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Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    Photoshop improves stellar amateur graphics program

    by Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #701 April 1-7, 2003; High Tech Office column 

    Two weeks ago, this column looked at several free and simple programs that give users the power to view and transform images and to quickly produce Web pages filled with thumbnails of photos.

    Beyond free and simple software are the often expensive and complex tools used by graphics and design professionals, programs like Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Freehand. They can cost $1,000 each and be the subject of college-level courses. They are powerful but beyond the needs, inclination or budget of most of us. (Consider the free The Gimp from www.gimp.org if you need the power and have the time but not the budget.)

    In 2001, Adobe released Photoshop Elements ($149), offering 85 per cent of the power of its pro-version for 15 per cent of the cost. Calling it "software for the rest of us," I listed it in my best-of-2001 column. Now, the company has released version 2.0 of Elements (with versions for Windows, Mac OS 9, and Mac OS X), improving what was already a good program.

    Aimed at the non-professional, hints appear for each brush selected, making it easier to pick the right tool for any job. The useful but sometimes confusing "recipes" of version 1.0 have been replaced with more logically organized "tutorials" for common tasks. A search field in the toolbar makes it easier to get help when needed.

    There's a new "Quick Fix" feature, offering the most common adjustments - brightness, colour correction, focus and rotation - in a single dialogue box with handy before and after displays.

    A new Selection Brush tool simplifies selecting parts of a picture that need modification.

    As the name suggests, just paint a selection-area, then apply a change to it.

    Like the full version of Photoshop, natural media paint brushes let the artistically inclined paint with watercolour, oil paint or calligraphy effects.

    Sadly, the very useful Healing Brush has not been included. It is used to fix wrinkles and scratches in photos and was introduced in the latest full-version of Photoshop. It would probably be even more helpful in this amateur-oriented product than in the pro-version.

    There are features not included in the pro version, however. My favourite, carried over from version 1, is the Photomerge wizard, which automates combining multiple graphics into a single scene. It's good for panoramic landscape shots, but also useful for making a single image from scans of an over-sized original. Flash photos benefit from the simplified redeye removal. E-mail a photo and it can be automatically scaled-down for quicker transmission and reception.

    The File Browser offers thumbnail-views of graphic files in an interface reminiscent of Windows Explorer, making it easier to find your target photo among hundreds of similarly named files produced by digital cameras. And new batch-processing options make it easy to rename, resize or convert a folder full of files at once.

    Despite hints and tutorials, Photoshop Elements still resembles its pro-level, full-featured parent. Users may benefit by spending some time with a book such as Create! The No Nonsense Guide to Photoshop Elements 2 by Greg Simsic and Katy Bodenmiller ($26, McGraw-Hill/Osborne). It helps new users without making them feel like dummies or idiots.

    If you're prepared to put in some time learning to work with it, Photoshop Elements combines most of the power of pro-level Photoshop and additional help for a small fraction of the price. The missing features are generally the ones that would take the most time to explain. There's a trial version at www.adobe.com/products/tryadobe/. Photoshop Elements is bundled with some digital cameras and scanners.

    Buy Photoshop Elements from Amazon.com

    Buy 'Create! The No Nonsense Guide' from Amazon.con



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan