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Book Review: How To Cheat In Photoshop CS6: The Art of Creating Realistic Photomontages by Steve Caplin

In How to Cheat in Photoshop CS6, author Steve Caplin wants to show you how to cheat in Photoshop two different ways. First, he shows how to make images that look like photos, but are really composites. The end result is something that never existed in reality, creating photographic work without the need for a studio. Second is to show you how to cheat by taking short cuts to work more quickly and economically. Chaplin feels that many books have too many long-winded explanations; he has quicker solutions, and is willing to share.

How To Cheat In Photoshop CS6 is broken down in to 15 chapters and a DVD. The DVD contains most of the workthroughs, but not all. These tend to be some of the case studies that include photos of politicians and celebrities that he was not able to get clearance to include on the DVD. In this book there is no chapter on setting up or how to use Photoshop and so it is assumed that you are comfortable working with the program and have a reasonable working knowledge. There is a brief introduction to what some of the new in Adobe Photoshop CS6 are.

Chapter One, “Natural Selection,” begins by showing how to select objects. Since the point of this book is to take objects from one setting and integrate them into another, this chapter is fundamental. You will see how to work with many selection tools that come with Photoshop and when each one should be used.

Chapter Two, “Transform and Distortion,” explains how, when creating a photomontage and combining images, you will need to change the size and scale of objects to match the rest of the picture. The tools that you will use include Puppet Warp, Content-Aware tools, and the Clone tool.

Chapter Three, “Hiding and Showing,” explains how instead of deleting a layer–which is permanent–you can instead use a layer mask to remove the item, allowing it to return it back into the image later if you find you needed it. You will also learn about weaving and blending images.

Chapter Four, “Image Adjustment,” looks at using the curves adjustment to get the shadows and highlights to match. This is important when you are swapping heads or hands and the skin tones don’t look right. Here you will learn about working with curves, levels, unsharp masking, adjustment layers, and more.

Chapter Five, “Composing the Scene,” divines the meaning of the composition of a scene. Here you will learn how to get your characters to tell a story and through subtle adjustments, make the image more realistic.

Chapter Six, “Getting into Perspective” is one of the harder things to get right when working with photomontages, but, according to the author, by learning a few simple skills, you can easily master it. Here you will learn how to establish the horizon, understand vanishing points, use two-point and three-point perspectives, fix wide-angle objects, as well as other techniques.

Chapter Seven, “Light and Shade,” is all about getting the shadows correct. Without the appropriate light and shading, something will feel wrong about the image. Techniques include learning to work with shadows on the wall and ground, light from windows, multiple shadowed objects, and turning lights on.

Chapter Eight, “Heads and Bodies,” continues down the path of getting it right, but this time with heads and bodies. Here you will learn how to change the direction that your subject is looking in, combining body parts, how to change history, cut hair, adding hair, loosing hair, aging people, and other things that will help the human form look correct in your image.

Chapter Nine, “Shiny Surfaces,”  shows you how to get reflections to look correct in your image. Since shiny objects reflect objects around them, you will learn how to get those right as well. You will work with plastic wrap, blowing bubbles, working with water, creating water, snow, ice, and rain, and complex reflections.

Chapter 10, “Metal, Wood and Stone,” explains how to work with these materials in creating metallic objects from just about anything, how to model all kinds of embossed surfaces, and even how to turn people into statues. Techniques include the use of curves, layer styles, lighting effects, and creating decay.

Chapter 11, “Paper and Fabric,” describes how these differ from metal, wood and stone in that they are floppy surfaces. They bend and crease, and wrinkle. This chapter covers things like making and working with cloth, flags, banners, and documents. Here you will see how to create money, make book covers, create wrinkles that look real, create rips and tears in paper, and making custom fibers.

Chapter 12, “The Third Dimension,” shows how simulating 3D doesn’t need to be a nightmare. Here you will find methods to bring out the depth in your images. This chapter provides instruction on adding depth to flat artwork, opening drawers and doors, matching perspective, creating boxes, working with displacement maps, and working in 3D using the extended edition of Photoshop.

Chapter 13, “Hyper Realism,” helps you to add action to your scene. It can be a planet exploding, a person melting, cities after years of abandonment, or other scenes that cannot be photographed. Now you will learn techniques that can show motion where none exists, adding bokeh effects, introducing cartoon distortions, breaking glass, making magical scenes, and more.

Chapter 14, “Time-Saving Techniques,” is a different type of chapter in that it will give you techniques to streamline your skills while working with Photoshop. These go beyond keyboard shortcuts to automating repetitive tasks and preparing artwork in advance.

Finally, chapter 15, “Working for Print and Web,” takes you beyond seeing the images on your computer screen and readies them for the real world whether it is for the printer or the World Wide Web. You will learn about size and resolution, working for print, working for the web, and even movie editing in Photoshop.

Also include in between chapters are small two page write-ups called interludes. It is here that the author gives you a lot of personal insight to his experiences. These include topics on the use of Wacom tablets for your work, how to take you own initiative in your career, when to upgrade your equipment, photomontage ethics, and much, much more.

Now in its seventh edition, How To Cheat In Photoshop CS6 has become a standard of Photoshop techniques. How To Cheat In Photoshop CS6 is extremely well written, easy to follow, and contains an enormous wealth of information.

Even if you do not want to create montages, you will find that the time tested methods will expand your skills and knowledge of Photoshop. What if you don’t have Photoshop CS6? Many of the techniques presented in the book will work with an earlier CS version of Photoshop as well.

If you use Photoshop and if you want to truly become more creative, if you want become more marketable with your skills and even perhaps become a master at Photoshop, then I can very highly recommend How to Cheat in Photoshop CS6.

About T. Michael Testi

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

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