adobe Photoshop Elements 4 review

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Improved image management, enhancement and sharing help Elements retain its PC photography crown.

photoshop elements colour correction

Adobe dominates the field of professional photo editing with Photoshop and with Photoshop Elements it is gaining a similar ascendancy when it comes to consumer-led PC photography.

Key to Element’s success is its Organizer module which provides dedicated image management. By default the Organizer adds all imported images (and now PDFs) to a singe central catalogue though it also now offers a more traditional folder-tree view of your hard disk. This global approach has many advantages - but only if you can quickly narrow things down to just those images you are currently interested in. This is most easily done based on the time your photos were taken, using either the timeline or the excellent calendar-based Date view. Alternatively, you can now use the new Find by Details command to find photos based on other metadata, such as flash status, exposure settings, resolution and orientation.

To really master your photo collection, you need to tag your photos with those details that are significant to you. Elements has always made this task as simple, visual, and interactive as possible, but accurately tagging the subjects of dozens of photos is inevitably a chore. Or rather it used to be, as Elements 4 now provides an extraordinary solution. Simply hit the new Find Faces for Tagging command and a new dialog appears presenting a gallery of faces automatically picked out from all selected images and ready for drag-and-drop tagging! The underlying technology is jaw-dropping and the whole process is surprisingly efficient. Sadly however, it’s not a total solution as the recognition system only works for subjects facing the camera.

photoshop elements face tagging

Elements’ Organizer window adds dedicated face tagging.

After tagging, the next task in Elements is to make your photos look their best. The former Auto Fix window has gone, replaced by a single one-click Auto Smart Fix command available directly from the Photo Browser. This certainly simplifies things for beginners but it means that you have to load up the Editor module even for the simple task of cropping. On the other hand, when removing red eye, users are now spared from even opening their photos as the new Auto Red Eye Fix command works automatically. You can even automatically remove red eye from all images on import.

Automatic corrections are fine for most images but to take control of the enhancement process you need to load up Elements’ excellent Quick Fix window which provides both automatic and slider-based control of all the most important colour corrections. Previously these Quick Fix corrections could only be applied globally, but now the window adds two selection tools that let you confine enhancements to particular areas of the image. The Selection Brush tool lets you build up a selection by painting while the new Magic Selection Brush lets you roughly scribble over the object and then attempts to work out what you are trying to select. It’s another example of Adobe trying to make life as simple as possible but, unless the object is clearly distinguished from its background, the system fails more times than it succeeds.

For maximum control over your images you need to shift from Quick Fix to Standard Edit mode. Here you will find a breadth of power borrowed directly from Photoshop ranging from non-destructive adjustment layers and advanced retouching through to artistic filters and vector handling (the latter now including support for paragraph text complete with wyiswyg font preview). It’s the photographic capabilities that are most important for Elements’ users and, as such, it’s disappointing that Photoshop CS2’s Lens Correction filter for dealing with camera-based distortion and aberration hasn’t been imported (at least in the press beta under review).

photoshop elements colour correction

Elements’ Editor window makes advanced colour correction child’s play.

However there is a range of new power to compensate in the form of an excellent new correction command for adjusting the overall image to produce realistic skin tone; an enhanced Crop tool that lets you swap between presets and orientations on the fly; and a new Straighten tool for correcting photos taken at an angle. Most impressive is the Magic Extractor for pulling out objects from their background ready for colour correcting or compositing. The Extractor dialog is based on the same technology as the Magic Selection Brush but offers greater control and is much more successful as a result.

Once you’ve enhanced your photos and created your compositions in Elements’ Editor window, it’s back to the Organizer window to create more advanced projects and to share them with others. Here the biggest change is to the Slide Show Editor which now lets you add text, objects, audio, narration, transitions and advanced zoom and pan effects to your presentations before outputting them to WMV, VCD/ DVD, or direct to TV (assuming you have one hooked up to a Windows Media Center system). Other improvements include better email-based workflow and the ability to import Outlook and Vcard contacts. You can also now drag and drop photos to a dedicated Order Prints window to arrange professional output from Kodak and, in the shipping version, the ability to upload collections and to invite family and friends to view them will be more integrated and generally smoother.

Ultimately Photoshop Elements 4 demands more from its users than alternatives such as Corel Photo Album (see page ), but it gives a lot more in return. By focusing on what users want to do with their photos and working out how best to help them do it, Adobe has come up with a near-perfect partner for your digital camera.

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System requirements Windows XP (SP2)

Tom Arah

Dec 2005

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