Photoshop Elements for Mac

January 3, 2009 11:45 pm

Tags: 2D, 2D graphics, 3D, adobe, adobe photoshop, photoshop elements, review, reviews

If you are a 3D hobbyist with “almost ok” 3D renders, or have a collection of photos that you’ve been meaning to “fix” and distribute to either delight or embarrass friends and family, the latest Photoshop Elements from Adobe is worth a long look. 

Also, to be fair to Renderosity readers, you need to know where I’m coming from regarding my perspective of Elements. I work professionally in the 3D, commercial illustration and animation industry, and have a long, long history working with the full professional edition of Photoshop (now Photoshop CS3). So, this review is done with an eye to hobby users, especially 3D and photo hobbiests, that are looking for a smart, effective way to manage collections of images and refine their photos or 3D images. 

Adobe has built an industry out of supplying visual tools that computer users want, that are powerful yet easy to use, and that are priced right. The latest version of Adobe’s acclaimed Elements is no exception. 

For the Renderosity audience, if you are considering getting Elements, it’s very important to understand what Elements is and what it isn’t, so you can make a good decision.

What Photoshop Elements Is

Elements is a set of two softwares: 1) the image editing software called Elements based upon the full Photoshop edition, and 2) image management software called Bridge. So, technically, Elements is a suite that offers you surprisingly complete image editing and management tools based on renowned, Pro-level software.

What Photoshop Elements Is Not

Now here, I have to compare Elements to the full Photoshop edition to make the distinction: Elements is not an image creation software, but rather an image manipulation software. There are some tools missing from Elements that the full edition of Photoshop has which allow users to easily generate images in addition to manipulate images. While you can certainly create new images with Elements, there is a ceiling that you will hit sooner or later once you become fluent with the program.

How Does Elements Help Renderosity Users?

Many of you are smarter than I am and have chosen vocations that don’t kill off brain cells as thoroughly or drain bank accounts as quickly as professional creative services do. Instead, image creation is done at your leisure, to explore beauty, adventure and more. But usually that means that you also may not be completely fluent with your 3D software, and haven’t received professional illustration or photography training. This is where Photoshop Elements is an outstanding addition to your toolset. Elements provides its users with an excellent collection of tools to adjust lighting, color, and correct common digital image errors or, as we say in the business, “issues”, easily and quickly. 

So, this allows you to rescue and enhance images you have that may be on the fringe of acceptability, and transform them into something great for your collection. Additionally, the Bridge image management software is simply outstanding, letting users collect, label and digitally publish images to printed albums or on-line web pages.

Consequently, I’ve broken the review into two categories, allowing you to easily consider Elements in the context of your interest.

Elements for the 3D User 

Bad Render Saved! This is a 3D render of a Dystopia model. The original render on the left is too dark and the contrast is too flat. In about 30 seconds, the image on the right was adjusted for contrast, color saturation and artificial depth-of-field (distance blurring) was added.

Nothing is really all that simple in 3D. You have to create your own complete world plus everything in it, light it, texture it and finally render it. Playing God isn’t quite so easy after all.

Elements lets users rescue images that are too dark, awkwardly lit or that have color casts you’d like to change. In fact, over saturating color in 3D is a very common problem, even for pros, which can quickly make 3D images look fake. With Elements, you can de-saturate color after a render. Or, if you’re going for the old time-y look, creating sepia tones is insanely easy with Elements.

Another problem for 3D creators is the simple fact that 3D is perfect and everything is always in focus, which is very unreal. While most 3D packages allow camera blur, it usually comes with a huge render-time penalty. Elements lets you quickly create depth of field and “grunge” up an image, or make it less perfect after the render is complete. Likewise, you can retouch your own images to make sure that hair is just right, and that there is enough detail.

Elements also give 3D artists the ability to adjust bad texture tiling on rendered images using the incredible Healing Brush, or, even better, create your own texture tiles from digital or hand painted files that you can use directly in your 3D applications. Elements does contain an image offset feature perfect for this.

Elements for the Photographer

The "before" image shows the photo in all of it's terrible glory. The "after" image on the right shows what Elements can do with a single click on the "Photo Enhance" option, plus a one click Sharpen option. The weird blue light cast was corrected, colors were corrected and the darkness of the vast room was de-emphasized.

Suppose that you’re not a software geek and don’t plan to be. You simply want easy, automatic, accurate color correction like taking the weird blue out of images shot in fluorescent light, or that overly yellow look of images shot without a flash with incandescent light bulbs. No problem, Elements delivers. In fact, Elements can fix a host of problems commonly associated with digital imagery in a single click: red-eye, light to dark ratios (gamma), overly dark shadows, etc.

Lucky you. You’ve been designated as event the photographer. But someone in the group is always blinking when you take the shot. Elements has some great, step-by-step tools to replace faces or combine the best elements of multiple photos, like open eyes, into a single image.

Want to create a nice glow and soften the image for a nice Hallmark Hall of Fame feel? Elements can do this in a snap, easily.

Did your fully automatic digital camera not put everything in focus? Elements has an outstanding sharpen tool that increases detail without adding funky halos around your images.

Are you shooting your images with something smaller than a $3000 Canon monster lens and the images are bowing slightly at the top and the bottom? Unwarp your images in a couple of easy steps.

Seamless panoramas? No problem, whether they are vertical or horizontal. Most digital camera manufacturers seem to ship panorama software with their products. However, it’s usually just for horizontal assemblies. Elements, along with Bridge, lets you build panoramas in either horizontal or vertical directions and takes lens distortion away in the process.

Common Sense

The classy and simple Elements interface gives you options to customize the powerful features to match your working style.

I know that we’ve all had the chance to use software that decides to “play by other rules.” That can leave users scratching their heads while working with it because there is no familiarity to the icons or interface. 

Adobe does a masterful job of creating engaging, functional and an attractive interfaces. While using this software, you will know that it’s not the full Photoshop, but it doesn’t look or feel that way. It has the visual interface equivalent of a Rolls Royce. And, to be quite frank, Adobe is the standard for image editing, and the Me-Too softwares have borrowed heavily from the tool icons and tool sets that Adobe has created. All that means is you will probably feel right at home with the interface in about 3 minutes after launching the program.

Change it. Not everybody works the same way. Adobe gives the Elements user the fantastic ability to customize the software interface to match the type of work and organization that best suits you. All software should be so user focused.

Documentation is via .pdf - the new norm. However, it’s logically organized, searchable and easy to understand. Really, everything that documentation should be. All entries are up-to-date with the software. 

Upgrading? What’s New?

If you’re already using an older version of Elements, of course you’ll want to know what the new features are. So, I’ll list the enhanced ones as well as some of the new ones:

The new Compositing features are great!

  • Photomerge® Group Shot
  • Photomerge Faces
  • Photomerge Panorama 
Other features: 

  1. Quick Selection Tool
  2. Color Curves Adjustment
  3. Black & White Conversions
  4. Lens Distortion Correction
  5. Batch Camera Raw editing
  6. Support for Camera Raw formats from newer digital cameras
  7. Flexible layouts for scrapbook pages, photo books, greeting cards, CD/DVD labels
  8. Backgrounds, frames, clip art & effects 

Also there are some new editing modes:

  1. Full Edit. With Full Edit, you have the flexibility and freedom to explore advanced editing techniques. Full Edit offers tools for correcting color and lighting, fixing image defects, making selections and creating special effects, adding text, and painting on your photos.

  2. Quick Edit. Quick Fix provides a fast, convenient way to enhance your photos. A full range of the most common editing adjustments—including color, contrast, and lighting—are accessible in one spot.

  1. Guided Edit. New in Photoshop Elements 6, the Guided Edit mode is an excellent choice if you are looking for more detailed instruction on how to find and tap into the most commonly used editing features. There are also more advanced Guided Edit instructions when you’re ready to learn and do more.  

Super Hero Super Powers - Organize and Distribute Like a Pro

The Bridge visual asset management tool previews stills and movies, tells all sorts of details about them, allows keywording and ranking for fast sorting. It also lets you build web presentations or publish to services that will print hard-bound portfolio books from your selected images.

Very seldom do you meet creative types that have innate abilities of masterful organization. Adobe Elements will make you feel like an organizational Super Hero. The Elements Bridge (a dashboard type of interface that can connect into other Adobe products or to web sites) is actually the full fledged Pro version with all of the bells and whistles. All image data, meta data (stuff a digital camera records like aperture etc.), plus the ability to keyword your images like “giant dwarf with sword smiting dragon” can be used to help quickly narrow down image searches. You can also rate your images for fast sorting.

But wait, that’s not all. A very, very cool feature is the ability to create portfolios or books of your images - illustration or photo. After using Elements guided process, you can save your portfolio as a web presentation, slide show, or even a printed, hard bound book, thanks to some strategic vendors that Adobe has wired into the Bridge software. This is very useful for student illustrators or photographers creating a portfolio, to hobbyists creating custom albums for distribution or sale. Of course, having your own “coffee table” book is sure to impress anybody that you have over.

To be honest, Bridge is such a robust software tool that I could easily do an entire review and description just on it alone. Suffice to say, the word “premium”, and the phrase “totally worth it” come to mind. It’s easy to explore and a breeze to use.

So is Elements Worth the Money?

Really, it depends on whether you are planning on remaining a hobbyist, or whether you have some professional aspirations.

Yes, for the hobbyist. If you fuss much with your photos, or spend time fixing 3D images, as a hobbyist, the purchase of Adobe Elements will have earned it’s keep in about four minutes. It’s just easy to use and delivers pro-level results without demanding a return visit to Computer School to understand what’s going on. Without question, there are some other good pixel-based, art software tools out there and you may have one of them, like Paintshop Pro or Painter. I love Painter X, but it’s really in a league of it’s own - Painter simply isn’t designed for what Elements does. Paintshop Pro does a pretty good job at pushing pixels around too.

What makes Elements stand apart from some of it’s nearest neighbor, mid-range competitors, is that Adobe is an innovator instead of an imitator. You get pro-level image adjustment tools along with the best in software refinements, while others are playing catch-up. And, at $89 (USD), the competitors really don’t bring any savings into the equation given Elements performance plus the inclusion of Bridge. The real value comes when you start using it. You’ll feel like you’re working with a finely crafted tool built just for you while getting great results at the same time.

No, for Pro. If you are headed in the direction of a visual professional, skip Elements and get the full Photoshop. Photoshop is simply the standard in the ‘business’, and becoming fluent with it’s options, complexity and ability is critical. One of the key areas missing from Elements is Channels - a tool set that you must have when creating complex, layered visuals, which is a requirement for high-end photo retouching, press-ready image production, matte painting or texture generation for 3D software.


I know, I may sound a little like an Adobe Fan-boy. But, for Elements’ miserly price, array of fully matured software tools and elegance of use, there is really no mentionable fault to find. 

The only regret that you’ll have after getting Elements is that you didn’t get it sooner.

Adobe Photoshop Elements for Macintosh

System Requirements


  • PowerPC® G4 or G5 or multicore Intel® processor
  • Mac OS X v10.4.8 through 10.5.2
  • 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended)
  • 64MB of video RAM
  • 1GB of available hard-disk space (additional free space required during installation)
  • 1,024x768 display resolution
  • DVD-ROM drive
  • QuickTime 7 software required for multimedia features
  • Internet connection required for Internet-based services

All supporting images are copyright, and cannot be
copied, printed, or reproduced in any manner without written permission.

Mark Bremmer is a moderator in the Carrara Forum here at Renderosity. He has operated his own commercial studio for 15 years. He’s been fortunate enough to work for clients like Caterpillar, Amana, Hormel Foods, Universal Studios Florida, and The History Channel; producing stills, digital mattes and animations. Mark contracts regularly as an art mercenary with production houses that shall remain nameless by written agreements. His production pipeline is Mac-based. He likes to fly perfectly good airplanes upside down and ride bikes on mountain trails in his native Colorado.
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