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Book Review: Photoshop Elements 3 – The Missing Manual

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By TEMPLE A. STARK, Casa Grande, Ariz.

Since I’m a Photoshop 7.0 user, I considered Photoshop Elements 3 a step backward; after all there must be a reason Photoshop is so expensive, right?

I downloaded a free 30-day tryout of Elements (172MB), which was a fine, easy download on my Internet connection, but at 56.6 kbps would have taken seven hours. It was then as I waited the few minutes for it to download and flipped through the pages of the book again that I realized O’ Reilly offers me a 45-day free download, complete with coupon code.

That was just the first of many surprises with Elements.

Upon opening the program it has one of the few splash screens that’s actually worth keeping around. It offers “Start from scratch” “Open file for editing” and “Connect to Camera or Scanner” options as well as a fourth “Recent images” selection. that last choice will automatically list the last handful of photos you’ve worked on

I’ve got thousands and thousands of photos I’ve taken, so I opened a file. What PSE does is merge an image browser&#8212where you can look at a folder’s worth of pictures (or every picture on your computer), with the editing software. Pick your image choice and double-click it and you are in Elements.


First time users of any Photoshop program have every right to be scared half out of their wits by all the windows that appear when your image opens up. Cutely, they show up in a camera shutter-like spiral.

All along the right side are windows for layers, styles and effects, and the in-built Help guide. (Any of these windows can be hidden.) All along the left side are the basic tools&#8212crop, choice magnetic lasso, magic wand, erasers, brushes.

The Missing Manual does a masterful job of carefully explaining what each one does and how to get it to do what you want. The book also follows the natural direction that most people would follow learning the program: chapters such as Finding Your Way Around Elements; Importing and Managing Your Photos; Rotating, Resizing and Saving; The Quick Fix and so on.

That’s Quick Fix button is one of the first things I saw. Scared of all those windows? The Quick Fix button is always visible in the top right corner. When clicked you get the bare minimum of retouching and resizing including contrast, red-eye reversal and removal of bad hues, like that yellowed wash of indoor photos as a result of fluorescent light. The minimalist approach is often what’s best for a simple presentation of photos.


But at first all those windows show up and two very new-to-me things attract my attention early. On the left main tool bar is a heart shape. It even turns red as you move your mouse over it. Move the cursor over the separate tool buttons and a short description of each pops up (along with the hot button key to get to it.) The heart is the “Cookie Cutter Tool.”

That had caught my eye in the book as well as I’d fanned through it.

There are not only heart shapes but leaves, musical notes, snowflakes and many others&#8212a spoiled choice. When you mix this with the strategy laid out in the book, you can quickly develop quick, lovely-looking images. That other thing that caught my eye was an Effects menu, which shows one-click transformations such as 3-D buttons, special frames and drop shadows for your image of Grandma.

The only sour note with the program is that you can’t just roam around the effects one right after the other to see how one looks over another. Once you pick one you have to erase it to chose another one. Of course, you can add more than one effect. I also, at first blush could not alter the dimensions or the measurement of the effects&#8212such as making the shadows deeper or lighter.

The effects and styles and more are available in Photoshop (and you can preview and alter the effects there) but they aren’t as easily accessible.

Elements 3.0 is designed to be accessible in ways, the author says, that the previous versions were not. i can believe it.

The first section of the book introduces all the tool elements and what something like a magic wand can do. The best way to learn them all is to go out and take some photos you don’t care about and put them through your trial and errors. Makes sure to get at least a few that have a lot of color.

Following along with your own photos will also help maintain your excitement level as you see the words in the book in action on your screen.

This program is different from PS7.0 because it is designed to be even more intuitive and easier for people who just want to work exclusively on their digital pictures.

The images you see here I did in about five minutes. A certain part of that&#8212especially in the 9-11 fire-hose cap&#8212is knowing what to do already. But only a small amount&#8212and most of that is just being in a comfortable environment. Remember, the one-click effects and cookie cutter tool are completely new.

Chapter 6 will perhaps be the most confusing as it describes “layers.” such layers go beyond basic picture manipulation and move into the realm of really creating art.

As mentioned earlier, the further a reader gets into the book the deeper into the program they get. However, Chapter 9: Retouching 102: Fine-Tuning Your Images and Chapter 13: Type In Elements are two that will be valuable even early on, and they are worth a look.

“Elements” continues the Photoshop recent tradition of stellar ability to manipulate and change text. Text can be twisted, turned, squeezed and tilted back, as well as beveled into 3D curves. I remember when there used to be separate programs for this, and then I remember when these effects were only a part of the really expensive programs. No longer. PSE costs about $80 compared to Photoshop’s $600.

Two other functions of the program worked flawlessly.

A button sits at the top the program at all times that allows you to e-mail the photo you’ve got open for the program. It’s as easy as pressing the button to get it to work. The Web gallery function for putting a large amount of photos online works better than any other I have ever tried to work with. The visual themes that you can add are professional and it all worked flawlessly. (See a quick and dirty example here)

The book details the strength of a slideshow editor, also included that allows the user to add effects and even music. So another program&#8212Microsoft’s PowerPoint&#8212is mostly folded into this program, which is half the size and a sixth of the cost of Photoshop 7.0 or 8.0 or CS (the newest version).

Customization is rampant throughout as well, where you can set it up to prominently locate the effects you use the most.

Do not buy this program if you have a small monitor. You need a big screen&#8212at least 17-inch at 1024×768. That’s what I have and it worked out fine and all the words were big enough where I didn’t have to squint.

I enjoy many of the features of PS, the extra filters and their resulting distortions; and I welcome all the super retouching abilities it has, as well as the profession printing output. Since 6.0 Photoshop has come packaged with ImageReady, used for slicing and dicing images for practical (aka smaller) Web images.

This Missing Manual for PE3 shows that for about 75 percent of my basic digital photo manipulation and fine-tuning needs, Elements is all I need. Before I even opened the program, the book showed me that it was a much more powerful program than i had imagined.

I don’t know anybody else but me and a few techies where I work who use Photo software for anything else but uploading, organizing and&#8212maybe&#8212trying to improve their photos.

That’s the point.

That’s where programs like Paintshop Pro, and Photoshop Elements come in; a big brother on steroids version of such old-school programs as Graphic Converter and PhotoDeluxe.


A secret I try and tell as many people as possible is, when buying a new digital camera IGNORE the software that comes with it. It will be next to useless and, if you’re a PC user it is likely to cause a severe disruption in your system. not always to be sure, but my girlfriend and two of my editors downloaded the software that came with their expensive to modest digitals and they all got frustrated.

PC’s default image browser is Windows Media Player. A Mac’s default image program is now Preview, though if a camera is involved, iPhoto pops right up. I’ve tended to ignore that as well. I wouldn’t mind knowing how all my photo programs works with iPod Photo (which they will all soon be Apple announced earlier this week). But I don’t have one, yet, and that’s why I want to know how well it behaves.

Instead of the software that comes with digital cameras, I simply drag the photos folders over from the photo card or stick itself. Then I run them through Photoshop (if large-sized photos) or Preview (usually if less than 1MB each)

Postscript ::: It is worth noting that the version of PSE I downloaded did indeed have a 50-page “Getting Started” guide, though not necessarily a “found” manual. It seemingly starts the explanation pretty much at random with definitions no new user has the sense to ask about, yet, if they know nothing about the program. Though the PSE3 Missing Manual is an investment in itself (around $40) it is worth it to get you rapidly up to speed on your new purchase.

The Web site for the 30-day tryout download of Elements is here.

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About temple

Always been a writer, always maintained an interest in politics, how people communicate and fantasy worlds within photography and books. Previously wrote for Blogcritics back in 2005 and interested in exploring the issues and topics I'm interested - the changing landscape of entertainment. all from the POV of a creator first, consumer, second.
  • No! Temple, NO! My eyes are seared for the day by that heart – even more than Spielberg’s images last night. All your words disappeared under’s it’s stark brilliance.

    That being said, the second pic is creative.

  • That’s what I’m saying about the heart – it’s not at all customizable as far as shape. It’s the very first thing I did with Elements.

    Still and all – I took the flower picture.

    And wouldn’t you love to have that e-mailed to you? That’s what I’m going to do for Carmen – who’s camped out in Hawaii right now.

  • Clever arrow at the bottom – it almost points to the link for the PE download! [grin]

  • And I too the other photos, too, I should add.

    Elements is quite the program actually. I may buy the damn thing. I’ve already got the book 😉 so why not?

    And SP, there’s no stark brilliance coming from me 🙂

  • And SP, there’s no stark brilliance coming from me 🙂

    I’m sure Carmen would beg to differ esp after receiving that e-heart 🙂

    It’s been years since I received e-cards or hearts, such is the fate of us married women.

  • Daaaaang Aaman – you done been called out 🙂

    See Temple Stark, “stark” brilliance it was meant to … aw, nevermind… 🙂

  • Balderdash 🙂 – but yeah, I’ve gotta come up with something now – I guess movies, dinner, etc. just don’t cut it – Do any other senior members of the married men’s club have suggestions?

  • Wives always go for anything that shows you clearly thought about her wishes and desires. Chocolate-dipped giant strawberries, hand-delivered to the office, worked beautifully one year – but never after that; it was the surprise more than the chocolate, I’m sure.

  • By her this program !!!

    I’m sure you guys will be doubled over with the weight of the photos (well, metaphorically speaking) and this prog would be brilliant – especially the Web gallery feature.

    Or perfume.

    Or some of those necklace beads she saw (speaking of photos???)

    UM, not that I qualify as senior married but …

  • Temple, I get what you are saying 😉
    Photos of the bead show

    Aaman, get a baby sitter then it will all count 🙂

  • Hmmm, perhaps new hay is needed. The old seems to have lost its appeal.

  • You two are funny. New hay !!! OMG A kelosism comes to mind :buuuurn. 🙂

    I missed the bead post. Thank you. Comment left there. Something about scarecrows and hay, and a nearby Tin Man.

  • That’s Kelsoism.

    (That 70s Show)

  • Temple, does the program offer anything that Photoshop does not?

    I mean, if a person has PS, and is comfortable with its features, is this even needed?

  • Well, I think the Web album selections in PSE are better and simpler to get on the Internet; the integration of viewer program and image manipulation is there, where it is not in PS.

    Those are two biggies.

    And as I said, if you’re just doing simple digital fixing of your digi-camera images to set up for Web use – this is better.

    You can do batch files; so for example, you have 90 vertical shots then you can alter them all the same.

    Photoshop has this too, of course.

    The cookie cutter and the various shapes are there, where they are not in Photo shop, except through plug-ins.

    PS8 may have more than I have.

    I have not gone back, yet, to see if I can change the layer and effect settings for each one. I would think you would have to be allowed to, but it is a lot cheaper so, who knows.