Posts in Category "General"

September 25, 2009

Photoshop CS4’s Contact Sheet Options – GONE!

The other day I had to create a contact sheet from a folder full of images. I opened up Photoshop CS4, clicked on File > Automate, and…to my surprise… the contact sheet options were gone. Vanished!
Where in the heck did the Contact Sheet plugin go? Well, Adobe now provides us with a much more elegant solution via the “Adobe Output Module.” Using the Output Module script, you can create Adobe PDF contact sheets that include header and footer information or throw together a PDF presentation in just a few clicks.
Here’s how

7:00 AM Permalink
September 9, 2009

Students get over 80% Off Adobe MAX Registration

Hankering for a killer deal? For the first time ever, Adobe has decided to offer huge pricing discounts for students. Students can register for a full conference pass at the deeply discounted price of $199.00 (a $1400.00 value). If you can’t afford the time, you can also choose the day pass for $99.00. What a Bargain!

6:10 AM Permalink
July 14, 2009

MEADOWVALE SAYS “NO!” TO VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN and Photoshop Elements helps bring it all to life

Sometimes an after-school project grows and takes on a life of its own. This project was one of those. For the past few years two teachers on Meadowvale’s Family Studies department have encouraged their students to speak out against violence against women. It is an issue that has engaged them and their students, and this year it went even further. One teacher has a drama background, including fabulous skills in makeup, and she proposed to the students that she would use makeup to make volunteers look as if they had been beaten, abused…. and they would be photographed and the pictures displayed in the school. The goal was to bring the issue to life in the immediacy of the school. These issues are often seen as being somewhere else. The teachers and students wanted to bring them right into our neighbourhood. They quickly secured the willing volunteers, they had the permission of the principal to display these images in the school, but they needed photographers. I run a photography club and we agreed to do the photo shoot. The idea of cross-club activities had never occurred to me before. After school clubs tend to run as independent entities, but this time we collaborated and the results were spectacular.
Five girls agreed to model, and five of our student photographers came out to shoot. The setup I created was intentionally dramatic and yet very simple. Using a large black cloth as a backdrop and a single light source at 45 degrees to the model (see the diagram to see how this worked), we were able to create dramatic images.
The cameras used ranged from two DSLR’s to little point and shoots with some exposure controls. The shooting started at 3:30, and it just didn’t stop. The models and the shooters worked nonstop for over two hours. Although I cannot show you the images of the students, I can show you images of Brenda MacKenzie, one of the teachers who also agreed to be a model. The photographers were encouraged to get very close to the models and the models did a superb job of holding still while the photographers composed their pictures and made their exposures. Having digital cameras is also so helpful because we were able to show the models some of the images as soon as they were taken, which helped to feed their understanding of what the photographers were trying to accomplish. We talk about engaging our students – THIS was one of the best examples I have ever seen in my ten years of teaching. The other teachers and I were blown away by the students and their deep desire to simply keep on going.
Eventually the makeup and the cameras were put away and the images were downloaded. Time for the fun to begin. This is when having at least one decent computer and a solid version of Photoshop makes such a difference. We used my lab which has good computers and Photoshop Elements 5.0, because that is what our province has licensed. Why more jurisdictions don’t do this type of licensing is beyond me. Instead of every community trying to negotiate separate licenses our province negotiates on our collective behalf, and everybody wins. We talk about the benefits and perils of standardized testing. We should also be talking about the benefits of standardized resources.
Photoshop Elements 5.0 (and this year the province has upgraded to Photoshop Elements 7.0 and included Premier Elements 7.0 to go along with the existing CS3 Web Standard licensing) is a powerful tool ready to do a lot of what a high school student needs. While it will never equal the full blown versions of Photoshop it was a very capable tool for our student photographers in this project. Cropping and adjusting brightness/contrast were the adjustments made immediately and then one of the students started playing with converting the images to black and white. b%26wprocesssmall.jpgNOW the images were literally jumping off the page. By delicately adjusting the red/green/blue balance we were able to convert many of the images and make them even more powerful than they had been in colour. In the end approximately fifty images were printed – about half were black and white. Printing, by the way, was not done on proper photo paper – much too expensive. We used a cover weight matte finish brochure paper from a local business supply box store – 150 sheets 8.5 x 11 for $35.00 – and adjusted our little HP bubble jet to high quality prints and went from there. Some images printed beautifully immediately, while others required some additional work to get high quality results. The processing and printing took an entire Sunday afternoon, but the results were worth every minute. When the teachers and students mounted the exhibit they filled an entire wall of our front lobby with posters they had created, all of our prints, and many explanatory pieces that talked about date rape, domestic abuse and similar violent issues.
The display was an incredible success. Hundreds of students stopped to read, examine and take in the message. A couple of teachers (who were not involved in the project) brought their classes down to experience the display. And most telling of all – there was no vandalism. None of the prints were damaged in any way. The principal also agreed to leave the display up for the grade eight parent orientation night when the soon-to-be-grade nines and their parents visit our school for an open house. The display spoke clearly of our students’ involvement and concern and of our school’s willingness to publicly tackle difficult, important issues. A job well done, and Photoshop Elements helped to bring it all to life.
A special thanks goes out to our teacher, Brenda MacKenzie, for her permission to use her pictures.

5:08 AM Permalink
May 28, 2009

Create Stunning (Online) Presentations

The Adobe Lab gurus are pretty smart cookies. They have just released a slick online presentation program that will allow you to:

  • create your own professional presentations online using built-in tools and layouts.
  • Simplify working with others on presentations. Create, revise, and collaborate on the same presentation at the same time — all online. No need to e-mail attachments back and forth or track down who has the latest version.
  • Meet your deadline with ease. With simultaneous editing, no one is locked out of the presentation while others make changes.
  • Access your presentations from anywhere. Your presentation is always available online so you can do last minute tweaks, present it from wherever you are, or deliver it offline by exporting to Adobe PDF.

The free service “behaves like a desktop presentation application but operates inside a web browser.”
Check out this article for additional information…
Go to Adobe Labs to Check it Out!

6:16 AM Permalink
March 20, 2009

After Effects: From Fan to Feared to Favorite (plus tips)

We’ve all been there, watching a film when an amazing special effect blows your mind – leaving you to wonder how did they do that? Well, several years back, I started asking fellow editors and educators this very question – and again and again I heard the same response: After Effects. Want to motion track? After Effects. Want to green screen? After Effects. Want color correction? After Effects. Want an intergalactic light saber fight scene with explosions and an amazing 3D camera move? After Effects.
I started to see a trend . . .
Satisfied with this answer – I happily downloaded the free 30-day trial of AE (that’s After Effects for short) from Adobe’s website. However, my initial enthusiasm soon waned, well, plummeted actually. Almost immediately after launching AE, I had a common new user experience – I will politely dub “After Shock”. To explain, as a full-time teacher of Adobe software for years, I had taught literally thousands of people how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, and/or Premiere Pro. Some would even say I’m bit of an Adobe zealot: I’ve beta-tested new releases, done workshops all over, and even trained new Adobe employees through the Digital Media Academy. Indeed, when it comes to Adobe software no mysterious button, workflow, or special effect is safe from my twisted desire to know everything an application can do.
But here was After Effects, and it appeared to be a different animal entirely. I must confess, I was a grown man . . . and I was afraid.
UH-OH: at first glance (especially with all the panels displayed). After Effects can look a bit, well, intimidating. But fear not, while AE takes some getting used to, learning this app is well worth the effort.
Like most who experience such After Shock, I did my best to poke around and bend After Effects to my stubborn will – but with little success. For those comfortable with other Adobe apps, there are some strange and downright spooky moments to be had when first looking at AE – for example, creating a new project does not involve a settings menu, there is no razor tool to cut clips with, there are over 200 effects each with a range of adjustments (allowing for literally millions of possible combinations) . . . and seemingly as many shortcuts. Clearly, this was not my beloved, intuitive Photoshop.
So given the choice of abandoning my quest to reach AE special effects wonderland – or to fight back the fears and plod on – I looked at every AE website I could find, read every book I could get my hands on, watched DVD tutorials, took a class with my fellow Adobe Education Leaders, and even bothered contacts at Adobe for more info. It was not always a smooth journey, my friends, but along the way I came to three important conclusions:
1) AE is just as amazing as they say.
2) AE can be easy to learn – with the right approach.
3) I could have realized #2 a whole lot sooner.
Essentially, in looking back at my AE travails, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I slowed down my own progress by forming some common AE misconceptions. So for those of you just setting out with AE (or hoping to someday), I hope this list of “5 Tips for Learning After Effects” below might make your own AE quest much easier (and possibly save you a few months of mind bending toil):
5 Tips for Learning After Effects
1) Know your DV basics first. As a longtime editor, a good understanding of DV was the only thing I had going for me when faced with AE – and probably the only thing that kept me going early on. Basically, if terms like 24fps, interlacing, NTSC, or compression are entirely new to you, help yourself out by visiting some useful websites that define DV terms and concepts:
For just the bare bones of DV, you can start with:
For the hardcore user, checkout the extremely thorough DV primers on Adobe’s site:
2) Know what After Effects is (and is not) for. Think of AE as a dedicated special effects application for individual shots and short animations – and here’s critical part – you typically perfect these shots in AE and then export them to your preferred editing application (e.g., Premiere Pro). In other words, AE is a great enhancement to (but not a replacement of) your editing software. This paradigm shift is really important– because AE is not really designed to: capture footage, make a bunch of tight cuts, work with transitions, etc. as you would with a dedicated editing application. Because AE is dedicated to special effects, it is appropriately different in many respects – and truly does have a logical structure and workflow (e.g., its object based timeline). By embracing these differences and the rationale for them, you’ll be far less likely to fall into the common trap of thinking “why doesn’t AE work like my editing software?”
3) Know just enough of the AE keyboard shortcuts to be dangerous – and realize that this does not mean that many. While certain shortcuts are essential to AE, most are simply there to save you from a deep dive into the pull down menus and an extra click or two. Do not feel that you need to know a hundred shortcuts to be an AE editor. By learning just 10-20 of these clever little guys, you’ll soon adapt to a new way of editing – and find yourself having a much better time. To get you going, here are 10 shortcuts that I particularly like (and that took a while to discover):
When getting started on a project:
With a new blank project, import your master video clip (a.k.a. “plate”), and drag it straight to the comp timeline. This method is often preferable to creating a new composition first because, by dragging your video file to the comp timeline, it creates a new composition that automatically matches the chosen video clip’s duration, scale, frame rate, and pixel ratio.
When making edits in the composition timeline:
Page Down moves the current time one frame forward
Page Up moves the current time one frame backward
; toggles the view to a full zoom in or out at your current time.
Ctrl + [ trims the “in” point(s) of the selected layer(s) to the current time – and as you might expect it has a twin . . .
Ctrl + ] trims the “out” point(s) of the selected layer(s) to the current time.
Ctrl +D duplicates selected layers or effects
Ctrl + Shift + D duplicates and cuts a layer at the current time. It’s as close to a razor tool as you will find in AE.
When animating/keyframing:
U shows only the keyframed properties of a selected layer.
Alt + Drag selected keyframes stretches (or squeezes) the distribution of selected keyframe groups uniformly. This can save a ton of time when retiming a complex multi-layered effect.
4) Start simple, and I mean super simple. With all that you can do in AE, it’s tempting to try to make first project something colossal. So while making an HD sequel to the movie “300” (green screen and all) is certainly do-able in AE, it would lead to more than a little frustration for a newcomer. (Not that I’m speaking from experience . . . ahem). Try experimenting with a standard definition project with a few foundational elements – 3d space, keyframing, text animation, camera moves, etc. and you will have a much easier and more fulfilling sense of what can eventually be done on the grand scale.
5) Use the wealth of AE resources– and take a class. The incredible range of AE means that its structure has a corresponding range of complexity – which can be tricky to figure out at first. To this end, I am all for books (e.g., Adobe’s Classroom in a Book series), web tutorials (e.g.,, DVDs (Total Training), etc., but when it comes down to it – there is nothing like project-based, hands-on training. When things get confusing, there’s simply no replacing a live instructor. A live instructor can not only answer individual questions that might take hours to look up online – but also show you techniques and workflows that simply translate better in person. Moreover, if you can take an AE class that is project-based, you’ll be able to incorporate your own special effects ideas into the training – and make it far more likely to have your individual needs met.
In After Effects, you can get into the exciting world of 3D, motion graphics, and special f/x pretty quickly by using the range of resources out there. Couple these resources with a class – and you are on your way.
Looking back, I certainly took the long way to get there, but I am happy to say that After Effects is now my favorite application to use – and to teach. I am excited to have clients pleased with AE results – and students creating some of those the same special effects I first fell in love with on the big screen. Hopefully, you’ll be able to learn from my initial After Shock travails and get to where you want to go with AE a whole lot sooner with these 5 Tips for Learning After Effects.
All the best,
Kevin McMahon
Video Production and Graphic Design Instructor
Bellarmine College Preparatory

2:14 PM Permalink

Student Introductions to Real World Clients

Two to three times a year, I teach a class for the Digital Media Studies (DMS) program at the University of Denver called “Web Building and Site Management”. In this class, undergraduates are introduced to the concepts of building (mostly) static websites with a strict, standards-based approach. The IDE used is Dreamweaver CS4 with “Design View” forbidden from use. There is a full introduction to pre-production planning using Fireworks and final design work is done through Photoshop. We also touch upon the Flash Platform and the integration of audio and video within a website. This probably does not differ much from most introductory website creation and management classes offered at universities across the world.
One aspect of the class that I find to be unique (and the point of this article), is that these students are assigned actual clients in groups of two or three and are tasked with providing them a completed website as a final project. I work with an organization on campus called the Digital Media Outreach Center (DMOC) to get this all together. The mission of DMOC is to provide digital media services such as website creation to “Colorado-based non-profit and not-for-profit organizations in a manner that also gives students and faculty opportunities to apply and extend curriculum-based learning to community-based projects”. For my class, they find clients and manage the student-client relationship as I teach the skills and concepts necessary to fulfill those requirements through the course.
In general, this approach is both beneficial for the students and for the clients. Students receive a hands-on educational experience in both the subject matter and client relations. Clients receive a simple- yet fully functional, standards-based website to promote themselves and interact with their members and clients. A few problems do occur, from time-to-time, but most are easily resolved and the students come away from the class with a greater level of experience than they otherwise would have.

12:56 PM Permalink
February 26, 2009

Reflecting on TCEA 2009

I have to say, the 2009 TCEA conference was the best of ‘em yet!
TCEA (Texas Computer Education Association) continues to host one of the largest educational related technology conferences in the US. This year’s Texas-sized conference hosted over 400 sessions and workshops and a slew of panel discussions. The conference also had more than 400 companies exhibiting their products in over 800 booths!
While the economy was taking a hit, the conference certainly seemed to be faring well. Over 8,000 education professionals attended this year’s event, and most of those that attended ended up spending a large amount of time checking out the latest technology products inside the “vending area.”
The Adobe booth was very well attended. The Adobe software gurus did an excellent job “wowing” the crowd as they demonstrated how to create PDFs, edit video, build websites, and do amazing stuff with digital images and print.
I stayed busy teaching Adobe-centered workshops throughout the week. This year I taught five workshops – and every seat was full! I was most worried about filling pre-conference workshops, as the onslaught of conference attendees tends to reach its peak toward the middle of the week. However, I was pleasantly surprised that both my early-in-the-week workshops (Adobe Captivate and Photoshop Elements) were packed full of eager-to-learn educators.
Toward the middle of the week, I had the opportunity to host two Photoshop CS4 workshops and an Adobe Acrobat 9 workshop. The Acrobat participants were amazed (as I still am) at Acrobat 9’s ability to generate student portfolios. I also noticed ear-to-ear smiles as they learned how to run the Acrobat form wizard to effortlessly crank out interactive forms – simply amazing!
Photoshop CS4 is always great fun to teach. I had to chuckle when I heard the gasps of amazement as the participants learned how to stitch together a folder of images into a panorama (File>automate>Photomerge). One guy exclaimed, “This just made the conference worth every dollar!” (Tip – you can also run Photomerge from Photoshop Elements – New >Photomerge Panorama).
Perhaps the fact that my lovely wife was able to join me for the final two days of the conference added to this year’s enjoyability factor. She has been making an effort to integrate technology into her 5th grade math class and wanted to pick up a few more tips and techniques. She asked her principal if she could attend and he gladly granted her permission. Let her story serve as a lesson – sometimes you just have to ask.
By Thursday evening I had completed my conference commitments and was looking forward to enjoying some of the great food and entertainment that Austin, Texas is famous for. My wife and I joined a tableful of other people at MariaMaria restaurant for a fine experience that consisted of great food, superb company, and a wonderful atmosphere. Thanks Adobe!
Make sure to include next year’s TCEA Conference in your 2010 itinerary. You will learn a heap of great information and have a blast while doing so.

7:16 AM Permalink
February 5, 2009

Do Educators Want Connect Pro?

A little over 48 hours ago I released our first online Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional course on our district’s Blackboard system. I was curious to see what the response would be. In December we offered two stand-and-deliver (SAD) format courses and both filled up within 15 minutes of being released on our district system. With an overbook capacity of 24 participants planning on filling the room we thought we would be training a lot of educators, both administrators and teachers, on the benefits of Connect Pro.

Continue reading…

1:01 PM Permalink
January 22, 2009

Bibme – One-Stop Citation Shop

Building a bibliography just got a whole lot easier; “Bibme” makes citing sources a breeze. Bibme offers a huge database that auto-fills bibliographic information automatically. The site also offers a “Manual Entry Mode” that provides a template for your citation, but the “Automatic Bibliography Maker” is so darn easy!
I decided to take Bibme for a spin using a book my daughters recently finished reading, Gary Paulsen’s “Hatchet.” I typed in the title of the book and hit the “Find Book” button. In the blink of an eye, Bibme had returned a handful of results to select from. Sure enough, the first result was the one I was looking for. I clicked the “Select” button and “wah-lah,” there sat my results!
But don’t stop there, Bibme allows for multi-source citations! Simply create another search and click the “Add to My Bibliography” button. Bibme adds the sources to the “My Bibliography” area where you can choose to delete or edit the entry. You can also select from various formats, such as APA or MLA and it supports citations for magazines, newspapers, websites, journals, film, and even interviews!
When you are done, save your bibliography to your account (free) and export it to your word processor.

2:09 PM Permalink
October 24, 2008

Zombies in Plain English

Halloween is the perfect time for the high school, junior high, and middle school masses to rise up and demand the death of the good ol’ “how-to” paper!
If I read another “how to prepare the perfect cup of coffee” or “how to brush your teeth” or “how to make the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich” I’m going to let out a gut wrenching, Nightmare on Elm Street, horror movie- styled scream (perhaps a yell…scream sounds a bit girly).
But there is hope! “Zombies in Plain English,” is a 3-minute video short that describes how to survive the Halloween season with your “brain intact.” It is also a prime example of an engaging and creative how-to paper.
Oh yeah, there is only one thing cooler than a zombie how-to paper. A zombie how-to paper followed with a zombie technology project. After the students have penned their how-to master piece, let them turn it into a video!
“Zombies in Plain English” doesn’t use fancy Hollywood special effects. It uses simple drawings and a good narration. Armed with a computer and some inexpensive video editing software (think Adobe Premiere Elements) students could easily create an exciting and engaging DIGITAL how-to PROJECT.
So rise up, and drive a stake through the heart of the traditional how-to paper!

7:35 AM Permalink