Mirror Technologies) was sold to
MacUSA, I went along so that their graphics would not change, but I
hated the new company. It was a 30-60 minute drive (depending on the
season) and they didn’t care about quality.
It was then that I attended a Photoshop seminar that I thought was
the worst thing in the world… bad descriptions, bad advice, bad
images, etc, etc. And at the end, everyone in the room seemed to like
it (because it was next to impossible to find training back then). So,
I quit my job… came up with a brochure… rented a mailing list…
rented a hotel ballroom and started doing my own Photoshop seminars
since I knew I could be much better than the one I had seen. Then,
years later, I was asked if I could fill in for someone at the Thunder
Lizard Photoshop Conference and someone from Adobe was in the audience
and afterward asked me to write a book. Once the book was published,
magazines started to call and companies started to hire me for in-house
training and it’s just taken off ever since. How’s that for a long
answer to a short question!
Linda Asks: "do you have 1just under a dozen" computers?
(From this quote: "UPDATE: It’s exactly as I was hoping… if they can
pull this off, then I’ll upgrade all my machines (I have just under a
dozen) so I can run Mac OSX and Windows on the same machine!)’
Inquiring minds want to know!"
Ben: I believe Linda is referring to a post I made earlier about Apple switching to Intel processors.
First the ‘just under a dozen’ part. I have two PowerBooks, one that
I use when traveling (and for e-mail, calendar when in the office), and
the other as a backup (it’s an older one). I then have a dual processor
G5 desktop for my writing projects. I also have a HP Tablet PC for note
taking and in-car GPS turn-by-turn directions. I also have a MacMini
downstairs hooked to the TV for browsing the web when I’m lazy. I think
that’s 5 so far… the other ones are used by Regina… she’s the
person who runs the day to day operations of my company. She has a G4
cube for our credit card software, which only runs in OS9. A iMac flat
panel (the kind with the adjustable neck) for seminar registrations and
book orders. She also has a dual processor G4 tower for when she’s
creating illustrations for my book and an ibook for when she sneaks out
on ‘vacation’. I’m sure she could get rid of two of her machines, but
we are simply so busy that we don’t have time to get everything
transferred and tested. Now I think we’re up to 9. Finally, I never
have time to sell my old equipment, so I have random machines laying
around the house (from a 128K Mac from 1984 to an original Newton and
Then, on to why I’d upgrade everything if Apple were to come out
with Intel Macs. I have a Windows Mobile phone, a tablet PC and I want
a Media Center PC, but I absolutely hate the hardware that’s out there.
The HP Tablet PC is the only thing that is even close to what Apple
would design…. and even there it’s simply not reliable. It randomly
have hardware crashes, can’t keep a battery charge while it’s
‘sleeping’ and will often loose all power if it’s tapped wrong (like
when setting it on my desk).
There is a lot of software that I’d like to run that is not
available on the Mac. From moving map GPS software and the stuff that
can plot my runs, to notetaking software (microsoft OneNote) and much
more. I bought a few other windows machines and returned them. The HP
media center I bought couldn’t talk to my TV and started to fall apart
the first week I had it (metal front fell off because of cheap glue). I
also had a Dell laptop for a few months and got rid of it… talk about
klunky (that was a few years ago). So, I want Apple’s hardware…
clean, simple, reliable and well designed. And I want to be able to run
Mac or Windows OSes. It should also be possible to run Windows in a
‘window’ while running the Mac… just like virtual PC, but with no
emulation since it’s running on the required hardware. The chip that is
at the heart of a computer is a non issue for the vast majority of
uses. It’s the operating system that they interact with. But with Intel
processors, you have the choice of Mac OS or WIndows on the same
Gary Asks: "I thought the G5 processor was far superior to
the pentium (Apple used to advertise the speed difference between the
two) so is the pentium 4 faster or just as fast as the G5? and since
OSX can already run with the intel processor does this level the
playing field with speed or does it really matter what processor we use
as long as we get the software support. Also with this switch what is
your take on the benefit to the end Mac user if any."
Ben: It’s a matter of future speed here. Tests have shown
that the current Mac and Windows machines are rather close in
performance (at least the ones I’ve seen that test graphics software).
I don’t care what the processor speed is since they can’t be directly
compared… the G5 is a RISC chip (reduced instruction set computing)
and the Pentium is a CISC chip (complex instruction set computing… I
think that’s what it stands for). That means that the G5 doesn’t need
as much Mhz to process info so the chip speed can’t be directly
compared to a CISC chip. The main thing we have going on here is that
OSX can run on either type of processor. If IBM is able to come out
with a mega fast chip, then Apple could use it. If Intel comes out with
something faster, then Apple can use that instead. Apple wouldn’t
consider Intel unless there were large benefits to doing so and they
are looking at a future road-map that we are not privy to. I’m excited
about being able to have a dual boot machine (Mac OS and Windows OS)
and letting Apple choose between more vendors for chips instead of
being stuck with IBM’s G5. How will it affect end users? They’ll be
able to book Mac or Windows on the same machine. Apple will be able to
sell machines to people who only want to run Windows, but are willing
to pay for good design, which should help to expand Apple’s hardware
market share. What is the downside? Programmers need to revise their
applications to make them work on an Intel processor. I don’t see any
big downsides for the end user (other than upgrading to the proper