Book Review: Real World Adobe Photoshop CS

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As I wrote in the Real World Camera Raw review, I've read a couple books in the Real World series. All of the Real World books have a subtitle of "industrial strength production techniques," clearly illustrating who these books are aimed at: those who want to get the job done.

Real World Adobe Photoshop CS tells you how to get the job done. Unlike lots of other books on the subject, this one doesn't tell you how to do neat filter effects or anything like that--it focuses on the tools you need to know to complete tasks. With it, I learned a number of ways to efficiently make complex selections, how to highlight minute detail, and effectively make tonal and color corrections.

For what it's worth, I've been referring to Real World Adobe Photoshop 6 and Real World Adobe Photoshop 7 for quite a while. It was only a few months ago I purchased Real World Adobe Photoshop CS. The books really aren't too different from each other, though.

To be honest, this book is daunting; very daunting. First, it's dense: nearly every sentence is valuable and there is no fluff. Most experienced users can probably skip at least a few chapters and sections, but I've found some valuable information in those sections I thought I already knew well. Secondly, this book contains about 900 pages of information on using Photoshop. There are about 120 pages on tone and color correction, 75 pages on selection and channel use, and 80 pages of general "tips and tricks."

This must be a joke--75 pages on selections? I didn't think selections were that large of a topic or that they required so much detail. After reading and experimenting, though, I'm now able to make selections I didn't think possible before and I've learned to use the tools more efficiently. (I wrote Adobe Photoshop's "Mysterious" Quick Mask Mode based on what I had learned about the Quick Mask mode.) Put it this way: I used to make all selections with the Lasso and Magic Wand tools. Now, I use the Lasso, Magnetic Lasso, Magic Wand, and Color Range tools (along with the Quick Mask mode), building selections from individual or calculated channels, another Alpha channel, or other method. Real World Adobe Photoshop CS presents many ways to complete the same (or similar) task--sometimes one method works better than another.

The best chapter in this book is chapter 2, Essential Photoshop Tips and Tricks. The rest of the book really taught me to use Photoshop more effectively; this chapter taught me to use Photoshop more efficiently. Press the space bar to get the grabber hand to make it easier to move around the page. Press the space bar and control key then click to zoom in; space and alt then click to zoom out. In dialog boxes (like curves or levels), press alt to see the "cancel" button change to "reset." Drag selections between open files. I've re-read this chapter more times than I can count because I can't seem to get all these work-faster tips stuck in my head!

If you're not familiar with Photoshop's tools, you'll be fighting to do what you want. Photoshop is such a complex application that it's easy to find new and different ways to accomplish something--but there's no point in re-inventing the wheel. Real World Adobe Photoshop CS teaches you how to use the tools, combine their capabilities, and expand your options.

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