I’ve been a fan of The Missing Manual series ever since I switched from Windows to a Mac in 2008 and needed a way to get up to speed on the Mac OS quickly. I bought a copy of The Missing Manual for the Mac OS and it did the trick in helping me finding my way around. Alas, it turned out the Mac was not for me, after all. A month later I was back to a PC. In any case, when I saw that there was a Missing Manual for Photoshop CS6 by Lesa Snider I was interested. I’ve been using Photoshop for a long time but there’s always more to learn, especially whenever there’s a new version out.
If you’ve been to the Photoshop help website lately you’ve probably noticed that Adobe is now partnering with outside people & companies to provide documentation. In fact, the official Adobe documentation for Photoshop CS6 is pretty sketchy at the time of this writing. As of June 14, 2012 a note on the website says that a CS6 Help PDF will be available in June. The documentation provided by partners is generally well-done but it feels a bit scattered compared with the availability of a single downloadable, searchable PDF. So, if you’ve got a shiny new copy of Photoshop CS6 and you’re looking for quick answers a book like The Missing Manual could be welcome.
Part One: The Basics
Photoshop CS6 Guided Tour
Opening, Viewing and Saving Files
Layers: The Key to Nondestructive Editing
Selections: Choosing What to Edit
Part Two: Editing Images
Controlling Color with Channels
Cropping, Resizing and Rotating
Draining, Changing and Adding Color
Correcting Color and Lighting
Changing Reality: Removing and Repositioning
The Art of Sharpening
Part Three: The Artistic Side of Photoshop
Painting in Photoshop
Drawing with the Vector Tools
Creating Artistic Text
The Wide World of Filters
Part Four: Printing and the Web
Photoshop and Print
Photoshop and the Web
Working Smarter with Actions
Beyond Photoshop: Plugins
Photoshop and Video
Using Adobe Bridge
As you can see in the Table of Contents in the sidebar the book covers a lot of ground. As an ebook, the PDF is 96 MB and, in print form, the book fills 862 pages. It includes plenty of full-color photos. The entries in the Table of Contents are clickable as are those in the index—a nice touch. Another nice thing about the ebook is that the links in the text, and there are lots of them throughout the book, are clickable.
There is a “Missing CD-ROM” web page where you can download individual image files which are listed by chapter. Of course, downloading individual files will get tedious if you want more than a few images so O’Reilly also offers a ZIP file containing all of the files for the book. Unfortunately, the images in the ZIP file aren’t organized into chapter folders so it can take a bit of searching to find the file for a specific example. And, as of this writing, some information on the Missing CD-ROM page is listed as “Coming soon.”
The book is very readable and explains things clearly. There are plenty of full-color photos to help illustrate concepts. The book has a friendly conversational tone, even going so far as to say things like “whole lotta” and abbreviating them to ’em. Here’s another example of the informal tone: “You can use the regular ol’ copy and paste commands to move whole or partial layers…” I wondered, “should I be subvocalizing in a Southern accent? Or was that Sarah Palin’s folksy voice I was hearing in the background?” Personally, ah wanna go on the recud as sayin’ ah reject the dumbin’ down of America.
The first part of the book, The Basics, starts out slow to get the Photoshop novice up to speed. It’s probably a smart move on the author’s part to point out, early on, “The Power of Undo” along with the History Panel, the History Brush and the Revert Command.
While in The Basics section I checked out the chapter on layers as they are an essential element of Photoshop and it’s important for any user to be able to understand them and use them to advantage. I found that the chapter contains a good introduction to all the important features of layers. And, even in the Basics section there are sidebars like the “Power Users’ Clinic” in which keyboard shortcuts for activating and moving layers are covered. And while in this chapter I found a gap in my own knowledge with respect to fill layers. In the past, if I wanted to fill a layer with a color I would just hit Ctrl+A to select all and then Alt-Backspace or Ctrl-Backspace to fill with the foreground or background color, respectively. That works fine—unless you later need to increase the canvas size. In that case, you need to repeat the process. However, by creating a fill layer instead of a regular layer you don’t have that problem. And, you can even use a gradient instead of a solid fill and the gradient will resize along with your canvas.
So much for the basics. But what if you’re not a Photoshop newbie? What if you’re looking for info on the new CS6 features for example? I’m happy to report that coverage of all the new features is here, as expected from the book’s title.
What if you’re looking for explanations of more advanced features, like, say, Apply Image? Apply Image is one of those more obscure features that I’ve been curious about. What have I been missing by not using it? The answer is on p. 214.
How does the book stack up as a reference manual? I’ve found it to be excellent as a reference with lots of good details. However, one thing that was slightly disappointing is the lack of a separate chapter on Camera RAW. Camera RAW is covered—it’s just that the coverage is spread out in various places throughout the book. Fortunately, there is an index and all the material related to Camera RAW can be quickly located using it.
So, is this really “The Missing Manual” for Photoshop CS6? I’d have to say my answer is pretty much yes. Even though there’s a ton of information about Photoshop on the web sometimes the challenge is getting a specific question answered quickly. A book like this can be a big help in getting quick, authoritative answers. And if you don’t have a specific question, pick out just about any topic of interest and follow along to deepen your knowledge of Photoshop.
And author Lesa Snider provides both context and background which goes beyond simply providing instructions in what buttons to push. She often explains how and why you would want to use the features in question. For example, in the section on the Brush tool, there’s an example on how to use the crosshatch tool to create a sparkling effect. Throughout the book there’s plenty of such practical information; e.g., in chapter 10 we learn how to whiten teeth, how to fix flabby chins, and streamline unwanted bulges, among other portrait retouching tips.
Anther example of the big picture approach is a sidebar on Corel Painter which provides an idea of how that program complements Photoshop and when or whether it might be a better choice. There’s even a chapter on plugins including popular filters from companies like Nik Software, onOne Software, and Alien Skin Software. However, this chapter is little more than a listing of plugins and doesn’t offer much advice on the relative pros and cons of competing plugins.
All in all, though, I’m pretty impressed with Photoshop CS6: The Missing Manual. The book is well written and is packed full of useful information. Even when Adobe eventually updates their websute with a downloadable PDF of the help file this Missing Manual book will have lots to offer beyond what the PDF provides. I’m sure I’ll be referring to my copy of the Photoshop CS6: The Missing Manual regularly.
Full Disclosure: I received a free copy of the ebook of Photoshop CS6: The Missing Manual from the publisher.