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Book Review: Photoshop CS4: Down And Dirty Tricks By Scott Kelby

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It has been a while since author Scott Kelby has put together a Down And Dirty Tricks volume together, but now, with Photoshop CS4: Down And Dirty Tricks he has come back to where it all started and he has accumulated a whole host of new Photoshop special effects in one book.

This title has been one of the best selling Photoshop books in history and its release is long overdue. Down and Dirty 5.5 was the first book that Scott Kelby ever wrote and subsequently, is what started his career.

Keep in mind that unlike many of Kelby's recent books, THIS IS NOT A BOOK ABOUT PHOTOGRAPHY. You will not learn about camera raw, about sharpening, about curves, or levels, or channels. It is a book about creative design with photographs. It falls back to an earlier time in his career when he worked with design effects.

The effects that are contained within are the same types of effects that you see on TV, in magazines, and on the Web. The book also contains creative ideas, layouts, and design techniques to enhance your creativity. Photoshop CS4: Down And Dirty Tricks is 384 pages long and is divided into nine chapters.

Chapter 1, "Miracle Photo," is the first of two chapters on photo effects. Some of the techniques include a very popular de-saturated portrait look, a corporate ad that takes on a sports poster look, a reflected sky logo technique, and an effect that takes a photo of a real object (a baseball stadium) and makes it look like a toy.

Chapter 2, "Studio 54," looks at professional style studio effects that are done in Photoshop. These include a logo that is placed on a grid-like floor that goes off in the distance, adding texture and aging to a photograph, and a gritty high contrast portrait look,

Chapter 3, "Commercial Break," works with special effects that are used in commercial environments such as brochures and advertisements. These include a sports-look bio page, a line burst background effect, and a back screen layout.

Chapter 4, "Dangerous Type," examines type effects that have been made famous from various sources beginning with the halftone pattern type look that was used for Ford's F-150 trucks. Then you will see how to create the look used in the movie "Fracture," the Play station type effect, and others.

Chapter 5, "Reflections of Passion," now explores reflection effects. You begin with how to correctly create a basic reflection. While this may seem simplistic, it is something that I have seen messed up by many. You then move on to letter or shape reflections using a double gradient, a glassy bar reflection, how to create a 3D video wall with live updating reflections, and more.

Chapter 6, "Truth in Advertising," is about effects seen in web and magazine ads. Included is a multi-photo look to use when you have only one photo, but don't want that one photo look. A fake see-through glass look, and a chrome with photo reflection look that Disney Pictures used on their new logo.

Chapter 7, "The Midnight Special," contains more special effects that include working with a mix of photos and vector art, a fashion-warped grid look, and a fading people in the background look.

Chapter 8, "Photo Finish," is a second chapter on photo effects. Here you will see such effects as creating a sports wallpaper look, how to add window light to flat looking photos, and creating sparkle trails.

Chapter 9, "3D Jamboree" was actually written by Corey Baker, an instructor and 3D specialist at NAPP – since Scott Kelby admits that he lives in a 2D world. In this chapter you will learn how to create true 3D lights and shadow, 3D package design, a 3D filmstrip, as well as a 3D sports logo.

As with all of Scott Kelby's books Photoshop CS4 is very well written, easy to understand, and chocked full of pictures and descriptions. And, as with all of Scott Kelby's' books, there is a certain amount of humor that you either tend to like or hate. For those who are not a fan, he does contain this humor to the first page of each chapter where you can get by without reading it. For me, it just wouldn't be a Kelby book without it.

While Photoshop CS4 is about learning how to create and use special effects, according to the author, it is more about doing things other than photography, sharpening, camera raw, and all the other usual techniques you find in most Photoshop books. It is about learning the "other side" of Photoshop.

One thing to keep in mind is that Down And Dirty Tricks should be viewed as a cookbook and not an in-depth guide to each of these techniques. I have heard in the past where someone says that the book just tells you to put in values, but not why to pick those values? For example, in this book in one tutorial you are told "when the Gaussian Blur dialog appears, enter 9 pixels, then click OK to apply…" Sure, you are not told why 9 is the magic number, but this is no different than when you are making spaghetti sauce and you are told to put in an 8 oz can of tomato paste. If you want to try 6 go for it.

For me, the real purpose of Photoshop CS4: Down And Dirty Tricks is not to show you how to recreate the effects demonstrated here, although if you needed to, you have the steps. The real purpose is to show you the steps to recreate an effect. Then with an arsenal of techniques at hand, you can start putting your own techniques together to create your own style. In his intro, the author recommends that you work through each tutorial even though you may never use that technique. It is because of value of gaining this arsenal that I very highly recommend this book.

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About T. Michael Testi

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