Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 adds a few whiz-bang features, but it’s mostly an incremental update to an already impressive photo-editing application. Recognizing the Facebook has become the number-one photo sharing site, Photoshop Elements 9 now lets you directly upload to that social network. Unchanged is Elements’ focus on making it easy for novices to organize, fix, and output their digital photos, while offering “headroom” for users who want to perform more advanced edits and effects. This version adds some cool new effects, and it also makes the Organizer module available to Mac users. The result isn’t a big change, but then Photoshop Elements was already the leader.

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When you first start the app, you have a basic choice offered by two buttons: Organize and Edit. This presents a somewhat jarring aspect of Photoshop Elements—the separation between the organizer app and the actual editor. Even though products like Lightroom 3 ($189.89 street, 4 stars), Corel PaintShop Photo Pro X3 ($99.99 list, 3.5 stars) and Apple Aperture 3 ($199 direct, 4.5 stars) are at a more professional level, they both make the process easier by integrating the organizing and editing operations in the same app using tabs for the different modes.
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Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 : Welcome
Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 : Organizer
Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 : Guided Edits
Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 : Panorama


Lower-end tools like Picasa, Windows Live Photo Gallery, and Apple iPhoto also take this approach. But Elements’ Organizer beats products in its own price range on this score—Serif PhotoPlus X4 Digital Studio and Corel Paintshop Photo Pro X3. Serif’s organizer is even less integrated and capable than Elements’, and while Corel offers a bit more integration, its organizer isn’t as slick and powerful as Elements’.

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The interfaces within Elements’ two programs are themselves perfectly pleasing and functional. Organizer is the same for Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements, and thus displays both images and videos. I do wish there were a simple button to show just video or just photos, as Picasa does. Ditto for displaying the map view and importing images. It lets you switch between resizable thumbnail and individual image view, give a star rating, and tag (including face and place tags) items. Again, a filmstrip view would be nice, so you could see the full size image in the main window and others in the set along the bottom. A full-screen view does offer a nice, easy way to see your photo in all its glory, without lots of interface clutter.

A subtler change in the interface is that Adobe toned down its color scheme to make it easier to read by changing fonts and contrast levels. And I have to agree with Adobe’s tester feedback that this version is very legible, easy on the eyes, and puts the emphasis on the images. It’s miles ahead of Serif and Corel in this department.

Photo Organization
Elements offers regular tagging, which you can use to display just matching images, but you can also use specialized tags for People, Places and Events. You can also easily click on a star rating in the thumbnails if you’ve sized them big enough. Thereafter, you can limit the view to just images of a certain rating or higher. Back and forward buttons make it easy to get to an earlier view.

Photoshop Elements 9’s face recognition did a good job correctly identifying who owned a particular visage after just one identification. It didn’t display its square for profiles or faces held at diagonal angles, but that’s an issue with all face recognition. You can drag a square to any location to name a face, though this won’t affect later detected faces.

The integrated map is also pretty neat: You can drag a photo onto a location and see pushpins with thumbnails of photos taken there. It’s in every way the equal to iPhoto and Aperture’s Places, and could determine location from GPS data from my iPhone photos.