Monday, July 14, 2008

REVIEW: Digital Photographer's Notebook: Practical Tips for Professional Photoshop Users

Digital Photographer's Notebook: Practical Tips for Professional Photoshop Users

I had high hopes for this book based on the title, and after reading some early reviews and previous articles by Kevin Ames in Photoshop User magazine.  However, it ended up being very disappointing. I was disappointed to see that Scott Kelby endorsed this book and that Photoshop User magazine wrote a good review for it, simply because Kevin Ames has a recurring article in their magazine. I understand helping out a friend, but overall I think it tarnishes the otherwise excellent images of both Scott Kelby and his magazine.

Chapter 1 - Out of Africa

Wow, when I started to read this chapter I was pretty jazzed! I could tell that Kevin Ames had lived most photographers dream - he had gone to spend a lot of time in Africa doing a big shoot complete with villagers and all. He talked about how he would charge his batteries with solar panels and showed pictures of big game and villagers, so I thought I was about to read one of the best books I've seen lately.

Chapter 2 - Bridgework

After the excitement of chapter 1, I was having a bit of a WTF moment. He just got me jazzed about his adventures in Africa and now he's going to talk about Bridge? How boring! Well, then he starts talking about some famous rockers so again I think this is going to be cool, but guess what - it wasn't.

Chapter 3 - Shooting Tethered

Now, I'll admit I was starting to raise a brow by the time I got to this chapter but fortunately there was a little bit of useful in this chapter, and again I got the sense this guy was good so the respect factor went up even though the information presented was just okay (and rather random).

Chapter 4 - Light Right

This chapter starts off looking like it is going to teach you about light meters and will offer some great tips from an expert. What you actually get is a chapter that only touches the surface of many topics leaving you unsatisfied and wanting for more.

Chapter 5 - Musings on Clouds

By this chapter you realize the author must suffer from ADD and he finally goes deep into something that is utterly useless and pointless - a transformation of clouds into an image of a snow angel!

Chapter 6 - All About Metadata

Picking up where he left off in Chapter 2, the author goes into the most detail thus far in the book about metadata! Okay, I'm a big fan of metadata, so I actual read it but there's a lot of outdated information (especially since the author has access to Lightroom) and the subject is beaten to death.

Chapter 7 - The Naming of Digital Negatives

Dear God, by this point I was wanting to poke my eyes out! Are you kidding me? A chapter about naming your DNG files? Unless you are the type who is living in the stone ages and using the original cryptic file names assigned by your camera, most people are going to have a system for naming their files which will solve the issues the author tries to address. In fact, most of us will have a workflow that involves letting some product name your files for you. It was this chapter that convinced me that this author is one of those people that might be a creative genius, but he hasn't a clue about how to write a book.

Chapter 8 - The Bulletproof Archive Workflow

Here was a chapter that actually might be useful for some as it goes into detail about Kevin Ames backup system and methodology. Since so many photographers neglect this topic, perhaps there's something in here for you but honestly if you are the type that is going to survive reading this chapter then you probably are already hard core about backing up!

Chapter 9 - Lightroom Catalogs

This is just a random chapter on how Lightroom does file management and how he uses it to import and backup his photos.

Chapter 10 - New Dogs, Old Tricks

This is basically a white balance chapter (can't you tell by the name) using the curves dialog.

Chapter 11 - Adobe Camera Raw 4

This is where Ames rehashes what Kelby teaches in The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers. Good stuff if you haven't read that book, otherwise it is much like reading Ken Rockwell's blog.

Chapter 12 - Lightroom Develops

This starts off with some random features in Lighroom and then goes into how to use the Curves feature in CS3 & Lightroom. He finishes off with a black and white conversion. Again, pretty random stuff!

Chapter 13 - Color Correction and Exposure Tweaks

Take chapter 10 with a dash of chapter 11 and shake them up and pour out the contents of this chapter.

Chapter 14 - Take 'Em to the Net

AKA, how to build a trivial and boring web gallery.

Chapter 15 - Email Presentations

Another random section about Bridge followed up by how to build a PDF of images.

Chapter 16 Custom Contact Prints

AKA, how to build a contact sheet the hard way (use the File | Automate | Contact Sheet II feature in CS3 instead).

Chapter 17 - Cloud Goddess

Our ADD author returns to his thoughts in chapter 5 to add more cheese.

Seriously, if you like this chapter then I suggest you sell your camera gear and pick up a different hobby (i.e., knife juggling or sword swallowing).

Chapter 18 - Black and White

This starts off with "How to make a huge action you'll never use again", and then dives into some random techniques on black and white conversion. There's some useful nuggets in his miscellaneous ramblings which results in a chapter that comes close to what you'd expect in a book of this title.

Chapter 19 - Enchanting Enhancements

This is actually a useful chapter where I flagged a couple pages because Ames shows you how he retouches his photos of women. It is clear that he knows what he is doing, but it is equally clear that he struggles to get the thoughts on paper. This is one of the ones where his medicine seems to be working, so it is actually pretty decent.

Chapter 20 - Lighting Without Lights

This was my favorite chapter of the book because he shows you something useful, and what you'd expect from a book like this. It is basically what you see in Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3, which is a very good thing. Perhaps Kevin Ames read Kelby's book and got the inspiration (since this is one of the last chapters), but for whatever the reason this is a good chapter.

Chapter 21 - Interior Nuances

Similar to 20, but not as good.

Conclusion

I wanted to love this book, and there were moments where I had great hope that I would. However, I frequently found myself disappointed.

Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Value: Poor - Not only is the book not very good, my copy was poorly constructed and pages were falling out.
Recommendation: Not recommended.

Where everyone learns Photoshop - National Association of Photoshop Professionals

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REVIEW: The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers

Once again I'm reviewing another Scott Kelby book because his books, like those of Bryan Peterson, are consistently very good and full of useful information. I'm please to say that The Adobe Photoshop CS3 Book for Digital Photographers is once again another great Kelby book.

If you've read Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3 you will quickly see that many of the things he uses in the steps for enhancing photos for that book are included with more details in this book. However, this book is more of a recipe book to help you solve a particular task with little information on bringing it all together to solve a series of typical problems, which is why he wrote the 7 Point System book.

I've got a few Kelby books, do I really need this one? OR Who is this book really for?

When I started reading this book it was heavy on information about Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw so I started to question my decision to buy it without reading it from the library first. However, as I went deeper into the book I found a lot of nuggets (even in the Bridge section) that were super useful to me in the things I do in Lightroom. As a result, I can easily say that this is a book worth reading from cover to cover for anyone who is wanting to understand more behind the voodoo of Adobe Camera Raw, sharpening, Color Management, Printing and lots of hidden gems in Photoshop. This is a really good reference book, but it is one that should be read cover to cover to allow your brain to index what it offers so you can come back to it when you really need it.

Come on Ron, I can't afford all of these books. If I only had to pick one or two Kelby books, what would they be?

This is a fair question, and after reading this and the 7 Point System, I'd have to say that if you only bought one then the 7 Point System is the better book to have. That isn't to say that this book isn't useful and that you shouldn't own both if you can afford it, but if you only had to pick one then you'll get more out of the 7 Point System because it will show you a bunch of photos that look like the ones we are used to seeing come out of our camera and show you how to make them look awesome. Doing this both increases your confidence and gives you series of basic tools that allow you to directly apply these techniques to your photos for great results.

Where this book comes in handy is when you have a specific question like "how do I whiten teeth?", and you can go that topic and get quick step by step instructions that show you exactly how to do that.

Okay, tell me more about this book

This book is divided into 13 chapters, each of which covers a general topic with a series of tips that show you how to solve a particular problem.

Chapters 1 & 2 - Bridge

These chapters teach you everything you want to know about Bridge and really can help enlighten you on how to live without Lightroom as well as show you why Bridge is cool. I learned a lot here and have a whole new respect for Adobe Bridge now. In fact, I may even do a tech session or blog post about how to live without Lightroom using ACR and Bridge after what I've learned in here.

Chapter 3 - Adobe Camera Raw

This chapter is excellent because it teaches you a bunch of neat tricks about Adobe Camera Raw that are directly applicable in Lightroom, but aren't documented anywhere. This is really good stuff and worth reading if you want to learn how to take more advantage of the power of Lightroom.

Chapter 4 - Resizing Images

This chapter is pretty good because it dispels a lot of myths about resizing images in Photoshop (most of which were formed during older versions) and it offers some surprising advice.

Chapter 5 - Printing & Color Management

Unless you live and breathe color management, most people will find that this chapter is everything they need to know and have wanted to know about the topic. There's some good stuff here that will increase your odds of having a true WYSIWYG experience when comparing your monitor output to your printer (or print service) output.

Chapter 6 - Color Correcting Secrets

Has the stupid Curves dialog got you stumped? Do you wonder how to find a neutral gray spot when one doesn't seem to exist in your image? If so, you'll get a lot out of this chapter. This is a good one that will definitely having you flag some pages for future reference.

Chapter 7 - How to Create Stunning Black & White Images

This is just a run of the mill chapter on B&W. It shows some interesting tips, but overall it's a bit of a yawner.

Chapter 8 - Dealing with Common Image Problems

I had high hopes for this one, but overall I was a little let down. Between owning Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 Complete and previously reading Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3, I felt like this was mostly old news to me. Others may disagree and find it more useful - especially the tips for dealing with over/underexposure.

Chapter 9 - Retouching Portraits

Just like chapter 8, much of this was old news for me. However, it was really cool to see how Scott does some of the things I know how to do (but rarely am patient enough to actually apply to my own images) to get some great results. It's a good chapter, but this is my favorite domain in photography so I've done a lot of research in this area already so there were no magic revelations.

Chapter 10 - Special Effects for Photographers

Some will love this, others will think this is a little heavy on the cheese. However, the neutral density section is something you should already know how to do, so if you don't then this will be very helpful.

Chapter 11 - Sharpening Techniques

Scott does a lot to demystify the stupidly named unsharp filter and gives you lots of great info (and fortunately exact numbers) to help you solve a wide variety of sharpening issues. Scott is a master of sharpening, so there's some really great stuff here that justifies keeping this book within arms reach at all times when you are doing digital post processing.

Chapter 12 - How to Show Your Work

Some of this is lame, but I enjoyed it none-the-less. The fine art poster section is a great place to start for those of you (who like me) are idea challenged for ways to present your photos to make them look both great AND professional.

Chapter 13 - Scott's Step by Step Workflow

I had high hopes for this one, but was greatly disappointed. What you really get here is an example of how Scott takes a fairly boring shot from Bridge and makes some minor modifications to it. Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3 does a MUCH better job of really helping you to understand his workflow a little better, and help you improve yours at the same time.

Conclusion

I had over 20 pages flagged in this book as being important for future reference, and since I've worked on a few batches of photos after reading this book I found myself going back to this book to recall how to deal with certain problems. It's a good book, and an excellent resource for sure. However, it is more of a recipe book that you'll use as a reference, but I don't think it is the right book for the average Joe to learn how to see the "big picture" on how to make your photos look their best.

Skill Level: Beginner to Advanced
Value: Good (Expensive, but lots of good stuff here)
Recommendation: Recommended, but if you can't afford this and Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3 then I'd say your best best for learning is to go for 7 Point System. If you are a very advanced Photoshop user, then you'll probably find some good nuggets in this book that make it more worthwhile than the 7 Point System.

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Only in Texas...

I spent the week of the 4th of July visiting family in Texas, and in my parents small little town of Shiner, Texas (home of Shiner Beer). While I was there, I attended their annual parade on Saturday, July 5th to celebrate Independence Day. While I have lots of photos to process, I couldn't help but share this one early because it just so darn funny!

No, your eyes aren't deceiving you, this IS really a hot rod grocery cart sponsored by the local HEB Grocery Store. Oh, and yes that really is a chrome keg for the gas tank!

Enjoy!

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

REVIEW: A digital picture frame your grandma can use

I frequently see people asking the question of what digital picture frame is the best, but a lot of times they get recommendations by people for frames that are too complicated. Sure, streaming your flickr pictures to a frame is great for you and your high-tech friends, but does your Granny who doesn't even have a computer need high speed Internet so she can do that too?

Furthermore, if Granny isn't in the same town who is going to fix her frame when something goes wrong (and it always does)?

For my parents, who are also grandparents many times over, I chose to get the Kodak EasyShare SV811 8" Digital Picture Frame. It isn't the most high-tech, but it works easily and is just a little over $100. I've given three of these to people who weren't computer geeks last Christmas and they are all still running with no problems. The picture quality is excellent (and I'm a pixel peeper, so this is important to me) and it is super simple to give them new pictures to watch by simply sending them a cheap SD card with the latest pics. From there they can either send me their SD card back, or I can just let them keep them so they can choose which "virtual photo album" they want to display in their frame.

It's simple and it works with no hassle or fuss - just like Grandma wants!

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Stock Photography just got easier and harder...

Flickr has announced that they will soon support selling stock photography from their site via Getty Images. The FAQ gives you the relevant details, but I'm excited and concerned about this. I'm glad because it will probably force Getty and others like iStockPhoto from being so anal about what constitutes an acceptable photo for stock photography (i.e., no nit picking of one pixel not being quite right so a submission is rejected), but it wall also lead to even more competition in this already oversaturated market. It seems the days of making $40,000 for a single photograph as Bryan Peterson has done many times is over for sure, but that's a good thing for consumers right? Yeah, but how am I going to earn back the money I've invested on my gear? Hum, I guess I better start thinking about wedding photography again! :-)

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