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Acing The ACE — An Interview With Shangara Singh On His ACE Exam Aids And His New Book "Hacking Photoshop CS2"

If you want to pass your ACE exam with flying colors, or hack Photoshop into high speed, Shangara Singh is your man. As well as being the author of Hacking Photoshop CS2, a new book from Wiley Publishing that offers over 300 hacks that deal with tweaking and improving Photoshop's appearance, performance, and tools, Shangara also offers a series of ACE exam aids that can be purchased as CDs or downloaded directly. Intrigued, we decided some questions were in order...

Hacking Photoshop CS2 by Shangara SinghWhat would you say is the real world value of becoming an ACE? Will it help in getting a job?
It can do. I know from my own experience, becoming an Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) can help you to get jobs. When I first passed my ACE test, I put "Adobe Certified Expert (ACE) Photoshop 5.0" in my signature and within a week or two I had one job out of the blue that more than paid for it. I've had other jobs since but then I wasn't known for my Photoshop work and I'm sure the early work I picked up was because of my certification, whereas now it's harder for me to attribute it solely to the certification.

The certification can also give a prospective employer an idea of your level of competence when using Photoshop. It can also assure people if you have the Adobe logo on your business card or Website. If you apply for a Photoshop related job and you have the Adobe logo and the ACE certification on your CV, it's quite conceiveable a prospective employer may choose to shortlist you in preference to other applicants. I have also heard of cases where an employee was able to use it as a lever to get a raise from their employer.

The other value to becoming an ACE is you get to learn about Photoshop and in the process it may open avenues that you just could not dream about. In my case, I ended up writing an exam aid that, in a roundabout way, led me to an agent and together we found a publisher for a book on Photoshop. There is no way that I could have seen that coming when I sat my first ACE test.

Hacking Photoshop CS2 by Shangara SinghHow hard is it to pass this exam? How many hours of work does it take to study using your exam aid?
That's a tricky question to answer. The safe answer, I suppose, is "It depends." By that I mean, some people have the knack for regurgitating knowledge and others find it hard work. As to how many hours of study required, while some people are fairly advanced Photoshop users and may just need a little bit of swotting, others need to put a lot more effort into actually learning to use Photoshop before they can hope to pass and, therefore, may find it takes them longer. Then again, some find it easy to self-study while others need a personal tutor or the competition and atmosphere of a class. Too many variables to give a precise answer.

Before I sat my first exam, I studied for about two hours a day for approximately three weeks. In hindsight, I thought I overdid it but the knowledge I gained while studying became invaluable later on when I worked on images or taught or came to write the ACE exam aid. If you have good, rounded knowledge of Photoshop, one to two weeks should be sufficient. The trick is to get yourself into the right frame of mind and to come to the boil on the day of the exam and not before.

So, make sure you have the free time, book the exam and then work towards that date. You'd be surprised at the number of people who buy our exam aids a day or two before their exam is due! We have some tips on our website for people who are unfamiliar with electronic testing or who may have fallen out of the habit of studying for an exam. The latter is quite common.

What do you consider the most difficult areas of Photoshop as far as learning for this exam are concerned?
Well, any area that you are unfamiliar with, I would say. Most people know one or two areas of Photoshop and rarely use its full arsenal of tools and features. However, the exam requires you to have a rounded knowledge but not necessarily a very deep knowledge. So, for that reason, I think it pays to devote more time to studying areas you are unfamiliar with. For example, your work may require you to work mainly on Web related images and, therefore, you haven't had the need or the incentive to acquire an in-depth understanding of color management or printing to a 4-color offset press, to name just two areas. In which case, I would concentrate on those areas.

The exam aids can help you to ferret out your weaknesses, in this respect. They contain mock exams based on the questions and answers featured in the study section, which also contains extended answers and paths to relevant pages of the help file of the application you are studying for should you need further information. If you are pressed for time and you have a good rounded knowledge of the application, the extended answers should be sufficient to help you pass.

What inspired you to start publishing these exam aids?
It was more of an accident than inspiration. I was approached to write one. I think the company found me through the Photoshop Discussion List and my ACE signature helped me to get noticed. However, the company was geared to cater for Windows users only and I wanted the exam aid to be available for the Mac and the PC. I tried to persuade them to support the Mac but they were firmly geared to the PC market, so we parted company very early on.

Having written some sample test questions, I decided to press on and finish the exam aid and to publish it myself. As chance would have it, someone on the Photoshop Discussion List asked a question about study aids for the ACE test and I told them I was working on one. I got quite a good response and encouragement from the group and that bolstered me enough to finish the exam aid. One of the members, David Creamer of I.D.E.A.S. Training, whom I admired enormously for his knowledge, wrote to me and offered to double-check the answers. He's been checking them ever since every time there's a new version, four so far, and the two of us went on to co-author the Illustrator ACE Exam Aid, now in its third outing. He also tech edited my last book. So, you see what I mean by not knowing where sitting the ACE test can lead.

Hacking Photoshop CS2 by Shangara SinghCan you tell us a bit about your new book Hacking Photoshop CS2?
In writing the book, I tried to impart all the little shortcuts, tips and tricks, hacks, call it what you will, that I'd learned over the years.

Photoshop can be quite daunting when you first start to use it. It makes a lot of assumptions about the user and as a result can hide its power from you. For example, I have a number of testimonials from people who have been using Photoshop since version 2 and they write to tell me they never knew you could do x, y, z until I shared my knowledge with them, which I enjoy doing, and that it has made their workflow so much easier. Here is just one short example:

"This is the second time that you have given me advice which has made a real difference to my life. I was getting desperate about those action files because, while they were still working when I used the droplets, I could not load them and could not make any alterations. Your suggestion was perfect and fixed the problem within minutes, thus saving me hours of tedious work re-building them all."
[Note: the hack he refers to appears on page 368: Editing Droplets]

Just recently, someone wanted a way to print multiple photos on one page and couldn't fathom how to do it in Photoshop. People made all kinds of suggestions, from using actions to buying another application! I chimed in with using the Picture Package. Of course, back came the reply from the user that it only prints copies of one photo. After I explained how you can print multiple photos, someone whose been using Photoshop for years said the following:

"Okay, where do I get your book? That WAS pleasant, AND a surprise. If your book is like that, I'll buy several."
[Note: the hack she refers to appears on page 390: Printing Multiple Images on a Single Page.]

Will a beginner be able to benefit from this book, or is it for more experienced users?
It's not for absolute beginners but provided you have a basic knowledge of the interface, you should be able to make use of the information and the hacks contained in the book. Advanced or experienced users make such a small readership that, frankly, I don't think it's worth writing for them. IAC, my thinking is they will already know Photoshop in-depth and what they don't know they will work out for themselves.

There has been some unconstructive negative criticism which seems to focus on the title being misleading and there not being any secret, undocumented features covered in the book. If I can set the record straight: first of all, there is very little that hasn't been written about Photoshop; either by Adobe or third parties. So, I'm not sure if there is enough undocumented material to make into a book.

As for the misleading title, I quite like it and I don't think it misleads. It only misleads if you think of hacking in narrow terms of gaining unauthorised access. The word has acquired other meanings and, IAC, always has had other meanings. For example, it can mean to open a path by cutting through an obstruction; a good metaphor for learning. As the above testimony shows, it does that. It can mean to explore and manipulate a system for the purpose of understanding how it works. I think the book does that by showing you how the interface, tools and features work and in ways you may not have known about.

What are your personal favorite "hacks" that you use?
I don't really have any. I've used most if not all of them at some time or other. Whichever one gets the work done in the least time, using the least effort and the least frustration is my favorite at the time. It can be something as trivial as knowing that you can Alt-click [Opt-click] on the arrow by the action set in the Actions palette to close/open all the actions and steps in that set, or knowing I can print multiple photos on one page by using the Picture Package.

What other publications do you have in the works?
I've recently turned down the opportunity to write two Photoshop books! Turning down writing opportunities while others are crying out for them may seem mad but writing is such hard work, you have to be a bit of a masochist to do it. In comparison, I find photography akin to falling off a log into a warm, open spa on a winter's day, or a lover's arms after you've crossed the Sahara desert barefoot with one bottle of mineral water to quench your thirst.

I've been trying to get back to Photography for some time and keep being tempted to do other things. Having said that, I think I might write a book about digital photography and Photoshop in the very near future. At the moment, I'm just enjoying taking photographs again and all that goes with digital photography. We are also half way through writing the InDesign CS2 ACE Exam Aid and soon it'll be time to update the Dreamweaver MX 2004 Exam Aid and before you know it, I'm sure Photoshop CS3 will be here!

Thanks Shangara — and continued success in all that you do!

Hacking Photoshop CS2 by Shangara Singh (Amazon - 34% discount)
Hacking Photoshop CS2 by Shangara Singh - Free Sample Chapter.
Visit the ACE Exam Aids site.
For more on becoming an ACE, visit Adobe's ACE page.

posted by Jennifer Apple | permalink | send comments

Photoshop Hacks by Shangara Singh - Sample Chapter
"Chapter 9: Hacking Selection Masks"

Hacking Photoshop CS2 by Shangara SinghTo work on an isolated area of an image without affecting the rest of the image, Photoshop uses selections to isolate areas. The selections are variously referred to as selection masks, or often abbreviated to masks or selections. The selection edges are also sometimes referred to as marching ants.

When an area is selected, you can move the selection, or the content encompassed by the selection, around the image. You can even move the selection or the content to another open document. You can hide a selection from view, disable it altogether, or invert it so that the masked areas become exposed to editing and the unmasked areas become impervious to editing.

Below are links to sections of a sample chapter from Hacking Photoshop CS2 by Shangara Singh, and are reprinted with permission. We've divided "Chapter 9: Hacking Selection Masks" into the following 3 sections:

Creating And Saving Selection Masks
Selections can be created in a number of ways. They can be created from the ground up using the selection marquee or lasso tools, or with painting tools by entering Quick Mask mode, or they can be based on the luminosity or the color data in the image. They can also be created from existing paths and path components. In ImageReady, you can create selections from slices.
Go to Creating And Saving Selection Masks

Editing And Modifying Selection Masks
Very rarely is a new selection perfect. Invariably, you have to do some work on it before you can use it. Fortunately, after you have stored the selection in an alpha channel, you can modify it in a number of ways. You can use painting tools, transform commands, or filters to modify the alpha channel and then load it as a selection mask.
Go to Editing And Modifying Selection Masks

Selection Mask Quick Hacks
The following hacks cover some of the methods most commonly used for creating selection masks. They are presented here in one place for your consumption. Feast on them from time to time when you feel hungry.
Go to Selection Mask Quick Hacks

posted by Jennifer Apple | permalink | send comments
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