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Best of ASMP 2008

Photographer and author Mikkel Aaland needed both creative and logistical skills to assemble a team of world-class photographers for two weeks of intense shooting and image editing on Australia’s Tasmania archipelago. Long days spent with cameras and long nights with computers produced a remarkable wealth of images and technical tips. Aaland and team built on the success of the earlier Lightroom Adventure Iceland trek to garner governmental appreciation, widespread media attention and over 2 million hits to multiple adventure Web sites within the first week of their return.

Mikkel Aaland — San Francisco, CA

Web site:
Project: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Adventure Tasmania project

Image © Darren Leal

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

MA: Professionally, since 1974 when I graduated with a degree in Photo-Journalism from Chico State University.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

MA: Since 1985.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

MA: Environmental portraiture, reportage.

Image © Maki Kawakita

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?

MA: My address book.

ASMP: What is unique about your approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

MA: I work well with other photographers. I guess that sets me apart.

Image © Mikkel Aaland

ASMP: You have now organized and directed two Photoshop Lightroom Adventure projects. How did this idea originate? What were your original goals, both professional and personal, for these tours?

MA: I had a book contract to do a book for O’Reilly on Lightroom (then a secret Adobe project code-named Shadowland) and I didn’t want to to a conventional how-to book. Instead I envisioned putting a group of talented, world-class photographers in an exotic location along with Adobe personnel actually responsible for making the product and use the collaboration between the two as a basis for my book. Adobe and the Iceland Tourist Board, along with O’Reily, Epson, Lowepro, Lensbaby, SanDisk, ExpoImaging and others, agreed to sponsor the project. The adventure was born.

Image © Jeff Pflueger

ASMP: Your Tasmania adventure follows your first adventure in Iceland. How did you choose these two destinations? What was of greatest importance to you, in terms of knowledge of the area, logistics, local support, exoticism, etc. when selecting a destination?

MA: Iceland was really a simple choice. I’ve been going there since I was a kid, on my way between the US and my family home in Norway. I absolutely love the place. The light in the summer is a photographer’s dream. Soft and ever-present. Landscape … well, the landscape is out of this world. It was also important that the Iceland Tourist Board, and Icelandair, and several ground operators were excited about us coming. Iceland is incredibly expensive and with our budget we could never have done the adventure without their help.

Tasmania was also an easy choice. We knew the beta-cycle meant we needed to road test the software in the March/April timeframe. That meant most of the northern hemisphere was out. I’ve had a long-time fascination with Tasmania since hearing from my father, a Norwegian sailor at the time, that he nearly jumped ship in 1949 and an immigrated there. A little research, and encouragement from Daryl Hudson of Tourism Tasmania, convinced me that Tasmania would offer a great variety of shooting possibilities, great light, and a very supportive populace. Daryl was absolutely right. We were like kids in a candy store. The landscape, the wildlife, the people. All were perfect. And once again, we had terrific support from all our sponsors, which now included Qantas, Tourism Tasmania, Digital Railroad, Hoodman and Sanyo, along with many of the original Iceland Adventure sponsors.

Image © Mikkel Aaland

ASMP: Adobe and your book publisher, O’Reilly, are a significant part of these photo adventures. What underwriting and support do they provide for you and for the team photographers?

MA: In Tasmania we had several photographers who have relationships with other book publishers. They were all absolutely awed when they heard how supportive O’Reilly has been. I can’t imagine any other publisher putting so many resources toward a book project. Not only have they provided logistical support, but they sponsor the adventure Web site, and give moral support when needed, which is often!

Image © Bruce Dale

ASMP: What do Adobe and O’Reilly anticipate as a return on their investment in these projects? Can you tell us anything about tracking systems set up to measure success?

MA: Here is a quote from Adobe’s Kevin Connor, “With its open community-based approach, Lightroom 1.0 challenged the way photography software should be developed, and Mikkel’s Lightroom Adventure: Iceland captured the spirit of collaboration between Adobe and the photographic community. As we introduce Lightroom 2.0 beta, Mikkel is putting the software through its paces in another visually rich destination with a new group of photographers. We’re looking forward to having our latest workflow improvements put to the test, and especially to see how our new local correction tools can be used to enhance the images captured on this adventure.”

As far as stats go… I don’t have the latest, but several months ago, the Iceland Adventure site had enjoyed nearly 1.5 million visits. A week after the Tasmania Adventure, total visits to various adventure related sites was over 2 million. While we were in Tasmania we got attention from local and national TV, radio and print. We even had a government minister thank us in a speech at the closing reception. I think you get the idea. We got a lot of attention!

Image © Catherine Hall

ASMP: In return for their support, what control do Adobe and O’Reilly have in the direction of the project?

MA: We were all headed in the same direction so control never became an issue. We were amazingly in sync.

Image © Melissa Gaul

ASMP: Tell us about the other major sponsors for the Tasmania project, including Digital Railroad, Tourism Tasmania, and Qantas. Who was responsible for bringing these sponsors onboard? What services, materials, support and cost underwriting did they provide?

MA: All the partners and sponsors were carefully chosen by me, Peter Krogh, and Derrick Story from O’Reilly. We wanted to make sure there was synergy and compatibility. Some of the sponsors provided cash, others product, some both. By far the major partners were Adobe and O’Reilly and Tourism Tasmania. Qantas was also very important, obviously! And Epson was particularly supportive because they helped us with both money and printers and media we used on the road. Digital Railroad was a new sponsor for us, and we were thrilled with the idea that we could partner with them and help our photographers get their incredible images of Tasmania into the marketplace. Lowepro helped us with both money and bags, which everyone really appreciated. Sanyo donated a few HD video cameras to provide “B” roll for the adventure video that Stormfront Productions is producing. We got product from Lensbaby and Hoodman, which was also appreciated.

Image © William Stotzner

ASMP: Please describe the selection process for the photographers who accompanied you on these trips. Who took part in the selection and what were the most important qualities that you looked for in a photographer? How important a role did their geographic location and expertise in Photoshop or Lightroom play in the selection process?

MA: Ah… this is difficult question to answer. First, the photographers were invited. There is no formal application process. I sent a query to several people at Adobe, including George Jardine, Mr. Lightroom himself; Frederick Johnson, the Lightroom marketing director; Addy Roff and Russell Brown who were both instrumental in the Iceland Adventure; and to O’Reilly asking for suggestions. We compiled quite a list of great photographers from all around the world. We were looking for a variety of photographic skills, as well as a variety of home-based locations. We wanted to make sure that Japan, Great Britain, Germany, and Australia were represented, as well as North America. We also considered gender. But most of all, we were looking for people who are known to be generous with their time and knowledge, who like to give back to the photographic community what they learn. I am very happy with the group that we came up with. Not only did they produce awesome photographs and provide valuable feedback to Adobe, but just about everyone brought their stories and experiences back to the community via blogs, web galleries, video posts, magazine articles, etc., which is also one of the main goals of the adventure.

Image © Simone Mueller

ASMP: What was the number and composition of your group, including photographers, technical and support staff? Did you travel with the same sized group on both trips? If not, please describe what adjustments were made.

MA: The Tasmania team, which was larger than the Iceland team because we represented more countries, is listed below. We also had at least three people from Tourism Tasmania with us all the time, including Joshua Iles, who everyone wanted to take home with them.

North America Photo Team: Mikkel Aaland, Peter Krogh, Katrin Eismann, Bruce Dale, Catherine Hall, Maki Kawakita, Charlie Cramer, and Jeff Pflueger.

From Adobe North America: Melissa Gaul, Bill Stotzner, Angela Drury, and Winston Hendrickson.

Photo Team from Australia: Peter Eastway, Darran Leal, Philip Andrews, Robert Edwards, Marcus Bell, and Ian Wallace.

From Adobe Australia: Mark Cokes
Photo Team from Germany: Simone Mueller
Photo Team From Great Britain: Jackie King
Photo Team From Japan: Masaaki Aihara
Special Media Guest: Leo Laporte

Image © Jackie King

The Iceland Team is listed here:
Bill Atkinson — landscape photographer, digital printing pioneer, and member of the original Macintosh team at Apple.
Maggie Hallahan — freelance photographer who shoots both for editorial and corporate clients.
John Isaac — former chief of the United Nations Photo Unit, now an independent photographer, shooting almost exclusively digital.
Peter Krogh — owner of a full-service commercial photography studio in the Washington, DC area, is both an award-winning photographer and author.
Jóhann Gudbjargarson — Icelandic photographer.
John McDermott — a San Francisco-based freelance photographer who shoots globally for corporate, advertising and editorial clients.
Richard Morgenstein — a location photographer specializing in environmental portraiture.
Michael Reichmann — a world-renowned nature photographer and photographic educator who is the publisher and primary author of The Luminous Landscape website.
Chris Sanderson — Lightroom Adventure videographer.
Sigurgeir Sigurjonsson — one of Iceland’s most respected and accomplished photographers.
Derrick Story — photographer, author, and O’Reilly’s Online Editorial Director.
Martin Sundberg — an award-winning photographer specializing in portraiture and extreme sports.
From Adobe for Iceland Adventure: Russell Brown, Addy Roff, Angela Drury, Melissa Gaul, and George Jardine.

Image © Ian Wallace

ASMP: Aside from the opportunity to travel and make great images, were the photographers compensated for their time and work on the project? What expenses were paid for by project sponsorships, and which expenses were the responsibility of the photographers?

MA: All expenses were paid, but photographers were not paid for their work on the adventure.

Image © Robert Edwards

ASMP: What were the image rights agreements between the project and the photographers? Was a usage fee paid for images published in the book or other ancillary usages? Do either the sponsors or the team photographers share in profits from book sales or other ancillary image uses?

MA: The photographers all own their images, period. My only agreement was to have rights to use the images for my book, and for any promotional material based around the adventure, which includes the video.

Image © Philip Andrews

ASMP: What logistical challenges did you encounter during the course of the project?

MA: Are you kidding? Everything was a logistical challenge. We moved over 20 people from all over the world to meet at the edge of the world at a specific time and then moved them all over the island for nearly two weeks and then sent them safely home. You can’t imagine how relieved I was when everyone was home safe and sound.

Image © Charlie Cramer

ASMP: How much time was spent in travel and shooting during this trip? How much time was spent working with the software?

MA: We spent the days shooting and the evenings holed up in a room in our hotel working the computers. I think we actually spent more time on Lightroom and Photoshop for the Tasmania adventure because it actually got dark in the evening. In Iceland it was always light and it was hard to get anyone to stop shooting!

Image © Catherine Hall

ASMP: Please describe the physical set up for locations where team members worked with the software. What type and amount of equipment was transported on the road for work in the field? Was there a dedicated base of operations for more concentrated work? Were materials shared between team members or were people working independently for the most part?

MA: Every location had a central workroom where the photographers set up their laptops. We had two Epson 3600 printers we also set up. Epson donated tons of ink and paper so we printed a heck of a lot. Most of the time we had wireless so we could post blogs, web galleries, etc. Some of us used USB modems donated by Tourism Tasmania. We had a huge Tourism Tasmania van dedicated to moving all the equipment from location to location.

Image © Marcus Bell

ASMP: How were your shooting locations determined? Did you consult guides, location scouts or local photogaphers?

MA: I flew out to Tasmania a month before the project began and spent a week with Josh Iles of Tourism Tasmania, driving all over the island. We choose three main locations to base the team: Hobart, Freycinet and Cradle Mountain.

ASMP: What locations or images from the project did you find to be most successful or exciting?

MA: One of the most painful things for me was putting together the Lightroom 2 book. Not because of the technical material, which is pretty straightforward, but because there are so many incredible images that I didn’t have room for.

Image © Bruce Dale

ASMP: What was the most useful piece of hardware or digital equipment you used for this project? Was there anything not available for this project that you’d make sure to bring on the next trip?

MA: The USB modems were pretty darn helpful. I could send blogs and reports from anywhere, including the car when we were driving. Some of the photographers — Bruce Dale and Peter Krogh — used GSP data to tag their images. I’d like to do that myself next time.

ASMP: Describe how you and your team made use of Adobe Lightroom to process, catalog, manipulate and share images? What features of Lightroom were especially useful for this project?

MA: Lightroom is a pretty much all in one solution, that’s what makes it wonderful to work with. It really is about workflow, and speed. Everyone on the adventure wanted to spend more time shooting than in front of a computer. They wanted to process their images quickly, and share their images quickly. Lightroom is built to do that.

Image © Peter Eastway

ASMP: Besides the editorial aspect of this project, are the software experiences from photographers on the Tasmania adventure being used to modify or improve Lightroom or Photoshop?

MA: Absolutely. Several of our suggestions, including improvements to the Slideshow module, made it into version 1. LR2 also benefits from our input. The Library filter, for example, is easier to use because of suggestions by Katrin Eismann and others. Katrin also let Adobe know what she thought of the name “Retouch Tool”, which was being used in the beta. You won’t see that name used in the final version! It’s now called the Adjustment Brush. Little things like that… but they all add up.

Image © Mikkel Aaland

ASMP: If you had to name one thing, what would your favorite aspect of Lightroom be?

MA: It’s a photographer’s tool, made for and by photographers. That’s sounds like a marketing statement, but it’s true. I’m really impressed how Adobe listened to us, and all the beta testers, and actually implemented our suggestions. It’s very encouraging.