I am the Invisible Woman

Commute-30 This week I was asked to do a 5 minute presentation at the Photoshop for Designers Conference about a project or tutorial. I chose to present a personal project. It was set up as a casual Ignite event. This was a bit intimidating because you have 5 minutes to present 20 slides and the slides automatically advance every 15 seconds.

I flubbed in a few places and I relied on notes so I wouldn’t get my story wrong. But the next day I had many people tell me that they were very touched by the project. One woman was quite emotional about it and that got me thinking. Maybe I’m not the only creative director or corporate designer or woman who is feeling invisible. So I created a slideshow with the same script and images from my Ignite presentation. I thought I would share it with you just in case my project resonates with you too.

A picture a day keeps…away

coverI manage a group of designers who make tutorials for Adobe’s products. My team is super-talented and I love working with them. You might think that since I work at Adobe, I get to draw and create all day long. Nope. I attend lots of meetings and create spreadsheets and emails but I don’t create much in the way of artwork anymore.

Not long ago, this fact started to really depress me. When I went to art school I took scores of photography, drawing, and painting classes. But in the last few years, I haven’t actually made any art at work – or at home. I’ve been too busy managing people and projects. Last summer, I decided that I would spend just a few minutes each day making a picture. Here are the guidelines I set for myself:

  1. use only an iPhone camera
  2. explore different iPhone photography and painting apps
  3. post an image to Instagram once a day for one year

I have been doing just that for one full year and it has been a great experience. I’ve stretched myself artistically and reconnected with things that I have always loved about photography and photo-illustration. When I started this project in August, 2014, I began by focusing on composition.

Challenge: working within a square
My self-imposed requirement to post on Instagram inadvertently created a secondary limitation – all the images need to be square. I know there are ways around this but I decided to embrace the challenge. I didn’t set my iPhone camera to square though. I wanted the whole image with the opportunity to crop later. Cropping became part of my process and it has helped me take better pictures.

HawaiiChallenge: Learn to use new tools
During the past year I have experimented with many different apps. I’ve used Lightroom Mobile, Photoshop Touch, PaintCan, Snapseed, SlowShutter, Camera+, and Stackables. Each app offers different tools and I have dabbled with most of them. This is by no means an exhaustive list of photography apps. Seán Duggan has a great blog with a list of recommended photo apps for iphoneography. Its a nice place to start if you are interested in exploring these tools.

oversaturateI considered this project an exploration and a daily journal – not a daily masterpiece. Learning to use the macro feature with Camera+ enabled me to photograph insects and waterdrops close-up. I experimented with saturation and HDR. Sometimes I pushed the tools and the iPhone camera too far and discovered their limitations.

Challenge: Relax and just experiment
When I began this project, I put a lot of pressure on myself to create a beautiful work of art each day. The problem with this thinking was that it really stunted my ability to freely experiment and try new things. It takes time to finesse and craft an image and time was something I didn’t have enough of. I decided I would post an image before I went to bed each night even if I didn’t have a masterpiece. While visiting my aunt in Portland last fall, I took the same shot of the Tualatin River several days in a row. Each day it looked different and I never got bored of that view. Experimenting and playing can produce masterpieces you never knew you had inside you.

OregonExperiment: Turn a photograph into a digital painting
Sometimes I just want to capture the feeling of a visual scene without a lot of the fussy detail and distractions that can come with a photo. I started playing around with some of the filters and apps that add grain, textures, or a painterly effect. The apps I used for painting effects were Photoshop Touch, PaintCan (an experimental app from Adobe), Snapseed (mostly the Grunge filter), and Stackables. Here are some of the results of my painting and impressionistic experiments:

paintingsExperiment: Create a series
I take the train to our San Francisco office every Wednesday. This means I’m sitting on a train facing other passengers for 2 hours each week. If you are sitting in the right seat, the light coming in from the windows can be quite lovely. At first, I wanted to take pictures of the travelers’ faces but I was worried about being rude and invasive, so I started taking pictures of their hands while they rode the train. I realized that because almost everyone had a cell phone in their hands, nobody noticed me taking pictures of them. Most of these images I created in black & white because I found the colors distracting. I wanted all the focus to be on the hand gesture and expressiveness. What started as an experiment, turned into a series of photographs that I call “Fellow Traveler.” Here are a few from that ongoing series:

trainAnother theme developed from my photo walks qualifies loosely as a series. These are the images of plants and flowers I created from walking around my neighborhood and my garden in the early mornings. Here are a few of my flower images:

plantsOnline critiques
This project has brought me back to my art school days in a certain way. The art students would pin our work to the wall in the studio classroom and then stand back and listen while the teacher critiqued the work. Instagram isn’t exactly like art school. But there is something about the act of making my image available for public viewing that causes me to take a bit more care than I would with a private sketchbook.

This has been a project I’ve done for myself, not for a particular audience. Some of my posts have received no notice at all. I’ve had a very, very small group of people who have liked or commented on my images and that has been interesting to observe. For example, one of my most popular images literally took 1 minute to create – from snapping the photo to posting the cropped and unaltered version of it. And some of the images that I spent a lot more time on – images that I really, really loved looking at – garnered very little attention or comment.

My former colleague, John Nack, now a product manager for Google’s photo apps, once told me about how some people follow the Instagram Rule of 11. They will take down a post if it doesn’t get 11 likes fairly quickly. I hardly ever get 11 likes and frankly, I don’t care. My teenaged niece swears that you should never, ever post more than once a day – its not cool. I’m not doing this to be cool or to be liked. I’m doing it for myself. I’m having fun. I’m practicing my art. And I think I’m improving. What’s not to like about that?

Great image journals and art process posts on Instagram:


If you are interested, please check out all the images on my Instagram feed.

Cropping – step one for improving your iPhone pictures

Crop-8-7Want to improve the iPhone photos you post on Instagram, Facebook, or other social media sites? For beginner photographers and busy amateurs like me, there are a handful of things you can do very quickly to improve your images. The first one is to crop the shot for a better composition.

Disclaimer: I’m not a professional photographer. Almost a year ago, I started doing a daily photo journal because I found that I was so busy with my job as a manager at Adobe that I no longer had time to create art. I figured that if I took just 5 minutes a day to create an image with my iPhone, that might satisfy my need to create without taking too much time. I have been posting my images on Instagram and Facebook and several of my family, friends, and colleagues have asked me for tutorials. This is the first one.

These are the steps I follow to enhance and improve my iPhone photos by cropping.

  1. Take a picture with your iPhone.
  2. Open the Photos app and select the photo that needs cropping.
  3. Optional: To visualize the cropped image before you crop: touch two fingers to the middle of the photo and slowly spread the fingers outward to zoom in on the image. (Pinch your two fingers in to zoom out again.) Use one or two fingers to move the image around on the screen. Zoom in and out on the photo to plan how you want to crop.
  4. Pick a photo editing app for cropping. There are lots of good ones (Photoshop Touch, Lightroom Mobile, Snapseed, Camera+). You can even crop right there or in your Camera Roll.
    Photo Mar 05, 4 06 10 PM     Photo Mar 05, 4 06 20 PM
    Note: in some apps the crop may permanently change your photo. The editing feature in your Camera Roll allows you to revert back to the original if you don’t like the way it cropped. (Or you could try an app that is “non-destructive” like Lightroom Mobile.)

Here are some of the things I try to create when I crop an image:
(All the images below were cropped to a square for posting in Instagram.)

Interesting shapes—especially along the borders:
Crop-3      Crop-2

Less clutter and more focus on the subject:
Crop-8-2   Crop-9-2

Drama or close up detail:
Double-cropSeqMovement of the lines and colors that draw your eye around the image:
Crop-9-5      Crop-8-5

Creating mystery or implied story:
Crop-9-6     Crop-8-6
Crop-8-8     Crop-9-7

One final cropping tip for Instagram posts: your iPhone camera has a setting to take square pictures so you can better frame the shot for Instagram. Check it out:
Photo Mar 05, 5 36 26 PM

Stay tuned to this blog for another tutorial on how to improve your iPhone photos. Next time, how to improve your color photos by making them black & white.

Resources and more info:
Sean Duggan iphoneography blog
10 Rules of Photo Composition blog post
How to crop and Level in Lightroom
Luanne Seymour’s Instagram feed to see lots of iPhone photos

Basic photography questions explained

01-26Ever wonder why your photos turn out too dark or too light? Or how to set up your camera to get crisp action shots? Or how to get that cool effect of having the background of your photo being soft and blurry with the foreground object being sharp and in focus? The Creative Cloud Learn team is experimenting with short videos about photography. They are part of a larger set of tutorials for Novice Photographers. These are totally worth checking out if you are just learning about digital photography:

Be sure to give us feedback on what you think of the tutorials and what other questions or topics you’d like us to cover.

Basic digital photography tutorials

photog-noviceAre you wanting to learn more about digital photography? This is a good place to start: Photography Tutorials. There are some very basic  2-minute tutorials here for novice photographers who are just getting started. If you are a total beginner and just want to learn a few really basic skills, check these out:

Find the right tutorial faster with Adobe’s new Search

Search-2Adobe’s learning search has not been the greatest. We’ve wanted to fix it for a really long time and we’re really excited about our new redesign of tutorial search.

There are almost 1000 Creative Cloud app tutorials on Adobe.com, but they’re often too hard to find. This summer, the Learn team built a totally new tutorial search experience to help you get what you need faster. It just went live yesterday.

Here are some of the improvements:

  • Search is now available on every tutorial page.
  • Search results are totally redesigned to help you decide which tutorial works the best for you. On the results page you’ll find a whole new look.
  • Each search result includes:
    • tutorial description
    • tutorial type:  video, text, hands-on, game
    • duration:  length of the tutorial or time to complete a hands-on project
    • apps covered
    • user level

Take a look:

SearchTry it out for yourself!

Removing red eye in Lightroom

092413Are you a person who prefers visuals in your instruction rather than a wall of words? If so, you’ll love this new visual tutorial from Adobe. Its an experiment we are trying for some of the most commonly asked “how to” questions. I think it will appeal to the people who love Lego and IKEA instructions. No words are necessary because the pictures say it all. Give it a try and let us know what you think!