When I first found out that we would have the pleasure of reviewing “Erik Almas – On aspects of image making” DVD I knew I wanted photographer (and friend) Irvin Serrano to do the review. I thought it would be a perfect match because much like Erik, Irvin has a vision, a voice, and takes image editing more serious that any photographer I know.
So take it away Irvin:
Most of us who are deeply interested in photography or want to make a living creating images have certainly heard of Erik Almas. If you haven’t then I highly recommend that you take the time check out his website to see what you have been missing. The images he creates are thought provoking, beautifully envisioned and expertly executed. Technically and aesthetically they are sure to intrigue fellow photographers. Luckily, for those of us who are fans of his work, (and those who will soon become fans) he has recently released his instructional DVD set “Erik Almas – On aspects of image making”.
I must admit that when I first heard Erik Almas was producing a DVD, my interest was peaked. I had been looking forward to picking it up for more than a year when rumors of it first appeared on the web. As it turns out, shortly after it was released, I was fortunate to be asked if I would be interested in reviewing it for Weekly Photo Tips. Of course I leapt at the opportunity.
In my opinion the greatest merit to Erik’s DVD is the fact that it is presented by someone who has a proven track record and is currently working at a very high level in the industry. His clients are the top advertising agencies, high-end magazines and Fortune 500 companies. That makes a world of difference when it comes to trusting the integrity of the information shared in these DVD’s. As a working photographer I find it refreshing that he is so open with his insights, from his early career to how he approaches his vision, Erik holds nothing back. In fact he gives the viewer step by step instructions that empowers them to very quickly accomplish what took him more than 10 years to figure out on his own. Through out the DVD Erik’s demeanor is like that of a Zen master, completely at peace and at ease with himself. (This is exemplified during the Interview with Chris Orwig as he brushes at a fly buzzing around his head with such a serene motion as to not harm the fly but to merely coax it safely along.) There is no pretense here, no ego, just a humble and talented guy offering you his take on creating images honestly.
The DVD’s are full of valuable information regardless of what stage of photography development that you might find yourself in. The seasoned professional may find some of themes familiar, yet will likely be infused with inspiration and be given plenty of food for thought. Perhaps you are a professional that has fallen into a rut, your looking for a jump-start, then this could be just what the Doctor ordered. However, I think the main target audience are those who are students, serious amateurs or young professionals looking for an edge to get them over the hump and into a solid career as a successful professional photographer. Beyond some of his photographic techniques, are exercises that will help the viewer get in touch with themselves, by recognizing and then developing your own visual identity. I will caution you though, if you are looking for the secret “Erik Almas Photoshop recipe” you will likely be disappointed and you will have missed the point completely. The true strength of Erik’s instruction isn’t in the how’s, it is the why’s. The how’s can only serve to teach you "how" to re-create an Erik Almas image, the why’s have the potential to teach you to successfully create your own voice. To get the most out of this you have to become an active participant. You can’t simply watch his instruction you have to engage your mind, do the hard work (which he guides you through) and invest the time in your craft.
There are three DVD’s included, broken down into two sections. The first section is “Photography tutorials” the second is “Photoshop tutorials”. In the Photography tutorials there is the assumption that you already have a basic understanding of photography so if you are not familiar with aperture, shutter speeds, ISO etc. then you will need to learn about those on your own. Although it’s obvious that these fundamentals are critical to know, you can certainly gain a great deal from Erik’s insights even without having that knowledge to begin with. Just make sure you do learn them eventually. Although this section is called “Photography Tutorials” there is more information included than just that. I think the section can be distilled down to three principle concepts, finding your vision, technical aspects and case studies. The chapters that I would put under finding your vision are what I would consider the core concepts of Erik’s instruction. Everything else is there to support this fundamental principle. There is a strong emphasis through out all of his instruction on finding out who you are so that you can make images that speak to that with a sense of honesty. In the chapter “Finding your photographic voice” Erik guides you through a process of self discovery. He also talks about his visual heritage, the themes and the visual aesthetics that he is drawn to that formed his sense of visual identity. He then lays out a path for you to discover your own "path". Technical aspects cover subjects like “Photography Equipment”, “Composition”, “Light” and an excellent chapter on “Marketing”. Finally he has six chapters of “Case Studies” where he takes you on location and then walks you through his process. From concept to execution you get to be a fly on the wall with the inside track to how he created five of his signature images. I can’t over emphasize the values of hearing Erik’s thought process as he crafts these iconic images. Also included on the first DVD are some great bonus features, DO NOT miss out (or skim through) his Interview with Chris Orwig.
The next two DVD’s are dedicated to his “Photoshop Tutorials”. Here you get to look over his shoulder as he takes the raw files of the five images in the case studies, out of Capture One and edit’s them in Adobe Photoshop. He also takes the time to explain why he chooses to composite images in the first place. (also included on the first DVD) If you are even moderately proficient in Photoshop then the techniques that Erik uses will be nothing new, in fact surprisingly so. Using layer masks, combined with adjustment layers, cloning and a meticulous attention to detail are the keys to compositing any image. If you know these techniques already then you may feel a bit deflated, and I have to be honest, at first I wanted more. I wanted that new Photoshop trick I didn’t already know. I thought there must be something else, something he left out. Then it dawned on me. What truly makes Erik’s work so special happens well before those raw files ever make it into Photoshop. The fact that there isn’t some secret “Photoshop trick” was actually liberating and besides he has already given you his “secret” if you pay attention. The greatest value of watching him edit these images wasn’t how he edited the files but listening to why he made the editing decisions along the way.
The beauty of Erik’s work and his instruction is truly in the fundamentals. It can be said that the artist who doesn’t understand or know their medium intimately will certainly find limitations. Just like the pure technician will find his limits of expression if he has yet to identify what moves him beyond technique. Erik in my opinion recognizes this and is able to combine both vision and technique in an informative and an intuitive way. Here at Irvin Serrano Photography, we are going to commit to working through the exercises that Erik suggests and will follow later this year to see what they have produced. I would challenge you all to do the same and share your results on the Weekly Photo Tips Flickr page.
Here is a quick video preview of the over 9 hours of video in which Erik will walk you through the making of 5 of his images.
If information is power, then the DVD set “Erik Almas – On aspects of image making” will make you feel like a king.
You can learn more about (and from) Erik Almas at his website, his blog, and his YouTube channel.