Provides: Photo editing, manipulation and sharing
Format: DVD or digital download
Developer: Adobe Systems, Inc.
Minimum System Requirements: Multicore Intel processor, Mac OS X v10.4.11, 512MB RAM, 64MB VRAM, 1GB available hard disk space, DVD drive, QuickTime 7 (for multimedia features), Internet connection for Internet-based services
Processor Compatibility: Multicore Intel only
Price: $99.99 (currently $79.99 with rebate)
Version Reviewed: 8.0
Photoshop is work. It’s fun work, quite often, but it’s work nonetheless. There’s a lot to know, more to learn (and relearn), and plenty of trial and error. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t have it any way; I love the program, and I love watching its capabilities grow as my skills grow. But quite often, it’s overkill. And for the many Mac users who out there who have never used it, it’s quite intimidating (and, of course, too expensive).
Thus, Adobe has been bringing us Photoshop Elements. This is a friendlier image manipulation program. Cheaper. You don’t get nearly the amount of power and control you get with Photoshop, but you do get enough to have some fun and produce some very cool images. With this iteration, Adobe has not only added some great new editing tools, by also improved the way you organize and share your photos, as well.
It starts off poorly, however, with no active support for iPhoto. In order to import your iPhoto library (or portions of it) to Elements, you have to drag the photos out of iPhoto to your hard drive, or dig into the archaic iPhoto folder hierarchy from within Elements. It’s a pain, but it’s what you’ve got. The hidden benefit is that your iPhoto images remain unharmed, as all Elements 8 work will be done on the duplicates.
Cumbersome as it is, though, it’s worth it. Because Elements offers some great tools that are fairly simple to use once you get the hang of them. For instance, you can recompose your photos without harming key elements. Let me explain visually. In the original photo below, I have a picture of me and my kids, but we’re fairly separated.
Let’s say I want to put this in a portrait frame, not horizontal. Recomposing allows the user to alter the orientation by simply dragging the frame, keeping the important elements without distorting them, and merging the rest. Sometimes, dragging is enough. More often than not, however, it’s better to tell it what to keep and what to lose. You can see below that I’ve painted over what I want with green what I don’t want with red.
Then, I dragged from right to left, and watched my son and daughter magically slide closer to me, while those in the background disappeared…sort of.
It’s not a perfect science, so there will be some practice involved (note the trails over my left shoulder, and the heads directly behind me didn’t disappear). But the fact that you can complete procedures such as this on software so inexpensive is very, very cool.
Elements 8 gives you other powerful tools as well, such as photo-merge, which allows you take multiple images at various exposures to get a perfectly lit image. The image below from Adobe’s samples shows a before and after.
You can control which elements to carry into your final product, so it would’ve been quite simple to highlight the girl without brightening the fence behind her, for example.
The same basic tool and procedure can be used to remove unwanted elements from an image. Take the same shot multiple times to sample various elements and clean up the background. The image below from Adobe’s samples also shows a before and after, although there were a total of about five images used to produce the clean image on the right.
You certainly would want a tripod to make sure the photos are as similar as possible, but it need not be perfect. Photoshop will make some pretty good blending guesses, and you can guide it along, as well.
Not all of the features in Elements 8 are quite so drastic. Many are simply traditional Photoshop filters to touch up or add interesting effects to your photos. You can correct red eye and brighten teeth with a simple click, or you can add some pop to your photos, as with the samples below.
This picture was taken with my iPhone, so the lighting was not the best and the image was a bit blurry. By running it through the “Poster Edges” filter, I’ve given it a more striking look that hides the deficiencies of the source image.
There’s far more to Elements 8 than I can cover in this review, and you can read about the new features, see video demos (that I recommend you watch so you can see how easy all of this is to learn, if not perform) and compare product versions at Adobe’s website. Many features are purely for fun, but others are there specifically to make your photos look better: bluer skies, more striking black-and-whites, etc. I do, however, want to quickly cover image sharing, as Adobe has gone out of their way in Elements 8 to make sure you can show off your work.
Of course, you can print your images, but you can also create photo books, collages and scrapbook pages, make a PDF slideshow, publish them to a web gallery, share them via iPhone, and more. And as if to spite Apple (the inability to communicate with iWeb and iPhoto apparently wasn’t enough), you can create CD/DVD jackets and labels. Take that, Apple! Adobe actually wants to burn discs!
My only complaint with Elements 8 is that the included Getting Started guide is useless. It mentions only a couple features, and provides no detail on any of them (the last 13 pages of the guide are literally blank). You’re going to need a third-party manual for Elements 8, but should be able to rely on the online video tutorials in the meantime. This is fairly common these days, yes, but considering many Mac users are used to the intuitive interface and capabilities of iPhoto, Adobe is shooting itself in the foot by not providing a smoother transition to Elements 8.
Regardless, Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 is a great program that provides some amazing capabilities. It’ll be a bit frustrating at first when your results aren’t as impressive as those in the samples, but with some practice and the acceptance that every image will require a slightly different approach, you’ll be surprised by what you’re able to accomplish. Just don’t tell anyone how easy it was. This is your chance to use “Photoshop” as a verb, and I suggest you do it.