Can Adobe improve on the already impressive Elements 8, with the new Adobe Photoshop Elements 9?
Adobe will run out of ideas, and either delays between versions of the company’s award-winning software will lengthen, or new incarnations will arrive for the sake of it. If Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 is anything to go by there’s still at least 12 months before that happens.
As with previous versions, Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 essentially offers a stripped-down, simplified and far cheaper version of full Photoshop, placing a simplistic interface on top of some seriously powerful tools. Thanks to the addition of headline features, such as Content Aware Fill and Masking, the more advanced users should be rubbing their hands in anticipation, while the refined interface will give step-up starters a logical starting point.
For the first time a fully-featured Elements makes an appearance on the Mac, which previously missed out on the likes of the Organizer tool. Now there’s far more parity between the versions, save for a couple of operating system-based differences.
One of the major features to appear in the new Photoshop Elements is the Content Aware Fill, which first appeared in Photoshop CS5. By grabbing sections from the surrounding area of a selection, this feature can smooth over blemishes and create an often unnoticeable fix. A single stroke can remove an undesirable feature of an image and doesn’t require a massive wait for processing on a well-specified machine.
The simplicity of the Elements version also works to Content Aware Fill’s benefit, as trying the function on large, complicated areas often brings about unwanted segments being utilised. The brush tool prevents too large an area from being highlighted, and the results are superb when employed correctly.
Actions have also been added to the Adobe Photoshop Elements 9’s feature list, although in something of a scaled-down incarnation compared to Photoshop CS5. Although the Actions can be employed and imported, they cannot be created within the program. In the unlikely event that both full Photoshop and Elements are installed on one machine then Actions can be created and transported across, although the likelihood is that most will be bought and/or downloaded from the internet.
In spite of the beginner level intention of the program, the process to import an Action involved copying it into a folder buried within the hard drive, something a number of users may have issues with. Thankfully once the Action has been imported it sits within the interface after a restart, needing no extra steps to make it appear.
Within the Guided Edit options are a number of Photo Effects, with the likes of Lomo and Pop Art available. Although these effects are simplistic and a touch cheesy, the ability to apply them in stages is of huge benefit rather than an ‘all or nothing’ approach.
Masks are also available, albeit in a slightly restricted manner, by adding an extra layer when certain functions are employed. Although there isn’t the same level of adjustment available as in the full Photoshop, there’s more than enough for a beginner to get started with. There’s more than one method of employing a Mask, the first of which is to simply click on the Mask button in the Layer panel.
The second method is arguably more useful to beginners as it attaches the Mask via an adjustment feature, removing the need to traverse any confusing functions by way of the menu system. The selection tools aren’t as accomplished, nor the level of alteration as involved as in the full Photoshop, but the tentative employment in Elements offers a decent starting point and introduction at the very least.
Returning to Elements is the Photomerge feature, which apes HDR and a number of other features which use multiple, similarly-framed images to create one final ‘perfectly exposed’ photo. Within this lies the Exposure option, which is the closest approximation within Elements of the HDR feature in Photoshop. This feature combines the highlights and lowlights for a balanced end product, though results can have some issues matching the two images precisely, unless the two frames used are particularly similar.
Content Aware Fill Tool
The statue in this image had a number of scratches, divots and general damage that the Content Aware Fill managed to rapidly and simply clean up.
This incredibly intelligent tool grabs elements from around a selection and uses it to fill the space in what is something of a combination of the Heal and Clone tools. For larger areas the tool can be hit and miss, but for small areas of editing the Content Aware Fill does an excellent job doing exactly what it says on the tin. Using the tool isn’t too taxing on the computer’s processing power either, with both Mac and PC performing impressively well through numerous tests.
On the surface Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 is simply a ‘lite’ version of CS5, offering some scaled-down features but with little else completely new. In practice the majority of the newly applied features are modified rather than simply scaled down, with the Content Aware Fill being a perfect example. The limited use of Actions is a touch annoying, as having to go outside of the program to create them can prove complicated, but the Masks are well implemented with regards to the intended audience of the software. The program also seems less memory-hungry on both PC and Mac, which was an annoyance with the previous incarnation.