Another year, another version of Adobe’s trusty home photo-editing software: Adobe Photoshop Elements. A lot has changed since this piece of software first reared its head in 2001, most noticeably the emergence of free, online applications for fixing and sharing photo files, such as Picasa and Photoshop Express. So, with every release Adobe comes under pressure to find plenty more new and exciting ways to tempt enthusiast photographers into parting with their cash.
Those who paid attention to the recent release of Adobe Photoshop CS5 may be surprised to find out one of its newest and most celebrated features – Content Aware Fill – has been adapted and made accessible to Photoshop Elements 9 already. Now, using the Spot Healing Brush it’s possible to quickly clone out unwanted elements in an image with a quick dab without having to select a source area first, or work on blending. What makes Content Aware Fill different from the Proximity Match option is its improved ability to match lighting, tone and noise.
As with Content Aware Fill in CS5, the end result of using this feature really does depend on the image you’re working on. With soft textured areas such as grass or sea, Content Aware Fill using the Spot Healing Brush worked wonders and we were very quickly able to erase and replace objects such as a ball and a buoy with no problems. However, it did struggle a bit on complex areas with harsh perspective or complicated patterns. Getting rid of litter on a pier with very defined planks proved too much for this feature to auto-complete without a good few failed attempts and tweaks of the brush size first.
If you’re already an experienced user of Photoshop Elements the most significant addition to you will no doubt be the introduction of Layer Masks. This was without question an extremely vital feature missing from all those previous versions of Elements, limiting what could be achieved with a complex, layered document.
Giving Photoshop Elements users the chance to try out layer masks means they can develop the essential skills needed to progress with their image-editing in their own time. Of course, there’s no need to get so technical with the edits if you don’t feel you need to, but once your editing confidence grows, the chance to practice with this feature could make the migration over to Photoshop CS a lot less daunting. We applaud the decision to finally make this a feature.
Look under the File-New menu and you will find a new Photomerge option. As well as guiding you through ways to achieve the perfect group shot, letting you play around with people’s facial features, clean up unwanted objects from a series of photos or stitch together a panorama, the addition of Photomerge Style Match allows you to recreate the look of a selected shot.
When you load up Photoshop Elements 9 there is already a selection of images in the Style Bin ready for Style Matching, however, these are all very dramatic and harsh in contrast. We found it much more useful to load our own shots into the Style Bin. This will save you bags of time if you’re working with multiple images captured using continuous mode on your camera.
Take a look at the Edit panel and you will now see a Guided option. Here, you can choose from a list of common or creative edits and the software will talk you through the basic options needed to achieve the effect. Some of the most useful Guided Photo Edits include removing a colour cast, correcting skin tone and tweaking lighting & exposure. Using this panel allows you to ease yourself into some rather complicated editing steps, with procedures never really getting more challenging than adjusting a slider, or tweaking the perspective of a frame. For extra support, you will also find direct links to view step-by-step video tutorials on Adobe TV.
Of course, after spending so much time fixing your shots it would be a travesty not to share them with your family and friends, or even just other passionate photographers. It makes that sense the Share features have been improved in Adobe Photoshop Elements 9, especially considering Photoshop Express already offered far better ways to export directly to sites such as Facebook, Flickr and Picasa than previous versions.
As well as providing easy exports to Flickr, Facebook and SmugMug, the Share panel also makes it easy to upload images to a Photoshop Album, as an email attachment or to view on a digital photo frame. You can also use Share as a shortcut for backing up your images onto a CD or DVD or as a PDF slideshow. All of these options are painless and do a good job of taking you through the options in a clear and concise manner.
Within this same panel a “Create” tab systematically take you through the steps needed to present your images in lots of creative ways including photo collages, DVD jackets or Photo books. Unfortunately, the PhotoStamps option is only really useful for the American market as they’re only recognised by the US Postal Service. We’d love to see Adobe team up with Royal Mail to provide a similar option for people in the UK in the not too distant future.
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