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Photoshop Elements 3: The Missing Manual by Barbara Brundage

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All of a sudden, everyone in the world seems to be getting a digital camera. And no wonder. When you go digital, you get instant gratification—you can preview your photos as soon as you take them, and there’s no more wondering how many duds you’re going to get back from the photo store.

You save a bundle on printing, too, since you can pick and choose which photos to print. Or maybe you’re thinking that printing’s pretty 20th century. Maybe you want to post your photos on a Web site, email them to friends, or create a really cool slideshow with fancy transitions and music.

If the digital camera bug has bitten you, you’re probably aware of something else: the image-editing and picture-organizing software that comes with most cameras can be pretty limited when it’s time to spruce up your digital photos. Even if you’re scanning in old prints and slides, you’ll want a program that’ll help you rejuvenate these gems and eliminate the wear and tear of all those years.

Enter Photoshop Elements 3: an all-in-one program that can help you improve your photos, keep them organized, and make top-notch prints and truly nifty creative projects.

Why Photoshop Elements?

Adobe’s Photoshop is the granddaddy of all image-editing programs. It’s the Big Cheese, the industry standard against which everything else is measured. Every photo you’ve seen in a book or magazine in the past 10 years or so has almost certainly passed through Photoshop on its way to being printed. You just can’t buy anything that gives you more control over your pictures than Photoshop does.

But Photoshop has some big drawbacks—it’s darned hard to learn well, it’s horribly expensive, and many of the features in it are just plain overkill if you don’t plan to work on pictures for a living.

For several years, Adobe tried to find a way to cram all of Photoshop’s marvelous powers into a package that normal people could use. Finding the right formula was a slow process. First there was PhotoDeluxe, a program that was lots of fun but came up short when you wanted to finetune how the program worked. Then Adobe tried again with Photoshop LE, which many people felt just gave you all the difficulty of full Photoshop but still too little of what you needed to do top-notch work.

Finally—sort of like the “The Three Bears”—Adobe got it just right with Photoshop Elements, which took off like crazy, because it offers so much of the power of Photoshop in a program that almost anyone can learn to use. With Elements, you too can work with the same wonderful tools that the pros use.

With the first two versions of Elements, there was something of a learning curve. It was a super program but not one where you could just sit down and expect to get perfect results right off the bat.

In this new version, Photoshop Elements 3, Adobe has added lots of push-button—easy ways to correct and improve your photos without taking away any of the features in the earlier versions. If you’ve been scared of Elements because of what you’ve heard about how tricky it is, you can stop worrying and jump right in.

What You Can Do with Elements 3

Besides making Photoshop Elements 3 easier for beginners, Adobe has greatly expanded what the program can do. The Windows version of Elements 3 now includes all the organizing capabilities of another Adobe program called Photoshop Album (Adobe figured that anyone owning a Mac is probably using iPhoto to store their photos). Elements also comes with lots of new ways to share your photos. The list of what Elements can do is pretty impressive. You can:

  • Enhance your photos by editing, cropping, and color correcting them, including fixing exposure and color problems

  • Add all kinds of special effects to your photos, like turning a garden-variety photo into a drawing, a painting, or even a tile mosaic

  • Combine photos into a panorama or a montage

  • Move someone from one photo to another, and even remove people (your ex?) from last year’s holiday photos

  • Repair and restore old and damaged photos

  • Organize your photos and assign keywords to them so you can search by subject or name

  • Add type to your images and turn them into things like greeting cards and flyers

  • Create slideshows to share with your friends, regardless of whether they use Windows, Mac, or even a Palm or Pocket PC device

  • Automatically resize photos so that they’re ready for email. If you’re using Windows, Elements lets you send your photos inside specially designed emails

  • Create digital artwork from scratch, even without a photo to work from

  • Create and share professional-looking Web photo galleries and email-ready slideshows that will make your friends actually ask to see the pictures from your latest trip

  • Create and edit graphics for Web sites, including making animated GIFs (pictures that move animation-style)

It’s worth noting, though, that there are still a few things Elements can’t do. While Elements 3 is much better at handling text than previous versions, it’s still not really a substitute for PageMaker or any other desktop publishing program. And Elements can do an amazing job of fixing problems in your photos, but only if you give it something to work with. If your photo is totally overexposed, blurry, and the tops of everyone’s heads are cut off, there may be a limit to what even Elements can do to help you out. (C’mon, be fair.) As a matter of fact, though, you’re more likely to be surprised by how much Elements can fix than by what it can’t.

What’s New in Elements 3

This book is about Photoshop Elements 3. If you have an earlier version of Elements, you’ll find a fair number of similarities. But the program’s been given a pretty thorough overhaul, especially the Quick Fix feature, which gathers the basic editing tools into one window and lets you easily apply, well, quick fixes. Quick fix has several remarkable new tools—including the one-button Auto Smart Fix and the Shadows/Highlights tool for fixing areas of your photo that are too dark or too light—and finally a usably large preview window so you don’t have to squint to see the potential results of your changes. Finally, the Windows version of Elements 3 is very different from previous versions. (See the next section, “The Big Difference.”)

Some of the main changes in Elements 3 are:

  • The dramatically redesigned Quick Fix window. Not only do you get more space to preview your changes, but the newly added tools really make what you’re seeing worth looking at. In fact, you may find that the Quick Fix window becomes your main Elements workspace (Chapter 4).

  • The Red-Eye tool has been redesigned. No more hours of trying to figure out why vampire-red eyes just turned werewolf gray. Now you can get great results with just one click (Chapter 4).

  • You can scan as many photos as will fit onto your scanner, and Elements will automatically cut them apart, trim them, and straighten them up for you (Chapter 3).

  • Help has been beefed up, too. There’s help all over the place, even in the tooltips text, the little floating windows that pop up when your mouse hovers over an object on your screen.

  • There are some useful new tools in Elements 3. The much sought-after Healing brush has been brought over from Photoshop, and it’s even easier to use in Elements. Now you can just brush away blemishes (Chapter 9). The Shadow/High-light tool, which helps correct exposure errors, also made it over from Photoshop (Chapter 4), as has the filter gallery (Chapter 11), which lets you change the order in which filters are applied. The new Color Replacement brush (Chapter 9) is also a great timesaver. And Elements has its own new Cookie Cutter tool, which makes it a snap to crop photos so they fit into shapes like stars or hearts (Chapter 11).

  • Lots of high-end photographer’s tools from Photoshop have made it into this version of Elements. Photographers who shoot in RAW format will be thrilled to have a version of the Photoshop plug-in for opening and correcting photos right in Elements without using another program. Noise Reduction helps combat the graininess that is the bane of the newer high-megapixel digital cameras, and photo filters, which work just like the filters you used to attach to your film camera for correcting light or for special effects, are now part of Elements (Chapter 8).

  • The batch-processing feature has lots more options. Now you can process groups of photos not only when converting file types, but also to apply basic retouching, add captions, and insert copyright notices (Chapter 8).

  • Text handling has been beefed up, too. For the first time, you can enter more than one line of text without spending hours getting the lines equally spaced (Chapter 12).

  • For the technically inclined, Elements now lets you work in 16-bit color depth. You’re still pretty limited in the kinds of edits you can make using this extra color information, but at least you can make your most important corrections and save your photos in 16-bit so that you’ll have access to the extra detail in the future.

  • Photoshop Elements 3 is based on Photoshop CS (the latest version of Photoshop), while Elements 2 is based on Photoshop 7 (Elements 1 is based on Photoshop 6). The tools in each version of Elements have the same general abilities and limitations as their big brother equivalents. This is important because it means you can use plug-ins and brushes designed to work with CS that haven’t been compatible with earlier versions of Elements.

  • No going back now—the Windows version requires at least Windows 2000 with Service Pack 4, or Windows XP with Service Pack 1. For those using Macs: Elements 3 only works with Mac OS X 10.2.8 or higher (Adobe actually recommends 10.3 for best performance). If you have older versions of either operating system, you’ll have to stick with Elements 2 or go for a system upgrade.

A quick way to tell which version of Elements you’ve got is to look for the version number on the CD. If the program is already installed, see page 1 for help figuring out which version you have.

Incidentally, all three versions are totally separate programs, so you can run all of them on the same computer if you like, as long your operating system is compatible. So if you prefer the older version of a particular tool, or if you are a Mac veteran who has plug-ins that work only in Classic, you can still use them. If you’ve been using Elements 2 or Elements 1, you’ll still feel right at home in Elements 3. You’ll just have some terrific new toys to play with.


If you have a Mac, you can run multiple versions of Elements simultaneously if you want, but you’ll probably find you need to start the older versions before you launch Elements 3.

For Windows, running multiple versions of Elements works for some people but not for others, and Adobe doesn’t recommend trying to run more than one version at the same time.

The Big Difference

There’s one enormous difference between Elements 3 and earlier versions (and for that matter, between Elements and the vast majority of other Adobe products).

Adobe has abandoned its long-standing policy of making the Macintosh and Windows versions as much alike as possible. There are some big differences in what you get with Elements 3 depending on which platform you’re on.

This book covers both the Windows and Mac versions. You’ll see a lot of separate sections in the first three chapters and in Chapters 14, 15 and 16, because getting photos into Elements and sending them out again, to share with other people, have some major platform differences. But the heart of the book—how to use Elements to fix, create, or improve your images—is still exactly the same regardless of whether you’re on a Mac or a PC. Here’s a quick look at the key differences.


Adobe has merged Photoshop Album, its photo-organizing software, into the Windows version of Elements and is now calling it the Organizer. You’ll use the Organizer to store your photos, assign keywords (called tags) to search for them, and set up many different ways of viewing your files.

The best part of the Organizer is the Create feature, where you can quickly make slideshows, cards, album pages, VCDs (video CDs), and lots of other fun projects. You’ll also use the Organizer to access an online ordering service (at Ofoto.com) for prints and books.

If you currently use Photoshop Album or you’ve wanted to try it, you’ll be in heaven with Elements 3. On the other hand, if you’re not an Album fan, or you’re content with your own organizing system, you can ignore a fair amount of the Organizer’s features. But whether you like it or not, you will get dumped back into the Organizer for certain tasks, like printing a contact sheet or creating a Web Gallery.


So, Mac folks, should you be snarling with disappointment and feeling defrauded that you don’t get the Organizer? Yes, no, and maybe.

For starters, you have total freedom of choice about how organized you want to be. iPhoto integrates well with Elements, or you can use any other organizing program, or none at all if you prefer.

Also, the Mac version of Elements 3 is closer to Photoshop CS than its Windows counterpart. For instance, while you don’t get Organizer, you do get all the functionality of the wonderful Photoshop File Browser, which lets you assign and manage keywords right in the File Browser itself without going to another window to do it. Windows folks don’t get all the File Browser functions because they’ve got Organizer for things like assigning keywords.

Elements on the Mac also offers the Photoshop versions of the Web Gallery (for creating Web pages to display your photos) and the Picture Package (for printing multiple photos at once).

Really, about all you’re missing is the handy Date view option in the Organizer, the built-in online print ordering, the easy CD backup feature, and the projects in Create. These are a loss. There are some very fun things you can do with Create, although many of them have some sort of iPhoto equivalent, so it’s actually just the convenience of doing it all in one window that you lose.

Two other things lacking on the Mac side are the ability to burn a VCD within Elements, and some fonts that are included for the Create projects. You’ll still need a program like Toast to burn a VCD, but really that’s an iffish format on either plat-form, so it’s not a great loss.

If you use a Mac, you’ll also probably be a little annoyed by some features of the interface, which is decidedly Windows-y, even in the Mac version. For example, you’ll have to get used to Windows “X” buttons to close some windows.

The Mac folks who’ll be most unhappy are those who’ve been yearning for Photoshop Album for the Mac platform. If you’re one of them, you might want to consider that File Browser keywords do pretty nearly everything Organizer does (although you still will need to jump through a few more hoops to back your photos up). If you need a really heavy-duty image organizing system, Organizer is probably not it anymore than iPhoto. On either platform, you may still prefer a third-party solution, like JAlbum or iView Media. It depends on how elaborate your requirements are.

For actual photo editing, there is still no real difference between the two platforms. The differences are at both ends of the process—how you get your photos into Elements and keep them organized, and how you send them out to share when you’re done. The real work areas are still the same for both Mac and Windows, and equally competent for both.

Overall, the Mac version is still a pretty nice update from Elements 2, and it’s cheaper than the Windows version, too. If you still aren’t satisfied, of course, you can always let Adobe know how you feel.

Elements Versus Photoshop

It’s very easy to get confused about the differences between Elements and the full version of Adobe Photoshop. Because Elements is so much less expensive, and because many of the program’s more advanced controls are tucked away, a lot of Photoshop aficionados tend to view Elements as some kind of toy version of their program.

They could not be more wrong. Elements is Photoshop, but it’s Photoshop adapted for use with your home computer printer and for the Web. The most important difference between Elements and Photoshop is that Elements does not let you work or save in CMYK mode, which is the format used for commercial color printing. (CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK).

Elements also lacks several tools that are basic staples in any commercial art department, like Actions or scripting (to help automate repetitive tasks), the extra color control you can get from Curves, and the Pen tool’s special talent for creating vector paths. (Chapter 17 will show you lots of ways to add some of these features to Elements). Also, for some special effects, like creating drop shadows or bevels, the tool you’d use—Layer Styles—doesn’t have as many settings in Elements as it does in Photoshop. The same holds true for a handful of other Elements tools.

And although Elements is all most people will need to create graphics for the Web, it doesn’t come with the ImageReady component of Photoshop, which lets you do things like automatically slice images for faster Web display. If you use Elements, you’ll have to do those tasks manually or look for another program to help out.

The Key to Learning Elements

Elements may not be quite as powerful as Photoshop, but it’s still a complex program, filled with more features than most people will ever end up using. The good news is that the Quick Fix window lets you get started right away, even if you don’t understand every last option that Quick Fix presents you with.

As for the program’s more complex features, the key to learning how to use Elements—or any other program, for that matter—is to focus only on what you need to know for the task you’re currently trying to accomplish.

For example, if you’re trying to use Quick Fix to adjust the color of your photo and crop it, don’t worry that you don’t get the concept of “layers” yet. You won’t learn to do everything in Elements in a day or even a week. The rest will wait for you till you need it. So take your time, and don’t worry about what’s not important to you right now. You’ll find it much easier to master Elements if you go slowly and concentrate on one thing at a time.

If you’re totally new to the program, you’ll find only three or four big concepts in this book that you really have to understand if you want to get the most out of Elements. It may take a little time for some concepts to sink in—resolution and layers, for instance, aren’t the most intuitive concepts in the world—but once they click, they’ll seem so obvious that you’ll wonder why things seemed confusing at first. That’s perfectly normal, so persevere. You can do this, and there’s nothing in this book that you won’t be able to understand with a little bit of careful reading.

The very best way to learn Elements is just to dive right in and play with it. Try all the different filters to see what they do. Add a filter on top of another filter. Click around on all the different tools and try them. You don’t even need to have a photo to do this. See page 27 for how to make an image from scratch in Elements. Get crazy—you can stack up as many filters, effects, and layer styles as you want without crashing the program.

About This Book

Elements is such a cool program and so much fun to use, but figuring out how to make it do what you want is another matter. Amazingly, there’s not even a complete manual included with Elements 3. All you get is the brief “Getting Started” guide. The Elements Help files are very good, but of course you need to know what you’re looking for to use them to your best advantage.

You’ll find a slew of Elements titles at your local bookstore, but most of them assume that you know quite a bit about the basics of photography and/or digital imaging. It’s much easier to find good intermediate books about Elements than books designed to get you going with the program.

Which is where the Missing Manual comes in. This book is intended to make learning Elements easier by avoiding technical jargon as much as possible, and explaining why and when you’ll want to use (or avoid) certain features in the program. That approach is as useful to people who are advanced photographers as it is to those who are just getting started with their first digital camera.

You’ll also find tutorials throughout the book that refer to files you can download from the Missing Manual Web site (www.missingmanuals.com) so you can practice the techniques you’re reading about. And throughout the book, you’ll find several different kinds of sidebar articles. The ones labeled “Up to Speed” help newcomers to Elements do things or explain concepts that veterans are probably already familiar with. “Power Users’ Clinics” cover more advanced topics that won’t be of much interest to casual photographers.

About the Outline

This book is divided into six different sections, each of which focuses on a certain kind of task you might want to do in Elements.

Introduction to Elements

The first section of this book helps you get started with Elements. Chapter 1 shows you how to navigate Elements’ slightly confusing layout and mishmash of programs within programs. You learn how to decide which window to start from, as well as how to set up Elements so it best suits your own personal working style. You’ll also learn about some important basic keyboard shortcuts and where to look for help when you get stuck. Chapter 2 covers how to get photos into Elements, the basics of organizing them, and how to open files and create new images from scratch. Chapter 3 looks at how to save and back up your images, and explains the concept of resolution.

Elemental Elements

Chapter 4 tells you how to use the Quick Fix window to dramatically improve your photos. Chapters 5 and 6 cover two key concepts—making selections and layers— that you’ll use throughout the book.


Having Elements is like having a darkroom on your computer. In Chapter 7, you’ll learn how to make basic corrections, such as exposure, color adjustments, sharpening, and removing dust and scratches. Then in Chapter 9 you’ll move on to some more sophisticated fixes, like changing the light, using the clone stamp to make repairs, making your photos more lively with hue/saturation, and changing the colors in an image. Chapter 8 covers topics unique to digital camera users, like RAW conversion and batch processing your photos.

Artistic Elements

This section covers the fun stuff—painting on your photos and drawing shapes (Chapter 11), using filters and effects to create a more artistic look (Chapter 12), and adding type to your images (Chapter 13).

Sharing Your Images

Once you’ve created a great image in Elements, you’ll want to share it, so this section is about how to get the most out of your printer (Chapter 14), how to create images for the Web and email (Chapter 15), how to make slideshows and Web Galleries with your photos (Chapter 16), and for Windows owners, all the fun projects in Create.

Additional Elements

There are literally hundreds of plug-ins and additional tools you can get to customize your copy of Elements and increase its abilities, and the Internet and your local bookstore are chock full of additional information. Chapter 17 offers a look at some of these, as well as information about using a graphics tablet in Elements and some resources for after you’ve finished this book.

The Very Basics

This book assumes that you know how to perform basic activities on your computer like clicking and double-clicking your mouse and dragging objects on-screen. Here’s a quick refresher: to click means to move the point of your mouse or trackpad cursor over an object on your screen and press the mouse or trackpad button once. To double-click means to press the button twice, quickly, without moving the mouse between clicks. To drag means to click on an object and use the mouse to move it, while holding down the button so you don’t let go of it. If you’re comfortable with basic concepts like these, you’re ready to get started with this book.

Windows and Mac Commands

Throughout this book, commands are given with their Windows version first, followed by the Mac equivalent. So if you see “Press Ctrl+S (⌘+S) to save your file,” that means, if you’re using Windows, press the Control key and the S key, while on a Mac you’d use the Command key and the S key. You’ll read about the differences between the two operating systems wherever they’re relevant.

Also, this book assumes you’re using Windows XP or Mac OS X 10.3, and that’s what you’ll see in the screenshots in the illustrations. There are only a few differences if you’re using an older version of either operating system, and you should be able to figure them out pretty easily.

About → These → Arrows

Throughout Photoshop Elements 3: The Missing Manual (and in any Missing Manual for that matter) you’ll see arrows that look like this: “Go to Applications → Adobe Photoshop Elements → Plug-Ins → Import/Export.”

This is a shorthand way of helping you find files, folders, and menu choices without having to read through excruciatingly long, bureaucratic-style instructions. So, for example, the sentence in the previous paragraph is a short way of saying: “Double-click your Applications folder to open it, then navigate to the folder labeled ‘Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.’ Open that folder and then look for another folder called ‘Plug-Ins,’ where you’ll find the folder called ‘Import/Export.’” The arrows work the same way for menus, too, as shown in Figure 0-1.

In a Missing Manual, when you see “Select Image → Rotate → Free Rotate Layer,” that’s a quicker way of saying “Go to the menu bar and click Image, then slide down to Rotate, and choose Free Rotate Layer from the pop-out menu.
Figure 1. In a Missing Manual, when you see “Select Image → Rotate → Free Rotate Layer,” that’s a quicker way of saying “Go to the menu bar and click Image, then slide down to Rotate, and choose Free Rotate Layer from the pop-out menu.

About MissingManuals.com

If you head on over to the Missing Manual Web site (www.missingmanuals.com) you can find links to downloadable images for the tutorials mentioned in this book, if you want to practice without using your own photos. (Or maybe you never take pictures that need correcting?)

A word about the image files for the tutorials: to make life easier for folks with dial-up Internet connections, the file sizes have been kept pretty small. This means you probably won’t want to print the results of what you create (since you’ll end up with a print about the size of a match book). But that doesn’t really matter since the files are really meant for onscreen use.

At the Web site, you can also find articles, tips, and updates to the book. If you click the Errata link, you’ll see any corrections to the book’s content, too. If you find something, feel free to report it by using this link. Each time the book is printed, we’ll update it with any confirmed corrections. If you want to be certain that your own copy is up to the minute, this is where to check for any changes. And thanks for reporting any errors or corrections.

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