Three Photoshop Elements Book Reviews

Three Photoshop Elements books

Bad Pics Fixed Quick
Michael Miller

ISBN 0789732092
240 pages
US $24.99

Adobe Photoshop Elements 3: 50 Ways to Create Cool Pictures
Dave Huss
Adobe Press

ISBN 0735714150
360 pages
US $29.99

The Photoshop Elements 3 Book for Digital Photographers
By Scott Kelby
New Riders/Peachpit

ISBN 0321269055
456 pages
US $34.99

With the recent release of Adobe Photoshop Elements 3, the floodgates of new books devoted to the new version have opened. In just one week, three different books arrived at the Weeks branch of the book review division.

While this review is about new Elements 3 books, and not the software itself, rest assured that Elements 3 is a very worthwhile purchase. While the new program (no upgrade available) lists at $99, it can be found for as little as $49, after rebates. Each new release of Elements brings you closer to the functionality of Elements’ big brother, Photoshop CS. Make no mistake, even though Elements is perceived as consumer software, it’s got enough tools and capabilities for many supposedly professional techniques.

The market for “how-to” instruction book on powerful graphics software is endless. Having a toolbox full of exotic tools you don’t know how to use is worse than having just your trusty hammer, screwdriver, and pliers. Any Elements book worth the paper it’s printed on will give you a firm grounding in the use of all the basic commands and filters. The best books are those that explain the whys and wherefores, as well as presenting the “choose this tool, then click here” approach.

With more digital cameras being sold each day, those new owners need to know how to edit their potentially Pulitzer Prize-winning photos of Uncle Junior and the kids at the beach. But some budding photo-journalists prefer the cookbook approach, while others want more detailed explanations behind the steps themselves, and the geeky remainder revel in complex multi-step procedures.

The three Elements books reviewed here cover the gamut from newbie to advanced intermediate Elements user.

Let’s first look at Bad Pics Fixed Quick (BPFQ for short!). Author Michael Miller has targeted the casual photographer who wants to fix the most common photo problems with easy-to-use procedures. While you’re not going to win any graphic design awards with the knowledge you’ll have after reading this book, you’ll be comfortable getting the red-eye out of that snapshot of Aunt Minnie. Miller walks you through fixing general picture problems with a comfortable writing style. Jargon is avoided if at all possible, and Miller mostly succeeds. More complex techniques involving layers are not emphasized, although some easier layer techniques do get a few pages.

Miller groups his fix-up techniques into four groups: Pictures too big or too small, General picture problems, Fixing otherwise perfect pictures of imperfect people, and How to fix really bad pictures. I found this approach logical, and could usually find the technique I was searching for without much trouble.

While some of the lessons in BPFQ build step-by-step on previously learned material, most techniques will stand by themselves. You’ll not need to read the book from cover to cover, as you can usually jump right in to almost any fix-up technique without feeling lost or left behind.

While I was very impressed with the many, easy-to-use techniques, writing style, and Miller’s focus on “how to get the job done quickly”, I was put off by the graphic design of the book itself. Even though BPFQ is targeted as the new user, the graphic design seems to assume that the new user has no graphic design sense. The page margins are littered with graphics that scream “UGLY.” Many pages are overly full with text, screenshots and sidebars, thus making it hard for the reader’s eye to flow logically down the page.

Cavils aside, I enjoyed reading this book, and I did so from cover to cover. Even though I’m not a newbie, I learned plenty of useful techniques. Once you get past the sidebar icons (a picture of a kid on a skateboard signifies a tip…?) and sometimes cramped page layout, you’ll do well with Bad Pics Fixed Quick.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 3: 50 Ways to Create Cool Pictures is written for a more intermediate level audience. Dave Huss covers the same basic fix-up techniques, but he also spends time detailing more complex alternative techniques that provide better results. Many readers won’t care to take the time to learn the multi-step procedures, but if you do, you’ll be well on your way to becoming the Elements geek your mother always wanted you to be.

Understanding layers is the key to cracking the Elements 3 code. Huss breaks you in slowly, providing a good explanation of what layers are, and why they’re so important. The first examples using layers are fairly easy, and even I, a graphics-impaired word-processor junkie, could follow the steps.

50 Ways covers the fundamentals of printing digital photos; understanding the relationship between image resolution, camera megapixels, display pixels per inch, and your printer. While this topic could cover dozens of pages, Huss covers enough to get the main points across. This is something that Bad Pics Fixed Quick could have benefited from.

If you’re one of the lucky digital camera owners whose camera can shoot photos using the RAW format, but don’t know what RAW will do for you, 50 ways will begin the education process. Huss explains that RAW is a file format that doesn’t use any in-camera image processing, thus allowing you to work with the data as captured by the sensor. There are some pros and cons to the RAW format, but you’ll come away with enough understanding to know if you like to explore the RAW format. If so, you’ll want to get a more advanced book, as 50 Ways just scratches the surface of this complex topic.

50 Ways’ production values are good. It has a professional look and feel, without the folksier approach that Bad Pics takes. The page layout is less cramped than BPFQ, and your eye flows down the page more easily.

50 Ways is a fine book for someone who wants to get a bit further into the innards of Elements 3, without getting in over their head.

Scott Kelby has been writing Photoshop books for almost as long as there’s been a Photoshop program. He’s done boat-anchor compendiums, as well as shorter, more topical works. Kelby knows how to teach virtually any feature to any audience.

Kelby’s Photoshop Elements 3 Book for Digital Photographers (E3 for DP) is targeted at the intermediate user who may aspire to being an advanced user. Kelby discusses all the single-step procedures using the Elements’ built-in filters and commands, but he spends more time than does Miller or Huss with more advanced, multi-step procedures. Layers get more attention here than in BPFQ or 50 Ways. If you learn what Kelby presents (and presents well), you’ll have a solid grasp of layer fundamentals.

Be forwarned that Kelby’s book is Windows-centric, unlike the other two. Even so, I wouldn’t let this theoretical restriction keep me from buying this book. Apart from the fact that the Photo Organizer unfortunately is not present in the Mac version, almost all of Kelby’s hints and techniques will work. Adobe has done a creditable job of programming cross-platform equivalency into Elements 3.

E3 for DP has the best production values of all three books reviewed here. The layout is sophisticated and eye-catching, making it easy to follow the various techniques without having your eye be pulled hither and yon.

E3 for DP spends a small amount of space on some of the less-well known Elements 3 features: PDF slideshows, picture packages, and creating Web photo pages. It’s nice to have info that helps justify the $34.99 price for the highest of all three books reviewed here.


All three books are worthwhile.

Bad Pics Fixed Quick, while saddled with sub-standard layout and graphics has much to offer the newcomer to digital photo editing who does not want to learn more than the basics. rating 3.5 out of 5

Adobe Photoshop Elements 3: 50 Ways to Create Cool Pictures is a fine middle of the road book that will launch you past the beginner stage, while not swamping you with complexity. rating 4 out of 5

The Photoshop Elements 3 Book for Digital Photographers. This work will have you solidly in the intermediate stage, and have you knocking on the door of advanced work. The best produced book of the three, you’ll need a long time to outgrow the techniques learned here. rating 4 out of 5

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