Using Adobe’s Photoshop Elements 3.0

If anything over the years characterizes doing photography digitally, it is Adobe's Photoshop--now the standard mainstay application at the heart of a digital darkroom. I can't remember now just how many years ago I was introduced to Adobe's yet-to-be-released PhotoDeluxe 1.0 at a Comdex computer show. I was impressed with PhotoDeluxe at its beginning because it was a very affordable light version of Photoshop and contained internal support for learning the primary tools in the full version of Photoshop. A few years later PhotoDeluxe would morph into Elements 1.0. But then, and until now through Elements 2.0, I saw these inexpensive applications as stepping stones to the real thing, the full version of Photoshop, high price and all. Now I am not so sure even advanced digital photographers really need anything more than Elements 3.0. In fact, in some ways Elements 3.0 offers a better set of tools for computer processing of photographs than the full version, Photoshop CS.

Most of the new features of Adobe Elements 3.0 were identified and covered in a First Look in the November 2004 issue by Joe Farace. So, I am hoping you have read that First Look, or have it available (Editor's Note: you can access it online at, because rather than repeat anything Farace wrote I would like to report on actually using Elements 3.0. My contribution is to both evaluate its capabilities and to suggest how it can be used to advantage to get the best image quality from your photographs. In short, Elements 3.0 may be all you need in a photo image-editing application. And if you are currently working with an older full version of Photoshop, Elements 3.0 may offer more than you need and can use, as well as offer you a more affordable upgrade, or, if you will, "sidegrade" to your current software.

The addition of Organizer to the Windows version of Elements 3.0 provides a database/thumbnails generation capability with built-in predetermined categories to make filing and searching for photo files efficient and relatively easy. However, to make it individually effective and useful demands both thought and effort.

To Be Organized Or Not-- That Is The Question
Adobe's Elements 3.0 comes with an Organizer feature in the Windows edition. (And here I should note the Windows version only supports XP and 2000 with SP1, and not the older X86 versions of Windows, and on the Mac, Elements 3.0 requires Apple OS 10, and does not contain Organizer but rather relies on Apple's iPhoto.) Organizer, or iPhoto on a Mac, is an added convenience, a database utility that is not directly involved in the primary functions of editing and adjusting photographic images.

Organizer for Windows Elements 3.0 is new to the application, but the basic concept of marrying a database with a thumbnail image generator has been around for a long time. With Elements, Organizer has been configured to be readily adaptable to the typical amateur photographer and also takes advantage of the identification and descriptive data stored in digital camera files, making it easier to search for images using various standard parameters.

However, to make Organizer or any database/thumbnail utility effective requires applying some personal "organizational" thought to what kinds of categories and keywords will make its use effective. In essence, the Organizer utility makes it easy to search on the basis of the embedded date of when an image was created, but if you are like me I can never remember birthdays, anniversaries, and would forget my own birthday if life did not constantly remind me. In other words, to make Organizer work you must first apply some "gray matter" to organizing yourself as to what you actually do as a photographer. And second, and even more critical, you have to invest some time and effort into being a file clerk, and inputting keywords/tags and other pertinent data to have an individually tailored search capability that reflects what your image collection actually contains.

The Camera Raw plug-in, first introduced late on in Photoshop 7.0's life, is now an integral part of Elements 3.0, providing effective access and image adjustment tools that support raw format. This easy to use and efficient support in Elements 3.0 should encourage more digital photographers to take full advantage of the quality potential of their digital cameras.

To me, typing in keywords/tags and moving thumbnails and files into category folders is "fiddly work," something I have no patience for, regardless of the benefit. So, whether Organizer will be a benefit to you is dependent upon whether you really want to invest the thought and effort and remain committed to its upkeep over time. Regardless, if you're as lazy as me, Elements still has a really effective Browser that supports thumbnail generation and an easy way to search drives and folders for the photo file you want to find.

Getting Photos Into Elements 3.0
One of the previous feature limitations of Elements compared to a full version of Photoshop was that it did not support opening high bit-depth images, like raw scanner files. However that limitation has been eliminated in 3.0 partly because Elements now contains full Photoshop Camera Raw support. In addition, the number of camera makes and models which can be opened with Camera Raw is very extensive, providing a means to achieve custom adjusted digital camera images utilizing the full capacity of a camera's sensor. Both the Browser and Organizer features offer thumbnail generation and file support for many Camera Raw file types, making management, editing, and adjustment an easy and inviting task.

Acquiring scanned images for use in Elements may be best achieved by using the scanner driver from within Elements by means of a TWAIN driver or a Photoshop plug-in. With most scanners this allows for making basic corrections to optimize the image gamut (Photoshop Levels adjustment) as well as modifying the image brightness and contrast to a desired level before making the final scan. The scan then opens in the Elements work space. Using that 24-bit color space provides access to all of the easy Quick Fix tools. Thereafter, minor adjustments to the color balance and saturation can be applied in Elements easily and without any appreciable loss of data in the image file. More experienced Photoshop users who have made a practice of scanning at high bit depth and saving to a TIFF file for later correction in Photoshop in 48-bit mode can now do almost the same thing in Elements 3.0, but with a slightly different set of tools and processes.

Elements 3.0 provides support to acquire images with almost every kind of scan software from within the application. With Elements 3.0 color management support, when the Color Setting option of Full Color Management is checked on, you get input through output color matching with what you see on screen.

Two Ways To Edit Photo Images In Elements
The main work space for Elements 3.0 editing functions is now like a double file folder, with two tab options--Quick Fix and Standard Edit. Adobe has completely redesigned the interface for both options and allows you to toggle back and forth between them. Quick Fix is intended to provide an easy, intuitive way to adjust image characteristics with several automated adjustment options and simple slider adjustments of values photographers will readily understand. The process is made even easier by providing View options that can be selected at the lower left of the work space. This supports either a portrait or landscape side by side, before-and-after versions of your image so you can visually judge whether an auto adjustment improves image quality or does not. Whether intentional or not, the Quick Fix controls are graphically organized in a column of sliders on the right side of the screen work space, and in many ways resembles the interface and controls in the Camera Raw plug-in window dialog.