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Jan. 11, 2023

Sebastian Michaels - Living the Phototoartistic Life

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Sebastian and I talk about his mission to teach photo artistry and to urge participants to live a photo artistic life. What is it all about? Listen to Sebastian as he talks about the joy he gets when he sees his students succesfully create art. 

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Disclaimer: Unedited AI Transcript


Announcer (00:21):

You are connected and you are listening to specifically for seniors, the podcast for those in the Remember When Generation. Today's podcast is available everywhere you listen to podcasts and with video at specifically for seniors YouTube channel. Now, here's your host, Dr. Larry Barsh.

Speaker 2 (00:56):

My guest today on specifically for Seniors is a man who has brought joy and fulfillment through art to thousands of people around the world. Sebastian Michaels, when I asked Sebastian to be on the podcast, he had first declined telling me, I'm not sure what I can contribute. I'm not that interesting. My students are interesting. My role is to inspire them to live rich and rewarding artistic lives and ideally get their art out into the world. We'll talk about that and more welcome to specifically seniors, Sebastian. It's a true pleasure to have you on the podcast.

Speaker 3 (01:43):

Well, thanks for having me. I I was a little worried that I wouldn't be all that interesting, but when we talked a little bit, you know, you convinced me that, you know, there's some things I think people might be interested in. My personal life is pretty, you know, average. I spend most of my time reading and playing with cats and going on hikes and jogging and things like that. But the real part of my life really did start with the, the arising of the Photoshop artistry world and everything that that has come to encompass. And that's really where my life became interesting, but not so much because I was interesting, but it really was because the students were so interesting in all the artists around the world.

Speaker 2 (02:25):

Most of the listeners are not familiar with your name. Okay, so let me clarify a little bit. Sebastian is the man behind the online course, Photoshop artistry. Photoshop artistry has more than 40,000 students aro in more than 93 countries around the world. So let's start there. Tell us about the course. What is Photoshop artistry?

Speaker 3 (02:56):

Well, Photoshop artistry itself can encompass a lot of different things. When you first say it, when you just say Photoshop, artistry, the average person immediately thinks, well, do you use Photoshop to paint things? And, and that is something you could do. But our focus from the very beginning was P Artistry. So it was about taking photos into Photoshop and making art out of them. And even that can encompass a lot of different things. So it can be anywhere from just taking a photo and making it look much more pretty and artistic, all the way to bringing together all sorts of materials and collaging them together to make a more elaborate composition to staging elaborate photo shoots of your own, where maybe you, you know, enlist somebody to be your model and you come up with a great wardrobe idea at an interesting location and maybe some props and you stage a really cool photo shoot and then you bring those images back into Photoshop and you composite maybe some o additional content into it to really turn it into something that would be fit for Canvas, something that you could see hanging in a gallery.

Speaker 3 (04:01):

And it can go that whole range. And when I first came into this world, it really started out even at a simpler level than that. It really was about being able to walk around with your camera, find some different things in your everyday life, take some pictures of them because they captured your attention in some way, and then go to Photoshop, bring in the images, and then assemble them into something that was a work of art, an original work of art that had never been seen before. So it wasn't so much, take a picture of a pretty sunset with some clouds and some mountains and then just edit that to make it look prettier. That's what traditional photo photographers do. That's what you do with your regular photos and just wanna make them look prettier. This was about trying to create something, as I said, that has never been before, something truly creative and artistic.

Speaker 3 (04:50):

And that's where it sort of started and it's evolved over the years to become more and more of that. So Photoshop artistry itself, just to go back to your original question, was an initial course I made designed to help people go into Photoshop, take their photos and make art out of them. But then that evolved eventually into a more advanced course, which is has led to a much more advanced group of artists around the world, known as Awake, living the photo artistic life. And the focus there really was about living an artistic life, living in a life where you go through your days and you find things that captivate you and you're constantly finding artistic ways of expressing things that you want to bring to life on a canvas through your photos and through the techniques and the skills you have in Photoshop to bring something to life.

Speaker 3 (05:39):

And it becomes a lifestyle really. And that's really where I think our group of artists around the world, that's what makes them so interesting. That's why I say they're so interesting because they're all over the place and they're all coming at this from so many different places in their own lives for so many different reasons, with so many different sources of inspiration and so many different styles and so many different things that they wish to say. And being able to say, it is what all of my training is about, but what they say and what makes it so interesting comes from them.

Speaker 2 (06:12):

So it's more than just the series of tutorials?

Speaker 3 (06:16):

Oh yes, by far. Yeah. It, it started out, initially the idea was originally to have some initial tutorials. In fact, the initial way it all started is actually kind of interesting because I had been a photographer in the past and we can discuss that if you're interested. But I had gotten away from it for a while and I had done some artistic stuff in the past and I'd gotten away from that for a while. And one of my best friends, Phil Steele, who runs a, a online training course called Steel Training and he teaches different ways to do portrait photography and things like that. Just great stuff. He was very successful in that field already. And I had originally gotten him interested in photography and then he had just run with it and really got into the lighting and portraiture side of it and, and also going to Burning Man, the Big Burning Man event and doing, you know sort of walking around doing Photojournalistic style photography out in the desert during this big event.

Speaker 3 (07:11):

So he came to his courses with all of that knowledge. I approached him at one point having, you know, getting a little bit tired of the career I was in at the time and having pretty much satisfied everything I needed to do. I was kind of at the edge of being able just to retire. And I said, I wanna do something else. I wanna do something that's creative, like what you're doing. Do you think any of your people would be interested in the kind of stuff I do, you know, this artsy stuff. And we laugh about it to this day because his response was literally, I don't know, maybe <laugh> and cuz he didn't know, cause all of his students in his courses and he had hundreds of thousands of people on his mailing list and watching his YouTube videos, million people on his YouTube videos, they were all into very serious photography.

Speaker 3 (07:59):

And serious photographers tend to be about serious photography. That's just what they're into and that's where they live and breathe. So we weren't sure would they be interested in art because my stuff was much more artistic, much more abstract and just conceptual and bringing together all sorts of different things onto a campus and having to create something, not capture something that was the key difference. So we didn't know, we had no idea if he was gonna be interested or not so, or if they were gonna be interested or not. He was definitely interested in at least seeing if they were interested. So we went and put together some initial material. I went off and created my initial course, which, and the first few, you know, modules of it, they really were about how do you use Photoshop to do the fundamental things where you can kind of treat Photoshop almost as if you're a painter.

Speaker 3 (08:45):

So you can bring materials together and mask things together and blend things and, and add lighting and shadows and, and all of those fundamental techniques and how do you bring in, in color and add in different, you know, Boca str, you know, across a canvas and all these different things. So that was the initial course was just teaching people those basic techniques and the response was just over the top crazy. When we rolled this out to his entire audience, their response was just, it was just like I said over the top. And that inspired me to thinking, wow, these people are actually into what I have to say, but what I really have to say has less to do with the Photoshop. It has more to do with being an artist. And so that led to further modules and further expanding of the course, bringing in additional materials, creating extra stuff that would layer into it.

Speaker 3 (09:37):

And then eventually that wasn't even big enough and that's where the awake course came in, which was an enormous undertaking. Took years to build out all of that. And then that led to an even further exclusive group called the Kaizen Group, which is an ongoing thing where I have 15 different designers and photographers around the world contributing things to that every month to, to build out the content. So it's become a very big enterprise. But it all started with just the idea of, you know, how do you just do some simple things in Photoshop to make your photos into more artistic compositions, but it has really grown beyond that.

Speaker 2 (10:13):

You were a wedding photographer, portrait photographer originally. Did you start doing art work on your wedding shoots and portrait shoots?

Speaker 3 (10:27):

Yeah, that's, it's an interesting origin because when I first started I was really getting into just pure photography initially, as most of us do. And it was the advent of the digital camera that really just blew the doors open for me because you could capture as many photos as you wanted. You could get much more, you know, creative and see what you were getting creatively before what, rather than having to wait for a film to be developed. Right. You could actually experiment in camera and see what you got. And I was at a, a dance recital and it was actually a dance performance. And the dance troupe was doing just this amazing stuff and I wanted to capture that. And I was connected to the troupe at the time, and I went through and I was just capturing all sorts of photos during the thing.

Speaker 3 (11:12):

And I spotted this other photographer who was in attendance and he was working with a really nice camera and he obviously knew what he was doing. He just, he was older than me by far and much more experienced clearly. And so we eventually I, I gravitated over to him and we started talking and we exchanged cards. Turned out he was there on an AP assignment to cover this thing for the Detroit Free Press, I think it was. And we got talking and he wasn't actually a a, their official photographer or anything. He was just being brought in to do some side work. His main gig was doing weddings and he was a, he worked mainly within the Jewish wedding circuit, the very upscale circuit, so very high end just for him to walk in the door with his camera, you know, you were talking, you know, five figures for him just to be there much less than what you get out of him being there.

Speaker 3 (12:07):

So it was a whole level of photography that was very foreign to me. But having exchanged cards after the fact, I went and edited some of the photos from the dance to really artistic composites and just to share with him just, you know, look at what I got and you know, what I was able to do and what do you think of these? And he was so impressed by that, not only by the photography, but by the artistry in my talents and Photoshop that he invited me to come see him. We got together, before I knew it, I was his secondary photographer mainly doing the photo journalistic New York style photography on the side while he was really working the wedding in a more traditional way. He was doing all the main stuff. I was doing all the extra stuff. And then it came to be that I would then take all of those photos after every wedding and I would go into Photoshop and I would create these big elaborate photo albums, which then would be printed really nice for the bride.

Speaker 3 (13:02):

And they were composites full big, you know, spreads with all the different photos set up on them with great backgrounds and frames and different things, just making it look really pretty. And that led to me then doing on the side some composites of the bridal photos, more artistic portraits that were really pretty, that he then shared with the brides when they came in to see what had been done with their photos from their wedding or their engagement shoots sometimes. And that led to a whole sideline of doing commissioned work where I would do portrait photography, and he coached me on the lighting and the flashes and all the different things that I hadn't really used up until then, but it was my ideas that I was able to bring to the shoot. And I was able to work with the clients and then take those photos and turn them into really fine art prints.

Speaker 3 (13:51):

And that was my start as a photo artist. And what I was doing then is almost, it's what our average artists in our group can do now, but back then it was so cutting edge. This was 22 years ago, right? So back then it was very cutting edge and it brought in a lot of money to the studio because I was able to bring that skillset to what was already a successful enterprise. My skillset was able to bring something that, that his, his clients had never seen before. And so I was able to reimagine what it was that they could then have after the fact to, to celebrate their engagement or their wedding or both and all that. So that's where it all started. But eventually I ended up moving, I ended up in a divorce and, and ended up, you know, changing my career and his studio.

Speaker 3 (14:42):

He was ready to retire. So he kind of went our different ways. I moved off to Texas and met my now wife and I've been married to now for 16 years. And when we were, when I was there, we, I got into just more street photography, just more pure photography again, just on the side, just having fun. But I really turned my attention to getting my life in order, getting my finances as in order, building a career. And from that, like I said, I reached the point very rapidly where I was able to basically call it a day and retire if I wanted, but I didn't. I'm too young to retire, you know, what am I gonna do? So I, that's what took me back to, well, you know, what, what I loved most, the thing I missed the most is working in Photoshop, creating art. And that led as I said, into that conversation with Phil, which then led to everything that's followed this entire amazing journey that's lasted the last eight years.

Speaker 2 (15:37):

So let me get this straight. You are using Photoshop, unlike regular photographers, I use a word regular advisedly. Yeah. You are using it more as a tool, like a painter would use a brush and canvas and paint.

Speaker 3 (15:58):


Speaker 2 (15:59):

It's more of an artistic tool.

Speaker 3 (16:01):

Exactly. It's more of a, you can think of it as a c compositing tool. In traditional photography, they do a lot of really fine art editing in traditional photography where you bring a photo in, you change the lighting, you maybe you change the tone, maybe you replace part of the clouds in the sky to give it a more interesting sky. You go in and dodge and burn digitally and you end up with a really fine photo, something that looks beautiful, maybe you give it a vignette, you crop it and all that. And that's traditional high end, you know, photo editing. And that obviously has its place. Photo artistry, the way I envision it starts at that point, that's where it picks up and continues. And where it continues is in sense in the sense of layering things. Now on top of that image, bringing in additional overlays or lighting effects or even additional content, you could take a photo, for instance, of your dog leaping over something in the backyard and then go into Photoshop, cut out the dog, and then bring a different background in, place the dog over that different background light and shade it so that it looks as if the dog is actually leaping over maybe some ruins an ancient grace and adorn the dog with, you know, flowers on it in its hair and things like that.

Speaker 3 (17:19):

And, and put different things in the background and then bring in additional images to bring in and build out a whole city in the background, change the lighting, change the toning, and make the whole thing cr you can basically create a scene that has never existed in the real world, completely out of your creativity and out of a handful of photos that you capture or bring together to build out the scene that you envisioned. And, and as I said, that's just one way to do it. You could also go and just find some really great stock photos that you like and blend those together in interesting ways, cut things out and bring them together. The end result might be very collage like and loose and artistic, or it might be very photo realistic where somebody looks at it and it looks pretty realistic as if it really did happen.

Speaker 3 (18:06):

It just looks artistic. And you mentioned the paint early aspect. You can then, if you like, push various techniques to make the whole piece look more as if it was a painting, less as if it was a photo. And that really becomes where a lot of the artistry comes to the to bear, because you're really using Photoshop as if you were a painter. You're using layer masks and adjustment layers and different effects, and you're painting them in on the canvas. You're bringing in lighting and shading and painting that in not just pressing some buttons to achieve certain effects. You're actually actively on the canvas making the effects and bringing them to life. And that's what makes it so fulfilling.

Speaker 2 (18:48):

You write a regular blog at a website called Quill and camerara.com, you interview some of your more prominent students and discuss their inspiration and creativity. What have you learned from your students?

Speaker 3 (19:06):

That's a good question. The blog Quilling camera started, and the title itself came from the fact that I spent a big part of my early life, my mainly my twenties, really wanting to be a writer. And I never did write the Great American novel, but I love writing and I love thinking of thinking of things and then bringing them to life and rethinking them and reconstructing them through my writing. So it became an obvious next step for me in this Photoshop artistry world to try to write about it. And so I wrote some articles and wrote some various posts and inspirational things, but we have a magazine that comes out every month and every month that magazine has a featured artist. And I got the idea, well, I should probably be interviewing these artists just to see, you know, where are they from, what inspired them?

Speaker 3 (19:52):

What brought them into this world, and how did they get to where they are and where did they see themselves going? And I think the thing that really stands out to me that I've learned having interviewed dozens and dozens of artists at this point, is just how diverse the world is in terms of, you know, where are these people coming from and what did they bring to their pursuit of photo artistry? Cuz they're all photo artists, they're all creating in the same s approach, you can call it, but they're all bringing their own style. Every artist seems to have a, you know, his or her own style, his or her own approach. They come up with their ideas in different ways. They bring them to life on canvas in different ways, and they all have different aspirations of where they wish to go from here.

Speaker 3 (20:37):

Some are just happy making, you know, art for their their own sake. Some of them are making it for their grandchildren, some of them are making it to actually be in exhibitions and in galleries. Some are working with commercial clients and creating things on commission. So there's this wide diversity of things that you can do with your photo artistry once you're good at enough at it, obviously. But what fascinated me was not only are they coming at it with different intentions and different inspirations and different goals of where they wanna go, go to with it in the future, they're all coming at it with a sense of wanting to express themselves. But what's different is what is it they wanna express and why is it that that's important to them? And I've found that that's fascinating because I assumed when I got into this whole world that I would be just basically, you know, teaching people how to make art.

Speaker 3 (21:32):

And then they would, people would show up and they would make art, and that would sort of be the end of it. And it hasn't been that at all. It's become this enormous community of artists who are excited together about this shared endeavor, this mutual passion they have. And they're all cheering each other on, they're all getting inspired by one another. Like I said, the magazine comes out every month and it inspires everybody, you know, fresh every month. And we've got artists all over the world doing this, making friendships and getting, you know, inspiration from, you know, someone that they've never met, but they now see as a friend who lives somewhere on the other side of the world. And I think that's an become an exciting something I never expected to see something that I and myself was excited to see evolve over the years. And it's become one of the things that's, that makes it so fulfilling and enriching to me as an artist as well.

Speaker 2 (22:26):

So this course has actually changed lives.

Speaker 3 (22:31):

Oh, absolutely. You know, absolutely. It's so much so that it's, it's humbling. We, like I said, we've got this magazine that comes out every month, and it's called Living the Photo Artistic Life. And the subtitle of it is pushing photography further, because that's really what it's about, is taking photos and pushing it further, whether that's pushing it further in the camera that you're using itself, getting more creative with how you approach photography, or in our case, that becomes the starting point and then pushing it even further with Photoshop. And then even further still, well all these artists who have come together, who have adopted this path or this art form, if you will, we publish this magazine every month celebrating this art from all over the world. And the people who come together in our private groups that, especially The Awake group every month, the enthusiasm and the excitement behind this magazine is just overwhelming.

Speaker 3 (23:29):

And throughout the month that the way that the artists cheer each other on and inspire one another, it's just moving and, and they actually care about one another. It's sincere. We basically have an understanding, at least the understanding that I set from the beginning, that we're not on, on Facebook to grouse. We're not on Facebook to com talk politics. We're not on Facebook to look at any ads. We're not. We're just here to, to join together as a group and spend our time inspiring one another and cheering each other on. And that's become the world that we've created there. So it's not the traditional way you think of Facebook, it's very much a different thing that we've created something very unique. And one of the things I think that's inspiring about it, not only in the terms of that magazine coming out every month and the, and the excitement around that, what's exciting is seeing these artists all over the world get together.

Speaker 3 (24:22):

I've actually been on conference calls with, with our artists, for instance, in Australia, New Zealand. There are so many of our artists in Australia, New Zealand that they actually put out their own magazine every month. So our magazine comes out on the 15th of every month. They have a magazine titled it's artists Down Under. And that comes out on the first of every month. And there are so many artists there that they have enough to fill this enormous magazine of art. And every month, not only their art, but all of their achievements and all their various successes and things that they're showcasing, it's, it's exciting to see. And I've been on conference calls with various groups in Australia, in a New Zealand where, I mean, it's overwhelming. Like I said, it's, it's humbling because I'll hop on a phone call with them and I expect, you know, I'm surprised that we're even arranging it, but I'm, I'm, I'm expecting two or three people there, and it's a room with two dozen awake artists.

Speaker 3 (25:13):

And again and again, I hear these stories of all over the world, various awake artists getting together, finding each other out, and finding where are we at? Let's all get together. And they all get together and have a grand old time and they send me photos of themselves having fun at a pub or whatever. And that's exciting to me to see that it's become this huge community. It's not just a bunch of people watching videos on YouTube and I, I'm not even on YouTube. I didn't really wanna ever go that route. I wanted to create something that would be very insular in a way so that the people who came into our family could then feel like they found a place to be where they could create and feel supported and get inspired every month. And it's just goes on and on and gets bigger and bigger it seems every year

Speaker 2 (26:03):

There are gonna be people who say, I'd love to see the magazine. Is it available to the public?

Speaker 3 (26:11):

Oh yeah. The, it, it is a print magazine as well, so people get print additions and soft cover or hard cover, but it's also online, so you can just look at it digitally. If you go to our main site is you gotta type in, I think the www, you gotta put that in dot my photo artistic life.com, so www.myphotoartisticlife.com. And then at the very top, there'll be a link that says Magazine, if you click that, a page will pop up and it has all of our magazines on there, and each one of the magazines has a lake to see that online. And it pulls it up in a beautiful viewer, and you can leaf throughout any of the edition. And we're almost at almost up to a hundred issues. We'll hit our hundredth issue this year. And artists down under just broke its 70th issue.

Speaker 3 (26:59):

So it's a lot of art you can lift through. And at over a hundred pages of art per issue, you know, when we hit a hundred issues, that's 10,000 pages of art. So that's a lot of art <laugh>. So, and, and it's so different. What's so exciting to me is seeing how varied that artist is, just how many different ways you can approach it and the different voices each of these artists have, and different styles and different kinds of, you know, inspiration they bring to their canvas and how they bring it to life. So it's, it's exciting. It's fun to see, I myself get excited by it. One of my, my practices is every December when this gets cold here in the mountains I make it my goal to go through every single issue of the magazine. And it's getting hard. We have so many issues of the magazine, it was easy when we only had, you know, six issues, 10 issues, 12 issues.

Speaker 3 (27:51):

But when you've got 'em up about a hundred issues and there's over a hu a hundred pages of art in every one, it's a lot of looking through the magazine. But I, I like to go back through and see the familiar names and see the art again and, and see how various artists have developed over the years. That's been exciting to see. But yeah, it's, it's an exciting magazine and it's, it's not a traditional magazine, I should point that out. It doesn't have a bunch of articles, it has no ads whatsoever. It's just art. So it's a way to go in and just feast on the art. Just take your time and linger over the images that you really like the best and maybe get inspired by them in some way.

Speaker 2 (28:28):

And this online magazine is available to the public as well.

Speaker 3 (28:35):

Oh, yeah, yeah. That, like I said, if you just go into the, the magazine link, and then we also posted on the Photoshop Artistry a Facebook page. So on Facebook there's a Photoshop Artistry Facebook page, and every month when the new magazine comes out, it gets posted there with a link to the magazine. And then on the first of every month we post a link to the artist down under magazine as well.

Speaker 2 (28:58):

This sounds a lot different than the conventional camera club.

Speaker 3 (29:03):

Oh, very different. And

Speaker 2 (29:04):

Its approach and philosophy.

Speaker 3 (29:09):

Yeah. We have a lot of our artists who have commented on that now. We have a sort of side group called the Awake Photography Group within our bigger awake group, just for the people who wanna also continue exploring, you know, the mastery of their cameras in a safe environment around other people who are interested in creative photography, traditional photography groups and photography clubs. They can be a little strict in how they think of what's acceptable, what's not acceptable. They've got a lot of rules and they have panels and you, you might submit your work to be judged, and there's a lot of judgment in those groups. And if you go on Facebook to a photography group, there's a lot of judgment there. There are a lot of people who just, if it's not done the way they think it needs to be done, then it's wrong.

Speaker 3 (29:59):

And that's the way they think of photography. You couldn't be anywhere further from that in our group, because our group is a bunch of artists, they're, they maybe have come from that tradition and they're just tired of it. You know, they've, they've captured a million photos and they look at their best photos and they find their best photos rather indistinguishable from a dozen other photographers photos of the same subject. And that's just one of those things. And they're getting bored maybe with that, and they're getting a little tired of the judgment from that community. So they find this world and they realize, wow, I could just create something, I could get creative with how I expose or compose or capture something in my camera and create something that's never been seen before. That's allowed, that's permissible. And I can not only do that, I can bring it into Photoshop and I can push it even further and bring in other things.

Speaker 3 (30:57):

I'm allowed to do that. And it's like their children, again, able to express themselves in a way that they were, they never felt they could. And I think that's one of the exciting things to see in our artists is that flourishing, that flowering, especially for artists or photographers who are in their forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, who for the first time in their life, maybe they feel as if they're allowed to get the crayons out again or the paints out again from when they were a kid and just have fun. And that experience of just having fun with your camera, having fun with making something that's artistic and expressive and really pouring your soul into it and all of your talent into it, and creating something that's never been seen before. That's what makes it exciting for everybody in the group, which is very, very different from a traditional camera club and the traditional rules and res and expectations. And if you don't follow these guidelines, then it's, it, it doesn't work and they just tear your work apart. That's a very different environment, not, not our environment at all.

Speaker 2 (32:05):

With cameras becoming so technologically advanced, it's getting hard to almost take a bad picture.

Speaker 3 (32:15):

<Laugh>. Yeah. Even with an iPhone. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (32:18):

And the development of ai, artificial intelligence, creating art, you wrote a a blog once on human art still matters. Yes. How does that fit into this whole concept? I,

Speaker 3 (32:35):

That's a, a, a good, good question because it's very pertinent right now. As far as let me back up one sec. As far as cameras go, as I said, even with an iPhone nowadays, you can capture just stunning photos. And which is actually, I think having a real effect on like the wedding photography industry that I came from. Back when I was doing wedding photography, it was, you know, a couple photographers working a wedding, and that was pretty much it. Nowadays you don't even need a wedding photographer because half the people in the wedding are capturing stuff on their iPhones the whole time and their facet, their fantastic pictures. So cameras had become more and more advanced. So, and which ironically has led me to sort of deliberately back up in the kind of cameras I use, I use more simplistic cameras. I use a fu GX 100 T and I use Leica cameras where I have to focus things or I don't have to with the Fuji, but with the Leica, you have to focus manually.

Speaker 3 (33:31):

You have to work things manually to dial in just the right artistic composition and artistic approach that you wanna take to any given photo. You have to think through what's the exposure I wanna bring to this? How do I wanna work with the light to create something that's unique? And you have to manipulate the camera in such a way to create that image to, to create a photo rather than just snap a photo. Modern cameras, you can just snap away and you just spray all over the place and you get so many photos, you go home and you've got 500 photos, and you can pick out three or four great ones, and it's a day. So I try to work more deliberately in that sense. I also believe in working more deliberately as an artist. What is not deliberate to me is working with the so-called AI generating software out there that you can use to make art.

Speaker 3 (34:22):

If you've seen any of this stuff, most of these programs, they basically offer you the opportunity to fill in some words. So you type in a text prompt, and it could be anything. You could type in any number of just jumbled words, throw in some different, you know, catchphrases of particular kinds of photography or styles, sort of famous artist that you like. You just toss in a, a, a word salad, and then it generates an image for you or generates several images, and then you pick the one you like best, and then you, then it evolves from there and you can kind of take it through a few iterations. And eventually you have this work of art that you created similarly, by coming up with some clever words and picking your favorite version of it. To me, that's not really art, that's a toy. It's something that you can play with.

Speaker 3 (35:07):

Unfortunately, there's a lot of challenges to that right now that I think we're gonna have to address as an artistic community and as a photographic community, because not only is it not really your art, you came up with some words maybe, but you didn't create the canvas. You didn't bring the skill to bringing those photos specifically together of working them together and use your talents to execute a work of art you just tossed in some words. But beyond that, the AI engines that are generating this stuff are pulling from material all over the internet. Millions, tens of millions of different pieces of art that real artists have uploaded to the internet. And these AI engines are just indiscriminately running throughout the internet, pulling all this material together without the permission of the artists, without any say so of any of the artists who just happened to have posted their work online.

Speaker 3 (36:04):

And it's just grabbing it willy nilly and mashing it together and creating something, using material it never owned from artists who never gave their permission for anybody to use their material to create art in this fashion. So that's a real ethical challenge. So I'm against it on that, that point alone. But I'm also concerned with a art in the sense that if you think you're creating art and you, you type in some words and you create this thing that looks magnificent, yeah, it looks great because it's pulling from 16 other professional artists who spent 20 hours each making real canvases and it's meshing all that stuff together, making this piece of art for you because you typed in some funny words, well, just because you think you made it, and you it looks so good, it can be very alluring or enticing to a beginning artist who can see that and say, wow, that's better than anything I did.

Speaker 3 (37:01):

And they either might give up ever trying to create art of their own, they'll throw in the towel like, well, I can't create like that. I might as well just quit. Or they'll get so en enticed by it, maybe they post it to their Facebook page, and it gets so much attention that now they're afraid to post any of their own work because it's not as good as the stuff that the AI made. So for a beginning artist, it's a real, it's a, it's a real risk, I think, to the, the odds of them ever making art on their own again. So in art group, we try to continually encourage each other. If you wanna be an artist, you have to make the art yourself. If you, you know, otherwise, why are you here? You know, why are you, you know, why are you even trying to be an artist if you don't actually wanna make art?

Speaker 3 (37:45):

If you just wanna go type words into an engine and let a machine make art for you, okay? It'd be the same as if you were trying to, let's say, learn piano. If you really wanna learn piano, if you really wanna be able to play a Beethoven sonata, well, you could go online and have a computer play a sonata for you. You could go put a CD on and just listen to somebody else play a sonata for you. You could buy a player piano and watch the keys move and have it play a Beethoven sonata for you. But you never learned how to play the Sonata yourself. So are you really a pianist? Not really, just because you were able to type the words Beethoven sonata into a thing and have it play. You didn't write the music, you didn't compose the music, you didn't play the music, you didn't perform the music.

Speaker 3 (38:28):

You didn't put in the hours and hours and days and months or years that it takes to master your craft so that you could be proud of what it is that you've been able to do. And that's the same case with photography and photo artistry. The people who wanna be real artists, they're willing to put in the time to acquire the skills they're willing to put in the time to work on a canvas, and most importantly, make the dozens and dozens of different small artistic decisions they have to make from the start of a canvas through the course of maybe 50 to a hundred different layers of a canvas, and the various layer masks and all the different effects and techniques they have to bring to it. These are all dozens of decisions they have to make as an artist, do I do this? Do I do that? Do I do it this much? Do I do it that much? And they have to work their way to a finished composition where at the end of it, they created it. They made all of those decisions and what is they're looking at and what is hanging on a wall as a beautiful canvas is something that they created. They didn't just let a computer make something for them and print it out and hang it on the wall. There's no real satisfaction in that and there's no real pride in that.

Speaker 2 (39:39):

I talked to a lot of my contemporaries about digital art, photo artistry, and they are fascinated with what can be done and wanna learn more. And these are people in their seventies, eighties, and nineties.

Speaker 3 (39:56):

Yeah, we have a few students in their nineties even. Yeah.

Speaker 2 (39:58):

Is the course still open?

Speaker 3 (40:01):

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. And it's at, like I said, www.myphotoartisticlife.com. And if somebody's totally new, they really should start with either Photoshop artistry or there's a course on there called Creative Photo Artistry, create, I'm sorry, creative black and white Photo Artistry. So if you just have more of a pension for black and white style, you know, photos, that can be a fun place to start to, they both start with the most essential beginning things that you need to know on how to bring things into Photoshop, how to layer them, how to manipulate them, and so forth. But those are the two initial courses. And then if you c get along the ways and you understand Photoshop and you feel comfortable with it as a tool, and you're able to use it as an artist, you know, using the techniques that are covered in the Photoshop artistry, then the next step is the awake course, awake living the photo artistic life.

Speaker 3 (40:49):

And that's really where it, you go beyond just creating, you become more of an arti artist in the way you live your life, but you also learn how professional artists create these magnificent compositions. And there's some of this even in Photoshop artistry, but really the main thrust of Awake and then ul, ultimately the, the private group Kaizen, it's about taking professional works of art. I license professional works of art by top artists, and then I pull them up in Photoshop and we deconstruct them. We literally go layer by layer, technique by technique, brushstroke by brushstroke to show how did the artist go from this, these just innocuous two or three photos that maybe look okay, but nothing to write home about, and then evolve over the course of 50 to a hundred layers to create this finished work of art That's just dazzling. And anybody can pick that up no matter what's your age, you know, as long as you can move a mouse, you can learn that stuff.

Speaker 3 (41:48):

Even the photography side of it, you can use photos from your iPhone. You can just use photos that are in the courses themselves. We provide pro photography that you can just download and use that to make art out of, or you can go online and find, you know, stock photos that you'd like to bring into to it. So you don't even have to be an active photographer. It is really cool if you can be, if you can actually capture your own photos based on a creative idea that you've come up with, and then capture the photos to then bring that idea to life, I think that's the most exciting thing. But you don't have to go that route. You can just, you know, sit at home quietly at your computer and never pick up a camera at all if you want.

Speaker 2 (42:25):

Sebastian, this has been terrific. I want to thank you so much. Hopefully we've inspired a lot of people to start creating art and living an artistic life. Thanks for coming on the podcast. Hope.

Speaker 3 (42:43):

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

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Sebastian MichaelsProfile Photo

Sebastian Michaels

Author / Instructor

With over 40,000 students in 93 countries around the world, Sebastian Michaels has established not only some of the most celebrated Photoshop courses of all time, but also launched an elite group of artists producing much of the most exciting digital art today.

Sebastian Michaels once shot weddings and created artistic portraits by private commission … But after a move to the other side of the country, he took up writing for quite some time … and then, with yet another move (this time to the mountains), he came back around to photo artistry in a big way in 2013, when he founded Photoshop Artistry: Fine Art Grunge. This was later followed by a number of additional courses and and private groups.

Photoshop Artistry rapidly took the digital art scene by storm and grew to include students in 93 countries around the world, with well over 40,000 photographers and photo artists currently enrolled.

From 2015 to 2023, Sebastian launched a series of advanced groups under the name “AWAKE: Living the Photo Artistic Life,” involving hundreds of his very best students, and began publishing a monthly magazine showcasing their artwork.

On a personal note . . . Sebastian lives in the mountains of western North Carolina (near the Appalachian Trail and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park), is mostly obsessed with creative photography, reading, professional chess, and his cats. Beyond these, his obsessions would include Rachmaninoff, Edward DeVere 17th Earl of Oxford, and the philosophy of Ayn Rand. He is crazy about animals and wildlife. And he listens to an inordinate amount of Radiohead and U2.
(It’s a good life.)