I’m back from Photoshop World in Vegas. My head is still spinning, I’m still sleep-deprived, but I wanted to write down my thoughts while they’re fresh.

The event began with the NAPP forum party. This is a gathering of folks who frequent the forums at the NAPP member web site - a chance for us to meet face-to-face. We ate at the Burger Bar near the Mandalay Bay, the conference hotel (/casino). Being my second PSW, I’d met some of the folks before. It was fun reconnecting and meeting some others for the first time. I brought my trusty 50mm f/1.4 to shoot available light and found that the lens wouldn’t auto-focus. I guess having started shooting before there was auto-focus paid off.

There’s a theme to the conference each year. Last year, they had a KISS knock-off called NAPP. There was a video about the NAPP reunion tour – cheesy, but fun. Then Scott Kelby and his band performed in KISS-like costumes. So, I was wondering what they could do this year.

The theme this time was Project Photoshop, a parody of Project Runway, complete with the runway show. The opening video was a hoot. The full keynote is on YouTube here.

They later had all the fashion, actually designed by students, on display in the Expo hall. It was fun and cool. I’m still amazed at the quality of the video and live productions. They have an outstanding creative staff. If you’ve attended conferences for engineering or medical or various other professions, this is something altogether different. Altogether.

Westcott, a lighting manufacturer, sponsors a booth with four lighting setups and four different models. Some of them have photographers on-hand to discuss the lighting, posing, working with models, etc. Photographers are free to shoot the models, even direct them. Last year, I had mixed feelings about shooting the models.

I didn’t set the lighting. I didn’t conceive of the setting, the costumes, the make-up. It’s sort of hard to call the photos I’d take my own. This time, I reconciled this a bit. It is I choosing the lens, focal length, shutter speed, aperture, angle, and composition.

And, I get to choose how I’ll post-process the shots. Make them warm or cool. Soft or harsh. So, yes, I’ll claim these as my own.

But as folks scrambled for a good position to shoot the model against the cool background, I decided to move to the side, walk in close, and shoot this buff female against the black partition dividing two of the sets. Something a bit different, and I love her profile which struck me even when I was standing by the crowd.

There were many sessions to take in. There are six or seven parallel tracks, so choosing what you wish to attend is sometimes tough. I tried to find instructors I’d not seen before or seen only in online tutorials. My take on the hottest topic this year was compositing. Matt Kloskowski has a new compositing book which has been a run-away bestseller – as in, sold out on Amazon. Looks like they have some in stock now. But there were several classes teaching or showing compositing. One of the instructors said if your photography looks like it could have been shot 10 years ago, you’re missing the boat (to paraphrase).

The photo above was the panel session called The Art of Digital Photography. It was one of my favorite sessions last year. This year, it was still at the top of my list. Eight great photographers show some of their work and discuss it. But, only a few days before the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it was Joe McNally’s presentation that stole the show. Joe shot folks, many of them firefighters, who were in some way affected by 9/11 shortly after the tragedy using a huge Polaroid camera. The Polaroid prints were life size – nine feet long.

This year, he visited with many of those same people to find out what they’re doing now. And, photograph them, of course. His talk and images were stirring. He showed images of the towers (Joe’s from NYC), a shot he took from the top of the antenna tower, talked about how photographs, to him, are memories. It was incredibly moving. When he finished, the applause began, intensified, went on and on, then one person stood and another. The entire room stood and the applause was deafening. There’s a web site for Faces of Ground Zero. It’s worth a look.

Jeremy Cowart had the misfortune of following Joe. But Jeremy has devoted much of his time, when not shooting celebrities, to humanitarian work. His Help-Portrait initiative is just one example. I think he did okay in his first time on this panel.

Part of the lure of PSW is the fun. It’s first a learning event, but Scott Kelby and his staff know the importance of making the event fun for all the creative minds. On the second night, shortly after The Art of Digital Photography, there’s Midnight Madness where the promise is you won’t learn anything about Photoshop. It’s games and donuts. Where else will you find Angry Birds – Live? Yes, that’s right!

One of the instructors who resonated with me was Gregory Heisler. Greg has shot many of the photos you’ve seen on the cover of Time including the Man/Woman/Person-of-the-Year issues. He had a class on The Appropriate Response. The net of this was how a photograph needs to be appropriate to its subject and its theme. Cool, warm, harsh, soft, subtle, bold. This helped me understand my own reaction to photographs I see. It’s the best part of Photoshop World – gaining insight into my passion.

The class following this one was titled, Moved by Light: A Conversation. Gregory was shown as the instructor for this class, too. I considered whether to stay for it or attend one of the other parallel tracks. I decided to stay, and Jay Maisel joined Gregory on stage. The session was the two amazing photographers asking each other questions and sharing their thoughts and insights. It was an incredible hour.

When I leave Photoshop World, I feel so inadequate. Seeing the work of masters of photographic and design arts keeps my ego in check. But it’s good to surround yourself with artisans who are much better than yourself. Absorb what you can. Learn what they teach. Never stop growing.