By Monte FergusonDigital photography has been, and continues to be, a liberating revolution. It is easily accessible to everyone. We’re taking more photographs than ever before. After you invest in a decent size memory card for your camera you can shoot as many photos as it can hold. Better yet, you offload the pictures to your computer and reuse the card.
Unfortunately not all of our shots turn out like a pro photographer. That’s when you turn to an image editor like Photoshop Elements. Photoshop Elements incorporates the core features of it’s big brother Photoshop at a very attractive price. It is a delicate balancing act between power and accessibility.
My first surprise, when I opened the package, was that Photoshop Elements came on a DVD-ROM disk. If you happen to have an older Mac, which only comes with a CDRW drive, you’re out of luck.
Then I started looking for the installer icon. It should be right up front, right? Nope. You have to click on a Photoshop Elements icon which, it turns out, is a folder. You’re then presented with such confusing items as “Bootstrapper.dmg”, payloads, resources, and “Setup.app”. If you guessed Setup.app was the installer you win a prize. Why not just create an alias that says PSE 6 installer at the root level of the DVD?
Then the wait begins. The install process is not a quick one. I walked away and let the installer do it’s thing. When I got back I found the install had consumed 2.6GB. That seems pretty hefty to me. If you’re using an early era G4 you’ll need to make room.
Launching Photoshop Elements brings up a Welcome screen. I like the fact that it puts the most common operations right in front of the user. You can choose to Start From Scratch, Browse, Import From Camera, and Import From Scanner. The Welcome screen also retains links to recently opened images.
The background of the program is a medium gray. Presumably this is to allow your eyes to focus on the color of your images without distraction. Yet Adobe has chosen to use brightly colored icons and tabs in the interface. I found it distracting to have such brightly colored icons against such a neutral background. I looked for a preference to change the workspace to a monochrome appearance to no avail. There is one aspect of Photoshop Elements that I found quite useful. When you hover your cursor over the icons a tool tip, I.E. a name, appears. You can also click on the name which invokes the user guide and takes you to the relevant section about that tool.
Photoshop Elements, which takes over all of the display space, uses a palette well, docked to the right. This keeps palettes manageable. It also allows you, via a control, to collapse the palette well. This keeps information overload down and allows you to work on extremely large images without scrolling. Another portion of the Photoshop Elements workspace is the Project Bin. It’s located at the bottom of the workspace. It displays thumbnails of open photos.
It’s useful for switching between multiple open photos in your workspace. The Project Bin has controls that let you open or close images, hide images, navigate through open images, make a specific image the frontmost, duplicate an image, rotate an image, or view file information. Because the Project Bin appears in both Full Edit and Quick Fix, you can easily bring open images into Quick Fix for editing. Multiple-page projects are highlighted by a gray frame around the page thumbnails. To show or hide the individual pages, click the right edge of the frame.
Photoshop Elements groups its features into a modal task based interface. Tools appropriate to that particular mode appear when you click on its tab. Photoshop Elements calls these modes: Edit,Create, and Share.
This is going to be the most familiar, and often used, portion of the program. Adobe has taken pains to make the program appeal to as wide of an audience as possible. Photoshop Elements can be used in Full, Quick, or Guided mode. Full mode is the default. It shows all of the tools but provides no assistance. It is for those who know what they want to do. Quick mode is intended for quick touch ups. It displays the tools necessary to preform common image correction tasks.(Example: red eye removal, color balance, and sharpening). Guided provides step by step instructions for more complex tasks (Example: removing tears, and fixing scratches)
Once you have your photos looking the way you want them, what do you do with them? Why you move to the Create section of the program. Here you will find ways to make use of your images. You can design photo books, collages, greeting cards, CD & DVD covers, web photo galleries, and slide shows. Once again the program provides step by step instructions, or you can go it on your own. Layouts are now flexible. You can therefore customize all of the elements in a given design.
The last phase is about sharing your images and designs with friends and family. You can elect to have them printed out, using Kodak Easy Share Gallery. (Example: greeting cards, calendars, photo books, photo stamps, or prints) You can also elect to publish your images online. (Example: web photo gallery, pdf slide show, or a personal online photo album.)
If you were to name the one feature that makes this update a sure thing, it would have to be the new and improved compositing tools. Compositing means taking elements from one image and placing them into another image. Sounds simple, but getting it right takes some serious work. What makes Photoshop Elements compositing tools so great is how easy they are to use, and how good the results turn out. Even novices can get the hang of them in seconds.
The best example of these tools tackles a common photographers problem; getting the perfect group shot. Group photo shoots are always tricky. It always seems that someone is making a face or has their eyes close. The common solution is to take multiple shots so one of them should turn out great. But that doesn’t always work out. Enter Photoshop Elements. It allows you to combine the best facial expressions and body language from your series of photos. The result is a perfect group shot. The program even includes step-by-step instructions to guide you through the process.
This same technology, called Photomerge by Adobe, can also be used to create seamless panoramas.
Color curve adjustment tools make it even easier to fine tune color, brightness and contrast. Now you can have hands on control of the color correction process.
Sharpen tools can now remove blurring caused by low lighting conditions.
Correct lens distortion at photo edges and keystone effects that exaggerate perspective.
Enhanced RAW image file support lets you do non destructive editing. You can also save time by applying the same set of adjustments across multiple raw images at the same time. Batch applied changes are made in real time while you watch.
If you dislike the idea of having a large database holding your images, ala iPhoto or Aperture, then you’ll like Adobe Bridge. It lets you browse your entire hard drive for images. You can sort images by name, date, or rating. You can also use your own custom tags and keywords for faster searching. You can also use it to organize photos into stacks, say by event, or multiple versions of a file. You can also use the reject feature to hide photos from displaying in Adobe Bridge.
Share in many ways from one convenient place Quickly and easily share your photos in a variety of ways—including e-mail, Web galleries, and burning to CD.
Liven up your photo projects Use great-looking new themes and artwork to give your photo projects a professional look.
Create projects more quickly Save time by gathering the photos you need for a specific project in one place. A dedicated Project Bin provides easy access to all of your open photos, photo book pages, and saved albums.
There is a lot to love about this release. For those who own an Intel based Mac you’ll be pleased to find out that Photoshop Elements 6 is now a universal binary. Which means it runs at native speeds on both PowerPC Macs and newer Intel based Macs.
But there is more to this release than running native on Intel based Macs. The new Photomerge technology makes this upgrade worthwhile. It allows you to do in seconds what would take most people quite some time, and a lot of trial and error. Another very welcome feature is the step-by-step instructions. They are easy to read and very informative. I used them with the Photomerge feature. In just a few seconds I had mastered the feature.
There are other features that stood out to me. For instance, it may not be as flashy but the Project Bin can be a very handy tool for organizing projects, or applying batch corrections. I was surprised to find that Photoshop Elements supports layers, even adjustment layers. Layers allow you to do some fancy image manipulation without degrading the quality.
Even the humble welcome screen was handy. It acts as a gateway to the most used features, like scanning an image into Photoshop Elements. No need to dig around in menus trying to figure out how to do that.
The install process was not straightforward. It should have been a no brainer. But instead you have to fish for a file called Setup.app. And don’t think you can just drag Photoshop Elements to the trash if you want to delete it. You have to run an uninstaller. Talk about a very non-Mac type of experience.
Another irritation is about a missing feature. There is no iLife support built in. It would seem only natural that the people who might be inclined to use this product, are also likely to organize their pictures in iPhoto. I’ve seen shareware apps that have added an iLife media browser. Why Adobe couldn’t add this to their Adobe Bridge puzzles me. As it stands none of my photos in iPhoto could be accessed directly from within Photoshop Elements.
It was certainly pleasing to see Adobe release a new version of Photoshop Elements. (Photoshop Elements 5 was a Windows only release.) Photoshop Elements 6 is a very capable image editing program. It packs quite a lot of power. It appeals to both novices and intermediate users.
Balancing out the needs of both types of customers is a tricky business. Thankfully Photoshop Elements does a great job. It does not dumb down the interface for novices, thus turning off more experienced users. Instead it gains step-by-step instructions to aid novices through the program. More experienced users can just dive right in. It is chocked full of features that everyone can use, at a very affordable price.
Posted: Monday, July 21st, 2008