Saturday, June 21, 2008

REVIEW: Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3 (Updated: 11/25/2010)

When I got Scott Kelby's 7-Point System for Adobe Photoshop CS3, I hoped it would be the miracle book that would help rescue some of my blah pictures and turn them into masterpieces worthy of resale. Well the good news is that I do think this book helped to tie together some things I already knew into something that does indeed help me improve upon my pictures. Now I can take pictures that I would otherwise discard and rescue them from the recycle bin into something that is - uh, better!

See the thing that Scott Kelby, nor Bryan Peterson can do is give you artistic talent. I seem to be lacking that key element so I'm going to have to keep working on that one, and no amount of books is going to fix that one. What I can say is that this book REALLY helped me to rescue dull, blah photos so that I could make them look better (in my opinion, but perhaps not others). While I may be guilty of being a little to garish with my use of colors, I still feel like these shots are a big improvement over the blah originals.

Here's the shot after using Scott Kelby's 7 Point System and if you hover over it you will see the original of the Seattle skyline from Kerry Park as it came out of the camera:

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

While the color might be an acquired taste for some, I thought it was a huge improvement. I definitely liked what I as able to do to improve the Space Needle itself and how the mood changed from a drab looking evening (which it wasn't) to a more bright image while still leaving the blue sky in tact.

Here's another example of a shot that was taken by my co-worker Yvonne Johnson while she was on a recent trip to Dubai:


While she was proud of her capture of the neat look of the desert in Dubai, she was pretty frustrated by her lens fogging and dust in the air which ruined what she hoped would be a nice snap shot as a keepsake of her visit to the desert.

After seeing this shot I immediately wanted to try the 7 Point System on it and I got what I believe to be are significantly better results. While some may argue they are too "photoshopped", and fixing them brought out a vignetting problem with her lens, However, criticisms aside I think it is a significantly better improvement over the original.

Dubai Poster

What's the moral of the story here? While you may hate what I've done with these photos, I think if you have the artistic talent that I lack you can clearly see that you'll have to tools in your tool chest to do some exceptional photo recovery work. To see some additional examples, visit my colleague Mitchell Morris' blog entry on the same topic.

So What are the 7 Points?

Well Scott will drive you crazy trying to tell you what they are in the book, so I'm going to spare you. I'll just list them out at a high level and it is up to you to read the book to learn more:

  1. Adobe Camera Raw Processing - start by turning your raw into something worthy of working on in Photoshop.
  2. Curves Adjustments - A little demystification here, but this one is still a challenge for me.
  3. Shadow/Highlight - Not one of the biggies like the others, but still comes in handy
  4. Painting with Light - This is the magic bullet and it is basically the concept of a layer mask (see my revelation about the overlay mask in an early blog entry).
  5. Channels Adjustments (aka LAB Color / Apply Image) - Here's another useful nugget that makes you ask yourself - how on Earth did Adobe ever expect me to figure this one out? (It turns out Scott and others learned about it directly from Adobe too).
  6. Layer Blend Modes & Layer Masks - Similar to 4, but this takes it a step further and instead of using Smart Objects to lighten and darken the image he shows how to use cool tricks with layer blending (one of which is using gradients as a GND filter) to really do some cool things quickly.
  7. Sharpening Techniques - Scott's other book, The Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Digital Photographers (and later) does a MUCH better job of explaining his wide arsenal of sharpening techniques, but this does provide some good basics skills along with showing you how to create a macro with shortcut keys so you can do this as a quick and final step.

These techniques aren't always used on every photo, but the fact is that most are and they work when you put the time and effort into a photo.

Mouse over to see before, mouse out to see after

So how does it work?

Scott provides some unprocessed originals (most NEF raw images) that help show you he's a mere mortal and gets some really bad shots out of his camera too. He then gives you step by step lessons on what he does to fix them.

The first thing you notice about this book is that Lesson 1 has 30 steps. If you read Amazon's reviews or you talk to people like my girlfriend, you quickly see that turns them off to this book right away. However, this is where you have to be a language lawyer because Scott doesn't say seven STEPS, he says seven POINTS. A Point is a general rule / guideline, which can take several steps to accomplish.

By working on a wide variety of photos (some of which start off as JPEG) you are introduced to numerous challenges, so the lessons help to give you broad knowledge on how to deal with a wide variety of problems. The 20 lessons (plus the 1 refresher lesson) give you the repetition needed to do this on your own. As of this writing I'm on lesson 9, and I'm already applying a lot of these techniques to my photos by heart. In short, it really does work so I'm eager to finish he book! I've decided to write this review early because I want to share what I believe to be a great resource so that people can start taking advantage of it now. I hope you can join me by buying Scott Kelby's 7-Point System for Adobe Photoshop CS3 and sharing your results on flickr.

In the end, I think this is a good complement to his "recipe" book called The Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Digital Photographers (or later), but not necessarily a complete replacement. I think if you only had to have one, this might be more instructive but The Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Digital Photographers (or later) is more helpful long-term. Either way, you'll want to make sure you read this book at least once and I highly recommend owning it.


Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced


Highly recommended. While this is probably not suitable for beginners, once you know Photoshop basics you'll get A LOT out of this book. The Adobe Photoshop CS5 for Digital Photographers (or the respective edition for your version of Photoshop) is a good complement to this book and should be considered as a useful companion book to purchase when ordering.

This book is part of my What Photoshop Books Should I Read? article and is considered a must read as of 11/25/2010 (and probably well beyond).

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Steve Rosenbach said...

Great review, Ron - I really appreciate it. You sold me on getting this book now.

I just finally installed CS3 (I know, it's now an old version ;-) and was going to buy the other CS3 book by Scott (I have the Elements 4 version of that book.)

Thanks again,

Christopher Cooke said...

THis is easily the best Photoshop book I have used to date. I have learned so much by just going through this book. It's well written and fun to follow. Each chapter begins with a photo, an explaination of whats wrong with it, then a series of lessons to fix the photo. I like how Scott explains his steps and has you step back to check the photo at various steps of the process. This helps you understand what you are seeing and the results, good or bad, of the changes you have made.

If you own Photoshop, do not go without this book

GlennC said...

"While my girlfriend hates the clouds and the color might be an acquired taste for some"
What about dropping an adjustment layer to just correct the clouds? e.g. Use a hue/saturation adjustment layer, set saturation to 0. (or colorize to add a slight hue)

Use Select-Color Range to isolate the clouds. Or some other variation on that.

I would use my own Colormancer / Selective Color tool to accomplish this in a slightly easier way, but the end results will be comparable. said...

Hi GlennC,

While I agree that my Seattle shot isn't one of my best because I was pretty early in my Photoshop days when I did it, it still demonstrates the fundamental concepts. Scott's examples in his book are much better, but I can't use those here.

GlennC said...

Got it.

Anonymous said...

Do remember offhand how much of this book applies to CS4? said...

All of this book applies to CS4. CS4 has some new ways of doing things (i.e., adjustment panels) and some new features, but none of it impacts the 7-Point System. This is why when I interviewed Scott (elsewhere on this blog) he said he isn't planning on updating it for CS4.

Unknown said...

Hi Ron

How much of this applies to CS5. I hear that CS5 is vastly improved over CS4. Is it correct?

Sanjeev (Yes the same Sanjeev who attended your class) said...


CS5 is a tool that has improved. Think of CS3 as a swiss army knife and CS5 as a powered swiss army knife. Both are useful tools and one might be better in skilled hands, but neither can do magic on their own and both are useless without education on how to use them.

100% of the concepts in the book still apply, but some are going to be easier because of evolution.

This is still a must read book and it will likely be updated for CS5 eventually.

Bronx Prof. said...

I just bought this book on your recommendation and I find that it is impossible to find the lesson photos to download. When I go to the supposed site for downloading,

I get a 404. said...

Hi Bronx Prof,

I just tried the link you pasted and it worked fine for me. It could be a firewall or proxy server issue with the location where you are accessing the internet now. It could have also just been that it was temporarliy down.

Your link is good and the files are there.

Bronx Prof. said...

Apparently, the Kelby download site was down for a few hours. Now it's working. Thanks, Ron.