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Photoshop Elements 6: 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 perhaps 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 is 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 helps you rejuvenate these gems and eliminate the wear and tear of all those years.

Enter Photoshop Elements 6, an all-in-one program that can help you improve your photos, keep them organized, make top-notch prints, and create truly nifty 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, 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 many 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 fine-tune 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 Three Bears”—Adobe got it just right with Photoshop Elements. It took off like crazy because it offers so much of the power of Photoshop in a program that almost anyone can learn. With Elements, you, too, can work with the same wonderful tools that the pros use.

With the earliest 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 each new version, Adobe has added lots of push-button-easy ways to correct and improve your photos, but the tradeoff for the extra features is that it’s become more and more complicated to find what you want. In Elements 6, Adobe has made a big effort to streamline things and make it easier for you to find your way around.

What You Can Do with Elements 6

Elements not only lets you make your photos look great, but it also helps you organize your photos and gives you some pretty neat projects to use them in. The program also comes loaded 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, 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, a Mac, or even just a cellphone.

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

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

  • Create and share incredible 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).

  • Create wonderful collages that you can print or share with your friends digitally. Scrapbookers—get ready to be wowed.

It’s worth noting, though, that there are still a few things Elements can’t do. While Elements handles text quite competently, at least as photo-editing programs go, it’s still no substitute for PageMaker, InDesign, 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 top of everyone’s head is cut off, there may be a limit to what even Elements can do to help you out. (C’mon, be fair.) The fact is, though, you’re more likely to be surprised by what Elements can fix than by what it can’t.

What’s New in Elements 6

The first thing you’ll notice about Elements 6 is the program’s snazzy new darker color scheme to give it a more professional look. But that’s not all that’s new in Elements 6:

  • Vista compatibility. Elements 6 is the first version of Elements to be fully tested with the final version of Vista. (Only the beta versions of Vista were available for Elements 5 testing.) Elements 6 runs great in Vista, and it still works well in Windows XP, too.

  • Guided Edit. If you’re just starting out with Elements, you now get a special editing mode, Guided Edit, which walks you through many basic editing tasks, like cropping a photo or adjusting its exposure (page xx).

  • Albums. If you’ve used Elements before, you know how frustrating collections could be. They’re gone in Elements 6, replaced by albums that make it much easier to organize small groups of photos for use in your projects (page xx).

  • Photomerge. Elements has always had a panorama maker (called Photomerge), but in Elements 6 it gets a complete makeover. It’s gone from being one of the weakest parts of Elements to one of the best. You’ll find it incredibly easy to make beautiful panoramas in Elements 6 (page xx), with no more tweaking and patching afterward to hide the seams. For a lot of people, this feature alone is worth the price of the program.

  • Faces and Group Shot. In Elements 6, Photomerge isn’t just for panoramas anymore. You get two new variations: Faces and Group Shot. Faces is just a fun way to combine parts of different faces for caricatures and amusing effects, but Group Shot is a solution to the old problem of taking several photos of a group of people and having one person spoil the best shot by closing his eyes or looking away from the camera. Group Shot makes it easy to move that person over from another photo where he was behaving himself.

  • Improved RAW conversion. If you shoot photos in RAW format, you’ll be happy to know that the RAW Converter in Elements 6 has a number of new features, like the ability to apply your settings to many photos at once and new tools for activities like straightening right in the Converter. You can use the RAW Converter to edit JPEG and TIFF files now, too (page xx).

  • Quick Selection tool. With the new Quick Selection tool, it’s incredibly easy to make complex selections with just a quick drag over the area you want (page xx).

  • Refine Edge. If you’ve used Elements before you understand how important it is to have good edges on objects you plan to cut out or move to another photo. With Refine Edge, it’s easy to create clean edges that blend seamlessly into other images (page xx).

  • Organizer Improvements. You’ll find a number of improvements for working with your photos in the Organizer (page xx), like improved version set handling, simplified emailing, and many more. The integration between the Organizer and the Editor has been tightened up, as well.

  • Quick CD/DVD burning. In Elements 6, you can easily burn photos or projects to a disc for sharing, from both the Editor and the Organizer.

For newcomers to Elements, the biggest improvement is that Adobe has done a lot to make it easier to get around in Elements—by simplifying many procedures like creating a Photo Book, for example—making the program friendlier for beginners.


If you use Windows XP, the official system requirements for Elements 6 specify Windows XP with Service Pack 2. But if you’re a Service Pack 1 holdout, Elements should run just fine. However, remember that you’re not as secure when using the online components of Elements as you would be with Service Pack 2.

If you’ve used Elements before and you’re not sure which version you’ve got, a quick way to tell is to look for the version number on the CD. If the program is already installed, see page xx for help figuring out which version you have.

Incidentally, all six versions of Elements are totally separate programs, so you can run all of them on the same computer if you like, as long as your operating system is compatible. (Adobe doesn’t recommend trying to have more than one version open at a time, though.) So if you prefer the older version of a particular tool, you can still use it. As a matter of fact, if you’re experienced in Elements and addicted to the many add-on tools and actions for Elements 3 and earlier versions, you definitely want to keep your old Elements around. (Adobe has taken steps to make sure that most of those tools can’t work in Elements 4, 5 and 6; more details in Chapter 19.) If you’ve been using one of the earlier versions, you’ll still feel right at home in Elements 6. You’ll just find that it’s easier than ever to get stuff done with the program.

If You Have a Mac

This book covers Elements 6 for Windows. However, if and when Adobe releases Elements 6 for Mac, you can use this book with the Mac version, as well. Just substitute ⌘ for Ctrl, and Option for Alt whenever you see keyboard shortcuts. About 98 percent of the Editor’s functions work the same on both platforms. However, this book’s sections on the Organizer apply only to Windows; Mac versions of Elements don’t include the Organizer since Adobe assumes most Mac owners use a program like iPhoto or Aperture to store their pictures. (See page xx for more on the difference between the Editor and the Organizer.)

If you have a Mac with an Intel processor and you don’t want to wait for the Mac version of Elements 6, the Windows version works well in Apple’s Bootcamp software or in the Parallels (www.parallels.com) or Fusion (www.vmware.com) virtualization programs. Of course, to use any of these programs you have to install Windows on your Mac.

Elements vs. Photoshop

It’s 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 its 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 couldn’t be more wrong. Elements is Photoshop, but it’s Photoshop adapted for use with a home printer and for the Web. The most important difference between Elements and Photoshop is that Elements doesn’t 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. Your inkjet printer also uses those ink colors to print, but it expects you to give it an RGB file, which is what Elements creates. This is all explained in Chapter 7.)

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 Selective Color, and the Pen tool’s special talent for creating vector paths. 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 advanced tools in Photoshop, which let you do things like automatically slice images into smaller pieces 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 (Chapter 4) lets you get started right away, even if you don’t understand every last option that Quick Fix presents you with. And in Elements 6, you also get the Guided Edit mode (page xx), which provides a step-by-step walkthrough for some popular editing tasks, like sharpening your photo or cropping it to fit on standard photo paper.

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 to 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 until 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 xx for how to make an image from scratch in Elements, and read on to learn about the many downloadable practice images you’ll find at this book’s companion Web site, www.missingmanuals.com. 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. The manual that comes with Elements 6 is more like a quick reference guide and doesn’t go into as much depth as you might want. 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.


This book periodically recommends other books, covering topics that are too specialized or tangential for a manual about Elements. Careful readers may notice that not every one of these titles is published by Missing Manual parent O’Reilly Media. While we’re happy to mention other Missing Manuals and books in the O’Reilly family, if there’s a great book out there that doesn’t happen to be published by O’Reilly, we’ll still let you know about it.

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. Those labeled “Power Users’ Clinic” cover more advanced topics that won’t be of much interest to casual photographers.


Since Elements 6 works in both Windows Vista and Windows XP, you’ll see screenshots from both operating systems in this book. Most things work exactly the same way in both programs; only the styles of some windows are different. In a few instances, the file paths for certain program files aren’t exactly the same. If that’s the case, you’ll be given the directions for both operating systems.

About the Outline

This book is divided into six parts, each focusing on a certain kind of task you may want to do in Elements.

Introduction to Elements

The first part 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 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, as well as how to save and back up your images. Chapter 3 explains how to rotate and crop your photos, and includes a primer on that most important digital imaging concept—resolution.

Elemental Elements

Chapter 4 tells you how to use the Quick Fix window to dramatically improve your photos. Chapter 5 and Chapter 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 fixing exposure, adjusting color, sharpening an image, and removing dust and scratches. Chapter 8 covers topics unique to people who use digital cameras, like RAW conversion and batch processing your photos. In Chapter 9, you’ll move on to some more sophisticated fixes, like changing the light, using the clone stamp for repairs, making a photo livelier by adjusting the color intensity and light and shadows in an image. Chapter 10 shows you how to convert your photos to black and white, and how to tint and colorize black-and-white photos. Chapter 11 helps you to use Elements’ Photomerge feature to create a panorama from several photos and to make perspective corrections to your images.

Artistic Elements

This part covers the fun stuff—painting on your photos and drawing shapes (Chapter 12), using filters and effects to create a more artistic look (Chapter 13), and adding type to your images (Chapter 14).

Sharing your images

Once you’ve created a great image in Elements, you’ll want to share it, so this part is about how to get the most out of your printer (Chapter 16), how to create images for the Web and email (Chapter 17), how to make slideshows and Web Galleries with your photos (Chapter 18), and all the fun projects you can create with Elements 6 (Chapter 15).

Additional Elements

There are literally hundreds of plug-ins and additional styles, brushes, and other fun stuff you can get to customize your copy of Elements and increase its abilities; the Internet and your local bookstore are chock-full of additional information. Chapter 19 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.

For Newcomers to Elements

There’s a lot of information in this book, and if you’re new to Elements you don’t need to try to digest it all at once, especially if you’ve never used any kind of photo-editing software before. So what do you need to read first? Here’s a simple five-step way to use the book if you’re brand-new to photo editing:

  1. Read all of Chapter 1.

    That’s important for understanding how to get around in Elements.

  2. If your photos aren’t on your computer already, read about the Photo Downloader.

    The Downloader gets your photos from your camera’s memory card into Elements. It’s explained in Chapter 2.

  3. If you want to organize your photos, read about the Organizer.

    It doesn’t matter where your photos are right now. If you want to use the Organizer to tag and keep track of them, read Chapter 2.

  4. When you’re ready to edit your photos, read Chapter 3 and Chapter 4.

    Chapter 3 explains how to adjust the view of your photos in the Editor. Chapter 4 shows you how to use the Elements Quick Fix window to easily edit and correct your photos. Guided Edit (page xx) can also be very helpful when you’re just getting started. If you skipped Chapter 2 because you’re not using the Organizer, go back there now and read the parts about saving your photos, so you don’t lose your work.

  5. When you’re ready to print or share your photos, flip to the chapters on sharing your images.

    Chapter 16 covers printing, both at home and from online services. Chapter 17 explains how to email photos.

That’s all you need to get started. You can come back and pick up the rest of the information in the book as you get more comfortable with Elements and want to explore more of the wonderful things it can do for your photos.

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 onscreen. Here’s a quick refresher: to click means to move the point of your mouse or track-pad cursor over an object on your screen and press the left mouse or trackpad button once. To right-click means to press the right mouse button once, which produces a menu of special features. To double-click means to press the left button twice, quickly, without moving the mouse between clicks. To drag means to click an object and use the mouse to move it while holding down the left button so you don’t let go of it. Most selection buttons onscreen are pretty obvious, but you may not be familiar with radio buttons: To choose an option, you click one of these little empty circles that are arranged like a list. If you’re comfortable with basic concepts like these, you’re ready to get started with this book.

In Elements, you’ll often want to use keyboard shortcuts to save time, and this book gives keyboard shortcuts when they exist (and there are a lot of them in Elements). So if you see “Press Ctrl+S to save your file,” that means to hold down the Control key while pressing the S key.

About → These → Arrows

Throughout Photoshop Elements 6: The Missing Manual (and in any Missing Manual, for that matter) you’ll see arrows that look like this: “Go to Editor → Filter → Artistic → Paint Daubs.”

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: “Go to the Editor component of Elements. Click the Filter choice in the menu bar. In that menu, choose the Artistic section, and then go to Paint Daubs in the pop-out menu.” Figure 1 shows you an example in action.

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

File paths are shown in the conventional Windows style, so if you see “Go to C:\ Documents and Settings\<your user name>\My Documents\My Pictures,” that means to go to your C drive, open the Documents and Settings folder, and look for your user account folder and find the My Documents folder. In that folder, open the My Pictures folder that’s inside it. When there are different file paths for Vista and Windows XP, you’ll find them both listed.

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 because the files are really meant for onscreen use. You’ll see notes throughout the book about which images are available to practice on for any given chapter.

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 you think is wrong, 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 suggesting corrections.

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