I’ve heard it said that most Photoshop users actually use only about 2 percent of the program’s features, and I can support this theory with my own experience: I know how to do what I know how to do.
I’ve learned most of what I know how to do from watching other people, either on the job or at InDesign User Group meetings and similar showcase-type events. Oh, and once, I read maybe the first half of Real World Scanning and Halftones. When I need to know how to do something else, I look it up in Help, Google what I’m trying to do, or look online for a tutorial. And then, unless that new trick is something I start doing every day, I usually forget it again pretty quickly. I don’t usually learn how to do a task by seeing it done once, but just knowing that something can be done makes it much easier to figure it out later. I would never have tangled with the vanishing point tool, for instance, if I hadn’t seen it demoed at the NYC InDUG.
This approach has worked just fine for me, in an assortment of jobs, since 1996, when I first got my paws on a copy of the program. And apparently my 2 percent is good enough.
A couple of months ago, a colleague asked if I could scan some photos that were to be included in his new book. He also asked if there was any way to get rid of some of the crap in the background (most of the photos were snapshots of dead birds lying on a messy desk). Oh, sure. I do that every day. So while he sat in my office watching, I scanned these muddy snapshots, cropped them down to the important parts, adjusted the levels, cleaned up some dust, and scrubbed out whatever distracting junk was left in the frame. Nothing special, but my colleague was impressed.
Then about a week ago, this same person—who I think it’s accurate to call nontechnical—told me he’d bought a copy of Photoshop for himself, and he wants to learn how to use it so that when he has an idea for a book jacket, he can mock it up in Photoshop and show his publisher what he’s picturing. And he asked, What’s a quick way to learn Photoshop?
Ummmmm . . . I can tell you how to learn Photoshop really, really slowly, but . . . I suggested (a) getting a workbook, such as one from the Adobe Classroom in a Book series, (b) looking online for tutorials, and (c) poking through every single menu in the program and trying to roughly figure out what each tool and option does.
Setting aside (or, at least, trying to—wince, cringe) the question of whether authors should be encouraged to get involved in the design of their own book jackets, what advice would you give to someone who wants to learn how to do basic compositing, typography, and perhaps photo cleanup, but who is not intending to make this his full-time job?
And what advice would you give to someone who is intending to make this his full-time job?
How did you learn your 2 percent? And if you know more than 2 percent, how the hell did you learn that?