Dan Margulis has written a new book, Photoshop LAB Color, which has quite a few interesting suggestions on how to use the LAB color space in Photoshop to get better results than can be obtained in traditional RGB or CMYK editing. Of particular interest to landscape photographers are techniques for enhancing the separation and vividness of colors in landscapes that appear to have washed out or flat colors, improving the color of forested scenes, correcting overall color to remove color casts, and restoring color to highlight areas that are nearly blown out, such as in sunsets.
This is a book that will make you think. It is not just a collection of techniques or recipes for image modification. Margulis is interested in how things work and why. He looks at how we see color, both in nature and on the printed page, and how color is represented and reproduced in the digital world. He talks about imaginary colors that can be represented in LAB but not reproduced in the real world (e.g., dark, dark, purely saturated yellow) and then shows how imaginary colors can be useful in a real world workflow.
Margulis’s orientation is not as a fine art photographer; he comes from the world of Photoshop professionals who spend their days color-correcting, retouching and enhancing commercial photos for publication in catalogs, magazines, books, newspapers, web sites, etc. For that reason, not everything he recommends will work for landscape photographers or find application in a fine art workflow. Nonetheless, thinking about what he says and the explanations for why it works is a valuable learning experience. In that sense, the book is similar to his previous book, Professional Photoshop, which teaches about color correction “by the numbers” with a strong emphasis on the CMYK color space. Like many other readers, I learned a lot about color correction from the earlier book but found that I ultimately disregarded much of what he said about CMYK because I was working mainly in RGB. With this book, I expect it will be much the same. Some parts of it I am finding to be quite useful and I intend to retain them in my repertoire; other parts I expect I will soon forget.
Margulis tends to be a little controversial. For example, in the past he has made fairly blanket statements that there is little practical benefit to working with 16-bit files and has drawn a fair amount of flack as a result. No doubt some parts of this latest book will attract some of the same attention—but they will make you think.
A word of warning—this is NOT a book for Photoshop novices. The first six chapters cover the basic LAB techniques that Margulis advocates. Each of those chapters is in two parts, a straightforward description and then a more advanced explanation. Even the simpler parts of those chapters require at least an intermediate knowledge of Photoshop (and photography) and the second half of each chapter assumes a greater level of familiarity. After the first six chapters, things get even more advanced.
The book is generously illustrated with lots of examples, showing before and after images and screenshots showing the curves that are necessary for a particular move. All the images in the book are also included on the accompanying CD so you can try everything for yourself.