By Monte Ferguson
The old saying says that a picture is worth more than a thousand words. Increasingly people are taking up photography to tell their family's stories and preserve precious moments. Many of us are amateur shutter bugs, happy to break out our cameras to capture that unique moment. Increasingly folks are going digital with this hobby. Digital cameras are set to overtake film cameras by the end of this decade.
But not all of our pictures come straight out of the camera exactly as we'd like. One of the benefits of taking digital pictures is that we can post process them, or tweak them, later. But the tools that come with most camera's are rather limited, or lack, such features. To be sure there are productivity suites, like AppleWork's or MS Word, that do include some image manipulation features. But once again the scope of their feature sets is rather limited in scope. There's always Photoshop, the 800 pound gorilla of image editing. But Photoshop is serious overkill, and serious money, when all your aunt wants to do is remove some red eye in her family snapshot.
Once there were a number of inexpensive image editors on the market. Unfortunately they have become history. What has been needed is something that goes beyond the capabilities of iPhoto, or the built in imaging effects of AppleWorks, but is not as hard to learn as Photoshop. Adobe's answer to this challenge is Photoshop Elements. Photoshop elements is geared toward consumers but it packs quite a bit of power under the hood.
Photoshop Elements is geared towards novice and intermediate users. Although even some professionals might be enticed to use the program. The program's interface is very reminiscent of Photoshop. But there are some differences that help new comers welcome, and more proficient with the program. When you first fire up the program you're greeted with a warm and inviting Welcome screen. This first screen invites you to explore. But it doesn't overwhelm you with options. There are only six buttons:New File, Browse for File, Connect to Camera or Scanner,Common Issues, Tutorials, and Exit Welcome Screen. It is simple, elegant, and immediately conveys some of the possibilities of the program. It practically entices you to try out the programs features you might not have thought of, like scanning in a picture.
Photoshop Elements has other unique touches which make it more approachable than its professional sibling. Two of these touches are part of the basic interface. They are the Hints and Recipe palettes.
Photoshop Elements Hints palette offers real time tips and information about the tools in the program. Clicking, or hovering over, a tool will cause this palette to give you a description, and a picture, of what the tools is for. You can click on all kinds of things in the interface, such as docked palettes, and learn what they do. There is also a section called Recipes. Recipes are step by step instructional lessons on doing some common image editing tasks, such as adding a drop shadow to type. The recipes are easy to follow along with. You can even download more from Adobe right from the Recipe Palette itself. The program really tries to simplify the process of editing and creating digital images. If you like an automated approach there are several auto correction features that will fix things like brightness and contrast or color saturation with the push of one button. But the program also lets you get in there and manually adjust your images, if you choose. It seems to strike a very good balance between catering to novices as well as folks who are more experienced.
Now that you are acquainted with the basics of the program you're probably wondering what else it can do. Surprisingly this little program can do quite a lot. If all you want is some basic touch ups on a picture you can use the Quick Fix dialog. It will allow you to make instant color adjustments in one screen. Have you ever wanted to capture an image from a video file, such as Quicktime? Photoshop Elements can do that. It also supports AVI, MPEG 2 (hint: MPEG 2 is used in DVD's) and MPEG 3. Want to take several photos and combine them into one large photo, also known as a panorama? You can do that with this program. There's a red eye brush so you can brush out unwanted red eyes in your photos. You can use the color variations feature to figure out which color adjustments will make your photo look its best. The built in file browser allows you to quickly preview, open, and organize all of your photos without having to switch back to the Finder. Photoshop Elements lets you straighten skewed photos, say from a scanner, with one click. The save for web feature helps you compress your images so they still look sharp but download quickly.
This application is obviously geared towards consumers, rather than being a dumbed down version of a professional app. The Hints and Recipe features give novices instant feedback and encourage exploration. This program scales well. Unlike many other consumer geared software, this one doesn't try to lump you into a one-size-fits-all type of solution. If assistants and wizards are your thing you can do that. If you want to fine tune and tweak things, you can do that too. However, if you do find yourself outgrowing the program, the transition will be eased by your time learning Photoshop Elements. The interfaces are enough alike that learning Elements will make you feel more comfortable should you find yourself using Photoshop. The reasonable price just makes this even more of a value.
To be honest there really wasn't anything that I can think of that stood out as a major fault. Just remember that this product is geared towards consumers. So there will be a few features that are absent in Elements that Photoshop has. The one feature that professionals would miss is CMYK support, for printing images at commercial printers. The printed manual could have contained a few examples for using the application but that's pretty much a nitpicking comment.
Consumers these days have few options for image editing software. Considering the lack of competition it's surprising that Adobe's Photoshop Elements is packed with so many features. It even comes at a price that will fit most buyer's budgets. There are more features in this app than we could cover in this review. We didn't touch on things like Attach to Email, which compresses an image so it's small enough to send in email, or batch processing, so a whole bunch of pictures can be processed all at once. This program offers a lot of value. If you love to take pictures, especially digital images, or scan in your photos this program gives you a wealth of tools to work with your pictures. This is a program that I can wholeheartedly endorse. If your scanners, or digital camera's, bundled software just doesn't quite cut it for you anymore check this product out. Don't let it's exterior fool you, there is a lot of potential power just under the surface.
Posted: Thursday, September 1st, 2005