Scott Kelby’s 7-Point System for Adobe Photoshop CS3
by Scott Kelby
ISBN 978-0-321-50192-9, 239 pages
US$49.99, CN $56.99, UK £29.99
Since last Summer I have increased my use of Photoshop CS2 and now CS3 on nearly a weekly basis. Much of the reason is because of the work I do as a wedding photographer, and the other reason because of my goal to take my Photoshop skills to an advanced level. In the last few years, I’ve taken a class on Photoshop basics and I have fumbled around with its buttons and tools until I’ve gotten selected photos to look better than the original version. My current skills are largely based on what I’ve learned from reading and using Scott Kelby’s numerous books and some useful Photoshop tutorial websites. But while I aced the Intro to Photoshop class and can easily follow almost any good tutorial, I have yet to develop a strong workflow in Photoshop whereby I can look at a photo and know step-by-step how to make it better.
So in this regard, Scott Kelby’s 7-Point for Adobe Photoshop CS3 couldn’t come a better time. While I do most of my photo processing work in Apple’s Aperture 1.5, an image processing and management program, I still think Photoshop CS3 enhances photos in ways that Aperture or Adobe Lightroom alone can’t do, and I think Kelby would agree. Kelby’s 7-point system is all about building a solid workflow for processing and enhancing digital photos using Photoshop and Adobe Camera Raw. Though he’s written equally excellent books on Adobe Lightroom (a digital management and processing program similar to Aperture 1.5), he guides readers back to the grandaddy of image editing and enhancement, Adobe Photoshop.
The objective of the book is to address how most people learn any skill: through constant practice and repetition. Good teachers know that if they want their students to learn and take ownership of certain skills, they (teachers) must identify those skills and then scaffold lessons and activities in a way that makes the tools and process of using those skills understandable. Good teachers know that students can’t learn challenging skills simply by rote learning or one-time introductions. Students need to practice selected skills regularly and under different circumstances until they can take ownership of them.
Kelby uses this exact approach in his latest book. For Photoshop users like myself who have little or no problem reading and following the directions of a good Photoshop tutorial, all Kelby’s past best selling books are good for that. But how do you get beyond the tutorials? How do you take a photo and first ask, What needs to be improved? and second, What tools and strategies can I use to make the photo better?
Well, working in Photoshop on a regular basis and using tutorials can be very helpful for improving photos. But in order to master Photoshop, you have to develop a workflow—a way of processing photos using particular tools and strategies.
Now, I have admit, I’m writing this review with sort of a bias. I’m pretty much a virtual student of Scott Kelby and many of his cohorts including Matt Kloskowski, Dave Cross, and several instructors and writers for the Photoshop Users magazine. I have read and reviewed books on the subject of Photoshop use; I have attended two Photoshop Users Power seminars, recently joined NAAP (the National Association of Photoshop Professionals) and I download the almost weekly podcast, Photoshoptv, hosted by Kelby, Kloskowski, and Cross. In addition, I never miss an episode of Photoshop CS3 Killer Tips put together by Kloskowski.
So it’s difficult to not to like Kelby’s latest book. I’m three-fourths through the lessons, and I can honestly say that the first time as a Photoshop user, I’m learning a workflow to use the program. I know that sounds like radio or t.v. ad for the book, but there’s no other way of putting it.
With that said, if you’re a beginner with Photoshop, you probably will be frustrated with this book. But if you’re a serious or professional photographer, with intermediate knowledge of Photoshop, who wants to become an advance user of the program, then this book is for you.
Laid out in Kelby’s familiar and unique style of instructions, this book contains 21 lessons, each about 10-15 pages long, that teach you to use the 7-point system. The system involves making use of curves adjustment, shadow/highlight adjustments, painting with light, channel adjustments, layer blend modes and layer masks, and, finally, various sharpening techniques. Many of these tools will sound familiar to those who have used Photoshop on a regular basis and have followed some or several of Kelby’s tutorials in his previous best-selling books, especially his The Photoshop Channels Book.
First off, Kelby formats his lessons using his unique short concise step-by-instructions for processing the tutorial photos. Kelby seems to anticipate what readers need to know in order to learn what he is teaching. He doesn’t bury his instructions in several pages of long winded explanations. Each page is illustrated with excellent photos (nearly all taken by Kelby himself and available for download) and screen shots for each major step in the how-to process. Most of the images Kelby uses in this book are outdoor scenic photos. Oddly, there is not a lesson for photos taken in difficult mix lighting, such as an indoor portrait taken in a mix of ambient outdoor window light, room fluorescent light, with an external flash.
The challenge of this system is to know what tools and strategies to use. That’s why each lesson repeats one or more tools and skills that Kelby covers in the previous lesson. Kelby’s first lesson introduces you to an overview of the 7-point system, and then next 20 lessons add on and repeat new tools and skills. So as you work through to the middle of the book, you start anticipating what might need to be done next in the process.
As with his other books, the layout of this one provides lots of space to make notes, draw connections, and jot down questions. Kelby provides a “cheat sheet” of the 7-point system at the end of the book, so that when you come back and try to use the system on your own photos, you can review the cheat sheet to re-familiarize yourself with the system and tools.
This system, however, is not a set of Photoshop actions that you can just run on any image to make it come out better. And there are no sure fire set of tools that you apply to each and every photo you bring into the program. You have to make creative decisions about the kinds of corrections, changes, and enhancements you want to make to a particular image.
How I Worked Through the Program
As I’m work through the lessons, instead of just following the step-by-instructions, I try to figure out, for instance, the function of layer masks, or the purpose of the Lab mode and when to use it. I try to see exactly what effect certain tools has on image. With programs like Adobe Lightroom or Apple’s Aperture, it’s a little easier to develop a workflow process because the programs have more clearly revealed features and processes. That’s not so with Photoshop. You have to know where to find particular tools in order to use and apply them. Many Photoshop users, for example, shy away from using Curves and Levels adjustment features because these tools are not necessarily intuitive features in the program. But Kelby provides some very simple ways to use these tools in his 7-point system.
Next, using a tip I learned from Dave Cross, I suggest developing a set of 7-point system actions for working the lessons and beyond. Kelby presents three actions for sharpening photos, but Cross presented in one of his seminars the concept of One-click actions. These actions are based on Photoshop tools that you use repeatedly, but by turning them into actions could save you time in the process. For example I’ve built actions for flattening files, using the Lab color process, making a Snapshot history, putting an image back into RGB mode, and creating a Kelby style vignette. I put the actions panel in Button mode and just make the necessary clicks as I work through the lessons.
I also suggest that you don’t get impatient with the program. Though Kelby’s instructions are very clear, Photoshop, as any user knows, can have you pulling your hair out at times. You may have the opacity button set at 50% and not realize that’s why a certain layer mask is not working like you want. Or you may seek to make an accurate alignment with a selection tool, but the Auto-Select button is clicked, preventing you from doing so. You will also need to learn and use keyboard shortcuts because with this system you’ll be using many of the same menu items over and over.
You might also try reading and underlining the key instructions for a lesson before you sit in front of your computer and actually do it. Likewise, after you do a lesson, review it and your notes. Jot questions for concepts you still haven’t grasped. The goal is to get to mastery of the process, not just follow a set of instructions, for every photo is different and you’ll have to make personal creative choices about what needs to be done. Kelby does a pretty good job of explaining why he chose certain tools and strategies. He does this without breaking way from his step-by-step process; however, I do think a glossary of definitions about the tools he uses in the system would be helpful for further understanding tools and concepts. Many of the lessons simply read like a paint-by-numbers numbers approach.
I also suggest that it is better to start learning the system when you actually have time to work through the lessons from beginning to end. If you’re a beginning or intermediate Photoshop user, you will need to work through each lesson, not skipping one of them.
Another good approach to working through this book is to apply the system to your own images after you’ve completed one or two lessons. If you don’t do this, then the book and system will have fail you because you’re not taking ownership of the process. When I did this on one of my own photos, it actually helped me learn one of the concepts better because I didn’t have Kelby over my shoulder telling me exactly what to do, but I did have a few 7-point system concepts I learned to make some decisions about what to do.
Finally, I think some useful extensions could be developed as a result of this book. First off, it would make a great textbook for any beginning and intermediate Photoshop photography course. It would also be great if Kebly would set up some sort of a 7-System web site or workshop where participants are challenged to use the system on a photo that needs processing and then upload their results. The web site could also include a forum where readers could ask questions and exchange ideas and examples about how they’re using the system in their own work.
All in all, the 7-point system will no doubt help take many Photoshop users like myself to an advance level.