Photoshop CS4: Essential Skills

Authors: Mark Galer and Philip Andrews

Publisher: Focal Press (Elsevier)

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

There’s no way around it. Photoshop is a very complex piece of software with a lot of capabilities. It’s because of this that there is no easy way to learn all the in and outs of Photoshop quickly. One way to get a handle on it is by learning just enough for the most basic processing, and as you get comfortable with that, adding more tools to your toolbox.

It looks like this might have been the original concept behind this book. The authors divided the book into three parts: the foundation module; the advanced skills module; and the imaging projects module. The foundation module provides enough information for basic processing of a RAW image up through printing, and provides enough information on camera raw to allow for some local corrections of images. There are a few tutorials, (which the authors call projects) in this and the second module, which focuses on layers, selections and filters. The imaging projects module puts together all the tools learned in the first two modules for specific tutorials.

The book includes a DVD, and it provides not just the images for the projects but also movies showing the Photoshop screen and how each project is handled.

Unfortunately, this book seems to have lost sight of the goal. For example, almost half of the introductory chapter is devoted to the new features in PS CS4, something for which a beginner who was not familiar with previous versions would have no use. And should that new user read about content aware scaling and watch the accompanying movie, he might throw up his hands in fear. And if any new user looked at the projects in the third module, he might just quit reading the book.

This is a problem that many Photoshop books encounter. They try to speak to both the beginner and the experienced user with the result that they do neither very well. I’m surprised publishers haven’t picked up on this and that they continue to print one-size-fits-all Photoshop books. A new user would have been better served by many more simple projects to work on.

There were some strange mistakes in creating the book, particularly with regard to the DVD. For example the table of contents of the book suggests the DVD includes a section on fundamentals, but I couldn’t find it on the DVD. The first few movies have captions but later movies have none so that you have to guess what they are about.

Sometimes the book tells a beginner too little and some time too much. For example, in the discussion of Bridge there is no mention that the gateway to Photoshop is highly customizable while the chapter on printing starts with a discussion of securing customized printer profiles, even though many of today’s photo printers have excellent profiles available for download so that customized profiles are probably needed only for the most exacting work. There are no instructions about preparing an image for the internet.

If a beginner understands that not all of the book is appropriate for him, uses both the book and the DVD, and understands that no one book is enough to become competent with Photoshop, this book may be a useful introduction. I suspect more experienced users might benefit from skipping the first two modules and going directly to the third module and its accompanying DVD. But I wish the authors had decided on a single audience and hewed to that line.


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