Sleeklens Photoshop Actions Review

Sleeklens Photoshop Actions Review

The Beach at Flakstad: Image made January 23, 2017

A few weeks ago the folks at Sleeklens reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to review one of their products, a set of Sleeklens Photoshop Actions called the “Landscape Adventure Collection.”*

 

Although I agreed to do it, frankly I was skeptical.  I’ve been pitched other similar “labor saving” shortcuts in the past.  I’ve been provided some for free, others I’ve purchased based on the promise that using it would save my most precious resource (my time).  But in the end I’ve always “dabbled and then deleted.”  None have ever lived up to the hype.  (I’m talking about you, Aurora HDR.)

I expected my Sleeklens experience would go much the same.  I’d use it, I’d try to like it, but in the end I’d conclude I could do things manually just as quickly and with more creative control than using the product.  That’s how it has always gone before, and I fully expected that at the end of this experiment I’d be deleting the actions, only to write a review where I tried hard not to be too cruel.

For this Sleeklens experiment, I started with an image from my January trip to Lofoten, Norway, one I really wanted to like, but one that just didn’t have that “oomph” I was looking for:

The beach at Flakstad.

Lofoten, Norway

What you see isn’t what you get

This is pretty much what every photo looks like straight out of the camera (at least those that are executed well technically).  Colorless, lifeless, flat, uninspiring.

So I figured, let’s see what how Sleeklens could help me punch up this photo.  I fired up good old Photoshop, decided what I needed to do to fix the photo, conjured up the Sleeklens actions, and immediately found a few that sounded interesting.

After using Sleeklens to correct tonality and local contrast, I pulled up the “vivid pastel painting” action, and voila!  Instantly I had a much more interesting photo.

I used a couple more actions to recreate the drama in the sky that I saw the day I took the picture, a few to correct the color cast (if you read my other posts you already know a camera’s sensor alters colors based on sky conditions: cloudy, sunny, etc), then I did some final contrast adjustments, and I was done.  Twenty minutes, tops!

And the result

is the image at the top of the page.

Of course I focus my website and blog on those interested in fine art photography, not on photographers themselves (there are plenty of websites devoted to photographers), so if you aren’t a photographer you may be thinking “you mean you spent twenty minutes finishing that photo?”

My answer would be, “Yes, and that’s a darn sight better than the two hours or so I normally spend finishing a photo!”  That means the Sleeklens actions did help me save my most precious resource.

Is the product perfect? No.  In particular, I found the instruction videos a bit austere.  There are over 50 actions here, I could have used a better description of what each of them does.  And there are some actions included in the package that I doubt I will ever use.

But my initial concerns about the product turned out to be wrong. This isn’t a product that I will dabble and discard.  I’ve already made it a permanent addition to my Photoshop Actions pallet.

The actions can be found at sleeklens.com.

If you are an Adobe Lightroom user, Lightroom tutorials can be found at sleeklens.com/lightroom-tutorials/

Lightroom presets at sleeklens.com/product-category/lightroom-presets

My conclusion is that this product is well worth the price, and I do highly recommend it.

Disclaimer: they provided me the actions for free, asking only that I provide my honest opinion in my review.  (Dear Sleeklens people: providing my honest opinion is never something you have to worry about.)

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Digital File Sharing, the Legitimization of Theft, and its Impact on Photography

Digital File Sharing, the Legitimization of Theft, and its Impact on Photography

When I was a boy, the only commercially available medium for purchasing music was the record album. If a friend wanted to borrow an album from me, I might let him, but if he didn’t return it, we would inevitably “have words.”

The evolution of music into digital formats, along with the concurrent development of the internet, meant the death (or nearly so) of physical media like compact discs and LPs. People were able to “rip” their physical media onto their computer, and then “share” that music with friends over the internet.

Of course, this “sharing” mechanism wasn’t really sharing at all because of two important characteristics: (1) you weren’t actually loaning the music to your friends, you were providing them another copy of the music track, and (2) this method allowed you to provide copies of music to millions of your closest friends, obviating the need for any of them to actually purchase the track, eliminating millions of potential sales of that track, thereby nearly destroying the industry that allowed such music to be produced in the first place. In that regard, it was a parasitic theft-dynamic that threatened to kill the “host.”

A Solution?

The solution to this problem, as provided by the digital recording industry, was to lower the price of music so significantly as to make it easier to pay the pennies necessary to purchase a track, than it was to steal the song. This catastrophically lowered the intrinsic value of a musical track. Although it kept the studios somewhat viable, allowing them to limp by on life support, the pennies provided per track were not enough to allow the musicians and bands who made that music to actually make a living plying their craft.

This also drove a commoditization of music, where every track, regardless of how good or bad, was set at essentially the same price. Instead of the free market forces driving the value of music, the theft-dynamic was now driving the value of a track. The unstated motive force was, “if you don’t give it to us cheap, we will simply steal it.” And very few in our society agitated about what was happening.

Imagine if this theft-dynamic were applied to the food industry: some industry executive telling the chef of a 5-star restaurant that he had to charge McDonald’s prices in order for his food to sell, otherwise people would just steal it. Unimaginable? That is exactly what is happening in the digital world these days.

The Effect

Suddenly musicians found themselves back in the days of the 1920s juke joints where they would almost literally have to play for food. Other than within the rarified air of the 1%, the “anointed music artists” (mostly in pop and hip-hop), any hope of actually raising a family on the wage of a musician was a fantasy. In short, this theft-dynamic destroyed the middle class of music, leaving only the very rich and the very poor.

My son, a professional drummer for more than four years, suffered from this effect personally, and saw other egregious examples first-hand. He would sometimes open for bands that had gold records in their catalog, but who were quite literally sleeping on the floors of their fans because they could not afford (nor would their record label provide for) hotel rooms on tour. There just wasn’t enough money being made any more. (Insert shameless plug here: if you want to check out his current band “Fives,” see www.fivesband.com )

The Dynamic

The theft-dynamic started with the child-culture of “file sharing” almost 20 years ago. But this “sharing” wasn’t really sharing, it was stealing, and it essentially legitimized theft. With no adult supervision or moral compass guiding those child-bandits, an entire industry was effectively destroyed.

The kids of that era are now adults, and sadly the dynamic as it pertains to the music industry has metastasized to other (perhaps all other) digital media. Anything that can be digitized is vulnerable to theft. The written word. Works of art. Motion pictures. And, most relevant to me, photographs.

Because screen capture technology allows anyone with the ability to view an image to steal it, sadly, many people do. This has led to the deconstruction of the world of professional photography. Many famous and gifted photographic artists, who could once eke out a living by licensing and selling their images, must now revert to alternative means, mostly teaching workshops, to pay the mortgage. There is certainly nothing wrong with teaching workshops, but I’m certain that wasn’t what they had in mind when their creative instincts first drew them to the medium. And every hour spent teaching is an hour where they are not creating.

We evolved into this world of moral ambiguity. I hope and believe we can evolve out of it.

The Conundrum

It seems that hardly anybody knows how to deal with online image theft.  Even less famous photographers like me are affected. An application called “Tineye” allows one to search the web for their images, and I have found several of my images used extensively, without compensation or permission, all over the internet. One online store was reproducing my images on coffee mugs. Another was selling reproductions of my prints outright. A few online magazines were using my images without permission or citation.

When I asked for advice from a well known, established landscape photographer (one of my mentors), his response was, “This is the world of today. You can’t stop it. You have to learn to make peace with it or it will drive you crazy.” (I could just see my Italian cousins throw up their hands in stoic Italian fashion and say, “Eh! What can you do?”)

Is this yet another parasitic theft-dynamic that will eventually kill the host? Is it resulting in another reduction of intrinsic value, a commoditization, of this art? Will legitimized theft destroy photography’s middle class too?

If my mentor is right, not only is my attempt to make a living by means of my images futile, but the entire photographic art industry is effectively dead.

Perhaps so. Perhaps it’s already happened.

But I’m an optimist. I believe in the intrinsic good of people. I believe if we impose something like a “moral calibration,” and reassert the definition of theft, we can recover from this blight.

We evolved into this world of moral ambiguity. I hope and believe we can evolve out of it.

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Product Review Disclaimer

Product Review Disclaimer

So here is my product review disclaimer.  I’m happy to do product reviews.

I don’t expect this to happen often, because this website is tailored for photograph and print consumers, not for photographers.  Nevertheless, I’ve recently been asked to do a few product reviews, so I find it necessary to articulate my ethical standard up front.

When I do product reviews I will clearly state if I’ve been compensated in any way for the review (although I expect that to rarely happen).

For instance, I’m a Nikon user (at least for the moment), because I regard the D810 as the best landscape camera in the world below medium format size and price.  I know Sony users will quibble with this characterization, citing the A7R II, and I agree the A7R is a great camera with a sensor about as good as the D810’s.  But the feature set on the D810 (available lenses, shutter speed, time-lapse, ease of use) for me, still makes the D810 preferred, at least at this moment in time. Similarly, the Nikon D5 is about as good as it gets for low light, wildlife, and sports.  I make these statements having paid full price for all my Nikon equipment.  In fact, the only time I have ever been compensated by Nikon was for an article that ran in Nikon Asia magazine, and that was done only AFTER I purchased all my equipment (again, at full price).

I have recently been asked to review a couple of products, which as I say, I am happy to do.  When these products have been provided to me free of charge for purposes of my review, I will say so. After all, it’s only reasonable for a company that wants me to review their product provide it to me at no cost.

But if I remain silent on the matter, you can assume it is a product I purchased for my own use.

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