Photoshop CS Trickery and FX by Stephen Burns, ISBN: 1-58450-297-5

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, July 2005
Published by: Charles River Media
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$39.95, Can$55.95, UK£24.50

When I received this book I initially wasn't sure who it was aimed at. I took a quick browse through the book and found it to be a visual FX treat however. But it's actually an effects project publication containing a series of excellent tutorials exploring many of the features found in Photoshop CS. Author Stephen Burns is a photographer and artist whose work with Photoshop has a very organic and textural feel. Photoshop CS Trickery and FX is aimed at the intermediate user who already has some familiarity with Photoshop.

The book opens with a brief look at Photoshop CS, its interface and the fundamentals you need to know in order to begin using it effectively. The second chapter covers features such as selections, layer masks, blend modes and alpha channels.

The examples created in chapter 3 are excellent and the technical proficiency demonstrated by Stephen Burns is easy to follow. This chapter also covers the creation of two composite images by using different image sources to create new ones. The source images used in this chapter prove are very complimentary. The process of creating a mask for the supplied image and how to apply atmospheric effects is handled very nicely.

Chapter 4 deals with the process of creating ringed planets, star fields and other celestial bodies. This chapter contains clear explanations too but I felt that the second larger planetary body with its ring system was quite unnecessary and not as well rendered as the first. Still, although weaker aesthetically, the process is handled well technically. The second image created in this chapter is better executed and works better as a final image.

In chapter 5, Burns takes us through two projects which make good use of Photoshop’s brushes. The first project creates a 3D environment through the use of Photoshop’s built-in perspective tool, animated brushes, adjustment layers, gradient masks and lighting effects. The second tutorial details the process of creating smoke and fire through the use of animated brushes, layers and motion blur effects. Although the image is well conceived technically, it is let down by a poor choice of source materials. The aircraft used in this example has lighting that is non-complimentary to the background image.

Chapter 5 details how to integrate 3D into your images to create Sci-Fi and FX based images. This chapter is again well presented with some very useful tips on how to integrate 3D objects and existing photographs to create fantastic new scenes. This chapter also reinforces and builds on many of the treatments and effects that have already been established in the previous chapters. Burns again calls on some creative plug-ins to augment the already powerful features found in Photoshop CS.

In my mind, two of the examples used in the last two chapters were the weakest aesthetically speaking. They were focused more on the technical process of creating compositions using people and although the four examples in Chapters 7 and 8 were well executed only the second examples in each were of any real interest artistically. Interestingly enough, the last example in chapter 8 details Burns' process of creating his own art. In this case, the tutorial recreates the book's cover art.

Photoshop CS Trickery and FX comes with a CD containing all of the files you will need to create the projects featured in the book. It also includes demo versions of Photoshop CS, Nik Color Efex Pro and Sharpener Pro. If you are beginner this book might require some experimentation. On the other hand, the tutorials are well written, easy to follow and make excellent reading.

Cons: I didn't like the execution of the animal morph tutorial and the first example in the People and Backgrounds chapter. The projects would have benefited from more carefully selected source images. More of Burns' personal creative work should have been featured in the book—his stuff is terrific.

Pros: Excellent tutorials, illustrations and info. Well written and researched. The examples dealing with Compositing Photographic Images were excellent. Easy to follow. Many of the tutorials lean more towards fantasy and science fiction-oriented projects, with many of the finished results looking as though they belong inside an illustrated graphic novel—excellent work. The book does a thorough job of teaching you how to create fantastic effects and also acts as a reference text for each method. The use of the additional plug-ins introduces some nice functionality to the core capabilities. The lessons are taught well. I found the book educational and thoroughly enjoyed the projects featured in it. Highly recommended.

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