High School Photo Club: Book-Learning

I volunteer my time with the local high school’s photography club, giving lighting, shooting and photoshop lessons, advice and whatnot. I really enjoy passing along knowledge, because qualified advice is difficult to glean from all the crappy advice on these topics. The kids have an absolute blast, and feeling appreciated is a good morale booster, especially when times are tough.

Hey, that’s a good idea: If you’re not getting any work, why not volunteer in your community and drum up some good PR? A post on public relations and press releases is in the works!

The last lesson was on retouching in Photoshop. I moved pretty quickly, and didn’t cover some things the way I ought to have, so I am going to point out some photoshop books that I found to be extremely useful. Next post will cover the tools I used in the photoshop demonstration. Stay tuned.


I showed off some really handy photoshop books. I am a big fan of learning with books. There are so many photoshop books that, at best, could be described as “redundant,” pointless, tired discussions over either useless minutiae, or self-congratulation. I’ve certainly owned a few of those, and what a waste of money (not to mention trees!) The books that I list here live on a small bookshelf under my desk for quick reference:

“Commercial Photoshop Retouching: In the Studio” by Glenn Honiball

Interesting things about Glenn: he doesn’t use a tablet and stylus. He does all his retouching with a mouse. I used to do this, too, but I have decided that I like the extra “input” of pen pressure. Anyway, this book covers a lot of the things you would come across as a retoucher: adding shadows to complex objects, changing an object’s color (sometimes dramatically!), and making digital composites. All very useful stuff.

“The Photoshop Channels Book” by Scott Kelby

Scott Kelby writes three photoshop books every day. As you can imagine, some are good, and some are birdcage liner. The channels book is good. Largely, though, this book is about layer masks. Layer masks were a tricky thing to understand for me, and this book was invaluable towards my getting comfortable with using them. Masking is a big part of how I do my photoshopping. Kelby likes to lay his books out as a series of step-by-step guides, awesome for use as a quick reference tool.

“Photoshop Classic Effects: The Essential Effects Every User Needs to Know” by Scott Kelby

This book is a list of easily-refenced tutorials for just about every cheesy and over-done photoshop effect out there. That’s why it’s so great. Photoshop cliches are cliches because everyone asks for them at one point or another. You can find a lot of this info on the internet, but I don’t trust internet photoshop tutorials. Kelby is a professional retoucher, and I would rather my workflow be built on that basis.

“Photoshop LAB Color: The Canyon Conundrum and Other Adventures in the Most Powerful Colorspace” by Dan Margulis

This book might just make your head explode. It’s not a series of tutorials, like the Kelby books. LAB (spell it out when you say it) is a massively useful tool, and it certainly does things that RGB can’t touch. What’s more, you can frequently do everything you need in LAB with one tool: Curves. It’s a complex topic, and Dan explains things with a dorky series of analogies that make things a lot easier. It’s a very big, long book, and it covers a ton of ground, all of it useful. The curves tool is difficult to understand at first, and this book’s reliance on it is a great way to get yourself used to it.

“Skin: The Complete Guide to Digitally Lighting, Photographing, and Retouching Faces and Bodies” by Lee Varis

This book is awesome. It really is the complete guide. One of the big misconceptions about photoshop is that you can fix anything later. And it’s easy! Because it’s Photoshop! Mercifully, Lee covers a very important topic: Start with the absolutely best source image possible, so your later retouching will be more effective. He covers lighting for flattering skin tone, among other things, before jumping into the nitty gritty of sculpting, molding and radically altering faces and skin.

“Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop CS2” by Bruce Fraser

This is a very dry, technical book. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish examples of different sharpening techniques on the same images. That said, this book is a great resource. Bad sharpening can really ruin an image, and worse, not sharpening can send your overly-soft images to a photo editor’s trashcan. Sharpening is a very nebulous topic for new photographers, and Bruce lays things out in a way that makes it easy to get from point A to point B, and why you’d want to in the first place.

So, there you go. If you have some amazon gift certificates lying around, and you want to get better at Photoshop (or gain that first initial understanding, then these books are a great place to get started. I’ll start working on the photoshop tools post now.


  1. Harold

    how can i start a photography club in a high school. i’ve been substitute teaching and alot of kids carry cameras around. i asked the principle if i could start one and he said yes. is there a book out there that has the basic startup format for a photo club?

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