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Photoshop Elements 8 for Windows: The Missing Manual by Barbara Brundage

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Photos are everywhere these days. Once upon a time, you only hauled out the camera to record important events that you wanted to remember forever. But in our digital era, when almost every cellphone has a camera, people take photos of everything from what they had for lunch to the weird faucet fitting they’re trying to install so they can email it to friends for advice.

Photo sharing has become one of the basics of daily life, and Adobe is right there with you. Not only does Photoshop Elements 8 give you terrific tools for editing and improving your photos, but you also get a free account at Photoshop.com, making it incredibly easy to share photos on your personal Photoshop.com web page, back them up automatically, and sync them between your computers.


For now, you have to be in the United States to use Photoshop.com. If you’re in another country, you can create and share online albums at Adobe’s Photoshop Showcase (www.photoshopshowcase.com), a site first created for folks using Elements 6. A few features are available only with Photoshop.com, so for now, these features are U.S.-only.

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 15 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 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 came PhotoDeluxe, a program that was lots of fun, but that came up short when you wanted to fine-tune how the program worked. Adobe tried again with Photoshop LE, which many people felt just gave you all the difficulty of full Photoshop, but still gave too little of what you need 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 Photoshop’s power in a program that almost anyone can learn. With Elements, you, too, can work with the same wonderful tools that the pros use.

The earliest versions of Elements had something of a learning curve. It was a super program, but not one where you could 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. Elements 8 brings you some really high-tech editing tools, new ways to arrange your workspace, and new ways to share your photos online more easily than ever.

What You Can Do with Elements 8

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 in which to use them. The program also comes loaded with lots of easy ways to share your photos. The list of what Elements can do is pretty impressive. You can use Elements to:

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

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

  • Combine photos into a panorama or 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 text to your images, and turn them into things like greeting cards and flyers.

  • Create slideshows to share with 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 in specially designed emails.

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

  • Create and share incredible online albums and email-ready slideshows that will make your friends actually ask to see the pictures from your latest trip.

  • Store your photos online so that you can get to them from any computer. You can organize your photos online, and upload new photos directly to your personalized Photoshop.com website. You can also keep an online backup of your photos, and even sync albums so that when you add a new photo from another computer, it automatically gets sent to your home computer, too.

  • Create and edit graphics for websites, including making animated GIFs (pictures that move like cartoons).

  • 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 the program handles text quite competently, at least as photo-editing programs go, it’s still no substitute for QuarkXPress, 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’s 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 8

Elements 8 brings some really cool new editing features, as well as some helpful new organizing tools:

  • Recompose your photos (Recomposing Photos). You know how it is: You try and try to get a photo of all the kids together, but in the best one, there’s an awkward gap between your son and daughter because they just wouldn’t stand close together. Or you got a perfect shot of that mountain landscape, except for that pesky condo in the background. Wouldn’t it be great if you could squeeze the edges of your photo together and get rid of the empty space or those unwanted objects? With the new Recompose tool you can. A couple of scribbles to tell Elements what to lose and what to keep, drag the edge of your picture, and presto!—a recomposed photo with no distortion. It’s an awesome use of computer intelligence.

  • Exposure Merge (Blending Exposures). Combine two or more different exposures of the same scene for one image that’s well-exposed everywhere. This is similar to what you can do with the popular HDR (High Dynamic Range) tools found in Photoshop or from companies like Photomatix, only with Elements’ classic ease of use. It’s perfect for situations like night portraits, where properly exposing your subject can wash out the dramatic lighting of the skyline behind him.

  • New look (Panels, Bins, and Tabs). Now you can view your images in the Editor as floating windows, as in previous versions of Elements, or as fixed tabs. You can arrange the Editor workspace to suit you, and you have far more options for doing so than you ever did before in Elements. What’s more, you can quickly change it all if you decide you want a different setup for your current task.

  • Face recognition (People Recognition). The Elements Organizer (the database where you keep track of your photos and organize them) has been able to search for human faces for some time now, but in Elements 8, it can recognize a face as Aunt Millie or Cousin Jobert and offer to tag it with the correct name.

  • Guides (Straighten Tool). This has been one of the most-requested features missing from Elements: nonprinting guidelines you can position in your file to help you arrange any text or objects you’re adding. They’re finally here in Elements 8—a real boon for scrapbookers and other project makers.

  • Quick Fix previews (Using presets). If you’re using the easy Quick Fix window in the Elements Editor, you can see thumbnail previews of different settings for the tool you’re using. Click one of the thumbnails or drag back and forth on it with your cursor to see its effect on your image and to adjust its intensity.

  • Adjustments panel (Adjustment layers). Experienced Elements folks will really appreciate the new Adjustments panel, which lets you see the settings for any of your Adjustment layers just by clicking the layer.

  • Sync your photos (Backing Up Your Files). In Elements 7, you could sync your photos to an online backup at Photoshop.com (Adobe’s online sharing service), but in Elements 8 you can also sync photos between two computers running Elements by means of Photoshop.com, so both computers always have the same photos available to them. (This feature is U.S.-only, for now.)

  • Better integration between the Organizer and Premiere Elements (The Media Browser). If you use both Photoshop Elements and Adobe’s video-editing program Premiere Elements, you’ll appreciate the increased number of options for sending film clips over to Premiere Elements and for analyzing your movies in the Elements 8 Organizer.


    One of the side effects of this better integration is that you’ll see a lot of items pertaining to video editing in the Organizer’s menus, even if you don’t have Premiere Elements. You can turn most of these off if you don’t care to see them. The Media Browser tells you how. (Appendix A explains all the Organizer’s menus.)

  • Tagging improvements (Creating Categories and Tags). The Organizer’s Keyword Tag pane (where you assign keywords to your photos) has a handy new text box where you can just type in the name for a new tag, click Apply, and add that tag to all your selected photos. There’s also a “cloud” view of your tags, like the keyword clouds you may have seen on websites.

  • Full Screen view (Full Screen view). Adobe has gussied up the Organizer’s Full Screen view so you can edit and tag your photos while looking at them at full screen. You can even watch them as a slideshow, complete with music (Full Screen View).

  • Activation (Scratch Disks). You may not love this new feature, but Adobe only lets you use your copy of Elements 8 on two computers, so it’s important to deactivate Elements on your old computer before installing it on a new one. Scratch Disks explains how.

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 The Welcome Screen for help figuring out which version you have.

Incidentally, all eight 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, then you can still use it. If you’ve been using one of the earlier versions, then you’ll feel right at home in Elements 8. 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 8 for Windows. Adobe is releasing Elements 8 for Mac a few weeks after the Windows version, and there’s a separate version of this book, Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac: The Missing Manual, which you should get if you’re using the Mac version. Editing is pretty much the same on both Windows and Mac computers, but the Mac version of Elements doesn’t include the Organizer. Instead, you get Adobe Bridge (the deluxe photo-browser that comes with Photoshop), so the parts of this book about organizing your photos, using online services, and many of the projects are different from the Mac version.

Elements vs. Photoshop

You could easily 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 the ability to write actions or scripts (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 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, then you have to look for another program to help out with that.

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 ever use. 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 you also get the Guided Edit mode (Getting Help), which provides a step-by-step walkthrough of 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 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; 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, then 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 can’t 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 Creating a New File to learn 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 website, 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 a cool program and lots of fun to use, but figuring out how to make it do what you want is another matter. Elements 8 comes only with a quick reference guide, and it 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. (The Help files that ship with Elements are sometimes incomplete, but you can download a more polished version from Adobe’s Elements support pages at www.adobe.com/support/photoshopelements/.)

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.

That’s where this book comes in. It’s 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 of 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 cameras.


This book periodically recommends other books, covering topics 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 instructions throughout the book that refer to files you can download from the Missing Manual website (www.missingmanuals.com) so you can practice the techniques you’re reading about. And throughout the book, you’ll find several different kinds of short articles. The ones labeled “Up to Speed” help newcomers to Elements do things, or they explain concepts with which veterans are probably already familiar. Those labeled “Power Users’ Clinic” cover more advanced topics that won’t be of much interest to casual photographers.


Since Elements 8 works in both Windows Vista and Windows XP, you’ll see screenshots from both operating systems in this book. It’s also going to work with Windows 7 when Microsoft releases it (it wasn’t out yet when this book was being written). Most things work exactly the same way in all three operating systems; 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, then you’re given the directions for both Vista and XP. Also, since Elements has a setting that lets you choose between a dark and a light view of the program (see The Welcome Screen), in the illustrations you’ll see whichever one best displays the feature being discussed.

About the Outline

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

  • Part One: Introduction to Elements. The first part of this book helps you get started with Elements. Chapter 1 shows how to navigate Elements’ slightly confusing layout and mishmash of programs within programs. You’ll learn how to decide which window to start from and how to set up Elements so it best suits your working style, and how to set up your Photoshop.com account. You’ll also read about some important 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. You’ll also find out how to save and back up your images, either on your home computer or using Photoshop.com. Chapter 3 explains how to rotate and crop photos, and includes a primer on that most important digital imaging concept—resolution.

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

  • Part Three: Retouching. 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 using the clone stamp for repairs, making a photo livelier by adjusting the color intensity, and adjusting light and shadows in an image. Chapter 10 shows you how to convert color 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.

  • Part Four: 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 text to images (Chapter 14).

  • Part Five: 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 create fun projects like photo books (Chapter 15), how to get the most out of your printer (Chapter 16), how to create images for the Web and email (Chapter 17), and how to make slideshows and share them online (Chapter 18).

  • Part Six: Additional Elements. You can get hundreds of plug-ins and additional styles, brushes, and other nifty tools to customize your copy of Elements and increase its abilities; the Internet and your local bookstore are chockfull of additional info. Chapter 19 offers a look at some of these, as well as information about using a graphics tablet in Elements, and some resources to turn to after you’ve finished this book.

  • Part Seven: Appendixes. Appendixes Appendix A and Appendix B cover all the menu items in the Organizer and Editor, respectively. Appendix C helps you get your copy of Elements up and running, and suggests what to do if it starts misbehaving.

For Newcomers to Elements

This book holds a lot of information, and if you’re new to Elements, then you don’t need 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, then read about the Photo Downloader in Chapter 2.

    The Downloader gets your photos from your camera’s memory card into Elements.

  3. If you want to organize your photos, then read about the Organizer (also in Chapter 2).

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

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

    Chapter 3 explains how to adjust your view of your photos in the Editor. Chapter 4 shows you how to use the Quick Fix window to easily edit and correct your photos. Guided Edit (Getting Help) 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 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, and Chapter 18 teaches you how to post photos at Photoshop.com.

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

The Very Basics

This book assumes that you know how to perform basic activities on your computer like clicking and double-clicking your mouse buttons and dragging objects onscreen. 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 then to press the left mouse or trackpad button once. To right-click means to press the right mouse button once, which calls up 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 then to hold down the left button (so you don’t let go of the object) while you use the mouse to move the object. Most selection buttons onscreen are pretty obvious, but you may not be familiar with radio buttons: To choose an option, click the little empty circle next to it. If you’re comfortable with basic concepts like these, then 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 tells you about keyboard shortcuts when they exist (and Elements has a lot). 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 this book (and the Missing Manual series, for that matter) you see sentences that look like this: “Go to the Editor and select Filter → Artistic → Paint Daubs.” This is a shorthand way of helping you find files, folders, and menu items without having to read through excruciatingly long, bureaucratic-style instructions. So the sample sentence above is a short way of saying: “Go to the Editor component of Elements. In the menu bar at the top of the screen, click the Filter choice. In the menu that appears, choose the Artistic section, and then go to Paint Daubs in the pop-out menu.” Figure 1 shows you an example in action.

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 you should go to your C drive, open the Documents and Settings folder, look for your user account folder, and then 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, then you’ll find them both listed. (Although Elements 8 works in Windows 7, you won’t see any Windows 7 file paths listed, since Windows 7 hadn’t been released as this book was being written.)

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

About MissingManuals.com

If you head over to this book’s Missing CD page (www.missingmanuals.com), you’ll find links to downloadable practice images mentioned throughout this book.

A word about these downloadable files: To make life easier for folks with slow Internet connections, the file sizes have been kept pretty small. So 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 website, you can also find articles, tips, and updates to this book. If you click the Errata link, then 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 that same link. Each time this 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, check the Missing Manuals website for any changes. And thanks for reporting any errors or suggesting corrections.

We’d love to hear your suggestions for new books in the Missing Manual line. There’s a place for that on missingmanuals.com, too. And while you’re online, you can also register this book at www.oreilly.com (you can jump directly to the registration page by going here: http://tinyurl.com/yo82k3). Registering means we can send you updates about this book, and you’ll be eligible for special offers like discounts on future editions.

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