Al Ward's PhotoshopProductivity Toolkit: Over 600 Time-Saving Actions Paperback – Aug 12 2004
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From the Back Cover
Get Better Results, Save Precious Time, and Focus on What You Really Want to Do
Photoshop puts an astonishing amount of power in your hands. But that power comes at a price: it's easy to get lost in the program's complexity and spend far too much time on repetitive tasks when you could be focusing on creative work. The secret is to do what power users do—let Photoshop’s automation features handle the monotonous work and free up your valuable time.
This unrivaled resource from actions guru Al Ward supplies you with over 600 Photoshop actions that you can instantly apply to your work. Tackling basic to complex processes, the actions on the CD allow you to automate routine production tasks, make color and tone enhancements, apply artistic effects, and much more—most of the time with just one click. Al also teaches you how to customize and create new Photoshop actions to suit your precise needs.
Here's just a sample of what Al Ward's Photoshop Productivity Toolkit can do for you:
- Correct color casts to restore natural tones
- Sharpen photos to prepare them for print
- Apply various aging techniques, from sepia toning to advanced wear and tear
- Convert your photos to line art, oil paintings, clip art, and watercolors
- Add impact to images with selective softening and focusing
- Apply warp effects directly to text
- Make stunning black-and-white images
- Add borders, frames, and drop shadows
- Resize images for different uses
- Generate instant contact sheets
- Format art for use on CD labels
- And much, much more!
About the Author
Al Ward is a prominent author and member of the Photoshop community. His website, actionfx.com, supplies Photoshop users with treasured actions and information. He has authored and contributed to many Photoshop books and has written for Photoshop User Magazine and websites such as Planet Photoshop and Photoshop Café. Al serves as the official actions guru for the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP).
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I had never used Actions before and wasn't inclined to especially with so many other dramatic filters and effects available. For the uninitiated user, it may be best to briefly explain what "Actions" do before reviewing this core topic in Al Ward's book. Essentially "Actions" is a recording program that once started, records nearly every command or effect you initiate on an image or text until you choose to stop recording. It records each command faithfully in sequence. Once a sequence of actions is recorded, it becomes an "Action Set" (a mini pre-set program) that can automatically replay the sequence or effect(s) on any subsequent image or text. When an Action set is created it becomes portable and remarkably versatile. You can load or unload action sets into the Actions palette at will (like color swatches from a swatch library). If you create a really cool action set, send it to a friend to try out. Modify sets by re-recording parts of the sequence to meet your specific needs.
With that said, let's look at why action sets are so versatile and essential to productivity. Action sets can be created to do just about anything; applying multiple filter effects, layering options, alter colors modes, or size. Action sets can be simple or complex. Once loaded and played, an intense multi-layer, multi-filter, resizing and color mode change that used to take 20 minutes manually is done in seconds. Actions save time; lots of it, especially with looming deadlines.
Al Ward's book takes on the task with an in depth exploration of the Actions palette. He is the "actions guru" for the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) among other credentials attesting to his expertise. The book has 4 chapters with a companion CD "toolkit" included. The CD is loaded with images and pre-recorded action sets ready to use. The book itself is a valuable resource that goes far beyond the "basics" found in Photoshop help. However, I highly recommend reading the basics in Photoshop's help first, if you're new to the Actions palette. It will also give insight and a good baseline for a challenging Chapter one. This is not an "Actions for Dummies" format though he does make an attempt through humor. I felt the book really needed to start with a far more measured and simplistic pace to let the whole actions concept sink in. The first chapter was hard to digest at first glance and almost gave up; too much, too fast. But take heart, the book really hits its stride in Chapter two and beyond.
Al Ward dives deep into the amazing versatility of the Actions palette, exploring this super tool's potential. In chapter two, the author went from talking to doing. The reader experiences "hands-on" tutorials, step by step, by downloading matching tutorial action sets and images from his CD. The book's tutorials provide lots of pictorials of the palette and images that you'll see at any point in the process. This was truly valuable and helpful. You load an action set, open an image, and then simply "play" the action and presto, a professional transformation! Seeing the speed and results of action sets at work was impressive and made a believer out of me. The tutorials were well written and easy to follow. The book is well illustrated and has many full color plates demonstrating before and after shots of some of the many action sets available on the CD.
Once the reader learns to use and navigate the action palette, he gets into the core of creating, using and modifying custom sets. How to record or insert action "stops" (pauses in the action sequence) that: a) convey information or cautions, b) access menu commands or c) request user input such as how much to alter effect variables (i.e. adjusting contrast or brightness values) before continuing through the rest of the actions. One of the tutorials is "pencil sketch". It takes a stock photo and through a tutorial action set converts the image into a very convincing pencil sketch in about 3 seconds. Another action set example was a complicated sharpening process to illustrate that action sets could be simple or very complex. While some limits exist in creating and using action sets, there aren't many. It's important to note here that Adobe Illustrator v 8.0+ also have action palettes.
Another chapter goes further and gives in depth instruction in doing "batch" processing and "droplets". Batch processing allows for an action set to be applied to multiple images. Remember, actions are not just about manipulating image effects. Let's say you have 50 images you want to convert from RGB mode to grayscale and reduce the size by 50%. You can create a custom action set that: makes a copy of each image, (so the original is preserved), converts the copy into grayscale, then reduces the image by 50% AND then saves the new image in a separate folder named "My grayscale pics". To do this manually to 50 images could take a substantial amount of time and be unbearably tedious. With an action set loaded and the "batch" process used, those 50 images start converting in a fraction of the time. You could be sleeping or enjoying a movie instead. Sweet, huh? A droplet is just a drop box icon that you can drop an image into and let the action set do its thing. This is but a taste of the possibilities available with Actions, but I hope it whets your appetite and imagination.
By reviewing Al Ward's Photoshop Productivity Toolkit, I discovered a whole new creative and productive "action-packed" universe. Action sets are an invaluable and under-utilized tool for creativity and productivity. This is especially true for any artistic, graphic or photographic professional or serious Photoshop user. Photoshop's Help just scratches the surface but I recommend reading it prior to Al Ward's offering. Al Ward does a great service by shedding light on this super tool and he really knows his stuff. He enthusiastically shares his extensive knowledge and delivers a great resource book. I appreciate his efforts to lighten up the technical material with wit and humor. The value of the book is enhanced by the contents of the companion CD, "Toolkit". It provides a large library of professional ready-to-load action sets for instant use, experimentation and/or modification (which he encourages). The CD action set library offers an amazing variety for different uses as well. There are sets for artistic typographic and photo effects, layering techniques, refined filtering combinations and color application and manipulation. Examining these action sets gives real insight into how some really cool advanced, professional techniques are done (also encouraged). This cuts the learning curve dramatically on advanced techniques that would take ages to learn by tedious trial and error. The tutorials are well done with supplied action sets, comprehensive pictorials of the processes and images so you experience the power and versatility of actions.
On the downside, the author's enthusiasm gets in the way of laying a smooth, measured foundation for beginners in Chapter one. He does this by cramming too many new concepts in too short a space. This is unfortunate because it tends to create more confusion than clarity. This staccato writing style in the opening chapter will likely turn off or intimidate a lot of folks unnecessarily. I found myself re-reading material because it didn't flow smoothly. Its not an easy read for the beginner. The second chapter was an improvement as the tutorials started to illustrate what he was trying to say in the first chapter. I felt there really needed to be better organization and a smoother tempo in presenting the conceptual material. Neither the book nor CD content is well organized or easy to navigate and detracted from the overall potential of the author's intent.
Despite its shortcomings, I applaud Al Ward's Photoshop Productivity Toolkit manual and CD. It offers an invaluable opportunity to really upgrade one's skills in Photoshop (and Illustrator). The book offers a great springboard for skill enhancement; significant timesavings and shaving the learning curve to using advanced techniques dramatically.
The book excels in content, tutorials, technical expertise, troubleshooting and enthusiasm but falls short on organization, flow and readability. The included "Toolkit" CD also scores low on organization and easy navigation, but is a treasure house for a fantastic variety and number of professional action sets well worth having. I recommend it especially for graphic and photographic professionals, but it's not for everyone. I suggest playing with the actions palette basics first and if it works for you, then this is a book you'll want.Now you too can become a graphic arts "action-packed" super hero, go get 'em tiger and "improve your image".
Literally scores of self-styled Photoshop "experts" now teach courses, from community colleges to week-end intensives, but all teach how to process one image at a time. NONE teaches these productivity tools, which are very powerful but also treacherous. For example, if the Action and Batch settings to open or save files aren't coordinated correctly, they won't work. Some rules are counter-intuitive, and Adobe's documentation doesn't reveal the traps clearly, let alone resolve them. Thus Al Ward's book is a life-saver.
That said, the other reviewers are right that he could make things clearer. For one thing, he could spend more time comparing actions to macros, giving an example of a macro in a word processing program and something analogous in Photoshop. Then he must explain the differences, notably that a "macro" in Photoshop is much more file-dependent than in a word processor. For example, a macro inserting a copyright notice can work any text file, whereas an action changing a file size can be scuttled by any number of factors. Thus actions aren't nearly as universal as a macro user might expect, and adapting them is far from obvious.
When Ward gets down to creating actions in Chapter 3, he starts out with a complex one "because I want you see that actions can be used for more than simple shortcuts." NOT! He should give an example of an extremely simple action - so simple that the reader can see the whole concept and its value when it is first described. Then he could take a somewhat more complicated one, and THEN make his point with the extant one as a third example.
But the most serious weakness is that Ward apparently didn't have technically challenged Photoshop wannabes like me beta-test his manuscript before it was published. As a result, it has a few disastrous voids experts like him and his action-addicted colleagues never could imagine. For example, he explains how to actually turn the actions into text files to adapt them - a powerful if risky technique that Adobe doesn't even acknowledge in its Help pages. He starts by exhorting the reader to save any custom action sets, because all but the target set must be cleared from the Action List menu. But he doesn't explain how to save them.
I assumed I could find the sets labeled Default Actions and My Actions as folders on my hard drive, so I cleared them per his instructions. When it came time to put them back, the OS Find function can't find any files labeled Default Actions or My Actions, and the action list in the Photoshop Actions folder has a completely different structure. The action sets that always got installed when Photoshop launched apparently are gone.
Further on, in the section bafflingly titled "Using Actions as Learning Tools," Ward describes how to save an action script as a text file so it can be edited line by line (why does that make it a learning tool?). But he stops in the middle! He does not tell the reader what text can be changed without destroying the action, what is advantageous to change, and what must not be touched. More critically, he doesn't explain how to finish by saving the text file as an action file (*.atn and in the right folder) so it will be found by Photoshop and function correctly. Readers who get as far as the book leads them are suddenly on their own with no land in sight.
Al Ward is courageously going where no Photoshop "instructor" has gone before, particularly for pros who could increase productivity in their imaging-oriented enterprises many times over by mastering these tools. But this tome needs conceptual simplification and extensive user testing before it becomes the industry standard it can be. (Then again, Photoshop's action and batch process systems themselves are far from perfected.) Meantime, I am trying to reach Ward through Sybex (he provides no direct contact information) for answers to the problems described above.
Also recommended is another of his works:
Phototoshop for Right-Brainers: The Art of Photo Manipulation
For those more versed in Photoshop, I feel certain that this book would be a useful tool in learning how to create those actions - thus shortcuts - and saving time from doing repetitious keystrokes. For anyone in a time crunch situation, this will be a welcome tool.
By following the steps in Chapters 2 and 3, you will learn how to load, save, play, edit and record actions to use. Chapter 4 discusses how actions interreact, in case you were thinking of sharing your actions with other team members who might have different versions of Photoshop or operating systems. There is a CD included which has all 600 actions the author has so generously created and is willing to share with the reader.
All in all, this is a book for Photoshop users who pretty well know their way around the program. If you are one of those people, grab a copy and learn how to save yourself time.
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