A common lament among users of Corel's popular Paint Shop Pro series of photo editing programs is the lack of advanced tutorial material. Over time there have been a few professionally done video books and texts offered here and there, and author Robert Correll himself has put together two helpful video books based upon earlier versions of PSP, but in general those efforts concentrate on developing basic to low-level intermediate skills at best. Now Correll and Thomson Course Publishing (since become Cengage Learning) have come forth with an advanced PSP tutorial that goes well beyond the basics of photo repair titled Photo Restoration and Retouching Using Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo.
In his new tutorial Correll (the similarity in names Correll/Corel is pure coincidence) has assembled 73 photo projects, mostly casual photos of his wife and children along with those of assorted kinfolk who were smiling into the family cameras as far back as 1919. The color and black and white photographs presented here have suffered a host of indignities over the years; fading, overwriting and smudges of all kinds, scratches, tears and holes in addition to the usual technical defects caused by bad film, poor lighting or poor scanning techniques. There are, of course, the human flaws as well; a pimple here and there, nose hair, dandruff - it's all here in gory high resolution detail, and each Photo Study's source photo is made available for download upon request to the author. I should add that Correll makes himself readily accessible to his target audience via e-mail, keen on cheering them on in their photo restoration efforts.
Basically each Photo Study begins with a brief background about the subject(s) of the photo. Along the way you will meet the author and his wife Anne and their four small children who are introduced in a light-hearted fashion along with Uncle Jim and Grandpa Bud among others. Then the problems in the photo at hand are pointed out, and Correll begins his repair routine in a step-by-step fashion sometimes diverging to try alternative means of solving the issues being confronted. A pre-release version of PSPP X2 was used to do the repairs, but the included screenshots are taken from PSPP XI. I am still using PSP X, and for the most part had no problems following along though the capabilities of some of the tools in my older version differ slightly from those in the more recent PSPP X2. The Levels adjustment tool is one such example. The text and screenshots are of excellent quality and printed in color on high-gloss stock. My only niggle here is that my 73 year old eyes had difficulty discerning the small text shown in many dialogue boxes, and even my magnifying glass sometimes struggled to make out many of the dialogue settings which are not always specified in the explanatory text.
In Photo Study One the author throws the reader off the leaning tower and right into the heart of photo restoration and retouching with a very challenging photo repair study of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I would have preferred easing into things with a more merciful project, but so much for whining. Perhaps Correll was trying to instill from the get-go a necessary sense of patience and persistence which he emphasizes frequently while stressing the need to be discriminating about one's work. He also cautions a light touch that does not render restore operations obvious to the viewer.
One great advantage of the book for me was that I became acquainted with several tools that I had, frankly, not previously employed in my photo restore efforts since beginning to work with PSP about 6 or 7 months ago. The Saturation Up/Down and the Lighten/Darken tools are just two such. I was also introduced to the Displacement Map under the Effects menu. This looks like an interesting Effects routine that I intend to explore further. The final chapter of the book presents a few creative applications using some of the Effects menu options, but frankly the author only scratches the surface here, though his results are impressive. An imaginative author could easily employ the PSP Effects tools in a tutorial presented solely upon their own merits, and I am sure Mr. Correll would be the first to agree.
In addition to the photo exercises, Correll offers interesting background information about scanning photos, organizing and archiving them as well as helpful printing tips. He also interjects along the way a few useful editing tips and tricks that he has discovered through his personal experiences using PSP.
Does the author leave anything left unsaid? Well, in a word, yes. Not every tool and adjustment in the PSP arsenal is acknowledged its fifteen minutes of fame, though all the heavyweights certainly are, but there is an appendix to the book that does give a brief rundown of each and every tool. However, there is no mention of the hidden tools to be found in the Unused Commands section, some of which can be quite helpful in certain circumstances. Plug-ins are not touched upon nor is the use of scripts, even those pre-defined scripts included with PSP. The author has a tendency to use the High Pass Sharpen adjustment as opposed to the Unsharp Mask, but his reasons for this apparent preference are not stated. He also likes to work with photos in .tif format as opposed to the more common .jpg/.jpeg file format, but again reasons are not stated though I presume they have something to do with a lesser likelihood of introducing artifacts into a photo during the restoration/retouching process.
I personally would have liked to have seen Photo Studies that put to work a few PSP capabilities that I am largely unfamiliar with. In this category I would include the Hue Map tool, and a few exercises using the Create Mask from Image procedure would have been a very welcome addition. In fact, I would have liked to have seen a few more exercises using masks in general though there are 3 of them. Masking, I think, is a weak point for many, including even PSP buffs far more experienced than I am.
All in all, however, this is a powerful tutorial that ought to be a part of every PSP enthusiast's personal library - it is a text that is sure to be referred to again and again. It is my hope that Mr. Correll's tutorial does well in the marketplace thereby launching further PSP instructional texts from this very knowledgeable and photo-savvy author. In my book, Correll's tutorial, Photo Restoration and Retouching Using Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo, gets a well-deserved 5 stars.