- Keywording is much easier and comprehensive
- Organizer can now import, sort, and keyword video
- New tutorials, templates only in $40 Plus plan
- PhotoMerge manual exposure tool requires finesse
Photoshop Elements 8 is an appealing but evolutionary upgrade of a mature, well-established photo editing program, with greatly improved file and keyword handling.
Photoshop Elements is a like a family station wagon with a Formula One racing engine under the hood. It delivers Photoshop’s imaging power to consumers and hobbyist photographers in an easy, accessible tabbed interface. In version 8, Photoshop Elements ($100, $140 with a Photoshop.com Plus membership; prices as of 9/23/09) offers a handful of new photo editing tools that are useful and fun, but its most compelling improvements are in digital asset management.
On the Mac, Photoshop Elements comes with a CS4 Bridge tab for sorting and maintaining your image library. On the Windows side, however, is where you’ll find the big news: There, Photoshop Elements’ Organizer tab has several new tools to make keywording your photos much easier, even automated. As soon as you start importing image files, the new Auto Analyzer gets to work, assessing the content of your pictures and applying special keywords, called Smart Tags.
Smart Tags identify images by predefined quality (High, Low, or Medium), focus (In Focus or Blurred), the level of contrast, the exposure, the number of faces and/or objects, and so forth. What’s more, Auto Analyzer also initiates automatic face recognition. The more you identify photos as containing specific people, the better the program becomes in recognizing them, even at different ages, with other hairstyles, and with or without dark glasses.
On Windows, Organizer goes even further, acting as a conduit between Photoshop Elements and its sister program Premiere Elements. (Premiere Elements isn’t available for Mac.) Selecting a photo will launch Photoshop Elements; selecting a video will launch Premiere Elements if you have that program installed. Even if you don’t have Premiere Elements, the Organizer will still display and sort your videos, and it will allow you to keyword them.
You can back up the Organizer database and image files, share them, and even sync them with your other computers (if those machines have an Elements program installed) via Photoshop.com, Adobe’s photo-sharing Web site. Photoshop Elements includes a basic Photoshop.com membership, with 2GB of online storage. For an additional $40, your one-year Photoshop.com Plus membership includes 20GB of storage, plus access to Adobe’s promised ongoing flow of new tutorials, project templates, and other content.
The new Auto QuickFix tools (Smart Fix, Color, Tone, Contrast, Detail, Color, and Red Eye) in the Organizer’s full-screen mode can handle all of the editing that many photos require before you move on to the Create and/or Share tabs. For pictures that need special treatment, Photoshop Elements’ full edit interface is now more flexible, with quick icon-based alternatives for arranging multiple pictures on your screen, plus resizable, self-adjusting tool panels similar to those in Photoshop CS4.
Among Photoshop Elements 8’s handful of new or extended photo editing tools is PhotoMerge, which now includes an Exposure tool that allows you to combine two nearly identical photos, taken with different exposure values, to attain the optimum exposure. Although the auto mode works nicely on some pictures, other images may need you to tweak them via the manual tools, in which you select the areas to be combined–a task that demands some good hand-eye-cursor coordination for best results.
A less finicky new tool is Recompose, which allows you to redefine a photo selectively to fit into a specific size or orientation by choosing which elements of the picture to remove and which ones to keep. For instance, if you have a landscape-oriented (horizontal) photo of five people, and you want to change it to a portrait (vertical) orientation without distorting the subjects, you can select which of the five and/or what portions of the background to eliminate, and which ones to retain and stitch together into a recomposed photo. What is particularly nice is that when you’re working on a project, such as a photo collage, you can right-click on a picture to use the Recompose tool on it without leaving the project.
In the Create tab, Photoshop Elements 8 offers additional and more creative templates and content in an intuitive interface, for making photo books, photo calendars, greeting cards, photo stamps, photo prints, photo collages, and sharable slide shows. The Share tab has delightful new Flash templates for sharing photos and videos digitally.
Version 8 upholds Photoshop Elements’ reputation as one of the top consumer-level photo editing programs. Its new edit tools, content, and templates are certainly appealing. If you already have Photoshop Elements 7, however, note that the primary reason to upgrade to 8 is the new edition’s improved facility for keywording and managing your database of media. If your collection of photos is small, you may be fine sticking with 7.