Photoshop Interview: Larry Becker
This month I sit down with NAPP Executive Director Larry Becker to talk about Photoshop, NAPP, and the community of users from around the world that has built up because of this software.
Jason D. Moore Photography: First off, welcome! Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. Let’s start off with some background. Tell me about yourself – where you come from, a little history about life before NAPP, education, personally, etc. If you would, include what brought you to NAPP and to your current position.
Larry Becker: I’ve been in advertising and marketing as the owner of my own small shop in central Florida, and I’ve been a public speaker since my first post-college job with United Way. It was at United Way that I started down the path to what I’m doing today, though I never would have guessed it back then. I was there for 5 years and my job required speaking in front of groups of 5 to 500 people. The other part of my job was layout and design of all of the printed materials for the local United Way. Ironically, because of my background and early adoption of desktop publishing, I wound up teaching PageMaker and Quark Express after hours to all of the local print shops in the county.
After my stint with United Way, I started my own small ad agency and when the web started to explode commercially, and became a part of business marketing, I was an early adopter and provider. About 2 years into the web marketing thing, I followed another one of my early adopter passions, and made the first ever, Palm Pilot training video. The Palm training thing was just a fun side business and I only intended to post the videos for sale on the web, which I did. But the response was so overwhelming that I sold my web marketing firm and went on the road as a Palm PDA trainer. Luckily for me, Palm thought their devices were so simple nobody needed video training or live seminar training on their devices, so I was cleaning up. I had clients like Pepsi, GE, the National Association of Realtors, Lawrence Livermore National Labs, Sony, and eventually even Palm, Inc. hired me to come to their headquarters and teach their own employees how to best use their device!
The entire time I had the Palm training business, I was doing my own marketing and stayed up on the latest developments with Photoshop. I attended a 1-day seminar put on by Scott Kelby and his partner, and sponsored by their magazine, Mac Today. I became fast friends with Scott and his partner Jim and, as it turned out, Scott and I grew up a block apart from one another and had lots of friends in common. I helped my buddies with their fledgling magazine by distributing copies to Mac User Groups, by taking time off from my Palm training business to work at their 1-day seminars, and eventually by becoming their web editor for the magazine as it went national and became Mac Design magazine.
During those years their business was growing and they asked me several times to consider leaving my Palm gig and working for them full time. I kept taking time off from my Palm job to help them with their growing Photoshop training business and eventually began to help them with hosting duties at Photoshop World conventions. Even though I wasn’t really working for what is now the Kelby Media Group, I was always at their events and writing for their magazines. Around the time the Palm popularity began to fade and smartphones were taking their place, I was starting the difficult task of exploring totally new markets, because Palm PDA users weren’t automatically smartphone users, so my customer base was changing dramatically. It was then (3 and a half years ago) that Scott and the partners offered me the job of Executive Director of NAPP. As a charter member and unofficial part-time employee, I made the jump to join the group full time and haven’t looked back. I love working with these crazy folks!
JDMP: Though you are known to a wider audience through your weekly NAPP News segments, you are more of a behind the scenes kind of guy making things run smoothly. Tell us about your current position and what your job entails, both the day-to-day and on a larger scale.
LB: Well, essentially I do whatever I can to make the member experience of NAPP better. I do a mix of customer service, arranging discounts, marketing messaging, program development, and in order to stay in touch with members on a user level, I even do occasional training tutorials.
JDMP: As a person who has worked with Photoshop regularly over the years you’ve had a chance to witness tremendous growth and advancement, what have been some of your favorite features/tools/etc. over the lifespan of the software? Obviously it’s an evolving program, but is there anything you thought was unnecessary or wasn’t done quite right, even if it was updated or will probably change in a future version?
LB: I have been using Photoshop long enough to remember how thrilled I was when they added layers. I remember being excited about the ability to add noise to images or parts of images to help them blend with other images. And it seems like there’s a lot I’m thrilled about in Photoshop every time the software revs. As far as being critical of Photoshop features that weren’t or aren’t exactly what I’d wish, I’ve got to defer to the high-end power users like Scott Kelby and Dave Cross. I love thinking of myself as a power user but because of how I use the software, I don’t really have time to contemplate how Photoshop might be better if only they would… Scott and Dave do that because it’s so directly tied to their job. I try to use my creative thinking for things like, ‘NAPP could be better if we would only…’
JDMP: What effect has Photoshop had on the creative community? How has it helped? And have you seen any ways in which it may even get in the way of our creative process?
LB: There’s no question that Photoshop is the tool of choice for graphics and for photo retouching, so as capabilities are added to the software and as tutorials are developed to show the masses how various ‘hot techniques’ are done, that there has been a solid progression and continuing improvement in the world of visual imagery. Overall it’s a good thing and with clever artists, photographers, and designers constantly creating new effects, as well as Adobe and 3rd parties always enhancing Photoshop’s capabilities, there are bound to be continued improvements. And certainly, when powerful tools of any type become available to a wider audience, there are bound to be big, ugly visual mistakes that assault the viewer. It’s a tradeoff, but the balance sheet is heavily weighted toward more quality from more people and better images for everyone.
JDMP: Speaking of the creative community, I know a large part of your job is to connect with and support the NAPP community. Are there any stories that stick out for you that illustrate the kind of community that has grown up around this piece of software?
LB: Wow! There are hundreds of them and I read about individual success stories every day in our NAPP member forums. It’s a place where people meet in our virtual community and sharing ideas and success. And since they’re NAPP’s forums, I read and contribute ideas and answers there almost daily.
There have been lots of different types of successes at all levels, but one that really stands out is the story of a member named Lisa Sage. She is a gifted, classically trained painter who had to give up her love of painting because of a reaction the chemicals. A friend told her about Photoshop and while she was investigating Photoshop, she discovered the Wacom tablet and was sure she wanted to get back into art in this new medium. I love Lisa’s story (we’ve even run it as a story in our magazine) because she’s a perfect example of a hard-working, gifted artist who has taken full advantage of everything NAPP offers our members.
Lisa learned from our tutorials and constantly contacted our Help Desk to get good at Photoshop. She lurked in the member forums for over a year before posting questions and answers but now she’s a regular there who contributes help, answers and even tutorials. She regularly uploaded her works to our member portfolios so I had seen and been impressed by her work, so when I met her at a Photoshop World convention in Boston a couple years back, I commented how great her imagers were. Up to that point, she hadn’t done anything commercially using Photoshop, but just seven months later she called me and let me know what was going on.
She had a 4’x5’ gallery print hanging in a Boca Raton, Florida gallery (she lives in Maine), she was painting matte paintings for a theater-released motion picture, and she was selected as the still artist for the release of a Spider Man video game’s ad campaign. And while she worked hard and applied for lots of freelance work, she let me know that most of the folks who hired her had originally found out about her because THEY were NAPP forum users too. Heck, Lisa is kind of our NAPP poster-child artist.
JDMP: NAPP has been at the forefront of Photoshop education and has resourced so many of us in unique and entertaining ways. It has also been an advocate for members providing benefits and challenges to help us do what we love to do. What’s next for NAPP? Are there areas that you are exploring for growth? Any new and exciting projects coming down the pike?
LB: Well, we certainly do have some new ideas and we’re working on reaching new markets, but I’ve got to take the Apple corporate approach to this answer and say that we can’t discuss any new programs until they’re officially announced. Still, there are programs that are already out there, which lots of folks don’t know about. For example, we’re always talking about the fact that members get free shipping with B&H photo, and that we have the whole Apple store, but with lower prices for our members… and every single time I go to a 1-day seminar, I meet NAPP members who have never heard about those discounts! It’s amazing to me. And if they don’t know about the discounts, I’m sure they miss things like the fact that we have a whole library of around 1,000 videos, each 30-60 seconds long, that simply explain a single menu item or terminology of Photoshop. It’s an amazing library we call the How to Education Library for Photoshop (H.E.L.P.) and that doesn’t even include our 450+ tutorial videos that are 5 minutes or so each, which teach beginning through advanced Photoshop techniques.
JDMP: Working with Scott, Dave, Matt, Corey, and RC everyday – as well as the tremendous team that we often don’t see – it must be just an awesome work environment. And you must have some great stories to tell! What’s it like working in a place that is filled with such creative individuals?
LB: It’s awesome. I worked for myself for more than a decade before joining this team, and I thought I’d never work for anybody but myself again. But this company/family is so amazing that I like it better than working for myself. Still, there’s a lot more to my answer than just that.
As you know, Scott Kelby has a guest blogger every Wednesday on his amazingly popular Photoshop Insider blog. When I had a chance to write up a story for him, I did a complete behind-the-scenes thing. If you’d like to see it, there’s a link here: http://www.scottkelby.com/blog/2008/archives/1912
JDMP: I know you led a photowalk back in August as part of Scott’s Worldwide Photowalk, but I’m not sure many people have seen your photography. Do you get a chance to do any personal shooing in the midst of your schedule? Is there a place we can go to see your work?
LB: Well, the quick answer is that I have a few items in my NAPP portfolio here:
JDMP: My last question is always the same. What would you like to say that I haven’t given you a chance to say?
LB: First of all, thanks. Obviously I love having a chance to talk about NAPP any time I can, and not because I’ve been here for nearly 4 years. I love NAPP because I’ve been a member for 11 years (since the beginning) and I used the resources NAPP made available to me as an artist, designer, and photographer. It’s one of the easiest $99 I ever spent because it paid me back so many times over with savings, education, and keeping me ahead of my competitors. — It’s like cheating off the smart kid’s paper in Photoshop class, without the guilt. — With the recent economic news, people are watching every penny they spend and I’m thrilled that so many members understand that they need to renew because NAPP helps them make more money or save production time, or both. That’s a strong testament to NAPP’s value.
But the one thing I haven’t mentioned yet that really keeps NAPP on track is our members. They help one another. And they help us by telling us what they want and what they need. It’s a great symbiotic relationship… we need members for NAPP to be successful, and our members tell us what they need from us in order to succeed. The formula has helped us become the largest image-related association in the world and even though we’re 11 years old, it feels like we’re just getting started.
JDMP: Thanks for taking the time to sit down with us!
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