Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0

With an eye toward its core audience of non-professional photo enthusiasts, Adobe has made improvements to its 4th version of Photoshop Elements that make it easier than ever to edit, organize, and share digital photos. Despite its consumer-level price tag, Photoshop Elements 4.0 sports some new tools that gurus wish the full-blown Photoshop had.

Indeed, this release, which adds a snappy red-eye fix and simplified extract tool, continues to blur the distinction between those who really need the power of Photoshop CS2 and those who could live contentedly in the land of Elements.

The interface

Aside from a couple of new items in the toolbar, the workspace and interface appear unchanged—a good thing. The first thing I noticed about the new version was the ability to opt out of the registration process—forever. I was glad to see that Adobe fixed this issue, which annoyed users of the previous version (   ). Another welcome addition is the descriptive icons sprinkled throughout the menu system, a terrific visual cue for newcomers to digital photo editing.

Bridge for better organization

Elements users now enjoy nearly the full power and organizational prowess of Adobe Bridge, which is derived straight from its Creative Suite 2.

Bridge is a separate application and feels very similar to Apple’s iPhoto 6 (   ). Within Bridge you can manage, sort, delete, and view your image collection in a number of different ways. Bridge also displays file properties such as name, type, size, dimension, resolution, creation date, modified date, bit depth, color mode, camera, and whether the flash was on or off, to name a few.

A new partnership between Adobe and Kodak lets you print photos or greeting cards and share your photos online, all within Bridge’s built-in browser.

Bridge also lets you apply an iPhoto-like 4-star rating system, assign color labels, and attach keywords to individual photos or batches for easy sorting and searching. However, unlike iPhoto 6, you have to manually rotate vertical shots. Bridge also allows users to view files shot in Camera Raw format (the highest quality setting on digital cameras, sometimes referred to as a digital negative). Despite those advantages, Bridge’s performance felt a bit sluggish.

Selection magic

With the new Magic Selection Brush tool you can scribble on an object and Elements will select it for you, if there’s enough contrast between the object you wish to select and its background. Chances are you’ll need to scribble more than once to get a good selection. You’ll also need a little patience, as it takes Elements a few seconds to calculate each new selection attempt between scribbles. Once you select an object, you can do neat things, like change its color.

Disappearing trick

The new Magic Extractor is perfect for plucking objects from backgrounds and, by itself, could be worth the software price. And here’s the kicker: it works better than the Extract filter in Photoshop CS2. Because the Magic Extractor allows you to mark as much (or as little) of both the area you want to retain (the foreground) and the area you want to discard (the background), you get a more accurate selection.

Nestled under the Image menu, the Magic Extractor is easy to operate and completely amazing. Simply scribble on the area you want to keep with the Indicate Foreground brush, and scribble on the area you want to discard with the Indicate Background brush. Unlike the Magic Selection Brush tool, the Magic Extractor doesn’t try to calculate the selection until you’ve finished marking both areas. Adobe wisely included a Preview button allowing you to see the results before accepting the change.

Skin tone fix and more

Elements 4.0 also boasts a new retouching tool called the Skin Tone Adjustment. The logic is that improving the color of skin tones often improves the coloration of the entire photo. This tool works by removing weird colors that it knows are not found in any color skin. Whatever colors lie beneath are supposed to come shining through, thus eliminating weird colorcasts. As you can imagine, your success with this tool will vary.

Other additions include an improved Red-Eye Fix, which can zap several pairs of devil eyes in the same photo with nary a selection (something Photoshop CS2 can’t do), and the ability to straighten (and crop) crooked photos by drawing a new horizontal or vertical edge right onto the photo with the Straighten tool.

Before you eject the installation CD, do yourself a favor and copy the Goodies folder onto your hard drive. It’s packed with backgrounds, frames, and embellishments (scrapbooking, anyone?).

Macworld’s buying advice

If you’ve ever wanted to play in the image-editing sandbox, this software is for you. Both powerful and affordable, Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 provides even more bang for your buck than previous versions. With the addition of Bridge and the new selection and retouching tools, Elements may give you all the photo manipulation power you’ll ever need.

[ Lesa Snider King, founder of TheGraphicReporter.com , is a freelance writer, chief evangelist for iStockphoto.com , and graphics goddess of David Pogue’s Missing Manuals (Pogue Press, O’Reilly). ]

Manage, view, sort, and share your photo collection within Adobe Bridge.I selected the paint on this Stingray with three scribbles of the Magic Selection Brush tool. It almost always takes more than one brush scribble to select an area. Press and hold the Option key to brush over the part you don’t want to select.Click the Quick Fix mode button at the top right of the screen and locate the Color palette. By adjusting the Hue slider, I repainted this turquoise Corvette a nice blood red. A handy trick.

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