Focus on Fundamentals: Recommendations for Photoshop Training
> I've been shooting digital, but it's time to learn
> Photoshop. Can you recommend a good training or tutoring
> program, CD, book or DVD?
That question leaves the door wide-open to plugging my own wares, but I think it would be more useful to step back and think about what you are really looking for as a serious beginner trying to learn Photoshop or even Elements.
As a beginner, you want to get to understanding what you are doing with Photoshop and get up to speed by the quickest path possible. The desire to get things done quickly and make leaps in progress is an attractive goal, and because it is what users think they want, it drives the market for learning materials that are created. That has led to an abundance of learning resources that promise to make it easy, yet a dearth of good information. Materials that want to win the reader as a friend and up painting a rosy picture, fill out the content with fluff and humor that are easy to read, trumpeting how easy it is to improve your images. Ultimately, these soft texts and programs offer very little but a handful of quick tips, a few sloppy tricks, deflated wow and the failed promise of learning it all fast.
Regretfully, you'll find that just about all of this advertising is a gimmick. Titles like "Learn Photoshop in a Day" lure in readers with a promise, reveal the 'gimmick' ("...using 24 one-hour lessons!"), and then fail to provide anything of real substance. On the other hand, titles like "Suffering for Photoshop" or "Difficult Methods for Pretty Pictures" won't tend to attract readers, and optimally the hope is that Photoshop should be easy to learn. But the whole premise of learning something as complex as Photoshop in such a small amount of time is absurd. If you are learning a lighter mood may make you comfortable in the new terrain, but what you don't need are materials that are entertaining (presentation without substance), materials that just repeat the Help menu, materials you can get for free if you poked around the internet, and materials that ultimately leave you with no sense of what to do with your images -- and fail to give you a good idea how to work with images intelligently and safely. "Just trust me" is a favored line, for example, of one well-know Photoshop author when it comes to color management suggestions, and the somewhat sour advice offered routinely causes more problems than it cures. It is quick and easy, but ultimately harmful and wrong.
From my perspective, the best place to start as a beginner is with solid fundamentals:
* An introduction to navigating the interface and setup (including some basics of color management)
* A plan for handling images once they come off the camera (proper ideas of file types, sizing, and storage)
* A background on the tools you need to work with day-to-day
* A plan for working with every image you encounter
* An idea of what you want to accomplish
This may not be the most exciting list if you need to experience learning like it is a carnival ride, but it is terribly practical and gives you a solid foundation to build on and expand from. Know where to find tools and navigate and you will have a sense of comfort. Handle images correctly and you can experiment and learn without causing your source images harm and store them safely and efficiently. Find out what tools to use every day will help you avoid those that can cause damage to your images while using those that are most efficient. Define an outline to follow and you take decided steps forward rather than ambling randomly from one technique to the next experimenting and wasting time hoping something fabulous happens during click-and-pray. Practical, refined methodology yields the best and most consistent results.
Resources for learning are numerous. Some people will learn best from books or DVDs or even online courses and tutorials. I would suggest that you take a wide approach and use a variety of resources. First, don't neglect Adobe's Help. It is a great free resource for learning about individual functions and features and how to apply them that comes with the program. Tutorials online are hit-or-miss depending on the source, and many of them contain information that is harmful to your images -- take them all with a grain of salt. You'll have to weed through them. But truth be told many of those same harmful techniques were duplicated from the all-too-common Books and DVDs that contain unfortunatate misunderstandings and misinformation, and were compiled by marketers or other opportunists who saw the huge market for Photoshop and image editing training. That is, many materials are compiled by professional trainers and professional writers rather than people with real day-to-day experience in image editing.
Online courses come in many types...from those that have lessons sent out without any ability to interact with the instructors to those that offer full access to industry experts (see betterphoto.com). Of course those range in price accordingly. The advantage of the latter is being able to actually interact with the expert teaching the course (rather than just having their picture on it) and get explanations and answers to your questions. In this day, even books and DVDs have the opportunity to offer online areas for Q&A, and very few do. I think readers should have access to authors (as I have offered for all my books since the first one), and those who don't offer that are essentially refusing to support their materials. (see my open forum for my new layers book: http://photoshopcs.com/forum)
Some disagree that you should ever need training, and that the best method for learning Photoshop is to simply get in and play. That is valiant, and if you have infinite time, this may be a viable option. If you can't afford books, DVDs or other training, then it certainly makes sense. But as the only resource of learning, unguided exploration of such a vast program is penny wise and pound foolish. Why learn about tools you won't ever need for image editing? Why waste time learning to apply features that harm your images? And how do you grow to understand the theory behind the tools by just the click-and-pray method of discovery? It will be hugely time consuming and very costly in its own right. Having been one who learned Photoshop when there were no books, and no experts, it took many times longer than it could have to get up to speed. These days there is the opportunity to ride on the experience of those who have spent time figuring out what is really important. There is something to be said of apprenticeship in learning any trade. Making an investment in formal materials should at least supplement any 'learn as the wind blows' mentality if images and image editing are important to you. I do think you will retain a lot more by jumping in and experiencing the pain of learning...but I also think base fundamentals can stop you from getting burned.
Focus on fundamentals from the outset rather than tips, tricks and 'wow' can form a net of safety for your experimentation. For example, I had a self-taught student that thought they knew a lot about Photoshop, and found out in my course that her routine for the past 3 years of image editing had been systematically ruining her images. She resized all images smaller and saved as JPEG to save space as soon as the images came off the camera, and resaved over the originals when she edited. That original source for her vacations, memories and other photography had been compromised, and potential detail permanently lost. It is not simply wasting time at that point, but obliteration of years of photographic work -- as sad as losing photos on a crashed drive, and with no options to even do it all over again. The student's predicament was a tragedy, but there was no way to reverse it...and she is not the only one. It could have been different had she learned her fundamentals first.
Puttering has its place and is very important to learning, exploring, and confidence...but it is a single avenue that can also lead to misconception and disaster. Certain practical, fundamental things are just not intuitive and learning to deal with them can save hundreds of hours of frustration, or even catastrophic loss. Whatever the source you use to get off on the right foot, exploring and experimentation is best done in concert with learning fundamentals.
I hope that helps!
The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book for CS4 was just released in mid-March ('09)! Get it on Amazon: http://aps8.com/taplbcs4.html. The book has 60 new pages of material, including a section on making manual HDR conversion the layers way. All of the exercises and materials have been reviewed and updated. That said, techniques aim at being timeless and accessible for many versions of Photoshop and Elements as well. This is a book for the serious-minded.
For those looking to learn Photoshop fundamentals, I teach a Photoshop 101 course at betterphoto.com recently updated for CS4 and Elements 7 (Photoshop 101: the Photoshop Essentials Primer). The course covers my outline of fundamentals from the bulleted list above and helps get you started enjoying and experiencing the program without the frustration and potential disasters. Betterphoto courses allow interaction with the instructor as well as other classmates.