It seems like just yesterday that Adobe first introduced Photoshop Elements to the enthusiast market. In fact, it’s been almost a decade, which is right around the time I bought my first digital camera. With the introduction of the digital camera in the mid-90s and widespread adoption in less than 15 years, the demand for an easy-to-use, but powerful photo-centric program for enthusiasts was inevitable. Adobe met that demand with great fanfare, though version 8 disappointed some users. Will Photoshop Elements 9 quell the unsatisfied voices of the previous version?
- Amazing tools to manipulate photos
- Keyword tags allow quick searches & easy organization
- Editor supports layers
- Good help tools and tutorials
- Solid, stable performance
- Organizer import is finicky
- People recognition sometimes misses
The organizer is a highly integrated part of the Photoshop Elements 9 experience. It’s not just a tool for organizing your photos, but also the hub for fixes, creative projects and easy sharing.
Organize Tab If you’re like me, then you probably already have a sizable library of photos. Mine consists of over 18,000 photos, taking up nearly 80GB of space, from a wide variety of sources including several different digital cameras, mobile phones, scanners, and webcams. Until about five years ago, I used to just organize them within my file system (windows explorer) and managed to get by okay. Then I had kids.
An explosion of photos followed and it was becoming impossible to manage, so I enlisted the help of Google’s free Picasa software. PSE9’s organizer has many of the features and capabilities of Picasa including people recognition, multiple album support, tags, geotags with maps, rating, cropping, simple fixes, effects, creative projects, and sharing. Most of those features tend to be more advanced or more flexible on Photoshop Elements. For example PSE9 has an auto-analyzer feature that will use Smart Tags to allow you to distinguish your photos using some preset tags like, photo quality or contrast. The people recognition feature worked about as well as Picasa, though I preferred PSE9’s because I could name the faces quicker and easier in PSE9 than Picasa. Some photos were completely ignored though, even if they had clear, unobstructed faces in them. Interestingly, Picasa and PSE9 both missed the same photos.
Overall, I preferred working within PSE9’s organizer. Unfortunately, I won’t be giving up Picasa as my primary organizer because of a major issue I had importing my photos. For some unknown reason, the PSE9 organizer failed to import my photos. I selected a top level directory and told it to scan subfolders. After a few thousand photos, I got a message saying that the import failed and none of my photos showed up in the catalog. I resorted to importing individual folders and began to notice that it was hanging up on importing photos I had taken with an LG Dare phone, though it didn’t have any problems with photos taken with a Blackberry or Android phone. If it had been one or two photos, I would have been okay with omitting them from the catalog, but not ALL of them. Until I can figure out why those particular photos were rejected, I can’t stop using Picasa in favor of PSE9’s organizer, which is too bad because I would prefer to settle on one organizer so I don’t have to double up on tagging.
Fix Tab Within the organizer, there are a few options for fixes, though they are all auto fixes, except for the crop feature. I love the crop feature because you can free crop, or use one of the preset aspect ratios. For example, if you wanted to crop a photo using the 4×6 preset, PSE9 locks the ratio so you can’t use an odd ratio that won’t print on 4×6 paper. Most novices will be reasonably happy with the auto fixes available but for advanced users, you can also launch the full blown editor from the fix tab. A cool touch is the ability to also launch a different editor of your choosing.
Create Tab Within the create tab, you have the ability to create projects like photo prints, photo books, greeting cards, calendars, etc. It’s a neat touch to allow users to create the projects from within PSE9, then print them locally or use a vendor to have the project printed. The problem for me is the limited number of third-party vendors to choose from. If you happen to use Shutterfly or Kodak Gallery, I guess you’re okay, but I use Costco and they are not an option. Ideally, Adobe would make available every major photo site there is so that users have choices and can use their preferred print provider.
Share Tab The share tab allows you to upload photos, create discs, or email them. The built-in share sites include Flickr, Facebook, SmugMug, and Kodak Gallery. Some of the features are only available if you happen to also have Premiere Elements 9, which can be purchased separately or as part of a bundle with Photoshop Elements 9. Again, more choices for sharing sites would have been awesome, but Flickr and Facebook are probably two of the biggest photo sharing sites around so it’s a good start.
When it comes down to it, the meat of Photoshop Elements 9 is the editor. If you just wanted the organizer, you really could just get by on cheaper or free alternatives, but what really sets PSE9 apart from the others is the editor. A really nice feature of the editor is that you can use it in three modes: Full, Quick, and Guided. The full editor provides full control over all the editing while the quick editor focuses on a few specific areas of editing –– lighting, color, balance, and sharpness. The guided editor is a very nice feature for inexperienced users. It basically guides you through the process of making all kinds of edits, enhancements and effects, while explaining each change in detail. It is so useful for learning that I’d recommend everyone but the most experienced users try the guided editor at least once to learn everything that’s possible with PSE9.
I can’t possibly go over every single effect, tool, and feature of the editor. I would however, like to show an example of one of my favorite tools –– the spot healing brush tool. Since most of my photos tend to be of people, the ability to touch up a person’s face (usually my own) is really cool. Hey, not everyone can look beautiful all the time, right? I still have an occasional breakout now and then but with the spot healing brush tool, it’s like it was never there. You can take it a step further and use it to repair old damaged photos or even remove objects from a photo.
In the example above, you can see the dramatic improvement from the before photo (left) and the after photo (right).
The photo above was taken from the fire escape of my old apartment in San Francisco. You can see the large black cable/wire across the top that sort of ruined an otherwise nice photo of the San Francisco skyline. The spot healer did an amazing job removing it from the photo and the whole process took me less than a minute to complete! Blown up on a computer screen, you can tell where the cable was, but on a 4×6 print it’d be very hard to spot. The spot healing brush tool is one of many useful, interesting, and fun ways to edit your photos using Photoshop Elements 9. With this kind of creative control, you can snap your photos without worry because PSE9 can remove unwanted clutter, enhance lighting, add cool effects, and much more.
PERFORMANCE & STABILITY
My computer is no slouch, but it definitely can’t compete with computers you can buy off the shelves today. That said, I had no problems maneuvering around Photoshop Elements 9 and did not once experience a crash during my week or so of testing. Other than when running the auto analyzer and when PSE9 was busy building thumbnails from huge imports, I found it to be quite responsive.
Windows 7 64-bit
Intel Core 2 Duo E4500 (2.2GHz)
Nvidia GeForce 8600GT (256MB RAM)
4GB system RAM
I am not a fan of launch screens. When you launch PSE9, you get a welcome screen that’s used to log in to your Adobe ID and or launch the Organizer or Editor. I prefer to have separate shortcuts for each than having to go through a two-step process for getting into whichever part of PSE9 I want to use. You can configure it to automatically launch the editor or organizer, but after it launches, you still have to close the welcome screen.
If you sign up for an Adobe ID, you get 2GB of free storage at Photoshop.com and access to basic tutorials. That’s twice the storage of Google’s Picasaweb. For an additional $49.99/year, you can upgrade the free account to a “Plus” account that allows for 20GB of storage and more tutorials as well as access to more backgrounds, frames, and artwork for projects.
For more help on using PSE9, go check out The Missing Manual series from O’Reilly.
Photoshop Elements 9 is a fantastic photo editing tool for enthusiasts. The organizer in PSE9 could still use a couple of improvements, but mostly needs to stop being so finicky about importing photos. In all honesty though, even if Adobe removed the organizer altogether, the editor itself would be worth the asking price. With its solid performance and an array of powerful editing tools, it looks like Adobe’s Photoshop Elements is back on track as being the best photo editing program for enthusiasts, not just the best selling.
For a 30-day trial, go to http://www.adobe.com/go/tryphotoshop_elements.
Available from Amazon.com.
* Review license courtesy of Adobe Systems