With yet another version of the trusty Adobe Photoshop Elements to add to the library, you could be forgiven for thinking that the sole purpose of this release – so relatively close to the launch of its predecessor, Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 – is simply to spin money.
It was with great relief on installing Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 that it was apparent this was not the case. After all, the people most interested in hearing about this new software offering are probably more concerned with finding out if it’s worth upgrading rather than splashing out on a piece of Adobe software for the first time.
The good news is that there are plenty of new features specifically designed to improve and enhance common photo editing tasks. Although a few of these have already become important features in the software’s bigger sister, Photoshop CS3, you previously would have had to fork out a fortune for the privilege.
Adobe Elements has also been successful in taking powerful and complex image editing concepts and presenting them in a user-friendly and easy to understand manner. This version manages to tick all these boxes more thoroughly than ever before.
First up is the Smart Brush, a nifty quick effects brush that allows you to improve lighting, add rich texture or apply makeover tasks like teeth whitening and lipstick application with a quick sweep. For quick edits the standard Smart Brush Tool automatically detects area definitions (a bit like the Magic Wand) so you don’t have to painstakingly paint over exact areas to apply the effect.
If you want to be little tidier there’s also a Detail Smart Brush Tool so you can apply the effect according to your specified brush size. There are lots of different effects to apply here, suitable for anything from green landscapes to family snaps.
When the Smart Brush gets working you may notice that a Layer Mask appears in the Layers Palette. Don’t get too excited though, as this is just an emulated Layer Mask and you still can’t mask layers manually. Presumably Layer Masks are still too ‘advanced’ for Elements users.
Something that was previously seen in Adobe Photoshop CS3 is ‘Photomerge’. Now brought to Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 this handy feature allows you to merge several versions of a scene together and brush away any elements like wandering passers-by out of your picture in order to create a perfect composite.
It’s also great for combining group shots and chopping and changing heads and faces to make sure that everyone is smiling! Of course, it means that you have to have the foresight to capture different versions that are neat enough to be merged together, but it’s a handy new tool nevertheless and works effectively. It’s also a doddle to understand and work through if you make use of the ‘Guided’ feature that talks you through the whole process step by step.
A new Surface Blur Filter is available in the Blur Filter menu. Designed to soften surfaces whilst keeping edges and details crisp, the new feature is touted as being great for portrait shots. However, this is the only new addition where the results are a little disappointing, with the skin looking unevenly dappled, even after experimenting with the settings considerably.
As well as a number of new Effects like ‘Pencil Sketch’ and ‘Old Fashioned’, one of the most welcome additions to the new version is the enhanced support for working with Raw files. Using Camera Raw 4.5 you now have control over advanced lighting, white balance and colour adjustments, something not previously available to Elements and an important inclusion.
One of the first things you notice when starting up Adobe Photoshop Elements 7 is the new starter interface inviting you to choose whether you carry out ‘Edit’, ‘Create’ or ‘Share’ tasks. The ‘Share’ features play a big role in this new release, allowing you to distribute your photos via e-mail, web galleries or onto CD. You can even order prints whilst staying in the familiar Elements interface using a pop-up Kodak online print ordering service. These options work well and they are easy to control and execute.
There’s also lots of fun to be had with the whole barrage of new Flash templates that allow you to make fun and vibrant slideshows. Although not all of the templates are to everyone’s tastes (a couple are cringingly cheesy) the new custom slideshow features mean you can add captions, documentary-style pan and zoom effects, narration and music over your images: perfect for home projects.
Organisation has been stepped up a gear with advanced ‘text searching’. This helps you locate specific images in your image library quickly and easily using keywords, tags, dates and file information using the program’s Smart Albums feature. With this you can also stack different versions of the same image on top of one another as you make your editing tweaks, so there’s no excuse to save over a file ever again.
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