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Photoshop Elements is the perfect image-editing program if you’ve outgrown iPhoto but aren’t quite ready to take on the complexity (and cost) of Photoshop. It offers a great blend of beginner-friendly guidance and sophisticated manual adjustments for the more experienced user. In fact, when you get down to it, there’s not that much you can do in Photoshop that you can’t also do in Elements.
The new Organizer application is a major part of the Elements 9 bundle, replacing the basic photo browsing capabilities of Adobe Bridge with proper cataloguing tools at last. You can apply keywords (tags), carry out rapid searches across your whole image library, create albums, and more.
One of the biggest advances is Adobe’s new content-aware technology, which features the enhanced Spot Healing Brush tool. Previously, this did a pretty fair job of covering over blemishes, but now it fills in the area with matching details, textures, and colors from the surroundings. It doesn’t always work, and if you compare the before-and-after versions, you can often see the differences. But when it does work, it’s spectacular, blotting out buildings, pedestrians, ugly signs, and other unwanted objects just as if they’d never been there at all.
Equally impressive is the Recompose tool, which lets you change the size of the picture without changing the proportions of the key subjects. You might have a shot of two people, for example, who are standing too far apart--the Recompose tool will shrink the space between them without distorting the people themselves. If it doesn’t work quite the way you’d like, you can paint over the subjects you want to “protect” before you use the tool. It only takes a few seconds, and the results are suddenly a whole lot better. Still, if you’re experienced with image editors, you’ll get a little frustrated at the unpredictability of it all.
The Guided Edit mode gives novice users an easy introduction to image-editing techniques, but for more experienced users the addition of layer masks in this version makes Photoshop Elements a much more powerful and versatile photo-manipulation tool.
The new Guided Edits are great, though. You can use them to carry out everyday tasks like cropping, sharpening, or adjusting brightness, and they display the tools you need to use and explain what they do and how to use them. It’s a great way for beginners to gain experience.
Anyone who already knows their way around Elements, though, may feel that all this new stuff is aimed at beginners. Not quite. Elements 9 now supports layer masks, which are used to control the way different layers in an image are blended together. This opens up a whole new range of more advanced image-editing techniques.
Some of the more clever new features in Elements 9 are a little hit and miss, but it’s still a terrific editor overall. The Guided Edit mode is great for novices, while the addition of layer masks brings Elements another step closer to Photoshop itself.
Photoshop Elements 9
REQUIREMENTS: Intel processor, Mac OS 10.5.8 or later, 1GB RAM, 3.4GB hard disk space
Content-aware technologies. Guided Edit mode. Layer masks. Organizer application.
Recomposing and Style Match features not always reliable. Few enhancements for experienced users.