Author: Harold & Phyllis Davis
Publisher: Focal Press, 2011
Aimed at: Photographers who approve of Photoshop
Pros: Enjoyable read, practical techniques
Cons: Occasionally over done.
Reviewed by: David Conrad
How do you Photoshop a picture to produce something better? Is it a skill that can be taught.
I have to admit that I missed the first volume of this "how to" mini-series but it doesn't really matter because this second bite at the cherry is self-contained. Before going on to the review it is worth saying that there are two distinct approaches to digital photography.
The first is that it is just as much a recorder of reality as film photography ever was and you should minimize editing. The concept of the "digital negative" rules in this area of the woods and the idea is that you should go from the RAW file to the finished "print" only performing the corrections which are needed to restore any fidelity that was lost by imperfections in the imaging process - with perhaps a little creative gilding of the lilly as long as it is roughly equivalent to what could have been achieved in the "real" darkroom.
The second is that this is a new world and new values count. Take a picture, put it into PhotoShop and do what you will. This is more the view of photography as art or at least as something completely plastic and with no responsibility to conform to reality - of any sort.
If you fall into the first group and think that photography has much to do with reality then don't, whatever you do, buy a copy of this book. If you do then you will be horrified to learn what trickery can be performed and that it is actually encouraged.
The book is chaotic in more ways than one. It tackles a range of problems with photographs in no particular order thought there is a sort of progress as pass through the book with techniques being reused. The layout is best described as "free form". There are lots of examples of photos both before and after processing and lots of small boxes telling you additional information.
The first big project is to deal with an underexposed image that has two unwanted intrusions into its frame. The under exposure is dealt with using brightness adjusted layers manually merged into the original to lift the shadows without burning out the highlights. Then the clone tool is used to remove a pair of feet and a tripod leg that got into the shot. While the methods described will do the job there are arguably better methods Photoshop that will get the job done quicker and more accurately. The descriptions are also light on theory which might be a plus point for some readers. Unfortunately without a little theory it can be difficult to see what you are doing and how it might be generalized or improved upon.
Next the book deals with a set of fairly standard techniques - desaturation, blending and so on. Then we tackle the improvement of a glamour shot. The techniques are again simple enough - layers to modify the tone curve and blend tools to remove skin and image imperfections. All fairly obvious but to my eye the end result looks over done. The soft focus effect looks like heavily applied makeup and not at all natural.
The next section of the book is called "Making the Unseen Visible" and was for me the best part. It deals with interesting ways of capturing difficult images - a flower photographed using a lightbox as a backlight; manual HDR photography created using manually composed stacked layers and so on. I was less impressed by the fake star trails added to an image but I was impressed by the real thing! The "world in a shadow" trick was also nice as were a few of the other tricks - but note I use the work "trick" repeatedly. These aren't techniques that you could use many times without boring the viewer.
The final part of the book "Building the Impossible" lets go of any attempt to be faithful to reality. Here we have a collection of techniques that put images together into new images and collages that are closer to painting than photography. At this point I can't help but think that if you want to create such free form art why not just paint? But photography has a wide remit and the creation of original art works by distorting and compositing is valid.
Even so this is book is more likely to appeal to the frustrated artist than the aspiring photographer. The point being that many of retouching exercises could have been avoided by taking a better photo in the first place.
I enjoyed reading this book, even though quite often I was annoyed by it. I think that it is possible to explain some of the techniques being used as general principles. For example, there are many ways to modify the tonal range of an incorrectly exposed image and not just by using layers to combine tone corrected images. The same idea is applied to the creation of manual HDR images but again the principle isn't explained very well. There is also the fact that I'm not at all sure that there aren't better ways of achieving the same end products - I know that I do many of the corrections using alternative tools but who aim I to say which is best.
At the end of the day I guess it comes down to the pictures. If you flip though the book you will see some stunning images but if you push the techniques too far the result is more like a poke in the eye. Perhaps the authors should consider including some "I've gone too far" shots just to show how it shouldn't be done. To answer the question at the start of the review - yes Photoshop retouching can be taught, but the aesthetic sense to apply it effectively probably cannot.
As long as you haven't already read too many books on using Photoshop to retouch images and you aspire to be artistic then this volume is highly recommended as a lot of fun.