There's a lot to like about Photoshop Elements. It has most of its more-robust sibling's power and features at a fraction of the price: $99 versus $600. It's an able replacement to Photoshop LE (Limited Edition), which had a hard time striking a balance between user friendliness and power.
Photoshop Elements' obvious forte is image editing. But its subtle strength is its support for Photoshop-style, standard, layered alpha channel graphics.
In a departure from most Adobe products, Photoshop Elements features some handholding. Not too much but enough to help you get your feet wet. As Figure 18.2 shows, the opening screen has a link to a brief tutorial.
You've seen Premiere's pop-up tooltips. Photoshop Elements takes them one step further, making its tips more narrative and calling them hints. Recipes is another helpful feature. As illustrated in Figure 18.3, recipes offer step-by-step instructions on several dozen functions, such as color correction, image cleanup, and text enhancement. Instead of working like a standard online help file, a recipe step can be used to locate, open, and handle a particular function.
The photo-editing elements include the de rigueur red-eye remover, crop/rotation, and lighting-correction tools. It's three darkroom tools emulate two age-old techniques?dodging and burning?while adding a "sponge" tool that subtly alters the color saturation of an area.
Elements offers 98 filters, many of which will be familiar to Premiere users. The helpful palette display, illustrated in Figure 18.4, offers nice thumbnail views of how each works.
In a confusing move, Elements offers another category of filters called Effects. I show a few in Figure 18.5. Some are a combination of several filters, others you apply to text, and still others create a background. The help file adds to the nomenclature confusion: "Filters let you apply special effects to your images."
Elements offers a Photomerge tool, used to stitch together photos to create sweeping panoramas and other multi-image photos. As I've illustrated in Figure 18.6, it works like similar products that ship with some digital still cameras. As I move an image near its neighbor, Elements real-time image analyzer marries the two without a hitch.
In a small nod to the Internet, Elements offers a means to move images to the Web. It's adequate but barebones at best. The GIF animation tool (part of the Save For Web dialog box), shown in Figure 18.7, is a nice touch. Elements also offers tools and links to some "share your photos" sites.
Behind all these features is the principal driving force of Photoshop Elements: Photoshop-style layering. Elements automatically places every object you make for a graphic into a separate layer. The interface, shown in Figure 18.8, lets you turn those layers off or on, edit or apply effects to them separately, or connect elements between layers so moving one object proportionately moves another.
To create layered artwork takes not much more than a simple drag and drop. Move an object?text, artwork, or scanned image?to an existing layered graphic and Elements automatically creates a new layer for it. There you can apply numerous filters, effects and opacity values to individual layers, noting the changes immediately in the window. It doesn't take long to turn the little stick figure in Figure 18.8 into the psychedelic picnicker in Figure 18.9.
Photoshop Elements faces stiff competition from Ulead PhotoImpact, Jasc Paint Shop Pro, and Microsoft PhotoDraw. What sets Elements apart from this crowded field is its direct link to Photoshop, the undisputed image-editing king. If your goal is to graduate to that level of professionalism, then Photoshop Elements is the logical first step.