Al Ward's Photoshop
Over 600 Time-Saving Actions
By Al Ward
July 2004 | 1st edition | 160 pages
List Price: $34.99
Sybex Online Price: $27.99
What the Book is About
- Photoshop actions are one of the
main program features to justify a full version of Photoshop, in my opinion, as opposed
to simpler, but very capable, programs such as Photoshop Elements. If you are not
familiar with actions, they are macro programs you can create in Photoshop to automate
steps that you find yourself repeating on different programs (applying filters, adjusting
image attributes, adding file information such as copyright, etc.). You can use actions
from an actions palette in addition to performing batch operations on folders full
of files and other time saving activities. Plus, if you are like me, they are great
for remembering current favorite tweaks and grouping current favorite actions for
repeating on each new file I work. They are also a great way to share techniques
among Photoshop users, since they can be exported and imported. This is where Toolkit
comes in. The author has created and compiled actions for you to use selectively
or in bulk to add to your Photoshop prowess. And, the book provides a tutorial to
provide in-depth information on how to create and work with actions.
"Al Ward's Photoshop Productivity Toolkit: Over 600 Time-Saving Actions"
is a book and CD that comes with over 600 actions and other goodies for your use.
In addition to getting these actions, the book provides a good tutorial on Photoshop
actions, which I will not even begin to try and describe all the aspects of actions
and their power. As an avid Photoshop user and action creator, I found much to learn
in regards to how actions and the Photoshop interface work and how I can create and
use actions more effectively. A challenging aspect of this review was that in addition
to reviewing the book, there are the 600 individual actions. I sampled all the types
of actions but will find much more diversion time to try all of them. The title talks
about time-saving actions, but it goes far beyond that to introduce you to even more
of Photoshop's seemingly unlimited potential.
- Target Audience
- This book is intended for Photoshop
users who desire to learn about "actions", tasks that utilize Photoshop's
ability to create macros to automate steps on individual files or to batches of files.
The book provides excellent information to help the reader learn about the basics
of actions as well as the details of the Photoshop actions implementation. In addition,
it is intended for Photoshop users looking to expand their libraries of actions with
a wide variety of pre-written actions grouped by action type (photographic, artistic,
and text effects).
- What to Expect
- The book is really divided into
two parts. The first 80 pages are devoted to explaining all about Photoshop actions.
You are introduced to actions, what they can do, and how to work with actions created
by others, including editing. From there, the creation, testing and editing of actions
is covered. The power of actions is batch applications is also presented along with
other tidbits. Even as an experienced actions creator and user, I did find much to
learn on the power of Photoshop actions, as is true for Photoshop in general - always
lots to learn.
The second part of the book is devoted to introducing you to the actions provided
on the included CD. The types of actions along with sample applications of some of
the actions are presented. With the sheer number of included actions, not all can
be described so many are just listed. Experimenting and trying the various actions
are really the only way to learn about what all is included. The examples and descriptions
just peak your interest on the many many mini-adventures that are to be found in
the software half of this package.
- I liked the detailed description
of the Photoshop implementation of actions since it filled in needed details from
what I had learned in my self-studies. The descriptions of the actions themselves
are too brief to help you know what you are getting and how they might be applied,
but those kinds of details may not feasible with the sheer volume of the actions.
The actions themselves run the gamut. There are file actions, artistic effects, text
(e.g. molten metal, wood, plastic), printing layouts, digital photo actions, borders,
patterns, aging effects, 3D (I need to find some glasses to see how these work!),
and many others to try. The book provides a description of a few and a listing of
all the actions. In general, with this product, you have to try them to see what
they do and compare (to try and evaluate the various sharpening actions, for example).
I found many to be interesting and fun while others did not appeal to me. A different
source picture with different colors, dynamic ranges or resolution, may have offered
better results. Since I am not an artist, my tastes may not be that developed.
One technique I used in working with these actions was to just delete the actions
that I did not find interesting, leaving a shorter list to work with. One of them
that I liked was an action called "Comic Action" that converted my picture
to a colorful and beautiful rendition. Another was "ModelShot2" that added
a warm blur to the picture with interesting highlights that will work nicely on portraits.
With ModelShot2, I found that the resolution of the target file makes a difference.
When I tried it on a low resolution picture, it looked great. Trying it on a higher
resolution picture did not look as nice since the effects were smaller. So, the lesson
is to convert to a lower resolution when applying this action.
As one who is currently very interested and active in the study of photo manipulations
in Photoshop, there were very few actions that benefited me in terms of improving
my photos. For users who are not as skilled in how to use Photoshop, this package
would be of benefit and would save you some of the time that I had invested to learn
these techniques the hard way. I did find many interesting effects, such as adding
aging effects, that will come in useful with some photos.
When trying the actions, I found some problems as you might expect when running someone
else's macros on your files where the simple programs did not anticipate or account
for various Photoshop file possibilities.
The first action in the package
crashed Photoshop on both my machines. This action was designed to create an aging
effect, "PTK-PhotoAgingCS-01.atn". It contains dozens of steps creating
numerous layers before Photoshop apparently has a problem and quits. I run Photoshop
CS on a G4 Powerbook and a dual G4 desktop.
Another problem I ran into
is when I am in 16-bit mode (which I am doing much more in my photography work),
many of the actions would run into problems since the filters they were calling are
not available in 16-bit mode. I could change to 8-bit mode and then run the action
(it would be nice if the action would alert you when you need to be in 8-bit mode).
I also experienced some other problems (e.g. an error that "The command 'Make'
is not currently available") which leaves you high and dry with no clue what
to do (except F12 to revert the file to last saved state and move on to another action
to try). Others would require some research to learn the best use of the actions
(e.g. the 45 Duotone actions).
In addition to the actions, the package includes additional Photoshop add-ons such
as brushes, patterns, shapes, and styles, along with some other third party goodies
that I have yet to explore. If you like looking through piles of things for treasures,
you will enjoy this area of the Toolkit. Their use will require additional Photoshop
knowledge on how to install and access these goodies.
- Mac Guild Grade
- My grade was based on the price
versus the value of what I thought you got. The written tutorial on actions was excellent,
but is a such a focused aspect of Photoshop, I did not think the value matched other
books in this price range. Plus, I realized that out of the 600 actions provided
with the book, I will really only be keeping just a few. Most created effects that
I could not see using again. So depending on how useful you find the actions, your
value may vary.
For the book portion, I thought the actions tutorial was very well written and
very informative. I would give it an A for quality and clarity of the writing and
the information provided. I just have a hard time recommending a $30 book for such
a focused topic. The actions provided on the CD I rate a 3 1/2 out of 5 mice rating.
Since I have learned so much about Photoshop's ability through other books that layout
actions to do various photo corrections and such, I was a bit disappointed that I
did not get as much out of this product.
- Final Words
- If you are interested in digging
deep into learning how to create and use Photoshop actions, this book will provide
you valuable information to support your learning and is an excellence resource for
this purpose, as well as providing a treasure load of actions to explore and learn
from. If you like experimenting to look for new artistic effects, both photo and
text, you will have fun going through all the actions. If your primary interest is
in actions for techniques for improving digital photos (without special effects),
you will find better help in books such as Scott Kelby's book "The Photoshop
CS Book for Digital Photographers" and creating your own actions from what you