Focal Press

The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book, by Richard Lynch, ISBN: 978-0-240-52076-6, Review

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, February 2008
Published by:
Focal Press & Elsevier
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$39.95, UK£24.95
(CD-ROM included)

As the title suggests, this book is centered entirely on the use and capabilities of the immensely powerful and much-emulated Layers feature in Photoshop. Richard Lynch is an expert Photoshop user and a very capable artist, designer and photographer in his own right. His knowledge of all versions of the Photoshop series of software shines through in this highly detailed book. Taking a task-based approach, Lynch uses techniques which translate well through pretty much every version of Photoshop since CS.

Focal Press offers dozens of Photoshop titles covering digital photo editing techniques, creative imaging with Photoshop and creative design with Photoshop. The subject coverage in The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book is far more narrowly focused than other Focal Press titles however, and deals strictly with the powerful layers functions and creative possibilities with layers.

The Table of Contents is clear cut:
  • Introduction: The World of Image Layers
  • The Basics of Layers: Layer Functions and Creation
  • Layer Management: Concepts of a Layer-Based Workflow
  • Basic Object and Image Area Isolation
  • Masking: Enhanced Area Isolation
  • Applying Layer Effects
  • Exploring Layer Modes
  • Advanced Blending Modes
  • Breaking Out Components
  • Taking an Image Through the Process
  • Making Layered Collage and Composite Images
  • Epilogue: Using RAW in Your Layer Workflow
  • Considering Color Management: Testing Your Workflow

Lynch covers everything from layer types, work flows, blending methods and channels. Each tutorial goes into great detail on how to achieve your given task and also explains why particular tools are used and how. The only real problem is that all this detail tends to leave the expert user wanting to skip through the book.

Beginners (and even a few intermediate) Photoshop users, as well as people new to pixel-level creativity software, general image editing and photo editing deserve an explanation of layers. For the uninitiated then, here's an explanation of layers from Virtual Training Help Center "Layers are like transparencies stacked one on top of one another." Each layer can contain a different image, effect or modification which can stand out from, enhance or blend in with the contents of all the layers above and below it. When the layers are stacked, they appear as a single image.

Individual layers in a Photoshop image can be turned on or off, allowing images to be saved in various different states. Parts of one layer can be used to hide or reveal parts of another layer. The list of functional and creative possibilities for layers goes on and on, and remains one of several important reasons that Photoshop, relatively early in its existence, garnered such widespread use by graphic artists and photographers around the world.

Beginners still not clear? Here's another explanation, this one from "A layer is simply one image stacked on top of another. Imagine I have a piece of paper and I paint it red. Then I take a piece of clear cellophane and paint a yellow circle, and lay it over the paper. Now I take another peice of cellophane and paint some blue type and lay that on top of the yellow circle. I now have a background (red) and 2 layers (yellow and blue)."

The Photoshop Roadmap and FreeTimeFoto explain layers this way: "Photoshop Layers are like stacks of images printed on acetate. An area that contains no color can be revealed to see the layer underneath it. That's called a transparency area. One Photoshop image can contain one or more layers. A Background Layer is a special layer with no transparency area and is common to other file formats that don't support layers (JPEG, BMP, etc.). When you open those file formats in Photoshop you will have only a Background Layer. One image file can contain only one Background Layer. In Photoshop, Background Layer can not be edited. A Type Layer is a special layer that can contain only text. It can be created automatically when you use the Photoshop Type Tool to type in any texts."

This description is from Jack Arraich's Photoshop Elements Tips: "Aside from the minor attraction of being able to keep your image organized by putting each element on its own separate labeled layer, the overwhelming advantage of layers is that they allow you to segregate your edits."

The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book uses a series of creative examples to expand the basic definitions of layers in ways that clearly demonstrate the depth and power of this important and versatile tool set in Photoshop.

Even though The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book mainly confirms much of what I already know and use in my daily professional work with Photoshop, I still found some useful new nuggets of information in chapter 7 - Advance Blending with Blend If, which focuses on the use of the advanced capabilities provided in the Layer Styles dialog.

As a long time user of Photoshop I found myself often smiling at several of the example projects in The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book because they echoed things I have encountered on past projects. I was however left feeling that the examples used in the book needed a little fleshing out. I would like to have seen an example matrix-type approach with several different types of images featured to show a range of results, especially in the Exploring Layer Modes chapter.

Cons: Too general in some sections for experienced users. Although most parts of the layers coverage is comprehensive, deeper examples could improve an already fine book.

Pros: Excellent hints and tips. Comprehensive coverage of Photoshop layers for beginner and intermediate users. Lynch seems to do a good job of avoiding computer platform bias, so Windows and Mac OS X users alike will derive equal value from the book. Relevant for most recent versions of Photoshop including Photoshop CS, Photoshop CS2, Photoshop CS3, Photoshop Elements 5 and Photoshop Elements 6. This excellent, focused book and its companion CD will no doubt open the eyes of many beginners and intermediate users about the functional and creative capabilities of layers in Photoshop. Highly recommended.

Creative Photoshop - Digital Illustration and Art Techniques

Review by Mario Georgiou
Author: Derek Lea
Focal Press -
ISBN: 9780240520469
SRP: US$ 39.95 UK£22.99

Award winning illustrator Derek Lea has penned this excellent reference book for Focal Press. His illustration work is a unique combination of original photography, traditional illustration, and digital art. In Creative Photoshop, Derek uses his extensive experience with Photoshop to produce a series of tutorials which will give readers a nice balance of inspirational imagery and technical insight.

The book can be divided into four sections, the first which deals with traditional illustrative techniques such as drawing, painting and colouring. In this section Derek tackles the creation, definition and use of brushes, how to use Shapes and layers., emulating the look of graffiti and stencil art and how to trace photographic imagery to create illustrations. It also details several techniques for creating illustrations from sketches and retro art based stock. This section is completed by taking a look at colouring a comic based illustration.

The second section consists of coverage of unconventional illustrative techniques and methods. The first example uses thermal fax paper and a hairdryer to artificially age paper and also makes good use of scanned images and layering effects. The examples include the use of xerography, creating urban lowbrow art although a short section it provides some very cool solutions for creating effective and colourful imagery quickly.

The third section covers the creation of illustrative photography and includes one of his more famous tutorials which covers the blending of architectural source materials with a models face, to create a striking image. Subsequent examples provide solutions for emulating a 3D ribbon peel away effect, artificially ageing a portrait and creating a dark, moody and surrealistic image of a person peeling back their skin from a selection of different source materials. These images are a lot more complex than I have described, but you’ll just have to buy the book to see what I mean.

The fourth and final part covers the use of Photoshop in combination with other software. This primarily centers on the use and enhancement of 3D imagery. The last two chapters detail the use and editing of vector illustrations and details their use as elements in the creation of illustrations. My favourite chapter details the creation of a morphing pattern based upon the work of Max Ernst. All told Creative Photoshop is an excellent book from one of the best creatives in the industry.

Cons: Not for beginners.

Pros: Well written. Easy to follow. CD based tutorials and content. Creative and Imaginative.

Derek Lea succeeds with this excellent book, because he brings to bear his extensive practical experience with Photoshop and the other tools in his arsenal to create some very practical and creative solutions to tasks illustrators, imageers and designers will experience in their day to day work. Highly Recommended

Adobe Photoshop CS3 A-Z

Author: Phillip Andrews
Publisher: Focal Press
ISBN: 9780240520650
Price: US$29.95 - UK£17.99
As far as reference books for photoshop CS3 are concerned, Focal Press have been really busy the last few months. This book by Phillip Andrews isn't a tutorial book, it's a lavishly illustrated and in-depth reference which covers pretty much every feature in Photoshop CS3. It does a thorough job of explaining the use of all the tools and even begins with a very nice step by step section which I would have like to see more of... The rest of the book provides an excellent and easy reference for anyone who ever wanted a manual with Photoshop CS3. It is both comprehensive and extremely easy to follow. Highly Recommended

Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Photographers, by Martin Evening

Reviewed by: Mario Georgiou, September 2007
Published by: Focal Press
ISBN: 0-240-52028-9
Requires: N/A
MSRP: US$46.95, UK£29.95

Having reviewed previous editions of books in this series from excellent photographer, Martin Evening, I had come to expect very high standards from this latest in the "... for Photographers" series. Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Photographers doesn't disappoint. Taking you through CS3 in color coded and well formatted sections, it provides an easy-to-follow, in-depth and knowledgeable reference for even the most well-versed digital photographers and imageers.

The book has been rewritten from scratch since the CS2-based edition. Evening does a good job of covering everything that's new in Adobe Photoshop CS3 compared to previous versions of Photoshop, while also looking into the essential features for any imageer and photographer. Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Photographers is firmly positioned as a reference work for the professional Photoshop CS3 user whose main area of work is related to digital photography. The absence throughout the book of any platform bias is also nice, so you'll find almost equal attention paid to both Mac and Windows key bindings and other information.

Each of the 15 chapters takes you through its chosen subject matter from the basics through to more advanced features and applications. Chapters 1-3 are an introduction to the new features and differences that appear in Adobe Photoshop CS3 along with a look at the changes in the user interface. They also feature a look at the basic tool sets and how to use them, which includes a look at Adobe Bridge, drawing tools and some of the basic methods of working with images.

Chapters 4, 5 & 6 look into the process of making adjustments and corrections to images as well as the acquisition of images through Camera RAW and Bridge. They continue with a look at the process of making fine adjustments and image corrections using the healing brush and other tools as well as adjustment layers and layer masks.

Chapters 7 and 8 deal with image retouching and methods of using the tools in CS3 for further enhancing images using layers, cloning and brushes. Layers, Selections and Masks are amongst the most useful and powerful of features in Photoshop and are actually well deserving of an entire book dedicated just to them. One of the most useful examples provided is one where the author has used a sequence of shots of the same scene to remove unwanted people by using the automatic alignment and image stack capabilities. The extraction of image elements using a variety of tools is also quite thoroughly covered and to great effect.

Chapter 9 takes a look at replicating traditional darkroom effects in CS3. Effects such as Solarization, Split toning, black & white from color, duo-tones, infrared emulation, cross processing, and the use of gradient maps. Chapter 10 takes a closer general look at the use of Photoshop's built in filter to further enhance your images.

Chapters 11 and 12 explain many of the intricacies of image and color management. While the former is handled largely through the use of Bridge, the latter is a bit trickier. Although color management can be handled to some extent using software, the use of hardware based calibrators can augment this substantially.

Chapters 13 and 14 continue with a look at the world of output with printing and web-based output both considered in some detail. In the former the different factors affecting the accuracy and longevity of your photographic prints are considered along with calibration and configuration. In the latter the web capabilities of Photoshop CS3 are covered with attention paid to file optimization and types, watermarking and gallery creation.

Chapter 15 completes the book with a look at the powerful automation capabilities built into Photoshop CS3, with coverage of actions, droplets and some of the plug-ins and scripts that come with Photoshop CS3.

Although an excellent and fairly comprehensive title, This volume does suffer due to a timing issue, it doesn't cover the excellent Adobe Capture Raw (ACR) 4.1 update, which was released after the book was published. However, there is an update on the website.

Cons: No coverage of ACR 4.1

Pros: Excellent Layout and information. Comprehensive and with no platform bias. This excellent, well-formatted book and its companion DVD containing video tutorials and extra chapters, serve both amateur and professional digital photographers, imageers and graphic artists. It is highly recommended and a must-have for your reference library.

Focal Press Announce A Bevy of PS CS3 & Lightroom Books

Focal Press have announce the release of several titles that are dedicated to the latest incarnation of Photoshop, CS3 and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

First up is Martin Evenings, Adobe Photoshop CS3 for Photographers. Which has been rewritten and completely reworked from the ground up.
As a professional photographer his book reflects the latest insight into how to get the best out of Photoshop CS3 as part of a photographic workflow. No other book puts the photographer first in this way. It's packed full of all the latest features and instructive info on key elements from configuring to automating Photoshop, to save valuable time which photographers can then spend taking images. Martin Evening passes on his famous techniques and professional experience in this commanding and authoritative, best-selling resource.

Coming this month are: How to Cheat in Photoshop CS3 by master of satirical montage, Steve Caplin, Photoshop for Video by Richard Harrington, plus Mark Galer and Philip Andrews' Photoshop CS3 Essential Skills.

In July…. Philip Andrew's Adobe Photoshop CS3 A-Z and in August… Derek Lea's Creative Photoshop: Digital Illustration and Art Techniques, covering Photoshop CS3, plus Black and White in Photoshop CS3 and Photoshop Lightroom by Leslie Alsheimer, and How to Cheat in Adobe Flash CS3 by artist and animator, Chris Georgenes.

Then in September, Richard Lynch The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book: Harnessing Photoshop's Most Powerful Tool, covering Photoshop CS3, and finally Producing Flash CS3 Video by award winning designer John Skidgel.

Should be plenty of info there to keep even the most experienced of us happy.