Skip to content
April 9, 2011 / arthill

Photoshop Elements–an Introduction

In an earlier post I railed against Photoshop and suggested that Adobe brought out Photoshop Elements specifically for photographers.  I’ve been using Photoshop Elements for quite some time.  I think I started with Version 3 or 4 and now have Version 9.

There is a lot to like about this program and I do recommend it to you.  With it I think you can do just about anything you will want to do with a photograph.  Because it’s from Adobe it has attracted a large number of book writers and plug-in authors.  Many of the add-ons originally targeted at Photoshop will now work with Photoshop Elements.  And, over the last several years Adobe has moved many important features from Photoshop to Photoshop Elements.  I previously posted a comparison of features that you may wish to review.

As I’ve written before you can do a lot with Picasa and Windows Live Photogallery.  If you’re pretty happy with those two programs you may not need anything else.  Neither of them is a full blown photo editor so the time may come when you want to step up.  Adobe Photoshop Elements is a logical next step.

But let me issue some caveats.  While Elements is nowhere near as difficult to use as Photoshop, it is not easy.  You probably won’t have to take a five-day class but you’re going to need to buy a book or two.  You’ll need to run through all of the Adobe supplied tutorials and keep your eye out for magazine articles – there are lots of them.

I spent a significant portion of my life involved with software design and have studied user interface theories over the years.  There are not very many software people who are good at user interfaces. Early software had user interfaces created by programmers.  It was awful.  Eventually software companies began using separate people who specialized in user interface design.  Apparently all the good people like this were hired by Apple and Microsoft because Adobe sure didn’t get them. Smile 

One of the techniques that my teams borrowed from Apple and Microsoft was to sit a user down at a computer with our latest software running and just watch them.  We gave them some tasks to accomplish but did not give them instructions on how to use our software to do it.  As we watched a user we knew that when their expression became one of puzzlement or frustration we had not achieved a clean usable design.  If you don’t like the way you look with a furrowed brow and a frown, don’t use this program with a mirror in the room.  While Photoshop Elements has got much better over the years much of it is still confusing.  Some sequences are so outright non-intuitive that I have to look them up every time I use the program and I’ve had it for years.  The basics will be easy enough to master but some of the more advanced stuff is just a bitch.  I still give up on some things.

So, consider yourself forewarned.  If you’ve never used Elements before, you’ll need to devote some time to it.  Alas, there aren’t any better options.  Forget Photoshop.  Corel Paint Shop Pro is another option but you’ll need to devote time to that too.  (Corel didn’t get any of the genius software designers either.)

Let’s get to the meat then.  Photoshop Elements is really two programs – the Organizer and the Editor.  When you first run PSE you get this


Selecting Organizer brings you to


Note the other Tabs on the right, Fix, Create, Share




Notice in the Fix tab that you can apply basic fixes such as Auto Levels right from within Organizer. If you click on Edit Photos though you will then bring up a copy of the PSE Editor.

Basically then Organizer (aptly named) is the program for organizing and tagging your photos.  And you can see all of the features and functions that are available to you on those tabs.  Adobe keeps putting a lot of work into the Organizer and it gets good reviews from people who use it.  Personally although I’ve tried it a few times I’ve decided not to use it. I’m not saying it’s a bad program I just think you’re better off going with Windows Live Photo Gallery or Picasa.  To me those programs just do a little bit better job.

The Editor

This is why you buy this program.  The Editor is a full featured program targeted at photographers and you should be able to accomplish just about anything you want to do with it.

First of all you get RAW support.  If you open up a RAW file you get this screen:


As you can see by my red lining it knows about the camera RAW format. You can change the White Balance.  It comes up with Default highlighted; you should click on Auto to see if that improved the shot.

Note that the back of the car and the sign have red areas on them.  This is PSE’s blown out highlight warning.  To get rid of this I dragged the Exposure slider to the left until the red disappeared.  That left the picture a little too dark so I dragged the Brightness slider to the right.  Some blue splotches showed up indicating loss of detail in the shadows so I dragged the Blacks slider to the left just a touch.


At that point I was ready to put the image into the regular Editor so I clicked on the Open Image button.

This brings the picture into the Editor as shown below:


Note the Edit, Create and Share tabs near the top right.  I can access many of the same functions that we saw in the Organizer


Staying in Edit mode for the moment though, let’s take a look at the left side of the workspace:


Down the left edge are all of the tools available to you.  The part at the top changes depending on which tool you have selected

Here I have selected the rectangular marquee tool


Now let’s go back over to the right hand side to explore the Quick edit Tab.  Note the Smart Fix section. Clicking on Auto will often give you pretty nice results.  If you prefer you can scale back the Smart Fix using the slider.


This also changes our toolbar over on the left to


From the bottom up those are Black and White High Contrast, Make dull skies blue, whiten teeth and remove red-eye, crop and quick selection tool  I’ve not used the bw but the others  are pretty useful. The Quick Selection tool is particularly handy.  I can use it on this daffodil picture to quickly select just the flowers



Add a black fill layer and presto


The third tab for Editing is Guided and they put a lot of work into this.


The top portion walks you through many of the most important ways to adjust a photo. The bottom half has lots of interesting creative things you can do.


Clicking on one of these brings up a step by step guide and a link to a tutorial e.g.


Well, that’s all I want to cover in one post.  If you haven’t tried PSE hopefully this will give you an idea of what it’s all about.  If you already have it maybe you haven’t tried some of the things I’ve talked about.  In a future post I’ll cover a few things such as the Quick Selection tool that I’ve found pretty useful.


Leave a Comment
  1. Billie King / Apr 9 2011 9:11 am

    Thanks so much Art, I learned several things and will try them all.

  2. Howard / Apr 9 2011 10:17 pm

    Very good post, Art. I’ve been using PSE since version 7. I have 9 know and although I’ve learned quite a bit still feel like I’ve just scratched the surface. I look forward to more of your expertise in this area. Thanks!

  3. Maryann Goldman / Apr 11 2011 12:52 pm

    Your post got me to take a look at the Guided and Quick tabs again since I spend must of my time on the Full tab when in edit mode. PSE is a great tool. Certainly for beginners, learn this first before even thinking about something like CS5.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: