February 12, 2008

Mikkel Aaland's Photoshop CS3 RAW

The outstanding thing to note about Mikkel Aaland's book Photoshop CS3 Raw: Get the Most Out of the Raw Format with Adobe Photoshop, Camera Raw, and Bridge is that is organized very systematically. Instead of providing a breathless description of everything you can do with the software, Aaland focuses on why you would do something and how to do it. Its an effort that is fun to read and easy to reference.

Each page in the book has two-thirds of its horizontal are dedicated to screen shots and pictures. Often, menus and tabs are broken out and overlaid on the images to explain procedural instructions. A third of the same page is devoted to text. The text and pictures are lined up really well so that you don't have to endure a lot of flipping back and forth.

Sometimes this layout leaves little space for some detail that would be enlightening. But in keeping with the spirit of the book, Aaland applies the same level of consistency to the amount of information he provides - which focuses on the digital photography instead of digital processing or photography itself.

The first chapter contains a really neat, concise explanation of what RAW files. A highlight of this is that Aaland dissects the pros and cons of using RAW files in a very practical way - concluding that both RAW and JPEG has a place in the lives of a professional photographer (and even provides some nifty examples). This really drew me into the book. I also liked Aaland's segue on how to use a color target in a quick and dirty way to level set your camera's color processing.

Chapter two shows you how to use Adobe Downloader to grab pictures from camera to computer. Chapter three shows you to organize them using Adobe Bridge. This chapter also contains a nice explanation of picture metadata and why it is important (for example for checking exposure which Photoshop doesn't have a tool for). Aaland then shows you how the basic workflow of editing a photoshoot in RAW.

Aaland also quickly runs through the options (space, depth, size, resolution) and tools (navigation, zoom, hand, white balance, color sampler, crop, straighten, retouch, image orientation) in Photoshop for processing RAW files. This is mainly a feature walkthrough, but Aaland does digress occasionally to offer insights (such as using the crop tool to create a panorama).

Later you learn how to distribute tone across a picture. Aaland explains how to interpret the color histogram, pick a suitable color space, map tone and how to adjust clarity, saturation and hue. Each topic covered contains material on why each setting is important. Although it doesn't dig into the details of how Photoshop applies the effects to each picture, there is just enough explanation to make you savvy about using these settings.

My favorite chapter was Chapter 8 on Sharpening where Aaland starts off with an excellent discussion of how Photoshop sharpens images. (A lot of the textual material here is reused from the Lightroom Adventure book.)

Finally there is a really useful chapter on how to convert RAW files to black and white. Aaland shows the simple conversion process from color to grayscale but then adds a number of useful lessons, among them: how to use the color sliders to darken or lighten certain areas of the grayscale image, how to add special effects like grainy film and cross-processing.