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Adobe Photoshop Elements 3

Adobe Photoshop Elements 3
Okay, so it’s the new computer issue of PC Alamode magazine. While I’m usually a big advocate of getting new hardware, sometimes all you really need is a new piece of software to revitalize your computing experience. While the gift of a new computer may be too costly for some, an application like Adobe’s new Photoshop Elements 3 will fit most holiday budgets. Not only will it look great in the stocking, but also the recipient will enjoy it all year round.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 is the latest revision of the bestselling image editor and photo-enhancing program that is the younger sister to Adobe’s flagship application Photoshop. Elements 3 once again includes new, exclusive features that you will probably see in a future version of the parent program.

The most notable improvement inthe Windows version of Elements is that it is no long ‘just’ a photo-editing program; it now incorporates a complete database for your entire image collection. When you first install Photoshop Elements 3 you are prompted to let the application search for photos to add to the database. After that, you can select View and Organize Photos from the Welcome screen (Fig. 1) to the new Organizer. This incorporates the Photo Browser from previous versions, but makes it far more useful.

Fig. 1

The right side of the Browser has a list of tags that can be added to any of the photographs by simply dragging them onto a photo. Some tags are predefined (family, events, places), but you can add custom ones as well. It is easy to then search through your collect of photos by dragging a tag to the Find bar (Fig. 2) to show all photos that fit that criteria, you can even select one tag and exclude photos that have another tag to help further narrow your search. For instance, I could display all the photos of my family, but then exclude a specific person or event. The Photo Browser has a Timeline at the top of the window. Bars are shown to indicate the dates with the most photographs and you can use this to navigate your collection. You can also display you images in the new Date View. This uses a calendar motif to show your images chronologically by Day, Month (Fig. 3) or Year.

Fig. 2
Fig. 3

The new Photo Review feature allows you to quickly sort through images in a slideshow, optionally with music. As the images appear nearly full screen, you can rotate, edit, add tags and mark them for printing. This greatly speeds up the process of sorting through new photos.

Often, one of the most common tasks you have when sorting through new photos is to compare several similar shots to find the best one. The new Photo Compare mode allows you to see two photos side-by-side to analyze the differences between them. You can keep one up while changing the other photo so you can determine the best of the batch. Once you’ve picked the best image, you can put all of these similar photos into a virtual Stack with the best one on top, saving space in the catalog of photographs without deleting some images that you may want later.

Elements 3 is full of the sort of productivity improvements you would want from this program. As soon as I connected my digital camera to the computer, Elements showed thumbnails of all of the images and was ready to copy them to my hard drive and add them to the Photo Browser. The process could not be easier. There is now even support for the digital camera raw format. This format is basically the ‘digital negative’ and using it can give the photographer much more control over the image when importing it from the camera. There is even some limited support for working with 16-bit images.

Elements has two main workspaces, the aforementioned Organizer, and the Editor for doing the rest of your image work. There are two edit modes: Standard Edit and Quick Fix. The Quick Fix mode is brilliantly implemented, you can see a before-and-after comparison of the image and with one click of the new Smart Fix Auto button you can improve most photographs (Fig. 4). No longer do you have to try Auto Levels and Auto Contrast, these are all in one place. If you don’t want to use the Auto feature, you can still make adjustments here to the shadows, highlights and midtone contrast; to the hue and saturation of the image and to the sharpness a well.

Fig. 4

The Standard Edit mode works pretty much as you would expect. New tools have been added like the Spot Healing Brush, Cookie Cutter and the Red Eye Removal Tool. The Spot Healing Brush works similarly to the Healing Brush in Photoshop CS, but it requires only one click to get rid of blemish. Adobe realized that some tools that required you to click and origin point and then click again on the area to be affected were confusing to some users. The Spot Healing Brush avoids this completely. A similar tact is taken with the Red Eye Remover. Some users would marquee around the red area; some would just click on it. Now both methods will work to get the red out. The Cookie Cutter tool will crop your image to any number of predefined shapes: hearts, stars, signs, paw prints – there are lots to choose from.

Another useful new feature is the Photo Bin. This is an area at the bottom of the screen that shows a thumbnail of all of the images open in Photoshop Elements. This is an easy way to manage several open photos at one time. Elements also now can save multiple version of the same image in a Version Stack making it easy to access different versions of the same image.

Fig. 5

Photoshop Elements gives you many new ways of sharing you photos. You can order prints online through the integrated Adobe Photoshop Services. Adobe has partnered with Kodak and Ofoto to let you get prints directly from your software. If you would rather print your photos to your own printer, Elements will help you print full-page photos, picture packages (Fig. 5) and contact sheets. Other ways of sharing your images include emailing them either to another computer, emailing to a mobile phone, sending them to a Palm OS Handheld or to a TiVo. The Photo Mail (Fig. 6) email option is especially cool; it will compose an HTML formatted email complete with pictures, custom message and layout. You can also share the photos on the Web using Adobe Photoshop Services. This free service can notify your friends and family about the online album, they can then view and even order prints directly.

Fig. 6

The new Creations Wizard will guide you to making a variety of photo products including slideshows, video CDs (VCD) with menus, photo album pages, greeting cards, postcards, calendars and Web photo galleries. Elements includes CD/DVD burning support for creating VCDs, burning selected photos to CD or backing up the entire catalog.

All said, Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 is a great upgrade. Adobe has addressed many issues that users have had with previous versions as well as anticipating further needs. If you already use Adobe Photoshop, Elements can still be used as a photo organizer and you can have it edit the images in Photoshop. This is the first version of Photoshop Elements that separates the Mac and Windows versions, and for good reason. There are different features available for each platform. The Organizer is only available in Windows; Adobe counts on Apple’s iPhoto for this purpose on the Mac. Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 retails for $99, upgrades from previous versions are $79. They are also offering the program bundled with Adobe Premiere Elements which will allow you to create dynamic slideshows on DVD.

Paul Vaughn is a freelance graphic artist, writer and web designer. He also writes the Mac Guy column in the Business section of the Sunday Express-News newspaper. If you would like to a specific topic addressed, email Paul Vaughn at


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