The PhotoShop CS4 Companion for Photographers by Derrick Story, OReilly - 2009, $25US - 190 pages
This is a compact book about using Photoshop CS4 for photo finishing. At 8"x5" and 190 pages this book is handy and light enough to fit in any camera or laptop carrying bag to make it a helpful, on-the road reference. But the real question remains - is Photoshop CS4 itself a handy, on-the-road photo finishing software program? Having been a sworn Corel Picture Publisher, then Corel PhotoPaint, then Corel PaintShop Pro, then Corel Photo Impact, then Adobe Lightroom user for day to day photofinishing I blinked at consider Photoshop for routine photofinishing chores.
The notion of using Adobe's top of the line bitmap graphics tool, Photoshop CS4 for photo finishing has an overkill ring to it. And with CS4 taking a 20-40% performance hit in Windows Vista vis a vis even Windows XP, one has to be cautious about thinking Photoshop. This is particularly true for people new to the Photoshop program and its massive learning curve. But what Derrick Story has done is make a convincing case for Photoshop CS4 being your all-purpose photo editor emphasizing the worth of Photoshop's utilities like Advanced Camera Raw, Bridge, and XMP in his arguments for Photoshop CS4 as your digital darkroom workhorse. So this is really is not a book so much about Photoshop CS4. Rather it is about some of the key utilities in Photoshop CS4 and how they make for a great Digital Darkroom suite.
Derrick starts right away telling readers what they will need for their Digital Darkroom:
1-a laptop or desktop using MacOS or Windows(make it Windows XP to avoid the Vista performance hit ;
2-a 500GB hard drive at minimum;
3-a media memory card reader if your machine does not have one;
4-Photoshop CS4 - its performance boost over earlier editions alone is worth the expenditure;
5-A copy of this book.
To this Digital Darkroom list I would add two items. First, make the CPU dual core and at least 2.0GHz in speed - the faster the better. In addition, plan for at least a 15" diagonal screen at minimum and a Wacom or other digital pad is quite helpful. Derrick next provides an overview of the ideal workflow using Photoshop CS4. Surprise! It uses many Photoshop utilities:
1-Use Bridge's Photodownloader to get the images from your camera's media card;
2-Backup right away as one of Photodownloader's convenient options;
3-Use Bridge's own rating/ranking tools to categorize and rank your images;
4-Add keywords and tags to help classify the images;
5-Make basic image edits using ACR-Adobe Camera Raw utility;
6-Refine the images using advanced tools in ACR;
7-Use Photoshop CS4 primarily for its advanced layering and image processing features;
8-Use Photoshop CS4 advanced printing and output.
Note that Photoshop CS4 itself is only used for the last two tasks. So if you were looking for an introduction to Photoshop CS4 itself, this is not the book for you. However, if you are trying to find out how to do digital darkroom work well, read on.
Lets look at the utilities that Derrick emphasizes because they tell us about some hidden gems in Photoshop.
Bridge's PhotoDownloader utility
As one who avoids Bridge for the slow operations previous versions inflicted on Photoshop users I was surprised to find how fast and feature rich Bridge in CS4 is. The Photodownloader is typical - quick and packed with an array of features that Derrick covers in detail. The top two which he recommends for your picture processing workflow is using some of the Save Options features[rename the files meaningfully while creating auto-backup images] and the Metadata options[record copyright and general shoot tags and info].
The Camera Raw Dialog
Think of Camera Raw as the equivalent in image correction to Adobe Lightroom - a very complete system for making color, exposure, cropping, straightening and other corrections to an image. Yes, Camera Raw is capable of reading the RAW image files from most popular digital cameras plus .JPG images. No, it does not support layers or working with multiple images - that is Photoshop's domain. Yes, Camera Raw has many of the same commands as Photoshop's Image | Adjustments but also some remarkably innovative commands of its own - check out Black, Vibrance and the Straightening tool among others. Again Derrick provides guidance on the most important features and commands; and this is important because Camera Raw has so much image editing power. Close to one-half of the book is devoted to Camera Raw - and its worth every page for those who want a Lightroom experience with Photoshop.
Bridge has improved in response time - and particularly its ability to filter a set of photos based on tags, ratings, date of creation, etc. This used to be perilously slow - no more. So in turn Derrick's demos on adding tags, ratings and other tricks on Bridge certainly have a payoff.
In sum more than half of the book is devoted to to the Utilities that come with Photoshop. Derrick has built an image processing workflow that uses Bridge's set of utilities as the primary source of photo processing and relying on the Photoshop CS4 only for the advanced features. The next section describes how the book covers those advanced features.
Derrick underlines a useful set of facilities or "recipes" within Photoshop CS4. The problem is that Photoshop CS4 has a huge set of features. So Derrick has described in 18 quick recipes how to do editing tasks in Photoshop that can't be done at all or as well in Bridge and the Camera Raw tool. The screenshot above shows the masking lesson. The other recipes cover tasks such as Color Replacement, Correcting Architectural Distortion and Panorama Merging. These are good quick intros into how Photoshop CS4 can take photo editing to a new level.
Printing in Photoshop CS4
The last part of the book is devoted the substantial printing prowess of Photoshop. Now readers should be warned that printing in Photoshop is geared towards the very refined world of color management and fine-tuned printing press operations. What Derrick does is cut to the chase and gives the essentials on color management - getting the gamut of colors that users see on their PC screen output as faithfully as possible on their printers. No small task as readers will discover - but with some simple calibrations that Derrick has highlighted - imminently doable.
For some Photoshop savvy users, use of Photoshop CS4 is a no brainer. What this book does for such users is highlight some of the utilities, particularly Camera Raw and Bridge, that may have been glossed over and did not get due diligence or handy coverage in Adobe's documentation. As we have seen, these capabilities - though not quite on par with Adobe Lightroom, still provide a lot of Lightroom-like look and feel plus functionality. Such readers will find the this book a good companion particularly the details on Camera raw, printer and Screen calibration . Meanwhile Adobe Photoshop Elements and Lightroom readers will have all the info they need for deciding whether to stay at home or make the move-up to full Photoshop.
For photographers who use other photofinishing software, this book also builds a case for using Photoshop for their routine photofinishing tasks. What is missing is a)the direct comparison with other tools - but admittedly there is hardly room for this and b)more about the automation facilities like Actions and macros that can really speed up the humdrum of photofinishing. Also this user thought the Crop, Resize/Canvas Sizing, and Blur options were a bit short changed. Also there is no coverage of the topic of preparing images for the Web - instead 10 pages are devoted to the author's personal pictorial.
For users brand new to photofinishing programs, this book offers a compelling new workflow using not just Photoshop CS4 but some of its powerful Bridge based utilities. If you download the free trial copy of Photoshop and do the exercises using the book as guideline you will get a great feel for how Photoshop and particularly its utilities can make your photofinishing workflow effective. Nonetheless I was looking for extra references (really an annotated bibliography) a) to some of the subjects not covered in this book for reasons of space and b)for readings comparing the different digital darkroom workflow ideas. As one may very well suspect there are many ways to approach digital image editing. In sum, this book provides a novel and very helpful intro to the idea of Photoshop CS4 as the foundation of your Digital Darkroom.