Friday, June 8, 2007
Jeff Schewe - Absolute Total Control
Whether it's working up models and intricate rigging or building Photoshop files with seemingly endless numbers of layers, Jeff Schewe is serious about being in control
The combination of craft in the taking of photographs and the ability to do just about anything in Photoshop gives Schewe what he needs above all else: “Absolute total control,” he says. To have that level of control used to require specialized equipment that was far beyond the means of even the most successful photographer. You could send the work to a graphic design house and easily pay hundreds of dollars per hour for retouching and compositing, and even then you weren't really in control of the final outcome. Today, an investment of a few thousand dollars gets you a computer and software that dramatically outperform the equipment of the 1980s. The power of control is in every pro's hands.
Control becomes a matter of personal commitment at some level. Not everyone is able or willing to spend the time and effort to learn the intricacies of Photoshop. For Schewe, getting in and mastering the process is necessary to get exactly the result he's looking for. One can certainly rely on an assistant to do the heavy lifting in Photoshop, but when absolute control is the goal, there's no substitute for knowing the ins and outs of the software yourself.
That we have this level of control is thanks in no small part to Schewe's efforts in the industry. He has been working with this gear for so long that he has gained a considerable amount of influence at Apple and Adobe, and he has used it well. For all of Schewe's expertise in computer work, he's a photographer and thinks like one. When he's consulted on developments on the Macintosh and Photoshop, he presses for features that would matter to photographers and would create tools for photographers. Says Schewe, “I run my mouth enough to get what I think is important into Photoshop. I look at the tools from a photographer's point of view.”
The camera has been called a mirror on reality. In the digital age, that assertion gets turned around. “Photoshop is so successful because reality sucks,” he says. “Photoshop allows you to make your own reality.” Because he does so much compositing, Schewe has built up and maintains a large library of source material. He's rarely without a camera to be ready to build up that library. “I have lots of random stuff. Mostly, I'll shoot texture elements—old barn wood, rust, lots of sky shots.” This kind of material gets transformed in limitless ways in future projects. Making your own reality requires plenty of building blocks at your disposal.
Those disjointed bits and pieces of texture, skies and color become elements of his finished projects in some interesting ways. For instance, Schewe might take a photo of some rust, pick one of the color channels and convert it to a texture map. The original rust image undergoes a complete transformation into an element in a new project.
Some people still think of digital technology as a crutch for laziness, that somehow it creates a “we'll just fix it later” mentality. Schewe goes out of his way to dispute that as being nonsense. “The fact is, Photoshop isn't great for fixing photographic flaws,” he says. “You have to get the shot right to make maximum use of the power you have. In fact, in a digital age, pure photographic skills are even more important. Digital teaches you the value of a good tripod.”
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