INDEX BY: Edition / Title
Photoshop in Easy Steps
by Robert Shufflebotham
published in 1997 by Computer Step
190pp ISBN 1 8704 2982 2 £8.99

Photoshop 5 Bible
by Deke McClelland
published in 1998 by IDG Worldwide
915 pp with colour inserts & CD-ROM ISBN 0764 53231 6 £40

Photoshop in Easy Steps and Photoshop 5 Bible

Photoshop in easy steps promises the title. Can such a thing be possible? Photoshop continues to set the benchmark for digital manipulation of bitmapped or photographic imagery and has now reached version 5 status. The time between versions seems to be decreasing with advancing numbers, but there are a core of actions and edit capabilities that remain constant. So constant in fact that Computer Step in their slim volume side-step the changing aspects of the software to concentrate upon the basic functions. These include a section on basic theory, a guide to the working environment and palettes available, opening, scanning and saving images, layers, type, paths channels, masks… and a useful section on web graphics. All carefully presented and thoroughly detailed. Much of the book details specific actions which can be worked through to gain an understanding of the principles involved, and these include considerable detail, such as the section on linking layers and using masks between layer elements. The creation, use and value of paths in Photoshop (which can be used to 'cut' irregular shapes) are explained in a decisively straightforward way. The mysteries of the unsharp mask are less successfully dealt with and really this is an example of tackling a part of Photoshop which is on a different level - the kind of level at which one would buy the Photoshop 5 Bible.

Before attempting to read this massive tome I had made regular use of Photoshop 4 Bible, dipping in to find information when struggling with the hue or saturation problems of a difficult image or trying to understand alpha channels (which have nothing to do with the twilight zone but that's where you often feel when tackling large projects in Photoshop!). '4 weighs in at an impressive 834 pages, but '5's bible grows to 915 pages plus the now obligatory CD-ROM of add-on filters, collections of stock photos and limited 30 day trials of allegedly useful software. In an attempt to do this expanding volume justice I have made a diligent effort to read what is really a dipping-into resource, and have learnt a lot by doing so. Those of you who are regular users of the software will be used to using the smudge tool to, well, "smudge" i.e. "soften colour transitions" (a smudge is a smudge for goodness' sake) but no: for this one should use the blur tool because the smudge tool "smears" colours. With this in mind the smudge tool can now be set to 100% and will smudge - sorry, "smear" - to infinity. Not only misnamed in version 5 this is now a fully fledged artistic tool which duplicates finger painting in the digital realm and I was so excited by this discovery that I loaded up a trial version of Photoshop 5 from the Adobe website and tried it out. Since I was there I experimented with the vertical/horizontal 'snap' function which I looked up in the 35 pages of keyboard shortcuts detailed in the book. That's 35 pages. Of shortcuts. However I have to report that whilst balancing a 915 page book on my lap to use the guide to shortcuts I found it easier to use that old-fashioned device, an on-screen menu. Such menus do not offer an easy route to all of Photoshop's functions, such as kerning of type (option-left or right arrow - page 77) or disable last layer effect (option-double-click on f - page 83) or the essential add colour as a new point on independent channel curves (command-shift-click in images window - page 92) but to be frank they are generally enough for me. Having read the shortcut list I must confess I do not know what some of these shortcuts do!

Some of the advanced features of the software, especially scripts, are well dealt with and the big selling point of 5 is the history palette that allows you to step back to any point in your work. Other new features detailed include the arrows, with gradation and a halo effect if desired. Text use has advanced beyond all recognition in '5, where one can now mix fonts, raise baselines and continue to edit text if it is on an independent layer. All is revealed in McClelland's encyclopaedia. There are also several dozen pages detailing corrective filtering, sharpening and moving the gamma point of a work piece. Other such matters are well illustrated but some of the effects are too subtle for the printing processes required to produce the book. The illustrations which allegedly show the differences between 25% and 100% ( on a scale of 0-500 ) use of the unsharp mask have been rendered mute by the low dpi of the monochrome pages of the book. On the other hand the colour inserts reveal in gory detail the distortions to photographic images which can be produced at the click of a button. Earlier this century photographers spent days, even weeks ruining photographs with what are now cheap filter effects in Photoshop. Whilst some offer image enhancement the majority represent an artistic cul-de-sac best left to students discovering image manipulation for the first time. Photoshop now allows you not only to import third-party filters but to design your own. McClelland not only guides you through the filter factory, he has included several of his own filter designs to assist on the CD-ROM. There is a final chapter on preparing images for service on the world-wide web which features the gif 'export 89a' control panel which works in Photoshop 5 - confusingly Photoshop 4 Bible detailed this panel's use but it did not function the same in the matching software. Despite this new functionality McClelland goes beyond his brief to recommend alternative and better software for preparing 'net images from Digital Frontiers and Box-Top. Finally the author has been researching the results of several dozen digital camera tests, and presents these on the CD-ROM with some free plug-in filters of dubious worth, and some excellent examples of images created by some world-class digital artists. There are also some 48 high-res stock photography images to play with (but these are not copyright free) and a sample on-line lesson from Digital Think.

In summary the slim volume from Computer Step is a good buy, offering a useful guide to the software and one could work through the book in a long afternoon perhaps and then arrive at a base level competence. To move beyond this it is impossible not to go for McClelland's current magnum opus. Within the 43 pages of the index there is bound to be a reference to a problem you may encounter. With the additional CD-ROM this is simply the best reference work on this superb software that anyone will ever need! If you cannot afford this option there is of course the tutorial disc that comes with the software, complete with .pdf files taking you through the tutorials or the comprehensive set of .pdf lesson plans available free from the Adobe web site. But I must warn you - print them all and you end up in excess of 1500 A4 unbound pages… and they still do not cover as much as McClelland in the 'Bible'!

Stephen Bell
Liverpool John Moores