|The Adobe Photoshop Elements Crafts Book|
Crafts is a small book, and will not appear overwhelming to casual computer users. At 156 pages, its 17 chapters range from six to 15 pages each. The book can be divided into two general sections. In the first section, comprising chapters one through three, Bulger introduces Photoshop Elements and progressively works through image manipulation from opening files to selecting and editing portions of images. These chapters can be skimmed or skipped by those users familiar with the majority of tools and commands in the many flavors of Photoshop. For the uninitiated, which will probably be most of Bulger's target audience, these chapters provide an important foundation to completing the projects later in the book. In the first of these, "Photoshop Elements Basics," the author starts by discussing the Toolbox and provides a nice full-page reference that clearly labels each tool. This comes in handy for beginners later on when Bulger instructs readers to use particular tools. However, she is careful to include the Toolbox icon along with each command she uses during the projects, so readers should be able to reference this page less and less as they move through the book. In addition to the different dialogue boxes discussed here (Palettes, Options bar, Photo Bin), Bulger also spends a little time explaining different image file formats and a summary of image resolution basics. It should be noted, however, that these are BASIC explanations. She attempts to give just enough information to get an inexperienced user moving.
In "Working with Layers" the reader is introduced to what can be a frustrating subject for Adobe beginners. Bulger does a nice job of working through the process of layer manipulation by using, you guessed it, a pizza as an example. Unfortunately, what would normally be an important introduction to the topic is marred by the fact that Bulger fails to adequately explain how to obtain the sample image (no disc is included with the book). Her only mention of it is "If you want to use this pizza image to learn how to work with layers," (and if I'm a beginner following the book, I do want the image, "you can download it from www.photoshopcrafts.com Web site." But for readers only vaguely familiar with using computers to do image work (i.e. some soccer moms or grandparents) this may be too little information to get the image. Even worse, those users who do visit the site and click on the pizza image thumbnail are presented with a JPEG file. No PSD file is available, and using the JPEG file prevents readers from following the chapter because no layers are available.
The final introductory chapter tackles another challenging subject for beginners, the many selection tools found in Photoshop Elements. This chapter feels like a good refresher for someone who is only moderately familiar with the differences between the different lasso selection tools. Again, however, Bulger may confuse her target audience by using terms without explanation. When showing readers the Inverse Selection function, she uses the term "ghosting." For experienced users this does not give pause for thought, but since these first three chapters are primarily for users with little experience, readers may be confused by the term. No glossary is included, but by using the Index the term "ghosting" can be found over seventy pages later. Oddly, it is this later entry where Bulger gives a good explanation of the term. While insignificant in itself, small errors like this do prevent inexperienced users from building confidence with the software prior to beginning the projects.
Of course, The Adobe Photoshop Elements Crafts Book is not primarily an introduction to Elements in general but instead is meant to allow users of varying levels to jump right in and start being creative. This is where the book becomes interesting. Creating Gingham giftboxes, garden journals, aprons, placemats, pillows, and Parisian tiles are some of the projects covered. In this review I have worked through creating the Travel Photo CD cover (because of personal need and lack of workspace to varnish or paint...), but every project chapter follows the same format. The introductory page of each project chapter has a picture whatever the reader will create and a summary of the skills that will be used to make it. A list of "Stuff You Will Need" is given next, and then each page of the chapter is divided into two columns, the left for photos of each step and the right for explanations on how to move along. The photos are crisp, and whenever they display a menu option a red circle surrounds where to click. This works well for those more inclined to see things done rather than read them.
Working through the Travel CD cover project, a few problems cropped up. First, the book is targeted at Elements 4.0, and for users of older versions (I have 2.0) the placement of commands and general variation is different enough to cause confusion. In addition, many of the steps do not clearly articulate what should be occurring on screen. This is where the nice images really come in handy. The greatest complaint, however, is that each step does a fair enough job of telling the reader what to do, but lacks any real explanation of why to do it. A beginner will have trouble transferring the specific steps in one project to their own creations (speaking to Photoshop commands here, not generalities like creating a tile).
Ultimately, The Adobe Photoshop Elements Crafts Book is a slick, well designed book with interesting projects. It is weakened from a lack of clarity and minimal explanations of why? that would greatly increase its utility in transferring the lessons to other ventures. It is a book well-suited to someone who already has a basic understanding of the Photoshop family, but perhaps one that may be a little unclear for real beginners. It will definitely appeal to readers with an independent spirit for creating or personalizing their surroundings."
You can purchase The Adobe Photoshop Elements Crafts Book from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.