For those of you who watch the popular podcasts at Photoshop User TV, you'll recognize that this book is by the same Matt that is on the show. This popular show also co-hosted by National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) experts Scott Kelby and Dave Cross features lots of great tips, and I've noticed that some of the best of them come from Matt.
With this in mind, I didn't think twice about ordering this book. I typically get a book from the library and decide if I should purchase it after reading it, but in this case I went straight for the purchase. Read on to find out if that was a good move or not.
I was surprised to see that this book was fairly thin given its hefty price, but some of my favorite books are thin so I figured that it was probably light on theory and heavy on good useful information. After all, Matt Kloskowski is a pretty sharp guy so I was hoping his extensive knowledge of layers would translate into some really great tips and tricks.
The pages looked nice and the organization of the book is pretty good, so now all I had to do was read it. And read it I did on a flight to Chicago (not recommended for most since this is an interactive book that requires using your laptop to do the samples as you read along). It took about 4 hours to read straight through without doing the examples, so plan for at least 3 times that if you follow along as you should.
Chapter by Chapter Comments
Here are my thoughts of each of the chapters of this book after reading them, and later going back and doing the samples.
Chapter 1 - Layer Basics
This chapter is for the true beginner who doesn't have a clue about layers. If this is you, then definitely read this chapter. If it isn't you, then still glance at it to make sure you aren't missing any fundamentals and then move on to chapter 2.
Chapter 2 - Blending Layers
There's some good stuff in here, especially for those who are clueless about layer blending, that will help you understand how blending works and why gradients work the way they do with a specific blending mode. It starts off with the most popular blending modes, and then quickly puts them into use (doing tricks like using threshold to allow for a slick blend). The chapter quickly fades as he does some rather lame examples which prove a point but build something utterly useless. Overall it is an A+ start with an F middle, and an A+ finish where Matt shows how you can use blending techniques to add a Moon to a shot in a very convincing way. The moments of brilliance in this chapter are very useful in real-world applications and demystify some of the things you may have never other understood from reading other books (I know I didn't).
Chapter 3 - Adjustment Layers
This chapter goes into one of the most useful features in Photoshop and explains them in a fairly simple manner. Unfortunately some of his techniques are a little more cumbersome than they need to be (i.e., he chooses to layer mask brush everything you don't need instead of what you do need), but most of the concepts are sound. He leaves out some important details and doesn't really go too in-depth on the how to use these adjustment layers like Scott Kelby does in the 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3.
Chapter 4 - Layer Masks
Layer masks changed my life and improved my Photoshop skills dramatically. In fact one of my first blog entries was about an overlay (blending mode) mask that changed the way I do photo editing forever, and it was a tip I learned from Matt on the show.
Matt shows some cool tricks here and overall the chapter is successful, but I left wanting for more and thinking that if I wasn't already very comfortable with this feature that I might have been a bit confused by how to do some of the tricks he showed. Matt definitely makes assumptions about people's Photoshop knowledge, and this is one of many chapters that really demonstrate that point.
Chapter 5 - Type and Shape Layers
For some this chapter might be great and super useful, but for me it was more of a filler chapter as I have little use for the concepts presented in this chapter. However, I can say that I did learn some new tips and tricks which might come in handy at some point, so it was still worth reading.
Chapter 6 - Enhancing Photos with Layers
This is where Matt could have written a phenomenal book, but instead he wrote a pretty brief chapter that covers the basics. Sure, there's some great stuff in here for those who don't know about the techniques show, but if you've read Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3 then nothing here is news to you.
Chapter 7 - Retouching with Layers
Again, like Chapter 6, this is the chapter that screams out for the kind of useful details provided in Skin, The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers and Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3, but fails to deliver on it. Sure, there's some good stuff here, but he leaves a lot of critical details out (especially in the teeth whitening section) which novices will find to be very frustrating.
Chapter 8 - Layer Styles
Once again, Matt only touches the tip of the iceberg on this complex and rarely discussed feature set. He provides some great examples of how to apply them in a meaningful way, but he only scratches the surface. Towards the end he really gets lazy and only provides the dialogs to show what you set to get a particular effect, but I think he's missed some useful instructions along the way.
Chapter 9 - Smart Layers
Smart Layers are super helpful and it is good to see Matt trying to make an attempt at demystifying them, but sadly he does nothing different from all of the other books out there that talk about smart layers. There's plenty of oddities about this feature that he could discuss, but he simply dives into some examples (some of which are excellent) and moves on.
Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Value: Poor (a bit overpriced for what you get)
I really wanted this to be a great book that I could recommend to anybody, and I wanted it to be a book that really advanced my skills. However, I think what we have here is a book with lots of good information, but even more potential because the author simply failed to follow-through on a good idea. This book convinces me that Matt is probably a bright guy who likes to start great eyes, but who fails follow through and finish them. This book could have been great, and it could have been a Kelby-killer, but in the end it is a brief but useful primer on Layers. For a better value, consider getting The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers and/or Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3 instead.