Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 Review: Creating The Pictures You Wish You Had Taken Yourself

About six years ago, when we were preparing for the birth of my first son, I went out and treated myself to a fancy new camcorder. This thing, a Sony, had the works. All of the latest and greatest…including a one megapixel camera (yeah, did I mention this was in late 2001?)

I had big plans for that camera. I was going to document everything my son did from his first midnight poop, all the way through college. I would edit those photos and videos into short movies, slideshows, and albums, which I could share with friends and family. It would be organized, streamlined…and….well, you get the idea. Today, I have a box of used videotapes, many of which have not been watched, let alone edited.

On the photo side, I did a little better. Not only did I take thousands of pictures, but I also managed to organize them into folders on my computer. Some of them even got edited and labeled.

As you can imagine, things did not go any better with the birth of my second son. As time grew shorter, my resolve waned until just downloading the picture and saving it on the computer seemed to take an enormous effort. Recently, my daughter was born and my resolve returned. This time, I was going to do it. Of course, I would need some new tools. I went searching online, talked to some friends, and arrived at the same place I started: Adobe. If you want to edit photos or mix media and video, Adobe is pretty much the first and last place anyone will tell you to look. Heck, editing a picture is commonly referred to as “photoshopping”. When the brand name becomes a verb, you know it must be good.

So, I checked out Photoshop. What I found, frankly, scared me almost completely off the computer. That would be Photoshop CS3, the professional grade $1000 package (not to mention the similar version of Premiere movie editing software). Then, I picked myself off the floor and started chatting with my brother who mentioned sort of offhand that many companies offer a professional and a consumer version of photo and video editing programs. Huh. I never thought of that. So, I looked again, and this time I found the Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements Bundle. And not only that, both programs packaged together cost only $150 (which is $50 less than buying them individually.) I was on my way.

Originally, I had planned to review the whole bundle at once. As I started working my way through Photoshop Elements 6, however, I quickly realized that these were both going to be complex and feature rich programs. This was not all going to fit into one review. So, here is what we are going to do. Today, we are taking an in depth look at Adobe Photoshop Elements 6. Sometime down the road, probably in March, we’ll get back together and take a look at the second half of this bundle: Adobe Premiere Elements 4. Oh, one last thing before we get started. This review is not going to be a tutorial. For that, you will want to check out the Photoshop Elements 6 Help Resource Center. While I will discuss many individual features, my goal here is to give you my impressions (good, bad, and ugly) of the program. It is not to make you all power users. I’ll give you a good overview, but I doubt I will hit every feature. Some of those, you will just have to find on your own. Sound good? Great. Let’s get started.

Now that you have returned from the store with either Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 or the Photoshop/Premiere Bundle in tow, you are going to want to get started editing right away. Installation is pretty straightforward, and should pose no surprises unless you have been living in a cave for the past 20 years (in which case, I should note that the Apple II+ is not supported).

Just insert the CD and it should immediately load. If not, navigate to the CD and click on the Setup file. Now, you will just need to follow the instructions on the screen to complete the installation (it is not a quick process so go get a book or a magazine while you wait).

OK, now that you have everything installed, just double click the icon to launch it. The first time you launch Adobe Photoshop, you will need to input the serial number, which can be found on the CD jewel case.

The next screen you see will be the Welcome Screen. This is a fancy splash screen, with a button for each of Photoshop’s features: organize, edit, create, or share. Just push the button for the feature you want to access. You can reconfigure Photoshop to skip this Welcome screen and load directly to the editor or the organizer.

The interface itself is based upon a tabbed system which allows you to navigate through the various screens and features. There is a separate tab for each of the buttons on the welcome screen: organize, fix (for some inexplicable reason, this was inconsistently called edit on some screen and fix on others), create, and share. We’ll take a look at each of these tabs individually and see what amazing powers might lie within.

Organizing Photos
So, now what? You are staring at a blank screen and a hard drive full of photos. The first thing to do is get them to communicate with each other. There are a few ways to accomplish that. First, you can allow the automatic photo importer to run in the background. When this is active, Photoshop will automatically scan any drive, memory card, or mobile device which is connected to your computer and attempt to import photos to your library. This can be convenient as it really takes absolutely no effort. On the other hand, I got tired of having to cancel the automatic scan for the same 10 photos every time I tried to sync my Mogul. This was quickly deactivated.

The other problem with importing photos is that you have to be careful where they are stored. Photoshop will try to copy your photos to the most convenient location for it. Which is fine, but then you can end up with duplicates of everything. This can be a problem if you are like me and have a photo library of close to 15 thousand photos (and growing).

Instead, I chose to use the Get Photos option. This allows Photoshop to work with your photos in their current location. Just direct Photoshop to the location of your photos, click through the menus and options, and get ready to wait. This was actually a pretty fast process of Photoshop linking up with each of the photos. Still, 15 thousand photos took some time. Nonetheless, when you are done, Photoshop will have linked to your photos, while preserving their original locations and folders. Heck Photoshop will even go ahead and offer to fix the redeye in all of your photos while they load. Absolutely free. And with no interaction from you required. I thought this was an extremely nice touch (and I canceled it only because I planned to discuss redeye in other parts of this review)

Once your pictures have been loaded into Photoshop, whether you imported them from an external location to your hard drive, or just linked to the files, now you can begin manipulating them. From here you can, create albums, sort through your photos, and even control the views.

Just as you would put paper photos into a photo album, grouped by event, location, or anything else you felt was appropriate, so too can Photoshop create albums, for any purpose. Just head over to the album menu to the right of the pictures and select “New Album” or “New Smart Album”.

In a standard photo album, all you have to do is name the album, and then drag and drop your photos into it. Double click the album to view the contents. A smart album will automatically load any photos matching the search criteria you assigned to the album. Either way, albums are incredibly useful to your organization process, and could not be easier to create and use.

In addition to albums, one of my favorite ways to view my photos was by mapping them. Just select show map from the display menu. You can now drag and drop your photos to any location in the world. This can be a really fascinating way to track your travels and exploits. Additionally, by tapping on any pin, you will bring up a small window with each picture assigned to that location. Tap on any picture to view it. It was not a particularly precise method of organization (the map would not zoom any closer than individual states), but it certainly was fun to see where my photos were taken.

Finally, you can sort your photos by date. And by that, I mean actually display them on a calendar, with each picture appearing on the date it was taken. The only problem with this view is that it can be a bit tedious scrolling through each month. The only way to jump to a specific month is by exiting date view, finding a picture taken in that month and highlighting it before opening the calendar. There should be an easier way to jump to a particular date from within the calendar. There is even a daily notes block where you can record your remembrances of that day. Almost like journaling. Despite the fact that searching the calendar could have been easier, this was one of my favorite features, because it did such a remarkable job of adding context to your photos.

The final tool at your disposal is keyword tags. You can create any tags you want, and assign them to your pictures as you feel they are appropriate. Of course, the more tags you create, the better they will work. Simply open the Keyword tags menu on the right., and use the “+” icon to create new tabs. Tags will fall into five general categories (color coded):

  • People (blue)
  • Places (green)
  • Events (red)
  • Other (orange)

If you have imported tags from another program, these will show up a a separate category as well.

Once you have created the tags you wish to use, all you have to do is drag the tag and drop it onto the corresponding picture. Now, by simply tapping the box on the left of each tab, you can search for any photos assigned to that tab. Yes, it really is just that easy.

Overall, I was extremely impressed by the myriad of options you can use to organize your photos. The map, calendar, albums, and keyword tags are all extremely easy to use, and allow you to organize and search your photos in the manner which best suits your needs. In no time, your pictures will come out of the digital shoe box in which you store them, and will be organized and ready for some fun. And for that, we have to head over to the Fix (or Edit) tab. I’ll see you there.

Fixing Photos

When you click on the Fix tab, you will find all of your basic automatic controls to clean up your photos. Just select the photo and then choose how you want to fix it. From here, you can control the contrast, colors, brightness, and similar settings. You can even fix red eyes if you did not do so automatically earlier and crop the photo. All of this can be done quickly and easily without leaving the Organizer screen.

In order to perform any more intricate or complex edits, however, you will need to open the editor screen. To do so, just highlight the picture or pictures you want to edit and select quick fix, full edit, or guided edit. This will open the editing window. I found the editing window, even with only one picture took quite a long time to load. So, go grab a drink or snack and when you come back, we will have the editor window open and ready to go.

Full Edit: When you enter the Edit Screen, you will start on the Full Edit Tab by default. This is the picture editing free for all that will either feel like a warm blanket on a cold winter’s night, if you are an advanced user; or will completely overwhelm you if you are a novice.

Pretty much everything you would expect to find can be found here. First, unless you came here from the Organizer with pictures in hand (which you can do), then you will want to load some pictures to work with. To do this, just head up to the File Menu and select Open. From here, you can open any (or all) of the photos you wish to work with.

On the left are most of your basic tools. From here, you can cut out shapes, make marks on your photos, erase, smudge, even add text. I am not going to discuss all of the tools here, but I would be remiss if I did not mention one which particularly impressed me.

Photoshop features the easiest and best redeye correction tool I have ever used. No longer will you need to measure the pupil of the eye or gauge how much correction is required. All of this has been automated and it is handled perfectly…every time! Here is an example:

Above is a picture in which, as you can see, redeye has become a significant problem. In the past, I would have had to draw a circle around the part I wanted to fix, gauge how much to darken it and then use some good old fashioned trial and error to find the exact level for the correction (or for you real old schoolers, print the photo and grab the redeye pen).

Now, here is the corrected photo. As you can see, all three pairs of eyes have been perfectly fixed. It took less than one minute to fix the redeye problems in this picture.

On the right hand side of the screen are your effects. Here, you can add a filter, control how your layers look, and even add a few photo coloring effects. These are a lot of fun to play with and really can add a significant amount of excitement to your photos.

Filtering offers the most options with filters for all manner of effects, including:

  • Artistic effects such as watercolor or colored pencil
  • Brush strokes, such as ink outlines
  • Distortion like ocean ripple
  • Sketch like a graphic pen
  • Stylized like trace contour
  • Textured like stained glass

You can also use the effects to control the texture of your layers. The most exciting feature for me on the effects tab, however, was the photo effects. Here you can control the coloring and create a vintage photo, faded color, and a variety of other extremely cool effects.

Well, you get the idea. Anyway, like I said at the beginning, this is just the tip of the iceberg with what you can do to a photo. Essentially, Full Edit is your blank slate. I’ve shown you a bit of what you can do, the rest is up to you. Let’s go ahead and move on.

Quick Fix: Quick fix is still the same blank slate, but with a lot fewer options. Here, you are given most of the tools to make your photos look great, but not all of the advanced stuff that looks cool, but you really don’t need. If you are trying to make art, then stick to full edit. If you want to take those mediocre photos you took in bad light, then this is where you want to come.

The first thing you will notice is that the palette options on the left have significantly changed. No more drawing and text tools. From here, all you can do in Quick Fix is Zoom, Select, Crop, and Fix Red Eye.

The menu on the right has significantly changed as well. No more overindulgent effects or layering options here. This is only the basics. Like I said, these are the tools you need to take a mediocre photo and make it look great. From here, a variety of sliders allow you to control the lighting, colors, sharpen, and adjust the redeye fix.

The Quick Fix screen is really geared much toward the inspired photographer, while the Full Edit is designed for the photo doctor. This is your digital darkroom. Go ahead, stick a red light in the lamp if it makes you feel better here, I won’t tell anyone (and all without the nasty chemicals to inhale).

Guided Fix: This is the home of the newcomer…and there is nothing wrong with that. In Guided Fix, Photoshop will walk you through detailed instructions and explanations for any action you wish to take; holding your hand the whole way. This is not giving you any new features, you saw all of them in the Full Edit and Quick Fix Screens. What Guided Fix does is give you a heck of a lot more explanation. Rather than just plunking you down in front of the color chart and setting you free, Guided Fix is much more like a Photoshop tutorial. It explains what each action will do to your photo and why it is important.

Just by way of comparison. Here is an example of how the same feature will appear in each mode. I selected color correction.

Full Edit. You notice it comes in the form of a pop-up menu, with a lot of terms that you may not recognize.

Quick Fix. Here we find some color sliders. Easy to see what you are doing and what effect it has on the picture. But still, some of these actions may require a little more advanced knowledge of the vocabulary.

Guided Fix. Here, we find several different options for every day tasks. By way of example, I selected Enhance Colors. You can see that while it is performing much the same task as Quick Fix, there is considerably more explanation.

Photomerge: Photomerge is one of the more exciting photo tools offered by Photoshop. This is what allows you to merge multiple photos together to make one cohesive image.

The first photomerge option is Group Shot. This is probably the feature I use more than any other. Having three kids, it is almost impossible to get them all to look at the camera at the same time. In the past, that has led to hundreds of wasted shots and hours of frustration. With Photoshop, however, as long as one of them looks good at a time, Group Shot can help.

All you have to do is select the best looking thumbnail from your group and make it your source photo. Then, select the photo with the element you want to replace and mark it.

Faces is the second Photomerge option, although with considerably less practical application. This works a lot like Groupshot, only on a smaller scale. While Groupshot allowed you to merge elements of entire photos together, Faces allows you to mix and match facial features. Aside from just having some fun at your friends’ expense, this is a great feature to use if someone blinked in an otherwise great picture. Just merge their open eyes onto the photo and you are good to go.

The final Photomerge feature is panorama. I can think of many times when I spent hours with several photos of a cityscape, scissors and scotch tape trying to piece them into one seamless panoramic photo. Well, now you can put away your scissors and tape. Because, Photoshop will do all of that hard work for you. Just add the photos, find your reference points and away you go. Unfortunately, I could not find any cityscape photos with which to test this feature.

I though all three of these Photomerge features were fantastic. They were easy to use, and provided a nice mix of fun with photos and useful attractions. One thing I did find here was that it was not easy to fine tune your selections. While you can manually adjust the orientation of each photo, you cannot adjust the orientation of individual elements which you are trying to merge. There should be a way to rotate, resize, move, or edit your selection once it has been placed in the photo. While Groupshot is an incredibly powerful and useful tool, I felt it got undersold a bit by not offering more flexible or advanced tools for working with the merged elements once they were placed together. It is almost like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, in which you must determine the orientation of each piece before you look at how they will fit together.

Additionally, I found I spent an inordinate amount of time waiting for these features to merge photos and elements together. This was a bit frustrating…especially when the results did not turn out as planned.

When I started this review, I had used Photoshop a few times in the past, so I was familiar with some of its features. I expected to be impressed and probably overwhelmed by the program. What I found, however, was impressive, without forcing itself to become extremely complicated. The three editing modes ensure that the advanced user can jump right into a blank palette, creating masterpieces with all of the advanced tools, filters, settings, and more. Meanwhile, the novice can also enjoy the step by step instructions found in Guided Edit mode. Something for everyone. And all of it extremely intuitive to use. More programs could learn from this approach.

Creating Projects
OK. Now that we have organized your photos, and cleaned them all up to give them that professional feel, I bet you are ready to show them off. Sure, you can just print them up and take them into the office, but let’s get real here. These are not just any pictures. These are pictures of the most important people in your life. Your kids, your parents, your spouse….or maybe they are just pictures of your new car. Whatever they are, if they were important enough to take a picture that will last forever, they deserve a little more respect than someone flipping through them pretending to be interested while thinking about what they are going to eat for lunch that day. For those times, Adobe offers the Creation tab. From here, you can make a Photo Book, Photo Calendar, Photo Collage, Online Gallery, Slideshow, and much more.

I was extremely impressed by how easy it was to create projects with professional looking title pages and layouts. I have used other programs which offer similar features, and it can be an extremely complex and frustrating task, which I would not recommend for anyone except the most advanced user. So, I was surprised and impressed when I tested this and found just how easy it could be. Just choose the item you want to make and follow a few simple steps on the screen. This is essentially all done through wizards and menus, so it took me about 10 seconds to set up a Photo Book with a few pictures I selected from last Christmas. Calendars and collages are just as easy. The most difficult part was deciding which pictures to include.

Likewise, slideshows and online galleries could not be easier. Again, the most difficult part is deciding which pictures to leave out. These features are chock full of features and options, such as backgrounds, additional graphical elements, text, and more (maybe I overdid this a bit in the example, above). This could make for a confusing and complicated program, with so many features and options that you never finish. To the contrary, however, Adobe did a fantastic job organizing all of these features. The wizards and menus clearly explained each step and gave you a great deal of control over the look, feel, and layout. Or, if you choose, you can even just skip all of these extra graphics and advanced features, and still end up with a professional looking slideshow in seconds. With Adobe, you are never more than a few quick steps from a masterpiece project.

Sharing Photos
Finally, now that your photos are all finished, it is time to share them with your friends and family. But how to do this. You can email them, but that can be tricky, remembering all of those addresses and names. Right? Not so much. Unlike many programs which might utilize their own internal interface to send emails, Photoshop will connect with your default email client (for me that was Outlook) and create a new email directly in that program. This means you will be able to access your full address book as well.

Of course, there are still some people (Mom, I am talking to you) who have a great deal of difficulty opening pictures in email. For those situations, Photoshop allows you to create a photo CD or DVD which. Heck, you can even send a photo directly to someone’s cell phone (and don’t forget the online albums I discussed in the Creation tab).

I have used Photoshop in the past, but I always came away feeling that it was too complicated. Too difficult to find the features I really wanted. Basically, just too overwhelming. To their credit, Adobe heard these criticisms loud and clear. With this latest iteration, Adobe has introduced a new, organized layout, and enough menus and wizards to make even the novice user look like a pro. Sure, I would have liked more manual control over the Photomerge options; and there were some times when the pictures took too long to load, but these were relatively minor issues. With the ease of use offered by Adobe Photoshop Elements 6, you now have no excuse for that hard drive full of unorganized and unedited pictures.

What I liked: Tabbed Interface. Extremely well organized. Menus and Wizards walk you through even the most complex tasks in seconds. Overall, it was just EASY!

What Needs Improvement: Some features and photos took too long to load. Photomerge features could use more manual fine tuning.

Price: $99.99 for Photoshop Elements 6

$149.99 for Photoshop Elements 6/Premiere Elements 4 Bundle

Where To Buy: Adobe

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2 Responses to “Review: Adobe Photoshop Elements 6, Creating The Pictures You Wish You Has Taken Yourself”

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  1. 1 test av Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0, test Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0 – Pingback on Feb 8th, 2008 at 3:38 pm
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