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Book Review: Adobe Photoshop CS4 Studio Techniques By Ben Willmore and Dan Ablan

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Adobe Photoshop CS4 Studio Techniques was purposefully written not to be like the two standard types of Photoshop books. It is not a "cookbook" that teaches you Photoshop step-by-step, but never seems to explain why you should do these steps so you can understand the process. It is also not an expert book, so technical that unless you know Photoshop inside and out, you cannot understand it.

Enter Adobe Photoshop CS4 Studio Techniques. The goal here is to explain how to use Photoshop in everyday language: everything from the simplest feature to the most advanced technique. Dan Ablan, author of 12 prior books, the president of a 3D animation and imaging company, and the founder of 3D, a video training website, has been asked to help with the revision of this edition. Like the previous edition, this book is intended to take you from "going through the motions" to "at last, I really understand." The book is 480 pages long and divided into 11 chapters (there is a bonus chapter and video training located at an online site).

Working Foundations
Chapter 1, "Tools and Palette Primer" is all about effectively managing your workspace and finding your way around all the features that have made Photoshop the industry standard it is. Here you will learn about the palettes, tools, and panels you will be working with in this book.

Chapter 2, "Selection Primer" will take you through what many consider to be one of the techniques most central to Photoshop success – the ability to make selections. When you want to edit a portion of an image you must first select it and this intimidates many people. In this chapter you learn how to work with the marquee tools, lasso tools, crop tools, selection tools, magic wand tool, and others.

Production Essentials
Chapter 3, "Layers and Curves" examines two other fundamental Photoshop features: the Layers palette and the Curves dialog. The Layers palette helps keep everything in the Photoshop project organized. While on the surface, it may appear to be complex, it really is very simple to learn. The Curves dialog can be used to adjust just about anything. Throughout this chapter you will learn how to use these two features while picking up all sorts of tricks that will prove invaluable later in the book.

Chapter 4, "Using Camera Raw 5.0" examines why it is better for photographers of all levels to use RAW files. No matter the quality level of your equipment, if it can generate RAW, you should use it. Raw retains all the information captured by the camera. This gives you much more control in processing your images, and once you get the hang of it, it is really no more intimidating than the stuff you have already learned.

Chapter 5, "Adjustment Layers" explains a method of image adjustment that does not change the image itself. Unlike a direct adjustment, which physically changes the image, an Adjustment Layer is used when you want to experiment with the image but may want to undo the changes. Combined with layer masks and blending, it is a very powerful combination.

Chapter 6, "Sharpening" is a necessity for images, since almost all images start off looking slightly soft. By using a variety of techniques such as channel sharpening and the Smart Sharpen filter, you will learn how to clean up noise, remove grain, and in general make your images sharp.

Grayscale, Color, and Print
Chapter 7, "Setting Up Images for Final Output" examines the other end of what you do as a photographer: generate images for output. Whether you print your own images, send them out for processing, or share them on the Web, you need to make each image the best it can be. Here you will gain an understanding of color and grayscale values within your image and how to get the best out of them.

Chapter 8, "Color Manipulation" examines the wide range of color manipulation tools and methods within Photoshop. Which ones you use depend on your particular image. Here, you begin with the color wheel, and progress to Hue/Saturation, color balance, Levels/Curves, Channel mixer, Gradient maps, and more.

Creative Techniques
Chapter 9, "Enhancement and Masking" is really all about the many Blending modes available in Photoshop. You are only limited by your willingness to experiment. In this chapter, the Blending Modes menu is broken down into its individual sections and each one is detailed according to its functionality.

Chapter 10, "Collage Effects" is all about compositing, or image blending. Here you will learn about Clipping Masks, Blending Sliders, Layer Masks and Vector Masks and how you can use them to combine images together seamlessly. Some techniques are as simple as adding borders, and others as complex as the cover of a prior version of this book.

Chapter 11, "Retouching Techniques" can mean different things to different people. From removing unwanted objects to just making an image more presentable, you will learn how to work with the Patch tool, Healing brush, Spot Healing brush, Clone Stamp tool, Vanishing Point, Dodge and Burn tools as well as other techniques to improve the look of your image.

Chapter 12, "Workflow" is now an online video chapter. In this video, Ablan takes you through some of the techniques discussed in the book and he gives a demonstration via a workflow situation. There are also five other bonus videos, which cover line art scanning, channels, shadows, text and background effects, and resolutions.

One thing to keep in mind is that unlike the prior edition of this book which was written entirely by Ben Willmore, Adobe Photoshop CS4 Studio Techniques was taken over by and revised by Dan Ablan. This does not mean that it does not retain the sprit of the Willmore book. Much of his content is still there, but many of the images and the new material are by Ablan and therefore it takes on a little different feel.

That said, I do feel the focus of the book makes it a good choice for someone learning Photoshop. It is also a great book for intermediate and even advanced users. Adobe Photoshop CS4 Studio Techniques will explain Photoshop fundamentals in a clear, concise, and understandable way that will have you saying "at last, I really understand." I highly recommend this book.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.