Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Book Review: Digital Essentials

I love taking digital photographs and using them in my work. OTOH, I don’t like all the technical “stuff” I need to know about working with digital images, and I usually have no idea what I’m doing with them. I would just as soon NOT know what a pixel is, or what dpi or ppi means, or what resolution to save my images at. I try not to think about compression or whether jpg or tiff is better. And the last think I want to spend my limited memory cells on is the best resolution to set for printing or scanning images.

But alas, digital images and files are becoming more and more important in our technological world, and I know that I have to better understand them in order to get the best possible quality out of my photos.

So I’m really glad that I have Gloria Hansen’s book, Digital Essentials: The Quilt Maker’s Must-Have Guide to Images, Files, and More. Not only is Gloria Hansen a talented quilter and artist, she’s digitally-literate and an excellent writer. Hansen’s book is well-written and edited, and the layout is really nice. She provides step-by-step directions, screenshots, and high-quality images to illustrate the information, and good formatting makes the information easy to understand. In general, the overall look and feel of this book is high-quality.

This book is crammed with over 200 pages of valuable information about all things digital. Hanson could have easily divided this into at least two, and maybe three books. Since so many of us have limited book-buying budgets these days, I really appreciate that this book is such a great value. (Btw, it really isn’t surprising that Hansen’s book is so generous with information; she’s on a couple of mailing lists I belong to, and she’s tremendously generous with information in those forums, as well).

But the best thing about the book is the answers it provides to questions that come up over and over again for me about digital files, images, and software. Here are just a few:

  • Should I save my pics as jpg files? tiff files? gif files? What’s the difference?
  • What is a megapixel, and how do the number of pixels relate to the size of an image?
  • What is resolution, and how do I know what resolution to use when saving pics, or scanning or printing images?
  • What is the difference between dye-based and pigment-based inks (a particularly hot topic with fiber artists who use printed images in their work)?
  • How do I resize images?
  • How do I work with layers and other features in image software? (Hansen provides information for working with Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, AND Paint Shop Pro, three of the most popular applications.)
  • What does it mean—and why should I care—that the printer I’m considering buying says it will print “4800 x 1200 optimized dpi color”?

Plus, this books provides answers to questions I didn’t even KNOW to ask. Who knew, for example, that if your printed images don’t match what you see on your screen, you might need to calibrate your monitor? I do now! Hansen’s book has an entire section on color management.

I could go on and on about everything I’m learning from this book, but as I mentioned, it is over 200 pages. Instead, I’ll just point out a couple of chapters that might be of particular interest to quilters (or to artists in general): Chapter 11, Removing a Quilt From Its Background, and Chapter 12, Preparing Images for Digital Show Entry. As digital images become more accepted (and even required) for entering work into competitions, some of us (me) are really going to have to bite the bullet and learn how to create high-quality images for submission. With this book, I no longer need to fear submission guidelines that require digital images. And, because I do love incorporating digital images into my work, I think increased confidence from actually knowing what I’m doing with these images will make that even more enjoyable.

This is one book that’s going to get a workout for years to come, and I would suggest that anyone who works with digital images or files—or who wants to start working with them—make this book a part of your reference library. Even though Digital Essentials is not available from Amazon, you can read more reviews about it here. You can purchase Digital Essentials directly from Gloria Hansen’s web site at http://www.gloriahansen.com/

1 comment:

Pat said...

I too haveGloria's book. It's all that you say and more!