Miscellaneous Ramblings

Photoshop Elements 3.0: All You Need?

Charles Moore - 2005.07.11 - Tip Jar

Adobe Photoshop Elements is one of my favorite applications - one that I would not want to be without, either for editing digital photographs or scanned film photos. Other applications can do some of the same things, but in most instances not as conveniently. Nothing else I'm aware of matches Elements as a one stop, comprehensive, digital photo editing solution.

For lighter-duty image editing or conversion tasks, I am more likely to opt for faster, nimbler applications like the excellent freeware ToyViewer, venerable Color It! 4.1, nothing really matches Photoshop Elements' power and versatility when it comes to serious image editing - except, of course, its larger and much more expensive professional stablemate, Photoshop CS.

For the vast majority of digital photographers however, Photoshop Elements has vastly more power and features that they will likely ever use, so Photoshop CS would be expensive overkill.

Photoshop Elements 3.0Photoshop Elements is pretty big at 146 MB for the application folder, but that's slimmed down a bit from Elements 2.0 (162 MB). It still takes its time starting up, but the user interface has been completely overhauled with a cleaner appearance than Elements 2.0 used. My gut tells me that it is also quicker opening image files than version 2.0, and Photoshop Elements 3.0 just feels "right" in an intangible way characteristic of good software

Photoshop Elements is designed to be a complete, comprehensive solution for anyone using digital photography, amateur or professional, offering a user-friendly approach to fixing common photographic flaws and enhancing digital images by application of a few mouse clicks - and it delivers on that promise.

You can import photos into Photoshop Elements directly from a digital camera, from a scanner, or from photo CDs and other archive media. The program can also help you organize and locate your photos using the new Photoshop Elements File Browser window (below), which may well be my favorite new feature in Elements 3.0. It can display the contents of any folder on your hard drive, including information such as format, dimensions, and file size, and can also create new folders, move files among folders, sort photos under several criteria, flag photos for quicker location and retrieval, create and apply key words to photos (which can be used to show photos by content), and serve as the starting point for photo merge. Buttons let you rotate, flag, or delete photos.

File Browser

The integrated File Browser menu bar provides fast access to Elements 3.0's enhanced organization and automation features. Keyword and Metadata palettes let you view and edit a wide variety of file information. Configurable palettes, custom thumbnail size, Recent and Favorites menus, and command buttons enhance the File Browser's convenience and utility.

You can also view thumbnails and edit the metadata for non-photo documents like Adobe PDF files. The new Automate menu lets you start batch processes from the File Browser before opening any files. The enhanced location menu with Favorite and Recent Folders makes it faster and easier to find photos quickly when you need them.

PDF Slide ShowYou can also create a PDF Slide Show using the File Browser's Automate menu. Note that PDF Slide Shows will not work properly with the Preview application that ships with OS X; viewing these slideshows requires version 5.0 or later of Acrobat Reader or the full Acrobat program.

New features in Photoshop Elements 3.0 include:

  • Keywords - Define and add keywords to your photos in the File Browser window.
  • Editable metadata - View a wider variety of file metadata than ever before, with many categories directly editable in the enhanced Metadata palette.
  • Easily set preferences to display only the metadata that you want.
  • Searchable metadata - The search function in the File Browser allows you to hunt for photo files by a variety of criteria, including the metadata attached to the files.
  • Batch processing - Rename, convert, and enhance groups of photos simultaneously, right within the File Browser window.
  • Customizable window panes - All palettes and the main File Browser window can be resized to create the arrangement that suits you best, including larger previews and palette groups.
  • Custom thumbnails and preview - Choose from preset small, medium and large thumbnail sizes, set your own custom size in the File Browser Preferences panel, and adjust the preview size simply by dragging the Preview palette edges.
  • Favorite and Recent folders - Automatically track recently used folders, and add any you like to the new Favorites list for instant access. Access to other file types - Choose whether to render previews and thumbnails for other graphics types such as Adobe PDF files, and whether to include files for which no preview is possible, such as word processor documents.
  • Custom view - Drag photos in the window to rearrange their order, making it simple to compare photos in the File Browser. You can also drag photos to the Folder palette, to quickly move pictures between folders on your hard drive.
  • iPhoto Compatibility - Set iPhoto to use Photoshop Elements 3.0 as its editing application, and changes you make to JPEG images are instantly updated in Apple's photo organizing tool.
  • Before and After - With live before and after views in the new Quick Fix mode, you can easily compare the effects of your edits, before you save them. This is very useful.

When you open Photoshop Elements 3.0, you are presented with a 3-window interface.


  1. The editor window contains an area for open photo files and the Standard toolbars and menus for collecting photos and collecting portions of a photo.
  2. The Photo Bin (bottom) is a window containing thumbnails of photos that are currently opening in the Editor, allowing you to quickly switch among them (it reminds me a bit of the Tab drawer in the OmniWeb 5.1 Web browser).
  3. The Palette Bin (right) contains three palettes to help you select and organize options, commands, and information (named How To, Styles and Effects, and Layers respectively). You can customize the palette to display any of the eight palettes included in Photoshop Elements 3.0.

Photoshop Elements is a powerful program incorporating pretty much everything that Photoshop did a couple of versions ago - and more besides - while also accommodating the casual user or user-in-a-hurry who just wants to clean up and optimize photos quickly. The new "Quick Fix" and "Smart Fix" modes in Elements 3.0 that utilize a few commands that require just a single click. The one that I have found most useful, and indeed would not want to live without, is the Lighting and Shadows correction command.

Quick Fix

Quick Fix gathers the most frequently employed lighting, color, contrast, and sharpness adjustment controls in a single, convenient location with your choice of large before and after previews, which helps simplify and streamline the process of correcting common photo problems in a series of photos. Combined with Photoshop Elements 3.0's new Photo Bin feature, you can focus on one photo at a time, make your adjustments, and then move on to the next in a series without having to close and reopen the Quick Fix workspace.

Smart Fix

New to the arsenal of Photoshop Elements 3.0 automatic adjustments, Smart Fix instantly corrects lighting, contrast. and color problems in Quick Fix mode with a single button - or you can use a simple slider for more precise control. You can also apply Smart Fix in Standard Edit mode, using commands in the Enhance menu.

noise reduction

Smart Fix automatically adjusts brightness and contrast. "Adjust Color" instantly corrects colors hue, temperature, and tint. The "Sharpen" tool shell improves fuzzy images, and the "reduce noise" command cleans up photos such as one's taken with a camera phone or in poor light conditions. The Shadows/Highlights filter (discussed below) is best when your photos have one area that is exposed badly, but when you take photos in low light or using a high ISO rating, the result can be pictures with wholesale color or pixel distortions. The noise reduction filter built into Photoshop Elements 3.0 can greatly improve these photos.

Specific Fixes

red eye tool

The Red Eye Tool corrects the dreaded "red eye" effect caused by flash reflecting off the subject's retina, and the Spot Healing Brush tool and Healing Brush tools can be used to provide the fast fix for picture flaws. With the Healing Brush, you sample a clean area of your photo and then paint across the flaw &emdash; a technique similar to using the Clone Stamp, but with the Healing Brush, the texture and shading are preserved. For smaller flaws, you can use the Spot Healing Brush, which can simply be clicked on the flaws with no sampling of a clean area beforehand.

The Crop tool's function is self-explanatory, but Photoshop Elements 3.0 now features Crop tool presets in many common photo sizes. Choose a preset and drag in the Quick Fix preview to crop out areas and resize your photo for printing.

Divide Scanned Photos

There is a handy new Divide Scanned Photos command. No matter how carefully you place photos on a scanner, they always seem to slip out of alignment as you close the lid. Photoshop Elements 3.0's Divide Scanned Photos feature addresses that problem - and you can also save time by scanning more than one photo at a time. Divide Scanned Photos can do much of the work if you're importing a large batch of photos: straightening photo pages, cropping each photo individually, and filing each in its own file.

divide scanned photos

Photoshop Elements can save your images in most popular image formats, including Photoshop's proprietary PSD format, as well as JPEG, PDF, GIF, TIFF, and PNG.

Quick Fix and Smart Fix are very convenient and quick if you're new to the game or in a big hurry, but the standard Photoshop Elements 3.0 editing workspace provides precision control for more complex photo editing, with new interface enhancements that make it easier to work with many photos at once.

Standard Editing tools include:

Histogram Palette

Histogram Palette

An essential tool for precision photo adjustment, the Histogram palette lets you to monitor the changes to the bit depth of your photos as you work with them, allowing you to avoid clipping your photos too severely. It shows you before and after histograms as you use any of the photo adjustment dialogs like Levels.

Camera Raw

Camera Raw

Many newer digital cameras and scanners are capable of storing their photo data in an unprocessed 'RAW' format that is the digital equivalent to the film camera negative. Previously you had to process this data into a format like JPEG or TIFF before you could open it in Photoshop Elements 3.0. In effect, you were "printing" the negative and then editing the "print." With Camera Raw, you take control of your photos at the "negative" stage, which means having total command of the processing of the photo, for the maximum quality possible. Plus, your digital "negative" is preserved in its pristine original state, in case you choose to "print" it differently another time.

Warming FilterPhoto Filters

The new Photo Filter adjustment layers in Photoshop Elements 3.0 simulate the effects of the colored filters commonly used on camera lenses. A Photo Filter can be applied as its own layer or grouped with the active layer.

Lighting and Contrast Adjustments

Automatically improve levels and contrast, or use the slider controls to brighten underexposed areas, dim overexposed highlights or improve midtone contrast.

color adjustmentsColor Adjustments

Correct color with a single press of the button, or use the slider controls to individually adjust the saturation, hue, temperature, and tint of your photos


One of the most common problems in photography is the photo with a perfectly exposed background and a foreground subject that is either too dark (due to excessive backlighting) or too bright (because of too much front lighting). Formerly known as Fill Flash, the Shadows/Highlights filter adds a third slider to adjust midtone contrast for control over the three main lighting blocks of any photo. I was extremely impressed with the Shadows/Highlights command, which almost invariably did a better job of adjusting these parameters than I was able to manage manually using other adjustments.

before and after

cookie cutterCookie Cutter

The new Cookie Cutter tool lets you crop with shapes to create uniquely shaped photos simply by dragging. It's the ideal tool to create invitations, greeting cards, and so forth.

Filter Gallery

When you want to combine and apply any of a complete set of included special effects filters with live previews as you edit, the new Filter Gallery is the ideal method.


Paint Engine

Improved tablet support makes it easier to enjoy the complete set of realistic paintbrush effects in Photoshop Elements 3.0, including brushes that simulate oil paints, watercolors, charcoal, pastels, and a host of canvas textures.


The second-generation Photomerge feature lets you keep your photos on separate layers, even after merging them into a seamless panorama.

Synchronized Photo Navigation

Photoshop Elements 3.0 allows you to synchronize the movement of multiple photos with the Hand tool , or of multiple views of the same photo. This enables you to quickly navigate large documents while keeping the work area synchronized on all open views and photos.

Instant Email

With Internet-savvy Photoshop Elements 3.0, you can click the email button in the toolbar to quickly optimize and send your photos to friends and family.

Picture Packages

You can automatically create an optimal printing layout for a single photo or a set of photos with Picture Package. Photoshop Elements 3.0 features customizable Picture Package layouts, so you can create your own favorites and save them for future use. If you want to create picture packages for a number of photos at the same time, select the photos in the File Browser and then choose Picture Package

Web Photo Galleries

Photoshop Elements 3.0 features new, professionally designed Web Photo Gallery templates to give you more and newer options for showing off your photos on your home page, with no extra coding required. You can also now create Web Photo Galleries directly from the File Browser without first opening the photos.

Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0 also comes with a real printed manual. It's not very thick, but it does walk you through the basics of using the program, and I still much prefer book manuals to online help files.

System Requirements Macintosh

  • PowerPC G3, G4 or G5 processor
  • Mac OS X 10.2.8 or 10.3 or later
  • 256 MB of RAM
  • 200 MB of available hard disk space
  • Color monitor with video card capable of thousands of colors
  • 1024 x 768 or greater monitor
  • CD-ROM drive
  • Compatible File Formats: JPEG, TIFF, PSD, PDF, PICT, GIF and additional formats

Having used Photoshop Elements 3.0 for six months, I can say that the improvement over Photoshop Elements 2.0 is substantially enough that I've spent many hours going through my digital image folders trying out and applying some of the new tools and features in Version 3.0, which is faster, user-friendlier, slicker, and the new features make it so much nicer to use that they are definitely worth the upgrade. This is one of the great ones.

At an estimated street price of $89, Photoshop Elements 3.0's value is there, and then some. When you consider that you're getting most of the functionality found in Photoshop CS - and probably all of it that most of us would ever use - Elements 3.0 is a genuine bargain.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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