Loves life / Hates onions

Data Management - Acknowledging a problem and making solutions

Added on by Chris Dowsett.

I created this blog to accompany a podcast episode that I was on with my friend Tyler Stalman. We talk about a number of things including some of what I've written below. The podcast episode and this blog should go well together. 

Please feel free to message either myself or Tyler with some positive thoughts. 


Data management

Data management as a concept has mostly eluded me as a professional photographer/creative / Human. This used to mean mainly professionals, but more and more its beginning to mean everyone. Below are a few of the best insights on data management as well as Lightroom related things I've learned from the last year. My hope is that I inspire even one single person to take a bold leap into a more organized future. 



When I first started this process, my data was a mess. So much so that it was seriously stressing me out and making me subconsciously more and more afraid to create anything new. 

I had build up a collection of hard drives. They were varying capacities. Mostly just what I could afford at the time. (500gb, 1TB and 2TB drives). I was regularly buying more and more hard drives, just to house the data I was making per job or opportunity that came across my plate. I know a lot of creative people and trust me, this is a common practice. 

My first major 'responsible' data management effort (in 2012) was buying backups for all my existing hard drives. This would ensure that all original data at least had a single backup. The perfect plan!

Perfect plan my ass. (This inherently doubled my digital hoarding problem without me realizing it. Now, I didn't only have a massive amount of stuff I didn't need to keep, I had at least two of everything)

At that point, it was so hard for me to see the next step. 

A major problem I had was that I couldn't visualize my data as a whole. Not just in chunks on separate hard drives, but as a life of creating content of all sorts. A continuum. The data that I had, on every hard drive that I owned, spanned from 2003 to 2018. 15 years of shooting, travelling, learning, creating... hoarding.

It was time to get to work and move everything into one place so I could start to make sense of it. 

A rough breakdown of my steps.  

1. Consolidate all the data, onto high capacity hard drives. (My overall goal was to get everything I had to fit on a 5 TB drive instead of 8 TB. I did this to challenge myself to let go of as much as possible instead of just perpetuate the problem.

Obviously, this would ultimate require a LOT of deleting.

I copied all 500gb drives, 1TB drives, 2TB drives onto fresh large drives using Finder. While opening hard drives, seeing what was on them and copying, I would take that time to make obvious deletions of things I just knew I didn't want anymore. Some entire folders didn't take long to decide that they are going in the trash.

This allowed me to not always have a full 1TB of data to copy even if I was copying a 1TB drive. I would sometimes delete up to 500gb of a drive in this step alone. 

Note : Although this was only step one, this took a while. I recommend slowing down and do it with as much intention as possible. 


2. Once every drive was copied and major obvious things were deleted, I had a 5TB drive that had a random mess of folders that looked exactly like every single hard drive but now all in one place.

I needed to format each individual small capacity drive, but that meant I had to ensure this new 5TB drive was backed up even though I knew I was going to start changing, organizing and deleting from it immediately. 

This isn't everything, its just a simple look at the biggest challenge I had. Several small drives, consolidated onto on large one. And then backing it up so I could get started on the real task at hand. Organizing everything.

This isn't everything, its just a simple look at the biggest challenge I had. Several small drives, consolidated onto on large one. And then backing it up so I could get started on the real task at hand. Organizing everything.

3. Most of my hard drives had photos on them that were already in my main Lightroom catalog but they were separated by hard drive. So once they drives were copied over to the new higher capacity drive, I relinked the hard drives in Lightroom to their new location on the MAIN drive. This really cleaned up my Lightroom catalog and made it so all of the content could be organized as long as this one main drive was connected to my computer. A HUGE leap forward. 

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1 - Jan

2 - Feb

3 - Etc


1 - Jan

2 - Feb

3 - Etc


1 - Jan

2 - Feb

3 - Etc









4. Once I had the majority of my content in Lightroom, it was time to start sorting it into its new hierarchy. I chose a chronological approach, then separated into only a few main subfolders per year, and then a month subfolder system inside of each main subfolder.

As of right now, creating all of these new folders in Lightroom is not very easy. I grunted through the Lightroom way for only a few days before realizing there was a much better way. 














5. Create your wanted hierarchy on your main hard drive in FINDER. Design all of the folders and subfolders in exactly the way you want. The only catch is that you NEED at least one photo in the lowest level subfolder for it to actually be imported to Lightroom.

Copy and pasting folders as you please. Just make sure that your main folder containing the hierarchy is inside of a folder that you have already in Lightroom.

Once you've done this. Go back into Lightroom, choose the folder that has your hierarchy in it. Right click the folder and choose synchronize. Once you're new designed folder structure is in Lightroom, you can start reorganizing what goes where. 

Create in Finder - not lightroom.gif
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6. Start sorting your photos via Metadata. Using the metadata to do this sorting is one of the major reasons to do all of your organizing in Lightroom. I used the metadata to sort by year/month and separate all iPhone photos into their own folder. How you sort will ultimately be up to you.











7. The solution to hoarding. Get rid of more - Keep less

I found out that I had trained my brain to subconsciously keep more than I was deleting. Thinking that I needed ALL photos that were 'good'. Or that 500 photos from a camping trip was totally fine to keep... forever. This was not a good way of thinking. 

I was used to importing my photos into Lightroom, getting ready to make my picks, editing and deliver. I'd start by seeing 500 or 1000 or 2000 photos or whatever, and then go into my standard flagging for picks and rejects process.

I'd start by full screening the first photo in the lot, and pressing P for the best shots and X for the rejects. And hopefully having the patience to go through ALL of the photos I had taken. (I regularly DID NOT have that patience)

I would give up on the goal of going through ALL of the photos and start scanning the grid of photos for the obvious best, making picks that way, colour correct them and send them off to where ever they were going. 

This was a disaster of a process, that left TONS of photos from getting deleted. And honestly, lots of good photos from even getting looked at. Do this for a decade and you will pile up a lot of stuff. 

I ended up making a much better process. It assumes EVERYTHING is going to get deleted unless I choose it to stay. This is how I turn a huge amount of photos into a manageable amount. 

  • Start by looking at the grid of photos all together
  • Shift click to select all photos that are alike in a sequence, (I usually try to select no more than 10 - 20 while doing this)
  • Press X to reject them all, then N to see them all large and compared to each other.
  • Pick individual photos to keep instead of which ones to delete.
  • This assumes more will be deleted than kept

This paradigm shift was a absolute game changer for me. Subconsciously I was telling myself that I was going to keep more than I was going to get rid of. When you are shooting as much as most people do, that’s just not a good sustainable attitude. It flat out doesn’t scale.



8.  I made a few backups throughout the process. It was the only way I really felt comfortable being ruthless with my deleting. I knew I had to delete so much, but just wanted to give myself a buffer just in case I had made the wrong decision somewhere along the way. 

I ultimately deleted these 'process backups', and then did one final backup of the MAIN drive when it was in a much more organized state.


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9. IMPORTANT - Break this process down into chunks. After having a few Saturday's of nothing but copying hard drives I set a goal of 30 minutes a day. Looking through a lifetime of photos and deleting this much stuff should not be rushed. And can take over your life. People over estimate what they can do in a day and under estimate what they can do in a year.

It's ok for this process to take a while. 


I started with roughly 289,000 photos

I'm now down to roughly 70,000 photos 


I tell myself I'll be 'done' someday, but we all know this is a lifestyle change. It's gonna go forever (cue sandlot gif)




Note: One of the best surprise things about doing a complete organization of the old photos that you want to keep is that you have a chance to update all old photos to current LR colour science. Not a lot of people love the thought of re-editing or colour correcting old photos, but I know that if I'm keeping photos to look at or have for a later time, I want them to be as good as they can be. Simply applying a favourite current LR preset will update the colour profile of old photos to the best possible digital colour science thats available. I found this amazing to see how much of my 'style' of the past was due to the crappy digital interpretation of my RAW photos that the old LR colour science had done. 

Notes to myself while doing this process over 7 months

- Sometimes things work out not 'because of your effort/habits' but in spite of them. Change this. 

- A lot of this comes down to habits. Small bad habits are like cheap beer. Sure cheap beer is cheap at the time but you pay for it later. Somehow. 

- Digital hoarding is not smart. It's just like a lot of other lazy habits, you're constantly saying “Fuck you future self. YOU deal with this”

Additional Lightroom stuffs



Like anyone who uses Lightroom, I use the 'Sync develop settings' option constantly. When I want to use it, I click the photo that I want to copy the settings from, then click the photo I'd like to copy those sets to - then move my mouse alllllllll the way down to the bottom right corner of the LR interface and click that big ol' button.

But like anything that you do constantly, shouldn't we always be asking "is there a slightly easier or faster way to do this"? Why did I wait so long to learn the shortcut for syncing the develop settings, I will never know. 

  • Sync develop settings from photo (CMD + SHIFT + S)

One of Lightroom's best unknown features. Lets say you've just imported your photos and haven't done any adjustments to them. You were set to manual, snapped one photo with the right exposure, but had to quickly stop down your shutter speed for to sharpen up the motion. You will have the exact same photo but using slightly different manual settings? Wouldn't it be amazing to be able to just take the overall exposure from 'correctly exposed' image and paste it to the others? 

  • Match overall exposure (CMD + OPTION + SHIFT + M)


LR mobile

Mobile photography is as much of a challenge to keep in order as anything. Like most people, I was treating my iPhone like it was a hard drive for storage, not like a memory card. 

  • Stop shooting in iOS camera app and grading in VSCO. This creates two photos and then creates an entirely different issue of storing photos in the VSCO app.
  • Replace iPhone camera app with Lightroom mobile. Delete VSCO app. Slow down and shoot more intentionally. 
  • All manual control.
  • Doesn't take advantage of IOS 'portrait mode' (Use Focos for any photo requiring feau DOF)
  • Shoot raw (DNG)
  • Use preset adjustments while shooting. I find this more inspiring.
  • Has all LR desktop editing features. Edits on smartphone will sync to LR desktop and visa versa.
  • Sync to LR desktop via creative cloud. Immediately manage photos shot on your phone instead of leaving them on your phone and letting them build up. 
  • Don't treat my phone like a hard drive.
  • Treat it like a memory card. 

One last thing - 

Taking on the challenge of seeing the 'whole' of my data was one of the hardest personal/professional / therapeutic things I've done. It's very doable but I won't say it's easy.


I wish you good luck.

Patience and persistence.

4 stages of learning something new

Added on by Chris Dowsett.

Stage one: 

Unconsciously unconscious

In other words: You don't know what you don't know

There's information out there that you couldn't even describe if you wanted to. You can't name, describe how it confuses you or what you know of it. In fact, you know nothing of this information. To you, it's like it doesn't exist. 


Stage two:

Consciously unconscious 

In other words: You now know what you don't know

You've discovered that something exists, theres new information out there, but you don't know anything about it. Nothing at all. But you know it exists. 


Stage three:

Consciously conscious 

in other words: You now know that you know this new information

This is also where you are learning it. Arguably the hardest part of the learning process and would be what most people think is the entire learning process. You have to actually pay attention to the fact that you know something. It requires effort to recall. This is the work. 


Stage four: 

Unconsciously conscious 

in other words: You now don't know that you know

This is the world of automaticity. You don't have to think about knowing this information, in fact you don't think about it at all. It just pops up in your mind as you recall it from the library of your mind. 


The reason I point this out is this - Most people don't realize that the first two steps are actually a part of the learning process. The second step often feels the most hopeless, because we can spend our time just going from thing to thing to thing, only while doing steps one and two.

If we spend all of our time on steps 1 and 2 then it feels like we're just learning all of the things we don't know. 


Trust the process. 

Becoming more conscious is part of waking up.

Keep working. 

One step at a time. 




Added on by Chris Dowsett.

There are two things that stopped me from going completely insane over the last 4 or 5 years - Podcasts and Vipassana mediation. Meditation will be reserved for another post but for now, here are some of my favourite podcast from the last few years. I would recommend subscribing to all of these shows but until then I've picked a few of my favourite episodes so you can get your feet wet. 

This list is more or less made for a person who's not already into the amazing world of Podcasts. 


Now, please enjoy :)

Change screengrab location on a Mac

Added on by Chris Dowsett.

Whether you're designing tutorials or taking cinematography reference grabs from movies, these suckers can get overwhelmingly messy on the desktop. 

Time to change the location of where you screengrabs get saved after you take them.

Your desktop will never be messy with screengrabs ever again. 




Step 1: Open Terminal

Step 2: Copy this line and paste it in terminal


defaults write location /path/;killall SystemUIServer




Step 3: Create folder in your DROPBOX named 'Screengrabs'

Creating this folder in your dropbox will allow all of your screenshots to be automatically accessible by all your other devices. It also allows you to have one consolidated Screenshots folder between multiple computers. So any screenshot from your Macbook or your iMac will go into the same folder in the cloud. Awesome. 

*note: You can create any folder name in any location, you just have to update the next line with the new information before you paste it into terminal.  


Step 4: Copy this line and paste it in terminal


defaults write location ~/Dropbox/Screengrabs



Step 5: Copy this line and paste it in terminal


killall SystemUIServer


So much better. 

A lesson from my friend Kyle

Added on by Chris Dowsett.

It was the summer of 2012. Kyle had been diagnosed with ALS for about 8 months. Right from the second of his diagnosis he chose to embrace as many activities and events as he possibly could. He deeply knew the importance of the situation so he took it upon himself to arrange groups of people to do many amazing things together. This pattern would carry-on for the years to come. But in this summer, at this time, Kyle had accepted the offer from a couple of close friends to stay in their cabin just off the lake in beautiful Invermere, British Columbia. 

At this point he had now fully lost the use of his hands and almost the complete use of his arms as well. Only a small amount of movement was still left in his shoulders.

ALS works like this - It's a fatal neurodegenerative disease that attacks the relationship that your brain has with your nervous system and your muscles groups. So piece by piece his body was shutting down. First his hands then his arms and shoulders. Then ultimately his legs and then the rest of his body. 

Each time a new muscle system would begin to shut down, there would be a very painful sporadic cramping that would happen as those muscles would start on their way to atrophy. His muscles would randomly lock up in a tight cramp for several seconds at a time and then randomly release. This was all day every day until those muscles would begin to eventually not respond at all. This had already happened to his hands and at this point was still happening regularly in his arms - but not yet his legs. 

Seeing that we were out at the lake and Kyle's legs were still completely functional, he didn't see much of a reason not to go full out with everything we were doing.

On the other hand, I was getting used to doing more for Kyle because of the tiny tasks all over the place that he could no longer do without the use of his hands. I had spent several months by this point prepping mentally to be a caregiver to him and training my brain to have his highest interests in mind. On this trip, although I wanted to go full out, I had two internal dialogues simultaneously running. 

One inner dialogue was to goof around, be an idiot and have as much fun as possible… 

…but the other was to keep strongly in mind that I was there to help Kyle and be responsible. 

These two feelings are quite different because to goof around with Kyle was almost the opposite of being 'responsible'. 

The plan for the weekend was to rent some a couple of Sea-doos for everyone and hit the lake. Up until that moment I hadn’t really thought of the logistics of this type of activity given that Kyle couldn’t move his arms or hands. Without hesitation he rushed excitingly into it and said that he and I would just go together. So we put on our life jackets and I had Kyle get on first so I could push the Sea-doo into the water. Once I jumped on, I did the only thing I figured I could. I sat behind Kyle, then wrapped my arms around his torso while holding the handle bars. Even though he was in between my arms and I was holding his torso tightly with my elbows, I couldn’t help but get nervous immediately with how sketchy this all felt.  

I slowly started to apply the gas, in the most hesitant, moderate and responsible way I could. I kept thinking "What if Kyle won't be able to swim? What if he falls off?".  I mean, to be honest, crashing and falling off was pretty much always the goal with him and I and this type of thing. 

We slowly sped up and Kyle waited only a minute or two before saying “hit it dude! Lets go!”.

It was pretty nerve racking, not only because I thought we might be doing something dangerous but also because I was keeping my hesitance/nervousness to myself. I didn’t want Kyle to feel bad about the potential seriousness of the situation, instead I wanted him to somehow forget about everything even for an afternoon and just have fun. I was being relatively quiet as we drove out into the lake.

He almost immediately yells to me “See those waves? Speed up and hit 'em head on!” 

We slowly go up and over a few small waves - but we were going so slow that it honestly wasn't fun at all. 

He waits for a second and says “well... that certainly sucked. Lets just pin it and see how fast we can go on this flat section!”

I slightly speed up but continue to be hesitant. This continues for about 2 minutes on the flat water before Kyle out of nowhere starts yelling...

“STOP! STOP! Right now! My legs are cramping up. Stop!”

I immediately slow down as fast as I could. 

He yells “Let go of the handles and get your arms away from me!!”

So I do.

And as fast as he possibly can, he launches himself off the seat and into the water - head first with his arms still at his sides. I was completely stunned for a split second while my heart jumped out of my chest. Before I could go in after him his head came up out of the water with a huge stupid smile on his face. He looked at me right square in the eyes while safely bobbing in the water with his lifejacket...


“Why don't you grow a set and hit the gas already! Its fine! We're here to have fun so stop worrying so much and let's frickin do this!!”


The day completely changed from that point forward. As Kyle would say "We had a phenomenal time". 

Today, the day after saying goodbye to Kyle, I’d choose to remember his hilarious line of wisdom as a metaphor for life. 


Thanks for everything Ky. I'll miss you.  

What makes a story?

Added on by Chris Dowsett.

Most people who claim to be story tellers tend to have a hard time actually telling a story if they're put on the spot. Just try it. The next time someone says "I'm a storyteller" politely ask them "can you tell me a story?" and see what they say. My guess is that they will have a hard time coming up with a prepared story or even a new story and if they were to recite a memory from something that happened even earlier that day. My guess is it would involve so many rambling details that your attention would have a hard time holding on.

We all know natural story tellers in our lives, whether they be aunts, uncles, friends, colleagues etc. The truth is that besides a select few, most people can't tell a good story to save their lives. To be caught in a “bad conversation” style story is as uncomfortable as sitting in the theatre in a bad movie; they may be different but they tend to fail and succeed in very similar ways.   

An example of a conversational style story from someone without an understanding of the building blocks of storytelling may sound something like this:


"So I travelled all the way across the city, in the worst traffic I think we've ever seen and we show up to the house and absolutely nobody was there! No lights. No cars. Nothing. Here we were, expecting a full surprise party for our friend James and we're left in the middle of nowhere with no cell reception and nobody there to ask whats going on. The party was set up by James' friend Cathy, who we got the directions from. Cathy's husband is Todd... Todd... whats Todd and Cathy's last name again? Todd went to school with your cousin Frances. You know the guy. He's tall, drives a grey minivan..."

...and so on and so on.


Some questions to someone listening to this story may be:

1. Does it really matter that I know Todd's last name?

2. Do I even have to know Todd's first name?

3. Isn't this a story about James and his party? And you getting lost? What happened after?

This way of thinking may come natural to some people but is definitely a skill to most. We learn it by wondering "How do you tell a good story? What keeps people attention... and why?"


Knowing whats wrong with a bad story just isn't enough. Omitting the wrong details does not guarantee the presence of the right details.

ex: In a diet, NOT eating french fries doesn't guarantee that you DO eat your vegetables


It's crucial to know in your mind what will support and build the story you'd like to tell. And whether or not that story is honestly worth telling.

So what makes your story worth telling?

It's often worth asking yourself honestly at the start, is the story that you're about to tell worth telling and would I want to hear it if I wasn't the one telling it? Why or why not?

If this story is going to be made into a movie then it's important to ask yourself:

is this event one of the most important things that have ever happened to your lead character?

Is this the pivotal turning point in their lives?

Is this story relatable to your audience? If so, in what way? Circumstantial/primal/societal? 


So what is storytelling then?

"Storytelling -- is joke telling. It's knowing your punchline, your ending, knowing that everything you're saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal, and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understandings of who we are as human beings." - Andrew Stanton (Writer at PIXAR)

This was taking from his TED talk - The clues to a great story

Story theory can be thought of like music theory; there are chord progressions, tempos, BPM's for a good reason. Because they sound so damn good AND because it works. 



At the beginning, nobody is really above traditional structure. It's good to know how things have traditionally fit together in the past and why some things often work and some things often don't. We can use this information to dissect our favourite movies and stories and see why we enjoyed them and why exactly they resonated with us so much.

When looked at carefully, any narrative story can be broken down into pieces that make up the whole. In a traditional film or play those pieces tend to be 3 acts. Those 3 acts are broken into scenes then finally those scenes are broken up into what are called beats. Beats keep the pace of the story like they would in a song. They count along throughout each action, pacing through the growth of the characters as well as the pace of the actions.

After learning about this basic structure, its easy to make the biggest mistake you can in storytelling. Before even getting used to doing it any other way, lets step in and learn this lesson together. Trey Parker and Matt Stone; the brilliant minds behind South Park and Team America describe the relationship between beats as a causal relationship.

What does that mean?

"we can take these beats, which are basically the beats of your outline, and if the words (and then) belong between those beats… you’re fucked. Basically. You got something pretty boring. What should happen between every beat that you’ve written down is either the word “therefore” or “but”.

So what I’m saying is, you come up with an idea and its like….

This happens (and then) this happens

No no no. It should be

This happens (therefore) this happens (but) this happens (therefore) this happens"

(but, because, therefore)… that gives you the causation between each beat. and thats a story"


Character Archetypes -

8 1/2 character archetypes you should be writing

No matter what, your characters will generally fall into some sort of category. Their actions and beliefs cause them to be somewhat stereotyped in how they interrelate with the other characters in the story. Perspective is everything in determining whether a character is a protagonist, antagonist, sidekick etc.

eg. The protagonist is determined by the story revolving around them and their challenges, its their story that we're following. If we switched the audiences perspective to a supporting character for the entire story then that character would become the protagonist. The story would then be about them and have the other characters somehow support their journey.

Heres a writing exercise that I've done:

Describe, in as much detail as possible, one of your memories. Think of the most exciting thing thats ever happened to you and then write a short detailed story about this memory. Once you've written it down, notice if there are any other people in this story throughout the entire thing. If there is, write that same timeline from their perspective and see how the story changes. 



Genres can look a bit different from a writing perspective then they do from a marketing perspective. These genres can be a self imposed structure or a structure that you follow from a traditional model. Just like the real world principles that guide our lives, the same is true that our stories rest on the principles of storytelling. Our characters follow the rules of their universe just as we follow the rules of ours.  

Note* most people avoid this due to the fear of being cliche, this is a good thing to keep in mind so these are just good to use as starting points.

In Blake Snyder's book 'Save the Cat' he takes another approach at genres by renaming and re-categorizing them into something that can feel more familiar to new writers.

1. DUDE WITH A PROBLEM - Every story, in essence, is about a “dude with a problem.” But this particular genre dictates a certain type of problem: one that is life-or-death and immediate, that must be solved through some sort of physical battle, right now. The whole movie is essentially a chronicle of that battle (which might consist of a series of mini-battles). Think Die Hard, Bourne Identity, Misery, 2012, or Apollo 13.

2. GOLDEN FLEECE - This often seems to be the “catch-all” genre when no other will fit. But it, too, has its own specific requirements that must be met for it to really work. The key is that the main character’s “team” is chasing a very clear and definable “prize” that seems unreachably hard. You’ll know the movie is over, because they’ve achieved the prize, or not. Often, I find in scripts purporting to be a “Fleece” that the “prize” is unclear, or not big or challenging enough, and the journey toward achieving it thus not as compelling as it could be. Think The Bad News Bears, Finding Nemo, Saving Private Ryan, Ocean’s Eleven, or Cast Away.

3. BUDDY LOVE - All movies have relationships with problems. But it’s not a “Buddy Love” unless the main problem of the movie has to do with a key relationship that seems essential to the main character, which is threatened by something. “Will they or won’t they end up together?” is the central question of the movie, and the main issue that is explored throughout. Think The Black Stallion, Starsky and Hutch, Pretty Woman, Mr. & Mrs. Smith, or An Officer and a Gentleman.

4. INSTITUTIONALIZED - Just because a story takes place at an “institution” of some sort, does not make it fit this genre. And the “institution” does not have to be literal. The question is whether there is a group with its own rules and norms that the main character is exploring the costs and benefits of membership in – and ultimately deciding whether they want to be a part of it or not. It’s about deciding who they want to be in relationship to it, and the risks and reward of same. Think Full Metal Jacket, Goodfellas, Office Space, The Devil Wears Prada, orCrash.

5. RITES OF PASSAGE - Similarly, just because a character is going through some sort of rite of passage (in the generic sense) does not mean it meats the criteria for this genre. The key here is that it is a relatable life problem (like adolescence, divorce, mid-life, loss of a loved one, or addiction), which the main character is avoiding by chasing something else. They are clearly on a wrong road, as they spend most of the movie in pursuit of some challenging goal that is entertaining to watch, but not ultimately going to work out well. Finally, they’re left having to face life after all, hopefully having learned something in the process. Think 10, The War of the Roses, Ordinary People, Trainspotting, or American Pie.

6. SUPERHERO - The key here is a nemesis and problem that is seemingly bigger than they are. It’s never compelling watching amazing people (real-life or made up) succeeding over and over again. Good stories are always about characters being pressed to their limits and overmatched – in hell, essentially – until the very end. (I cannot say this strongly enough. Stories are about dealing with big problems that only get worse when you try to deal with them. So are scenes, most of the time. This is the main issue that I work with on almost every story – making sure it’s a compelling problem that is big enough, hard enough, and complicated enough to take a whole movie to solve.) Think Erin Brockovich, the Harry Potter series, The Matrix, Gladiator or Spider-Man.

7. OUT OF THE BOTTLE - The “magical” catalyst should cause complications and challenges that never would’ve been there without it. Again, they make the hero’s life harder, in ways that demand to be solved. Usually, it’s easier for readers to swallow if the magic emerges from some sort of relatable, semi-explainable place (i.e. not too arbitrary or contrived) like a carnival wish machine, an electrical storm, or some established mythology like genies or witchcraft. And the magic should go away or be resolved in the end, with the character back to an essentially “normal life,” where they’ve grown in some way. Think Big, Aladdin, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar or Field of Dreams.


Classic note: Don't confuse rules with guidelines. Knowing this information doesn't mean you have to do it, it just means you have more tools in your belt when you sit down and stare at the blank page with a blinking cursor.


Last notes:

Humans are a narrative species. We connect with stories because they are the best way to perceive a set of events and find the commonality between all the pieces. This commonality can be seen as the theme of the story.

Narrative connection not only pleases us generally but is a specific tool and how we navigate the world. To have some sort of causal connection between all the elements is what unifies it as a interdependent sequence of events.

Humans greatest cognitive ability is the ability to seek pattern and meaning and how we most effectively do this is with stories. 


To be continued... 


My best single tip for compositing in Photoshop

Added on by Chris Dowsett.

Blending options!

How silly is it that I didn't think of blending options as a way to blend layers together with other layers? 

I know I know, but I usually find that if a person learns Photoshop in a certain mechanical way then they typically make a special place in their brain for that exact mechanical application. In my case, I learned blending options for text and text only for design application. It was a good day when I finally realized I could use it for pixel layers and/or parts of an image. Compositing instantly got so much easier!

The blending options provide what I think is the single best thing that I found for increasing the believability in a LOT of composites. That single best thing is: INNER GLOW

A lot of people composite their subject layers, whether they be people or objects, over a background layer that is brighter than the subject layer itself. If the background is something like a sky or any sort of reflective light source then it looks unnatural to have something in front of it without the light influencing that layer.

This background layer is a google image searched photo of the north pole. 

This background layer is a google image searched photo of the north pole. 

When compositing a darker layer over top of it lighter layer, typically the lighter layer would be seen as a light source or a source that has a lot light bouncing off of it. In real life to some degree there is a light wrap that would bounce off of the light source and wrap around the darker object in front of it. The goal is to recreate this effect in Photoshop as easily as possible.  

This north pole sign has been cut out and masked.  I  've created a shadow for the sign as well that I will cover in another post.    *Keep in mind that the objects all have to appear to be illuminated by the same global/practice light source. Hint: what direction are the shadows going? 

This north pole sign has been cut out and masked. I've created a shadow for the sign as well that I will cover in another post. 

*Keep in mind that the objects all have to appear to be illuminated by the same global/practice light source. Hint: what direction are the shadows going? 

What typically gives the composite layer away is the fact that the edges of the darker object on top tend to look a bit too hard and crisp. If you have a mask on that object then your inclination might be to feather that mask and soften the edges. Instead what I suggest is keep the edges as they are and gradate the edges from dark to light by using an INNER GLOW.

Once you put the inner glow onto the layer all you have to do is sample the colour from the colour that's directly on the outside of the edge of the subject layer. That will take the color of the pixels that's right beside it and gradate it inward into the edge of the composited layer. My suggestion to make it look as though it's closer to a real light wrap is to increase the size of the glow considerably and lower the opacity to make it much more subtle.

Applying an inner glow doesn’t only lighten the shadows around the edges, it also pours the surrounding colour into that area creating a much more color correct feel for the item in its environment.

I typically suggest applying the blending mode effects before your individual color correction for that layer. 

After the inner glow the sign looks a lot more believable. It now looks a lot more like part of its environment. 

After the inner glow the sign looks a lot more believable. It now looks a lot more like part of its environment. 

This effect is amplified in this image not only by the 'light wrap' effect but also by the fact that its a freezing cold desolate wasteland. 

This effect is amplified in this image not only by the 'light wrap' effect but also by the fact that its a freezing cold desolate wasteland. 

Things that matter most - Effective filmmaking

Added on by Chris Dowsett.


"Things that matter most must never be at the mercy of things that matter least."

- Goethe.


Minimum Viable Product (MVP) popularized by Eric Ries in the business book “The Lean Startup”. The idea is to maximize validated learning for the least amount of effort in the name of the business. After all, why waste effort building out a product without first testing if it's worth it.

The above image conveys something that seems so obvious when displayed like this - Effectiveness.

The MVP framework is meant to help a business build a product that actually serves its purpose to the customer right from the beginning and continues to do so as the company grows. The first version of your product should be made in the simplest way possible using the least amount of resources (because resources are scarce at the beginning, as most of us know very well). The goal is not to build the best possible piece of the structure and totally avoid everything else, instead the goal is to figure out the structure in the simplest way possible and then continue to build newer/bigger/potentially more complicated versions of that product as you iterate. The product must ALWAYS serve its purpose, from the first version all the way to the current version. 

When you apply this to film, the goal is the same for any length or medium. Commercials, short films, medium films all the way up to feature films. No matter how much money you have or what your reputation is as an artist or company, the goal is always a genuine connection to the audience. That can be in any number of ways. Intellectually, emotionally, spiritually... etc.

At the beginning we may not be able to afford to build the best possible version of our product. We might also not know how to build the car version of the image (feature film). If thats the case then we would be better to start w/ a skateboard (short film), etc. Make it as simple as you can but don't forget what it has to do. The purpose of the creation itself should not be lost.  

As filmmakers, we all have a relationship with the viewer that is unavoidable. We ask for their attention and if they're nice then sometimes they give it to us. Note: Attention does not mean connection. Our collective attention has become almost nothing for content in todays world because of a growing lack of trust between the content maker and the audience. As the amount of content has grown, the amount of crap that we all end up watching has skyrocketed. This goes right from the smallest budget Vimeo video to the biggest budget Hollywood movie with A list stars. My trust is wearing thin with movies and media because I find that more often than not, people are ignoring this important principle and making grey matter content just to showcase one of their skills in any of the many departments of filmmaking. This includes something that solely rests on the shoulders of Visual Effects or some pretty camera work. 

This is totally ok if you don’t mind only showcasing that mechanical skill and nothing else. But even still you may not retain the attention of the viewer without some sort of authentic connection with them. If the goal is indeed connection to your audience then storytelling is most likely the medium.


"Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.

 Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important"

-Tim Ferriss 


A lot of us seem to fight this principle even though we are in this for the long run. I mean, this is what we want to do with our entire lives here. That means it's not a race if we aren't doing it right. It's our job to focus on the things that matter most. Not to get caught up in the lights/cameras/pretty sets and lose sight of our relationship to the viewer and what matters most to them.  

Audiences should to be treated with respect. If we ask for their attention then we should take our responsibility seriously and make something that delivers the connection that they are craving.  


"If you aim at nothing you will hit it every time"

- Zig Ziglar


So if storytelling is our tool for connection, then what makes a story


Added on by Chris Dowsett.

Imagine living next to a river.

You yourself never go thirsty but you quickly realize that others in your village regularly do. They have no direct access to your river. You watch the water flow by in massive quantities every day - you want to share it but you have no way to. 

This is how most creative people about ideas/feelings/emotions. 

The goal of the life: Learn how to make a container so you can share what you have lots of. 


Because everyone's thirsty. 

My advice for someone diagnosed with a terminal illness

Added on by Chris Dowsett.

As both a friend and a son of two people that were diagnosed with terminal illnesses, here is my advice to anyone dealt that same fate


To those who are diagnosed with a terminal illness

  1. Use what you have while you have it. It will all be gone faster than you think

  2. Tell the people around you that you love them every chance you get
  3. Don’t waste your precious time being negative about things you can’t control
  4. Nobody can tell you exactly what is going to happen to you on your journey. Just try to control what you can and go with the flow
  5. Hug... A LOT
  6. Smile as often as you can. It’ll make you feel better
  7. Be brave. Courage is the most important thing there is

 To those who do not have a terminal illness 

  1. Follow the steps seen above

The unbelievable FADE (brush) tool

Added on by Chris Dowsett.

This is one of the best solutions for a very common problem that I’ve ever found in Photoshop. To understand why it’s effective you must understand first that you can control the opacity of your brush tool. 

You have the freedom to choose which ever opacity you'd like by using the opacity slider at the top Photoshop where each set of tool options are. The less the opacity, the more subtle the effect of brushing is. 

OR as a shortcut you can press any number from 1 - 10 on your keyboard while having the brush tool enabled and it will give you the corresponding opacity

Now that we all understand brush opacity, this FADE method might have a bit more value to you as a power user.

The FADE tool is a shortcut to choose your opacity after a brushstroke! That's right... AFTER!

One important thing to note is that it only works on the very last action/stroke that you've done with the brush. So this means, it will work best if you do as much as possible with one brush stroke before moving onto the next one. And use the fade brush tool in between each larger brush stroke. 

Say you start with one 100% opacity brushstroke. All you have to do is make sure you do all of your painting with one stroke. Once you've stopped that brush stoke, you then toggle the fade brush tool to choose your opacity after the action.

It becomes immensely valuable when doing these very subtle effects and gives you something I think is important which is the visual option. You get to see the opacity change on the brush stoke and then stop it when it gets to that perfect visual place.  

You can either find this tool in the edit menu...

Or you could memorize this beautiful shortcut

Command + shift + F

The important designation between the fade brush tool and choosing opacity before you start brushing is that even if you pick a 10% brush you will only ever see increments of 10 while you are painting. This means you only ever get to see what 10% looks like, 20%, 30%, 40% and so on. 

You will never get to visually see what something like 23% or 47% looks like because it won’t be an option.

It's important to remember that this not actually called the fade BRUSH tool but instead its just the FADE tool. It works with almost all brush tools as well as the fill tool as well as a few other things that I'm not thinking of. 

I hope you love it as much as I do.