Adobe's First Evangelist: Russell Preston Brown


It’s likely that everyone reading this has used, or at the very least heard of, Adobe’s ubiquitous piece of software called Photoshop. But are you familiar with the very first—and perhaps the most eccentric—of the evangelists working behind that magic curtain?

Well, you’re about to meet him today, in our latest podcast featuring pioneers of photography and imaging. As Adobe employee number 38, graphic designer Russell Preston Brown was in the room when brothers Thomas and John Knoll showed up to demonstrate a new piece of software, in 1988. Suitably impressed with what he saw, Russell made a beeline to Adobe co-founder John Warnock and uttered the imperative “Buy it! Now!”

Thirty-five years later, Brown has not lost an ounce of passion for concocting magic with digital imaging tools, and for sharing his knowledge with other users during his outlandish workshops and events.

Join us for a rollicking chat with this shapeshifting impresario in cowboy attire. From Brown’s earliest training in darkroom photography to his current digital workflow syncing a mobile phone with Profoto lighting gear, we cover a lot of ground.

Throughout our discussion, we reflect on the revolutionary effects of technological advances, plus Brown’s uncanny luck to be there in the middle of the zeitgeist, which led him to a telling analogy:

“Yes, I was in the right place at the right time. I made my fair share of contributions, but it all comes back to—what if the Knoll brothers had not decided to make Photoshop? I want to see that Jimmy Stewart episode of “A Wonderful Life,” where Photoshop didn’t appear. Would we be using Letrasets?...”

Guest: Russell Preston Brown

Above photograph © Russell Preston Brown

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A photography retreat was the setting for this quad aces poker hand captured with an iPhone 13 Pro Max, and processed in Lightroom and Photoshop on an iPad.
The Alien Throne. Capturing both sky and foreground in the same shot wasn’t possible with a mobile phone in 2017, so Brown edited and composited multiple frames using Lightroom and Photoshop.
Dakota Badlands on Mars. Brown created a composite from two Samsung S23 Ultra exposures using Lightroom and Photoshop on an iPad. Some Photoshop Generative Fill was used to enhance the local rocks and clean up the images.
During an Annular Eclipse in 2012, Brown made a series of close-ups of the sun using a solar filter, then captured a glowing sunset sky as his background, compositing the elements in Adobe Photoshop.
For this Monument Valley lightning shot, Brown used an iPhone 12 Pro Max on a tripod with a Really Right Stuff Phone Clamp. After opening the Slow Shutter app, setting light sensitivity to full, the shutter speed to bulb, and starting the exposure, lightning hit the ground about 15 seconds later. He also used a bit of Dehaze and Clarity to add definition and contrast.
Evening Dress. This composite was created using an iPhone Pro Max photograph of Badwater Basin and Photoshop’s Generative Fill feature. Experimenting with transparency, Brown used the words "Semi-transparent fabric" in the prompt.
The Red Dress. This iPhone 14 Pro portrait of Norwegian dress designer Kristina Sidlauskaite was captured in a 200-year-old building. Brown lit the scene with a Profoto A2 strobe.
Brown used a tripod-mounted Samsung S23 and Samsung Expert Pro Camera app set to ISO 64, shutter speed 8 seconds, 50MP resolution. He then created a multiple exposure effect in Photoshop on an iPad, starting with a single circular light painting, duplicating the circle, and setting the blend mode to Screen for each new layer, then processing in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Brown captured this studio self-portrait, then enhanced the shot in Photoshop with a bit of AI generated sand and sky. He lit the portrait using a single Profoto soft box and A10 strobe.
Dressed for the Museum. Brown had fun with this iPhone photo from a visit to SFMOMA’s Magritte exhibit. He processed the shot using Lightroom and Photoshop on an iPad and desktop computer, then added a bit of Generative Fill.
Brown used an iPhone 15 Pro MAX for a simple studio portrait against a black backdrop. He then selected a background and started to add lighting elements with Adobe’s Generative Fill.
Brown channeled the work of Jerry Uelsmann for a Generative Fill composition created from a Japanese landscape of Mount Fuji. The original image was shot with an iPhone 15 Pro Max and edited in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Brown shot this self-portrait with an iPhone 14 Pro Max in Apple ProRaw format, using a Westcott X-Drop Pro 8X8 backdrop and a Luma Cube Studio Panel placed very close to his face. He processed the image in Lightroom and Photoshop on the desktop, adding a crazy neon light source with Generative Fill.
This Viking Cosplay expert was captured with an iPhone 13 Pro MAX using a Profoto A2 strobe and Clic SoftBox, with the Profoto iPhone app triggering the strobes. Brown processed the final raw image in Lightroom and Photoshop on an iPad, adding a Viking landscape using Photoshop’s Generative Fill on the Desktop.
Brown used 10-second Night Mode on his iPhone 14 mounted on a tripod to capture the Aurora in Norway. The foreground cabin is lit with a flashlight, and he processed the image on an iPad using Lightroom and Photoshop.
Visiting Earth in Joshua Tree, CA. Brown used Profoto B10 and C1 strobes with an iPhone 12 Pro Max. Aerial light painting was created with a DJI Mavic Pro.

Episode Timeline:

  • 2:47: A peak behind the scenes of Brown’s early experiences at Adobe and what constituted working as a graphic designer back in 1985.
  • 10:24: Brown’s early training in darkroom photography, the type of photos he made and the tech transitions to the mobile phones that he works with today.
  • 15:55: Thomas Knoll calls the iPhone a hallucination of what you are seeing in terms of colors, dynamic range, and quality of light. It gives us what we want to remember from that moment.
  • 19:45: Brown’s workflow for shooting with an iPhone synched to Profoto strobes and other lighting modifiers, and his ability to carry everything around in one bag.
  • 24:12: Comparing image captures from different brands of mobile phones: iPhone, Google Pixel 7 and Samsung 23. Plus, make sure to use a solar filter over the lens when photographing the eclipse.
  • 31:27: Brown’s experiences working directly with programmers in the development of Photoshop, plus working one-on-one with a programmer to develop actions, scripts, and panels for his own Photoshop tools.
  • 36:06: Episode Break
  • 36:39: Brown reflects on his rapport with photographic purists during early presentations about Photoshop—from a photojournalism conference in Perpignan, France, to an early discussion about digital with Greg Gorman.
  • 42:39: Adobe’s earliest dreams and goals about prepress and processing images to create CMYK output for print publication, and the subsequent ability to access Raw data.
  • 47:15: Differentiating between generations of Adobe users and how they employ the software, plus distinguishing between Lightroom Classic and Lightroom Desktop.
  • 51:46: Applications that have kept all the original tool sets, offering many routes to similar results, to serve the full range and successive generations of its user base.
  • 54:00: The question of AI and differences between typing text and using AI prompts, or taking one’s original photographs and supplementing them with AI through Photoshop’s Generative Fill.
  • 1:03:39: The dangers of using creative tools incorrectly, and Brown’s predictions about creative trends to come.

Guest Bio:

Russell Preston Brown is the Senior Creative Director at Adobe Systems Incorporated, as well as an Emmy Award-winning instructor. His ability to bring together the world of design and software development is a perfect match for Adobe products. In Brown's 38 years of creative experience at Adobe, he has contributed to the evolution of Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator with feature enhancements and advanced scripts. Most recently he has started to travel the world with a mobile phone camera to capture his adventures from a whole new creative perspective. This new age of mobile photography has sparked his creativity and has inspired a variety of new imaging directions.

Brown also specializes in inspirational hands-on training at Adobe MAX, where he shows users how to work and play with Adobe software. He shares his delight in testing the creative limits of his tools as a prolific creator of an entertaining collection of Photoshop tips and tricks. His in-depth design knowledge and zany presentation style have won him a regular following among beginner, intermediate, and advanced Photoshop users alike. A live performance of the Russell Brown Show is not to be missed.

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Host: Allan Weitz

Senior Creative Producer: Jill Waterman

Senior Producer: Mike Weinstein

Executive Producer: Shawn C Steiner