Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 review

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Organising and enhancing thousands of digital photographs is a time-consuming task, and software needs to help make it as productive and enjoyable as possible. Key to this is the working environment, and the biggest change to the latest version of Photoshop Elements is a complete interface overhaul. Everything looks more streamlined, with a greater focus on images. Most significant is the reworking of the side taskbar, now offering consistent centralised access to core features through four main tabs – Organize, Fix/Edit, Create and Share – across the Organizer and Editor modules.

The Organizer module is Elements’ principal strength and has long set the standard for image management, with advanced features such as version stacking, face tagging, location mapping, ad hoc collections (now renamed Albums) and camera raw support (enhanced again). The main introduction here is the Smart Album, which pulls out selections of images based on specified criteria. Simple examples include all photos taken in the last six months or shot with a certain camera, but you can also combine more advanced criteria to, for example, grab all images rated four stars or above, taken within one mile of a given location.

The Organizer should also play an important role for quickly enhancing images, and the range of commands has been expanded and brought together under a new Fix tab. In practice, however, most corrections are purely automatic, so they either work or they don’t: the only hands-on control provided is cropping. The end result is that for all but the simplest enhancements, you still have to load the separate Editor module.

In terms of editing power, the dedicated Quick Fix workspace’s slider-based control over lighting, colour and sharpness is largely unchanged, but you can now retrospectively refine edges when working with selections made with the near-magical Quick Selection tool. There’s also a new alternative Guided Edit workspace, which provides handholding and access to more advanced power for straightening images, removing colour casts, touching up scratches and correcting skin tones. Pulling these out from Full Edit mode is a step forward in terms of usability, although it would be more efficient still to merge these into the Quick Fix environment or in the Organizer.

It’s the new Guided Edit workspace that provides access to the standout feature in this latest release, though: photo merging. Whenever you take group photos, it’s a law of nature that someone will have their eyes shut in each shot. Using the Photomerge command, Elements 6 automatically aligns multiple images so you can combine the best elements from each. The Full Edit workspace also sees minor improvements to the excellent Healing and Clone Stamp tools, and to the Brightness/Contrast and Convert to Black and White commands.

Far more fundamental is the overhaul to photo-based projects such as albums, collages and CD cases. Previously, when creating a photo album you’d call up a single simple dialog in which you’d specify size, layout, theme and number of pages. Now, a new taskbar-based wizard walks you through the process step-by-step, offering a wider range of themes and layouts to choose between.

A similar taskbar-based revamp has also been made of the various commands now handily pooled under the new Share tab. Here you can create advanced pan-and-zoom slideshows, burn CD and DVD presentations and email photos as attachments or as part of the message. Most useful of all when it comes to getting your images seen is the ability to create, customise and upload online galleries.

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