Not Just Alien Heads

click on any image to enlarge.

Today I wish to discuss a common misconception about Photoshop.

I recently heard a fellow photographer lamenting the use of Photoshop for digital imaging. He made the incorrect assumption that it was all about making alien heads and things of this nature.

Of course I just laughed and told him what I am going to tell all of you now. Photoshop was never meant to make alien heads and things of this nature. It was created as a tool, not a toy, for professionals in the publishing industry.

When I was in college some years back, my Visual Communications department still had a process camera. It was large and always in the way of my big, clumsy feet. (I can’t tell you how many times I bruised my ankles on it.) I was part of the very last class that actually dealt in print publication using this technology, as in my second year, we merged into Quark for layout, Photoshop for image manipulation and halftoning/screening, and Acrobat for output. From there, we could directly create separations for plating, then off to the press.


Photoshop is an awesome set of tools. The blue image here, originally by Neal Preston, was given some classic, easy to apply treatments in a manner that was suitable for newspapers and magazines prior to the HD items we see daily now. Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, the subject, often spoke of his music in terms of light and shade, and I wanted to reflect that in this treatment.

It used to take a considerable amount of time to put together something like a newspaper daily, with news and print departments bustling around with a great many people just to get that bundled up roll of pulp and ink on your lawn. Many of those processes now lay in the hands of just one or two people per publication. In the wake of this monumental change in publishing just a little over a decade ago, employers starting focusing on technical skillsets, and not aesthetic ones. Yes, he/she can “do” Photoshop, and that was enough to land someone a position, not realizing that person had little understanding or the talent in art or design to make something great and retain readers.


After posting this and other similar images around various social media websites, this week I was immediately flooded with questions on how I did it. Posterization, poster edges, diffuse glow and some duotoning. Of course, no one knew what any of this meant, but what they enjoyed was the classic, retro feel of the images.

For those of you believe it should always be about HD clarity and spotless presentations, which do have their place, there is something to be said for creating something unique, easy, and in this case, if you were going to print it, cheaper than 4 color process. Most of all, at least in my opinion, they also evoke a sense of energy and directness, since these types of images are far from commonplace anymore.

To summarize, professional tools can be made unprofessional toys in the wrong hands. Additionally, and probably most importantly, just having a working knowledge of a program like Photoshop is not enough. Remember it is a tool, and one of many a designer can use to get your message across that truly stands out.

For those of you who think this type of work has no place anymore, check out the latest Queen archival release, “Live at the Rainbow”. There could have been literally a thousand different pics that could have been used for the cover of the CD or DVD release. They chose the image from the original poster, and it evokes the time period perfectly.


Love to you all.

Ben “Bear” Brown Jr.

Credits for the first three images: All photo manipulation by yours truly. Original photos of Jimmy Page (blue) by Neal Preston; David Bowie (green) by Mick Rock; Rod Stewart (red), photographer unknown. Photo of Freddie Mercury by Mick Rock, and the property of Queen Holdings, Ltd.

Originally posted on LinkedIn on 10 January 2015.

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