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Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac: 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 is now a part of daily life, and Adobe is right there with you. Not only does Photoshop Elements offer terrific tools for editing and improving photos, it also makes it easy to prepare photos for sharing. You can even create galleries of your photos to post to a website for your friends’ viewing pleasure.

For Mac folks, the big news is that Adobe put the Mac and Windows versions of Elements back on the same schedule. Previously, Mac owners had to wait for months after the Windows version of Elements was released for their version, if a Mac version was released at all. For Elements 8, Adobe is releasing both versions within a few weeks of each other, which is great news for those who prefer OS X.

Why Photoshop Elements?

Adobe’s Photoshop is the granddaddy of all image-editing programs, the industry standard against which everything else is measured. Every photo you’ve seen in a book or magazine over the last, say, 15 years has almost certainly passed through Photoshop on its way to print.

And for good reason: You can’t buy anything that gives you more control over your photos than Photoshop does. But Photoshop has some big drawbacks: It’s darned hard to learn, it’s horribly expensive, and many of its features are overkill if you don’t work on photos for a living.

For years, Adobe tried to cram Photoshop’s key features into a smaller package that normal people could use, but the right formula was elusive. First came Photo-Deluxe, a program that was lots of fun but came up short for fine-tuning how the program worked. Adobe tried again with Photoshop LE, which was as difficult to use as the full version was, and had too few of the features people needed to do top-notch work.

Finally—sort of like the three bears—Adobe got it “just right” with Photoshop Elements. Because Elements offers much of Photoshop’s power in a program that almost anyone can learn, it was an immediate hit. With Elements, you, too, can work with the same 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 just sit down and expect to get perfect results right off the bat. In each new version, Adobe added various push-button-easy ways to correct and improve photos. Elements 8 includes some 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 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.

  • Use Adobe Bridge to 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.

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

  • Create web galleries and slideshows, and email your photos (although you’ve already got pretty good tools for doing all these things with OS X and the programs that came with your Mac).

  • Create and edit graphics for websites, including fancy navigation buttons.

  • 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 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 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 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 unwanted objects? Well, 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. 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). You can view your images as floating windows, as in previous versions of Elements, or as fixed tabs, and you have more options for arranging your Elements workspace to suit you. What’s more, you can quickly change it all if you decide you want a different setup for your current task.

  • Use Photoshop actions (Using Actions). The new Action Player (Using Actions) makes it simple to add actions (little automated scripts that automatically run through multi-step projects) to Elements.

  • Smart Brush (Correcting Part of an Image). This new tool makes all sorts of corrections and enhancements as easy as drawing a line.

  • Scene Cleaner (Arranging a Group Shot). Eliminate unwanted elements (like unknown tourists) from your photos to create just the scene you want.

  • New Touch-Up tools (Touch Ups). Just a quick click and drag can whiten teeth, make the sky bluer, or convert part of your photo to black and white, right in the Elements Quick Fix window.

  • Improve Skin Texture (Improving skin texture with the Surface Blur filter). The new Surface Blur filter lets you soften areas without melting edges or losing detail. Great for use on portraits.

  • Guides (Free Rotate Layer). This was one of the Elements’ most-requested features: non-printing guidelines you can position in your file to help you arrange text and objects. They’re finally here in Elements 8—a real boon for scrapbookers and other project makers.

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

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

  • Adjustable brightness (The Panel bin). If Elements 6’s dark interface bothered you, you’ll be pleased to know that you can choose a dark version or a light (well, medium, anyway) version of what you see in Elements 8. But it’s only Bridge that really lets you lighten things up—the “light” option for Elements is more of medium gray.

  • Intel only (Scanning Photos). Elements 8 works only on Macs that have Intel processors, so if you have a Mac with one of the older PowerPC processors (a G5 or earlier model), you need to stick to Elements 6 or earlier. Adobe went Intel all the way with Elements 8—it doesn’t give you a way to use Rosetta, the part of OS X that lets you run older programs that were written for PowerPC Macs. This means that if you have any older plug-ins (like a scanner driver) that need Rosetta, you won’t be able to use them in Elements 8.

  • Activation (Activation). 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. Troubleshooting explains how.

If you’ve used Elements before and you’re not sure which version you have, 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 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. (Elements 3 is the oldest version that will run in 10.5, and while some people have success with versions 3 and 4 in 10.6, Elements 6 is the oldest version that’s completely reliable in Snow Leopard.) So if you prefer the older version of a particular tool, you can still use it. If you’ve used one of the earlier versions, 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 Use Windows

This book covers Elements 8 for Macs. 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 Windows: the Missing Manual, which you should get if you’re using the Windows version. Editing is pretty much the same on both Windows and Mac computers, but the Mac version of Elements doesn’t include a feature called the Organizer. Instead, you get Adobe Bridge (the deluxe photo-browser that comes with Photoshop). This means that the parts of this book about organizing your photos, using online services, and many of the projects are different than the Windows 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 a 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 Photoshop tools that let you do things like automatically slice images into smaller pieces for faster Web display. If you use Elements and want to do that, you’ll need another program to help with those tasks.

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 its every option. And you also get Guided Edit mode (Guided Edit), 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 your current task. 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 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 time for some ideas 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 they 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 best way to learn Elements is 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 Picking a File Size 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 good, but 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 one 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 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.


Elements 8 works in both the Leopard (10.5) and Snow Leopard (10.6) versions of OS X. There are very few differences between the two as far as Elements is concerned, and they’re noted in the text. Also, since the program’s darkness/brightness is adjustable (The Panel bin), the illustrations show whichever setting best displays the described feature. Elements 8 can also run in Mac OS X Tiger (10.4.11), but if you’re still using Tiger you’d probably be a lot happier with the performance of Elements 6, so this book focuses on Leopard and Snow Leopard. If you decide to go the Elements 6 route, you can pick up a copy of Photoshop Elements 6 for Mac: The Missing Manual.

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 I: Introductory Elements. This section of the 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. 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 using Bridge, and how to open files and create new images from scratch. You’ll also find out how to save your images and burn them to disc. Chapter 3 explains how to rotate and crop photos, and includes a primer on that most important digital imaging concept—resolution. Finally, Chapter 4 shows how to use the Quick Fix window to dramatically improve your photos.

  • Part II: Elemental Elements. Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 cover two key concepts—making selections and layers—that you’ll use throughout the book.

  • Part III: 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 more sophisticated fixes, like using the Clone Stamp for repairs, making a photo livelier by adjusting its 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 panoramas from several photos, and to make perspective corrections to your images.

  • Part IV: 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 V: 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); and how to create images for the Web and email, as well as basic web galleries (Chapter 17).

  • Part VI: Additional Elements. You can get literally 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 chock-full of additional info. Chapter 18 offers a look at some of these, as well as info about using a graphics tablet in Elements, and some resources to turn to after you finish this book.

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

For Newcomers to Elements

This book holds a lot of information, and if you’re new to Elements, you don’t need to digest it all at once, especially if you’ve never used any kind of photo-editing program before. So what do you need to read first? Here’s a four-step plan for using the book if you’re brand-new to photo editing:

  1. Read all of Chapter 1.

    This is important for understanding how to get around in Elements.

  2. If you aren’t sure how to get photos onto your Mac, or if you want to organize your photos or assign keywords to them, read about Bridge in Chapter 2.

    That chapter also tells you how to open photos in Elements.

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

    Chapter 3 explains how to adjust your view of photos. Chapter 4 shows you how to use Elements’ Quick Fix window to easily edit and correct your photos. Guided Edit (Guided Edit) can also be helpful when you’re getting started. To understand your options for saving photos, go back and read the section of Chapter 2 that explains them (Saving Your Work).

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

    Chapter 16 covers printing. Chapter 17 explains how to email photos and put them online.

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 you know how to perform basic activities on your computer like clicking and double-clicking and dragging objects onscreen. Here’s a quick refresher:

Since you have a Mac, you have a choice between using a one-button mouse or a two-button mouse. (If you have the Apple Mighty Mouse that comes with recent Macs, you can use it either way: Go to → System Preferences → Keyboard & Mouse → Mouse to set your mouse’s behavior.) You can do all the same things with a one-button mouse that you can do with a two-button mouse. Here’s the lowdown:

To click means to move the point of your cursor over an object onscreen and press the left (or only) mouse or trackpad button once. To double-click means to press the left (or only) mouse or trackpad button twice, quickly, without moving the cursor between clicks. To drag means to click an object and use the mouse or trackpad to move it while holding down the mouse or trackpad button (let go of the button when you’re done moving the object).

For two-button mousers, to right-click means to press the right mouse button once. For one-button folks, holding down the Control key while you click does the same thing as right-clicking, so you’ll see “right-click (Control-click)” in the instructions in this book. Right-clicking typically calls up a menu of options you can choose from.

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 you keyboard shortcuts when they exist (and there are a lot of them in Elements). So if you see “Press ⌘-S to save your file,” that means to hold down the ⌘ key while pressing the S key.

About → These → Arrows

Throughout Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac: The Missing Manual (and in any Missing Manual, for that matter) you’ll see sentences that look like this: “Go to 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: “In the menu bar at the top of your screen, click the word “Filter”. In that menu, choose the Artistic item, 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 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 files 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 matchbook. But that doesn’t really matter because the files are 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. 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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