Terri Butler’s Photoshop Artistry

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By Bill Hedrick

Without a doubt, digital photography and Photoshop have forever changed the landscape of professional photography. The power of the computer has changed the way we see the world and has given birth to a brand new artform for artists and manipulators who know how to take an ordinary photograph and turn it into a work of art where the viewer can realize the artist’s dreams and fantasies.

Terri Butler grew up in Dubuque, Iowa, a town on the Mississippi River at the intersection of Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin. After high school, she attended one year of junior college on a scholarship before making a decision that would change her life. “In the middle of my first year, I decided to take the entrance test for the Navy and join as a hospital corpsman. I wanted to go into the medical field and knew the Navy offered the best training in the corpsman rating,” she explains.

After completing her hospital corpsman training at Great Lakes Naval Station, Terri began her medical career in Orlando, Florida, in 1975. Her (subsequent) tours would lead her to Keflavik, Iceland, and later to Houston, Texas, where she worked at an induction center giving physical exams to those entering the armed forces. While in Houston, she took a short leave of the Navy and attended the University of Houston on a Pre-Med program and later rejoining the active service just six months later.

After reenlisting for a six-year assignment, Terri reported to Bethesda Naval Medical Center, a brand-new hospital at the time with the latest technology and was assigned to logistics, working to ensure the inpatient wards were consistently replenished with all the medical supplies they needed and making sure operating rooms had sterile equipment and instruments and that all the new delivery systems worked smoothly. “It was very much an atypical medical assignment, but it was fun and challenging.”

After Bethesda, Terri headed to the Naval Clinic on Oahu, Hawaii, where she began her career in personnel which would eventually become her final career path. “It was here that my career really escalated,” she says. Soon afterwards, Terri applied for an in-service commissioning program in Hospital Administration. After a comprehensive eight hour written exam and completing an application to the national selection board, she became one of only 25 individuals selected for a commission as an Ensign, Medical Service Corps.

As an officer, Terri served at other Naval Hospitals around the country and finished her career as a Lieutenant Commander at the headquarters for Navy Medicine in Washington, D.C. But, according to Terri, the highlight of her career was her time at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth where the national military health program “Tricare” was born. During that time, Congress designated this medical center as the Congressional Demonstration Site to test the concepts of “joint service medicine” and the admiral in charge assigned Terri to this program when it was first announced. She was allowed the opportunity to be on the ground floor to develop the programs, write contracts, build and test software, brief congressmen and officials on the progress and help build the national program from the beginning. Hundreds of thousands of military families today use the system that Terri helped to develop.

After retiring from the Navy, Terri moved to Fort Lauderdale and worked for a consulting firm before moving to South Carolina and working for Blue Cross Blue Shield where she transitioned from healthcare consulting to technology. “My husband and I were in Columbia, South Carolina, in 2013 when we made the decision to move to San Antonio, Texas. While there, Terri worked remotely as a consultant for another three years before fully retiring from her IT consulting career in December of 2016.

One might be wondering by now what all of this has to do with photography, right?

During her early years on active duty in the Navy, Terri dabbled in photography… mostly capturing travel and event images. At that time, she never seriously considered photography as a profession. But in 2010 she purchased her first digital camera and began to study digital post processing with Photoshop Elements 8. “With a background in technology, the post processing aspects of digital photography was extremely fascinating,” she explains. “While many photographers focus primarily on the art of photography, I focused on the tecnical post processing aspects of the field as well as learning how to capture images.”

In 2011 when Photoshop CS5 released the mixer brush technology, Terri was hooked. She began working with Photoshop as an artist tool, quickly moving from simple image editing to advanced compositing and painting, concentrating on mastering the more difficult features that the full versions of the application had to offer. It was an exciting and motivating experience.

In San Antonio, Terri looked for a local photography group to join and found the Capture San Antonio Photographers meetup group online.  “I joined the group in 2014 and soon met Dennis Kelley who is the organizer of the group,” says Terri. Over the next several years in the club, Terri participated in many of the activities as an event organizer and began to offer free classes in Lightroom and Photoshop to the members. During COVID, she offered some zoom training just to keep the members engaged.

It was through Dennis Kelley and Ross Benton that Terri learned about the Texas School of Professional Photography, and she attended her first class in 2018, taking Richard Sturdevant’s class. “Richard’s style of Photoshop art was very similar to the type of compositing I wanted to master, so this was definitely a good week. While the individual tools and techniques were not new to my toolbox, the process of bringing them all together into a finished piece of artwork was very enlightening.”
At her second year at Texas School, Terri took John Hartman’s light painting class and then Kimberly Smith’s class the following year.

“I think Photoshop fascinates me because of the power of the software itself,” explains Terri. “Maybe this is due to my background in software development. I love all the techniques that I could do with the blend modes, adjustment layers, filters, and masking. The options are only limited by your creativity and your imagination. Photoshop can be used for everything from basic photo editing, graphic design, complex compositing, to Photoshop artistry and painting. I especially love that there are multiple ways to solve problems or to accomplish tasks using different techniques or tools in different ways.”

The Mixer Brush was an immediate game changer for Terri. “While the Paint Brush gives you options to paint and to select colors, the Mixer Brush allows you to both sample colors and blend colors from those already on your palette, just like real painting. By adjusting the wet and mix, you can simulate the behavior of a real brush. And, unlike paint and canvas, in the digital workd you can even sample from layers below. If you paint fur or hair, there is no substitute for the authentic results you can achieve with the Mixer and it works beautifully as a retouching tool for portrait work as well.”

At the iHeart Photo Conference & Expo in October (TPPA’s annual convention), Terri will present a full weekend of Photoshop tips and techniques with three exciting classes. Her “Brush Master” class on Friday is a basic course for any Photoshop user designed to provide a comprehensive overview on brushes as well as little-known tips, tricks, settings and tools that will improve workflow and save time.

On Saturday, Terri presents “Photoshop for Photographers,” a basic to intermedicate class focused on the tools and techniques needed to fix and enhance images in Photoshop. This course will cover various techniques for cloning, healing and other tools for repairing images. She will also spend time on color and ways to modify and enhance image color.

Then, on Sunday, Terri will shift to “Photoshop for Artists.” This intermediate to advanced class will focus on tools and techniques for compositing and developing art with multiple images. But the best part is that all three of these classes are included in your registration… no extra charge!

Terri’s photography is primarily dedicated to travel, nature, wildlife. Travel is important to her, and Terri usually travels with her husband but often travels with an old Navy buddy, Peggy. Her definition of travel is river cruising or small ocean liner cruising and small group land tours. “I love the small river cruises because you get to visit the small towns and communities inland and really get to experience the culture. While ocean liners cruise at night, river cruises may dock downtown in the city and spend the night. You can have dinner on the boat and go back into the town and capture some night photography, take in the nightlife, see what the town is like at times other than high noon when your tour guide walks you through the streets.”

Some of her travels have taken Terri down the Danube River from Romania to Hungary, along the Main River across Germany, and a Christmas tour down the Rhine River from Germany to Switzerland. She’s been to Peru twice and Costa Rica once and has cruised the Baltic Sea and the Mediterranean from Venice, along Croatia and southern Italy. In September, Terri will be traveling the Douro River across the top of Portugal and into Spain and then flying to Lisbon where they will meet their previous exchange student, Ana, and her husband and daughter. “It has been over 20 years since her high school days with us,” adds Terri.

But perhaps her most memorable trip was the 2020 trip to South Africa. “I not only got to spend time in Cape Town but visited Victoria Falls and took a helicopter ride over them and up a canyon along the coast of Zambia. Then we rode a vintage train from Victoria Falls back to South Africa with all the elegance of old-time travel with formal dining and meals accompanied by local cuisine, wines, and liquors. The crown jewel of the trip was several days at a safari resort where we had over nine excursions into the bush from before sunrise to well after dark.” Needless to say, she brought home thousands of images.

For the last several years, Terri has concentrated her art and composition on images appropriate for image competitions. But she admits that, even though the work is satisfying, it doesn’t quite fulfil her artistically. Then one day Terri was surfing the Internet and came across an article and website for “My Photo Artistic Life” by Sebastian Michaels. “As I read the promotional material, I knew that this was the missing link in my artistic journey. After some research, Terri found an advanced group called “Awake” and joined the group. Their tag line is “an opportunity to live a passionate, creative life.” It was the inspiration Terri had been missing.

Terri’s journey into Photoshop Artistry has given her the opportunity to combine her photography and her art in creative ways without limits. “While rules of composition and lighting still apply, the additions of textures and embellishments to create works of surrealism and fantasy release me from the strict rules of perspective and depth of field required in typical image competition,” she explains.

According to Terri, photographers view digital art and composites from a photographer’s perspective. Artists, on the other hand, are different. As she explains, “An artist can suspend reality and rules and look at art as art. Does the art speak to you? Does it move you? Can you relate to it? Does it change your mood, make you smile, make you remember, make you feel? To me, Photoshop artistry is about being creative. Not everything has to be a masterpiece. Some will like it and some won’t. That’s art!”

Join Terri Butler for three exciting classes at the 2022 iHeart Photo Conference & Expo in Grapevine, Texas, October 14-16. For more information on iHeart, visit TPPA.org. To learn more about Terri Butler, visit her website at ThePixelMixer.com and, by the way, Thank You for Your Service!