REVIEW: Kelby’s 7-Point System Breaks New Ground


Kelby 7-point system

Scott Kelby is in a great position: he’s the most popular writer in our industry, the public face of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, one of the driving forces behind Photoshop TV and one of the most listened-to Photoshop experts out there. He’s the Oprah of the Photoshop industry! Now that he’s launched Kelby Training and has just announced a subscription-based online training experience, he’s also a training maven like Total Training or Lynda.com. I think Scott is great, but my one criticism of his books would be their tendency to stick with the same Scott Kelby formula from book to book. Since versions of Photoshop come out every 18 to 24 months, many of his books are parts of series that haven’t changed much: the “For Digital Photographers” series, “Killer Tips” series, “Down & Dirty Tricks” series and the iPod/iTunes/Digital Photography books are all examples. They are often similar in layout, style and content, and my learning experience has diminishing returns.

That’s why I was thrilled to hear about the new Scott Kelby’s 7-Point System for Adobe Photoshop CS3 (long title). Scott hasn’t done anything quite like this book before. The whole book is focused on a seven-point system of Photoshop techniques that is all you need to make even the worst photographs look good:

  • Adobe Camera Raw processing
  • Curves
  • Shadow/Highlight
  • “Painting with Light,” basically introducing a darker or lighter version of the image and then masking parts of it
  • Channels adjustments with Lab and Apply Image
  • Layer blend modes and layer masks
  • Sharpening

The book was the brainchild of Jeff Kelby, Scott’s brother, who saw how many of Scott’s best photos looked poor right out of the camera. The book was to show how crappy photos could be made great in a few simple steps, and as the book developed Scott realized he used a handful of techniques over and over again—which became the seven points above.

A new structure

The book is comprised of 21 lessons, each one improving upon a real-life photograph right out of the camera. There’s a wide variety of photographs—people, landscapes, objects and more—and they do look pretty lousy. Fortunately they are shot in Camera Raw, which helps since Camera Raw processing is one of the seven points and really does a lot to help make photography great. One of the unique things about this book is the fact that it goes over some of the techniques over and over again: since the seven points are so vital to the 7-Point System, Kelby goes over them more than once. The early lessons go over each point in detail, repeating them to facilitate learning, and as the book continues the emphasis shifts to other techniques (not everything in this book is about the 7-Point System) and the system becomes rote. This is one of the very few books in my recollection that is focused on teaching and making something stick in the reader’s mind: there’s a lot of Photoshop books out there with a lot of tips and tricks, but Scott Kelby’s 7-Point System focuses on the same stuff again and again until it’s second nature. I find that the best Photoshop books make it their mission to teach, and this one does it well even though it doesn’t feel like a textbook: it’s fun to read, the images are well-selected and the techniques are very valuable.

Many of these techniques are for intermediate or advanced users, but the step-by-step training makes it accessible for practically anyone who knows their way around Photoshop. The book doesn’t really go in-depth on any points in particular, so readers looking for advanced knowledge on curves, Camera Raw or other specific techniques will want to look at other resources. Scott Kelby’s 7-Point System sticks to the seven techniques as part of a larger system, which I think is a good decision.

If you purchase this book, I recommend you read it start to finish and practice the techniques as you go.

How do you apply the 7-Point System?

If you go through all 21 lessons and practice every aspect of the 7-Point System, you will be in great shape as you move on to your daily work and begin improving your own images in Photoshop. However, as time goes by readers may not remember which techniques should be used and when. If a photo is underexposed, should you fix it in Camera Raw or with Curves? If a part of your image has a color cast, should it be fixed by “painting with light” or with one of the other seven points? Thankfully Scott wrote a cheat sheet in the back of the book, which is very helpful. Too many books leave readers hanging once all the tips have been thrown out in the open, but Scott Kelby’s 7-Point System outlines the reasoning behind each point and even gives some helpful details such as the Unsharp Mask settings he uses (amount 85%, radius 1.0, threshold 4). The cheat sheet could have benefited from a second page, but it’s good nonetheless.

I like the layout

When I have a beef with Scott Kelby’s books, it’s usually because of the layout. I find the images often show great photographs but don’t explain very much, and it’s a pain to pick out the key points (keyboard shortcuts, menu items, etc.) in the text. Scott hasn’t really changed the text styles so the key points still blend in with the rest of the text, but it seems with the images there’s more dialog boxes, panels, red circles around important items, and other educational triggers. I like this a lot, and I hope it continues in all of Scott’s books in the future.

Conclusion: A wonderful book

I almost never give a perfect ten, but Scott Kelby’s 7-Point System for Adobe Photoshop CS3 deserves it. There’s so many resources for Photoshop tips, printed or otherwise, but this is a rare instance of an author analyzing his Photoshop work in order to distill it to a system helpful to any Photoshop user. It’s ironic that a handful of basic Photoshop techniques is all you need to make photographs look great, but any advanced user will tell you it’s true. If I had to find fault with this book, I would cite the long title and the fact that it’s hard to pull keyboard shortcuts, menu items and main ideas from the text, but I think this book does so many things so well that those quibbles are very minor indeed.

Scott Kelby’s 7-Point System for Adobe Photoshop CS3
Scott Kelby
Published by Peachpit Press
$49.99
Rating: 10/10