Joey L Photoshop Tutorial – After the Honeymoon

The worth of any product does not lie in the first impression, but is rather exposed after having used the thing for an extended time period.  Given the turnover in digital camera technology, 4 months is probably a decent time frame to assess the worth of the Joey L Behind the Scenes Photoshop DVD Tutorial.  I purchased the Joey L DVD Photoshop Tutorial just after it was released in October of 2007 and it is now March of 2008.  After having viewed and used the tutorial for an extended period, did it have a lasting, positive impact on my image making abilities?  Am I now a Photoshop Buddha?  Is it time for me to organize my own DVD and start teaching workshops?  Was the Tutorial a wise investment in my education or an overpriced, rash, ill-thought out toss of my money out the digital window?

Relax Hand Hard Shadow

The Back Story

There are few things which I view with a need-it-now mentality, in particular when it comes to education.  It might suck to learn long division as a disgruntled youth, but it pays dividends later in life when you can calculate things fifty times faster than someone who needs a calculator.

Similarly, I didn’t buy the Joey L DVD thinking it would change my Photoshop skills overnight, but rather, over time it would either have a positive, or absent affect.  The purpose of this extended After-the-Honeymoon review is to look at how the material from the Joey L DVD affected my photoshop and photography capabilities – after the initial joy of buying another digital imaging product had worn off.

First: Why Buy a DVD Tutorial?

The main criticism of the Joey L DVD Tutorial in various internet circles is that it’s overpriced, and doesn’t show anything that can’t be learned on the internet, either for free, or via modest monetary costs.  So why buy it?

It’s true, there are countless opportunities to learn Photoshop and Photography on the web.  Sites like Scott Kelby, Layers Magazine, Photoshop User TV, Dr. Brown, and a number of random totally free videos and written tutorials (often with sample files) are sitting there in virtual space, begging to be viewed.  There’s also libraries of books on-hand dealing with every aspect of Photoshop.

I also know from experience that a number of the tutorials are little more than simple near-pointless tips on using curves, the healing brush, and converting to Black and White.  Not all of course, the paid ones have more real value and there are many gems at Layers Magazine.  However, my main experience is that many almost universally use bland uninspiring images for their examples, and often times it feels like I’m watching a copy of a copy of a copy.  I was looking for something more original to supplement my Photoshop education.

One main draw of the Joey L DVD tutorial is that Joey Lawrence is an actual working photographer.  A dynamic beacon of creativity in an industry of imitators.  The draw of learning from an active Pro is unique for me, as I often have the feeling that too many tutorials are done by people who realized it was more profitable to teach Photoshop instead of being a photographer.  This is probably a pessimistic view, and there’s really nothing wrong with that business model, I encourage folks to make money in any legal fashion they wish, and teaching is one of the noblest professions.  Still, I get my science education from world class-researchers.  Why skimp on my Photoshop education?

A tutorial like the Joey L DVD instantly makes me think of photography workshops.  Workshops are popular from a few perspectives; when you get to the point as a photographer that you want to expand your creative consciousness or skills in a certain areas, or you travel to some distant hard-to-organize location.  Workshops are generally considered to be money-well-spent, and in general I would never spend money on a workshop because many just seem like an excuse for people with too much money to pay someone to tell them to use their camera equipment.  There are exceptions, if David Hobby or Don Giannati flew into Zurich for a Strobist or Lighting Essentials workshop, I’d probably be there to welcome them at the airport.  Basically, I wanted a Photoshop tutorial, and the Joey L DVD seemed like a good fit.

Hanging Hand

Playing and Criticism

Another main criticism is that Joey doesn’t teach good Photoshop technique.  From a technical stand-point I’d say this is true – but if I was technically a Photoshop whiz, I wouldn’t have bought the Tutorial in the first place.  The Joey L tutorial is primarily about using destructive editing techniques and just doing what "seems" right for the image – you know, to make it look good.  I don’t really think this is a bad thing.  This is what artistic expression is all about, if you stick to rigid guidelines in books and always listen to your teachers, you’ll always be one step behind your peers and more or less copying from the old Master’s.

If you copy what Joey does point-for-point, you’re not learning anything that a monkey couldn’t learn (yes, it could take a generation or two of breeding and genetic engineering).  Anytime you’re confronted with a large, intimidating construct like biomechanics, quantum physics or Photoshop, playing around isn’t such a bad thing – and should be encouraged.  "Playing around" has brought more ground breaking discoveries than I care to list, including penicillin and bubble wrap.  Playing in Photoshop is an important lesson I’ve taken away from the tutorial, which is also how Dave Hill developed his legendary style that so many geeks try to achieve.  This doesn’t mean I use the techniques Mr. Lawrence has described in his tutorial.  I do Photoshop with my own workflow and so should you.  But it’s not bad to learn from someone who isn’t using Adobe standard practices.

Ah, But the Cost

The Joey L DVD is not cheap, but education is what the student makes of it more so than what the teacher teaches.  This is contrary to many philosophies of modern pedagogy, but after going through three engineering degrees and a few semesters as a teaching assistant, I feel comfortable saying that a motivated student will learn no matter how dimwitted the professor may be.  Ahhh, but inspiration from a teacher, is sometimes priceless.  The Joey L DVD was inspiring for me, and that is hard to put a dollar sign on.  But it might not be for other pupils.

Draw Like the Maple Tree Young Grasshopper

I feel like the DVD has helped open up the horizons of Photoshop.  This doesn’t mean that now I think that every photo needs to emulate Dave Hill and Joey Lawrence, it just means that my mind is more open to what I can do with the raw image – and the DVD Tutorial had a part in that.

I love to draw and do images on paper, but I’ve generally felt constrained in Photoshop, "Hmmmm, I should make layers with correct names and make sure I can go back and change everything."  So, again one of the important lessons from the Joey L DVD is that a desire to play in Photoshop is essential, the program is a tool, not a defined process.  My Photoshop skills are getting more fluid and playful, which opens up more creative directions in photo manipulation – and hence visual expression.

Was the Joey L Tutorial a good buy?

After 4 months, I’m still comfortable with the amount of money I threw down for the Joey L DVD.  I come back to it and replay a lesson here and there when I need to, thinking back to the techniques, imagining how to use and create them differently, and often also disregarding them and doing something different.

I like being able to replay different lessons quickly, and then go back to other projects – something you can’t do with a workshop (unless they include a DVD).  I’ll probably never buy another DVD like this again (ok, maybe one), the exception being the forthcoming Strobist DVDs or the offerings from Lighting Essentials.

Why not go crazy buying more DVDs?  Because I’ve hit the point where all the other fine points of Photoshop can be easily found or discovered, maybe I didn’t need to buy the Joey L DVD to get to this point, but that’s the way I’ve arrived here, and I don’t regret the path I’ve taken.

Brass Tacks

Here’s the thing, with Photoshop I was looking for a spark, something to open the flood gates and broaden my horizons on this subject of digital post-processing.  The Joey L Tutorial DVD did that – exactly that – I see images in layers and masks and color shifts and shadowed hues now.  When I look at setting up a shot, I think about the post-processing, the way the lighting will define how the image can be manipulated later.  This isn’t a certain style, it’s an addition to my digital visualization abilities – the same as visualizing a wide angle effect before taking a picture.  The horizons for communicating a certain message have now been expanded.

Could the Joey L Tutorial DVD have been done better?  The crazy thing about the Joey L Tutorial DVD is that it could have been one of the most fantastic photography-centered Photoshop learning tools ever created – if it had been created with an eye towards integrating the lighting and photoshop techniques.  However, it doesn’t take long to see for yourself which type of images "work" and which ones "don’t" based on their lighting.  No Photoshop action can "fix" images which don’t have the right lighting to start with.  That’s the shortcoming of the Joey L DVD, the lighting-processing connection is mostly missing.  However, playing around with different images and the Joey L actions will quickly reveal how lighting affects the post-processing.

Here’s an example, both of the images shown below were processed using the Joey L Signature Action, and should be slightly representative of how this technique works.  It’s pretty obvious how the first image doesn’t really look all that great.  It’s flat and desaturated, and more or less boring.  This is because the face and torso are turned away from the light source, and all we have is definition of the jacket. However, the second image is better-lit, and renders the deep-grudge shadows much better than the first one.  Once you see which type of images and lighting combinations work it’s easy to draw up in your mind how to design shots specifically for this type of deep-shadow processing.

Floating in the Air Drama in the Air
Poor lighting, only shadow and definition in the jacket Better lighting, good shadow definition of the arms, torso, and face.

Monkey See Monkey Do?

There is a pervading attitude from many dark corners of the web that if you buy his DVD to learn from someone like Joey Lawrence, you’re trying to adopt or steal his look/style instead of developing your own.  If such an attitude existed in the scientific research world, we’d still be riding horses and the telegraph would probably be 200 years from being invented.  In general everything has been done before.  There are very few truly new things.  There was Dragan, people copied him by creating Photoshop actions, Joey Lawrence no doubt learned from these influences, and developed his own style.  He made a DVD, I bought it, and here we are.  That’s how progress and the evolution of style sometimes works in the digital imaging world.

As you move through life you learn things – and the knowledge you retain becomes tools which you can use to do other things: build bridges, take pictures, climb mountains, relax on a beach.  The real mistake is not learning as much as you can and using those tools as desired.  I didn’t set out to imitate Joey Lawrence, or to create iconic art that will stand the test of time.  But if that iconic art thing happens, well – cool.

The Joey L Tutorial DVD is just an addition to my photography digital image making toolset, what comes next no one knows.  Should you buy the Joey L DVD Tutorial, or that Canon 85 mm lens or that Nikon D300?  Will a set of Profoto strobes make you a better photographer?  Figure out what you "need" to accomplish what you’re seeking to accomplish – acquire those tools, and then go write your book, develop your look, live your life, whatever.

No one single piece of knowledge or equipment will improve your skills in life unless you’re motivated to push yourself to the next level, but once you know how things work…well, maybe I’m working on my own tutorial DVD…

Digital Style – The Joey L – Jill G – Dave Hill Look

Editor’s Note:

The following is a collection of thoughts on Digital Style, an elusive element of Digital Imaging, an extension of Photography.? The author has already admitted during our last project meeting that he “has” no style, nor any particular story to tell – which made him the logical choice for this article.? This is a Style piece, and logic therefore need not apply.

The Writer's Hand

Photoshop is a great big beautiful doorway to the realization of any creative genius that the Devil can conjure up.? For a generation of digital-born image makers it’s the go-to in creating a digital style – that illusive look that sets one image apart from another and defines the distinctive qualities of an Artist.

Millions of poor fools are locked in the cult-mindset that their crap photos can be saved by the Photoshop high Priest-magic of our time – the Photoshop Action.? Load a photo, run the action, Photoshop does all the changes to your image – and there is your masterpiece.? The object of their obsession is getting “the so-and-so look” the high dynamic range of Dragan, the cartoon-like softness of Dave Hill, the gritty power of Joey Lawrence, or even the emotionally engaging elements of Jill Greenberg.

Photoshop, like any unchecked religious fascination quickly becomes a short-cut to thinking if the “program” is placed before the “story.”? Some would say it’s all down to plot and the story line.? Most everything worth reading, watching or looking at has it.? You check out a photograph and there’s a message, something there, a story that pops into your mind and pulls you in.? If there’s no story in your photos, no amount of demon-inspired-bastard Photoshopping will save your blunder.

Relax Hand Hard Shadow

You can spend hours searching for a top-notch Dave Hill action script, or you can spend about 30 minutes on Strobist,, FlashFlavor, and any number of free-learning websites where a sheep can shave the wool from their vision and learn to use light to paint a story on a digital imaging sensor.? Photoshop can enhance and manipulate, but it’s not a creativity creation machine – and it doesn’t need to be.? Creativity is just the Artistic neighbor of Quantum Physics, terms used to things which are not fully understood by the people who use them.

The simple truth is that there’s no secret to Jill’s emotionally charged images or Joey’s gritty grung work.? Lighting and subject, with Dave and Jill and Joey, they are awesome.? Awesome subjects and lighting.? Sure you can imitate Jill’s style, just call up Gwen Stefani or your local bear handler and set up a shoot.? Get the lighting right and you can copy her look. No Photoshop action needed.

“No, no, I got it, Jill and Dave use RING LIGHTS.”

It’s true, many photographers such as Jill G and Dave Hill make sensible use of right light flash heads, but dropping $400 on an Alien Bees head won’t make your images “good” if you have no story to tell.

The limited edition White Stripes Meg Diana with ring light accessory is a different story.? If you drop $180 on this cool camera you’ll space-jump to Hollywood lighting pimp in the span of 5 seconds.

4…3…2…1…take off

Climber I

Seriously, if you’re looking for digital style – quit Photoshop.? There’s no point in wasting time with the program if you haven’t a clue what look you want or what the story should be.? Take a walk, pick up a Japanese ink pen, build a house of cards, and come back when you have something to say.

The story doesn’t have to be anything special, profound or engaging, but if you simply manipulate your photos in Photoshop trying for that special look and post photos to Flickr messages boards looking for accolades from the web community, your sheep mind will never rise above the level of a second-rate snap shooter.? But is doesn’t have to be, it’s cool just using new tools to be Creative.? However, with new tools comes confusion, consider leaving the digital sanctuary, turn your back on the Photoshop cult and tell your story as it exists in your mind.

Of course, if you have no desire to – keep doing what you were doing.

Looking to the East

Trust me, I’m a scientist.

Excellent Photographers:

Jill Greenberg
Joey Lawrence
Dave Hill
Michael Grecco
Andrzej Dragan

Further reading:

A drawn-out Flickr discussion – the Dave Hill Look
A useful Flickr discussion – the Joey Lawrence Look

Flickr Photos without a Style or a Look

JoeyL Tutorial Review – Behind the Scenes

Editor’s Note:
What follows is a Review of JoeyL Behind the Scenes: The Complete Tutorial.  This is an impression of the DVD tutorial provided by the reviewer and nothing else.  There are no financial ties between this review and the photographer Joey Lawrence.

JoeyL: Behind the Scenes Review

I’ve been shooting various cameras and engaged in various amounts of Photoshop for five or six years now.  I think of cameras and computers and hammers in the same way – tools with which to do something, nothing more or less.  In the past year I’ve expanded from mountaineering and landscape and travel photography to using studio lighting techniques, mainly gleamed from, where I read an interview by David Hobby with Joey Lawrence and learned about his new DVD tutorial.  He seems to have a cool style and creative philosophy, so I bought his tutorial for $249 (promotion till Oct. 21st, – $299 thereafter).

This is the first Photoshop tutorial I’ve ever bought, and it was purchased for the following reason:  I’ve become comfortable with the basics of Photoshop, using the clone tool for basic corrections, levels and saturation control for various tonal adjustments.  Basically using those tools to enhance the feeling I wanted to communicate with the images taken using my cameras.  I’ve been looking for a learning package to help me take things to the next level and to expand beyond the basics of enhancing an image and start using Photoshop as a tool to create a specific visual impact with my digital images – beyond what can be accomplished with cameras and basic lighting.

Did the JoeyL DVD contribute in the aim of fulfilling my creative desires?  Who is the DVD for?  Will you, as a reader benefit from buying your own copy?  Hopefully you’ll find some answers here.

DVD Contents

The JoeyL DVD is broken up into two sections: Lessons and Videos, a preview is available on the tutorial website.

The Lessons section includes videos showing Joey editing digital images in Photoshop, explaining along the way how and why specific adjustments are made to enhance the photo and his vision for the final image.  The specific lessons are:

Specialized RAW Conversion Techniques (manual HDR)
Levels and Curves
Multiply techniques (“Joey L signature look”)
Soft Light Techniques
Grunge (apply textures, scratches to images)
Rescue (rescue a ‘bad take’ photo)
Tilt/Shift (simulate lens blur effect)
Quick Masks (influence light/dark values)
Cooking Your Own Textures (texture production)

The Videos section includes four production videos, which show Joey working with different bands and models.  The creative process is explained including some lighting diagrams to illustrate how lighting was setup for the shoots.

A set up Photoshop actions and high resolution textures are also included on the DVD.  A set of actions like these would probably set you back a certain amount of money if bought separately.  If you add up the projected cost of the 10 actions and 51 custom textures (by my hand counting), the total price of the DVD becomes more digestible.

So, after going through the DVD various times and working with the techniques and evaluating what I’ve learning and what it means for my future image making process, here are my impressions:

The Impressions

During the lessons Mr. Lawrence talks through his thinking process in adding various layers and how to do different adjustments.  Adding layers and blending and the use of manipulating shadows and adding light to images is well explained.  This is exactly what I was looking for, since it shows you how to enhance lighting effects in Photoshop which were absent or difficult to produce in reality.  A problem though is that the Photoshop techniques are presented as separate from the production process.

Some videos are included which document different shoots and the photos of which are used in the lessons.  This is pretty cool, since you can see how the images were created and then you can go through the editing process in Photoshop to see the evolution of concept to digital final.  However, a link between lighting for the sets and how that lighting was used in the editing process isn’t really presented.  Of course, a specific link may exist, but adding the connection would greatly enhance the learning experience.

There are five videos in the Video section, but really only two videos on the DVD include lighting diagrams and a talk-through about the production process.  I was hoping for a broader amount of material here, including a workflow starting out with planning for the shot, figuring out what lights would be needed and more interaction about what was working and why.  The lighting of course, is key here, many of the Photoshop editing techniques work because the lighting produced the right shadow which would later be enhanced in Photoshop.  Without more background on the lighting, it just feels like something is missing.

I like that videos are included that show the production shoots.  The images from those shoots are later used to illustrate the editing techniques.  So you get a feeling for how one goes from doing the photography to producing the final image.  However, in this sense I feel like the material doesn’t flow as well as it could.  The editing and production videos are separate, and must be viewed separately.  I think it would have been beneficial to integrate the two together.  Of course, this would make it more difficult to organize the lessons in an easily accessible format.  Still, it would be cool it the Photoshop editing could have been added to the production footage to better illustrate the path from initial idea – image capture – digital editing ending with the final image.  Of course, this is my bias and reflects how I would have liked it to have been setup.  It wouldn’t be too hard to import the movie files into Final Cut or iMovie and re-edit the JoeyL Tutorial to a form which better fits with my leaning preferences.

Is It Worth the Price?

The creative process was a main draw when I finally sent my credit card info for the DVD, knowing full well that $249 was just dropped electronically.  In my opinion a description of the creative process is probably the weak point of the tutorials.  The Photoshop techniques are very clearly explained and you can start doing cool things to your own images in the time it takes to open your file in Photoshop.  Now, a critic will say that it’s easy to find all the info one wants on Photoshop on the web – hence, why buy the tutorial?

Numerous web tutorials and people like Russell Brown show you how to do many things in Photoshop.  Of course, this information is generally spread out everywhere across the web, and all without the benefit of a professional photographer explaining their creative process.  Time is valuable, and time wasted scouring the web for into on Photoshop and then taking the time to figure out what enhances what is time not used shooting photos or climbing mountains.

My reason for buying the JoeyL DVD was to see how Photoshop can be used to create an image as a part of the creative production process and to enhance my own creativity.  In this capacity I’m very happy with my decision to drop $249 on the JoeyL DVD tutorial and would do so again.

Beyond Photoshop

Learning about the creative process isn’t just important for photography and Photoshop.  I look at the purchase of the JoeyL DVD as enhancing other areas of my life, both the artistic and in the scientific research realm.  To a certain extent, I expect to see a benefit from using the JoeyL tutorial in my research career.  This could be in any area from designing actuator systems for smart material applications to a new scaffold strategy for bone regeneration implants.

“What!!!  Did he just use his job as a scientist to justify a $249 Photoshop tutorial purchase???”

You’re damn right I did.  When you get to a certain level in engineering you see that the line between art and science is pretty much just a myth perpetrated by those who like categorizing things.

My knowledge of Photoshop and photo printers and the creative process from an artistic viewpoint has only enhanced by ability as a research scientist.  When you engage in a free-creative pastime like photography and enhance your image making abilities with Photoshop you’re training your mind to be more open and flexible than is generally taught in engineering, chemistry and science classes.

In both art and science you characterize the world around you using various tools to translate your vision into something which can be communicated to other people.  The tools can be cameras, physics, Photoshop, ANSYS, mathematical equations, wide angle lenses, whatever tools you need to tell the story you’re interested in.  The story could be the emotions evoked by a portrait or the aerodynamics of a rocket.  Exploring the creative process of other scientists or artists can only enhance you’re own.

Should You Buy It?

Now, that I’ve explained what I liked and what I felt could be improved in the JoeyL DVD – the question then becomes if you, the potential customer should drop the change to buy your own copy.  Here’s what I think…

  • If you’re a Photoshop whiz and already do your own lighting, know what you want to create, have a handle on your creative process and so fourth, you might not find a lot of value in this tutorial.
  • If you have no idea about Photoshop and want to create cool images with a nice gritty Grunge feel to them (the JoeyL look).  Yes, you will get a ton out of this DVD and it could act as a great starting point for jump starting your own vision.  Even if you’re starting from a very low Photoshop level, it wouldn’t be too hard to get to the point where you’ll understand and be able to exploit the techniques in this tutorial.
  • If you’re like me, someone who understands lighting at the mid-intermediate level, knows Photoshop but isn’t a Pro and is interested in the creative process and not just editing details, yes, you’ll probably enjoy the tutorial and find a lot of value in it.
  • If you’re a scientist and wish to enhance your creativity in the technical research world, I would recommend the tutorial only after reading Sparks of Genius.
  • If you’re more interested in camera specs than pictures and enjoy debating the finer points of copying the Dave Hill look than finding your own style and feel a deep resentment towards the fact that a 17 year old guy from Canada is an established photographer while you’re spending your time pouring over photo forums and tutorial reviews…well, I recommend you find a new outlet in your life.


Reviews like this shouldn’t just be about feelings and impressions but also a prelude to action.  I worked with a self-portrait which I like and tried out some of the techniques from the JoeyL DVD and played with the JoeyL Photoshop action.  This entailed the addition of various overlays and a cool texture to give the image a nice gritty feel.  I’ve never used these techniques before and I love the result that 10 minutes of my day coupled with knowledge from the tutorial was able to produce.

JoeyL Tutorial Before JoeyL Tutorial After
If you’d like another opinion check out the Review on
There’s also a discussion at the Flickr Strobist Forum