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Revisiting My Infrastructure
A fresh look for the next steps.
As I was working through the recent redesign of my website—which you can read about or listen to in the last Iteration—I started to look at some of the other software I was using to see whether what I was using still made sense for the projects I’ll be doing in the coming year. I think it’s sometimes easy to get into a routine of using tools that are “good enough” that we just don’t look for potentially better options. I know that’s been true for me.
About eight years ago, I ditched Photoshop completely and started using the Affinity suite of Photo, Designer, and Publisher, which by and large have been great. There are a few features I miss, but nothing that’s really kept me from doing the work that I needed to do.
That said, moving away from Adobe products meant that in addition to losing Photoshop, I also lost Lightroom. Even though my photos are organized in a folder structure that makes sense, previewing files—especially RAW files—in Finder or the Preview app in macOS is just sort of clumsy. Plus, I have no way to rate or tag images, so sorting and searching is kind of out of the question. I’ve taken a break from photography for the last several years so it hasn’t really been an issue, but photography actually features pretty heavily in several of the projects I’m working on for next year, so I need to figure out a new solution for editing as well as cataloging.
Last week I bought a new SSD and as luck would have it, one of the perks that came with it was a free 30-day subscription to the Adobe Creative Cloud All Apps package. As I said, I haven’t had Photoshop or Lightroom on any of my computers in years, and honestly while I’ve been curious to see how the tools have evolved, this is where it gets a little sticky for me because it seems like most of the recent Photoshop hype is around AI and Adobe’s inclusion of tools like Generative Fill. I’ve been pretty critical of text-to-image tools because of how they are “trained.” I’ve read multiple articles that claim AI platforms like MidJourney and Stable Diffusion are basically stealing the work of other artists in order to generate their images. This is one of the reasons that according to the Federal Government, you can’t copyright AI generated images—at least for now. But, what I’m learning is that we’re only ankle-deep in AI and nothing is black and white. Just because I find one implementation of it problematic, I don’t think that really justifies throwing the baby out with the bath water and saying no to all of it. AI is coming whether I like it or not and it’s up to each of us to make informed decisions about how and when we use it.
I installed Photoshop and within the first few minutes of jumping back in, I found a big reason to make the switch back and that is Camera Raw. I opened the same RAW files of a couple of my paintings in Camera Raw and Affinity Photo and the difference was night and day. For years, I’ve been thinking Affinity’s RAW engine was doing a good job—and it does—despite having to make manual adjustments to exposure to match how the photo was shot. But the Camera Raw files are cleaner with more nuance and subtle detail and much more accurate color. Next, I used the new AI-powered Object Selection tool to create masks from the ragged edges of some of my paintings, which worked brilliantly and was much faster than doing it by hand with the Pen tool. The last thing I tried was the new Generative Expand, which looks like magic if you watch any of Adobe’s demos. In practice, it’s nowhere close to being ready for prime time—at least the way I was using it. I opened a couple of my square paintings and tried to use Generative Expand to change the aspect ratio from 1:1 to 16:9 and 4:3. The results were less than spectacular, to say the least. The generated areas were smeared, blurry, and just lacked the same level of detail as the originals, which I suppose makes sense because it’s sampling what’s there as the source material in order to generate something new, but it also has to rotate, scale, or somehow transform the “new” bits so it doesn’t just look clone stamped. Here’s the thing: even though the results were sort of shit as final pieces, some of the variations did work as “previz” ideas for potential new paintings—kind of like rough sketches—and that fits perfectly with the other happy accidents that seem to find their way into my work.
I haven’t fired up Lightroom yet, but I know that having a main catalog that can be sorted and searched again will be a game-changer moving forward. Not to mention the fact that it will be nice to have an app that allows me to make global edits that can be synced across an entire shoot, which is exactly what I need now that I’ve started to photograph all of my paintings ahead of offering them as prints. I’ll still keep using Affinity Designer for icons, logos and whatever vector work I need to do and Affinity Publisher is a perfect solution for laying out zines. And to be clear, just because I’m adding Photoshop into my mix doesn’t mean that I’ll stop using Affinity Photo. It’s still a terrific application and Affinity’s Studio Link makes Photo, Designer, and Publisher behave as a single app, which is kind of a game-changer. For example, when I’m in Publisher working on a zine and I need to make an edit to a photo, simply tapping on the Photo icon swaps out the interface and tools seamlessly, rather than having to launch another app, import the file you want to edit, save it, and bring it back into Publisher. As Adrianne says, “Sometimes, what you’re looking for is a ‘both-and’ solution.”
I know I’ve said this before, but I really do feel like the last several months have been massively productive in terms of sorting out some of the mechanics of how I make. I’m also trying to let go of things that weren’t working, or at least were keeping me from getting out of my own way. Even though I haven’t recorded an episode of Process Driven in over a year and I haven’t painted anything new in months, it’s okay because part of what I’ve been working on is figuring out where I want to go with my podcasting and what I want to do with the work that I already have. I feel like there’s a plan, and for the moment, it feels pretty good.
Thanks so much for reading.
Are the tools you use still working for you?
What areas of your process could benefit from a little tweaking?
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