Category Archives: Reviews

REVIEW: Adobe Acrobat XI

Adobe is promoting Acrobat XI as a productivity enhancer for a variety of markets:

  • Increased editability and cloud service integration for business professionals
  • Integration with Microsoft Office and SharePoint, and increased efficiency for IT departments
  • Much easier text and image editability for content creators and designers
  • Security measures and PDF protection is now easier to apply, for data security personnel

One new feature in Acrobat XI is a complete sea change from previous versions and something I personally would never have expected to see—full PDF editability. From the reviewer’s guide: “Professionals frequently need to edit content from existing PDF files without wasting precious time locating and revising source files.” This is very true. As a designer, I’ve asked for native files a hundred times from clients who delivered PDF files and then needed changes (and didn’t want to pay the original designer). There have always been tools to make PDF edits and Acrobat has had ways to revise certain elements such as images, but the PDF format has never been conducive to editing. That has changed in Acrobat XI.

Edit Image

Edit Text

This new editability is handled by the new Edit Text and Images tool. When it’s active, text and image elements can be scaled, rotated and edited. Text will usually reflow during editing, which cures a major pain point for designers editing PDFs. Images can still be sent to Photoshop or Illustrator and back again. And you can execute find/replace commands to make text changes across an entire PDF. Acrobat XI’s new editing tools are an improvement but I see some problems with it:

  • PDF pages are treated as individual documents, so changes on one page will not cause text to reflow across pages. In fact, if you add enough text to a block on the bottom of a page, it will flow beneath the next page.
  • Acrobat XI segments a PDF into text and image blocks during editing. Each one will reflow but they are not aware of each other, and this causes problems. For example, each bullet and item in a bulleted list is its own text block, and editing one will not cause layout changes for the other items. Paragraphs are separate text blocks and will not move up or down due to text changes around them.
  • For some reason, I have also seen single paragraphs and captions composed of multiple text blocks. Editing these would be tedious.
  • As with any document, missing fonts will be replaced with a default font. It looks like images are embedded, so they don’t need to be linked with native files.

I think Edit Text & Images is a decent improvement but it doesn’t replace native files. You can edit pretty much anything in a PDF with Acrobat XI, but it is not easy unless revisions are small. It’s great for typos, but major edits causing page reflow would be a nightmare to deal with strictly in Acrobat XI.

Moving files with drag-and-drop merge

Drag-and-drop merge is another major feature in Acrobat XI. Recent versions of Acrobat have provided ways to build large PDFs (PDF Portfolio comes to mind) and the “Combine Files in a Single PDF” command is buried in the File > Create menu and in other places including the Welcome dialog box. Acrobat has a lot of features nowadays and this one can be hard to find. When you do invoke the command, a dialog box is provided to add, reorder and remove files.

PowerPoint Export

Corporate users will appreciate Acrobat XI’s new Export to Microsoft PowerPoint feature. Entire PDFs or text selections can be exported as PowerPoint documents, and Acrobat XI does a great job preserving formatting and document structure (including master layouts). I see fewer PowerPoint presentations nowadays—Apple’s Keynote actually shows up quite a bit in my work—but PowerPoint is still the industry standard in corporate environments. Along with PowerPoint, PDFs can also be exported in Word, Excel or HTML file formats. I can’t think of any export formats missing now in Acrobat except for Keynote, although Acrobat can export a PPTX file that Keynote can work with.

Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint now also integrate Acrobat XI’s enhancements in PDF security. Protect PDF is an option available when saving PDFs that will basically restrict copying, editing and printing. These restrictions are themselves not new but Acrobat XI makes it easier and faster to deploy these options. Along with Protect PDF, Restrict Editing in the Protection menu quickly password-protects PDFs from editing. This happens to be the restriction I apply the most, and it is an easy thing to do now. My only complaint—and it’s one that has been around for many versions of Acrobat—is that I have to apply the security to a copy of the PDF, not the same one I’m working on.

FormsCentral integration

This is the first version of Acrobat that really integrates with the Acrobat.com online applications and leverages those services. Acrobat XI ships with a desktop app for FormsCentral, the online form builder and response analytics service. FormsCentral is quite useful and I have used it for more than one project; it makes building robust forms easier and presents complete analytics. The Forms > Create menu item launches the FormsCentral desktop app, a portal to the online app, and from there you can command all FormsCentral features. One of the benefits of working with an online app is you can manage forms and analytics even if you’re away from Acrobat XI.

EchoSign integration

Another online application that Acrobat XI integrates with is EchoSign, the digital signature service. Acrobat has relied on digital signatures in PDF forms for years, and EchoSign provides another layer of features including online distribution and tracking, delivery confirmation with Adobe Certified Document Services, and hand-signed electronic signatures applied via touchscreen devices. Over the years, Acrobat’s electronic signature features have not changed much and I have found them to be confusing. EchoSign helps relieve the confusion, but what really clarifies things is the Place Signature option in the Sign panel. The Place Signature dialog box provides four options for electronically signing a document and it’s pretty easy to use. EchoSign’s real benefits come with document distribution.

One more feature that I think is really useful: Custom tool sets. Acrobat XI is a quite mature app and it has grown a long list of tools and toolbars. It has been particular long since the sidebar tool panel was released a couple versions back. There are almost too many tools, and definitely too many toolbars to be useful at once. Custom toolbars allow users to remove, add or move tools around in existing tool sets or create new tool sets. Tool sets are included on top of the sidebar panel. I don’t know how useful this is in the creative professional market: Adobe creative products have used task-specific workspaces for years now, but customizing tool panels have typically not done well. In this case, Acrobat XI might have a good use for custom tool sets in the corporate market, where there’s time, resources and motivation to build custom tool sets for department tasks. Another use for this could be in prepress and print production, where users work with PDFs regularly but have no need for Acrobat’s collaboration and commenting tool panels.

Acrobat XI provides several new features that really stand out, and it’s part of the Creative Cloud so it’s available to many users without extra cost. The standalone product costs US$449/$199 full/upgrade. FormsCentral and EchoSign are both services with monthly costs—both are just under $15 per month.

Acrobat XI
Adobe Systems
US$449/$199 upgrade
Rating: 8/10

How Adobe FormsCentral Saved My Project

Adobe FormsCentral, one of their growing number of apps at Acrobat.com, has been on my review list for some time but didn’t have a great angle to write about until recently. Adobe FormsCentral literally saved a recent project of mine, and I was surprised how its strengths dovetailed with the technical issues I was facing.

The project objective was straightforward:

  • Build an online registration form
  • Include payment integration with PayPal
  • Send email notification to the user and the client on submission
  • Store registration data or send it via email to the client

The client’s website is constructed with Ning, which made its name as a social community builder but now is a blend of that and a typical content management system. Unfortunately, Ning’s backend is fairly difficult to work with unless you are doing basic CSS or HTML changes. The Perl script that we used last year to submit the form data was not allowed by Ning, effectively scuttling our existing solution. I was worried that Ning would force the form to be hosted elsewhere until I thought about FormsCentral, which has a few characteristics that made it ideal for this job:

  • A robust set of form elements covered all the inputs I needed.
  • The ability to embed my form on any webpage with an iframe let me put this form on a Ning page with no problem.
  • The FormsCentral service handles all the notifications and submission data storage, so I didn’t have to write code to handle it myself.
  • Multiple user accounts through FormsCentral meant that my client could run reports and check registrant data as easily as I could.

FormsCentral comes loaded with 50 templates for various industries, but I only needed five text fields so a blank template was adequate. In the Design tab, I was able to make fields required, limit the total characters, include help popups and restrict input to certain types like text, number or email. These are all typically included with forms services like FormsCentral. The one design feature that is completely absent is the ability to dictate design with CSS, which I’d normally use to design a web form. I understand Adobe’s focus on non-programmers, but CSS could really make it easier to apply design elements throughout forms.

The Options tab pretty much covered the rest of my project requirements. I created a Submission Receipt that is sent to all users after they complete the form. I also set up a notification to be sent to the client and myself after every submission, though I was a bit disappointed my client had to create an Adobe ID and log into FormsCentral in order to be added to the notifications list. I also noted that I couldn’t create my own HTML email template to be used for notifications or receipts.

Payment processing is also set up in FormsCentral’s Options tab. Configuring PayPal payments with this form was the most difficult step to master. Registering the PayPal account with the form is easy enough but connecting the form fields to the purchase functionality can be confusing. In the Payment Processing settings, I had to specify the purchase field, quantity field, price and description. The user selected their quantity in a particular field on the form, so that was used for the quantity field. (I also could have set it for exactly one item, which is helpful in some situations.) The purchase field is what confused me because, in this case, the form’s Submit button is also considered a valid purchase field. It was what I needed for this project.

FormsCentral forms can be distributed up to three ways:

  • An HTML page hosted at FormsCentral. An example is https://adobeformscentral.com/?f=zGP2-N2bVVS-pV5I4D7hMQ.
  • A PDF form with interactive form fields. This can be submitted by the user when offline, and the data is stored locally until an Internet connection can be made.
  • Embedded via iframe into an HTML page. The embed code looks like this:


script type=”text/javascript” src=”https://formscentral.acrobat.com/Clients/Current/FormsCentral/htmlClient/scripts/adobe.form.embed.min.js”>
script type="text/javascript">
var fzGP2_2dN2bVVS_2dpV5I4D7hMQ = new ADOBEFORMS.EmbedForm({formId:"zGP2-N2bVVS-pV5I4D7hMQ", server:"https://adobeformscentral.com/", width:640, showHeader:false, transparent:true, widthAfterRedirect:640, heightAfterRedirect:400});
fzGP2_2dN2bVVS_2dpV5I4D7hMQ.display();

You can see some embedded parameters, such as background color, form width and the iframe size after the form is submitted and a redirect URL is specified. (I didn't use this because FormsCentral lets you show a confirmation message after submission.)

The View Responses tab is where the client and I could see the submitted data. Everything is stored, and PayPal even returns the transaction ID and total dollar amount to FormsCentral so the payment data is complete. A report can be exported from the File menu within FormsCentral, or you can view the Summary Report tab to see some charts based on your data. These did not help me much because most of my data was non-numerical, and the charts can only display data as a full count or an average. My client and I focused on the View Responses tab, which had all the data we required.

The Ning platform could accept FormsCentral's embed code since it's pure HTML, and the form itself worked perfectly. This got us around the limitations imposed by Ning and also provided me the data handling that I normally would have executed with my own scripts. Ultimately, FormsCentral gave me more tools with less work and helped both me and my client be more efficient. FormsCentral does have its limitations, mostly imposed by the product's emphasis on the non-programming user. However, FormsCentral is designed for projects like this one and I was lucky to consider it!

FormsCentral can be run as a 30-day trial for 99 cents or paid monthly for $14.99 per month. This allows up to five forms and up to 500 responses. An annual rate of $143.88, recently reduced, provides 5,000 responses per form with unlimited data storage and unlimited forms. Note that the Acrobat.com apps, including FormsCentral, are not included in Adobe's Creative Cloud product.

BOOK REVIEW: Node Up and Running

Front-end web developers everywhere know JavaScript and use it for everything from DOM manipulation to Ajax applications. That’s why I am really excited that Node.js exists—JavaScript running on the server side, running applications from the server rather than the browser. The exciting aspect of it is it opens up server-side programming to front-end developers who until now have focused on the browser.

Node Up and Running by Tom Hughes-Croucher and Mike Wilson provides a primer on Node that I really enjoyed. I have not worked with Node before but I’m experienced with JavaScript—in other words, I’m the ideal reader for an introductory book such as this. The most useful chapter for me was actually the first, which introduces Node and—most importantly—explains the scalability of Node and its ability to handle large applications. I wasn’t sure it was suitable for these things compared to Java or other server-side languages. I wish the book dived deeper into these questions, but the chapter was enough to make me feel comfortable using Node in these situations.

The rest of the book covers basic Node concepts like loops, error handling, APIs and data handling. All the basics you will need are here, but there’s more to Node and I will be looking forward to a more extensive Node “cookbook” from O’Reilly in the future. (Tom Hughes-Croucher said on Amazon.com that it is in the works.) Node Up and Running is short so you don’t get into all the details, but I was impressed it packed in as much useful details as it did. I also liked that the very first project code in the second chapter consisted of a chat server and a Twitter service—both look impressive and show off Node functionality.

One complaint about Node Up and Running is that the book covers a quickly-changing framework and some parts of the book are outdated at this point. Another criticism is that the book is too short—it’s not even 200 pages, so it’s really just an introduction to Node. But as an introduction it serves its purpose very well and entices front-end developers with some great server-side code that can be built with their JavaScript skills. It’s an exciting time to be a JavaScript developer!

Node Up and Running
Tom Hughes-Croucher and Mike Wilson
Published by O’Reilly
US $34.99
Rating: 9/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Joe McNally’s Sketching Light

Sketching Light cover

Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash is the third of photographer Joe McNally’s books that I’ve reviewed, and I never really grow tired of reading his stories. The quality of his storytelling and the depth of knowledge he has gained from years in the field is what makes his books so interesting, and Sketching Light is no different.

As you can gather from the title, Sketching Light focuses on using flash in photography and there are a variety of stories about the topic. Unlike The Art of Photographic Lighting, which I just reviewed, Joe’s chapters are full of text, intriguing and imaginative photography, and a lot of storytelling. All this is on top of technical details supported by first-hand field experience. The book really is an awesome read, and I’d recommend it to any professional photographer. (Amateurs and prosumers will enjoy it too, but Joe’s writing as a professional and some material just doesn’t apply to what they are shooting.)

I was also inspired by some of Sketching Light that did not really pertain to lighting. Joe works with a lot of models and subjects and he writes quite a bit about working with people. There’s also a section, “How Do You Get Fired from LIFE?”, that I was particularly interested in because I grew up reading LIFE magazine in the 1990s and surely saw Joe’s work without knowing it. He doesn’t even mention lighting in this section; instead, the section is about the actual value of accolades and how temporary the perfect gig can be.

There’s a couple criticisms I want to make about Sketching Light. Joe has published three highly-regarded books now, and I think the content is starting to sound the same. The previous book, The Hot Shoe Diaries, is also about lighting and I’m not sure another book about lighting was the best idea. The content is appealing but it also seems too similar to the other two books. I’ve also noticed that Joe’s writing style is very conversational, which I usually enjoy, but it makes for longer books. Sketching Light is over 400 pages long, and I think some editing could pare that down to 350 or even 325. Some of the verbiage in Sketching Light is not necessary. I criticized Eib Eibelhaeuser for an unusually dry writing style in The Art of Photographic Lighting, but I’d say Joe McNally’s writing style could be more streamlined and direct without losing its impact.

Despite this, Sketching Light is a wonderful book and any pro photographer would do well to have it on his or her shelf. I’m putting my copy next to Joe’s other two books, which I refer to regularly.

Sketching Light: An Illustrated Tour of the Possibilities of Flash
Joe McNally
Published by New Riders
US $49.99
Rating: 9/10
Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of Photographic Lighting

Art of Photographic Lighting cover

Eib Eibelhaeuser’s The Art of Photographic Lighting is an interesting book and not the typical book that I see written for photographers. Many books about photo lighting focus on the fieldwork—lighting setups, equipment, handling natural light and other details. The Art of Photographic Lighting is part history book, part art theory book and part photo lighting book. I’m not sure whether this is a good or a bad thing.

Eib’s writing style is clean and clear, which I appreciate. There aren’t many anecdotes or stories from the field, so the writing is not very vivid or interesting like other photographers’ books. (Joe McNally’s books on lighting are practically the opposite.) I also was somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t more actual writing in the book: subjects are sometimes given just a few pages, and the pages often have plenty of white space and photography. The book design is nice and clean, but there is not as much content as I’m used to.

The content is solid. Eib is knowledgeable about many different aspects of photography lighting, including light bulb structure and history, flash configurations, color temperature, and quality of natural light at different times of day. I liked the chapters on natural light the best, and sections were well-defined (“Day,” “Night,” “Indoors” and more). As mentioned above, The Art of Photographic Lighting does not dive deep and these subjects aren’t always covered in detail.

Many pages in The Art of Photographic Lighting are devoted to photography, but quite a bit of it is bland and not very memorable. They do a good job of illustrating the lighting principles described in the text, and the images are technically good, but they are really just not too imaginative, exciting or artistic. I’m not sure how I feel about this because The Art of Photographic Lighting seems more of a textbook and the images do their job. Maybe Eib should strive to find or make images that do more than that.

Ultimately, like I mentioned above, The Art of Photographic Lighting is a good example of a textbook on photographic lighting. Its spare, clean style and comprehensive survey of lighting history and composition make it a very useful guide. However, I think the artfulness of lighting is lost and there’s very little text that sparks the imagination. That should be added to this book if it is ever given a second edition.

The Art of Photographic Lighting
Eib Eibelhaeuser
Published by Rocky Nook
US $44.95
Rating: 6/10
Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Photographically Speaking by David duChemin

I enjoy David duChemin’s books because he speaks about artistry and philosophy, and not just about the technical details in his photography. Many photographers do the same thing and talk about composition, light and other aspects of photography beyond the camera, but David really brings his thoughtfulness into his writing.

duChemin book cover

Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images is David’s latest book and one more example of his inward-looking style. The book considers what makes a photograph successful and how to apply these qualities of visual storytelling to future images. There are many techniques illustrated here that you can get in many other books—the rule of thirds and the golden spiral come to mind—but the real takeaway is how David explains these concepts and examines them at their most philosophical level.

For example, there’s a small sidebar on “reading” versus “viewing” photographs where David describes the difference between passive viewers and active “readers” of images. I learned a similar concept when I was studying music history: to really understand a work of art, you have to go beyond your superficial reaction to it. In today’s saturated world of images, it’s easy to jump at first impressions when viewing photography, but David is wise enough to avoid that and frame the discussion with that single word.

The last section of the book—almost 100 pages—is devoted to 20 of David’s photographs. Those are a lot of pages to devote to just 20 images, but I appreciate the focus. In this section, Photographically Speaking applies the concepts of visual language that were developed in the previous section, such as orientation and the rule of thirds. I enjoy the philosophical aspects of the first section more than the technical focus in the second, but it does help make the book well-rounded.

Photographically Speaking is a very enjoyable book with beautiful images and very thoughtful writing from David. Photographers who have a firm grasp of their craft and want to really think through the images they produce can’t go wrong with this book.

Photographically Speaking: A Deeper Look at Creating Stronger Images
David duChemin
Published by New Riders
US $44.99
Rating: 10/10
Buy from Amazon.com

Susan Weinschenk’s 100 Things You Need to Know About People Books

Designer book cover

Three years ago, I highly rated Susan Weinschenk‘s book Neuro Web Design, which explained how to apply psychology principles to web design and build websites that are more appealing, easier to use and more memorable. Susan has written two more books that continue to apply psychology to technology and appeal to designers and presenters. Both follow a similar format: 100 Things Every ____ Needs to Know About People, with 100 ideas grounded in psychology and applicable to designers’ and presenters’ projects.

As with Neuro Web Design, both 100 Things books are well-researched. Susan has a deep knowledge of various studies and psychological findings and explains them without being too technical. The studies are also quite interesting and revealing in themselves, and I liked reading those before anything else. The book designer also did a good job building charts when needed to illustrate psychological concepts. The rest of the books’ design is colorful, incorporates useful sidebars, and provides a “takeaways” callout at the end of each section to communicate the most essential points.

Presenter book cover

Susan also does a good job connecting psychological truisms with scenarios in the design and presentation worlds. The “completeness” ratings you see on online profiles—such as a LinkedIn or Dropbox account—plays into the fact that “people are more motivated as they get closer to a goal.” “People read in a certain direction,” so be sure to stand beside your presentation so you can be the point of entry in how attendees “read” the stage. Rule 18 in the designer’s book—”People read faster with a longer line length, but prefer a shorter line length”—even explains the differences between text on a webpage and text in print, and it’s all based on recent research. These books are based on evidence and tied directly to our industries.

However, Susan doesn’t always do a good job connecting the rules specifically to the designer’s or presenter’s world and some don’t apply to our work as well as others. “People can be in a flow state” and work with focused attention, but this applies to any work—not just designers’ work. Same thing with “people can’t multitask.” I think the book for presenters is more focused on aspects of presentation than the designers’ book is focused on design. Ultimately, I think every point Susan makes is useful but some are more useful than others.

Still, both books are great material and a good value. Designers and presenters sometimes build their products by the book and don’t always think about why some approaches might work better than others. Susan’s books help you understand the “why.”

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People
100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know about People

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
Published by New Riders
US $34.99 for Presenters, US $29.99 for Designers
Rating: 9/10
Buy Designer and Presenter from Amazon.com

REVIEW: Lightroom 4 Prepares For The Future

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 has been available a few months but only in the last week Adobe has included Lightroom in Adobe Creative Cloud subscriptions, which is potentially even bigger news than the new version 4. Photographers who have purchased Creative Cloud subscriptions now get Lightroom whenever and wherever they want it, and that makes Lightroom even more relevant than before. I’ve been working with Lightroom 4 since it was released and Adobe has made some smart improvements to the application that embrace new digital technology.

I believe the most vital improvements in Lightroom 4 happen in the new adjustment brush features. Lightroom became much more useful when the adjustment brush was added a couple years ago, but Lightroom 4 lets photographers make spot adjustments to counter moiré, reduce noise or adjust white balance. The white balance adjustment is very useful and I was surprised no one thought to spot-adjust white balance before. I was so surprised I actually launched Lightroom 3 to confirm it!

Lightroom 4 white balance adjustments

Basically, the Temp and Tint sliders in the Develop module can now be adjusted within a single adjustment brush point on the photo or as a general adjustment across the photo. My color correction techniques have always emphasized correction across entire images—color casts and white balance mistakes will almost always affect everything the camera sees. However, there are a few times when multiple light sources can skew results in a part of an image. There are also many photographers today who want to be more creative with their images than just getting the color correct. These photographers will really enjoy the new controls available in Lightroom 4.

I am also really excited that Lightroom 4 now supports video formats. Prosumer cameras have been shooting video for a few years now and it’s becoming mainstream—some photographers like Vincent Laforet are experimenting with the art form while wedding and event photographers are supplementing their income shooting video as well as their usual photos. Adobe worked to make Lightroom 4 provide a complete video workflow. I don’t think Lightroom 4 provides a complete workflow—it’s missing basic features like sound editing, though Creative Cloud users will have all the software they need for video editing. But Lightroom 4 does provide easy importing and exporting to Facebook and Flickr as well as to your hard drive. I think exporting to YouTube is essential though.

Lightroom 4 does provide Quick Develop module tools for video editing, which is where workflow comes in. Photographers can change exposure, white balance and all the tone controls used for images. You can also trim clips and capture a poster frame for presenting the video. This is the extent of video editing in Lightroom 4, and I think it’s a decent enough editing suite for photographers in the field but a photographer who wants to sell his video footage should invest in Creative Cloud, CS6 Production Premium or Adobe Premiere Elements. Amateur videographers should really consider Premiere Elements, though serious photographers might want to invest in CS6 Production Premium (or, better yet, hire someone who already has mastered Adobe’s video applications.)

Lightroom 4 map module

One of the most visually spectacular new features in Lightroom 4 is the Map module, powered by Google Maps, that lets photographers place their photos in specific locations. It’s a thrill to navigate the world in Lightroom 4 and see exactly where your photographic journeys have taken you, but I have a feeling Adobe will have to constantly play catch-up with advances in GPS and mapping technology. 3D mapping is starting to emerge and I think tagging photos by building floor as well as GPS location would be useful. I also thought the process of matching photos up with their locations was tedious (except when the photo already had location metadata). If there’s no location data, you can drag-and-drop photos onto the map to set their location. This is probably as good of a manual system as you can get, but it’s still a slog.

Lightroom 4 boasts improved shadow and highlight recovery, and you’ll have to learn some new sliders in the Develop module to master this. In Lightroom 3, the Basic sliders in the Develop module included exposure, recovery, fill light and blacks along with brightness and contrast. (Brightness and contrast have been together in Adobe’s settings lineup since the early days of Photoshop.) In Lightroom 4, exposure and contrast are together and the other four sliders are highlights, shadows, whites and blacks. It’s confusing to consider whites and highlights two separate things (same with shadows and blacks) and there aren’t many differences between the two that I can see. Generally, the Highlights and Shadows sliders will affect darks or lights without ruining the other and will avoid excessive contrast. I still prefer working with the Tone Curve settings to pinpoint the tone regions I want to work on, though I like how fast and easy I can produce results with the Highlights and Shadows sliders. If you don’t have time to work with the curves, try the new sliders.

Lightroom 4 soft proofing

For photographers who make prints of their work, the new soft proofing in Lightroom 4 might be useful. A “soft proof” is an on-screen representation of the final printed product, and it’s often hard to get a precise soft proof since a screen and a sheet of paper are two totally different substrates. I’ve relied on hard proofs on paper since the beginning of my career. Lightroom 4′s soft proofs look like they might be helpful but I still don’t trust them completely—there are too many factors in printing that can skew the results. But what I do find really useful in Lightroom 4 are the new gamut warnings which will show regions that are too bright or too dark to display any detail. Lightroom 4 will provide not only printer gamut warnings but monitor gamut warnings too, which I’ve not seen before.

Lightroom 4 book module

Lightroom has always had a fairly robust set of output modules (Slideshow, Print and Web) but in version 4 there is a new Book module for creating photo books. I have seen photo books offered by several photo production websites but I usually like to design my own in InDesign. I wondered if Lightroom’s Book module would be easy to use as well as robust, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn there’s a balance between software-generated layouts (see the Auto Layout panel in the sidebar) and fine controls. The Cell panel lets you put white space around images on all sides or each side separately. I found the caption and type tools very intuitive—text was overlaid on images right where I wanted them to be and I didn’t need to handle text frame corners. Everything is done inside the Book module sidebar. I found one user interface element to be particularly annoying: the inability to add photo cells on my own. The pages’ photo layouts are determined by the Auto Layout presets; you can make your own presets but they still adhere to predetermined layouts. You cannot simply drag and drop new images onto the page either, unless a photo cell already exists. The only real way to tweak photo placement is to add padding to photo cells, but this isn’t a great way to do it.

Lightroom has had integrated social sharing for awhile now, but it’s been improved in Lightroom 4 in a way I didn’t really expect. If you share to comment-capable albums (a Facebook album, for example), photos’ comments will be shown in Lightroom 4′s sidebar and you can write your own there as well. Your comments will then appear on the Facebook album entry. I thought this was a really neat way to leverage Facebook’s API and integrate social comments directly into Lightroom. I also love how you can include your Facebook albums in the Publish Services panel and push photos up to it just by dragging them onto the album name.

Lightroom 4 is another quality upgrade for a quality product, and its inclusion into Adobe Creative Cloud makes it available to even more people. On the other hand, I feel Lightroom is a mature application now and some of the features are not so exciting or unique. Other mature applications, including Photoshop and Illustrator, deal with the same problem sometimes. But the improvements in spot adjustments, shadows and highlights, and photo book layout in particular make me say Lightroom 4 is an upgrade worth buying.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4
Adobe Systems
US $149 full/$79 upgrade
Included with Adobe Creative Cloud
Rating: 8/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Visual Stories by Vincent Laforet

Visual Stories cover

I wrote in my recent review of Jerod Foster’s Storytellers that the best storytelling techniques seem to span across art forms and can be applied to writing, composing and design as well as photography. I think that is one reason I really love Visual Stories: Behind The Lens With Vincent Laforet—the storytelling comes through not just in the pictures but in the words and the storytelling in the book itself. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Vincent is a top-notch photographer with a diverse portfolio—he shoots landscapes, people and nature equally well (though I think his people shots are the best). He’s also shot for a variety of publications and has lived and worked in many different locales around the world, so his subject matter and light are always changing and providing opportunities. The breadth of material makes Visual Stories a great resource for photographic storytellers.

The real gems of storytelling in Visual Stories come through in the writing. I’m not sure what makes Vincent’s stories compelling, but I think it’s through experience. Vincent writes about shooting in a Pakistan refugee camp; catching match point in an Olympic fencing match; making only two decent shots at a Super Bowl; and many more exotic situations. Vincent is lucky—not many photographers get such juicy assignments. His lucky break with the fencing match, described on page 91, just might make you sick with envy. (Don’t worry, I’m sure there are five failures for every success in Vincent’s career.)

Fortunately, Vincent’s luck and his ability to write stories have given Visual Stories beautiful writing to go with the photography. His stories are vivid and sometimes fairly personal, which I also like—this is a book about a photographer as much as it is a book about photographs. Visual Stories does provide some good details on lenses and camera settings, but they are not emphasized often.

I don’t really have anything bad to say about Visual Stories. I enjoyed reading it and photographers of all kinds will find it fascinating. All photographers have some stories to share, but Vincent seems to have more than most and they paint a vivid picture. The book’s price is a little high but it’s worth purchasing.

Visual Stories; Behind The Lens With Vincent Laforet
Vincent Laforet
Published by New Riders
US $54.99
Rating: 10/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Jerod Foster’s Storytellers

Storytellers cover

There are two types of photography books: the nuts-and-bolts variety with detail on apertures, lenses and lighting setups, and the artistic variety that attempts to explain the ephemeral aspects of photography like creativity, inspiration and storytelling. Storytellers by Jerod Foster is in the second category and the book contains almost 300 pages devoted to the art of photographic storytelling.

There’s lots of beautiful photography in Storytellers and I found myself enjoying the pictures as well as the writing. The photographs are not just Jerod’s either but other photographers who are profiled and interviewed in the book. Note that Jerod and several other photographers in the book are based in Texas, so there is a noticeable emphasis on Texas photography in Storytellers.

The test with any artistic photography book is to transcend the mundane aspects of photography and describe the creative photographic process in a way that rings true. Storytellers doesn’t always pass the test—it’s a fun read and I learned some things, but some of the processes Jerod describes in the book are typical things like shot selection, composition and the use of light. These are all important topics and certainly related to storytelling, but I felt that it danced around the heart of the art of storytelling.

I studied and wrote on creativity back in my college days and I’m convinced the most illuminating writing on creativity can be applied to all creative art forms and be made to “fit” with minimal changes. Storytelling techniques apply to writing and music as well as photography. While reading Storytellers, I had a hard time applying some of its lessons to those other art forms and so the lessons appealed to photographers and not always to storytellers.

Storytellers is still a very fine book and fine art photographers will certainly enjoy it. It’s well-written and contains some very nice shots. I think the book will also help photographers understand how their craft builds stories and how to hone their storytelling craft. My main complaint is the lack of focus on storytelling and overemphasis on nuts-and-bolts photography topics that are probably covered in more detail in other books.

Storytellers
Jerod Foster
Published by New Riders
US $44.99
Rating: 8/10
Buy on Amazon.com

REVIEW: Adobe Photoshop Elements/Premiere Elements 10

Elements 10 box

The Photoshop Elements/Premiere Elements bundle version 10 has been on the market for several months now but I wanted to review the product and give my impressions of it. Ironically, it has been just a couple weeks since Adobe released the Adobe Creative Cloud, which delivers their Creative Suite applications via a subscription. This is pertinent to the Elements products because, out of all Adobe’s products, they probably have the highest hurdles to overcome in order to convince home users to upgrade.

Photoshop Elements 10

The most game-changing and impressive new feature in Photoshop Elements 10 is the Smart Brush and its variety of effects and pattern overlays. The Smart Brush is comparable to Photoshop’s Adjustment Brush, but instead of adjustments you can apply one of almost 100 artistic effects, filters, adjustments, patterns and color fills. These are applied with a mask based on where you brush with the Smart Brush.

Smart Brush

The Smart Brush does a good job detecting boundaries for masking, similar to the quality masks produced by Photoshop Touch (though not as good as ones you can create in Photoshop). The Smart Brush effects are layer-based, so you can revise your work in the Layers panel or just click on other effects in the drop-down menu to apply them. This is a feature that seems simple but has a lot of usefulness, especially if you enjoy creating fun and interesting images. Users who just want to color correct and polish up their family photos might want to browse the Portrait subset of Smart Brush effects but otherwise won’t have too much use for this feature. There are better tools for color correction, such as Levels and Curves.

Elements’ Organizer has become smarter in version 10 and offers a few new features based on detection algorithms. Duplicate Photo Search, for example, uses a simple algorithm to detect and warn users about duplicate images. The Visual Search algorithm—which is new to Mac users in version 10—is integral to the new Object Search feature, which runs Visual Search on selections of photos in order to detect and display photos with a common object like a building or animal. It does a remarkably good job but the results depend on the clarity of the photos it’s given. Typical tourist photos and photos with a clearly defined foreground are great candidates. There’s not much control over Object Search: you can refine your search to focus on color or shape just like Visual Search.

Visual Search

People Recognition, which has been in Elements Organizer for some time, is still your best option for facial recognition. Adobe has integrated Facebook data with People Recognition to enable users to tag photos with Facebook friends. I think this is a really smart use of Facebook’s API to make photo tagging more fun and less hassle. It’s particularly cool for users moving a lot of photos from Photoshop Elements 10 to Facebook albums.

Photoshop Elements 10 also has three new Guided Edits to steer users through complex effects:

  • Orton Effect provides a soft, dreamy look for portraits and glamour shots
  • Picture Stack will segment an image into individual layered images suitable for a collage
  • Depth of Field produces a bokeh-like blurring of image backgrounds
  • depth of field

    Guided Edits have been a part of Photoshop Elements for a few versions and with each upgrade they release a few new ones. These are fun to use and I am glad two of them are for more professional-looking images—bokeh is a professional term for basically what the Depth of Field edit provides. However, the new features are not groundbreaking. The same can be said for Photoshop Elements’ new “Text on a Path” features, which insert text on a path, shape edge or selection.

    Photoshop Elements 10 Plus hasn’t changed from earlier versions and still provides 20GB of storage—the regular product provides only 2GB—as well as some tutorials and the ability to share photos on iOS and Android devices. Other than the Smart Brush, most of Photoshop Elements 10′s new features are nips and tucks, extensions of existing features or additions that should have been in place already (such as the ability to save JPEG and PDF files).

    Premiere Elements 10

    Premiere Elements 10′s most exciting new feature is the Pan & Zoom Tool, which lets users put together movie clips based on photos and animated with pan and zoom implemented by a framed interface. To use the Pan & Zoom Tool, you use rectangular frames to define where the shot should focus, the duration of the pan/zoom and how long it should hold at each frame position. Animators and anyone who has dabbled with Flash, Edge or web animations will be familiar with the approach. I’m frankly surprised the Premiere Elements team would have considered an animation paradigm to build a video production feature, but it is intuitive and makes sense. I think the user interface might be a little clunky and it can be hard to revise frame durations after the fact, but it’s a powerful little tool as is and I think it’s a nice addition.

    Pan and Zoom

    The Pan & Zoom Tool might be the most exciting new feature in Premiere Elements 10 but the AutoTone & Vibrance effect might be the most useful. This effect applies high-quality color correction to clips and I know from my experience in color correction with Photoshop that quality color really makes both videos and images look their best. I think color correction is given less attention in home video production so AutoTone & Vibrance is sorely needed. And since the Elements Organizer integrates with Premiere Elements 10 now, the application uses a Project Bin to provide file management for projects.

    AutoTone

    AutoTone & Vibrance’s primary benefit is to punch up color saturation without making skin tones look excessive. I tried this effect on a few clips and generally the performance is very good—colors look snappy but faces and hair remain natural. The effect also makes the shadows darker and richer, which generally improves the contrast. To maximize what you get out of AutoTone & Vibrance, be sure to click Edit Effects after applying it, uncheck Auto under AutoTone and edit the settings manually. There are five settings: Brightness, Contrast, Exposure, Black (shadows) and White (highlights). There’s also a single Vibrance slider to manage color saturation. These settings provide a simple but powerful way to color correct your clips.

    3 Way Color

    Adobe also added one more color correction effect: the Three-Way Color Corrector. Unfortunately, this effect is very complicated compared to the simple AutoTone & Vibrance effect. The Three-Way Color Corrector basically provides a large interface for changing the saturation and balance of highlights, shadows and midtones. You can use an eyedropper to set the balance or drag an anchor point on a color wheel in the effect settings. The results are effective but the user interface is complex, perhaps too complex for average users. The good news is the Three-Way Color Corrector encapsulates aspects of Curves and Levels, the two most important color correction procedures, which AutoTone & Vibrance does not do (that effect is more closely related to Camera Raw). However, I think the Three-Way Color Corrector can be made more efficient and easier to use.

    Premiere Elements 10 has been able to import AVCHD video since last version but now the application can also export and share movies in the native AVCHD format. You can also burn AVCHD footage to a DVD or Blu-ray disc for playback on a DVD or Blu-ray player. And one more note for Mac users: Premiere Elements 10 now includes the SmartSound feature which will let them add music to movie and dynamically adjust the length to match the movie length. This is a really nice feature I like to use, and I’m happy to see it now on the Mac.

    Users who like to post their movies on Facebook and YouTube will be happy to learn version 10 of the Elements Organizer has an interface for posting videos to both social media sites. The uploading process to YouTube is easy and clean but doesn’t leverage all of YouTube’s settings, such as tags. You also can set a video to be public or private (restricted to specific YouTube users) but not unlisted, which I think is more useful in several situations. The interface for sharing to Facebook is more robust but Facebook actually has fewer settings to manage anyway.

    Conclusion

    Adobe deserves praise for staying on top of the photo/video industry’s changes—their support of AVCHD and social media sharing are all important features that needed to be in this release. Both applications have received a worthy upgrade in version 10 but, as with many software upgrades, the necessity of upgrading depends on the user and I think the Photoshop/Premiere Elements 10 bundle has wide appeal but isn’t for everyone. I think many would make the switch just to work with AVCHD footage. Photoshop Elements 10 doesn’t have a new killer feature like Premiere Elements 10 has, but the Smart Brush is quite useful.

    Users should look at the upgrade price, look at their existing and future cameras and camcorders, and make the decision. Upgrading to version 10 offers a lot of new features—particularly for prosumers—but not everyone needs them.

    Photoshop Elements 10 / Premiere Elements 10
    Adobe Systems
    US $149.99 full, $119.99 upgrade
    Rating: 8/10
    Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Trevor Burnham’s CoffeeScript For Pragmatic Programmers

CoffeeScript cover

CoffeeScript, a programming language that lets you output JavaScript with cleaner code, is barely two years old but it’s already exciting developers. I hadn’t heard of it until I got a copy of CoffeeScript: Accelerated JavaScript Development by Trevor Burnham, from The Pragmatic Programmers line of books “by developers for developers.” I could tell right away that Trevor is a decent developer and has the chops to write a book like this—his grasp of JavaScript, JavaScript frameworks and of course CoffeeScript is solid. His writing style is also fairly clean and easy to follow, which is important for a book like this that covers a language not everyone has experienced.

CoffeeScript is basically a primer for the CoffeeScript language: you’ll learn the basics of the language and also dive into some very basic chapters on jQuery and Node.js, but there’s a lot more to learn that you will have to find on your own. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—some of my best learning experiences have been spurred by small, lean books—but this is probably not the complete reference on CoffeeScript.

I also should point out that CoffeeScript is not JavaScript. CoffeeScript is compiled and translated into JavaScript after the coding process, which lets you work with the cleaner CoffeeScript syntax throughout your project. Ruby and Python programmers will appreciate CoffeeScript more than the typical JavaScript and jQuery programmer. I happen to be one of the latter more than the former, so I read this book from that perspective. Fortunately, CoffeeScript clearly explains how to work with CoffeeScript from the initial installation, which some books sometimes fail to do.

The hands-on work done in CoffeeScript comes from a game project that Trevor builds and improves from chapter to chapter. I like smaller, in-chapter projects as well as larger projects that span over multiple chapters, but sometimes the code didn’t seem very clean or easy to follow. Maybe some more pages devoted to writing and explaining the code would have helped, or perhaps the larger project could have been replaced with some smaller ones. There’s a few ways Trevor could rework the code and make it easier to learn.

I really enjoyed reading CoffeeScript and would like to branch out into using CoffeeScript more to improve my code production. I’m looking for other books to take me further down the learning path, but the book has provided me a fine head start.

CoffeeScript: Accelerated JavaScript Development
Trevor Burnham
Published by Pragmatic Bookshelf
US $29
Rating: 8/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Twitter Book, 2nd Edition

The Twitter Book cover

Back in 2009, Twitter was relatively new: celebrities were picking up their first million followers, businesspeople wondered how it could make money and everyone seemed to ask why anyone would care to “tweet” their mundane activities. Tim O’Reilly—the founder of the O’Reilly publishing company and a devoted Twitter user—and Sarah Milstein—an early Twitter user and speaker—wrote The Twitter Book, one of the first comprehensive books about Twitter in 2009. I reviewed the book then and thought it was “the definitive resource for Twitter users,” though I noted a book—ink on paper—could never stay current. Be sure to read my review of the first edition, if only for the dated comments about Twitter’s “arcane technology” and “a lot of people don’t actually know what [Twitter] really is.”

Late last year, Tim and Sarah published the second edition of The Twitter Book. It looks very much like the first edition: the cover image is practically the same and you’ll find images on the verso pages and text on the recto pages, exactly like before. Since the book covers topics for beginners as well as advanced users, a lot of the early chapters haven’t changed much. They are still well-written and useful to grasping the concept of Twitter and how to use its basic features. I’ve always been impressed by Tim and Sarah’s evangelism of the Twitter platform—they are passionate about its various uses and try hard to dispel the notion that it’s a niche media for tech geeks or those glued to mobile devices. This notion was more prevalent in 2009 than it is now.

My main criticism against the first edition of The Twitter Book still stands in the second edition: the book fails to catch all the great tools being created around Twitter, and can’t cover the ones created after publication. Interestingly, when the first edition was published, desktop Twitter apps like Tweetie and Twhirl were popular; today, Twitter’s own app has supplanted those and I find more growth in online analytics services (like Twittercounter) and online apps built on the API (like fllwrs.com). Neither Twittercounter nor fllwrs.com are in The Twitter Book, and more tools will be released in the future.

One suggestion from my review that Sarah Milstein actually commented on was the number of long, full URLs in The Twitter Book. Shortened URLs make perfect sense in a book like The Twitter Book, and the first edition did not take advantage of them. In the second edition, most URLs are actually still full URLs but almost all of them are not long anyway. URLs like http://business.twitter.com/ are not hard to remember or type. There are some bit.ly’d links throughout the book, such as http://bit.ly/dooce-maytag, which show that the suggestion was indeed used for the longer URLs.

The second edition of The Twitter Book is an updated resource on Twitter and most of what I send about the first edition applies to the second. I think the book has more competition from online news sources in 2012 compared to 2009, but if you want to read about Twitter and it needs to be ink on paper, pick this book up and enjoy.

The Twitter Book, Second Edition
Tim O’Reilly and Sarah Milstein
Published by O’Reilly
US $19.99
Rating: 10/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Tangled Web And Untangling Web Security

Tangled Web book cover

Front-end developers are being assigned more and more projects that require cross-domain communication with data services via JavaScript, and so web security and handling cross-domain applications has become more important. I find that many developers don’t want to handle such mundane details—they simply want their app to work like it should—but they have to learn these things in order to accomplish their task.

Michal Zalewski, who has a strong pedigree in web security circles and wrote Google’s own Browser Security Handbook, has a really excellent book out called The Tangled Web: A Guide to Securing Modern Web Applications. I am really impressed by how thorough and comprehensive the book is—it’s 300 pages, quite dense and covers all the major topics on web security I can think of. It’s also very technical, so much so that I think its target audience is back-end developers and system administrators more than front-end developers. I’m not sure yet if front-end developers need to know everything in The Tangled Web or should worry more about the bits that they can do something about and leave the rest for their colleagues on the back end.

Fortunately, most of the early chapters cover familiar front-end topics such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript and I really recommend those for front-end developers. They will really open your eyes to all the little security imperfections in the code we write every day, a lot of which seem safe but can cause big problems. The Tangled Web really opened my eyes on the subject, and I’m looking forward to making my code more airtight.

There’s not much I can say against The Tangled Web: it is comprehensive, clearly written, and technically accurate. I think front-end developers can definitely get a lot of use out of it but some chapters cover topics they can’t always do anything about, such as server connections. Back-end developers, database programmers and system admins will probably have the same reaction to those early chapters on front-end programming. Before you buy, read the outline of The Tangled Web’s chapters and see if the book is a good fit for you.

a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1593273886/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_il_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=wwwjeremyschu-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1593273886″>The Tangled Web: A Guide to Securing Modern Web Applications
Michal Zalewski
Published by No Starch Press
US $49.95
Rating: 10/10
Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: Design By Nature Teaches The Designs Around Us

Design by Nature cover

Most designers today create their work on a computer, but the best designs seem to have a timeless quality that appears again and again. These timeless designs often have roots in nature. Our notions of space, color and juxtaposition are informed by the world we live in and what we see around us since birth. However, designers staring at a screen all day often forget this natural inspiration.

Maggie Macnab has written a revealing book, Design By Nature: Using Universal Forms and Principles in Design, that outlines the natural principles at work around us helps us apply them to design problems in our daily work. I really appreciate a book like this in the workplace because I’ve always found nature to be a rich source of inspiration in many different ways. Maggie takes very basic concepts—pattern, shape, color, juxtaposition, symbolism and many more—and illustrates them at work in our natural world and also in our human-made, designed world. It’s very intriguing and “rings true” with what I feel in my own work.

Design By Nature is well-written and is structured appropriately—I never felt lost or thought I needed to jump ahead to get a critical concept. There are also some small “Putting It Into Practice” exercises sprinkled throughout the book that aren’t too difficult or require technical skills but make you think about your process and get in touch with the designs inherent in nature.

I also enjoyed the guest designer sections that focused on a designer’s work. A lot of them are written by the designer and talk about their process, past clients and projects, and their thoughts on design. I wish they focused more on the “design by nature” theme because many of them read like typical manifestos on design. The best ones focus on a particular project.

I also want to point out something which bothered me while reading Design By Nature: Maggie uses a lot of her own work and her students’ work to support her principles and ideas in the book. That is okay but I would prefer to see a diverse range of designs used to support the book’s teachings, and from a variety of artists and designers. The range of work in Design By Nature is sometimes just too inclusive of the author’s own inner circle.

Despite this, I really enjoyed Design By Nature and I would recommend it for many graphic artists and designers, especially those with a fine arts or an environmental arts background. Their work is probably already based nature even if they don’t realize it, and understanding the natural process of design is vital to successful creations.

Design by Nature: Using Universal Forms and Principles in Design
Maggie Macnab
Published by New Riders
US $44.99
Rating: 9/10
Buy from Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: 344 Questions Is A Massive Self-Help Quest

344 Questions cover

There’s a small but interesting intersection in the publishing world where self-help, creativity and design meet to produce books designed to help creative people achieve more. The Artist’s Way is one such popular line of books. Another one I particularly like is It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want To Be. Such books are often full of self-help goodness but also sometimes a bit zanier than your usual self-help offerings.

Stefan Bucher’s 344 Questions: The Creative Person’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival and Artistic Fulfillment cranks the zaniness up a notch. The book is written for people looking for a catalyst for improving their creativity, and offers questions that lead you to new insights about yourself and what makes you most creative. These are the kinds of exercises that any creative person should do now and then. Not many people actually look for self-help like this until they are feeling defeated and their creativity or business is flagging, so a book like this is always timely.

The book doesn’t have any answers, just questions in elaborate hand-drawn diagrams with lots of arrows and word bubbles. This makes the book unique. The reader has to supply the answers, and there’s many blank spaces to write in this book. Stefan expects the reader to madly mark up this book with thoughts, ambitions, questions and other notes to spark insight and ideas. It’s the kind of non-linear thinking that creative people presumably enjoy, though more analytical types of people might find it meandering.

The book’s title is 344 Questions but there are actually over 1,800 questions, which gets to my main gripe against the book: it’s overwhelming and fragmented. Consider this stream of questions:

  • How do you get through tough times?
  • Can we focus on the immediate essentials?
  • What foods make you happy?
  • What TV shows distract you?
  • What music perks you up?
  • Do you have an emergency supply of all this stuff?
  • Do you have friends who will listen to you?
  • What are their phone numbers?
  • Do you have friends you’ll listen to?
  • What are their phone numbers?
  • On a scale of one to ten, how bad is [your current difficulty]?

This is all on just a half-page. This page will seem magical if it provides you an epiphany (maybe you’ll realize you don’t trust your friends enough to listen to what they say) but if not it can be tiring. “Who cares if a professional commitment is a sacred oath?” It takes a particular individual, perhaps one in search of answers and willing to provide them with a little coaching, to appreciate this book. I recommend it for such people, and for the others I would recommend something more like The Artist’s Way, which delivers a more methodical framework for building creativity in the your work.

344 Questions: The Creative Person’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival and Artistic Fulfillment
Stefan G. Bucher
Published by New Riders
US $14.99
Rating: 8/10
Buy from Amazon.com

REVIEW: Adobe Digital Publishing Suite

The Overlay Creator

The Overlay Creator panel is the DPS component that InDesign designers will spend most of their time in. The Overlay Creator panel, a plugin that works with InDesign CS5 and later, is the interface for adding multimedia and interaction to InDesign files for inclusion in digital publications. You can add a variety of interactive features to InDesign documents, not all of which are new to InDesign:

  • Image Sequences display multiple images, which has a variety of applications including time-lapse sequences, animated clips and 360-degree views. Image Sequences can auto-play or respond to user “scrubbing.”
  • Audio & Video insert audio and video assets into InDesign documents. Thanks to the multimedia features that have been added to InDesign in the past few years, adding audio and video is easy to do and the media controls generated by InDesign are good.
  • Hyperlink overlays will add links to your digital publications that link to online content, articles within the publication and more. Quick tip: Apple provides a method to write hyperlinks that send SMS text messages. Apple has a URL Scheme Reference that explains how to build these links.
  • Like the Image Sequence, the Slideshow overlay displays a slideshow in digital publications. Think of Slideshow as a traditional slideshow, incorporating InDesign elements including text and graphics, while Image Sequence is more of a “flip book” slideshow format with only images.
  • Pan & Zoom is one of my favorites, allowing users to pinch and expand images in digital publications. The designer has to think ahead when using Pan & Zoom and insert large images in their graphic frames. These can be scaled down to the desired default view, but the digital publication will retain the full-resolution image so it can be blown up when the user enlarges it. The DPS does not enlarge images on its own.
  • Panorama will combine multiple images into a panorama. This can be tricky because the user needs to load six photographs into InDesign with the right angle and order so it can be stitched together automatically. There are also some esoteric settings in the Overlay Creator including field of view and limit vertical pan. Reading through the instructions and a little playing around with the controls will help users grasp the Panorama overlay, and there are tutorials online for shooting images to be stitched into panoramas.
  • Web Content, which used to be called “Web View,” will embed online webpages or an HTML file within digital publications. It’s really surprising and very cool to see a webpage loaded in an InDesign publication, but it works and users can even interact with the webpage. The process is actually fairly easy to implement.

Creating interactivity with the Overlay Creator does a good job of condensing extensive interaction into a panel with a few settings, but I think Adobe’s development team can make the process more intuitive, particularly with bringing multimedia onto the page. The current InDesign has a lot of panels to sift through and the Overlay Creator adds quite a bit more chrome to the package. Keeping track of all the user interface elements involved with Overlay Creator was my biggest challenge, not bugs or a lack of interactive features.

The Folio Builder

The other component of DPS that resides in InDesign is the Folio Builder panel, where users combine articles into .folio files for publication and also finalize the document’s orientation. Working with articles and folios can be a mundane task but this part of the process is where designers can see their work on a tablet for the first time through the Content Viewer, an Adobe app available on the desktop or on the Apple App Store, Android Market, BlackBerry App World and for webOS.

Articles can be pulled from multiple documents, so you can build a horizontal and vertical version of a publication and combine it into one app in the Folio Builder. Creating two versions of a publication is not ideal, but it’s necessary if you want a publication that changes orientation properly. Adobe seems to be at least on the right track in creating “liquid layouts” in InDesign that will re-orient themselves depending on the orientation, which would be a wonderful new feature. Here’s a demo of the technology at Adobe MAX.

Adding articles and pushing folios up to the Content Viewer is most of what the Folio Builder does, but there are also some sharing features which I think is very important in a production environment. The Folio Builder panel’s menu has a Share option which will let users share a publication with other users who have an Adobe ID. You can also append a subject and message to the share notice. This is very useful but I would also like an interface in the DPS website where you can set up groups of multiple users so you can grant rights and share folios with groups of people at once. This is what I do when developing Facebook applications. Even though you can share to multiple individuals at once in Folio Builder, groups and shared rights make collaboration easier.

BOOK REVIEW: Scott Berkun’s Mindfire

I’m a fan of Scott Berkun’s books—you can read my reviews of both Confessions of a Public Speaker and The Myths of Innovation—but Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds is the first that I discovered by word of mouth rather than a press release from O’Reilly, Scott’s regular publisher. This is because Mindfire is Scott’s first self-published book, which he did because “I want to publish books in the future that no publisher in its right mind would release” and so he is learning to do it himself. I can only imagine what kind of topics Scott plans to write about!

Mindfire is a compilation of short essays from Scott’s previous online work, including his blog at ScottBerkun.com. Avid readers of Scott’s website will recognize a lot of the material. The book itself looks good: I like the cover design and the interior is clean though maybe a little large on the type size. The content is also well-written, engaging and thought-provoking. Scott covers a wide range of topics, from motivation and time management (“The Cult of Busy” is a great opening chapter) to workplace dynamics and evolving your thinking and your products in the face of change. Scott structures Mindfire around his three ultimate takeaways: motivation (“gasoline”), leveraging catalysts (“sparks”) and building long-term success (“fire”).

I enjoyed Mindfire a lot and would recommend it for many readers, but the book falls a little short when compared to his other books I’ve read. Here’s my reasons:

  • No matter how much structure Scott wraps around the book, Mindfire is still a collection of self-contained essays and they don’t share a central theme. Some artforms can get away with this (“Greatest Hits” albums are often popular) but others don’t. The television “clip show” is a prime example. Scott does the best he can but Mindfire just isn’t as cohesive as I’d like it to be.
  • One thing I enjoyed in Confessions and Myths of Innovation was Scott’s knack with using anecdotes to illustrate his points. Those anecdotes were always fun to read and enlightening. Mindfire needs the same anecdotal evidence but it’s usually nowhere to be found. I think this is because these essays were designed to be short bursts of insight perfect for blog posts.
  • The “short burst” format is sometimes too short for me. I thought the best entries in Mindfire were the long ones because they had the most detail and fully-formed concepts. In contrast, a chapter like “Book Smarts vs. Street Smarts” is not much longer than a page and concludes well before it should. I’m not against short segments in books, but only if everything is said that needs to be said. Mindfire left me wanting more sometimes.
  • Books composed of online material always have to compete against their online counterpart—in this case, Scott’s blog. I always ask if the book brings something unique to the reader besides a cover and pages, and I don’t think Mindfire does that. Scott planned to include new essays in Mindfire but eventually gave up on the idea.

Mindfire is a very fine book and would be very useful for anyone working in a creative industry—designers and developers would be ideal—or anyone in business who wants to light a fire underneath themselves. The book isn’t perfect but it’s very good and the price can’t be beat.

Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds
Scott Berkun
US $14.95
Rating: 9/10
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REVIEW: Adobe’s Touch Apps for Android

Last month, Adobe released its line of Adobe Touch Apps for Android tablets. Adobe has been testing the mobile and tablet software markets for some time now, first with Adobe Ideas for iOS and Photoshop Express, then the Photoshop SDK and the three Photoshop-related touch apps for iPad, then with Adobe Carousel which also runs currently on iOS, and now with six apps for creative professionals on Android tablets:

  • Adobe Collage, where users can build mood boards with images, text and graphics,
  • Adobe Debut, suitable for presenting graphics and concepts to audiences,
  • Adobe Ideas, a vector application suitable for creating and marking up images,
  • Adobe Kuler, which provides an interface for picking and refining color schemes,
  • Adobe Proto, where layouts for websites can be constructed, and
  • Adobe Photoshop Touch, a tablet-based version of Adobe Photoshop.

I’ve worked with all six and I think the suite of apps are a mixed bag: some really stand out for their usefulness and ability to leverage many tools available in the Android SDK, while others are not as helpful and robust. I can’t tell whether some of the apps are hamstrung by limitations in the APIs or were designed by Adobe to focus on a very specific set of features.

The crown jewel: Photoshop Touch

PS Touch image

Photoshop Touch is probably the Adobe Touch app being promoted the most, and it got a lot of love at the Adobe MAX developer conference in October. Many Photoshop users—including myself—have been wanting “Photoshop on a tablet,” and I think Adobe delivered. Photoshop Touch has a lot of Photoshop’s tools, effects and adjustments, including some I wasn’t expecting (such as Warp). There are a few Photoshop tools that aren’t present, including some animation tools such as the Animation panel. But Photoshop Touch stands out as the most feature-rich and robust of all Adobe’s Touch apps.

I also think Photoshop Touch has the most robust user interface, and incorporates a helpful menu bar at the top of the screen. All the Adobe Touch Apps have a top menu but most only show a few icons and don’t have submenus. Photoshop Touch needs an extensive UI like this, and even though it’s packed with features it’s not hard to use. The only criticism I can make is that some tools aren’t in the same place they are in Photoshop, and Photoshop users might find this counterintuitive. I think the Photoshop Touch development team sometimes strayed too far from the example set by Photoshop.

ps-touch

The results you can achieve with Photoshop Touch are remarkable, particularly with the Scribble Selection tool which lets you mark areas to keep and remove. The app figures out the rest with very good accuracy. This tool reminds me of Photoshop’s old Extract filter, which was removed from that product a couple years ago and still hasn’t been given a suitable replacement. Most of major features are borrowed from Photoshop—layers, brushes, text, adjustment filters and effects are all integrated into Photoshop Touch. One missing feature is the layer mask, which I think is a major oversight. Fortunately, Photoshop Touch exports its files in a new .psdx format, which Photoshop can open with a plugin, so you will be able to bring the full power of Photoshop to your Photoshop Touch projects.

PS Touch image

Photoshop Touch performs best as part of a workflow that also includes Photoshop, though you can do exceptional work without it. Creative professionals who use the Creative Suite extensively will find Photoshop Touch to be a solid extension of their Photoshop tools into the mobile space.

Impressed by Proto

The other Adobe Touch app that really impressed me is Adobe Proto, a web wireframing tool for web designers. Like Photoshop Touch, it has a robust set of tools and a UI that also includes gesture shortcuts. For example, draw a box on the canvas and an HTML div element is created. Draw a “play button” triangle and an HTML5 video element is created. The gesture UI is very easy to work with and I wish Proto was not the only Adobe Touch app that implemented it, but each app has its own development team and the Proto team happened to be the only one to weigh gestures important enough to include in the initial launch. Proto’s gesture UI makes creating website wireframes quick, easy and even fun.

Proto image

Proto projects can contain multiple pages and link between them, and there’s a lot of emphasis on basic HTML elements, form elements and navigation powered by jQuery, the ubiquitous JavaScript framework. Projects can then be pushed up to Adobe Creative Cloud—Adobe’s upcoming cloud service for creative professionals—and then brought into Dreamweaver or any other programming application. I’ve looked at the code Proto renders out and it’s fairly basic but functional, consisting of HTML5, CSS and jQuery as needed. Each page in a project gets its own CSS file, which is not usually advantageous.

Proto image

Proto is a solid wireframing app that provides a lot of tools despite its restrictions in the tablet. Developers need to apply some design work to the output and perhaps clean up some of Proto’s code, but I think Proto can provide a decent starting point for many projects.

Two new apps: Collage and Debut

Collage image

Adobe Collage is a fun tool for producing “mood boards,” which agencies and design teams sometimes use to bring images and text together to communicate a concept for development. Collage leverages the tablet interface very well, including support for multi-touch gestures that brings a tactile behavior to the mood board experience. Moving items around with your fingers is different than using a mouse and a monitor. Collage also interfaces with the tablet’s camera so you can take pictures of your environment and make it part of your mood boards instantly. There’s a small set of tools as well for markup, including a vector brush, text tool and a drop-down menu for duplicating, deleting and stacking elements. You can also include playable video into your mood boards, but they play in a new window and not on the project board itself.

Collage image

Unfortunately, there are not many more features in Collage and I find it to be lacking a few features. Why not include a microphone or allow importing video from the tablet camera? Both of these could really bump up the personal experience of creating projects in Collage. Also, Collage files are currently imported into Photoshop by converting them into a PSD file that can’t be converted back into a Collage file. The converted PSD doesn’t retain video elements either. I think there’s a few kinks to work out in the Adobe Touch Apps/Creative Suite import/export process.

Debut image

Adobe Debut is the least powerful and weakest member of the Adobe Touch Apps family. Debut is a presentation tool that imports graphics and images from various sources and lets users swipe through them. It’s the kind of feature that can be handy in a client meeting or a portfolio presentation. Debut’s best feature is the breadth of sources it can pull images from, including from the tablet’s camera, the Creative Cloud, Google and Flickr. The Creative Cloud gives access to users’ Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator files, which is a real plus for creative professionals. You can also toggle Photoshop file layers on or off when importing. A vector markup tool allows Debut presentations to be marked up on the fly, which can be handy in client meetings.

Debut image 1

However, the fact that I’ve just described the extent of Debut’s functionality goes to show how little it can really do. Collage can do pretty much anything Debut can do except present multiple slides, which is what makes me think Adobe should combine these two apps into a more powerful mood board creation and presentation app for client experiences.

HP’s EliteBook 8460w Still Durable and Tough, Inside and Out

Last year I reviewed the HP EliteBook 8540w, which for me really showed how technology design could go in a different direction than Apple’s spare, minimalist approach. I’ve been a Mac user for years and the EliteBook showed me how some users need tough, sturdy hardware—which designers seem to avoid sometimes in favor of the elegant.

Many changes have happened this year in the computer hardware industry as tablets continue to affect the form factor of our computers. Laptops are becoming smaller and sleeker, and Apple is rumored to be applying the slim MacBook Air form to the MacBook Pro line. Other PC manufacturers like Dell and Asus have responded with similarly thin laptops. HP might do the same, but for now their current EliteBook 8460w remains a thick and durable piece of hardware.

The system configuration is powerful enough: 4GB of RAM, a 300GB hard drive and a 14-inch 1600×900 display all make the EliteBook 8460w a capable machine even for Photoshop work, though an extensive video project probably needs more screen area and more memory. As with the previous iteration, the EliteBook 8460w has plenty of ports and inputs including a fingerprint reader and four USB ports. I’ve never needed more than three USB ports when traveling so I tend to think all of the EliteBook’s ports are overkill, but other users may have several devices to connect and no USB hub to make things easier.

HP touts the EliteBook’s durable design, which still meets the MIL-STD 810G military standards for resisting various environmental effects such as drops, dust, temperatures and shocks. Not a lot of changed from last year’s EliteBook design but I am glad to see the difficult touch buttons at the top of the keyboard have been replaced by physical buttons. The brushed gunmetal case looks striking and stands out among Apple’s silver laptops and the plain plastic cases I see on other PC laptops. The EliteBook 8460w just looks like a machine that’s ready for work.

According to HP, the standard battery in the EliteBook 8460w lasts up to six hours and 30 minutes. I get different readings on the actual machine: at one point it said it was at 60% but had over six hours of life remaining. That makes it sound like the battery can hold 10 hours of power, which would be excellent, and it is corroborated by this user. However, I’ve only put this EliteBook through light to moderate testing, and haven’t tried to tax the system. Working with graphics or video will use more battery life. But it looks like the EliteBook 8460w’s battery performs very well—better than my MacBook Pro’s.

The EliteBook’s chunky design and moderate weight (almost five pounds) make me wonder how it will stand up next to the crop of sleek laptops hitting the market. I mentioned how the industry is moving toward smaller and thinner laptops and also tablets. I rarely see blocky laptops like the EliteBook 8460w at developer conferences and in designers’ cubicles, so where does the EliteBook belong? Since it’s military-grade hardware and even dubbed a “mobile workstation,” I think the EliteBook line belongs in physically demanding locations including military installations, construction sites and jobs requiring lots of travel. The EliteBook 8460w would excel in all these situations. Designers who worship at Apple’s altar may find the EliteBook form factor practically barbaric, with its extraneous ports and blocky exterior, but the computer itself is strong enough for most design jobs and it could serve designers pretty well.

I think the EliteBook 8460w can be a designer’s workstation, but the laptop’s design might not be everyone’s favorite. I personally need a laptop that’s lightweight and thin because I’m often carrying other devices with me, and can’t carry a bulging laptop bag everywhere I go. But if I was in a line of work where durability was more important, the EliteBook line would be a strong contender.

HP EliteBook 8460w
HP
US $1,329
Rating: 9/10
Buy at Amazon.com

BOOK REVIEW: The Book of Ruby

Book of Ruby cover

The Book of Ruby by Huw Collingbourne covers the Ruby programming language, which is popular as part of the Ruby on Rails framework for building websites and web applications. I thought it was a good primer on Ruby for the average beginner but there are some things that keep it from really standing out against all the other Ruby books on the market.

My first difficulty with the book is the explanation on installing Ruby at the very beginning. I had a hard time understanding what to download and how to install Ruby on my Mac, and I ended up having to do a lot of digging on the Ruby website to figure it out. I think Huw should have covered this a lot more thoroughly, particularly for Ruby beginners.

Once I installed Ruby, I found the rest of The Book of Ruby to be interesting and educational. Huw’s writing style and tone is clear and to the point, which actually sets it apart from other No Starch books like Learn You A Haskell For Great Good!, which has a humorous tone and goofy cartoons in it. In contrast, The Book of Ruby is concise and even a little dry sometimes. I don’t mind this style, and I particularly appreciate Huw’s clean explanation of his code. I did notice that the coding style used through The Book of Ruby isn’t particularly consistent, and it does make some code hard to understand sometimes. That doesn’t bother me, but I know other Ruby developers find a consistent style to be very important for reading Ruby code.

One thing I really find to be missing from The Book of Ruby is hands-on coding projects. I learn more from complex examples and project tutorials, and this book doesn’t really have those. The Book of Ruby‘s strength is in explaining concepts and being a good reference but there aren’t really any projects to work on and I wish there were more ways to tinker with Ruby code. I also think there should be much more devoted to Ruby on Rails than just one chapter, even though technically Ruby is a separate language. Ruby on Rails is a major driving force in Ruby development and I think the book would be more complete with more pages devoted to it.

Programmers who don’t know Ruby might find The Book of Ruby useful as a resource for learning concepts and the scope of the Ruby language. I think there are better resources in print and online for actual hands-on Ruby experience, but The Book of Ruby can help build a good foundation for Ruby development.

The Book of Ruby
Huw Collingbourne
No Starch Press
US $39.95
Rating: 7/10
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BOOK REVIEW: Learn You A Haskell For Great Good!

Learn You A Haskell cover

Learn You A Haskell For Great Good! might be the only programming book with a title in Engrish, and it definitely has a unique tone among all the other programming books out there. Learn You A Haskell was written by a 23-year-old Slovenian and covers the Haskell programming language, which is somewhat different from other web programming languages due to its status as a purely functional and a “lazy” functional language. I’ve not worked with language like this before so I started reading Learn You A Haskell as a true beginner.

Author Miran Lipovaca did an excellent job explaining Haskell’s concepts clearly and logically. The chapters and concepts explored built upon one another—what I learned in the previous chapter helped me understand material in the next chapter. Miran’s writing style is witty and peppered with jokes and funny turns of phrase, which I liked at first but got a little tired of as the book progressed. Miran also likes to doodle and Learn You A Haskell has a bunch of random cartoons throughout the book. I do like having more illustrations in programming books such as these, but they are pretty rough and you’ll like them or you won’t.

Fortunately, the quality of Miran’s cartoons doesn’t affect the quality of the book’s programming materials. The code in Learn You A Haskell is solid and functional, and it explains many Haskell concepts very clearly. I am really pleased to see some advanced elements of Haskell explored here, including type classes, input/output (I/O), functors and monads. They are usually hard to comprehend, but Learn You A Haskell dissects them and explains them in good detail. I think Miran could have expanded these advanced sections, but this is a book for beginners.

One thing I would have liked to have seen more of is tutorials and demos. There’s a lot of code in Learn You A Haskell, but they don’t always coalesce into a larger project or tutorial. Some chapters in particular, such as Chapter 9 on I/O, would have really shined if it dug deep into a large project, but Miran didn’t really push it far enough. I’m not too disappointed by this, but it is an opportunity for improvement.

Programmers of any language who want to try something interesting might want to pick up Learn You A Haskell For Great Good! It makes for a quick read even though it’s almost 400 pages, and the Haskell language itself is interesting. I give kudos to Miran for making what could have been an opaque and difficult subject actually quite interesting and fun.

Learn You A Haskell For Great Good!
Miran Lipovaca
No Starch Press
US $44.95
Rating: 9/10
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BOOK REVIEW: Digital Alchemy

Most technical photography books—the ones that are more about producing images than about creative expression—deal with pixels and the digital photography medium. These books discuss Photoshop techniques, speedlight setup, working with lenses or any number of other hardware or software topics. It’s pretty rare to read one that discusses denatured alcohol, emulsions and other hands-on techniques that bring back memories of the darkroom.

Digital Alchemy by Bonny Pierce Lhotka is just such a book, and I really enjoyed reviewing it. Digital Alchemy is more about digital printmaking than digital photography, but producing the initial transfer images involves photography, Photoshop and whatever digital tools are needed to realize the artist’s vision. Bonny produces her own print transfer products (such as the SuperSauce medium that is used often in the book) and has done extensive testing and experimentation to formulate the techniques in this book. Her pedigree is a strong foundation for the book.

A lot of the book is made of printmaking tutorials. Most require creating an inkjet print on transfer film, applying a transfer medium and then the actual transferring of the image to one of a variety of surfaces—including metal, wood, stone and even metal leaf (including aluminum foil!). Bonny has created techniques for all of these projects and Digital Alchemy really feels like a cookbook—follow the instructions, play with the techniques, and in the end you’ll have a finished product in your hands. This combination of printmaking craftsmanship and digital creation is very satisfying and fun.

I don’t always view DVDs that come with books because they usually contain images and photos from the book’s tutorials. In Digital Alchemy‘s case, however, the DVD contains an hour of well-produced video tutorials showing Bonny in action on a few different projects. I thought they were clear and well-done, and nicely complemented the book. I have seen worse video tutorials being sold by themselves for a lot more money. Here, you get the video and a book for a fair price.

Digital Alchemy is not for everyone: if working in a darkroom sounds messy and unappealing, then you probably aren’t one to apply smelly solutions to film and materials you get out of the home improvement store. However, photographers who started in film photography or even started out as painters and printmakers will absolutely love it. I highly recommend it.

Digital Alchemy
Bonny Pierce Lhotka
Published by New Riders
US $49.99
Rating: 10/10
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BOOK REVIEW: Andy Hertzfeld’s Revolution in the Valley

Revolutions cover

Not long before Steve Jobs died in October, O’Reilly published a second printing of Andy Hertzfeld’s Revolution in the Valley: The Insanely Great Story of How The Mac Was Made. This book was first published back in 2004, and before that most of the material was (and still is) available at folklore.org, which Andy still maintains. I’ve always loved the stories at folklore.org and this book continues to be an engrossing and very vivid retelling of the events that made many of us computer users.

For those who don’t know, Andy Hertzfeld was a member of the original Macintosh team and designed the Mac’s system software. Users like me who really got to know the Mac in the early 1990s with System 7 will remember the Control Panel, Scrapbook and other built-in applications. Hertzfeld wrote many of those. In Revolution, Andy’s writing style seems effortless: descriptions are vivid, dialogue and the “storyline” seems intense all of the time, and there’s a real plot throughout the book as the initial Mac team is brought together, hangs together as they build this “insanely great” new personal computer, and eventually moves on one by one. It’s a moving story and Andy tells it very well. (I should also note several other Mac team members like Steve Capps and Bruce Horn contribute some great stories.)

I couldn’t put Revolution down for a couple weeks: the stories and characters are so engrossing that I was reading through the book even though I’ve read many of the stories already on folklore.org. I think the story of the Macintosh’s development is so rare—when a great group of characters and geniuses come together to build such an important device for our generation, the stories that come out are bound to be phenomenal. Of course, one of the greatest characters in the book is Steve Jobs himself, who comes across as a driven, egocentric genius but without the business acumen he gained after being booted out of Apple.

Unfortunately, there’s not much new material in the book that isn’t already on folklore.org. The best new takeaways are Andy’s written notes, which really illustrate the day-to-day work behind the Mac, but I wanted even more images. I’m also not a big fan of the book’s cover, which looked dated even in 2004 and even more so now in 2011.

Fans of the Macintosh, Apple, or the PC industry in general should have a copy of this book, even if they have folklore.org bookmarked on their browser. The stories have an inescapable, timeless quality that both geeks and regular people can enjoy. If you ever used a Mac from the mid-1990s or earlier, Revolution might mean even more to you.

Revolution in the Valley
Andy Hertzfeld
Published by O’Reilly
US $24.99
Rating: 9/10
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BOOK REVIEW: Vincent Versace’s Welcome to Oz 2.0

Vincent Versace’s reputation as a photographer and lecturer is strong, and he is a fixture in Scott Kelby’s stable of PhotoshopWorld instructors. However, he hasn’t written many books compared to Scott, Joe McNally or other photographers in his class. The only real example, until now, was his Welcome to Oz: A Cinematic Approach to Digital Still Photography with Photoshop which published in early 2007. It’s highly regarded, and so when he published a “version 2.0″ edition this year I was sure to review it.

Welcome to Oz. 2.0: A Cinematic Approach to Digital Still Photography with Photoshop is really a Photoshop book rather than a photography book: most of the pages are for four long, detailed Photoshop tutorials that improve just four images. I’ve never seen anything like it in a 300-page book. With so many pages devoted to so few chapters, you can bet either the tutorials are masterpieces that cover every detail of photography retouching or lessons that are so packed with steps and Photoshop adjustments that they get twisted upon themselves. I think there’s some of both.

I am a fan of advanced books, since there are so many beginner and “prosumer” books on the market. Welcome to Oz 2.0 is a book for advanced and intermediate readers, and Vincent’s tutorials are not simple or quick but constitute a “deep dive” into many features at once and produce great results. Photographers and retouchers who really want to be the best are the perfect audience for Welcome to Oz 2.0.

However, some of Vincent’s work in Welcome to Oz 2.0 really do go over the top sometimes. There’s value in retouching a background in six steps that, in this book, might take 15. Welcome to Oz 2.0 is not a book for in-house retouchers or photographers who don’t have a lot of time to spend tweaking images. I’ve trained with another highly regarded Photoshop operator, Dan Margulis, and one year he had us work with an image of a woman in white satin. He joked that he got the image from Vincent and gave him grief when he made the image look better than his in just a few minutes. Ironically, that same image is in Welcome to Oz 2.0; Vincent’s retouching lesson on it lasts 60 pages!

Welcome to Oz 2.0 is not just a few Photoshop tutorials. Vincent lets his philosophy on photography shine through in the tutorial intros and also several page in the beginning and end of the book. I think these nuggets of wisdom are the best part of the book. Vincent has thought a great deal about his craft throughout his career and it’s good advice for a photographer at any skill level. I enjoyed reading it, but my taste is for more straightforward and succinct prose.

One more thing: If you enjoy WWelcome to Oz 2.0, you should know that Vincent plans to make the “Oz” books part of a three- or four-book series. From Oz to Kansas: Almost Every Black and White Conversion Technique Known to Man is available now for pre-order. Return to Oz is the third book’s title and the fourth will be Every Picture Tells a Story: Cinematic Digital Still Photography and 21st Century Composition Theory. Like I said, Vincent’s verbiage is rarely succinct.

Welcome to Oz. 2.0: A Cinematic Approach to Digital Still Photography with Photoshop
Vincent Versace
Published by New Riders
US $49.99
Rating: 8/10
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