The Spotlight is on Photoshop Guru: Colin Smith

July 15, 2007 9:23 am


The Renderosity Spotlight is shining on award winning Photoshop legend, Colin Smith. Colin is reluctant celebrity, and exceedingly humble for someone who has been bestowed the title of Photoshop Guru. Although he acknowledges his title, he squirms slightly at the mention of his infamy. Colin does not understand what all the fuss is about, after all, he is just doing what he loves: sharing his Photoshop knowledge with the world.

The man behind the PhotoshopCafe, Colin works endless hours to hone his Photoshop skills. Not only is he an amazing artist, designer, and photographer, he also finds time to author several Photoshop instructional books and training videos.

If you currently work with Photoshop, or have always yearned to find out why Photoshop is the industry standard … gather your questions, because the Photoshop Guru is here to give you the answers.

(*Click here to go to the Spotlight page)

I vividly recall the first moment I opened Adobe® Photoshop®. I was hooked immediately. I remember staring at my computer screen and saying "wow, that is so cool," over and over again. What was your first Photoshop experience like? Were you enthralled, initially intimidated, or both?

The first time I opened Photoshop I was a little confused about resolution, but once I began to experiment I knew that was the program for me. I loved the way I could work just like in the real world, with brushes that didn't require any math. There wasn't too much to be intimidated with because it was version 2.5 (First version for PC). There were no layers or anything. I can imagine it must be intimidating for new users now that there are so many features in CS3.

Do you have a degree in art or computer graphics? Do you feel that formal art training is helpful to understanding the intricacies of Photoshop?

My formal studies were in telecommunications. I've always had an art background and was fortunate to have a good mentor when I began work in the industry. I feel that formal training is wonderful and if you have access to it, take it.

If you didn't have that opportunity, all isn't lost. Some of the best artists and designers I know, had no formal training. Somewhere along the road you are going to have to learn the fundamentals if you want to be good though. I am fortunate that I love to self study so the growth process has been a pleasure for me.


100% Photoshop Award Winning Images © Colin Smith


How did you land your first job as a designer? Was this your first introduction to Photoshop?

I was actually doing some work on the phone systems for a company when the magazine designer left. I had previously shown some of my designs in CorelDraw 3 to the senior Editor. I guess I left enough of an impression and was offered the job. This was the first time I used Photoshop on a 486 PC running windows. I think it had a whopping 4 MEGS of ram.

Oh, I remember those days. How did you come up with the concept for PhotoshopCAFE?

I found it very difficult to get information when I was starting. No-one would tell you secrets and no-one would reach out to young designers. I decided to start a personal web page and write tutorials on the different techniques I discovered. I wanted to do for others what I wish had been done for me. I really didn't expect the site to take off like it did.


Selection of Photoshop books authored or co-authored by Colin Smith © Colin Smith


When were you first tagged with the title; Photoshop Guru? Do you ever feel it is a heavy burden to live up to, or does it drive you to innovative achievements?

I was as shocked as anyone when my work was first recognized. I have never been driven by other people's opinions. I've never been one to follow the crowd. I have always been driven by a desire to create something new. I compete with myself. I set goals and then push myself to achieve them. Most of my work has been experiments, trying new things and challenging myself. I'm thrilled that I can make a living doing what I love.

Photoshop is a complex program. While others make the learning process complicated, your teaching techniques (books, online tutorials, videos) make learning Photoshop both fun and effortless. What is the philosophy behind your specific teaching method?

Thanks! For a start, I love Photoshop and I'm passionate about it. I think that passion will always come through. As for my method. I have always taught in a way that I would like to learn. I look back at the days when I was learning and thought "What are the biggest things that helped me?" I try to keep it simple and practical. I have seen some materials where the instructor is too busy showing everyone what they know. My job isn't to impress people with my knowledge, it's to impart that knowledge and help them get it. If people can't use the information in the real-world, I won't teach it.


Selection of Photoshop Instructional Videos Authored by Colin Smith © Colin Smith


Computer graphics are constantly changing, how has Adobe's newest versions of Photoshop (Photoshop CS3 and Photoshop CS3 Extended) kept up with the wants and needs of CG artists?

CS3 has opened up big time, allowing 3D and Video into Photoshop. Although these features are limited right now, it's interesting to see where Adobe will go with it in the future. I'm really excited about the possibilities that are there. Adobe has recognized what CG artists are doing and building tools to help. Plug-ins like the Strata [in] plugins extend that functionality even more and allow us to create and manipulate 3D models right inside Photoshop. This is great for things like pre vis, comps and matte work. The fact that Adobe's sights are back on designers really excites me.

As a successful entrepreneur (designer, photographer, author, teacher, web site CEO) when do you have time for yourself? Outside of work, what do you do for fun?

It's definitely sporadic. When I'm working on big projects like new books or videos, I'm working all the time and have little time for myself. I work hard, and when the works done, I get to relax. I do need to take more time for myself than I do. Funny thing is that I love my work so much, that sometimes my work is indistinguishable from my hobbies. I often joke that when I'm not working, I'm taking photos and creating new pieces of digital art. I do like to play chess at the coffee shop with my friends. I enjoy taking trips, exploring and scuba diving among other things.

If you were forced to narrow your artistic talents to one field, what would you be most passionate about: photography, computer graphics, web design, writing, public speaking?

Now that a tough one! I love the variety of what I do. I would have to say that Computer Graphics are my first love. There is nothing quite like putting on some good tunes, forgetting time and creating. Everything else that I do flows out of my love for the art.

Have you been involved with SIGGRAPH? Will you be at this year's Conference?

I usually attend the conference. I do a book signing for one of my publishers and then wander around and look at everything. I have been meaning to look into speaking at the conference. Perhaps next year?

Realistically, the initial investment in Photoshop is outside the budget of many "nonprofessional" artists. Why would you recommend Photoshop over other less expensive digital art software, such as Paint Shop Pro?

There are two ways to approach that question. If the nonprofessional hopes to break into the industry one day, Photoshop is a must know. Any employer will expect the artist to use the industry standard which is Photoshop.

The second reason is that Photoshop is so powerful and flexible. It's a smooth and stable piece of software. There are tons of resources available on the subject and a huge user community. I personally feel that Photoshop is unmatched in it's power. If it's too expensive there are cheaper options like Photoshop Elements. There are other good painting programs out there like Corel Painter that shouldn't be ignored either.


Photographs © Colin Smith


Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule and allowing us to put you under the Renderosity Spotlight. One last interview question before you participate in the Q and A from our readers … What recommendations do you have for artists experiencing Photoshop for the first time?

Well, I could be a complete sellout and say buy all my training videos. Seriously though, stick at it. Don't try to digest the entire program at once. Break off little chunks and experiment with them. Take one tool at a time and explore all the possibilities, Once you know what each tool can do, its easy to find the right effect your looking for.

Get your hands on as much training materials that you can. This could be books, videos or online tutorials. I have a bunch of free tutorials at PhotoshopCAFE that will help you get started. Don't just follow the tutorials blindly. Do the tutorial until you can create the effect without looking at the instructions. Then try a few variations and experiment. The keys to mastering Photoshop are experimentation and practice. Look around great sites like Renderosity and be inspired and learn from the works of other artists.

Thanks for the opportunity to appear under the spotlight and say a few words.

We Invite you to visit Colin Smith's:



Supporting images are copyright and have been used by permission from Colin Smith
Images cannot be copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission from the artist.

Get to know industry leaders and professionals
as they sit down and talk candidly with
Contributing Columnist, Dee-Marie.

July 16, 2007


Article Comments

Paula Sanders ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 18 July 2007

Thanks so much for the excellent interview. I know Colin has been an inspiration to many people and his tutorials are excellent. Thanks for letting me know more about him.

nemirc ( posted at 12:00AM Wed, 18 July 2007

Thanks a lot for the interview. I really believe Colin should speak at SIGGRAPH next year. It would be a hell of an experience.

Vremont ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 20 July 2007

Colin, Thanks for your frequent tutorial contributions. My favorite aspect is that you not only show a technique, but a creative way in which it can be used.

Spybreak8 ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 20 July 2007

Wow I've seen that camera before and I never knew the artist behind it was so determined. Thanks for the interview it was fun to read.

photoshopcafe ( posted at 12:00AM Tue, 24 July 2007

Hey, I'll be speaking this year at Siggraph after all :) Thurs 11.00am - 1pm - Guerrilla Studio Classroom - come and say hi if your there

SndCastie ( posted at 12:00AM Thu, 26 July 2007

Great will look forward to hearing you speak and thank you for sharing.

Teyon ( posted at 12:00AM Fri, 27 July 2007

Do you prefer painting within Photoshop or digital image manipulation?

photoshopcafe ( posted at 8:27PM Mon, 20 July 2009

I do a little of both :)

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