Return to Elements

After a session with Photoshop CS2 and a preview of CS3’s capabilities, I went and got myself a permanent copy of Elements 5 after seeing the similarities between Scott Kelby’s books on Elements 5 and CS2. In any event, I fail to justify the cost of CS2 with CS3 being imminent and the attractions of Elements 5 were too much to ignore. I may yet go for CS3 but I’ll stick with Elements 5 for now.

The similarities between the different members of the PhotoShop family are eerie. Once I got used to finding some things in different places from where they are in CS2, I quickly found myself at home in Elements. The biggest miss that I found was the lack of an adjustment layer for the curves adjustment. Otherwise, everything else is as I would hope to find it and the sliders for curves adjustment in Elements make up for the absence of an associated adjustment layer. Bicubic resampling, an enhancement since Photoshop 7, is as per CS2 and my new workflow worked without too many changes. I took advantage of Kelby’s advice when using Camera Raw and used the Adjust Sharpness feature in place of the Unsharp Mask to get what I perceive to be good results. Everything seemed to work fine for the test digital photo that I was processing for my other blog. I am not totally abandoning my examinations of Elements’ big brother though; the smart layers feature looks interesting, especially for non-destructive sharpening.

More thoughts on learning to use digital imaging software

If you ever go into a bricks and mortar newsagent and peruse its shelves with an eye out for references to data imaging software, you might find Adobe’s Photoshop as predominant there as it is in the digital imaging world. And the same trend seems to continue in to the bricks and mortar bookshops as well. Online, especially within the vaults of Amazon, it is not as much a matter of what gets stocked as what gets published and my impression is that the bias, if that’s the right word, continues there. That said, I didn’t realise until recently that Elsevier’s Focal Press has been covering Paint Shop Pro, once branded the poor man’s Photoshop, from at least version 7. That discovery, if it had come earlier, may have made a big difference to how I have been using PSP. That said, I have seen some opinions that PSP is easy to use and that may explain the lack of attention from publishers. Future Publishing did put out a monthly guide to PSP but that seems to have disappeared from the shelves and it does lend weight to that argument. Or it could have been Corel’s purchase of JASC that changed things…

Of course, without books and magazines, it is not as easy to see the possibilities and it is here where Photoshop really scores. The digital photography revolution has ensured the software’s escape from the world of computing and the digital arts into photography magazines and beyond. These days, even conventional photography titles feature Photoshop how-to articles. In fact, such is the level of digital content in titles such as Photography Monthly, Practical Photography and Outdoor Photography that you hardly need to pursue the specialist digital photography titles at all.

Speaking of photography, this is and has been my main use of digital imaging technology, be it the scanner that I use for digitising the output of my efforts in film photography or processing RAW files from my digital SLR. I have been using scanners since 1998 and am on my second, a CanoScan 5000F. The colour rendition in the output from its predecessor, a UMAX 1212U, deteriorated to the point where a replacement needed to be sought. As it happened, the Canon proved to be light years ahead of the UMAX, even with the latter operating properly. Incidentally, my first scanning outing was in the then current version of Photoshop (I booked some time on a scanner at the graphics centre of the university I was attending at the time and sneaked in the scanning of a photo with the journal graphic that I needed to do) -- a limited affair, it has to be said -- but I then reverted to things like Corel PhotoPaint and Paint Shop Pro. And PSP was what I was using in the main even after encountering the copy of Photoshop Elements 2 bundled with my EOS 10D. Elements’ cloning capabilities did tempt me though and I did acquire a Focal Press volume on the application but I somehow never took it further.

At the end of last year, Corel and Adobe launch new versions of PSP and Elements, respectively. That got me tempted by the idea of giving the whole business another look, this time in detail. My look at PSP XI regrettably suffered from the lack of time that I could devote to it and seeing what a book on it might have to say. I had more of a chance with Photoshop Elements and came away impressed with the way that it worked. Since then, I have been making my way through Scott Kelby’s latest Elements book and the ideas are building up. At the same time, I have been making good use of a Photoshop CS2 try-out and I am on the horns of a dilemma: do I splash out on CS2, do I get Elements 5 or do I await the now imminent CS3? You’ll notice that PSP doesn’t feature here; the amount of literature pertaining to Photoshop simply is too much to ignore and I have loads more to learn.

Photoshop CS2 workout

I am in the process of adding new photos to my online photo gallery at the moment and the exercise is giving my Photoshop CS2 trial version a good amount of use. And the experience also adding a few strings to my bow in graphics editing terms, something that is being helped along by the useful volume that is The Focal Easy Guide to Photoshop CS2.

The biggest change that has happened is that to my workflow. Previously, it took the following form:

  • Acquire image from scanner/camera
  • For a camera image, do some exposure compensation
  • Create copy of image in software’s own native file format (PSPIMAGE/PSP for Paint Shop Pro and PSD/PSB for Photoshop)
  • Clean up image with clone stamp tool: removes scanner artifacts or sensor dust from camera images; I really must get my EOS 10D cleaned (the forecast for the coming weekend is hardly brilliant to I might try sending it away).
  • Save new version of image following cleanup.
  • Reduce size of digital camera image to 600×400 and create new file.
  • Boost colours of original image with hue/saturation/lightness control; save new version of file.
  • Sharpen image and save another version.
  • For web images, save a new file with a descriptive name
  • Create JPEG version
  • Copy JPEG to Apache web server folders
  • Create thumbnail from original JPEG

The new workflow is based upon this:

  • Acquire image from scanner/camera
  • For a camera image, do some exposure compensation; there is a lot of pre-processing that you can do in Camera Raw
  • Create copy of image in software’s own native file format
  • Clean up image with clone stamp tool and create new file with _cleaned as its filename suffix. I tried the spot healing brush but didn’t seem to have that much success with it. Maybe I need to try again…
  • Add adjustment layer for level correction and save file with _level suffix in its name.
  • Add adjustment layer for curves correction
  • Add adjustment layer for boosting colours with hue/saturation/lightness control
  • Flatten layers and save new image with _flatten suffix in its name
  • Sharpen flattened image and create new version with _sharpened suffix in its name
  • For web images, save a new file with a descriptive name
  • Create JPEG versions in Apache web server folders; carry out any resizing using bi-cubic sharpening at this point.

There remain a few things that I could do to improve on this. For instance, separation of raw, intermediate and final photos by storing them in different directories is perhaps one possibility that I should consider. But there are other editing tricks that I have yet to use as well: merged and blended layers. Bi-cubic smoothing for expanding images is another possibility but it is one that requires a certain amount of caution. And I am sure that I will encounter others as I make my way through my reading.

Photoshop books

Having exhausted the trial time on PhotoShop Elements 5, I am now having a look at its big brother PhotoShop CS2. That has got me thinking about PhotoShop books so that I become more of the possibilities and how to use them. Having a Safari subscription as I do, that naturally became my first port of call and I seemed to find two that answered my needs. Both are by Scott Kelby and they now lie on my Safari bookshelf: The Photoshop Elements 5 Book for Digital Photographers and The Photoshop CS2 Book for Digital Photographers. Even so, I am tempted to get a dead tree version of one of them and that presents a chicken and egg dilemma: the books could help choose which software to buy and the software dictates which of them will be the more useful. That said, I suspect price and features will swing it the way of Elements 5; paying over £400 for software whose capabilities I may never need does not sound financially sensible.

Update March 5th, 2007: I have now got my mits on the dead tree edition of Scott Kelby’s The Photoshop Elements 5 Book for Digital Photographers as well as Brad Hinkel’s Focal Easy Guide to Photoshop CS2. Now for some reading…