Ben Willmore’s “Up To Speed” Book A Great Resource

This small volume is excellent for power users wanting to get 100% familiar with CS2

up to speed cover

In the introduction to Ben Willmore’s “Up To Speed: Photoshop CS2″, Ben lists the three main classifications of Photoshop books today:

  • Photoshop “bibles” that cover everything and weigh as much as your G5
  • Cookbooks that give you recipes for cool tricks but no in-depth study of what it all does
  • Books that are in-depth and focus on a single area, such as retouching or color management

Ben writes that his “Up To Speed” book doesn’t fall in any of these categories, but I think it fits the third because it is exhaustively in-depth and it covers a narrow range of Photoshop tools and techniques, specifically those new to CS2. This is an excellent book because it has a lot of useful information, things you will probably not learn just by putzing around in the application, it’s presented clearly and, whether you’re a designer or a photographer, there’s entire sections that will seem like they were written just for you (because they were!).

Section I: Foundations

Ben: thank you for writing on Adobe Bridge. It’s an important part of the Creative Suite but I don’t see many books on the shelves written for that application and sometimes it can be hard to simply “figure out” the new stuff. In “Up To Speed” there’s a whole chapter on Bridge, and it gives users some great ideas on how to fluidly access images and materials from a variety of folders and servers. Read the pages on Compact Mode and Ultra-Compact Mode and you’ll see what I mean.

The second chapter in Foundations covers all the general changes from CS to CS2, things you will probably not notice right away like the Type Preferences pane, increased memory usage and Shadow/Highlight’s new ability to work with CMYK as well as RGB images. The greatest thing about this book are exactly these little things, and you wonder how Ben was able to find every one of them (hint: Adobe helped out a little).

Section II: Design

This is the bulk of the book, and for good reason: many of the largest sea changes in Photoshop, such as the Layers palette and Smart Objects, are features for designers.

Ben’s chapter on the Layers palette is probably one of the best explanations of this new beast that I’ve seen

Ben’s chapter on the Layers palette is probably one of the best explanations of this new beast that I’ve seen. Users who are getting angry trying to work with the new Layers palette, or novices who find the palette unintuitive, will benefit a lot from reading this chapter. Smart Objects are also covered in great detail, but I wish the Variables section had more detail. I came away from it not feeling I had a firm grasp, unlike the other sections. I think some more screenshots would help a great deal, as the Variables dialog box has a lot going on in it. In general, I wish the book was a bit larger and had room for more screenshots to illustrate all the information given.

My favorite chapter is the “Small Gems For Designers” chapter, because it brings together all the CS2 changes that designers will find handy. I think it’s great that the chapter is organized with the reader in mind, rather than the application. The greatest breakthrough in CS2’s adoption of ImageReady’s Animation palette, and Ben suggests that by the next upgrade Photoshop will have absorbed ImageReady’s tools and become integrated with it. I’ve been advocating this for some time (ImageReady has always been buried in the Photoshop folder, and not many users know its abilities) and I hope an integration with Photoshop will brings that power into the hands of more people. Until then, though it’s incomplete, Photoshop has at least the power to create an animated GIF if you’re handy. In a future post I’ll look into how you can create animated GIFs with Photoshop CS2 and how it matches and sometimes falls behind ImageReady CS2.

Section 3: Photography

Photoshop has grown into a tool for photographers as well as designers, and with the advent of digital photography it was a smart move to grow the application to embrace those users. CS2 has two very large and important changes just for photographers: Camera Raw 3 and HDR (High Dynamic Range) Imaging. Ben’s chapters on these two topics are thorough and detailed, and are accessible not only to advanced users but also to novices who are looking to grow. If you haven’t used CR or HDR before, start learning it here.

If you haven’t used CR or HDR before, start learning it here.

I was disappointed to see that some of the flashiest and most-hyped new features of CS2, such as the Vanishing Point filter and Spot Healing Brush, were stuck way in the back of the book on Chapter 9. These are tools that photographers and designers alike will be looking to learn about, and I thought they should have been in the Foundations section for that reason. A designer may miss them altogether if they don’t look hard enough. But it’s a minor quibble, because the chapter itself is solid and so is the final chapter, “Small Gems For Photographers”, which will do for photographers what the Small Gems For Designers chapter did for the designers. Did you know that Dr. Russell Brown’s Image Processor, which has been around for years, is now a part of CS2? You do now.

Conclusion

Aside from some minor complaints about screenshots and lack of depth, I think the “Up To Speed” book is exceptional and is a must-read for those who have CS2 but haven’t had the time to learn the new features (or those who are going batty because things don’t function the way they used to). Ben tells you when Adobe has done something dumb, and he will usually have a workaround for you to get around it. The book is $24.99, which compared to a lot of Photoshop books is a relatively small price to pay, and it’s one of the better deals you’ll find.