Saturday, July 4, 2009

REVIEW: Photoshop CS4 Down & Dirty Tricks

When it comes to Photoshop education, there’s nobody better than Scott Kelby – period. Sure, there are people who are better masters of Photoshop than Scott (i.e., Vincent Versace, Dan Margulis, etc…) but Scott knows how to express complex concepts in a way that ordinary people can follow. He also isn’t afraid to use a little more space or take screen shots along the way to show how to get from point A to point B. This is a key differentiator that sets him apart from the huge sea of Photoshop authors out there, and why you should always stop to take note when he releases a new book.

Photoshop CS4 Down & Dirty Tricks is his latest offering which covers a variety of post processing challenges one would typically face if they were doing product marketing or team sports photography. While this book isn’t limited to just those topics, it definitely is the primary theme of this book. While I don’t fall into that camp for the work that I do, I still found some cool tricks that either I didn’t know (i.e., fake studio with see through glass trick) or which haven’t been explained as well elsewhere (i.e., gritty portrait look). However, unlike other books, I not only learn about these techniques I learn HOW to accomplish them. While I may not need many of them right now, having this book handy as a resource means that when the opportunity comes up I can refer to this book for inspiration and actually accomplish the techniques described.

Chapter by Chapter Comments

Here’s a quick rundown of what you can expect to find in this 9 chapter book:

Chapter 1 - Miracle Photo – photo effects, part 1

This chapter starts with the highly popular “desaturated portrait look” in a way that is a little more subtle but effective than what you’ll typically find described elsewhere (including Scott’s other books). Next he does what he calls a football layout for corporate purposes which could be easily modified for other uses and probably very helpful to the corporate staff photographer. He ends this chapter with the classic “Tilt-Shift” Toy Model Look which I’ve done before, but the instructions given for this example just don’t seem to work very well (even for the example Scott shows in the book). I found other articles and to more effective at explaining this technique.

Chapter 2 – Studio 54 studio effects

This short chapter has a really cool example of using a texture to create a nice aging photo look and Scott’s best example I’ve seen to date on how to create that “Lucis Pro” looking effect that Scott calls the “Gritty High-Contrast Look for Portraits”.

Chapter 3 – Commercial Break commercial special effects

Here Scott shows how to create some interesting background and text combos that you might find in a brochure or game day program. I think he actually does a better job in the next chapter for the “commercial” stuff, but the results might be useful to some.

Chapter 4 – Dangerous Type type effects

This chapter starts off with a killer example called the “Halftone Pattern Type Look” which goes beyond type to create a professional looking advertisement you might see in a automotive brochure or Car and Driver. The remaining examples are very professional looking that someone doing commercial brochures, magazine articles, or logo design would find very useful. This is definitely a cool chapter that is not to be missed!

Chapter 5 – Reflections of Passion reflection effects

The funny thing about this chapter is when I first read the title, I expected it to be several examples of water reflections like he does in his outstanding 7 Point System book, but that isn’t the case. In fact there’s only one of those type in the last example and it isn’t as great as some found in his 7 Point book. However, all is not lost as this is a very cool chapter that shows some very neat effects that you might want to do just for fun, but definitely will do if you are doing commercial advertising work. For some this chapter will be “the money chapter” that translates into things you do in real life that help you make money. If you aren’t shouting “SWEET” when you see the “Tony” ad or the “3D Video Wall with Live-Updating Reflections” then you are not the type of person this book was written for.

Chapter 6 – Truth in Advertising advertising effects

Again, this is a solid chapter that will help you make money and impress clients if you create some of your own examples of the techniques described here. My favorite example was the “Fake Studio Setup with See-Through Glass Trick” that is all too common in advertising. The “Multi-Photo High-Tech Look from One Image” is very cool because it shows you a lot of techniques that can be used on different projects, even if you don’t like the example show (which I actually thought was fun).

Chapter 7 – The Midnight Special more special effects

Excluding the one example in this chapter, you can pretty much choose any of the examples as a starting point when a client comes to you for ad work and they say “I want something wacky and cool”. These examples are colorful and different, but very professional without looking cheesy. While I didn’t care for the examples in Chapter 3, these are pretty good. The “Fading People in the Background” example is like the odd ball that seems like it didn’t have a better place to go in the book, but it is a good example that even average kid sports photographers might find fun to add something different to their work.

Chapter 8 – Photo Finish photo effects, part 2

Pulling some of these off will require to have multiple shots from different environments or leveraging stock photos, but these are more advanced techniques than you find in earlier chapters of the book. Even the simple example, “Adding Window Light to Flat-Looking Photos” offers something that I never would have thought of, but it really helps to take a photo to the next level. If you are the type who likes to play in Photoshop to create artistic results, then you’ll really enjoy this chapter.

Chapter 9 – 3D Jamboree 3D effects

The final chapter in this book leverages the 3D menu in Photoshop CS4 Extended which some readers may not be able to do if they are using a different version or edition of Photoshop. Hell, I have the Extended edition, and I hadn’t even noticed the 3D menu! However, Scott creates some really cool examples that would be super challenging to pull off without the 3D features offered by Photoshop. These are very cool and amazingly simple, but don’t really apply to photography as much as they do vector based object manipulation.


Ask yourself, why do you use Photoshop? For some the answer will be something along the lines of “because it’s fun and it allows me to express my artistic intent”, but for others the answer will be “so my pictures don’t suck”. If you fall into the first camp, you are going to love this book and I highly recommend you pick it up. You’ll be able to do some fun stuff that you won’t find described as nicely as Scott does in this book. However, if you are the later camp, then you will find less value in this book and there are better resources like Lightroom 2 for Digital Photographers, Scott Kelby's 7 Point System for Photoshop CS3, and The Adobe Photoshop CS4 Book for Digital Photographers that will duplicate some of the Photography specific examples shown in this book as well as be more applicable to what you want to accomplish.

This is a good book with great examples, but from a Digital Photographer’s perspective it is more for what you do AFTER you’ve processed your photo to use it in the commercial space. For the hobbyist there’s little need for that, and for some commercial photographers that is the stuff you hand off to others to do. However, if you were the kid who doodled with your pencil to create neat art on your notebook as a kid, then you are going to have a blast with this book.

Hey Ron, I don’t own CS4 Extended, can I still use this book?

This book is definitely geared towards Photoshop CS4, and the final chapter is useless without Photoshop CS4 extended. However, there are plenty of examples that would work in prior versions of Photoshop and in the standard version of CS4. If you can apply concepts without a lot of hand holding then you’ll have no problems figuring out how to do many of these examples (excluding chapter 9) in earlier versions.

Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced Value: Good Recommendation: Only Recommended for the artistic types with intermediate Photoshop skills - Beginners and digital photographers should read other books first.

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