The Worst Photoshop Tutorial on the Web

When I first saw it on Facebook I was sure it was a parody. A joke. But no, it’s intended to be real: 10-Step Processing Technique. To save you the trouble of examining that link I’ll warn you that the web site that hosts this “tutorial” is the kind of place that offers to sell you “press credentials” for $99.00. (They’re basically using the Dunning-Kruger Effect as a marketing strategy. ’nuff said.)

The Image.

The image is the sort of over-the-top HDR nature photo that makes you cringe. Yes, YOU. I personally use HDR and find it a valuable tool for some of my work. But I’ve rarely seen it used well in nature photography or landscapes and the example shown is not among the rare good ones. There’s a clever “before/after” viewer provided which shows, obviously, a “before” image and an “after” image. But HDR photos come from 2, 3, 5 or more “before” images. Yet we’re only shown a single “before” photo and never given any explanation as to why the others are excluded.

That kind of opacity turns out to be characteristic of the whole endeavor, as we shall see. On to the ten steps in the “tutorial”.

The first five steps are done in Lightroom.

STEP 1 — Automerge HDR in Lightroom (or manually in Photoshop)

This might have been a good point to recommend one of the 113 gajillion possible HDR conversion settings available, don’t you think? Or tell us how many images to start out with? Or to perhaps begin the tutorial with how to shoot the images themselves since that has to be taken into account first when using HDR? Apparently not.

STEP 2 — Lens correction via camera profile

This is actually done automatically by Lightroom if you check the “Enable Profile Corrections” box and it’s done before step 1. But without it we’d be stuck with the unmemorable “9-Step Processing Technique”, so why pick nits? We must have a TEN step processing technique!

STEP 3 — Create a flat and low contrast image with as much tonal values as possible with shadow and highlight recovery, as well as exposure and black/white tone adjustments

My gibberish-to-English translator is on the fritz at the moment but this seems to imply the creation of both color and Black & white versions of the image. And the image (or images?) should be “low contrast” and have “as much tonal values as possible”? Okey-dokey! So we want a very low-contrast, high-contrast image. Glad we got cleared that up!

STEP 4 — First color corrections if necessary

Hello? Do you think you could be a little less specific?

STEP 5 — Develop 16-bit uncompressed tiff file

Since this part of the “tutorial” is in Lightroom we can probably assume “develop” means “export”. But why “uncompressed TIFF”? Since TIFF compression from Lightroom uses the ZIP algorithm, which is lossless, there’s no benefit to using an uncompressed TIFF. And if using a lossless file format is important, why not use PSD – to take advantage of the Photoshop features available only in that format – since the availability of Photoshop is presumed? These are signs of someone who’s learned specific processes by rote without understanding what they mean or why they’re used.

The “tutorial” says to switch over to Photoshop for the next five steps, which is odd because every one of them can be done in Lightroom. Again, this is a sign of someone who’s memorized steps they’ve learned from someone else but doesn’t understand how they work.

STEP 6 — Dogde (sic) and burn

“Dogde”? Really? I know spelling flames are lame. But this isn’t an email or Usenet post, it’s a “tutorial” (albeit in the loosest sense of the word) that’s posted on a web site and should have been proofread by an editor – or at least spellchecked – first.

But more to the point: What the holy grilled cheese fuck??? Dodge what? Burn what? Does every photo require dodging and burning? (Hint: No.) Do you realize that the Dodge and Burn tools in Photoshop have multiple settings? This is where a real tutorial would show an example image and it’s worth mentioning at this point that illustrations are entirely lacking in the whole ten steps here. No screen grabs of Photoshop Panels or dialog boxes. No indication of what the working image looks like at different stages in the process. We get the before and after but nothing in between. It’s like a magician showing you his lovely assistant before she’s sawn in half and after but skipping the bit in between where he actually does the sawing.

STEP 7 — Final contrast curve adjustments with luminance masks, gradients and manual masks

More from the department of “you’ve got to be kidding me?”

Make some curves adjustments. Gosh! Thanks, Batman! That’s a big help!

Use luminance masks, gradients and manual masks. Wow! You’re my hero!

STEP 8 — Final color corrections

Really grasping at straws here. It’s like the TV “psychic” doing a cold reading; “I’m getting a sense of an important woman in your life… did you perchance have a.. a… mother?” Yeah. Do some “color corrections”. Thanks, Einstein.

STEP 9 — This step is a proprietary trade secret :) (it is about creating a personal, unique and distinctive look that should unveal (sic) your personal VISION and reveal the essentials of the subject with the tools of your choice evolved over years through personal post production experiences highly depending on the specific motive itself.)

OK. This just pissed me off. There’s an old Irish saying*: “People who live in glass houses… should masturbate in the basement”. We don’t want to see you do it because it ain’t pretty… and this step proves it. Don’t “unveal” yourself like this — it just shows you haven’t the foggiest idea what you’re doing and are simply falling back on the old “if you can’t blind ‘em with brilliance baffle ‘em with bullshit” approach that’s failed so spectacularly in countless undergrad essays. My freshman students’ artist statements are more coherent. Step 9 reminds me of this old New Yorker cartoon.

STEP 10 — Sharpen

No shit, Sherlock. Except that capture sharpening should have been done with the original images before step 1, local sharpening should have been done after the HDR was created and this final sharpening shouldn’t be done until printing because it’s dependent on print size.

OK, take a deep breath and relax…

This “tutorial” reads like a cake recipe in which someone wrote: “Round up some ingredients for cake, mix them together in good proportions and bake at the right temperature for as long as it takes to make cake”. It isn’t just vague, it’s insulting. You know what’s the most important thing in Photoshop tutorials? Images. Even the absurdly vague instructions would be somewhat forgivable if they were accompanied by illustrations and photographs that showed each step visually. As it is, all we have is the before/after image. I kind of suspect the entire “tutorial” was just an excuse for the writer to show off the tricky new JavaScript-driven “before/after slider” script itself. Well, at least it accomplished that.

* Dara O’Briain – so it’s not really old but indisputably Irish.
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