Photoshop manuals

Introduction

Deke McClelland’s Photoshop 6 for Dummies is, in his own words, for people “who don’t want to make Photoshop their life”, but do want to grasp the fundamentals of image editing and manipulation. Accordingly, the book begins by working its way through even basic tools like Hand, Zoom and the Navigator palette, and graduating onto topics such as selection techniques, layers and filters, retouching, and selection techniques. The learning curve is steep, but McClelland isn’t afraid to spell out even the obvious. He throws in plenty of analogies along the way to help Photoshop newbies understand the principles behind the tools. Analogy, in fact, is both the strength and weakness of Dummies: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. “Imagine you’re the victim of a terrifying scientific experiment that has left you 1mm tall,” is how McClelland begins an explanation of pixels in Chapter 4, finishing with: “What does this little trip down sci-fi lane have to do with Photoshop?” I’m glad he asked, because I wasn’t sure either. The style – full of jocular, sometimes-patronizing asides – is occasionally wearing, but on the whole does a reasonable job of leavening a convoluted subject without baffling or scaring the novice Photoshop user. What is excellent about Dummies is the trouble McClelland takes to explain some of the more complex principles behind Photoshop’s working methods. His sections on resolution, colour management and colour correction are enlightening even for a seasoned Photoshop user. But the chapter on Web graphics – on the face of it a good idea – departs from the usual principle of “s-p-e-l-l-i-t-o-u-t”, bandying terms such as colour palette, matte, bit depth and colour profile around without enough explanation. It’s also questionable how far a novice user will understand principles of colour correction via a book printed in black-&-white: the 16-page colour plate section in the middle just isn’t enough. All that said, though, there’s no other book that I can think of – certainly not the Adobe tutorial – that does such a fine job of getting Photoshop users from baffled incomprehension to nodding acquaintance in under 500 pages. Photoshop 6 Bible
Like Dummies, McClelland’s Photoshop 6 Bible (with its own CD of artwork and images referred to in the text) starts from the basics. There are chapters on painting and editing, filling, retouching, restoring, paths, masks, filtering, layers and text, all the way up to a well-covered section on Web graphics and another on printing. The Bible sets out to live up to its ambitious title. It contains everything from the finer points of splash screen know-how – hitting  while choosing About Photoshop displays the beta version’s Venus in Furs screen – to the more arcane reaches of colour theory (the chapter on colour management goes a long way towards demystifying this much-misunderstood subject). There’s something of use here for every Photoshop user. And where the Adobe manuals simply concentrate on explaining how Photoshop handles matters such as colour mapping and tonal curves, the Bible gives the reader the essential background to the science and theory behind those topics. There are areas that are occasionally skated over: picking a couple of thorny issues at random (trapping to compensate for press dot gain; how to print a duotone as spot separations) I found no more information in the Bible than the coy vagueness into which the Photoshop 6.0 manual retreats. But then again, the Bible is a general book, and perhaps it’s a necessary evil to occasionally sacrifice depth in favour of breadth. The Bible suffers from the same lack of colour pages as does Dummies (two 16-page sections), and, in this advanced-level book, that’s a more serious criticism. It’s also expensive – £30 is a lot for an adhesive-bound paperback whose binding quality isn’t going to hold its 940 pages in place for long. And, despite the fact that this is indisputably a book for professionals, McClelland still can’t lay off the clownery. This is our man in defence of his (indefensible) preference for the term “object oriented” to describe Photoshop’s vector tools: “My preference suggests an air of romance, as in, ‘One day, I’m going to shake off the dust of this three-horse town and pursue a life of romantic adventure in the Object Orient!’” Read too much of this inanity at your peril. But for all the fetid humour, McClelland’s knowledge of Photoshop is beyond reproach, and even a cursory glance through the Bible is likely to introduce all but high-level users to features they didn’t know existed. Photoshop for Photographers
Despite its title, Martin Evening’s Photoshop 6.0 for Photographers is really a Photoshop book for all of us. Evening’s brief is to teach photographers the basic and advanced skills of digitally-manipulated imaging. His book is a diligent and evenly-weighted walkthrough of all the issues in the capture-manipulate-output sequence. Despite the inevitable bias towards photographic applications, there’s a lot in here that’s valuable for the general Photoshop user. Evening starts from the very basics, with excellent in-depth advice on digital capture (including scanning, digital cameras and Photo CD), working through how to configure Photoshop (advice on improving performance, memory allocations, PCI cards and video display), colour management (this chapter is far and away the best I’ve ever read on the subject) and file output and proofing (for press, fine art printing, inkjet, soft proofing, and even image database management). His coverage of Photoshop’s functionality is no less thorough. He starts with an introductory chapter on the Photoshop workspace, covering all the tools and photographer-essential functions, such as the Extract command and the Art History brush, and works on through chapters on file formats, image adjustments, colour adjustments, image repair, montage techniques, black-&-white and colour effects, layer effects and filters. Evening also devotes a lot of space to efficient working practice, including a long list of shortcuts – some of which aren’t in the manual – and good advice on preference settings. ImageReady, not so essential for photographers, is relegated to an Appendix, although coverage is again reasonably thorough. The CD contains ten tutorials on subjects such as masking and montaging, and an interactive demonstration of Photoshop 6.0’s filters. If there is a complaint about Photographers, it’s the fact that it’s not solely a Photoshop book: we’re on Chapter 6 (of 16) before Evening gets around to looking at the intricacies of Photoshop itself. Although there’s an excellent case for arguing that to use Photoshop to its best advantage, it’s necessary to know about what comes before and after the manipulation stage, the wide-ranging coverage of this book is likely to disappoint some users who just want to know what key to press in a given set of circumstances.
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