Wednesday, December 31, 2008

REVIEW: The Photoshop Channels Book

Those of you who have followed my blog know that I am frequently recommending Scott Kelby books, so when I recently went to a NAPP sponsored seminar, I decided to take advantage of a sale they had going on and I picked up this somewhat old book by Scott Kelby. It was written for CS2, but all of the concepts still apply for both CS3 and CS4, so I figured it was worth a look.

Chapter by Chapter Comments

Here are my thoughts about each chapter of this book.

Chapter 1 - Channels Basics

This chapter teaches you the basics of channels, explains what an Alpha channel is and how they relate to the Save/Load selection feature.

Chapter 2 - Masking Using Channels

This is where the fun begins because you learn how to make what seem like impossible selections in a way that is so simple you'll just shake your head and smile. For example, before reading this book I could have never made such a complex selection to create the photo you see here (hover over to see what the original looked like):

Mouse over to see the original image

Can you believe it only took me less than a minute to do 90% of the selection, and just another 5 more to do the rest? No, I'm no selection God - in fact, I'm far from it - instead, I just learned how to do Channel based selection as described in this book and used CS3's quick selection tool to do the rest. When I finished I was wondering where this book had been all my life and why I hadn't found it sooner!

Chapter 3 - Layer Masks & Adjustment Layers

This chapter seemed a bit out of place in this book because it starts by double exposing an image using layer masks, then it goes on to compositing and finally it demonstrates some complex printing press technique.

Layer masks are important, but I must say this is probably the weakest chapter in the book. If you are new to layer masks then this chapter might be helpful - somewhat, but there are better resources on this subject.

Chapter 4 - From Color to Black & White

This is a really outdated chapter that explains how to use channels to create black & white photos. My suggestion is to skip it if you own CS3 or greater as its Black & White converter dialog (described very well in Chapter 7 of The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers) is a much easier way to accomplish what Scott is trying to demonstrate.

Chapter 5 - Channels & Better Color

This chapter starts off with some channel based color enhancements which I didn't find to be of much value as there are better ways to get much better results. Scott finally gets to those better ways in the Creating Vibrant Color section where he starts to discuss LAB color, but like many of the images in this chapter he goes overboard creating some oversaturated looking images. The Blending Channels and Toning Down Highlights sections at the end offer lots of value for real world applications, so they help make this chapter a must read. The last section about Red Eye Repair is also a new twist on this common problem and offers a neat channels based solution I've never seen before.

Chapter 6 - Sharpening with Channels

This section offers a few channel based selection mechanisms for doing sharpening on selective portions of the image and later this chapter even goes into noise reduction (which I didn't find to be especially useful). The sharpening stuff is good, but is easy to go overboard using the techniques described. I'm not sure if Scott will still offer these suggestions as I didn't notice them in some of his more recent books, but still there's some good stuff to know here that might help you out for specific real-world scenarios.

Chapter 7 - Channels & Web Optimization

This is a cool chapter that shows you how to optimize an image so that the alpha channel preserves the detail where you need it and the heavy compression occurs on the non-important potions of the image. I found this to be very useful and very cool. It also includes a short section on color table optimizations which I think are less useful and practical these days.

Chapter 8 - Special Effects Using Channels

I enjoyed some of the tricks discussed in this chapter, but perhaps the one that was the most fun was the texture map example. I decided to use an image of myself to demonstrate this point where I kinda make myself look like Nightcrawler from X-Men 2 using a blueprint image from the book:

Blueprint Me

This is a very cool technique that has more practical applications like adding tattoos or things like logos to objects. It was pretty easy to do, but the results make it look more tricky than it really is.

The last section shows how to do a transparent shadows trick with channels that truly rocks. This is good stuff, so don't stop reading until you've finished this chapter. The rest of the book after that is just advertising and a short Q&A.

Conclusion

Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Value: Good (because you should be able to get it for much less than the $40 cover price)
Recommendation: Recommended

This is a good book for those who have got a good handle on Photoshop and are looking to take their skills to the next level. While it is true that anyone of any skill level could follow the instructions and memorize the techniques, I think that many would find it a bit overwhelming. It is a short read that is well written (except the intros which are much more lame than usual for Kelby books) and the examples help make the concepts stick. If you are an intermediate to advanced Photoshop user then you'll find this book worth the investment of your money and time.

As a side note, the Maximum Photoshop Tour taught by Dave Cross teaches many of the concepts presented in this book, so that's an alternative way to learn what is taught here if you have the time and the tour is in a city near you.

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