The popular image-editing program, Elements, has been upgraded but does it still have an edge over its competitors and do the new features make it worth changing? Let's Find out
Words & Pictures Peter Bargh
Read any digital imaging magazine or book on digital photography and you will find that the majority of techniques or step by step tutorials are based around Adobe Photoshop - a 500 pro spec program and founder of image editing. The gurus of digital manipulation have used this program since the early days and won't use anything else. Elements offers similar features at a far more realistic price.
Coming from the same company, Elements has been designed using the same functions, but some of the features that only professionals need have been removed and some beginner help has been added to make it easier for newcomers to grasp.
Now in version 2 we see a few tweaks such as Smart messages, a Glossary, the ability to capture still frames from Video and an auto picture resize for email. The big improvement for newbies is the Quick Fix mode and for the more creative we now have a Selection Brush. There's also a PDF Slideshow mode for those who want to show off their works of art.
First for those who don't know Elements, let's look at the program's functionality.
When you launch Elements a toolbar appears on the left with a strip of drop down menus across the top and a Welcome panel positioned centre screen offering you a choice of options.
Click on an option in the Welcome panel and it disappears, but can be recalled by going to Window menu and selecting Welcome from the bottom of the list.
To the right are two panels. One called Hints that changes when you click on a tool icon. It describes the functions and offers other topics to help you get used to each feature. The other is How To, which has a series of well-written tutorials to help you use the features. There's also a full help menu with much more about all the other features and options within Elements, along with a glossary of terms, plus full online support at www.adobe.com.
Clicking on Browse for File from the Welcome menu takes us to the File Browser. This feature was so useful in the original Elements program that Adobe has now added it to the 500 Photoshop program too!
The Browser lets you move around your computer finding pictures within folders. It's split into four sections. The top left is your computer's folder structure. Click on any folder in here and the contents appear on the right showing folder icons, file icons or thumbnail photos. Click on a thumbnail and this appears in the middle space on the left. If the picture has data recorded by a digital camera (EXIF data) this appears in the bottom panel. EXIF data shows what time the picture was taken and what camera settings were used, including exposure (there's no old-fashioned note book required when a digital camera is used!)
When you find a photograph that you want to open, simply click on it and the picture appears ready to be edited.
|Quick Fix |
If you are familiar with the menu system or are following a written tutorial you can move around using the drop down options. If this is your first go at digital imaging you may prefer to let the program look after you. Here's where the first new features crops up. It's called Quick Fix and is found under the Enhance menu. From here you can adjust colour, brightness, sharpness and rotation. Each feature is explained in a tips panel and you can reset a command if you don't like what has happened. This feature really makes editing simple and is a great help for beginners.
More advanced users can enhance pictures using the same features that Photoshop users have, such as Hue/Saturation from the Adjust colour menu. Here you can go into individual colours and tweak them.
In this example, taken on a digital camera, I used the settings to adjust the colour of the blues to brighten the sky and then on the reds to make the painted metal more vibrant. Velvia colours in a flash!
One of the good things about digital imaging is being able to cut around part of an image to copy and past it somewhere else, replace the background or change the values of just that part. This is known as making a selection and as well as the usual Magic Wand, lassos and marquees, Elements 2 adds a selection brush. This allows you to choose a brush size and paint a selection basically by covering the area you want to copy, cut or change by painting with the brush. Once you've made a rough selection you can view the unselected area as a mask and then paint back parts of the selection using a different brush size.
|In Photoshop you do this using the Quick Mask mode and the mask converts back into a selection when you exit it. It's one of the most accurate ways of working, providing you have the patience to paint! || |
|An alternative is to use the Magic Wand to select most of the image and then click onto the Selection Brush to allow the mask to be viewed and finish off making minor adjustments with a small selection brush and Mask. This method was more accurate on the selection of the hair shown here. Notice that I've also changed the colour of the mask to blue. || |
Working with layers
One of the most demonstrated functions of Photoshop is the Layers option and Elements has a version that's almost as versatile. Having layers allows you to combine various images and text as though you are placing each on separate sheets on top of each other. Then, using the Blend modes, you can change how one layer reacts with another. This is perfect for designers who are creating complex montages, but also idea for photographers who may want to merge the sky from one picture with scenery from another.
To illustrate what happens when two layers are combined I took a photo of a statue, copied and pasted it onto a photo of a window. The statue becomes the top layer and the window the base layer (you can add more). Notice how the top picture covers the one below. If we select one of the Blend modes this will change. In our case I selected the Multiply mode. Now the White surround of the statue has been multiplied to the dark areas of the wall, which now appears dominant, making the statue look as though it is through the window, which is the effect I wanted. The only trouble now is the Multiply has added the grass to the statue base so that needs some more work, but it gives you an idea of what's possible.
Another option is to use Adjustment layers. These sit above a normal layer and allow you to make changes to brightness, contrast or colour that are held within the Adjustment layer and not the original base image. If you delete the adjustment layer you will just lose the changes and not the original photo. This means you can play around with ideas and then go back and change these as the image is developed.
Sharing your photos
As well as having an easy to use Web page creator, Photo Elements II adds a PDF Slideshow mode and an option to resize images for email making it even easier to share your photographs.
|The Web creator is simple. Just select a folder of images that you want to display and select a web page style from a list of options. We went for Museum in this example, but there are more conservative options, thankfully, and louder versions. The program then automatically converts all the pictures into web friendly sizes, places them all in the necessary directories and creates a browser friendly HTML page, without you needed to utter a word of coding. |
This can then be uploaded using an ftp program, so you can make use of your free web space that your ISP should have given you.
If you want to produce a fancy slide show just select the new PDF Slideshow mode from File>Automated Tools and again the program hops into action and creates a version that can be viewed by MAC or PC owners using a free Acrobat reader. This is a great tool for sending shows to potential clients or as a portfolio on CD to a magazine.
|The slide show mode asks you to select pictures from the relevant locations on your computer directories and then gives you the option of transition style and speed. Once Acrobat is running you can change size on screen select individual photos from the thumbnails or let it run as an automated show. || |
|And one of the most common concerns when you are new to digital is how to send pictures to friends via email. With Elements 2 it's easy. Just select Attach to email from the File menu and the program converts it to a jpeg and opens up your email program, where you can select the recipient from your address book. Add a message and subject and click Send. The picture will go off with the message. || |
If you already own Photoshop LE or Elements I, the changes with this new version is hardly going to set your trousers on fire, unless you are using Windows XP or MAC OSX and then it's worth changing for the better looking interface. If you're after your first software program and can't afford Photoshop, buy it now. You will not be disappointed.
|Closest Rivals |
|Roxio PhotoSuite IV |
Very user-friendly program with pop up menus and step-by-step instructions makes this a breeze to use, but it's sadly lacking in some of the more advance features found in the competitors' products.
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Micrografx Picture Publisher 10
Not as well known as the other three, but worth a look especially for the photography related filters such as flare and depth-of-field options.
|ULead PhotoImpact 8 |
Has a similar set of tools to Elements so most of the tutorials could be followed. Also has Layers and Blend modes, but not quite as friendly to follow. Has the advantage of extra web based features.
| ||Paint Shop Pro 7 |
One of the most widely used programs thanks to a huge worldwide audience who've downloaded the program over the years. Similar features to Elements, but can often be bought for less and bundled with Animation Pro for creating animated graphics.