How to Do Everything with Photoshop CS, by Colin Smith, ISBN 0-07-223143-2

Reviewed by: Lianne Reitter, January 2004, send e-mail
Published by: McGraw-Hill Osborne, go to the web site
Requires: N/A
MSRP: $44.95

In order for you to judge by this review if this book is right for you, I should first tell you my level of experience with Photoshop - it’s practically nil. I'm a power user of PhotoSuite 4 and an intermediate user of Photoshop Elements 2. But even with that experience I look at Photoshop CS, click a few icons, scribble on a blank canvas and then shut it down because I have no idea what I'm doing. So I need a lot of help and a book titled How to Do Everything with Photoshop CS seemed to me to be the best way to get started. I also think you should know that while I have a great respect for books in general, I think How To books are meant to be tools, and since you own it, you shouldn't feel that dog earring pages, highlighting passages or writing down your own notes in the margins is taboo. I also think that in the case of computer software How To books, it is best to have the book and program open at the same time. That way you can see for yourself what the writer is describing. Pausing along the way for some in-depth experimentation is just the ticket to really imprint the lessons into your brain.

Author Colin Smith is an award winning graphic designer, a professional Photoshop trainer who among other things contributes articles to Photoshop User and MacDesign magazines. With those credentials, I knew that at the very least I had a book of instruction written by someone who knows what he is talking about. However, I started to think things might not go so well when I read the introduction. Mr. Smith describes Photoshop CS as a “…very accessible program – a complete beginner can jump into the software and produce something right away.” Well, that might be true if you meant to spend $650.00 on a electronic doodle pad. Face it, for beginners Photoshop CS (Photoshop in general) is not intuitive. In fact I find the interface rather daunting. OK, I get the tools panel on the left hand side – but don't ask me what the dodge or burn is supposed to do. And what about those things on the right hand side? Layers, levels, curves (and in Photoshop curves do not refer to line shapes or pretty girls) channels and histograms - huh? Maybe when Photoshop people talk about beginners, they aren't talking about beginners like me, they mean a beginner that just graduated from Waterloo with his degree in graphic arts. But the title is How to Do Everything with Photoshop CS so I persevered and was relieved to read that the first chapter of the book is called Photoshop CS Primer - as in ‘before the beginning’. I am happy to report that this book only assumes two things: that you know how your computer works; that you know nothing about Photoshop CS.

The book is laid out quite nicely with each chapter broken down into sections that take you through Photoshop CS step-by-step, feature by feature. By its nature Photoshop is not a linear program and laying out a How To book like this can be difficult as so many aspects of the program are interwoven. You can't describe what a simple thing like a palette is in Photoshop CS without mentioning layers, and layers, while the very heart of any version of Photoshop are complicated enough that you can't just start talking about them to a newbie without first describing the more simpler Photoshop CS attributes. Colin Smith does a great job of laying out his lessons and eases you through the first chapter by making you familiar with the Photoshop CS work space, it’s menus, toolbars, color modes, file types, and even those palettes; everything you need to know before you even open your first blank page (and the book shows you how to do that as well).

Read further on to similarly laid out chapters dedicated to getting your documents into the program, drawing and painting, using layers, working with advanced techniques, using and manipulating text, special effects and enhancing photographs (my personal favorite – and the histogram finally explained – at last!). Accompanying his step-by-step text, Mr. Smith has included hundreds of full color photos showing the techniques being described. This helps immensely as mere description isn't enough to teach the beginner the concepts and techniques used in this powerful piece of software. Where the majority of this book deals with creating your work, the final two chapters deal with exporting your Photoshop CS creations. Printing them out to paper media might seem pretty straightforward, but when you are talking about professional output, you'll need to know how to show your registration and corner crop marks too. If you were thinking of publishing your creations to your very own web page, How to Do Everything with Photoshop CS has a chapter devoted to that goal as well.

The final chapter of the book is a real treat. Behind the Scenes brings a Photoshop work of art from each of six top Photoshop artists, including the author. Along with their talent these artists provide their own step-by-step tutorials of how they accomplished one of the techniques they used in their creation. You won't believe your eyes. This portion of the book alone is worth the price. How to Do Everything with Photoshop CS is 376 full color pages of easy to follow instruction that will get that masterpiece out of your head and into a format that you can share with the world - whether it's performing complex photo editing, creating web graphics, or drawing a masterpiece.

I do have a couple of criticisms. The first is that while the pictures in the book help to explain how the projects were being created and while it was possible to follow along using my own photos, it would have been nice for the publishers to a CD of the pictures being manipulated. Using the same examples as those shown in the illustrations would have allowed me to match on my screen what I saw in the book. That would have proved to me that I got the lesson right.

My second criticism is that I have to wonder if this book goes into all the creative features in CS. I was watching Bert Monroy on TV one evening. For those who may not know it, he is one of ‘the’ premier Photoshop artists on the planet ( and he was demonstrating a feature new to this version of Photoshop called Match Color. Like the demo video on the Adobe web site, Mr. Monroy had two pictures side by side on his monitor, one was of a woman wearing a red shirt and the other was of a swatch of green cloth. Mr. Monroy dragged the picture of the green cloth on to the picture of the lady in the red shirt, and like magic, her shirt turned green, with all the same highlights and shadows and color tones as the original. Well, I just had to have that! But do you think I could find that technique in the book? The author doesn't even mention its more broader function of bringing a group of photos with varying tonal qualities in line with a master image. I am left a little confused. I understand that this book is titled How to Do Everything with Photoshop CS and not How to Do Everything Photoshop CS Does but this is a key new feature in CS and I have to wonder what else has been left out. Is this really a book about Photoshop CS or is it just a How To book that explains how to use any advanced version of Photoshop.

I guess for beginners like myself, it really doesn't matter because between these pages is enough information and tutorials to keep me busy and learning about Photoshop CS for a long, long time. Recommended.

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