ILEX Digital Studio Series for Photoshop

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, April 2006
Published by: ILEX Press
Requires: N/A
MSRP: UK£71.80 (4 titles)

During the many years that I've been using digital imaging tools and Adobe Photoshop in particular, I've found that very few of us really know the full extent of Photoshop's power and versatility. Even Adobe's user manual falls short of really covering Photoshop's capabilities. The idea of a recipe-based approach to learning about Photoshop appealed to me, because if it's done right, should simplify the process of understanding the tools and features and providing a context for them. All four books ILEX Digital Studio Series follow the same format. There are actually five books in my list at the end of this review, but the latest release is not part of the Digital Studio Series as of yet. I consider it to be so, therefore I'm treating it as such. When I received the ILEX press release for the Digital Studio Series I knew that I had to get my hands on it.

All the Digital Studio Series books look well produced. Like all good recipe books, they begin by introducing the basic elements and tools to be used in the creation of your projects. After covering the basics well, each book then takes a particular project type, technique or recipe and provides very easy step-by-step instructions for you to follow. Each recipe offers plenty of clarity and visual references and covers the features needed to complete each project. In some cases more than one method of reaching the intended goal is provided.

The Blending Modes Cookbook is excellent and begins by covering what the blending modes actually do. It actually provides several excellent examples for each mode and leaves you in no doubt as to the power of this understated feature. Blending modes are also demonstrated in combination with other features in Photoshop to help achieve a given effect or correction. Blending Modes Cookbook author John Beardsworth provides comprehensive coverage of what can be achieved. The book then goes into some excellent recipes using blending modes and other features to create several types of bleaching effects and treatments, repairing highlights and shadows, high contrast effects and explorations of several different sharpening techniques. The book then finishes with several excellent illustrative and graphical treatments.

The next book in the series is the Filter Effects Cookbook and it too is comprehensive in its coverage of the filters found in Photoshop CS2, with every filter covered in some depth. The variety and scope will provide you with plenty of inspiration and ideas and reasons to try filters on your own creations. It is not so much a recipe book as much as it is a reference and idea manual. As in the Blending Modes book, the features covered here are well illustrated.

The Photo Effects Cookbook is an exploration of the kind of graphical effects achievable with Photoshop. It is a book which doesn't really focus on any one function but more on how to create some very useful graphic treatments. There are 61 recipes in the book, broken up into several categories: Tonal and Color, Graphic Art, Lighting, Natural World, Traditional Photographic, Distortion Texture and Presentation effects. Some of the effects like Art Nouveau and the Fish Eye lens effect could have been better executed, but I did find some very useful lessons in this book. Amongst my favorites are Selective Coloring, Warhol Screen-Print, Watercolor, Oil Painting, Pencil Sketch and the Infrared Photography effects recipes, all of which are well demonstrated. In fact nearly all the recipes in this book are extremely well executed.

The Retouching Cookbook takes a look at common issues you are likely to encounter in photos and how to correct or adjust for them. The recipes here demonstrate how to handle exposure and color correction, focus manipulation, the retouching of several types of images and color and lighting effects. My favorite section dealt with the emulation of traditional darkroom effects like cross processing, hand tinting, solarization and mezzotints. The book then looks at the processing of RAW files and finishes up by dealing with several recipes for photo restoration and compositing techniques. Again this title is quite comprehensive in its coverage of the issues you may encounter as an imageer or photoretoucher.

The final book in this review is the Fine Art Cookbook and whilst it isn't part of the Digital Studio set, it is in the series. This book is the one I would most likely recommend to the digital artist who only has a budget for one book from this series and who may want to use Photoshop to create artistically styled images or illustrations. This book does a good job of covering a broad spectrum of artistic and photographic styles and techniques. It demonstrates the emulation of the artistic styles of artists such as Andy Warhol, David Hockney, Roy Lichtenstein, Seurat and Van Gogh as well as several photographic schools and styles. The featured photographic styles, schools and media types are well worth exploring and may lead you to find a reason to visit your nearest art or photographic gallery in order to explore the history of these styles and schools.

Cons: Some of the examples created for the recipes were a bit weak. There are some errors in layout where the before & after examples are inconsistently placed. This may have been done to prevent the books from becoming staid or predictable but may also create some confusion. There is some repetition between books with respect to the techniques which are featured.

Pros: Excellent design, layout and writing. Comprehensive coverage of the featured tools. Easy to follow recipes. If you have all the books in this series, then you might find some repetition. But this occurs in only in some of the techniques featured and the examples in each case are different, so the minor repetition may be more likely to reinforce the viability of the featured techniques. In many ways, I feel that anyone using Photoshop would definitely benefit from having these excellent reference books on their bookshelf. A must-buy. Highly recommended.

The Digital Studio Series consists of:

  1. Photoshop Blending Modes Cookbook for Digital Photographers: 49 Easy-to-follow Recipes to Fix Problem Photos and Create Amazing Effects
    Author: John Beardsworth
    Paperback 176 pages
    ISBN: 1904705685
    List Price: UK £17.95
  2. Photoshop Filter Effects Cookbook: The Hands-on Desktop Reference for Digital Photograhers and Artists
    Author: Roger Pring
    Paperback 192 pages
    ISBN: 1904705677
    List Price: UK £17.95
  3. Photoshop Photo Effects Cookbook: 61 Easy-to-follow Recipes for Digital Photographers, Designers and Artists
    Author: Tim Shelbourne
    Paperback 176 pages
    ISBN: 1904705618
    List Price: UK £17.95
  4. Photoshop Retouching Cookbook for Digital Photographers: 113 Easy-to-follow Recipes to Adjust and Correct Your Photos
    Author: Barry Huggins
    Paperback 176 pages
    ISBN: 1904705596
    List Price: UK £17.95
  5. Photoshop Fine Art Cookbook for Digital Photographers: Techniques for Recreating the Classic Styles of Great Artists and Photographers
    Author: John Beardsworth
    Paperback 176 pages
    ISBN: 190470574X
    List Price: UK £17.95
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