Now that I own an excellent digital SLR camera, it's time to stop dabbling in Photoshop and actually learn to use this photo-editing software...

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Now that I own an excellent digital SLR camera, it’s time to stop dabbling in Photoshop and actually learn to use this photo-editing software. Adobe Photoshop is the standard among advanced amateur and professional photographers and it’s time for me (and maybe you?) to become a more competent user.

How to learn this highly complex software? I’m well equipped with the Total Training video course for Photoshop CS2 ($300) and three books that explain how to use it.

The video course includes three DVDs with a total running time of more than 20 hours. Considering the time investment, I may choose to watch and learn Photoshop fundamentals and then pick specific lessons to cover after that.

The correct way to take this course is to download the lesson files and practice the skills on images the teacher provides, but I choose to practice on my own images. That may turn out to be a poor choice, but at least I have the option to customize when I take a course in the privacy of my own home. That’s why I like independent courses like this — I can do the lessons I want, when it fits my schedule, and there’s no commute.

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In the first lesson, I sit back and watch the instructor, Deke McClelland, describe and demonstrate what Photoshop CS2 can do. This latest version adds new features such as the ability to resize, rate and label thumbnails. There’s a new Vanishing Point tool that maintains perspective when adding and altering elements in a photo, advanced noise reduction, and improved processing tools for RAW images.

After the overview, Deke introduces the Bridge, Adobe’s new browser and organizer. I like the way it supports my work flow. I store image files on an external drive that the Bridge can access, enabling me to move RAW images from the hard drive to the Bridge, review them, sort out the bad and then open them in Photoshop for processing.

The Bridge, in fact, connects all applications in Creative Suite 2, including Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, GoLive, Version Cue, and Acrobat 7.0 Professional.

Gradually, I work through lessons on the Clone, Heal and Patch tools, the Magic Wand selection tool, Levels, Curves, Filters, and the use of Layers.

Deke strongly advocates using certain editing tools, such as Curves and Levels, and avoiding others, such as the Brightness/Contrast sliders. Other experts agree, so clearly it is time to learn the more complex and capable tools.

While progressing through these video sessions, I’m also taking nature photos, and a few look rather good except for a lighting problem that appears in one or two — the kind of problem I haven’t been able to fix in the past. Time to apply what I’ve learned.

I use the Magic Wand to select a parched branch that’s underexposed and increase the exposure. That works pretty well. Then I use both the Levels and Curves tools to adjust the extreme exposure variations in the whole image and end up with a slightly darker scene that goes well with the low moon hanging over the beach.

The more I learn about Photoshop CS2 the better I like it. Since I’ve switched to saving images in the camera as RAW files, I appreciate Photoshop even more because the process of previewing, editing, printing and storing those images flows easily using the Bridge and Photoshop.

Taking this Total Training video course (there are also courses for other Creative Suite CS2 applications) and reading books works well for me as a visual learner who also needs reinforcement with printed text. I learn best when I can watch an instructor demonstrate how to use the tools and then have written explanations to refer to later when I need reminders.

I’ve found these three useful books:

• “Photoshop CS2 for Dummies” by Peter Bauer ($16.49) is written for recreational photographers who want to learn Photoshop and would benefit from reviewing the basics of digital photography. I read this book curled up on the couch when I want to enjoy learning and reviewing some useful skills.

• “Adobe Photoshop CS2 for Photographers” by Martin Evening ($29.67) assumes a basic level of expertise while covering Photoshop features and tools in greater depth. I study this book sitting at my desk with Photoshop open and time to practice. Its explanations are clear, so there are sticky notes on many pages for ready reference.

• Camera RAW enthusiasts (and potential converts) will appreciate “Real World Camera Raw with Adobe Photoshop CS2” by Bruce Fraser ($26.39) because it explains the advantages and disadvantages of saving images as RAW files and provides step-by-step directions on how to process them in Photoshop CS2.

Besides books, Adobe offers an Expert Support service for telephone or online problem solving and how-to help. It costs $39 per call or $159 per year ($299 per year for all Creative Suite applications). I haven’t tried it yet, but appreciate the security of knowing I can call for help.

When I’m more confident using Photoshop, I’ll take the Total Training Advanced Adobe Photoshop CS2 course ($150) and maybe that will further advance my goal of becoming a Photoshop expert. However, as I scan the list of topics — The Bridge and Camera Raw, The Art of Sharpen, Adding Blur and Removing Noise, among others — I think these are too tempting, so maybe I’ll get started tomorrow.

Write Linda Knapp at lknapp@seattletimes.com; to read other Getting Started columns,

go to: www.seattletimes.com/gettingstarted