Change Adjustment Layer Intent While Retaining Layer Mask

Change Layer Content menu itemIf you have come to appreciate Photoshops adjustment layers and layer masks, then you are probably also aware of their remarkable power when used together as a team. The great benefit of an adjustment layer lies in its non-destructive nature. So too with the layer mask. Both tools can be used and adjusted over and over without any destructive effects on the original image they manipulate.

So imagine now that you have created an adjustment layer in your image and also added a complicated layer mask to it. You’ve spent a considerable amount of time fine-tuning this layer mask to limit the adjustment layer effects to specific areas of your image. Now you realize that you need the adjustment layer to apply a different intent. What you thought should be a Curves adjustment would be better suited as Hue/Saturation instead. Do you really want to recreate that complex layer mask again? I certainly wouldn’t.

One approach to solving this problem might be to create your new Hue/Saturation adjustment layer then copy and paste the layer mask from the old to the new. But there is an easier solution. Here’s what you do.

First be sure that the adjustment layer which contains your carefully crafted layer mask is active, by clicking on it in the layers pallet. From there, simply choose the Change Layer Content submenu found in the Layer menu. In the submenu just select the intent you wish to change the adjustment layer to apply. In this example we would be choosing Hue/Saturation. You are done. The adjustment layer is now applying a Hue/Saturation adjustment instead of the original Curves, and the complex layer mask remains in tact! Now you can make changes to the Hue/Saturation applied by this adjustment layer until you are satisfied with its effects.

More information about Photoshop adjustment layers.
Here is a basic tip on using Photoshop layer masks.

How to Avoid Getting Your Photography Gear Stolen

You’ve spent countless hours finding just the right photography equipment. You’ve researched online, you’ve visited your local photo shops and found just the right mix of cameras, lenses, strobes, tripod and all the accessories. Now, you wouldn’t want to see all of that work turn into a payday for your local thief would you?

Here are some tips and ideas that just might pay off in keeping your latest and greatest photo gear purchases under the radar and off the thieves target list.

vanity-license-plateVanity plates, do you REALLY need that? – This is like a big bold invitation to any thief. You might as well leave a note on your car saying, “Here’s your next payday! Rob me!” If the owner of this vehicle winds up the victim of a break-in, I must admit I will have no sympathy for them. They’ve invited it.

UglifiedCameraMake it look worthless – A thief doesn’t want to waste their time on stealing something they cannot turn around and sell for cash. If your equipment appears old or undesirable, it is of little interest to the thief. So how do you go about doing this? Here is an interesting approach someone used to make their digital camera look like an older film camera, he uglified it.

Make it look like something else – Maybe we can take a tip from our military here. When they do not want their airplanes shot out of the sky what do they do? They make them invisible, they make them stealth. You may be able to do the same with your photo equipment. Make it look like it isn’t even there. Instead of carrying your gear in an expensive camera bag, try something else. Consider a students book bag/backpack, a duffle bag or even a diaper bag. What thief would steal a diaper bag?!

Keep it hidden – Generally speaking, it is a good idea to carry as little as possible. The more gear you’re lugging around, the more likely you are to become a target. With so many very capable consumer level digital cameras on the market today, it is a very easy task to find a camera capable of offering great results which is also small enough to slip into a shirt or pants pocket. Check out ScotteVest for some great garments designed to carry all of your portable technology without looking like it!

When it comes down to it, if you just use a little common sense about when, where and how you use your photo gear, you won’t have any trouble keeping it all out of the greedy hands of your local thief. Keep shooting!

Is Your Domain Name About to be Slammed? Be Careful!

It’s late at night, do you know where your domain name is? It might not be where you thought it was. If you are not careful you may wind up as the customer of a company you’ve never heard of before, and they’re ok with that. Read on for five tips to protect yourself from domain name scams.

Domain SlammingSteadmanTech has offered domain name registration services for many years now. Over that time this business has had its changes, opportunities and challenges, but one thing has always remained consistent. There is always someone trying to trick my clients. Most notably, there always seems to be someone taking shots at Domain Slamming my customers.

Domain Slamming is a technique used by less than reputable domain name registrars who wish to trick registrants into switching from their existing service provider. The scam is almost always initiated through the mail and comes to you in the form of an official looking letter. These letters are very carefully crafted to look like an official notification that you are about to lose your online identity. It’s a technique perfected by the Canadian company “Domain Registry of America” who was eventually barred by the Federal Trade Commission from continuing these misleading practices.

Just as bad or maybe even worse than being the victim of Domain Slamming, is another common domain name related scam I would call a “Domain Switching Scam”. Once again you are usually approached through the mail with a very official looking letter warning that you need to protect your online identity. The pitch is that you need to secure your domain name before it expires and is lost for good. The scam here is that the document you’ve received is actually an order form for a completely different domain name. One you never owned to begin with!

Five Tips to Avoid Domain Name Scams

  1. Know Where Your Domain Name is Registered — Be sure you know who your official domain name registrar is so you know which solicitations are legitimate and which are not.
  2. Check Your Domain Name Registration Details — By running a Whois search on your own domain name you can verify all of the registration details including who the registrar is, who is listed as the domain name registrant (owner), when the domain name is set to expire and more.
  3. Keep Domain Registration Contact Information Current — This is very important to assure that you do not lose control of your domain name. It is especially important to keep your contact email address(es) up to date. These addresses are usually the first line of communication your domain name registrar will use to contact you and are sometimes used to verify your identity as the true domain name registrant.
  4. Never Respond to Solicitations Via US Mail — In every case that I am aware of, current domain name registrars first line of communication is always via email, NOT by US Mail (it used to be different). In at least 90% of all scam solicitations I have ever seen, the communications are sent via US Mail. Some used to come via your fax machine, but that practice has largely faded away.
  5. Renew Your Domain Name Well Before Its Expiration Date — Most domain name related scams are initiated in the last six months of an active domain registration period. Remember that you can renew your domain name registration at any time and you DO NOT LOSE ANY OF THE CURRENT REGISTRATION PERIOD. Anytime you renew a domain name registration, the renewal period is added to the existing registration period, extending the registration from that point forward.

Did You Call Me a Professional Fraud? Cheers!

I’ve been accused in the past by loving family members (who will remain nameless here) of being a “Professional Fraud”. And while there could be some elements of truth in that moniker, I none-the-less actually take this name-calling as a compliment to my imaging skills rather than an accusation of wrongdoing!

This project is a good case in point of exactly how I’ve come to earn the title of Professional Fraud. My approach champagne-glassto digital imaging work has always been based on the goal of fooling the audience. My goal is to create an illusion that is so convincing that the viewer of the image will not be able to tell exactly what I did to the image. I like to say, “My best work is the work that no one ever spots!”

Which brings us to the champagne glass you see here. I’d not be so brass as to suggest that an experienced eye would not be able to see what I’ve done to this image from within Photoshop. But I would venture to bet that the casual viewer would not have a clue as to the true extent of the retouching that has been done.

So…what exactly was done? Let’s see, there are probably some obvious things… I dropped in a gradient background, cleaned up and smoothed out highlights and lighting on the glass and seen through the champagne. Sure those would be obvious. But not exactly right.

Truth be told, this glass of champagne never existed. Every pixel of this image was created from within Photoshop without the benefit of any original photography or other source artwork. I started quite literally from a blank white canvas. From there, step-by-step I created this glass of champagne using a laundry list of tools available in Photoshop.

Why did I do this rather than make an original photo or (perish the thought) just buy a stock photo that can be found online royalty-free and dirt cheap? Let me tackle the stock photo issue first. Why not just buy a stock shot? Well… I am a professional photographer! It would be hard for me to conceive of a good reason I should ever buy stock photography when I could create the image myself.

That of course leads directly to the second question. Why on earth, as a professional photographer, did I not simply capture the image I need rather than build it in Photoshop? Well, I considered this but there were two reasons why I did not create my own original photo.

First, I had a tight deadline (2 or 3 hours), which didn’t allow the time I would have needed to gather all of the elements, set up the shot and shoot it. There just wasn’t time. Second, I really felt that I could produce the image I wanted more quickly by building it from scratch in Photoshop. I felt that the result from Photoshop was going to be superior in the end anyway. I had control over literally every single pixel that made up the image. Every bubble in the champagne could be what and where I wanted. The color of the beverage, the shape of the glass, the visibility of the background… all completely under my control. In the end it seemed the most efficient route with the greatest control.

I think it worked. Call me a Professional Fraud. I’ll take it well. In the end I got the image I needed with minimum fuss or hassle, met my deadline and spent precious little budget to do so.

If you are interested in learning more about how I created this image in Photoshop, leave your comments and express your interest. I may pull together an overview/tutorial on it if there is interest.

Oh, and before you go there. I do know the image is not flawless. There are some elements that should be in the image that I just did not have the time to get to. (Remember the deadline I mentioned above.) I won’t name the flaws here, but if you do I’ll give you kudos for your sharp eye!

Drag & Drop Your Drop Shadows!

Photoshop logoPhotoshop makes so many things so very easy we sometimes take if for granted. Adding a drop shadow for instance, on any layer which contains some transparency, is as easy as pulling up the Layer Style dialogue box (Layer —> Layer Style —> Drop Shadow…). Then customize that drop shadow to your hearts content with all of the options offered.

But, it may be even easier than you realized! Once you have the Layer Style dialogue box available on your screen, move your cursor outside that box and into your image window. You will notice that the cursor turns into the move tool! Now just click in the image window and you can drag and drop your new drop shadow into the exact position you would like it to be! Simple as pie!

Drag and Drop Your Drop Shadows

As you drag the drop shadow around your image window, Photoshop instantly updates both the Angle and Distance settings for you. Once you’ve tried this out you will never again go back to manually typing the numerical information into the settings text boxes!

Would you like to see more Photoshop tips like this? Let me know you found this helpful and I will keep adding more right here. To get even more insight into Photoshop, consider membership in National Association of Photoshop Professionals, it’s worth every penny!

Your Business Doesn't Need Social Media, Or Does It??

Social Media logosMaybe you have looked a little and toyed with a social media outlet here or there. Maybe it was YouTube, Twitter or Flickr. Did you come away thinking “This is just a big waste of time for my business. I don’t care what someone is having for lunch today!”. Well, if you place any value on how Google sees things on the web, you just might want to think again! With or without your business included, social media has become an online force of growing strength and scale.

At least for the time being, Google seems to be placing some premium on the placement of social media in their search results. Companies who participate in these forums find that their social media presence is listed highly in Google results. For these companies, this can only be a good thing.

StarbucksAs an example, in a recent Google search for “Starbucks” there were three separate social media related results in the top 20 listings, they included Twitter, Facebook & YouTube. Of the remaining seventeen results in the search, only four were generated from the starbucks.com domain itself. By the effective use of social media, Starbucks nearly doubled the number of top 20 listings in this Google search result, which pointed to web pages under their direct control!

Starbucks is just one of many examples of the same thing happening over and over again. It is routine now for more and more nationally recognized companies and brands to use social media as tools in their arsenal to communicate with current and potential customers.

comcast-logoComcast is a well known example of a nationally known company using social media to communicate directly with their customers. Specifically, with their many accounts on Twitter (most notably @ComcastCares) Comcast uses the Twitter platform as a tool to interact with their customers directly and nearly in real time.

So what exactly is Comcast doing? They constantly monitor discussion on Twitter looking for any references to their company. When they do find a disappointed, or flat out irate customer, they immediately open up the lines of communication. They take customer service directly to the disappointed individual and solve the problem as quickly and professionally as possible, in a very public forum. The result is a bad situation which has been turned into a good one. Comcast wins, and their customer wins.

So maybe you do want to think again about how social media might benefit your company. Sure, some people are contributing mundane details of their day on these forums, and what is really wrong with that. Your business however, can use these tools in a very different way and end up with better search results, better customer communications, some positive public image and a thriving business! And there is nothing wrong with that!

Photographing an Artist, Capturing a Legacy

B.C. comic strip cartoonist Mason Mastroianni, surrounded by his Grandfather's artwork.

B.C. comic strip cartoonist Mason Mastroianni, surrounded by his Grandfather's artwork.

A recent project for me that was both fun and interesting was that of photographing local cartoonist and artist Mason Mastroianni, grandson of Johnny Hart, the original artist and creator of the nationally famous comic strip “B.C.”. After his grandfather’s passing in 2007, Mason took over at the drawing board and he and his family now perpetuate his grandfathers legacy.

Stay Healthy cover photoI was contracted by United Health Services (UHS) and charged with the task of photographing Mason in his art studio for an article in the Spring 2009 issue of Stay Healthy magazine, which is produced by UHS. The images would be used as art for the magazine cover (shown at right) and would also be included in the content of the article itself. But first, I had to get there, to the art studio that is.

Making my way to the shoot location in rural upstate NY, my instructions were to call when I arrived at the driveway entrance. I quickly understood why as I was guided into the property on the phone. On a sprawling parcel of land, the studio itself was nestled near the back of the property surrounded by beautiful mature trees and at least one large pond.

Mason had cleared his entire afternoon for the purposes of our photo shoot. After a tour of the various studio settings available for our photography we settled on two or three scenes to work from. At least one of these scenes allowed me to photograph Mason at the very same art table where his grandfather had crafted the B.C. comic strip over the preceding decades. It would be one of the images captured at his grandfathers art table which would eventually make it to the cover of the Stay Healthy magazine issue, as shown above.

While there at the John Hart Studios it was also my pleasure to meet more of the team, all family members, who work together to keep the B.C. strip in newspaper comics nationwide. Mason’s mother, Patti Pomeroy, and his brother, Mick Mastroianni, made my job easy and kept the mood light as good natured ribbing seemed to be the order of the day. As best I could tell, the teasing, often at each others expense, seemed to be pretty evenly distributed among the three of them.

Mastroianni self-portrait

Mason working on a self portrait.

When all was said and done, we had created a great selection of images for UHS and the Stay Healthy magazine to choose from. It was a pleasure to meet Mason and his family and get a glimpse at the inner workings of a nationally syndicated cartoonists art studio. And as cold as this winter day was, the warmth of this group of creatives more than compensated. My thanks to everyone at John Hart Studios for an enjoyable afternoon!

Sample Any Color From Anywhere

It is an easy task to grab the Eyedropper tool in Photoshop and pick a color from anywhere in your open document. Just click anywhere in the document window to choose a color from within the image.

But how do you pick a color from somewhere else on your screen? Maybe from that web browser window or open Word document elsewhere on your screen?

Just click within your Photoshop document first, and then drag your Eyedropper tool directly to the object from which you would like to sample a new color. When you release the mouse button Photoshop will sample the color from that spot. This works in Adobe Illustrator too!

Zooming Hi-Res Images from Any Web Site

Zooming Flower imageYou can now deliver hi-resolution images from virtually any web site, with NO SLOW DOWNLOAD TIMES! These images are interactive and impressive. Through a very intuitive interface your site visitors can zoom into the on-screen image to see the finest details. All without any special software or plug-ins and, most importantly, NO slow downloads. This level of image detail can change the way you think about your web site and lends itself to many applications such as:

  • Hi resolution product images
  • Detailed real estate site views
  • Detailed electronics/components
  • Hi-res scanned documents
  • Much, much more…

The images are stored on your own web server and delivered to the viewer as needed. This allows the download time to be minimal while offering the image viewer an extraordinary level of detail for viewing. As the viewer zooms in on the image the online system delivers only that part of the image which is needed, leaving the remaining hi-resolution image data on the server but ready for retrieval on demand.

It has to be said that although you may not have seen this technology in action before now, it is not new. It has changed over the years making this visual image presentation tool more and more user friendly. There is no need for any plug-in downloads or unique software for your site visitors. The presentation platform is Flash based, a mechanism that is now very much the norm and not the exception. Any typical modern web browser application should be able to deliver these incredible images to site visitors without any troubles at all.

SteadmanTech has numerous image samples you are invited to view from our web site. The samples are generated from original images ranging from 50MB – 140MB in size. This technique can however be applied to images much much larger, hundreds of megs and even multiple gigs in size! The possibilities are endless.

Learn more…

Rotate Your On-Screen View

Photoshop logoIf you have ever worked on an image or graphic in Photoshop and just could not get your hand to follow the line you need, this tip will be like gold for you. Been there? Twisting your wrist in an odd way or tipping your head to get everything lined up so you can follow a line just right? Do that too long and things are going to start hurting, really.

New to Photoshop CS4, you can now rotate the image on-screen view. Just hold down the “R” key and then click and drag in your image view. As you drag in an arc across your screen the image view rotates to the angle you choose. You are NOT actually rotating the image file itself, just your view of it on screen. Photoshop even displays a compass like graphic for you, so you can always keep track of where the top of your document really is.

With one small variation, you can also rotate your view in 15 degree increments. Hold down the “R” and Shift keys together, then click and drag. Your on-screen view will snap to 15 degree steps!