Attack of the Photoshop Ninjas By Pete Rivard March 6, 2007 -- Is there anything more entertaining than watching a photographer and an art director contest egos during a photo shoot? The former, knowing himself to be an artiste nonpareil, cannot endure the instructions of the latter, whose unshakeable belief is that it is her art being created. So the two circle each other like wrestlers, looking for the opening required to pin the other and shout, “Who’s yo' daddy?” No matter how each individual contest shakes out, the outcome is all good for my program’s students. Someone competent has to deal with the resulting images, and that person is neither of the original two. Someone competent has to deal with images. And it's not the photographer or the art director Last Thursday we held our 5th annual InternExpo, where our second year students spruce up, display themselves and their work from the past two years, and greet the HR reps, production managers and company owners who arrive looking for new talent. In effect InternExpo is a job fair in reverse. The students are the booths, not the companies. This arrangement is designed to force every student out of hiding, no matter how shy, and cause him and her both to represent themselves well and impress those in a position to hire. This year we had seventeen representatives from thirteen companies attend, with several additional companies that had originally RSVP’d phoning in their regrets but posting job opportunities anyway. Some years are remembered for an overwhelming need for a certain technical talent. Last year it was the omnidigitalist, an individual that can handle any task in a digital print operation, from layout and design to imposing, printing and bindery. One year it seemed it was all flexo, from prepress through plate making to press operations and ink formulation. Enter the Ninjas This year the undisputed leading need was Photoshop ninjas. The digital photography tsunami of the past three or four years has seemingly washed away nearly every scanner and film processor in the industry, drowning photographers in pixels and punching gaping holes in rigidly constructed workflows; holes into which I intend to pour hordes of highly trained and ruthlessly efficient Photoshop ninjas. The digital photography tsunami of the past three or four years has seemingly washed away nearly every scanner and film processor in the industry Anyone who has seen a martial arts flick in the past twenty years is familiar with the concept of the ninja, the highly trained and disciplined warrior for hire, feared for an ability to silently scale the wall at night, singly or in droves, taking out targets with razor sharp weaponry and even sharper hand-to-hand skills, and disappearing without anyone knowing they were there in the first place. The Photoshop ninja is the digital counterpart to the actual martial arts assassin. This ninja is also a highly trained expert for hire, able to eradicate flaws in any image, seamlessly montage several images into one (I can’t believe I actually used the term “seamlessly”) and cause the streets to run Pantone 199C with killer color corrective adjustments. And the uninitiated never know the ninja’s work was not part of the original photo. Photographers are paid to capture images, and historically have had little truck with pixel creation and adjustment. The composition, lighting and focal skills required of the photographer, though now part of a digital process, do not result in a finished image ready for print or the web. Typically, subject detail in the actual world is a random and irregular phenomenon. The digital image is a fascistic artifact, with militant rows and columns of absolutely equal squares. An almost counterintuitive visual softening occurs when randomized variations are forced into precise and equalized rows and columns. Also, digital partitioning of analog waveforms of reflected light causes issues. Resulting imperfections in these digital images require the attentions of individuals trained to apply both hemispheres of their brain, using computer applications to solve aesthetic challenges through image sharpening, tonal adjustments, color modifications and digital painting. These individuals need to have a studio sensibility, conversing fluidly and soothingly with art directors exhausted by their bouts with photographers and up against deadlines. Imperfections in these digital images require the attentions of individuals trained to apply both hemispheres of their brain, using computer applications to solve aesthetic challenges Minneapolis is known as the Mill City. This town was founded upon the waterpower of the upper Mississippi to grind grain shipped in by rail from the farms of the plains states. Pillsbury and General Mills were born here. So, almost every professional photographer's studio has at least one kitchen, and food stylists are hot commodities. Despite all the front-end talent, a two-page food spread is as often as not a photo-construction of elements from several different shots, with minor visual annoyances erased along the way. The graphic designer’s training toward creative problem solving is no proper fit for this digital image manipulation. The prepress operator’s preflighting, imposition, trapping and RIP acrobatics don’t precisely map to the needs of the post-production world either. What to do? What to do? Train Photoshop ninjas. Equip them with refined skill sets related to overall adjustments, masking and brushwork. Train them to speak the languages of RGB, CMYK and LAB. Have them sleep on hard floors and eat uncooked Camera RAW. Make them correct image after image after image. Finally, deploy them wherever unrefined pixels are piling up: photo studios, creative agencies, prepress houses and print shops. In the time it took me to write this article, this town’s photographers generated gigabytes of fresh data. Photoshop nin-jaaaaaahs! Attack!