Review: Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 and Organizer

nexpensive, yet robust photo editor suitable for everyone to use. (May 22nd, 2011)

Photoshop Elements 9 is an inexpensive, yet robust photo editor suitable for every photographer. You can do sophisticated edits easily with step-by-step instructions.

MacNN Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: Adobe Systems Inc.

Price: $99.99 US; Plus $139.99

The Good

  • Special effects easy to create.
  • Photoshop CS5 features infused into layer treatment.
  • Scratch removal improvements.
  • Improved removal of unwanted objects.
  • Lasso and wand precision improved.
  • Semi-automatic uploading to online services.
  • Fun edits are actually fun.

The Bad

  • Does not include manual on the CD.
  • Interface and dialogs not Macintosh interface.
  • Must have or created Abode ID to register software.
  • People Recognition average. Identified objects and animals as faces.
  • Style Matching needs more explanation.
  • Uploading to online services did not work reliably.
  • Organizer Interface unpopular vis--vis Bridge application.
  • Organizer quit in Sharing mode.
  • Must close Organizer and Elements separately.

If want to make your ordinary photographs stand out, Photoshop Elements offers one of the easiest way to edit them with a number of powerful tools. Photoshop Elements 8 added one-click shortcuts to do complex editing. You can whiten teeth with the smart brush, merge elements of one photo with another, remove of undesired objects, do selective colorization, plus use targeted touch-up tools. Photoshop Elements 9 builds on those advanced tools with the introduction of improved layer masks, guided edits, facial recognition, and contextual object removal. These power and simple editing tools are impressive for its reasonable price.

The program is available as Photoshop Elements (PS Elements) and Photoshop Elements Plus. Elements includes 2GB of online storage. Plus offers an online service for which you pay a $40 annual subscription and gives with 20GB of online storage, access to additional creative libraries, and regular delivery of tutorials and seasonal content.

The Elements 9 bundle MacNN received includes Premiere Elements, and ships with 4 discs, 2 for Windows and 2 for Mac. Installation is simple, but you must have or create an Adobe ID to register the software. The bundle saves you $40 from individual pricing, so is a better value.

Welcome Screen

Welcome Screen

PS Elements 9 adds a number of new features including Guided Edits for specialty photo creation, facial recognition, Content Aware Fill, Photomerge Style Match, and a new organizing program. Below we test out many of the new features.

Elements Organizer

Photoshop Elements 9 no longer organizes your photos in Adobe Bridge. The new Elements Organizer is the same program used in the PC version, in which you organize, edit, enhance, and share your photographs, video files and projects. Adobe Organizer is easy to use, but you might have trouble adjusting to how it works versus Adobe Bridge. It can only be opened through Elements, even though it is a separate program. You can still use Adobe Bridge, but you must install it from your Photoshop Elements 8 disc.

Bridge

Photoshop Bridge

As a PC user, I took to Organizer right away, but Ilene found it frustrating. Elements Organizer imports photos from iPhoto, a camera or card, or other folders on your Mac. Here are her experiences: The first problem is that Elements Organizer (version 9.0.2), supports importing photos only from iPhoto '11, but it did not seem to work correctly. On a couple of tries, it didn't recognize that I have any shots in iPhoto.

No iPhoto Dialog

Organizer Can't Find iPhoto Files

When it did work, it made copies of the photos, so now I have two copies of each photo on my drive. This is so you do not disrupt the iPhoto organization, but eats hard drive space. You should choose to use iPhoto or Organizer, but not both.

Import Dialog

Organizer Import Dialog

When I import a folder, it creates a folder called Organizer inside an Adobe folder in your Pictures folder. My import folder is empty though, but when I used the trial version, it did work. I tried to locate information on how you can choose whether to move photos or just point to them in the original location, but was unsuccessful, until I found a great book that explains PS Elements 9 in detail. (See resources below.)

In the screen shots below, I have added the Properties panel to the Task Pane, because it is not available by default. This panel shows you all the details (metatag data) about your photo, including name, date, size, and more.

Organizer Interface

Elements Organizer Interface

Elements Organizer operates separately from Photoshop Elements, but opens on top of it, so its hard to distinguish where one program stops and the other begins on a small screen. By default your photos display with a date instead of the file name, while Bridge uses the file name. You must Choose Show File Names from the View menu to see file names, because there is no keyboard shortcut. Just another time eating step in my view. While I can see the folder list in the Organizer display on the right, I have to import any photos I want to see, unlike Bridge, in which I can click any folder to see it's contents. When I right click a photo in Bridge the Reveal in Finder command shows, but Elements Organizer has no equivalent option.

Folder Shows No Content

Folder Shows No Content Unless Imported

On the plus side, Organizer includes some basic editing commands, or quick fixes, located in the Fix tab. I played with a couple of the available edits, but after I could not undo an Auto Contrast fix, and discovered each of my edits were automatically saved (with _edited-1 appended to the name) into the original photo folder, my frustration got the better of me. I decided this tab is useful only to those new to editing photos. Another oddity is that People Recognition would let me name photos of ducks, but I didn't get their names when I took the shots.

Quick Fix Tab

Quick Fix Tab-Partial Screen

Adobe Elements 9 Organizer doesn't give me the tools I need and I think Bridge is a better solution. I do not understand why Adobe deemed it necessary to add this program. Even though it's available in the Windows version doesn't mean Mac users need it.

People Recognition

Another new Macintosh Organizer feature is People Recognition, which goes through your imported photos and asks you to identify the faces. After you've identified a number of people, it automatically identifies people for you and you can search for people to retrieve photos. This is a self-learning program, so its accuracy improves as it analyzes more photos. People Recognition needs some work though. If a person is squarely facing the camera, it usually recognizes them, however, angle views may be problematic, plus it sometimes falsely identifies objects as faces. In a few old family photos Ilene imported, it didn't even recognize the faces as people.

People Recognition

People Recognition

After you have identified the people it thinks are in a photo, a congratulatory dialog pops up, which Barry finds annoying. He'd like to turn that dialog off, but found no way to do that.

People Recognition dialog

People Recognition Confirmation Dialog

Spot Healing with Content Aware Button

In the past, it was a of black art to remove unwanted objects, such as a bystander, wire, or scratch with the spot healing brush. In PS Elements 9, you can use the new Content Aware tool, brought over from Photoshop CS5. You just mouse over an unwanted object and remove it. The background around it merges and blends together seamlessly. It's not perfect and you may have to remove things in stages or do it multiple times, but it is easier than manually creating background that wasn't there originally. While you may not be able to see the power lines selected in the photo below, PS Elements removed these lines better than any other program used previously.

People Recognition dialog

Content-Aware Filter

Layer Masks

In Photoshop Elements 9, Adobe also has integrated some of Photoshop's layer masking improvements. This enhanced functionality makes it much simpler to create special effects such as background blurring, a hybrid halftone, or color image.

Fun Edits

Guided options, in a section called Fun Edits, are the most useful new additions. These complex editing techniques walk you through simple steps to create photos that include pieces that step out of your photo, Pop art, Lomo, or portrait edits.

The first of the Fun Edits is Out of Bounds. This lets you make selected portions of your photograph appear to jump out of the photo canvas. You might find it a bit daunting at first, but once you get the hang of it, it's easy to create the desired effect.

 Out of Bounds

Guided Edit - Out of Bounds

The Pop Art Guided Edit lets you transform any image into a half tone and overlay it in front of a bright background. The result is a 1960's-like effect similar to Andy Warhol's famous renditions of Marilyn Monroe. Photoshop Elements walks you through 4 steps to create this retro look effortlessly.

Adobe also has added a two-step Lomo Camera Guided Edit, which enables you to create dramatic photographs in the shoot from the hip style of an old Russian Lomo camera.

Lomo

Guided Edit - Lomo

Perfect Portrait

Sometimes that perfect photo includes features you'd like to remove, such as blemishes, dark teeth, or deep lines. Adobe includes a Guided Edit called Perfect Portrait. This is a convenient set of tools you need to enhance skin texture, fix facial features, and apply special touch-ups. It does a surprisingly good job when you need whiten teeth and brighten eyes. Although most of the Guided Edits are broken into easy to follow steps, you may find it hard to create a specific effect at first. For some of the Guided Edits, Adobe provides you with a link alongside each effect that opens up a video tutorial.

Style Matching

If you have a passion for a particular image effect, PS Elements 9 offers a Style Matching feature. Adobe provides some standard effects for you to use. The problem with this feature is that it is hit or miss. You can never be 100% certain how the program interprets the image template and applies it to your photo. This feature is of limited practical value and you are probably best served to create the results you want by starting from scratch. It is unclear what effect each of the standard templates provides. You can also use your own photos to create effects and can choose to erase or add effects with simple checkboxes and the paintbrush.

Style Match

Style Matching - Sunset Applied

Online

Key additions to Photoshop Elements 9 for the Mac are online services. While in Edit mode or Organizer you can upload your images. Online services include Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug Gallery, CEIVA Photo Frame, and Kodak Easyshare Gallery. Initially, you have to log in with your ID and password, but subsequently, Photoshop Elements performs the appropriate handshake. The process is simple: You select your photos, drop them into a target area, select your destination, and upload. I encountered problems when uploading to Flickr and Facebook. Several times when opening the interface to either service, Photoshop Organizer suddenly quit. This problem was sporadic and did not happen with regularity.

Facebook

Loading Photos to Facebook

You can share images between the computers running PS Elements 9 on your network, or computer with Internet access. Edits you make on one computer are synchronized to an online master copy accessible to you remotely as soon as you make changes. You can also back up your files on Adobe's server system. There is one caveat, synchronization, backup, and remote access requires you upload your image catalog to an account you set up on Photoshop.com. PS Elements 9 gives you 2GB free online storage. Today's 10-12 megapixel cameras use about 4 MB for each JPG shot, so you can store approximately 500 unedited images. If you save files as PSDs (Photoshop format), each image could require 10-40MB, which consumes your capacity in as few as 50 images. You can upgrade to the "Plus" option that provides you with 20GB of space, but it requires an annual subscription.

User Help

PS Elements 9 doesn't ship with a manual, and they don't make it easy to find. You must choose Photoshop Elements Help from the Help menu and click the View Help PDF in the upper right corner. Alternatively, you can use the links below and download the PDF files.

Using Adobe Elements 9 Organizer download

Using Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 download

On the positive side, when you do search Help, you are presented with many video tutorials, but make sure you view the ones for version 8 or 9 only. You can also find free tutorials on the Web or the iTunes store.

Conclusions

Photoshop Elements has added many new features and enhancements, and it delivers most of the functionality promised. New features give you great tools to remove unwanted objects, restore old scratched photos, and make it easier for you to manipulate layers. The new Guided Edits walk you through the steps needed to create sophisticated special effects. Another positive feature is that Color Variation, which does not work in Photoshop CS5 when running in 64-bit color, does work in Elements.

 Color Variation

Color Variation


The major drawback of Photoshop Elements 9 revolves around the Organizer component. If you use Adobe Bridge, you may not like the new Organizer. Also, it proved to be a bit quirky, quitting sporadically while in the sharing mode and stalling my Mac when it applied some edits.. It's not quite ready for prime time. I give the Organizer application 3 stars and one of those may be a present.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 is one of the better image editing tools available on the market today. It should please photographers at any skill level.

Resources by ilene

You may find it a challenge to learn some of the finer details of using PS Elements 9. Many of those questions are answered in the O'Reilly book, Photoshop Elements 9: The Missing Manual, by Barbara Brundage. This comprehensive 640-page book covers everything you need to know to use PS Elements 9 effectively and covers the Windows and Mac versions. The book's layout is a bit dense and more screen shots or margin notes would have been helpful, but all the information you need is present. Tips are imbedded in the text with no margin pointers, which make them harder to find, but they are useful.

The 19 chapters include an overview, importing and managing your photos, basic retouching, RAW conversion, fine tuning images, working with color, photo merge, drawing, using filters, layers, an effects, using text, projects, printing, emailing photos, and online albums and slide shows.

The level of detail is superb and you'd be hard pressed not to find your answers. It is a perfect companion to the program and I highly recommend it. Without this resource book, you may find yourself wasting time searching for answers to detailed questions. It certainly helped me when testing Elements 9 for this review.

You can purchase the book ($44.99) or the eBook ($35.99) directly from O'Reilly or search for better pricing at online retailers.

by Barry Michelson and Ilene Hoffman


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