By John Ruttenberg
I've just finished beta reading Dan Margulis' Professional Photoshop, 5th edition
. You can now preorder this from Amazon
. The scheduled publication date is December 7.
This is a book about how to make photographs look better and more believable. In fact, I'd say it's the
most authoritative work on the topic in existence. Scott Kilby calls Dan "the father of digital prepress". The National Association of Photoshop Professionals cites him as, "the most influential voice in color reproduction." Learn what Dan has to teach and you'll take a big step in the direction of producing more professional looking work.
For those unfamiliar with Dan's work, reading this book is no small undertaking. Dan makes demands on his readers quite unlike other Photoshop authors. There are powerful recipes here, as there have always been in Dan's books. But there is much more for those willing to expend the effort: a deep understanding of what the recipes do and why and when they are appropriate. Absorbed at that level, the case studies in the book lead to a kind of mastery that transcends any collection of recipes. The recipes and workflow are an outgrowth of a coherent theory. Learn this and you'll be able to recreate Dan's techniques without memorizing them and be able to shape your own new techniques as needed. Andy has described Dan's books as "making your eyes bleed". I'd say that "making your head explode" is a more accurate description of the reward for the diligent reader. In compensation for the difficulty of his topic and approach, Dan has a wonderfully lucid, learned, humorous, and entertaining writing style, which makes the prospect of an inevitable second reading much more palatable.
For those already familiar with Professional Photoshop, this is a major rewrite from the 4th edition. Dan says it's 90% new. As is often the case with his claims, he has the data to back this one up. There are 142 base images in the new book, and 126 of these weren't in the previous edition. The text seems at least as fresh.
There are entire areas here that weren't covered in the 4th edition. For example, there is a chapter about converting raw images with Adobe Camera Raw. There is an explanation of the shadow/highlight adjustment which didn't exist at the time the 4th edition was published. This last exists in a broader context of moves for improving shadow and highlight detail and making the best of the gamut available (for whatever output device.)
Familiar topics get new treatment and more subtle approaches. There are now two chapters devoted to sharpening, a sensible explanation of how conventional USM differs from HIRALOAM (high radius low amount) sharpening, some guidelines for thinking about how each kind of sharpening helps particular kinds of images, and a new framework for combining the two techniques in the same image.
RGB techniques, particularly curves are now given greater emphasis. In previous editions CMYK curves were the first, primary tool. Now Dan starts with RGB curves, but quickly makes the connection between CMYK and RGB and strongly makes the case that mastery of all three color spaces (RGB, CMYK, and LAB) is necessary in order to be able to get the best from each image.
Dan doesn't shy away from controversial topics, but when he enters battle he is always well armed. For example, he doesn't think much of automated color management which aims to calibrate monitors to each other and to printers (and presses) by way of spectrometers. He shuns the use of many of Adobe Camera Raw's features. He famously denies that there is much advantage in 16 bit mode. He explains why very little is lost in sRGB or even CMYK vs color spaces with wider gamuts. In every case, his reasoning and experience throw light on the subject and result in practical insights. You might not agree completely with all his controversial opinions, but you ignore them and his reasoning at peril of confusion and misunderstanding.
OK, so I loved this book. But not all of it is useful for photographers as opposed to people who deal with commercial 4 color offset presses. This latter topic is big and important and, once you get your head screwed on just so, pretty entertaining. Just think about all those great looking images you've seen in print, in magazines, in coffee table books. Now think about the issues involved. These days, the lowliest photo inkjet printer has a wider gamut and more resolution. The image will be viewed under many different color lights. Even the most expensive book will be printed on less expensive paper than we commonly use for inkjets. And for those of us who are used to viewing our images on computer screens, well, it would seem that 4 color offset presses are very limited. Yet, we all know that images can look beautiful in books and magazines. How is this accomplished? Dan gives is a view into the nuts and bolts. In fact, Dan is partial to CMYK as a final color space for his image. I've taken a few of his classes and he required that each image end up in CMYK. Partly this is because it's the most challenging requirement. But it also is a requirement of professionals that their work can go into high volume commercial printing.
As you might expect, Dan doesn't shy away here from using LAB techniques, but this is a companion book to Photoshop LAB
and does not replace it. Dan emphasizes techniques in the other color spaces. But when the workflow calls for a trip to LAB, Dan makes it. Every image has 10 channels
is truer of Dan's approach than ever before. It's a joy to watch Dan's mastery as an image moves through RGB luminosity blending, into LAB for color correction and sharpening, and finally into CMYK for shadow improvements. Or whatever.
Dan has no single fixed workflow for all images. He offers a very full toolbox of techniques, ideas, and ways to think about color correction. He exposes us to his reasoning about how to approach a wide variety different images with different issues. In the last chapter he offers some guidelines about how to shape your workflow to work best with particular images.
I don't want to steal Dan's thunder by outlining too much of what he has to say in his new book. Suffice to say that Dan's fans will have a great time with this book. Newcomers should find it easier than previous editions if only because it starts with an RGB orientation. I'm finding that I can get better results now from a wider array of images than before I read it. I'm still rethinking my old workflows and ideas in light of this new knowledge. And I'm very much looking forward to reading it a second time when it's published.
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