Using Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 3.0
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Besides providing a beginning digital darkroom user with easy access to adjustment tools and a way to compare before-and-after results, Quick Fix now has a powerful and effective way to control overall and local image contrast with three sliders--one affecting highlight, another shadow, and the third mid-tone contrast. Adobe with both PhotoDeluxe and the two previous versions of Elements never included the Curves adjustment tool that is a mainstay in the full version of Photoshop, believing it too difficult to learn and use for all but professional-level users. Now, in Quick Fix the three Contrast sliders are both easy to use and if anything more effective than Photoshop Curves as a means to optimize the contrast values in a photograph.

Immediately below the Contrast section of slider adjustments is a four slider set of tools that can be used to adjust different dimensions of color quality, including: Saturation, Hue, Temperature, and Tint. The first two, Saturation and Hue are derivatives of the Hue/Saturation tool dialog in the Standard Edit pane, while Temperature and Tint adjust color similarly to controls that were introduced in Photoshop's Camera Raw plug-in a couple of years ago. Probably the most advantageous new addition is the ability to apply a color shift on the red/blue Color Temperature axis.

The new Quick Fix work space provides a set of easy to use slider adjustments to optimize photo quality, made easier and more effective by side by side, before-and-after screen image comparisons. Quick Fix includes a three-level Contrast adjustment set of sliders that effectively replace the hard to use Curves dialog in the full version of Photoshop. It adds a Color Temperature and Tint adjustment to easily tune color to provide high image fidelity.

Two common examples of the advantage are with people pictures when flesh tones are pale and pasty looking, which often benefit from adding a little warming to the image plus possibly a little more saturation; and the even more frequent situation of pictures taken close to noon, at high altitude, and by illumination by open, blue sky, which also benefit by moving the slider to the warm side. The Tint slider, however, adjusts the color balance on the green/magenta axis. I found, as an example, the Tint slider applies readily to natural landscapes with foliage, especially if the image needed and got a warming adjustment to reduce excess blue. The result of the warming may dull the greens in the image, so moving the Tint slider a little to the green side will brighten and intensify foliage color.

One control I found less desirable, located at the top of the Quick Fix column of slider and automatic adjustment tools, is Smart Fix. I consider it the least useful, and it has the greatest potential for actually diminishing image values and attributes. The reason I believe that it is not helpful is that the combined overall automatic image adjustment it affects is based on the assumption that the image is typical, like a snapshot with a balanced distribution of colors and tonal values. Applied to individual images that contain different kinds of coloration and a less usual balance of lights and darks, Smart Fix generally does not favor the subject. Indeed, I found Smart Fix was pretty dumb and unable to adjust the values to make an optimum interpretation of many subjects.

I'll give you a typical example, a shot I made very late in the day (sweet light) of some beach rocks at Point Lobos, California. The rocks had a golden glow from the low sun, and after applying Smart Fix the golden glow disappeared. Apparently Smart Fix assumed the coloration was an erroneous color cast and not an intended and desired attribute of the image.

The Standard Edit work space provides most of the full Photoshop manual image adjustment tools in an arrangement with a "bin" for Palettes like the Histogram and Navigator that pops in and out of view with a single mouse click.

The Standard Edit alternative work space contains much that is in common with Photoshop CS. However, the work space layout has been redesigned both for efficiency as well as consistency with the Quick Fix work space, now with a Palette "bin" on the right, which can be popped out or hidden with a single mouse click. There is also another bin available at the bottom that shows thumbnails of open images that have been minimized, a useful feature when you are making a composite or building a series for a slide show, etc. I found the Palette bin particularly advantageous as it gives you a full view of two or three key Palettes like Histogram, Navigator, and Layers, all arranged in one space that can be popped up as needed while still filling the entire work space with the open image you are working on.

The Standard Edit work space is the choice to finalize editing even when much of it is done first in Quick Fix. For example, it provides an easy access with Navigator to zoom in and examine the open image more carefully to do things like apply a fuller selection of sharpening options like Unsharp Mask. Standard Edit is also the logical space to open digital camera files with Camera Raw, and to then apply any final tweaking after the image is opened in Element's work space.

For cleaning dust marks and fixing flaws Adobe has a new Spot Healing Brush, which is highly effective and efficient to remove small bits of dirt, scratches, and defects in images, all with a single mouse click. Unlike the Healing Brush, which I found to be no significant advantage over the Rubber Stamp brush tool, the new Spot Healing Brush is direct, easy, and requires fewer mouse clicks and no keyboard commands to clean up an image. It cuts retouching time to a fraction of what had been required.

Although its function is to some extent duplicated in Quick Fix, the Shadows/Highlights menu option under Enhancements provides a way to reduce the effect of too much lighting contrast by opening up shadows very effectively. This largely substitutes for the Curves dialog full version users have relied on to adjust overall image contrast with much greater ease and assured effectiveness. Although Quick Fix offers very effective global color adjustment, Standard Edit's access to the Hue/Saturation color dialog extends support for selective color HSL adjustment so you can tweak skin tones to perfection, for instance, without affecting any other colors in the image.

Adobe was thorough in this 3.0 version upgrade of Photoshop Elements in part by redoing the design of the Print dialog window. It includes a preview to size and place an image on the page and an easy to use color management dialog to easily select profiles.

Elements Supports Using Your Photo Images
Quite a few questions I get from readers of Digital Help ask how to make use of their photos, from embedding in e-mail to outputting slide shows. Sending photos attached to e-mail is nothing new, and Elements 3.0 makes the re-sizing and configuration even easier. But have you ever wondered how you could make that embedded e-mail photo more secure so the recipient could view the image but could not appropriate it for their own use? With Elements 3.0 in the print driver you can select to output an image in Acrobat .PDF format and then apply the security functions to limit uses like editing and printing. Once an image is a secured .PDF file, just drag it into an e-mail you are creating.

Among the many new options added to Elements 3.0 are an easier, more sophisticated slide show facility and the capability to create calendars, cards, panoramas, and photo albums. Better web gallery support and an easier, more flexible Picture Package printing facility are also included. In addition, the media you can save to are now much more extensive, like VideoCD that supports most DVD players, even TiVo, as well as support for handhelds and picture cell phones.

Overall Evaluation And Recommendation
The first consideration of a version upgrade is whether it is worth making the change and the investment. In the past I have frequently been more than a little conflicted about making positive upgrade recommendations. Even though I find some features of Elements 3.0 of dubious value, it still leaves me without any doubt about its strong advantages. And, as I have suggested, I am sure I will use Elements 3.0 much more in the future, maybe even more than the full version of Photoshop CS. In fact, I'll go a step further--I would urge every photographer and Photoshop user to take a serious look at Adobe's Photoshop Elements 3.0. I believe that if you use all of its capabilities you are likely to agree that it is a must-have application for the digital darkroom. At a cost of under $100 it is surely the best investment in terms of use and benefit.

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