Adobe abandoned the field of simple image editing in Mac OS X for two years while its attention seemingly was distracted. The company cast its...
Adobe abandoned the field of simple image editing in Mac OS X for two years while its attention seemingly was distracted. The company cast its gaze back a few weeks ago to release Version 6 ($75 street price) with full Intel and PowerPC chip support. This version represents a significant step forward in pairing powerful results with simple tools.
If you regularly find yourself wanting to clean up, make a composite with or adjust photos, and the idea of learning Photoshop CS3 — or paying $625 for it — daunts you, Elements is the right choice.
Elements for Mac skipped Version 5, which was released for Windows; Version 6 brings feature parity between the two platforms. The only significant difference is that Windows has a separate program for browsing through stored photos, while Elements 6 for Mac relies on Adobe Bridge, normally included only as part of their full-blown professional Creative Suite package.
Elements’ interface has relatively little in common with Photoshop, its big brother, of which it was once just a reduced-feature clone. Elements keeps much of the power of Photoshop, however, repackaged in ways that are designed to require a very low learning curve.
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Selecting areas of an image to edit is usually one of those tasks that makes neophyte image editors swear in frustration. Selection is also a major difference between basic image editors such as iPhoto, which typically applies corrections to an entire image, and others. Using a combination of tools that select by color, edge, or shape, you often try to create an outline of part of an image you want to enhance or modify.
You might want to selectively sharpen a figure to produce a crisper image or remove the raccoon effect from deep-socketed eyes; you could also apply a filter to just part of an image, or remove the background from an object you want to combine with other images or a different background. (“I didn’t know you visited Hawaii last week, bundled in your winter jackets!”)
While Photoshop has a number of tools for selection, such as the Magic Wand, each requires a fairly precise understanding of how to use it and tweak its settings for good results. Experience is the only way to produce consistent results quickly. Elements also has these tools, presented in a slightly simpler fashion, but it has two additional tools that I find myself using all the time.
Take the Quick Selection tool. Just start painting on an image with this tool, and a selection is created based on an analysis of the pixels underneath the area of the virtual brush. Adjacent edges and areas of colors are swept inside the selection. Selecting a leaf in a picture of a tree can require as little as a single click. You can modify the selection to remove incorrect parts or change the brush size to refine the area.
There’s also the Selection Brush Tool. This lets you paint across an image with any brush to select an area you can modify through painting and erasing to create a feathered edge for a more natural, smooth border between elements you adjust or combine. (This is called Quick Mask in Photoshop, but presented quite differently.)
Elements also offers the Magic Extractor, a tool that lets you roughly define the foreground and background of an image with a brush, after which the program identifies and deletes the background.
Elements doesn’t skimp on its higher-end features. For instance, you have all the power of layers, which allows you to use transparency and opacity to stack images in a single file for creative effects. But you can also hide features: The program offers Full, Quick, and Guided modes of operation that let you graduate from one level to another as you learn how to use the program more fully.
The program also has a unique, slightly disturbing feature that you might use more often than you suspect: Photomerge Group Shot. With one or more similar images open in the program, you can select to merge features of each image into one revised image.
When relatives visit, for example, we try to get a picture with everyone all together, and I use a digital camera that has both a timer and the option to take many shots quickly. This often provides at least one picture in which my older boy isn’t squirming, if we’re lucky.
With Photomerge Group Shot, you could combine one picture that has one person blinking, another with a turned-around toddler and a third with a fly on the lens, and, with a few simple brushstrokes to identify the areas to merge, have something suitable for framing.
My only true carp with Elements is that Adobe decided to forgo using both the Mac OS X and Windows XP and Vista conventions for buttons, dialog boxes and other interface elements. This gives it a distinct look, but it also might require a bit of adjustment, especially for Mac users.
Adobe also chose to set the program up to fill your screen with its interface, using a background color to hide windows behind it. You can disable this color, but the menus, bars and palettes are still set up to frame a hole in which image windows appear.
I’ve used Photoshop since version 1.0 in 1991, and I still feel as if I have yet to master some of its features. In Elements, I feel like a pro.
If you’re looking for more information about using Photoshop Elements 6, check out my co-columnist Jeff Carlson’s book, “Photoshop Elements 6 for Windows: Visual QuickStart Guide.” While it was written for Windows, all the editing features are identical across both platforms.
Glenn Fleishman writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists