Every editing essential in a pared-down pro package
ADOBE HAS VERY MUCH SETTLED on a look for Photoshop Elements, its stripped-down image-editing program. From version 11, each new release of the app has looked virtually the same, with perhaps a different color in the interface, and the changes and upgrades have focused on features.
The application is still split into three “skill levels,” with Quick, Guided, and Expert workspaces giving progressively less help and more creative control. New in version 15 are some additional Guided Edits: the ability to add motion blur to images, collage creation, the adjustment of facial features, and the creation of cutout words from images. The big changes are in the Organizer, which gets a bit more love.
Photoshop Elements comes in two halves: the Editor, which is where the editing work is carried out, and the Organizer. The latter scans your hard drive for pictures and analyzes them. If, like us, you’ve got almost 33,000 image files on your hard drive, this can take some time, even with a quad-core i7—in fact, the whole application is CPU-intensive, because it lacks Creative Cloud’s ability to take advantage of your GPU and its fearsome processing abilities. Once it has finished analyzing, you can sort your collection of photos into albums, tag them to make finding them easier in the future, and tell the software to watch folders such as My Pictures, so any future images are added to Elements. Once it’s processed your image library, you can search it using automatically generated tags, or those you’ve added yourself, locations pulled from GPS data, or faces it’s detected. Once you start to amass a collection of image files, it makes life a lot easier.
Selecting a picture in the Organizer— which is now touch-enabled, for those with touchscreen laptops—enables you to run an Instant Fix, or open it in the Editor (or another editing app, if you’ve told Elements where to find it). Instant Fixes can now batch-process images, to cut down on the time you spend editing if you’re only making a few tweaks, but you’re going to want to use the Editor for anything other than the absolute basics. One of the best things about the Editor is that, if you carry out an operation in Guided Mode, a quick flip into Expert shows you all the edits laid out as Layers and Masks, just as they would be in full Photoshop.
It’s a great way to learn about the software, and image editing in general.
Opening a Raw file brings you into a version of Adobe Camera Raw that’s missing a few of the advanced options you’d find in Photoshop CC—but with the ability to adjust white balance, exposure, highlights, and shadows, plus clarity and saturation, there’s enough to work with.
Sharpening, noise reduction, and camera calibration are tucked away in the tabbed interface, too, and it’s a shame to see these hidden, because they’re at the heart of why people choose to shoot Raw files instead of straightforward JPEGs.
One thing about Elements is that its interface can take up rather a lot of your screen; space that could be better used for viewing your image. A few clicks is all it takes to collapse the Photo Bin or Tool Options panels, but it would be nice to be able to change the left-hand toolbar to a single strip of icons, and dock the useful set of floating palettes opened with the “More” button to the right.
If you’re looking for a new photo-editing app, Elements 15 is definitely the one to get. It’s a well-designed and mature product, free from bugs and unintended features. Owners of version 14, though, need to question whether the few additions to the Organizer and the Guided Edits are worth the outlay.
1.6GHz or faster processor with SSE2 support, 4GB RAM, 5GB free hard drive space, 1024×768 display resolution, Internet connection.
- Full-fledged image-editing app that does everything a photographer needs.
- Doesn’t quite cut it for pro use; GPU acceleration would be nice.