Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 Review
by Jerry Jackson -  4/29/2011

Photoshop Elements has long been synonymous with image editing on PCs and Macs. In fact, if you ask most average consumers, they'll say they use “Photoshop” on their computers, when what they really mean is Photoshop Elements. Adobe launched a refresh of the software late last year with new features for Photoshop Elements 9 ($79.99). Let’s take a closer look at this latest update.



Despite the affordable price, Adobe Photoshop Elements 9 is a surprisingly complete photo editing solution with a number of new features to help spark your creativity. The new, easy-to-use interface and tools promise to make your life easier whether you’re performing a complex photo edit or simply sharing your family photos on Facebook. Here is a quick overview of the newest features:

Organizer and Content-Aware Fill
For starters, the new Organizer application truly is a major part of what sells Photoshop Elements 9. The old, cumbersome photo browsing and cataloguing tools in Adobe Bridge have finally been replaced with a simple user interface. You can add keywords (tags) to your photos to make searching for images easier, you can create albums and even locate all photos with a specific person in them thanks to the new facial recognition software that Adobe calls “People Recognition.”

Photoshop Elements 9

The newest version of Photoshop Elements genuinely seems to be aware of everything in your photo library. Not only does the Organizer make it easy to locate the photos you want, but the updated Spot Healing Brush now takes full advantage of Adobe’s new content-aware technology (formerly seen in Photoshop CS5). The old Spot Healing Brush did an okay job of covering blemishes or fixing dust spots, but the new content-aware Spot Healing Brush fills in the area with matching details, textures, and colors from the surrounding area.

As you can see in the images below, the content-aware fill sometimes has a hard time perfectly matching a complex background when filling a large area, but it does a surprisingly good job and you can always use the clone stamp tool to massage the final details when you fill in a giant area of your photo.  Bottom line, Elements 9 is great for removing telephone wires, blotting out bystanders, or simply erasing any unwanted objects from your photos as if they were never there.

Photoshop Elements 9

Photoshop Elements 9
After content-aware fill

Photomerge and Recompose
One of my favorite new tools in Photoshop Elements 9 is the Photomerge Style Match tool. This simple interface allows you to select any photo (including a few provided by Adobe) and use that as a “style template” for other images. Simply drag and drop the images that you want to edit and BAM! The color, contrast, saturation and even the exposure of your image is changed to match the image you selected.

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The style match isn’t always perfect at the default settings, but I was amazed how often the Photomerge Style Match tool made it easy to replicate the “look” of another photo simply by dragging and dropping the photos into place. These are the type of edits that would typically take quite a while, but you can now do them in a few seconds.

Photomerge Panorama now features enhanced blending capabilities (again, thanks to the “content aware” functionality within Elements 9) to fill in jagged edges as it automatically stitches together multiple horizontal or vertical photos. In short, it’s easier than ever to make panoramic scenes even if you didn’t take your photos perfectly side by side using a tripod.

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Photomerge will automatically stitch your photos together in a panorama and the “Clean Edges” dialog box will open asking you if you would like to automatically fill in the missing content in your panorama. Where previously you would have had to crop down to a smaller photo, now Photoshop Elements 9 analyzes the new panorama and fills in the missing content for you.

Along the same lines of complex photo editing made easy, the Recompose tool lets you change the size of a picture without changing the proportions of the key subjects. Why would you want to do this? Well, if you have a photo with several people in it, but they are standing too far apart, the Recompose tool will shrink the space between them without seriously distorting the people in the photo. If the default settings don’t work exactly right then you can “paint” over the subjects you want to protect before you use the tool.

Photoshop Elements 9

If you found any of these edits difficult, or want to learn about other photo editing methods, the “Guided Edit” mode gives you an easy introduction to image editing with step-by-step text instructions and videos. You can learn about using layer masks to apply effects to only a small portion of your photo, make “out of bounds” photos with objects that jump out of the edge of the photo, or learn to combine multiple photos to make an HDR image.

At the end of the day Adobe Photoshop Elements remains one of the best easy-to-use image editing applications for PCs and Macs. The overwhelming majority of casual photographers won’t notice the technical limitations of Photoshop Elements 9 compared to the much more expensive Photoshop CS5. In fact, most consumers will probably appreciate the fact that Photoshop Elements 9 is MUCH easier to use than standard Photoshop CS5.

The new Organizer, integration with Facebook and other online image sharing sites, and the many easy-to-use editing tools that take advantage of content-aware fill make Photoshop Elements 9 a true Editors’ Choice.