If you are at all interested in upgrading to the newest version of Photoshop (Photoshop for PC, Photoshop for Mac), you’ve probably read any number of articles on “What’s New in Photoshop CS4.” What you’ve gotten is a list and theoretical notions of what these features could, potentially, do for you, probably driven a bit by the seeding of the excellent Adobe marketing team. What you probably haven’t heard is a listing of what you will really use every day in CS4 if you are someone interested in correcting and adjusting photographic images. The reason you don’t is no one has time to digest the features before they rush out their articles to be first to press. Honestly, it takes about a year for me to fluidly incorporate new features in my workflow. Including a period of exposure to the CS4 beta, I’m just about getting to the saturation point as to what I really use and feel is a benefit in CS4. In some versions of Photoshop releases, my workflow honestly hardly changed at all. For Photoshop CS4, two features have become part of what I do every day and changed the way I work with images. These new features are the Adjustments Palette, and the Masks palette. Neither are, thus far, available in Elements.
I talk about each of these in context in my new book (The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book for CS4 due out in March of 2009). This blog is all about why I think these features are bound to change your process of image editing if you choose to use CS4.
The Adjustments Palette
A bitter-sweet addition to CS4 is the Adjustments palette. The sweet part about the addition is that this palette takes the place of the many dialogs that appear for adjustment layers. The benefit is that the dialogs no longer have to be closed. You can create an adjustment layer or click on any existing adjustment layer in the layers palette, and the adjustment settings appear in the Adjustments palette – immediately. As you make any change, the changes are applied to the image and committed. Previously you had to accept the changes on the dialog by clicking [ok]. If you wanted to make additional changes, you would then have to double-click on the Adjustment layer thumbnail to open the palette back up to adjust the changes. Not any more. Every time the adjustment layer is active, the palette shows the settings you have stored and that are currently applied to the image. The Adjustments palette is ultimately convenient for accessing and making changes to adjustments, and it is a feature that can save many clicks in opening and addressing what used to be dialogs. The adjustments it offers are no different than in the dialogs. It is something that works very well, but for one small factor, the bitter part of the addition.
The bitter part of the Adjustment palette is that you need to have it in view all the time if you use adjustment layers to make any adjustments to your images. You don’t really have the opportunity to store the palette away and call it back, and if you did that would defeat the purpose of the palette’s advantage. The palette needs to be visible — not just in the palette bin, but in a prominent spot on screen, or you’ll have to go hunting for it when you need to make a change. And every time you make a new Adjustment layer, you need to use it, as what is an adjustment layer without adjustment?
Regretfully when an adjustment layer is not active, the palette only displays yet another, redundant means of creating adjustment layers. In fact none of the palette itself can boast ‘new’ features and utility. So it is ultimately useful for defining adjustment layer changes, and not so useful otherwise. If you are a user like myself that already needs Layers and History and Actions and Channels and Info, and maybe Paths and Brushes and Character and Paragraph…the ‘need’ to have the new Adjustments palette in view compounds the issues you may already be having with on screen landscape. Depending on your monitor size and the way you practice editing, this landscape may be more or less precious. While I find it is a bit inconvenient to make more space on my 17” laptop, when I work on my desktop and 30” Apple Cinema Display I do not miss the landscape and appreciate the simplicity. If Adobe offered an option to use the classic dialogs, it would probably have been best for the majority of users.
As it stands, there are advantages and convenience to the presence of the Adjustments palette, though it may be in contention with other features. But as you can’t get away from it, it will necessarily, to some extent, alter the way you work. It will certainly take some getting used to.
The Masks palette in Photoshop CS4 is not the obligation that the Adjustments palette is. Masks is, instead, a distinct difference in function from the way users could previously work with layer masks. Although you can still work with masks the way you did prior to CS4, the Masks palette extends layer mask functionality by offering options such as virtual adjustment. That is, you can make slider-based adjustment to masks for such things as Density, Feathering/Blur, Refine (which opens a separate dialog) and Inversion. The palette itself will indeed take up more landscape on the screen, like the Adjustments palette, but it is not quite as intrusive as Adjustments as it is a palette that can be brought into view when needed, and stored in a grouping with other palettes.
The benefit to the Masks palette is that it actually adds to the functionality offered in Photoshop. Where changes to masks directly in previous versions of the program were permanent, changes using the slider in the Masks palette are more like adjustments themselves: the positions of the sliders can be changed at any time and the result on the mask itself changed or even removed. In this way the changes are virtual, and ultimately flexible, as you are not committed to a change as you make it. The ability to adjust masks as you go can come in handy for compositing, and I have found it very useful in working with manual HDR and Depth-of-Field compositing.
If you find yourself blurring and feathering masks, and otherwise refining mask edges, you’ll find a place for the Masks palette on your screen. Once the palette is there on screen and you adopt going to the Masks palette for mask adjustment (instead of seeking out permanent alterations like Gaussian Blur), you will find the feature is a new one that you need, and don’t want to be without.
To Sum Up
The two features do bring something new to the table for Photoshop CS4, and they will certainly alter the way you work somewhat by enforcement and somewhat by choice — of that you can be assured. For me the Masks palette is a giant step forward in handling mask content, and it is a much welcome addition. However, whether it is one so important as to ‘require’ an upgrade will depend on the way you work in the program, and your need for masks or the space you have for more palettes.
Richard’s newest book, The Adobe Photoshop Layers Book for CS4, will be available in stores this month! The book adds some 80 pages of new material including a section on manually producing HDR images. Get your copy as soon as it hits the shelves by pre-ordering on Amazon: Preorder your copy now