Mastering Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020 - Second Edition

By Robin Nichols
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  1. Chapter 1: Photoshop Elements Features Overview

About this book

Adobe Photoshop Elements is a raster graphics editor for entry-level photographers, image editors, and hobbyists. Updated and improved to cover the latest features of Photoshop Elements 2020, this second edition includes focused coverage of Adobe's new AI-powered features that are designed to make the editing process more efficient, creative and fun.

This book takes you through the complexities of image editing in easy-to-follow, bite-sized chunks, helping you to quickly recognize the editing challenge at hand and use suitable tools and techniques to overcome it. You’ll start by learning how to import, organize, manage, edit, and use your pictures in a format that’s designed for creative photography projects. Throughout this Adobe Photoshop Elements book, you'll discover how to fix different photographic problems using an extensive repertoire of commonly applied solutions. Common processes such as applying artistic effects to creative projects, custom image makeovers, processing images for social media, and other file export methods will also be covered.

By the end of this book, you’ll have learned about the impressive tools available in Photoshop Elements 2020, and how it is designed not only for photographers who’d like to dip their toes into the editing world, but also for those wanting simple but effective ideas on how to expand their creativity while remaining time-efficient.

Publication date:
April 2020


Chapter 1: Photoshop Elements Features Overview

Adobe Photoshop Elements is a pixel-based graphics photo-editing application that was first released in 2001. Its appearance followed on from an entry-level program called Photoshop LE, a light edition of Photoshop, which was a product made available mostly for students and teachers, and sometimes bundled with other hardware products at the point of sale. If you count its LE predecessor, Photoshop Elements 2020 is now in its twentieth version.

Initially, Photoshop Elements was released as a basic, entry-level tool for the consumer; mums and dads trying to get their collective heads around digital technology. But over the years, it has dramatically expanded its feature set, inheriting many significant professional-level tools from its more complex sibling, Adobe Photoshop.

So, how different is Elements from Photoshop? Interestingly, Adobe maintains that the principal difference between the two is that Elements is still essentially a screen-based, RGB (Red, Green and Blue) program, whereas Photoshop CC is designed to convert RGB files for work in the commercial CMYK print space—making it the go-to graphics application for all professionals working in print.

However, the market has changed significantly in the past 15 years, with so many more businesses trading online; therefore, the demand for print-ready conversions has reduced significantly. In my own experience, I have found that any good commercial print shop will gladly convert Elements' RGB files to its preferred CMYK color space, usually with only a nominal prepress charge, thus enabling everything produced out of Elements to be commercially printed to the highest degree of quality.

In this version, you'll find an astonishing range of sophisticated tools, features, and capabilities packed into a very affordable editing package, making it not only a serious professional tool but also one that is simpler to use than Photoshop CC.

As you will quickly come to appreciate, this software is, in fact, made up of two separate applications and a number of different modes designed to address different user experience levels, all rolled into one bundle called Elements. Although it has technically evolved from other products, such as Adobe Photoshop LE and Photoshop Album, it's now an incredibly powerful and cohesive standalone tool designed for transforming photographic images, while remaining both affordable and fairly easy to use.

What's important to understand is that it's not necessary to know everything about this application to succeed at producing beautiful results—you can use just one, or a combination, of its components to produce impressive edits, depending on your experience, creativity, and, indeed, your drive for editing perfection.

Because Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020 is made up of several quite different parts, treat this first chapter very much as a general overview. Once you better understand what each section offers, you'll find it significantly easier to navigate the various features, which, in turn, will enable you to produce great results more efficiently.

What you will see in this first section:

  • New features in Adobe Photoshop Elements 2020
  • Importing files and the Organizer
  • Storing your edit information in the Catalog
  • Editing modes, including the Quick Edit, Guided Edit, and Expert Edit modes
  • The Create and Share menus explained
  • Working with video and Premiere Elements
  • Working with Panels, the Panel Bin, and Panel functionality

What's new in Elements 2020?

Although recent updates in the last couple of versions have appeared to be little more than stability and reliance fixes, Adobe has pushed ahead by interlacing its artificial intelligence technology (AI) with a range of automated features—making complex and time-consuming processes easier, quicker, and more reliable.

I'd be the first to suggest that such technology would, at best, be fraught with errors, but this new version proves me wrong. Its new AI-driven automated features—notably, tools for Colorizing black and white images, Skin Smoothing and Object Removal, and Subject Selection—are remarkably effective and pretty much do what Adobe claims them to be capable of, that is, to colorize black and white images with a single click, select and remove objects automatically, smooth skin tones flatteringly, and instantly isolate your subjects from busy backgrounds without the usual time-consuming selection tool process:

And while the success of these new AI-driven features does rely, to an extent, on the content of the images in question, I find that even if the result is not entirely as expected, the effect created is invariably something very desirable.

As with most new features introduced in the 2020 version, if the AI-generated version does not turn out as you'd hoped, you can apply the effect manually with greater control—but that takes more experience. That said, in the example of this classic Hollywood image, I think the automated results (the three color versions to the left of the main image) are as good as the manually created, and more time-consuming, version seen on the right-hand side.

Users might also note that the application is now compatible with HEIF and HEVC (photo and video) files, further streamlining performance, especially when using files sourced from Apple iPhones.


The Home screen

What was referred to in Adobe Photoshop Elements 2018 as the eLive screen is now the Home screen. It's the first thing you see when Elements starts and, like its predecessor, is there to provide users with creative inspiration on how to edit images, embark on creative projects, and how to best use its many Auto Creations (circled in red). You can use it for learning how to accomplish basic editing tasks and for fun activities such as creating YouTube memes, automated slideshows, movies, and more, simply by clicking any of the pictorial links on the Home screen—which then take you to an online tutorial hosted by Adobe.

The screen displays a short (text) list of previously opened files, which is a nice feature, plus shortcuts to open the photo editor, the media browser (called the Organizer), and the video editor, plus links to Adobe, Facebook, and Twitter:

As you can see, this is the new Elements 2020 Home screen. You can use it as a source of creative inspiration, but also as the go-to screen to open previously edited files or to start one of the application links: Organizer, Photo Editor, or Video Editor.

It's important to note that if you've not bought Elements and Premiere Elements together as a bundle, clicking the third icon, Video Editor, will prompt you to download and 'try' Premiere Elements. Buying the bundle saves a fair chunk of money and makes sense because so many of us shoot video and stills.

If you are already using Premiere Elements 2020, you will notice several new features, including Smart Tags to help organization, simplified noise reduction, a sky replacement tool, and more. But those are topics for another book...

Photoshop Elements users will note that there are now more Auto Creations that appear on the lower left-hand side of the screen. These include the Pattern Brush, Black and White Selection, Depth of Field, and Painterly effects, as seen in the following screenshot. Not a massive enhancement on its own, but, as a source of inspiration, it's always interesting to see how your own images look incorporated into different creative styles that you might never have considered previously:

Because the Home page is linked to Adobe's servers, it also provides access to the Help menu, plus thousands of pages of inspiration covering a massive range of topics, from basic tone enhancement and scrapbooking to professional standard retouching techniques and more.


The Organizer

One drawback of digital photography is that we accumulate masses of digital images and other assets, such as audio tracks and video clips. Keeping track of everything on a monthly basis, let alone annually, becomes something of a nightmare, especially if you plan on upgrading your skillset from amateur status to professional.

Sorting everything into meaningful collections, therefore, is the main function of the Organizer. Once installed, you'll note that it runs as a separate application, albeit one with almost inseparable ties to the photo editing part of Elements, and indeed to its video-editing partner, Adobe Premiere Elements, which is often sold with Elements as a bundle:

Images and other digital assets are imported into the Organizer and sorted into a meaningful order using a range of clever tools such as albums, keywords, labels, place and people tags, star ratings, and metadata. Because all of these attributes can be applied to your images, its organizational and file search capabilities are extensive, making it one of the best asset management systems in the business.


Before you start, it's important to note that when Adobe states that you Import assets into the Organizer, what it actually does is create links to your files wherever they might be stored. Nothing is physically moved or copied into the Organizer; instead, it's just linked to wherever the files have been stored. This is a good thing in case you ever have to reinstall the program because of a computer malfunction or hardware issue, but it can be a bad thing if you habitually move or rename files using only the computer's finder system, and not through Elements itself. We will cover this in more detail later.

The Organizer is also the place we go to for quick fixes—Adobe calls these Instant Fixes—as well as a number of other creative activities, such as making collages, calendars, greeting cards, and slideshows. We also use the Organizer as a platform for uploading our creations to social media such as Facebook, Vimeo, Twitter, and YouTube.

The catalog

Occasionally, users will be reminded to back up the catalog. If you have simply downloaded and installed Elements and proceeded to get on with your image organization and editing, you might not even know what this catalog is. It's important! Let's take a look at the following screenshot:

The Catalog Manager provides the ability to monitor multiple catalogs. To start, I'd recommend just having one catalog. Having multiple catalogs is a good idea if you share Elements with your partner, your children, or perhaps your work colleagues.

Elements refers to your images using links—nothing is ever physically moved into the application. When files are imported, Elements makes links to where the images are usually kept (normally in the Pictures folder). This linking information, along with all the metadata, thumbnails, tags, attributes, and keywords—in fact, everything you do with the program, is saved to the catalog. While you can have multiple catalogs, you can only open one at a time. Your original high-resolution files are stored elsewhere (see Chapter 2, Setting Up Photoshop Elements from Scratch). Catalogs should be backed up periodically onto a disk or a hard drive that does not contain your images—it's usually considerably smaller than the hi-res images it lists, so it can be backed up to the cloud or even a small-capacity hard drive. We will cover this in more detail in Chapter 2, Setting Up Photoshop Elements from Scratch:

As you can see from the preceding illustration, 'importing' files is actually a process of 'linking' files—from their original location—to the Organizer window. If you delete, move, or rename any imported files, it will break the link and you won't be able to edit them. If this happens, Elements will immediately search for the missing file based on the name it imported with the metadata. If it locates the lost file, it automatically re-links it. If not, then this can be done manually.

Let's move on to learn about Elements' editing modes and what they offer.


The edit modes

Unlike many image-editing applications, Adobe presents its editing features in three different windows or edit modes that are separate from the Organizer window. If you are a complete novice, start with the Quick edit mode. If you know what you want but are not sure how to do it, try the comprehensive step-by-step Guided edit mode. And if you have some experience editing your work, you can also go fully manual using the Expert edit mode. Here's a brief overview of what you can expect from each mode:

Quick edit mode

As you can see, in the Quick edit mode, the image currently being edited can be displayed in a before, after, or, as seen in the preceding screenshot, before and after display mode. The right-hand side of the following screenshot displays some of the excellent effects available in this mode.

In fact, there are 55 to choose from (5 variants of 11 originals). I think this is a fantastic feature because it gives you instant results, most of which, I think, serve as great inspiration for the creative mind. You might not like all of them, but they at least are a terrific starting point...

The following screenshot is an enlarged view of the Quick mode toolbar on the left-hand side of the main edit screen:

During the edit process, you'll use the Organizer to search for and find images that are then opened in one or, depending on your creative requirements, several of the three edit modes. After editing, they are saved and appear updated back in the Organizer. The process of getting images from the Organizer to the editor is dealt with in detail in Chapter 3, The Basics of Image Editing.

As the name suggests, the Quick edit mode enables users to make simple but significant improvements to any picture file using adjustments specifically ordered, so as to produce the best editing workflow. These adjustments can include Smart Fix, Exposure, Lighting (contrast), Color, and finally, Sharpness.

To make the editing process more visual, both this and the Guided edit mode offer the user a handy before and after viewing window, making it easy to see what the original looked like alongside the new, edited version. All three edit modes are interchangeable. This means that you can easily transfer an image from Quick, to Guided, to Expert, and back again, should you need to.

This mode also features a range of tools that cover the most commonly used editing tasks. These tools include the following:

  • The Zoom tool—used for enlarging/reducing the size of images
  • The Hand tool—used for moving a greatly enlarged image around the screen
  • The Quick Selection tool—ideal for isolating parts of the image
  • The Eye tool—specializes in fixing red-eye and (green) pet-eye
  • The Whiten Teeth tool—click on teeth and this tool automatically selects and brightens teeth in one easy action
  • The Straighten tool—an easy way to level wonky horizons
  • The Type tool—specifically for adding text to an image
  • The Spot Healing and Healing Brush tools—both powerful and very effective tools used for retouching photos

And, curiously, at the bottom of the list (I think these two features really should be at the top of the toolbar) you'll find the following tools:

  • Crop—a ubiquitous tool for cutting bits off your image to recompose the frame
  • The Move tool—the ideal tool for moving extra elements such as text about the screen

The performance of each tool, throughout all of Elements' edit modes, can be modified using the Tool Options panel, which pops up from the bottom of the screen when clicked on. Additionally, note that each tool has different options. For many time-poor photographers, these features provide a good level of editing capability.


The Guided edit mode

As the name suggests, the Guided edit workspace is packed with step-by-step advice to guide you through a range of editing tasks; there are 47 to be exact. These are presented in a beautifully designed and easy-to-use format. All that's needed is for you to choose one of the effects and follow the steps—easy!

Topics include Basics, Color, Black & White, Fun Edits (highlighted overleaf), Special Edits, and Photomerge, which is a mini-application designed for stitching images together into widescreen panoramas, among other things:

The screenshot shows what the Guided edit screen looks like (with the Fun Edits tab selected). Note that while this screen is visually quite busy, its interactive design makes it quite clear what each of these effects looks like when applied to the samples pictured:

All that's needed is for you to swipe the cursor left or right to reveal the effect in a before/after style. This is a good, practical software design that, in my opinion at least, should be incorporated into many other software applications.

The Guided edit mode is a great source of creativity, more so perhaps than the current Home screen. For example, if you are a bit stuck with what direction to take your photo editing in, just open a picture in this mode and try some of the effects offered; most of them are bound to get your creative juices flowing nicely.

It's hard to illustrate the Guided edit mode because it's packed with so many great features, so where do you start? The screenshot of the suit-wearing man perfectly illustrates a feature new to Elements 2020 called the Pattern Brush.

There's been a Pattern Stamp tool in Photoshop CC for years and I always found it hard to use—and rarely will you ever see anyone else demonstrating its application, I suspect, because it's not very good. This new feature is completely different as it combines an automated subject selection algorithm to mask the important parts of the shot, in this case, the seated male model, while adding a range of patterns in the background. All you do is click and drag the mouse across the image to make it happen. It's fun, easy, and effective:

Another Guided Edit that's new to Elements 2020 is called Object Removal (under the Basic tab). Again, this renders a complex editing action involving selections and object cloning to a swish of the cursor. Brilliant! More on this feature in Chapter 6, Advanced Techniques – Layers and Masking.


The Expert edit mode

Having played with the Quick and Guided edit modes, you'll find this advanced editing workspace a little challenging, especially if you are a newcomer to photo editing.

The Expert edit mode essentially relies on the user having an editing plan. It's good to have a basic idea of what you'd like to achieve with the image open on the desktop, as well as having some degree of experience with the tools needed to complete the job. In many ways, this part of Elements resembles Adobe Photoshop quite closely—although I would add that it also contains a good range of very cool processes that you will not find in Photoshop. We will cover this in more detail in Chapter 5, Easy Creative Projects:

Don't let the name Expert put you off; its basic tools (which are dealt with in more depth in Chapter 3, The Basics of Image Editing) are easily mastered and provide any photographer or designer with a raft of powerful creative options.

Essentially, the tools and features offered in this part of Elements' workspace are far more customizable than those in the Quick and Guided edit modes.

For example, if you are trying to change the color in part of an image, but find the semi-automatic Quick Selection tool in Quick edit to be clunky and hard to control, the Expert edit mode offers not 1, but 11 different selection tools (including the new Select>Subject feature), all of which are interchangeable with one another, and all of which can be fine-tuned using a range of sophisticated modification features.

This all takes time and experience but, once you have played with some of the tools in the first two modes, moving into the Expert domain will be significantly easier:

As with all the edit modes, the main window displays a Photo Bin (highlighted in pink), where currently, open image files are stashed before being moved into the main edit space. There are also Rotate buttons, Undo and Redo buttons, and a Tool Options panel, which allows you to fine-tune the performance of every tool in the program—a very handy panel to familiarize yourself with because it allows you to finely control the efficacy of each tool.

Once your images have been edited to perfection, you'll need to either incorporate them into a project, such as a slide show or photo book, export them to a printer, or upload them to your favorite social media site. This is where the Create and Share menus come in very handy. Let's take a look at what these menus offer.


Don't worry about the Mac or Windows dilemma either. After many years of producing two quite different versions of this excellent software, Adobe has finally settled its differences with Apple (over iPhoto). Now, the only difference between Elements running on the two operating systems comes down to the Command and Control keys, making life for those of us switching between Mac and Windows a breeze.


The Create and Share menus

When digital photography became mainstream 20 years ago, there were precious few things you could do with your images other than look at them on low-resolution screens—digital printing was in its infancy, as were reliable computers, the internet, and editing software.

It took programs such as Photoshop Elements to introduce us to the concept of doing something more than just looking at images on screen. It began with a few creative projects and is now driving a wide range of activities, ranging from book printing to slideshows, scrapbooking, and stationery:

Creative projects are an excellent way to perform relatively complex actions with ease. In the preceding screenshot, all I had to do was find eight images, open them, and choose Create | Photo Collage. The application automatically arranges the files according to the layout chosen in the right-hand panel and it's done. A time-consuming process performed automatically in less than a minute—genius!

Running through both the Organizer and all three edit modes, you'll spot the highly useful Create and Share menus. The Organizer is used as a media browser for still images, music files, and video clips, so it's designed to work with both Elements and its consumer video editing sibling, Premiere Elements. In it, you'll find a few additional features offered, in both the Create and Share menus, notably for producing video projects and uploading them to video-centric sites such as YouTube and Vimeo.

Otherwise, these two drop-down menus are identical, enabling users, after the editing is done, to incorporate them into one of the many creative projects offered, and then to share them immediately, directly out of Elements, with a range of social media platforms or local destinations such as the desktop.

Some of its original projects provide the user with great creative options; for example, anything from making a slideshow, photo collage, photo book, greeting card, or calendar, to producing your own instant movie, DVD labels, and photo prints. As indicated, its Share menu just provides you with the easy option of uploading your newly crafted work directly to Facebook, Twitter, email, Vimeo, YouTube, or the desktop.

It's possible to buy Photoshop Elements as a standalone photo editor but, as is often the case, it's also sold bundled with its moving-picture sibling, Adobe Premiere Elements, simply because the line between still images and video has become increasingly blurred (no pun intended). Let's take a brief look at what this video-editing powerhouse has to offer the budding filmmaker.


Working with video and Premiere Elements

Adobe Premiere Elements targets the consumer video-editing market and, increasingly so, these two applications are often sold as a bundle, which incidentally should save you 25% or more compared to buying the two applications separately.

We can use the Organizer to catalog still images, as well as HD video clips, GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format files used to record short animations), audio tracks, and music, together or separately, depending on the work planned. Once organized, files can then be opened in either application—Elements or Premiere Elements—depending on how they are to be used. I edit quite a lot of video, so I find this close relationship incredibly convenient, especially where I might need to use still images in a video project, or video clips in a still image story that's, for example, to be exported to Facebook or Vimeo.

To the novice, Premiere Elements might seem unduly complex. Being a video editing application, it does deal with images and time in a single process, but this application is very much like the photo editor: you can skim through it using the automated video tools, or explore its many professional standard editing features to produce a movie of outstanding quality.

The relationship between Premiere Elements and Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe's industry-standard editing suite, is similar to that of Elements and Photoshop CC. It began as a dumbed-down version of the high-end commercial product, but it is now one of the best video editors on the market. Additionally, like Elements, Premiere employs some incredibly powerful features that include image stabilization; an amazing instant movie feature; a wide range of professional effect looks (a look is a prerecorded editing recipe designed to add a specific color, tone, or emotion to a video clip—they are great time-savers); sophisticated brightness, contrast, color, and sharpness tools; and an export function that allows you to easily upload any completed video project to social media effortlessly.

If you are considering moving into video production, this is a very capable and professional tool with a great range of guided and automated functions that makes the often tedious job of editing video clips a breeze. Note that Premiere Elements 2020 now handles HEIF and HEVC files (PC and Mac), while updating its noise reduction capabilities and speeding up file organization using Adobe Sensei technology and a feature called Smart Tags.

Over the years and versions, Photoshop Elements has grown to contain a staggering number of effects, automated processes, editing tools, and presets. So many, in fact, that storing them in a tidy manner, while presenting them for easy access, has become something of a challenge. To this end, Adobe employs a feature called panels to catalog these features while keeping them relatively accessible in a tabbed format. The following is an overview of how this works.


Working with panels and the Panel Bin

You'll find the most important panels in the Panel Bin, located on the right-hand side of the main screen in the Quick and Expert edit modes. While they might not be the most glamorous part of this editing application, panels still play an important part in your day-to-day workflow:

In the preceding screenshot, I have highlighted the Styles panel where, with an image open in the main window, a specific pre-recorded recipe can be applied—this could be anything from a color tweak to contrast, brightness, and sharpness adjustments. Even special effects can be applied to a file with a click of the mouse.

Principal panels in the Quick edit mode are the Adjustments panel (Chapter 3, The Basics of Image Editing), Effects, Textures, and Frames (Chapter 5, Easy Creative Projects). Naturally, the Expert mode has a wider selection of panels that include Layers, Effects, Filters, Styles, and Graphics (Chapter 6, Advanced Techniques – Layers and Masking).

There are eight more panels to be found, either by clicking on the More button or by using the Window drop-down menu at the top of the page. Most panels also have their own drop-down menus to help organize the staggering array of features each one holds and, most importantly, to help you find the stuff you really need:

In the preceding screenshot, most of the panels have been dragged out from the right-hand Bin and attached side by side to demonstrate how customizable panels can be. Because there are so many panels in this arrangement, this format wouldn't be practical unless you either had a large computer monitor or were using two monitors. Panels can also be made smaller and made to float freely over the workspace.


Although the panels live in the Panel Bin, you can drag them out of the bin and over the work area by clicking, holding, and dragging the appropriate name tab.

What do these panels do?

There are many panels in Photoshop Elements, with each providing essential help with the editing process. Some just refer to the Quick edit mode (such as Adjustments), while some only appear in the Expert mode (such as the Info panel). Here's an overview of what each panel offers:

  • Adjustments: This provides sliders to adjust the Exposure, Lighting (contrast), Color, Balance, and Sharpness.
  • Effects: This provides the user with a great range of looks, automated colors, and special effects; in essence, these are recipes that can be applied to an image with a single click.
  • Textures: Elements comes with a wide range of creative assets—such as surface textures that, once clicked, apply to the opened image as a textured overlay. These are good for backgrounds, web pages, and more.
  • Frames: This is used for graphic artwork. You can click on a frame thumbnail in the panel and, if never used before, it downloads it from, and then automatically resizes and applies itself to the image. Clever stuff!
  • Layers: This is probably the most important panel for advanced projects where text, multiple images, or other assets are added to different layers in the document, thus maintaining editability throughout the production process.
  • Filter: The small filter thumbnails try to illustrate the effect of each FX filter. You can click on the thumbnail to apply the effect. You can also use the associated slider to vary the intensity of each effect. There are 98 different filters and billions of possible combinations.
  • Styles: Like filters, Styles are one-click presets that are used to change the image—mostly by adding an effect to the entire layer. Where Filters and Effects presets are applied to the surface of the image to give it a different look, Styles are used to add more esoteric features such as drop shadows, bevels, glows, patterns, and glass button effects. Though there's a small photographic subset in Styles, most are used for the purposes of design rather than to improve the image. This panel holds some 176 different styles.
  • Graphics: This panel contains a lot of (downloadable) clip art, text effects, scalable vector shapes, and a bucketload of picture frame styles—all of which can be applied to an image by simply clicking on the thumbnail. Because there are so many items in this panel, you can filter or sort them, according to Type, Activity, Mood, Event, Object, Season, and more. As there are well over 1,000 assets listed that can be used, most will have to be downloaded from Adobe first before they are ready to use:

I consider the Layer panel to be one of the most useful simply because the Layers feature enables you to combine text, selections, and multiple images and mask them all in the same (multi-layered) file. Aside from being able to combine multiple assets in a single file, each individual layer remains independently editable. In the preceding screenshot, you can see that the image has its original photo layer (the cat), plus two non-destructive Adjustment Layers, which are used to change the tone in the image without compromising the quality.

Other panels

Once you get started with the editing process, you'll notice even more panels lurking in the back of the Panel Bin. While still very useful, these particular panels provide slightly more esoteric assistance to the editing process and should probably be left until you have developed a reasonable skill level. These panels include the following:

  • Actions: Essentially, this is a watered-down preset feature that's been copied over from Photoshop. The supplied Actions can be replayed on images to achieve goals such as adding a photo border, resizing, and cropping. An Action is just a small file of instructions—you can find more Actions online, download them, and import them into Elements to boost the paltry range supplied by default.
  • Color Swatches: These are used to choose colors for a range of features, from type to pencil, to paintbrush to background colors. The panel allows you to make your own custom Swatch for specific projects.
  • Histogram: This displays the range of tones present in any image and, more accurately, where in the brightness range those tones sit (such as mid-tone, highlights, whites, blacks, underexposed, and overexposed).
  • History: This is a useful panel that displays your editing steps—from opening the image to saving the new work. By clicking on one of the steps displayed in the panel, you can go back in time to a previous state, mouse click by mouse click. This is handy if you decide that you have edited the image a bit too much; just click back a few steps to a previous version.
  • Favorites: This is a big time-saver; you can keep your frequently used Styles and Graphics in one place by dragging the relevant thumbnail into the Favorites panel.

Here's what a floating panel might look like:

This is convenient because it provides a wider view of the main image while the panel can be manually shifted to "float" over the least important part of the image being edited:

  • Navigator: This is another unsung hero of this program. The Navigator panel displays the image you have open in the main window. This is especially useful when the main window display is enlarged so that it is bigger than the screen, because it's then hard to know which part of the image you are seeing.
  • Info: This is a useful panel that displays the RGB brightness values in any part of the image that you mouse over. The readout works regardless of the tool currently being used. It can be set to display RGB values (0-255); web color; grayscale; Hue, Saturation, Brightness (HSB); and measurement dimensions. It is a handy helper if your computer monitor is not calibrated correctly.


    If you accidentally close a panel by clicking on the x icon at the top-right of the panel on Windows, or the top-left of the panel on a Mac, it's simple enough to reinstate that same panel from the Window drop-down menu.

    Important note

    Custom workspace? One of the big differences between Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop Elements is in the former's ability to save various processes that you might be working on as a custom preset so that they can be reused at another time. This is especially useful in the matter of a workspace configuration (essentially, a workspace is a record of where all the panels and tools are placed while working in the main window). In Photoshop, you can open the panels you prefer to use and close the ones you don't, and then save that configuration as a personal "workspace." If the desktop gets messy and you accidentally close a few of your favorite panels, that original workspace can be reloaded from the Window menu, and everything returns to the way it was before you messed it up. However, it's a curious thing—though you can create a custom workspace in Elements, there's no function to save it for use at a later time. In the Expert edit mode, point your cursor to the More tab at the bottom right-hand side of the main window (to the right of the Graphics panel) and click on the tiny arrowed symbol to the right of the rectangular More tab. This produces a drop-down menu displaying the panels that are not currently docked in the Panel Bin. Choose the Custom Workspace option, and then go ahead and close the panels you don't use and open and reposition the panels you need to see all the time. They can either float over the main window (which can be annoying unless you have a big screen), or drag the new panel to the top of the Panel Bin and you'll see it highlighted in blue as it docks, or plugs, into the existing set of tabs. You can arrange them to be stacked, tabbed, or to sit side by side. However, if you close and restart the program, all your panels will default back to their original layout.

Using the new Subject Selection feature, you can now make accurate and quite complex selections, like the one above, with nothing more than the click of a mouse, thanks mostly to Adobe's artificial intelligence. This analyzes the image and automatically finds the subject and selects it. This technology is all way above my pay grade but, after some testing on images that have fairly strong, bold subjects, I can say that it really works! For more information on this impressive new feature, refer to Chapter 6, Advanced Techniques – Layers and Masking.



In this chapter, we have learned about the different parts that make up the Photoshop Elements image-editing application. We now understand that this package not only offers a comprehensive suite of powerful editing tools, but its Organizer, running as a separate application to the editing program, can be used to catalog all our assets in one place: as stills, music, clips, and HD videos.

Then, depending on the level of editing required and your user experience, it's relatively simple to achieve quite complex edits using any of the semi-automated processes seen in the Quick mode. That said, we now know that it's also possible to take far greater control by exploring the Expert edit mode in greater depth.

The next chapter highlights the best way to set up a powerful editing computer, how to import images into the Organizer, how to work with catalog backups, and how to get your media into a cohesive order using albums, tags, metadata, keywords, and the powerful search facility.

About the Author

  • Robin Nichols

    Born in the UK, Robin Nichols has always had a great love for recording the world with a camera. After finishing school, he studied fine art, before moving to Nottingham Trent University where he attained a degree in creative photography. He subsequently worked in the advertising industry in London for several years, before emigrating to Australia in 1985. Having worked in a range of photographic oriented jobs, he wrote for several local and international photo magazines before starting his own publishing company. He now teaches all aspects of image making at Sydney University, and conducts local and international workshops.

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