Thursday, 1 December 2016

Santa's Shadow

Here's a demonstration of to combine one image with another and make it look like it was shot as a single image (using Photoshop Elements 15):

PSE 15 Santa Claus from Robin Nichols on Vimeo.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Vale Fidel Castro

"A revolution is not a bed of roses..." - Fidel Castro

Although former president and revolutionary leader Fidel Castro has been out of Cuba's national and political limelight for more than a decade, it was still sad to read of his death on 25th November.

Much has been said about Fidel Castro, most of it incorrect and wildly misleading.  But one thing is for sure: unlike many political leaders of our time, Castro was a man who stuck to his principles despite the poverty enforced by the crippling embargo that has kept Cubans out of the international mainstream for more than 50 years.

It is particularly sad to see how many so-called leaders applauded his demise and yet Castro demonstrated to the world a dedication and honesty that few can come close to.  Sure, he stamped out any factions that strove to challenge his authority - Cuba is, after all, a one party State - and a lot of Cubans have left the country because of its unwavering politics.   If President-elect Trump has his way, Cuba would be ripe for 'development' again, and all the social reforms that Castro fought so hard for - free education, health care, social equality - all of which are not freely available in the US, would be gone. And this attitude comes from a man who has not paid any tax for 20+ years.
 Although initially involved in fighting right-wing governments in Colombia and the Dominican Republic, it wasn't long before Castro turned his attention to fighting for equality in his homeland. At that time much of the wealth was generated by the sugar industry and this was predominantly owned by foreigners - Spanish landowners who had little interest in a Cuban independence.

In the fifties Cuba was controlled by the US-backed dictator, Fulgencio Batista. He seized power in 1952 and, because he was seen as being so Western-friendly, enjoyed the full political and financial support of the United States. In fact, prior to the Revolution, many notorious criminals from the US  treated Cuba as their personal  playground: for running prostitution rackets, drugs and money laundering.

Many modern day travellers have visited the Hotel Nacional in Havana - this is an art deco monument that was the virtual HQ for gangsters like Meyer Lansky, and Lucky Luciano. These ruthless criminals ran gambling and drug rackets in Cuba with absolutely no restriction from the local authorities, while the general population struggled to eke out an existence from the land.

In the mid to late fifties Castro eventually formed a cohesive band of revolutionaries wanting freedom from a dictatorial system and, more importantly, an independent Cuba for the Cuban people.

His 26th of July Movement resulted in the people's revolution which eventually overthrew the Batista regime in 1959, replacing it with a left-leaning government fighting for social reform.

In late 1959, a few months after toppling Batista, Castro visited the US hoping to open up relations but was publicly snubbed by the then president, Eisenhower. The US government clearly didn't like what had happened in Cuba and was not about to support a new leader that they had not sanctioned. This is a disastrous foreign policy that the US continues to inflict on supposedly sovereign nations to this day. (I am sure most of us can name at least half a dozen US-approved leaders that have subsequently turnout out to be complete duds. I'd name the countries here, but it would take up too much space).

In 1961 the CIA trained a number of what I suppose you might call 'political fundamentalists' Bay of Pigs incident was defeated in three days and left the US with a certain amount of political egg on its face.  Nevertheless, (or maybe because of) this loss of face caused the US to instigate a blockade and embargo on trade with Cuba, which still exists today.
Billboard in Eastern Cuba stating "Blockade - the largest genocide in history"

At the time, Castro could get no assistance from the US, so desperately needing the funds he  went to the next bidder, which was Russia. The rest, as they say, is history.  Interestingly Ho Chi Minh experienced the same problem when campaigning for Vietnamese independence (from colonial France). No one in the West was willing to get involved, so the Communists stepped in.

A revolution is a struggle to the death between the future and the past.”
During Castro's presidency, there have been more attempts to have Castro assassinated than any other figure in history (Castro claimed there were 634 attempts on his life).  Many of these attempts were, apparently, instigated by the CIA. The Bay of Pigs for example, was clearly organised entirely by the CIA, others, like an exploding cigar, were possibly more fantastic than practical.

Whatever your opinion of Fidel Castro, the facts about his life are unequivocal: he was a strong leader, believed fiercely in freedom for the Cuban people, never wavered under the pressures brought to bear by other nations - and he fought for justice.

The ever more sophisticated weapons piling up in the arsenals of the wealthiest and the mightiest can kill the illiterate, the ill, the poor and the hungry, but they cannot kill ignorance, illness, poverty or hunger.”   

"I am not a communist and neither is the revolutionary movement.”
-  Fidel Castro

The question of course that everyone is asking is "what will become of Cuba now?".  Most would suggest change is the only way  -  in fact, a lot has changed between my first visit in 2012 and my recent trip to Havana earlier this year. But clearly it's not enough to satisfy the younger generation who are chomping at the bit to live in a more developed nation. Quite understandable looking at the state of the infrastructure and economy. If you are Cuban, the changes can't come fast enough, but in reality, I think any changes will still happen, but slowly if the current regime has anything to do with it...

Monday, 24 October 2016

Photoshop CC Projects, an Online Class

This is an entirely new class hosted by, called Adobe Photoshop CC Projects - launched this September. It runs for two months, comprises 30 online tutorials, has four multi-part assignments and costs US$159. (These tutorials remain available to students for a couple of years after class finishes).In it I try to introduce students to tools and techniques that many regular users of Photoshop miss out on - the Quick Mask, Pen tool, custom brushes - these are just a few of the features that we look at using creatively in this class.

But, the best way to illustrate this is to show you some of the impressive and highly creative way my students have responded to the four assignments.

In no particular order, this is just a snippet of their work:

Original shot by John St Pierre
Same image, overlaid with a David Hockney-esque Polaroid framing technique.
Original barn shot by Pam Cone
Here Pam demonstrates perfectly how to add clouds using one of the many free Photoshop custom brushes available off the 'net (we like the word 'free').
All that is needed is a sharp edged selection in the main image to allow the brush effect to drop into the sky and to not bleed into other parts of the frame.
Sculpture by John St Pierre
John St Pierre amply demonstrating the power (and seamless accuracy) of the Pen tool in selecting the foreground detail, while adding a stock shot into the background, transforming the picture from simply 'ok', to an image with a lot more visual impact.
Original streaky night shot by Erin Cori
A simple transformation is made by duplicating the layer once, then flipping the top layer horizontally and changing that (top) layer's Blend Mode from Normal to Difference.
Nice result from Erin Cori.
Radically defocussing parts of this harbour scene produces a great Miniature Mode effect.
(Pic by John St Pierre).
Home spun goodness from Debbie Lieske
Part of this class is designed to push students into learning how to deal with clip art, fonts, camera RAW tools and of course, selections...
We also delve into the world of art by testing out the Art History Brush to transform a regular image into one that looks more painted than shot with a camera.
(image by John St Pierre).
Family group shot with a difference...
John Reveley demonstrates nicely what you can do with the Art History Brush

Another exercise involves adding a dot screen over a regular image to produce what I call the
Roy Lichtenstein 'look'.
Here's a great example from Jo Horne.
Another successful screen overlay effect from Corinne Bramwell
OK, so here's a grumpy cat photo (top) that seems to have a naturally-designed balancing space on the top of its head for an apple, or so Debbie Lieske thought.
It's a great example of what you can do with the Pen tool in Photoshop.
Debbie Lieske's Polaroid effect landscape.
Though this technique does take a bit of time to get right, it's a useful lesson in learning how layers, and clipping paths, work in Photoshop.

Another great result by Debbie Lieske
This time defocussing the foreground and the background for emphasis on a grand scale...
Another near-perfect Pen tool extraction by Jo Horne
Great example of what you can do using the Art History Brush in Photoshop
Image by Jo Horne

Monday, 17 October 2016

Using the Refine Edge Tool

One of the most asked questions I get is around how to perfect selections - Photoshop has a neat feature called the Refine Edge tool and while it is pretty good, the bare truth of any selection making process is patience. Making a selection is rarely going to be a cinch because we have a habit of shooting complex looking subjects. Here's how the Refine Edge tool works.
  Refine Edge Tool from Robin Nichols on Vimeo.