Tag Archives: photographers

REVIEW: Karen Sperling’s Painting for Photographers: Landscapes

Karen Sperling wrote the first Corel Painter manual when the program debuted in 1991 and can be considered one of the very first evangelists of that product, which is still the gold standard of digital painting applications. So I was excited when she contacted me to request a review of her Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes DVD.

This two-hour set of lessons covers watercolor and oil painting techniques as well as bonus lessons on oceanscapes and cityscapes. Karen has been painting in Painter for a long time and her training and technique are smooth and confident. She has a painting method that works very well and is based on painterly techniques like building up color and developing the whole canvas first before focusing too much on specific regions. All the lessons are begun from photos rather than en plain air and the photos are included on the DVD, so users can train with the same material after watching the lessons.

I also appreciate the inclusion of art history into the lessons. Karen explains basic painterly concepts by showing works by Hopper and Cézanne, among others. Digital painting straddles the fields of digital art and traditional painting, and you can’t achieve your best work without being versed in both fields.

There are a few aspects of the lessons that I think can be improved. The lessons provide a variety of techniques and examples, but I also some repetition: for example, there’s not a lot of difference in technique between cityscapes and oceanscapes. Also, the paintings that Karen creates in this DVD don’t seem to have much detail. For example, one lesson has a dockside scene with various boats. The final painting is missing almost all of the boats’ masts and rigging, as well as details on the buildings in the background. I would like Karen to demonstrate how these details can be created in Painter because I think they enhance the final quality of the work.

While the content and the delivery is good, I think the production quality of the DVD can be improved. Here are some of the things that bothered me:

  • The lessons feel like they are in a PowerPoint format, with title cards often cutting into the flow of the video. Text overlays and more use of the lower third of the screen would be a better solution.
  • There is a lot of background music being used, and it was louder than Karen’s voice so I had to use volume control quite a bit. She acknowledged the unbalanced sound and plans to correct it on future releases.
  • I also thought some of the music was distracting and would like to hear something less obtrusive.
  • Sometimes Karen would use graphic elements like a color wheel to demonstrate techniques and principles. I think this is very good but it looks like Karen illustrates her points by literally drawing on the graphic in Painter with a hard brush. It looks pretty cheap—a more slick presentation can be created in After Effects or even Photoshop with not much extra effort. I think top-notch production quality is particularly important for digital artists.
  • A lot of the lessons consist of Karen painting in between her lecturing. This is where users get to see Painter in action, but most of the time it is sped up and Karen lets us see only a quick progression of the painting process. We can see Painter settings and the color panel dart in and out of view but can’t discern much other than that. Showing the entire painting process in real time is obviously not feasible, but I would like to see more focus on Painter and how to work with the application.

Painting for Photographers, Volume 2: Landscapes
Karen Sperling
Artistry
US $139.95
Rating: 7/10

BOOK REVIEW: The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers


Companion

Derrick Story’s The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers is an interesting book, in that it strives to be a slim “companion” book for photographers out in the field but still aims to cram itself with all the information pertinent to a photographer using Photoshop. The end result is something in between, a book I enjoyed for its compact size and portability but ended up questioning whether it simply has too much information.

Great book for the studio

Don’t get me wrong—I’m the type to encourage information overload. And with that being the case, I’m impressed by the amount of information the Companion packs into its pages. Like many other books, this one focuses on workflow at the beginning and spends a chapter discussing importing images with the Photo Downloader, a component of Bridge that I’ve not found much use for until now. Derrick considers it a very powerful tool for importing photos, and I agree although there are other solutions (I personally use Photoshop Lightroom) and I would doubt most photographers are shooting in the field without an importing strategy already in place.

The book continues with a chapter on rating and keywording in Bridge (again, I use Lightroom for this—but Bridge is the next best thing) and two chapters on Camera Raw, and then the book moves into Photoshop territory with coverage of a variety of tools (Clone Stamp, Levels) and techniques (blemish removal, sharpening, hue/saturation, panorama stitching). The book ends with a small chapter on printing, which (like workflow) seems a little out of place because one would expect a photographer to worry about printing only after returning from the field.

Not enough Photoshop

Out of the eight chapters in Companion, only two cover Photoshop itself. This bothers me—I know Derrick wanted to avoid packing every Photoshop tip into this book, but I think more could have been done. Since this book is about Photoshop CS4, CS4-specific information would have been helpful: not much is said about the Adjustments and Masks panels, two of the most noticeable changes in Photoshop CS4. A photographer out in the field might want a comprehensive overview of these panels handy when he/she is working on images. There’s also plenty of other tips and tricks a photographer may want to reference in a companion like this book.

A lot of copy

When I think about companions, handbooks and pocket guides—whether they are travel guides or Photoshop books like this one—I hope to see the right mix of imagery, copy and information design. These small books get too jam-packed without white space and visual aids like headings and such. Companion does a pretty good job of mixing images in the right place but the copy is served in huge blocks that are rarely broken up with callouts, boxes or other aids. This makes the book somewhat difficult to use when looking up a particular bit of information, which is often the case out in the field. As I alluded to in my subheading above, this book works best in the studio—or reading room, where one can read the book cover-to-cover. A photographer in the field who has to find out fast how to apply a photo filter to an image for a client will be hard-pressed to find the information in Companion.

Conclusion

The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers is a good book, and I would recommend it for beginners or amateurs who could use a small, easy-to-digest guide to workflow, Camera Raw and a few Photoshop techniques for photographers. It is not a complete Photoshop guide or a full survey of new CS4 features, and I might stick it in my camera bag for “just in case” situations but the lack of Photoshop-specific information and ease of use out in the field might keep it unopened.

The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers
Derrick Story
Published by O’Reilly
Rating: 7/10
US$24.99