Adobe Photoshop Elements 14 review: When you need more than what Apple Photos has to offer

The latest version of Adobe’s photo organizing and editing application has a host of welcome improvements for beginners and advanced users alike.

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At a Glance
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements 14

    Macworld Rating

    If you’ve got the money and you spend a fair amount of time in the application, you’ll appreciate the improvements.

This past fall Adobe released a new version of their consumer-level photo organizing and editing application, Photoshop Elements 14. A mature and uniquely user-friendly application, the latest version has a host of welcome improvements for beginners and advanced users alike.

For example, the Organizer has better facial recognition and it’s easy to find images that you haven’t yet organized with tags and events. The Editor sports an effects collection of 2,500 different looks; Guided edit mode has a new interface and two new tutorials for resizing images and simulating speed; plus the Enhance menu sports two new commands that fix both hazy and blurry photos. For beginners and hobbyist-level photographers, there’s very little here not to love.

Elements Organizer

Organizer 14, the database portion of the application, is the most usable version yet. Built upon the concept of People, Places, and Events, you can use it to organize pictures into tidy stacks based on who’s in them (People), where they were taken (Places), or what the occasion was (Events).

Version 14 includes several improvements, such as noticeably quicker and more accurate facial recognition, and the ability to easily round up images that don’t yet have people or place tags, making it easier for you to add them. For example, in People view, click Named to see image stacks that have facial tags and Unnamed to see those that don’t. In Places view, your choices are Pinned or Unpinned, with Pinned images appearing as stacks atop a nice big map.

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As you zoom into the map, the pins split apart revealing additional image stacks. Click any stack to view it as a tiny slideshow.

While it’s easy to add locations to one or more images in Places view, the interface still feels very Windows-like in design: Once you click Add Location and enter some text in the resulting dialog box, you have to press the Return key to prod Google Maps into searching for matching results. Otherwise, you sit and stare at the dialog wondering why nothing is happening.

Events view also got some organizational help and now has a Suggest button that groups related pictures together that you may want to use for a new event. Other Organizer 14 improvements include a scrubby view in People and Places: point your cursor to an image stack and wiggle your mouse to see glimpses of the individual pictures inside. In People view, pointing your mouse at a stack also reveals buttons that let you pick what you want to see: only the person’s face or the entire photo (you can do this in Apple Photos, too).

Elements Editor

Additions to the Elements 14 Editor are even more impressive. New in the Effects panel of Quick edit mode is Smart Looks, which analyzes your image and reaches into a database of 2,500 effects to display the best five for that particular image.

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Smart Looks analyzes your image to suggest five of 2,500 possible effects.

Elements’ unique Guided edit mode also received a visual makeover and now illustrates each tutorial with an interactive “before and after” slider so you more fully understand what you’re getting into before you start clicking.

There are a couple of new Guided edits, too, including one for resizing your photos for print or for the web, which is something that vexes some Photoshop CC users. Unfortunately, it doesn’t give you a resolution warning if you pick a print size larger than your pixel count can support, although Elements’ Print dialog box will. The other new guided edit walks you through the otherwise complicated task of adding a motion blur to simulate speed.

Another nice addition to Guided mode is a panel that lets you decide what to do next: save the file, continue editing (if so, in which mode), or share your creation to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, or the SmugMug Gallery.

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The new final panel in each Guided edit helps you decide what to do next.

As in previous releases, Elements 14 also snatched some powerful editing prowess from other Adobe applications. For example, thanks to Camera Raw and Lightroom, the Enhance menu in Quick and Expert modes has a Haze Removal command that analyzes your image and removes any atmospheric haze it finds. This command is also available with a dialog box, which has a couple of sliders that let you take haze removal into your own hands.

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The Haze Removal command does a great job removing haze, even if it’s caused by a super volcano.

And thanks to Photoshop CC, Elements 14’s new Shake Reduction command fixes blurry images caused by camera shake. The automatic version of this command analyzes your image from the center outward to find blurry areas from which it discerns a blur pattern—the direction in which your camera moved—and then corrects it.

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The dialog box version of Shake Reduction lets you move and resize the area of analysis (marked by a dotted line), as well as add additional areas to be analyzed.

Rounding out the changes in the Elements 14 Editor is the Refine Selection tool, useful for creating tough selections that involve hair or fur. To be fair, this tool isn’t new; it’s a more discoverable version of the Refine Radius Tool tucked inside the Refine Edge dialog box. Lastly, the Camera Raw plug-in that comes with Elements now supports newer cameras.

Bottom line

For those eager to expand their skill set beyond Apple Photos, Photoshop Elements 14 is a great choice—it’s the most user-friendly version yet and well worth the $100 price tag for a perpetual license—while you may find other image editors that cost less, they offer no organizational tools.

For those who own previous versions, it comes down to available cash. If you’ve got the money and you spend a fair amount of time in the application, you’ll appreciate the Organizer improvements, plus the Remove Haze and Camera Shake commands can salvage otherwise unusable photos.

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    If you’ve got the money and you spend a fair amount of time in the application, you’ll appreciate the improvements.

    Pros

    • Better facial recognition
    • Guided edit for resizing images for print or the web
    • Remove Haze and Shake Reduction commands

    Cons

    • Adding location tags is clunky
    • No resolution warning for resizing guided edit
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