It’s a visual world these days. Want your Facebook friends to see what you’re having for lunch? Post a picture. Need an extra whatchamacallit from the hardware store? Just show them a photo. It’s just so much easier than trying to describe such things with words. Everybody has a digital camera now. Most likely, even your cellphone is a pretty competent little camera. But there are two problems with all this photo-y goodness: People’s expectations of photos are pretty high now, and keeping track of so many images can be a nightmare that may make you long for the days when all your family photos fit in one shoebox.

Enter Photoshop Elements. Not only does Elements 9 give you terrific tools for editing and improving your photos, but you also get a free account at, making it incredibly easy to share photos on your personal web page, back them up automatically, and sync them between your computers.


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

Elements 9 also includes a great photo organizer (aptly named the Organizer). The Organizer used to be available only in the Windows version of Elements, but now Mac folks get it, too. And since more and more people are using a mix of Windows computers and Macs, you can install the same copy of Elements 9 on either platform, so you don’t have to buy two separate versions of the program (see What’s New in Elements 9 for more about this).

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 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, which 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.

Elements has been around for quite a while now and, in each new version, Adobe has added lots of push-button-easy ways to correct and improve your photos. Elements 9 brings you some really high-tech editing tools and new ways to share your photos online more easily than ever.

What You Can Do with Elements 9

Elements not only lets you make your photos look great, but also helps you organize your photos and gives you some pretty neat projects in which to use them. The program even comes loaded with lots of easy ways to share your photos. The list of what Elements can do is pretty impressive. You can use it 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 they’re ready to email either as regular email attachments or 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 photos online so you can get to them from any computer. You can organize your photos online, and upload new images directly to your personalized 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 9

Elements 9 doesn’t have quite as many small new features as the last few versions have had, but it sure does have some major ones:

  • Organizer for Mac (Getting Started). This is the biggest news in Elements 9: For the first time, Adobe has brought the Organizer into the Mac version of the program. Now all you Mac folks can see what your Windows friends have been talking about, and also have access to the online sharing and backup features at (if you’re in the U.S., anyway). This is especially good news for recent converts from Windows to Macs, because now you won’t have to jump through hoops to get your photos moved over from your Windows computer (The Media Browser explains how to do this). However, since it was a big job to get the Organizer running on OS X, Adobe is doing a kind of phased rollout, meaning you won’t see all the features from the Windows version this time around (The Media Browser has more about this). Adobe Bridge (which has been included with past Mac versions of Elements) is gone, but if you’re a Bridge aficionado, you can keep using your old copy—maybe. (See The Media Browser for more info).

  • Layer masks (Layer Masks). This ranks right up there with the Mac Organizer in the big news category. Layer masks have been the most-requested new feature for Elements ever since the program was first released. It took a while, but now this powerful editing feature is built right into Elements. If you’ve used a previous version of Elements you may understand how significant this is. If you’re an Elements newbie, all you need to understand for now is that layer masks let you show and hide parts of your image. Full Photoshop uses layer masks for darned near everything, and having them in Elements means that it’ll be a whole lot easier for you to follow tutorials written for Photoshop rather than Elements.

  • Multiple Operating Systems. As with previous versions, you’re allowed to install your copy of Elements on two computers. What’s new this time is that they can be two Windows computers, two Macs, or even one of each, since both versions of Elements are on the same disc. With the past several versions of Elements, even if you’d only used Elements on one computer, to install it on the other operating system (Windows or OS X), you had to buy a separate copy of the program. Not anymore.

  • Social Networking (A Few More Ways to Share). You can finally upload photos to Facebook and other popular networking sites right from Elements.

  • Style Match (Merging Styles). Ever worked on a photo for hours to get a distinctive effect just right? Wouldn’t it be great if you could somehow copy the “look” of that photo onto other images instead of repeating the whole process? That’s the idea behind the new Style Match feature. Sometimes the results aren’t what you expect, but that can be part of the fun.

  • Content-Aware Fill (The Spot Healing Brush: Fixing Small Areas). If you pay attention to Photoshop, you know that the big “wow” feature in Photoshop CS5 is what Adobe calls content-aware fill. What’s that? It’s a cool feature that analyzes the areas around an unwanted object in your photo, and then figures out what should be there and creates a completely plausible patch that makes the unwanted object disappear as though it was never in your photo at all. Now you can use that same technology in Elements. You don’t get all the features of Photoshop’s version of content-aware fill, but it can still do things like help to make perfect fixes for blemished areas.

  • Fun new Guided Edits (Special Effects in Guided Edit). Elements 9 includes some great new projects in Guided Edit. And it’s not just stuff for beginners—Guided Edit now includes step-by-step instructions for some pretty fancy stuff, like creating a glamour portrait look, making a 60s-style pop art poster from an image, creating the kind of reflection effect you see so often in product photos, or giving a regular ol’ photo the popular Lomo look (if that name means nothing to you, flip to Special Effects in Guided Edit).

  • Touch Sensitivity. If you have a Windows laptop with a touch-sensitive screen, you can use all the usual flicking, pinching, and twisting gestures right on your screen to adjust your images. In OS X, you can do the same things on the trackpad if your Macbook or Macbook Pro understands gestures like two-finger scrolling, or if you’re using Apple’s new Magic Trackpad. On either platform, you can also use a finger-sensitive tablet like the Wacom Bamboo Touch. You’ll find more info about this on this book’s Missing CD page at

  • Windows 7 special features. Elements 9 lets you use all of Windows 7’s fancy Aero features, like Aero Shake, where you hide the other open windows on your desktop by grabbing the one you want to keep in view and shaking it with your mouse. To download a list of Aero commands that Elements understands, head to this book’s Missing CD page at

  • New Create workflow (Photo Collages). If you like to work on scrapbooking projects in Elements or just enjoy making collages, you’ll love the newly streamlined workflow for Elements’ Create projects.

  • Scriptability (Beyond This Book). This feature is beyond the scope of this book, but if you know Visual Basic (Windows) or AppleScript (Macs), you can use new tools to write scripts to automate tasks that involve Elements.

  • Product Improvement. In this age of connected computing, Adobe wants lots of feedback from you about how you use Elements to help them design future versions of the program. So Elements 9 offers you the chance to join the Adobe Product Improvement Program, which lets Adobe monitor how you use Elements. Appendix B (on this book’s website) has more info, including how to participate (or not).

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. Don’t worry—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 (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 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 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, then you’ll find only three or four big concepts in this book that you really need 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 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 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 Capturing Video Frames to learn how to make an image from scratch in Elements, and keep an eye out for the many downloadable practice images you’ll find at this book’s companion website, 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 9 comes only with a quick reference guide, and it doesn’t go into as much depth as you might want. 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 the Adobe Elements support pages at

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 all of these titles are 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 this book that refer to files you can download from the Missing Manual website ( so you can practice the techniques you’re reading about. And in various spots, you’ll find several different kinds of short articles (a.k.a. boxes). 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.

A Note About Operating Systems

This book covers using Elements with both Windows computers and Macs, and you’ll see both platforms represented in the illustrations. (Frankly, you’ll see more Mac screenshots here simply because some things are easier to read in the Mac version of the program. For example, pop-out menus are more likely to have a white background on a Mac instead of a dark one.) The Editor (the part of Elements where you tweak your photos) works exactly the same way regardless of what kind of computer you’re using, but there are some differences in the Organizer and the projects available to you, and those are noted as necessary. Also, most of the keyboard shortcuts you use to run commands are different in Windows and on Macs; The Very Basics explains how those shortcuts are listed in this book.

So remember: It doesn’t matter which version of the program is shown in the illustrations; unless the book says otherwise, the differences are just slight cosmetic ones, like the fact that you close Mac program windows by clicking a button on their left, whereas in Windows the button is on the right.


Adobe’s Premiere Elements software also uses the Elements Organizer, and if you install both programs, your Photoshop Elements menus will show a lot of Premiere Elements choices, too. These are normally turned off when you install only Photoshop Elements, but if they get turned on by mistake, you can turn most of them off if you don’t care to see them; The Media Browser tells you how. (Appendix B, which you can download from this book’s website, explains all the Organizer’s menus.)

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 the program. Chapter 1 shows how to navigate Elements’ slightly confusing layout and mishmash of programs within programs. You’ll learn how to decide where to start from and how to customize Elements so it best suits your working style, and how to set up your 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 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 that you’ll use throughout this book: making selections and layers.

  • 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 images, and removing dust and scratches. Chapter 8 covers topics unique to people who use digital cameras, like Raw conversion and batch-processing photos. In Chapter 9, you’ll move on to more sophisticated fixes, like using the clone stamp for repairs, making photos livelier by adjusting their color intensity, and adjusting light and shadows in images. 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 files to use on the Web and in 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 chock full of additional info. Chapter 19 offers a look at some of these resources, as well as information about using a graphics tablet with Elements, and suggests some places to turn after you finish this book.

  • Part Seven: Appendix. Appendix A helps you get your copy of Elements up and running, and suggests what to do if it starts misbehaving. Appendixes B and C—which you can download from this book’s Missing CD page (see About—cover all the menu items in the Organizer and Editor, respectively.

For Newcomers to Elements

This book holds a lot of information, and if you’re new to Elements, it can be a little overwhelming. But 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 this 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 Chapter 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 (Saving Your Work) 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

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). In this book, unless otherwise specified, keyboard shortcuts are always presented as Windows keystrokes/Mac keystrokes. So if you see a sentence like, “Press Ctrl+S/⌘-S to save your file,” that means that if you use Windows, you should hold down the Control key while pressing the S key; if you have a Mac, you should hold down the ⌘ key while pressing the S key. There’s one slight exception to this: When you see “right-click/Control-click”, if you have a Mac and a two-button mouse, of course you can right-click. But if you have a one-button mouse, you can Control-click instead—that means to press the Control key on your keyboard and then press your mouse button once.


Throughout this book (and the Missing Manual series, for that matter) you see sentences 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 word “Filter”. In the menu that appears, choose the Artistic section, and then go to Paint Daubs in the pop-out menu.” Figure I-1 shows you an example in action.

Mac file paths are shown using the same arrows. Windows file paths, on the other hand, 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 Windows 7, Vista, and Windows XP, then you’ll find them all listed.

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.”

Like keyboard shortcuts, file paths are shown as Windows file path/Mac file path when all versions of Windows use the same file path. Otherwise, all the different versions are specified.


If you’re using a 64-bit version of Windows, you have two folders labeled “Program Files.” Windows puts 64-bit programs into the folder simply called “Program Files,” but Elements, like many programs you may install, is a 32-bit program, and Windows puts 32-bit programs into a folder called “Program Files (x86).” If you have a folder called “Program Files (x86), that’s where you should always look for Elements’ files. This book includes a reminder note every time this applies, such as, “Go to C:\Program Files [Program Files (x86) if you have a 64-bit system]\Adobe\Elements 9 Organizer.”


If you head over to this book’s Missing CD page at, 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 with them (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 just 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 in advance 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, too. And while you’re online, you can also register this book at (you can jump directly to the registration page by going here: Registering means we can send you updates about this book, and you’ll be eligible for special offers like discounts on future editions.

Safari® Books Online

Safari Books Online is an on-demand digital library that lets you easily search over 7,500 technology and creative reference books and videos to find the answers you need quickly.

With a subscription, you can read any page and watch any video from our library online. Read books on your cellphone and mobile devices. Access new titles before they’re available for print, and get exclusive access to manuscripts in development and post feedback for the authors. Copy and paste code samples, organize your favorites, download chapters, bookmark key sections, create notes, print out pages, and benefit from tons of other time-saving features.

O’Reilly Media has uploaded this book to the Safari Books Online service. To have full digital access to this book and others on similar topics from O’Reilly and other publishers, sign up for free at

Get Photoshop Elements 9: The Missing Manual now with O’Reilly online learning.

O’Reilly members experience live online training, plus books, videos, and digital content from 200+ publishers.