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First Look: Adobe Photoshop Elements 4

Several new features looked at within this review By John Virata

Adobe Systems has released version 4 of Photoshop Elements, its industry leading consumer-based image editing and management tool with new features and enhancements that make the application a must buy for image editing enthusiasts. Within the scope of this First Look, we'll take a look at some of the new features to this already robust application.

Magic Selection Brush Tool
You can pull certain elements out of an image fairly quickly with this tool. First you select the Magic Selection brush tool, select a new selection, choose a brush size and click or draw on the area of the image that you wish to select and release the mouse or pointing device button you are using to select the area. You'll see the selection border. You can then further tweak the selection with the indicate foreground brush if you want more of the image to appear in the selection, or use the indicate background brush to cut out portions you don't need.

Magic Extractor
The new Magic Extractor in Photoshop Elements 4 enables you to extract areas of an image based on the foreground and background elements that are selected by you. In the image above, I've used the Magic Extractor to extract the dog from the background of plants, bamboo, block wall, and other materials. With this image, I had to do it twice because the dog's face is both white and brown. On the first pass, I only selected the white portion of the dog, so half his face was missing. The second pass was more successful. You can then do further touch up to get the image the way you want it before you composite it into another project.

Skin Tone Adjustment
You can now adjust color for skin tone with Photoshop Elements' Skin Tone adjustment tool. This tool enables you to click anywhere on a person's skin and the software will automatically make an adjustment. You can further tweak the skin tones by either moving to a different point on the skin and clicking or by using the built in sliders in the Adjust Color for Skin Tone Window. The sliders include adjustments for tan and blush, as well as Temperature. With preview checked, you can monitor the adjustments on the fly and change them when necessary. As are most tools, this is a highly subjective tool that depends on your interpretation of skin tone, so it is easy to experiment until you get the skin tone that you want.

Red Eye Removal
Photoshop Elements 4 now features the capability to remove red eye from images as you import them into the Organizer, (you can also manually work with the red eye tool in the Editor) and if it finds images that with the characteristics of red eye, it will make the corrections to those images and save them along with the originals in a Version Set. The benefit to this is you are unlikely going to have to manually fix red eye in the images that you import into the Organizer. The drawback is the software will scan every image that is imported, regardless if their are eyes in the images, so it could take some processing time if you want to quickly start editing.



Straighten tool
If you've shot an image that is a bit crooked and wish to straighten it, Photoshop Elements 4's new straighten tool should help you to get it straight. To do this, you simply select the straighten tool in the tool bar, choose the Canvas Option menu in the options bar which enables how Photoshop Elements treats the canvas, select an area of an image that should be horizontal and drag the tool across it, making a straight line. The Canvas tilts as shown in the image below, which should be straight. You can then crop the photo. If you choose Crop to remove background, the software does it for you. Crop to Original size will move the image, you'll have to further crop.

Already available in most other applications that deal with fonts, the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) font menu enables you to see the font before you apply it to your project. It is not a huge improvement to the functionality of the application, but an improvement nonetheless.

Face Tagging
Face Tagging is a new feature that is supposed to speed up the process of identifying individual faces for easier tagging. With Photoshop Elements 3, you were limited with a tag that said just family or friends. Version 4 enables you to create tags with faces for better recognition. You select all the images in the Organizer that you wish to tag, and then choose Face Tagging from the Find window. Photoshop Elements 4 then will process all the faces in each of the images that you select. You can then proceed to tag them accordingly. You can drag the image to the image tag or you can drag the tag to the image. When you create an image tag, the first image you select will serve as a thumbnail on the tag, so you know whose images reside behind the tag when you click the tag. Tagging makes finding images that you've categorized easier. Face Tagging is especially helpful in this regard.

Search by Metadata

Metadata search tools
Photoshop Elements 3 enabled you to search for images via date, caption or note, file name, history (when emailed, imported, received, exported, etc.), media type, untagged, etc. Version 4 adds the capability to search by metadata created by the camera, among other metadata. You can search your images by such criteria as filename, type, shutter speed, F-stop, camera model, date, focal length, exposure program, exposure compensation, ISO speed, Flash status, etc. Of course you can also search by tag. These details are mostly embedded into the image by the camera. You can search by metadata in the Organizer by using the Find by Details dialog. Here you then specify the criteria in which you wish to search. After an initial search, say by focal length, it would be nice to see the capability to refine the initial search results with another search, say by date.

System Requirements
For this review, Photoshop Elements 4 was tested on two systems, both running Windows XP and both with 1GB RAM. The first was a Sony Vaio FS640 notebook computer while the second was a home brewed AMD Athlon XP 3000+ system. The application ran on both systems, but was snappier on the desktop system. The Vaio notebook didn't do as well when displaying images in the Organizer. It was slow, possibly attributable to several factors, perhaps the slower 4200rpm hard drive coupled with the shared graphics, or the Intel Centrino processor. It just doesn't have the horsepower necessary to adequately run a hardware intensive application such as Photoshop Elements, though the box lists the Centrino as a system requirement.  In addition, this marks the first release of Photoshop Elements whereby there is no Macintosh counterpart. The story is that a Macintosh version is in the works so stay tuned.

First Impressions
In addition to the new features, Adobe has made some changes to some of the existing tools in the application that we'll cover next time. In all, this is a pretty solid upgrade. The application's search tools are getting better, and some of the other new features, such as straighten tool and the Magic Extractor have made it easier to work with your images. We didn't look at some of the other new features such as PDF Support, One Click Printing, Slide Shows on TV, and the defringe tools, but they are just icing on the cake to this upgrade. The key to successful digital imaging is to treat your computer's hard disk drive not like a digital shoe box where you just download your images, but as a managed repository that enables you to better manage and manipulate those images. Photoshop Elements 4 leads the way in doing just this. Photoshop Elements 4 is available for $99.99 (boxed copy) $89.99 (download) or $149.99 bundled with Adobe Premiere Elements 2.0. For more information, visit

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at
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