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Saturday, October 12, 2002

What I finished reading today:

Photoshop Elements for Dummies by Deke McClelland and Galen Fott
Adobe Photoshop Elements: A Visual Introduction to Digital Imaging by Philip Andrews

I got a free copy of Photoshop Elements with a new scanner last year, and finally decided I should figure out how to use it. I do a bit of photo and grahics work for the Web, but have always fared just fine with free or inexpensive programs like the GIMP and Ulead's Photo Impact, so I've resisted making the huge investment in Photoshop, even though everyone always says it's what you're "supposed" to have. (I've always reasoned that if you can provide image files in the proper format and resolution for what you're doing, it doesn't necessarily require a big, expensive program like Photoshop to produce them. But I digress...)

But I've been quite curious about Photoshop Elements because it's marketed as a "lite" alternative to Photoshop, geared for people who do more Web than print work...and that's definitely me. (I designed an event program and some photo name tags for my recent high school reunion, but that's the first print-based image work I've done since a holiday card for my husband last Christmas). Thus, I did want to see what Photoshop Elements could do...and to learn just how it differs from its bigger and more robust cousin, Photoshop.

So I went out and bought two books, "Photoshop Elements for Dummies," by Deke McClelland and Galen Fott, and "Adobe Photoshop Elements: A Visual Introduction to Digital Imaging," by Philip Andrews. And I read both of them, cover to cover.

For very clear explanations of how to use PE's basic tools and features, as well as how to do some more sophisticated things, like restoring vintage photos and creating photo panoramas, I preferred Andrews' book, which explains things in nice clear language, gets right to the point in every chapter, and is very logically organized.

The "Dummies" book gets a bit too bogged down in the trademark "Dummies"-style cute prose for my tastes, and its organization also left something to be desired. It insists, for example, that you learn all the ins and outs of printing your images before it tells you how to use any of the program's standard tools to create them. Just felt a bit backwards to me.

Still, however, the "Dummies" book is longer and, ultimately, does provide more information than Andrews' slimmer tome, so they made a very good set -- Andrews' book for a nice, clean, clear overview of the software, and the "Dummies" book for a bit more detail.

Now, what did I learn about Photoshop Elements?

I learned that it can indeed do everything I usually need a Web image editing program for: cropping and resizing...compressing and optimizing...touching up brightness, contrast and colors...and even cleaning up imperfections in both new and vintage photos. In fact, it's quite useful for all of those things, and easier to use in most cases than fuller-featured free programs such as the GIMP.

Photoshop Elements also gives you the ability to work in layers, as Photoshop does, and to preserve those layers when saving files in Photoshop's native .psd format. (Note to users of other Web graphics programs: perhaps the biggest temptation I've always had to buy Photoshop is not the fact that it can perform all sorts of image manipulations - which I've been able to do perfectly well in many other, less expensive programs -- but because Photoshop is often the only program that will open .psd files. So if I have a client or colleague working in Photoshop, and they try to send me a photo file they've been working on, I generally can't open it. But Photoshop Elements uses the same .psd file format as Photoshop, enabling Photoshop Elements users to freely trade graphics and photo files back and forth with Photoshop users...without investing in Photoshop.)

Photoshop Elements also has a large number of filters and effects that are very easy to apply, including an extremely handy "vignette" effect that quickly creates a soft, faded, feathered edge around photo selections and is one thing I've always found rather difficult to accomplish in other photo editing programs I've used.

So I definitely give it a thumbs up in all those respects, and will probably turn to it a lot more often than I have in the past, when it was sitting on my computer but I hadn't yet taken the time to explore all its features.

As for how Photoshop Elements differs from "real" Photoshop, the "Dummies" book contains a final chapter on that very subject, listing the 10 biggest differences between the programs. Things Photoshop Elements lacks, which you do find in Photoshop, include the supposedly handy "Ctrl+H" command to hide selection outlines (you can do this in Photoshop Elements, but there's no keyboard shortcut), a color channels palette, more sophisticated path-creation tools, a couple of handy annotation features and, perhaps most important to folks doing graphics for print applications, a CMYK color mode (Photoshop elements uses RGB colors, which are just what you need when viewing colors on an electronic monitor, but which don't reproduce as reliably in print). Standard Photoshop also comes bundled with Adobe's Image Ready software, which is designed for creating Web graphics such as buttons and rollover effects...and Photoshop Elements lacks this extra.

In short, I'd say both books were definitely worth a read, whether you've acquired Photoshop Elements as a free extra, as I did, whether you've been looking to buy a new, easy-to-use imaging program, or - and here's a novel idea - if you have access to standard Photoshop, and don't really need Photoshop Elements, but just want to learn a few quick tips and tools for working with Web images. (The tools and toolbars in both programs are nearly identical, so learning how Photoshop Elements works could give you a nice basic introduction to Photoshop itself.)

In short, perhaps the most useful feature of these books is that they pretty fully convinced me that unless I suddenly make a big shift into print work (for which I would definitely want Photoshop and its CMYK abilities), I'm perfectly well off using Photoshop Elements for Web graphics, and don't need to spend hundreds of dollars on the full version of Photoshop. And that knowledge alone was well worth the price of these two books.

posted by Elizabeth 1:13 PM

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All material © 2002-2004 by Elizabeth Fuller. Please do not reproduce anything you find here without the author's permission.

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