It’s that time of year, my friends! The leaves are changing, the air is turning cooler, and a new version of Photoshop Elements has made its debut.
Photoshop Elements 11, which is available for Windows and the Mac, marks a significant departure from recent versions. Adobe has spent the past year—longer, in fact—completely redesigning the program’s interface to make it more approachable. There’s also a very welcome improvement to the program’s compositing tools, an interesting selection of new guided edits and filters, and several new options for viewing your image library in the Organizer. Here’s a closer look at some of the biggest changes. (To see many of these new features in action, be sure to check out the video collection in our Elements 11 Learning Center.)
A New Look
The most striking change in version 11 is the completely retooled interface. Adobe has worked to simplify the program’s visual design in hopes of making it more accessible to new users and a bit easier on the eyes. This means no more dark gray–a much welcome change–larger icons and buttons, and more legible text.
Experienced users, however, will have to spend some time getting used to where everything is. The Options Bar, which used to sit above the image window, is gone. Instead, you’ll now find those options in a new, much larger Options panel at the bottom of your window. This is also where you’ll now go to access the various tools nested within a tool group–for example, to select the Magnetic Lasso tool or the Rectangle tool. (Clicking on the tool icon in the toolbar no longer brings up a submenu of related tools, though you can still press the tool’s keyboard shortcut to cycle through them.) If you don’t like how much space the new Tool Options panel occupies, you can quickly hide it with the push of a button.
Another change that may take some adjustment for longtime users is the way panels now work on the right side of your workspace. In the Basic workspace, which is the default mode, you’ll only see one panel at a time. Panels can’t be dragged off into separate windows as they could in previous versions. Instead, buttons at the bottom of your screen let you quickly switch between Layers, Effects, Graphics (formerly known as Content), and Favorites. Meanwhile, a second category of panels, accessed from the More button, only opens in a floating window and cannot be anchored. These include the Histogram, Info, History, and so on. If this new setup doesn’t appeal to you, you can revert back to the old way of doing things by choosing Custom Workspace from the More menu.
There are also many smaller interface changes throughout the program. It’s now easier to see when a layer mask is selected, for example, thanks to a blue outline (rather than the subtle double outline used before), and an Open button in the top-left corner gives you quick access to recent files.
Despite its many selection tools and masking options, Elements has never particularly excelled at making a selection of fuzzy or semi-transparent edges, such as wispy hair or fur. Elements 11 takes a huge step in the right direction with the vastly improved Refine Edge feature. Borrowing technology from the full version of Photoshop, the Refine Edge dialog makes it much easier to get these types of selections.
You start by using one of the selection tools to create an initial selection around your subject. Then choose Select>Refine Edge. In the Refine Edge dialog, you’ll get a collection of sliders and tools to further refine your selection. The Refine Radius tool lets you expand your selection to include all of the wispy bits your original selection may have missed. When you release the mouse button, Elements works to detect the edges of the strands of hair and removes the rest of the background. If you do a lot of compositing work, this feature alone may make the upgrade worthwhile.
New Guided Edits and Filters
For times when you just want to get a specific look fast, without all the work of doing it yourself, Elements 11 offers the Guided Edit mode and a wide variety of artistic filters. In version 11, Elements adds four new Guided Edits—Vignette, High Key, Low Key, and Tilt Shift—as well as three new filters.
Vignette Darkening or brightening the edges of your images—known as a vignette—can help draw attention to the subject at the center, which is why the effect is used so often by photographers. A couple of guided edits already made it possible to quickly add a vignette, but none made it the sole focus. The new Vignette effect lets you choose from a black or white vignette, adjust the intensity of the vignette, and even refine its shape. It’s a great shortcut for a particularly common task.
High Key Creative lighting can add a lot of interest to an otherwise boring shot. But getting that lighting with your camera isn’t always easy. The High Key effect lets you pump up the highlight details in your image to create a bright, ethereal glow.
Low Key If you’re looking to add a bit of drama, the Low Key effect may be more your style. This guided edit emphasizes the shadow tones in your image, and is a great way to place your subject against a black backdrop after the fact.
Tilt Shift Capitalizing on a popular trend in photography, the Tilt Shift effect gives your shot the look of a miniature model by selectively blurring all but a thin band of the image.
Artistic Filters Adobe has also added three new entries to its collection of Sketch filters: Pen And Ink, Graphic Novel, and Comic. All three filters aim to create a hand-drawn look and provide many options and sliders for customizing the results, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.
New Workplace Views in the Organizer
Like the Editor, the Organizer has received a top-to-bottom makeover, resulting in a brighter, more visually appealing interface. Labels are much larger and a row of generously sized icons along the bottom gives you quick access to common tasks, such as rotating images, jumping to the Editor, or displaying photos fullscreen as a slideshow.
More importantly, the program makes some welcome improvements to managing and searching your library. Previous versions let you use keywords to tag your photos with names, locations, and other searchable metadata, but the process of applying and then searching based on these tags wasn’t entirely intuitive. In Elements 11, Adobe has made the process of applying this type of data much easier and created four different viewing environments that take advantage of the metadata you’ve applied and make it easier to search your library:
Media This option gives you access to all of your photos—as well as videos and other files you may have.
People If you’ve used the Organizer’s people-recognition features to identify the important people in your shots, this view will take you to a page that displays a stack of photos for each person. Moving your cursor over a stack quickly scrolls through all of the images tagged with that person. Double-click to see all of the photos in one place. You can also arrange people into groups—such as your immediate family, classmates, or mortal enemies.
Places Like to travel? The Places view gives you a mapped view of your photographic exploits. When you click on the Add Places button, you’re given the opportunity to place your images on a map. The feature relies on Google maps and is fairly intuitive to use. Once you’ve placed photos on the map, you can quickly fly around to different locations and see just the images taken there. (You’ll need to have an internet connection for the maps feature to work; however, you can also peruse your mapped locations in a list form if needed.)
Events To see all of the photos from a past vacation, your wedding, or the birth of a child, use the Events view. You can manually identify special events by selecting a group of photos and clicking Add Event; however, an even faster option is to let Elements group them for you. Switch the slider to Smart Events and Elements will group them according to date. You can then quickly turn one or more of these smart events into a permanent one. Saved events appear in photo stacks, making them easy to navigate.
In all, the new views offer a more intuitive and more visually appealing way to navigate your library. By the way, if you prefer to keep your images organized within a detailed file structure, Elements 11 also makes it a bit easier to drill down through that structure.
There are also many smaller additions and tweaks throughout both the Organizer and the Editor in version 11.
- In Quick Edit mode, each adjustment now also offers a grid of preview thumbnails that let you see the result of various settings before you make a change.
- If you aren’t familiar with actions, these recorded steps let you play back a set of editing steps on multiple photos. This can greatly speed up repetitive tasks, such as adding a border to the bottom for a caption. In Elements 11, Adobe moved the Action Player from Guided Edits to Expert mode to make it more accessible. It’s now also easier to load actions that you find from third-party sources. Unfortunately, Elements still cannot record actions.
- Elements 11 makes the process of loading third-party layer styles and effects much easier by adding them to the Preset Manager. Simply click on the Options pull-down menu from the Styles or Effects panel and choose Load Styles or Load Effects to access the appropriate the of files on your system or choose Preset Manager to manage all of your add-ons from one place.
- Mac users who use Adobe Revel, an online service that syncs images across multiple devices—such as an iPhone, iPad, and Mac—and provides editing tools, can now use the Organizer to send photos to a Revel library.
Photoshop Elements 11 costs $99.99; however, you can upgrade from any previous version of Elements for $79.99. You can also get the program bundled with Premiere Elements 11, Adobe’s consumer video editor, for $149.99.
Find out more in our Photoshop Elements 11 Learning Center!