Photoshop Elements lets you do practically anything you want to your digital images. You can colorize black-and-white photos, remove demonic red-eye stares, or distort the facial features of people who have been mean to you. The downside is that finding your way around the program became harder in Elements 3 than it was in the first two versions of Elements. Luckily, Elements 4 has smoothed things out a little bit.
This chapter helps get you oriented in Elements. You’ll learn about what to expect when you start up the program and how to use Elements to fix your photos with just a couple of keystrokes.
Along the way, you’ll find out about some of Elements’ basic controls and how to get hold of the program’s Help files if you need them. Elements is absolutely crammed with help at every turn. Adobe did their best to make it as easy for you as possible.
On the Elements installation disc, Adobe gives you a 15-minute video introduction to Ele ments 4. Put the disc in your computer, choose a language, accept the software agreement, and click “Get a Quick Overview” to take a tour of what Elements can do.
When you launch Elements for the first time, you get a veritable smorgasbord of options, all neatly laid out for you in the Welcome screen (shown in Figure 1-1).
Interestingly, the Welcome screen isn’t actually Elements. It’s a launching pad that, depending on the button you click, will start up one of two different programs:
It’s quite easy to get back and forth between the Editor and the Organizer—which you might call the two different faces of Elements—and you probably won’t do much in one without eventually needing to get into the other. But in some ways, they still function as two separate programs. In any case, the Welcome screen offers you no less than six choices for how to get into Elements:
If you start in the Organizer, once you’ve located a photo to edit, you have to wait while the Editor loads. And if you have both the Editor and the Organizer running, quitting the Editor doesn’t close the Organizer. You have to close both programs independently.
Adobe has built Elements around the assumption that most people will work on their photos in the following way: first, you’ll bring your photos into the Organizer to sort and keep track of them. Then you’ll open your photos in the Editor to work on them, and save them back to the Organizer when you’re finished making changes. You can work differently, of course, like opening photos directly in the Editor and bypassing the Organizer altogether, but you may find you feel like you’re always swimming against the current if you choose a different way of working. The next chapter has a few hints for disabling some Elements features if you really find they’re getting in your way.
The Organizer is where your photos come into Elements and go out again. It stores and catalogs your photos, and you automatically come back to it for any activities that involve sharing your photos, like printing a photo package or making a slideshow. The Organizer has three main sections, as shown in Figure 1-2:
The Organizer has lots of really cool features, and in the body of this book you’ll meet them when they’re relevant to the image-editing task at hand. The next chapter shows you how to use the Organizer to import and organize your photos, and Appendix A covers all the Organizer’s different menu options.
Actually, Elements has one other component, which you may have seen already if you’ve plugged your camera into your computer after you installed Elements: the Photo Downloader (Figure 1-3).
This bumptious little program is meant to help you get your photos into the Organizer, and it’s more zealous than a personal-injury lawyer on the scene of an accident. It sniffs out any device you attach to your computer that may possibly contain photos and races to the scene, elbowing the Windows Explorer dialog box out of the way. Depending on the speed of your computer, it may show up before the Explorer dialog box or slightly after it. You have to dismiss the Downloader first if you want to use another program to import your photos.
You can read more about the Downloader in the next chapter (Section 2.1), including how to easily tame it so that you control when it appears. If you plan to use the Organizer to catalog your photos and assign keywords to them, reading the section on the Downloader in Chapter 2 can help you avoid some forehead-smacking moments.
In addition to the Organizer, the other main section of Elements is what Adobe calls the Editor (Figure 1-4). This is the fun part of Elements, where you get to edit, adjust, transform, and generally glamorize your photos, and where you can create original artwork from scratch with the drawing tools and shapes, if you like.
Quick Fix. For many beginners, the Quick Fix will end up as your main workspace. Adobe has gathered together the basic tools you need to improve most photos, and it’s the one place in Elements where you can have a before-and-after view while you work. Chapter 4 discusses using the Quick Fix in detail.
Standard Edit. The Standard Edit window gives you access to Elements’ most sophisticated tools. There are far more ways to work on your photo in Standard Edit than in the Quick Fix, and if you’re fussy, it’s where you’ll do most of your retouching work. Most of the Quick Fix commands are also available via menus in the Standard Edit window.
The rest of this chapter covers some of the basic concepts and key tools you’ll come across in the Editor.
If you leave a photo open in the Editor, when you switch back to the Organizer, you see a red band with a padlock across the photo’s Organizer thumbnail as a reminder. To get rid of the lock and free up your image for Organizer projects, go back to the Editor and close the photo there.
Elements gives you an amazing array of tools to use when working on your photo. You get almost two dozen primary tools to help you select, paint on, and otherwise manipulate your photos, and many of the tools have as many as four subtools hiding beneath them (see Figure 1-5). Bob Vila’s workshop probably isn’t any better stocked than the Elements’ virtual toolbox.
If you want to explore every cranny of Elements, you need to open a photo (in the Editor, choose File → Open). Lots of the menus are grayed out if there’s no file opened.
The long, skinny strip on the left side of the Standard Edit window is the main Elements Toolbox, as you can see in Figure 1-4, top. It stays perfectly organized so that you can always find what you want without ever having to lift a finger to straighten it up. And what’s more, if you should forget what a particular tool does, just hold your mouse over the tool’s icon and a label appears. Activate a tool by clicking on it. And any tool that you select comes with its own collection of options, as shown in Figure 1-6.
Other windows in Elements, like the Quick Fix and the RAW converter (see Section 8.1), also have toolboxes, but none are as complete as the one in Standard Edit.
Don’t worry about learning the names of every tool right now. It’s easier to remember what a tool is once you’ve used it. And don’t be concerned about how many tools there are. You probably have a bunch of Allen wrenches in your garage toolbox that you don’t use more than a couple of times a year. You’ll find that you tend to use certain Elements tools more than others.
In the Editor, the two big space-consuming objects hogging the bottom and right side of your screen are called bins. The Photo bin, as shown in Figure 1-7, helps you keep track of which images are currently open.
The Photo bin is a useful feature, but unless you have a gigantic monitor, you may prefer to have the space for your editing work. To close the bin, click the Minimize button, just to the left of the phrase Photo Bin. One very cool thing about the Photo bin is that even when it’s closed, you can use the left and right arrows (the ones to the right of the Minimize button) to rotate through the open photos until you find the one you want.
The long wide strip down the right side of your screen is the Palette bin. Elements stores palettes in this bin to let you do things like keep track of what you’ve done to your photo (Undo History) and apply special effects to your images (Styles and Effects).
It’s possible that you’ll like the Palette bin, but many people don’t. If you don’t have a large monitor, you may find it wastes too much desktop acreage, and in Elements, you need all the working room you can get. Fortunately, you don’t have to keep your Palettes in the bin, you can close the bin and just keep your Palettes floating around on your desktop or minimize them.
You open and close the bin by clicking the Palette Bin button at the bottom of your screen (below the bin) or you can click the Palette Bin’s left edge (anywhere along the thin vertical bar). You can also pull palettes out of the bin by dragging the name bar of any palette. Figure 1-8 shows how to make your palettes even smaller once they’re out of the bin. Freestanding palettes can also be combined with each other, as shown in Figure 1-9.
Only three palettes are in the Palette bin to start with (How To, Layers, and Styles and Effects). To see how many more palettes you actually have, check out the Window menu. When you select a new palette, by choosing it in the Window menu, it may appear in the bin first. If you’ve hidden the bin, it jumps back out at you with the new palette on display, and you’ll have to haul the palette out if you don’t want to use the bin. Some palettes, like Undo History, show up already floating, and you have to drag them into the bin if you want to corral them there.
If you’ve been going crazy because you’re trying to get rid of one of the bin’s original palettes, but every time you close it, it just hops back into the bin, click the More button in the upper-right corner of the palette and turn off “Place in Palette bin when closed.” Next time you close the palette, it goes away and won’t return till you choose it again from the Window menu.
Elements has one palette-related quirk. In the Window menu, visible palettes should have a check next to their names. But if you collapse a palette, even though the palette’s name stays on your desktop, it is unchecked in the Window menu. If you lose a collapsed palette (they occasionally get hidden behind the Options bar when you switch back and forth from Standard Edit to Quick Fix or the Organizer), just select the palette’s name again in the list to bring the palette back to the front where you can reach it. If all else fails, choosing Reset Palette Locations in the Window menu puts everything back to its original position.
Wherever Adobe found a stray corner in Elements, they stuck some help into it. You can’t move anywhere in this program without being offered some kind of guidance. Here are some of the ways you can summon assistance if you need it:
Options bar. Click the Question Mark button or enter a search term in the Help box, as shown in Figure 1-10.
Tooltips. The text that pops up under your mouse as you move around Elements is linked to the appropriate section in Elements Help. Click a tooltip for more information about whatever your mouse is hovering over.
If you need help figuring out where to begin a project, the Editor’s How To palette gives instructions for lots of things you’re likely to want to do in Elements (Figure 1-11). You can get directions for everything from making a photo look old-fashioned to creating fancy warped text effects.
Photoshop Elements has a couple of really wonderful features to help you keep from making irrevocable screw-ups: the Undo command and the Undo History palette. After you’ve gotten used to them, you’ll probably wish it were possible to use these tools in all aspects of your life, not just Elements.
No matter where you are in Elements, you can almost always change your mind about what you just did. Press Ctrl+Z and the last change you made goes away. Pressing Ctrl+Z works even if you’ve just saved your photo, but only while it’s still open. (If you close your picture, your changes are permanent.) Keep pressing Ctrl+Z and you keep undoing your work, step by step.
If you want to redo what you just undid, just press Ctrl+Y. These keystroke commands are great for toggling changes on and off while you decide whether you really want to keep them.
In the Standard Edit window, you get even more control over the actions you can undo, thanks to the Undo History palette (Figure 1-12), which you open by choosing Window → Undo History.
This palette holds a list of the changes you’ve made since the last time you saved your image. Just push the slider up and watch your changes disappear one by one as you go. Undo History even works if you’ve saved your file: as long as you haven’t closed your file, the palette tracks every action you take.
Be careful, though. You can only back up as many steps as you’ve set Elements to remember. Elements lets you keep track of as many as 1,000 actions. You can regulate this number in Preferences, as explained in Figure 1-13.
As you’re probably beginning to see, Elements lets you work in lots of different ways. What’s more, most people who use Elements will approach projects in different ways. What works for your neighbor with his pictures may be quite different from how you would choose to work on the very same shots.
However, there’s one suggestion you’ll hear from almost every Elements veteran, and it’s an important one: Never, ever work on your original. Always, always, always make a copy of your image and work on that.
If you have your original safely put away, you can go to town with your edits and know that you can always start over again if you want to.
Adobe recognizes the value of working from a copy. Elements creates a copy automatically when you edit a photo that’s cataloged in the Organizer, so that you can always revert to your original. The Organizer’s version sets (see Figure 1-14) are a great help. They let you make as many different editions of your photo as you like without compromising your original.
If you store your photos in the Organizer, you don’t need to worry about accidentally trashing your original. If you don’t, the safest approach is to make a copy of your photo before you begin making any changes.
To make a copy of your image in Elements:
Name the duplicate, and click the close button on the original.
Now the original’s safely tucked out of harm’s way.
Save the duplicate, using Ctrl+S.
Choose Photoshop (.psd) as the file format when you save it. (You may want to choose another format after you’ve read Chapter 3 and understand more about your different format options.)
Now you don’t have to worry about making a mistake or changing your mind, because you can always start over if you want to.
Elements doesn’t have an autosave feature, so you should get into the habit of saving frequently as you work. There’s more about saving on Section 3.6.3.
If you’re the impatient type and you’re starting to squirm because you want to be up and doing something to your photos, here’s the quickest way to get started in Elements. You can adjust the brightness and color balance all in one step.
While you’re in the Editor, open a photo.
Press Ctrl+O and navigate to the image you want, and then click Open.
You’ve just applied Elements Auto Smart Fix tool.
Voilà! You should see quite a difference in your photo, unless the exposure, lighting, and contrast were almost perfect before. The Auto Smart Fix tool is one of the many easy-to-use features in Elements. (Of course, you may not like what just happened to your photo, but that’s why you bought this book.)
If you’re the really impatient type, you can jump right to Chapter 4 to learn about using the Quick Fix commands. But it’s worth taking the time to read the next two chapters so you understand which file formats to choose and how to make some basic adjustments to your images, like rotating and cropping them.