Tag Archives: review

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

Adobe Releases Creative Suite 6 and Creative Cloud

Adobe announced today the release of Creative Suite 6 (CS6) and the Adobe Creative Cloud, representing the latest in the company’s lineup of applications for creative professionals. They will be available for purchase in May.

Both products had been previously announced—Creative Cloud was first announced back in October at Adobe MAX—and there are many official and unofficial “sneak peek” videos online of new CS6 features. Some applications have also been available as public betas, including Photoshop CS6 (1 million downloads as of this writing), Edge and Muse (over 1 million downloads each). Despite this early exposure, the creative community seems more excited over this release than some previous Creative Suite releases and the response to the public betas have been very positive. The Photoshop CS6 beta has been downloaded more than any in Adobe’s history.

The Creative Cloud structure

Adobe Creative Cloud is a response by Adobe to the changing nature of software and online services. It’s become clear that large version releases every 18 to 24 months is an anachronism compared to bug fixes pushed over the Internet or online apps handled by many hands across Github. Most of the CS6 products are the same familiar ones we’ve used for years, but Creative Cloud provides a new pricing model, online services and a new activation/updating system.

Adobe Creative Cloud includes:

Lightroom 4 and the Digital Publishing Suite will not be included until the summer. Adobe Touch applications for iOS are planned for release before the summer, particularly Photoshop Touch which my source says will be available in May.

Adobe Creative Cloud is not dependent on an Internet connection; software is downloaded to the user’s computer and can run without a connection. The installed software does check Adobe’s servers once a month to ensure a valid Creative Cloud license exists for the user based on his/her Adobe ID. Software updates can be pushed directly to the user’s computer and content will be available on all devices through Creative Cloud synchronization.

Purchasing software through a Creative Cloud subscription has some advantages. Typically, a Creative Suite customer gets a boxed product that can be installed on two machines—typically a desktop and laptop computer—but the box contains either Mac or Windows versions. Creative Cloud users are still restricted to two machines but one can be a Mac and the other Windows. This is a sweet deal for Mac users who happen to use a PC laptop.

There is also a free subscription available for prospective Creative Cloud customers. The free subscription includes 2GB of cloud storage for projects and trials of all available software. Note that if you buy into Creative Cloud and then cancel at some point, the software will stop working (after it pings the server) but your cloud storage space remains for several months.

Creative Cloud Pricing

Adobe Creative Cloud costs $49.99 per month annually or $74.99 per month, paid monthly. There’s also an introductory rate of $29.99 per month for users of CS3, CS4, CS5 or CS5.5. A version of Creative Cloud optimized for teams will cost $69.99 per person per month. This team-optimized product will include expert services and support, company IT tools and workstation synchronization, but it’s buried deep in Adobe’s development timeline and a fall release would not surprise me.

What if I don’t want Creative Cloud?

Adobe expects many users to create on tablets and mobile devices first, then polish their creations with CS6 and eventually “publish anywhere” with software like Edge—which converts animations to HTML5—and services like Business Catalyst. I reviewed the Adobe Touch apps and I thought they were not robust enough as a whole to bring more than a kernel of a final product back to the desktop, so I’m glad to see a typical Creative Suite workflow—without most of the Creative Cloud-specific features—is still possible.

CS6 icons

There are four Creative Suite 6 suites:

  • Design Standard includes:
    • Acrobat X Pro
    • InDesign CS6
    • Illustrator CS6
    • Photoshop CS6
  • Design Premium and Web Premium have been combined into one suite that includes:
    • All Design Standard products
    • Dreamweaver CS6
    • Fireworks CS6
    • Flash Professional CS6
    • Photoshop CS6 Extended replaces Photoshop CS6
  • Production Premium includes:
    • After Effects CS6
    • Audition CS6
    • Illustrator CS6
    • Photoshop CS6 Extended
    • Premiere Pro CS6
    • Encore CS6
    • Prelude CS6 (new)
    • SpeedGrade CS6 (new)
  • Master Collection includes all CS6 applications.

Adobe Edge, Muse and Lightroom 4 are not CS6 applications and aren’t available in any CS6 suite, though they are included in Creative Cloud.

Prices are:

  • CS6 Design Standard: $1,299 full, $299 upgrade
  • CS6 Design & Web Premium: $1,899 full, $399 upgrade
  • CS6 Production Premium: $1,899 full, $399 upgrade
  • CS6 Master Collection: $2,599 full, $549 upgrade

Flash Builder 4.6 and Acrobat X will not see an update, but Creative Cloud users will get their updates automatically when they are available. CS5.5 single-product subscribers will be able to continue their subscriptions at $19.99 per month per product, and they will also score 10GB of Creative Cloud space. However, CS5.5 suite subscribers will need to transition to Creative Cloud.

What’s in Creative Suite 6?

A lot of readers will really just want to know what’s in the newest versions of the Creative Suite products. There are two new CS6 applications, both in the video category:

  • SpeedGrade CS6, for color grading and color-correcting video
  • Prelude CS6, for adding metadata to clips on import and handling shoot data

There are a huge number of new features for CS6, particularly for some of the flagship products like Photoshop. I think this is why so many public beta users are getting excited for the launch. I am using a few prerelease betas of CS6 software but I prefer to work with the shipping product before I write a review, so those will be forthcoming.

Conclusion

Adobe is naturally excited about the CS6 and Creative Cloud launch, which Scott Morris—Senior Marketing Director for Creative Pros—said might be the most important launch in Adobe’s history. The Creative Cloud product is what makes it so important—it’s a rethinking of the way Adobe delivers products, and it’s the first single product that puts the entire creative workflow in the user’s hands.

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

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 Released From Public Beta, Now $149

After a relatively short beta period, Adobe has released version 4 of Photoshop Lightroom, its photography application for management, development and production of digital photography.

A larger review will be forthcoming, but here are some of the major new features in Lightroom 4:

  • A Map Module that includes location tagging controls and a standard map that places photos in the locations they were shot
  • Video format support for trimming and extracting frames from video clips, applying adjustments to clips and sharing video to Facebook and Flickr
  • Simplified basic adjustment controls
  • Soft proofing features in the Develop module
  • More local adjustment controls such as Noise Reduction and Moiré
  • Templates and tools for creating photo books in the new Book module
  • An email engine within Lightroom for sending mail directly from the application

Adobe has also added some aggressive pricing to Lightroom 4, making it just $149 for the full version and $79 for the upgrade. Lightroom has typically cost $299 for the full version. Tom Hogarty, Lightroom’s main product manager, said, “Lowering the price makes Lightroom more accessible to a broader range of photographers—from pros to amateurs.” This makes sense to me—more and more amateur photographers want to work with professional tools and take their work to the next level—but I also think Adobe wants to compete aggressively with free and cheap photography products on the shelves and online.

Press Release

Innovative Shadow and Highlight Recovery and Enhanced Digital Photography Workflows Mark A Milestone Release

SAN JOSE, Calif. — March 6, 2012 — Adobe Systems Incorporated (Nasdaq:ADBE) today announced the availability of Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® 4 software for Mac OS and Windows. Lightroom is the essential digital photography workflow solution helping amateur and professional photographers quickly import, manage, enhance and showcase their images. First released as a public beta in January 2012, the final version of Lightroom 4 is now available for US$149 for the full version and US$79 for the upgrade, providing an incredible value for photographers. Lightroom 4 introduces refined technology for superior shadow and highlight processing, ability to create photo books, additional local adjustment controls, and enhanced video support.

“Feedback from our customers is invaluable in developing Lightroom and the real trick to a great release is to combine these insights with Adobe’s unrivalled image processing innovation,” said Winston Hendrickson, vice president products, Creative Media Solutions, Adobe. “Lightroom 4 is a stunning new release that will enhance photography workflows and help photographs stand out from the crowd.”

New Features in Lightroom 4

Lightroom 4 is a major release, adding significant new capabilities and innovations. New adjustment controls maximize dynamic range from cameras, recovering exceptional shadow details and highlights. The software features new and improved auto adjustments to dynamically set values for exposure and contrast, and additional local adjustment controls including Noise Reduction, Moire and White Balance.

Lightroom 4 provides photographers the tools to create beautiful photo books with text controls and a variety of easy-to-use templates, as well as a direct link for photo book creation from within the new Book module. A new intuitive Map module displays images already assigned a location, provides location tagging and reverse geo-tagging controls and saved locations for easy assignment of a photographer’s common locations.

Now, native video support gives photographers the capability to play, trim and extract frames from video clips shot on DSLRs, point-and-shoot cameras and smartphones. Video-specific presets and many standard Lightroom image adjustment controls can be applied to video clips, and adjusted videos can be exported as a H.264 file or published directly to Facebook or Flickr*.

In the Develop module, presets fully utilize new processing technology and the addition of soft proofing helps photographers tune images in a destination color space to ensure content looks its best. In addition, customers can now email images directly from Lightroom using an email account of their choice.

Pricing and Availability

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 is now available for Mac and Windows at www.adobe.com/store. The estimated street price is US$149 for new users or US$79 for upgrades. For more detailed information about product features, upgrade policies, pricing and language versions, please visit www.adobe.com/go/lightroom.

Users can also connect with the Lightroom team directly on Facebook (www.facebook.com/lightroom), via Twitter (www.twitter.com/lightroom) or on the Adobe Lightroom blog (http://blogs.adobe.com/lightroomjournal). For Lightroom how-to videos, visit http://www.youtube.com/lightroom.

Adobe Photoshop Family

Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Extended are at the heart of the Photoshop family, joined by solutions for users at every level who want to bring out the best in their digital images either at home, in the office or on the go. Photoshop Lightroom addresses the workflow needs of amateur and professional photographers, helping them create, manage and showcase images in impactful ways. Photoshop Elements provides consumers with powerful yet easy-to-use tools that organize, edit, create and share photo memories. For mobile devices, the Adobe Photoshop Touch app helps users transform images with core Photoshop features custom-built for tablets; and Adobe Photoshop Express is a free app for simple photo fixes and enhancements, and sharing to social networks*.

About Adobe Systems Incorporated

Adobe is changing the world through digital experiences. For more information, visit www.adobe.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.