Photoshop Elements is the cut-price version of Adobe’s ubiquitous Photoshop photo-editing software. It’s aimed at consumers rather than professionals, and even though it doesn’t offer the full feature set of its bigger brother, there’s plenty of functionality packed into this beginner-friendly package.
Unlike Photoshop CC, a monthly subscription isn’t required, so it’s a popular choice for those who prefer to pay up front for their software.
Elements comes in two parts, Organizer and Editor. The latter also includes a pared-down version of Adobe Camera Raw for processing RAW files. The Organizer is used for viewing and sorting your files. The files are stored on your hard drives and Organizer finds and displays them for you. It can also filter your shots into categories based on People and Events. It includes a tool for browsing your files on a map based on where they were shot, although to make the most of this you’ll need to shoot pics on a GPS-enabled camera.
Introduced into the Elements Editor for the first time in this update is the Auto Shake Reduction feature. Previously available only to Photoshop CC users, the tool is designed to improve shots marred by camera shake. Adobe has marketed it at people who take selfies at arm’s length, although in our tests it also improved (but didn’t completely fix) the effects of slight camera shake in a range of handheld and low-light shots. Of course, software fixes are no substitute for getting shots sharp in-camera, but the addition of features from Photoshop CC makes Elements even better value for money.
Another feature new to Elements 14 that has been inherited from the full Photoshop is the Auto Haze Removal tool. This is designed to add definition to misty or hazy areas of your shots. We found it worked best when used to cut through airborne moisture in landscapes, making the background as crisp as what’s up front. However, it’s also good for summer holiday snorkelling shots taken in cloudy water.
The last of the new features is called Smart Looks. This tool analyses your images and presents a selection of five suitable edits. Each of these ‘looks’ combines adjustments to aspects like contrast, colour and vignetting and is in-keeping with the current popularity of retro effects in photography. The tool cleverly sidesteps the mistake of offering the user too many options, which can put off newcomers and cause confusion. It’s an approach that will be familiar to anyone who has tweaked their shots using a tablet or smartphone app – you simply click on the preview you like and the effect is applied.
Although the list of brand new features isn’t huge, it’s important to take a look at how many features have been given a polish since Elements 13. Among these is an improved Quick Edit Mode that’s designed to make common tools like crop and straighten even easier to find. In this mode, there are also now 34 Guided Edits to help you through the steps required to make common edits. These Guided Edits aren’t true teaching tools – they don’t explain the reasons for each step as you go – but you are able to switch to Expert mode to analyse your Layers when the edit is complete. In doing so you are able to work out for yourself why each stage was vital to the final effect achieved.
Another improvement focuses on the Refine Edge tool, which has now been spun off into its own brush called the Refine Selection Brush. It’s designed to be brushed over complex edges containing hair or fur and intelligently attempts to make a Selection around them. The tool isn’t foolproof, but it can certainly speed up tricky Selections. And the fact that it is now a Brush, rather than a refinement option nested in the Tool Options bar for other Selection tools should make it more accessible to newcomers.
The Elements 14 Organizer face recognition algorithm has also been updated to make it better at recognising people. As you add new photos, Elements Organizer will analyse faces and automatically add shots to a person’s stack. The tool has an improved ‘hit rate’, so we found we spent less time amending the tags and more time editing. How often you choose to browse your files in this way will depend how many portraits and family events you shoot.
Elements 14 is a feature-rich and user-friendly app at a reasonable price, but existing users may want to wait for the next update. This is an incremental improvement on its predecessor and is highly recommended for new users.
- Price: £64 full version, £55 upgrade (As of July 2016)
- Compatibility: Windows 7 with Service Pack 1, Windows 8, Windows 10 or Mac with OS X 10.9 onward. 2GB RAM minimum. 5GB of available hard-disk space. 1024x768 display. 1.6GHz or faster processor with SSE2 support. Microsoft DirectX 9 or 10 compatible display driver (Windows only). QuickTime 7 software. Internet connection required for product activation and content download
- Free trial available: Yes. 30-day time limit
- Visit: www.adobe.com/uk
This review was first published in the January 2016 issue of Digital Photo - download back issues here.