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Given such a low price, Photoshop Elements has just about everything you need for manipulating photos, whether you’re correcting for shooting errors, performing a sophisticated compositing job, or just being creative. For serious work, perhaps the most time-consuming and important task is selecting portions of the image (for instance, so that you can blur the background, lighten a shadow, or remove an unwanted object). Elements scores very highly here, with a wide range of selection tools and the ability to make fine adjustments to the selection margin. Especially nice is the Magic Selection brush. Simply scribble over the part of the image you wish to select, and the software will figure out where its boundaries probably lie (see Image 3). The Magic Extractor takes this one step further: you show the software examples of both foreground and background, using a few brush strokes, and it will intelligently separate the one from the other.
For retouching a photo, Elements has the usual clone tool and brushes for local adjustment of sharpness, contrast, etc. The editor has special controls for adjusting skin tone, which can be great for warming up a subject shot on a grey day or “improving" your holiday tan (see Image 4).
Filters vary from the subtle to the avant garde. At the subtle end, if you wish you’d dropped a Wratten Number 85 warming filter over your lens before taking that sunset, you can do it now instead. Converting color images to black and white is especially nice, because you can choose the filtration used in the process. Those of us old enough to remember black-and-white film will know that the best way to bring out clouds against a blue sky is to add a yellow or red filter to the lens. A red filter will also make trees look dark, while a green one will lighten them. Elements lets you do all this and more, and has a useful set of presets for producing good black and white portraits, landscapes, or urban shots. Rediscover the impact of monochrome!
Like Photoshop, Elements also has comprehensive support for layers, allowing you to isolate parts of an image and manipulate them individually, matte one image onto another, or add filters that can be readjusted or removed at any stage in the workflow. At the more creative end, you can add distortions, convert photos to paintings (the artistic filters are quite impressive, compared to some), or paint over images using semi-natural art brushes to produce your own masterpiece in watercolor (see Image 5).
Once you’ve created the perfect image, you can use it to make a CD label, add it to a musical slideshow, publish it to a web photo service, make your own postage stamp or calendar, or even, if you insist, print it out. A nice feature for today’s happy snapper with a zillion-GB memory card is the ability to automate the processing of multiple images (see Image 6). These can be resized, auto-enhanced, and renamed and/or converted from one file format to another as a single batch.
Although it has some suitable tools, Elements is not geared towards creating original artwork from scratch, for which you should consider an application such as Painter. Nor is it ideal for serious design tasks like creating posters or package art. If that’s your ball game, you need to invest in a full-scale graphics program or suite like Photoshop or Corel and be prepared to pay a lot more money.