Photography, Photoshop and Dreams: The World of Harrington Photography Instructor Tim Arroyo

January 23, 2013 Kara Taussig General, Photography 2 Comments

Tim Arroyo

What do Photoshop and dreams have in common? Harrington College of Design photography faculty Tim Arroyo's teaching.

Allow me to explain.

Tim is, in many ways, the kind of instructor you might expect to find in a professional photography program: He's by the book, strict with deadlines and attendance, and keeps up with the industry's latest trends and technology. He runs his own studio shooting portraits and invests in personal projects, submitting his photographs to various competitions and showcasing his work in galleries across Chicago. He's a devoted educator, entrepreneur and family man. Yet Tim is also not what you’d expect, particularly when it comes to his photography and how he incorporates it into teaching Photoshop.

If you've ever seen his work it's ... different. It’s abstract. Thought-provoking. Whatever you want to call it, it's certainly not what you're used to seeing - at least not in waking life. This is because Tim’s inspiration, in many cases, is fueled by his own dreams. Although his work is a combined product of camera, software and inspirational guidance, Tim says it is his extensive knowledge of Photoshop that delivers the heavy punch: seemingly three-dimensional, surrealistic images that have the potential to put you in a temporary, often sleepy, trance. (It is also the reason he is one of a select number of educators nationwide to attend the Adobe Summit every other year.)

He argues that by showing his students how to reach the extremes through similar projects of their own, editing in Photoshop becomes more than just a means to a polished picture but a luxury of possibility to call upon in various professional roles. As he puts it, "You could be a photographer, an assistant, a digital tech, a retoucher ... There are a lot of jobs out there that require completely different kinds of knowledge." It's true: You may not know exactly where you'll end up. So Tim likes to prepare his students.

One of his favorite assignments in his DIM 120 class, Digital Imaging 1, is to create a portrait composite, which involves photographing two different people and fusing their faces together with Photoshop to make one. The goal is to teach students the complete process, from applying proper shooting techniques to successfully unifying contrasting features by way of digital editing. Photos are critiqued based on how they were put together but more importantly, whether or not the image looks natural, realistic and ultimately believable.

While Tim continuously pulls from a bottomless supply of subconscious story lines, he is by no means out of touch with reality, particularly when it comes to being successful in the photo industry. Even if your photos and Photoshop skills are exceptional, he asks you to ask yourself: “What type of business person are you? Can you sell what it is that you're shooting?"

He encourages his students to excel in their required business classes (Principles of Business, Small Business Finance & Accounting and Business Practicum). He also pushes the importance of networking and submitting work to competitions such as the annual National Self Portrait Exhibition at the Zhou B Arts Center, which has featured his portraits the last several years. If you've taken his DIM120 class, you already have photos from the Self Portrait assignment, so why not click submit and see what happens?

If your photo isn’t chosen, don’t sweat it. "I submit my work for all kinds of shows and don't get accepted for everything. ... It could depend on the curator who may like work similar to their own, or it could be that they received so many submissions and can only have a limited number." Whatever the reason may be, you shouldn’t take it personally, Tim says. Go to the show anyway, as all opportunity is far from lost. Go network, make connections, exchange business cards and share your portfolio with others on your smartphone, as one alumna recommends. The old adage of being at the “right place at the right time” is less often a serendipitous stroke of luck as it is a result of being many places, many times.

So as Tim would advise: Get behind the camera, on the computer and in front of the crowd often.

In the meantime, dream on.

To check out Tim’s solo exhibition “Photo Synthesis” at Prospectus Art Gallery Feb. 8 and view his portfolio/website at


Ricky Palmer January 25, 2013 at 08:21 PM

I haven't had the chance to meet Tim Arroyo however time and time again I have heard nothing but praises. From what I've scene, his style is unique and all his own. I agree completely with with his philosophy, Get behind the camera, on the computer and in front of the crowd often. Great article Kara!

Steven Trueblood January 24, 2013 at 12:44 PM

Great article on the subject of a great instructor! Some of my favorite time spent at Harrington was in Tim's class; everyday now I wish I could still sit and ask questions. What did you say about this or that??? I'm looking forward to February 8th and his show to see everything in one setting. Tim is an one-of-a-kind human being and I'm very blessed to have crossed his path!!!

What do you think?