Expertise for Non-Experts

While I’m known for my tuba playing and my very pretty face, I often have to utilize skills that fall outside of my expertise.  Sometimes that just means I’ll have to work on these tasks for longer than an expert in the field would have.  Often though, I find a fresh perspective that someone mired in the everyday tasks of these skills will overlook.

Last Thursday I had a show playing sousaphone in the Red Hot Ramblers.  We are a trio that play traditional (20’s) jazz and we have a monthly show at a quirky neighborhood bar.  Lately we’ve had a lot of requests for our Facebook page, but as a fledgeling group, we haven’t gotten that far yet.  For our show last Thursday, I made it a priority to get a photo of the band so we can start raking in those Facebook page likes.  While on a break, the three of us lined up in front of the beer cooler at the venue, someone pulled out their iPhone, and we got a few shots.  The following day, I was emailed the photo which looked like this:

dark image

I really liked the backlighting of the beer case as a bright focal point contrasting with the three of us standing in front.  Of course, the problem was that we were pretty much indistinguishable because of the shadows on our faces caused by the contrast of the backlighting.  Not much of a publicity photo for that reason.  But I really liked it as a start, so I decided to take it into Photoshop and see what I could do.

My experience with Photoshop is comprised of three elements: I teach a basic Photoshop class, I build posters in it, and I try to make the most ridiculous mashups possible for my own amusement.  My point being that I really don’t have formal training in either Photoshop or design.  I do however, have an eye for what I find aesthetically pleasing (or displeasing).  I also have a sense of playfulness with the projects I do and tenacity to keep trying things until they work in a way I like.  Hey, if it works for recording music, why not try it here!

First I tried adjusting the overall lighting levels, but the picture became too washed out or discolored.  The problem was that I wanted the lighted case to be vibrant without losing the darker areas:

too dark picture

The background is vibrant, but the foreground is invisible.

So I the separated the darker areas into their own layer and placed them on top of the vibrant background.  I cropped the photo and took out something that probably no one will notice, unless you’re from Pottsville, PA.

fancy background, normal foreground

Ah, the faces are back. (not AAAAAAAHHHH, the faces are back!!!!)

We’re still too dark here, so I changed the exposure for just the foreground:

faces exposed

Even more facial features

We look too purple in here, so I made some shifts to our color balance.  Notice how the background layer (the beer case) doesn’t change, just us fellas:

Now with balanced colors

Purple has been defeated!

Looking much better!  The last thing was our trombone player Larry’s bowtie.  It was a beautiful blue striped one, but in the low light, it came out as grey.  That would not stand!  I isolated it, made it it’s own layer, and pumped up the blue:

Final picture

Introducing Blue Tie and the Red Hot Ramblers!

So granted, I used some of the more advanced tools such as the histogram, adjustment layers and quick selection tool, but I used them in a trial and error fashion.  Were I a professional photographer, I might have dived right into a set of tools and performed some standard touch-ups.  But because I was testing it all along the way and seeing certain combinations of tools for the first time, I was constantly re-evaluating my process as I went.  What I lacked in know-how was made up for with a fresh perspective and a lack of preconceived notions.

A lot of organizations are starting to experiment with including employees from one department in projects that don’t directly relate to their department.  The idea is that by including an outsider’s perspective, everyone benefits from a re-evaluation of some of the project’s central tenants.  In my place of employment I’m actually working as an “outsider” in a current project.  We’re looking to revamp our means for faculty and students to communicate and share content, so rather than having only people intimately familiar with the product, they’re looking for my input as well.  I don’t know what’s possible, what’s impossible, or what has or hasn’t been tried before, so I have a unique insight that is unfettered by previous work.  It’s also exciting for me, because I get to step outside my traditional role into something new and potentially exciting.  After a while, if I’m just doing the same things or variations on them, my capacity for new creative thought gets diminished.

So yes, we need our experts.  We’ll always need people who are able to perform their tasks with laser focus and perform them well.  It’s also important to include the outsiders, the amateurs, the students, sometimes even the antagonists when we’re hunting for new ideas and perspectives.  Sometimes when you don’t know what you can’t do, you end up achieving in ways you never thought possible.

Confidential to Tricky in Eki-eki-stam-stam:  It meant quite a lot to me that you came out to see my show and quite a lot more than you told me you were a lurker on my blog.  It was delightful catching up; next time we’ll have to play some games.  Let me know when you sneak back to town and we’ll do a Barcade run.

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One thought on “Expertise for Non-Experts

  1. […] a tie between It Just Feels Right, Dan Nosheny is Neon and Shy, Treading Virgin Water, and Expertise for Non-Experts.  Several of those are about the benefits of approaching projects without much prior knowledge of […]

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