Dark Side of the Lens

Separation … which way to go? (Part 2)

Which way to go? So, we have decided, rightly or wrongly (well, rightly actually, according to me and I am never wrong, just ask my better half) that we are going with either Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Photoshop Elements. Phew! There’s one big decision made.

The current version of Photoshop is called “Adobe Photoshop CS3”, although CS4 is already being spoken about in hushed tones.

Adobe Photoshop Elements is currently at version 6. I’ll be using these two versions in the tutorials but much of what I will be doing will can also be directly applied in older versions, so don’t worry if you do have an older version (I got a free copy of Photoshop Elements 5 for instance with a graphic tablet I recently purchased).

From here on in I’ll be referring to “Photoshop Elements 6” purely as “Elements”, partly as that is how it is regularly referred to and partly to save my poor fingers, and similarly will refer to Adobe Photoshop CS3 simply as “Photoshop”.

The first, and to many the most important difference, is the price. At the time of writing this, Photoshop can be purchased directly from Adobe for US$649 and Elements for US$99. Wow, that is quite a difference hey? and Photoshop CS3 Extended is even more (but let’s not worry about that one for now).

In brief, Photoshop has heaps more features and yes, it can do a lot more than Elements, hence the price. Is the price justified? I think so, partly because I think Elements is an absolute bargain and if anything is underpriced.

So, if budget is an issue get Elements, if not get Photoshop? Oh, if only life were so simple!!!

Photoshop, fantastic as it is, can be very daunting to the newcomer, enough so that some still quiver even at the mention of the word. It can be more complicated to use simply because there are so many options. If there are 5 different ways you can do something in Elements there might be 50 in Photoshop.

Many view Photoshop as the tool for professionals and Elements as the baby brother for the home user. I don’t quite agree with that view as they also cover different needs. Where as Photoshop covers a vast range of image editing disciplines, and I use the word “image” rather than “photo” deliberately, Elements is really just targeting the photographer … which is great news for us!

Although the detailed differences between these two products are far too numerous to list, the main ones that will concern the photographer can be seen as … Photoshop can edit in 16 bit mode, CMYK color and enhanced color management, and has a vast array of task specific tools, (don’t worry if you do not understand all of these, if you don’t know what it means you probably won’t miss it).

For the vast majority of home photographers, especially ones new to photo editing, Elements will more than meet your needs. You are unlikely to exhaust the potential Elements has to offer and if you do so over time then the progression to Photoshop is simplified as you are already familiar with Adobe’s terminology, shortcut keys etc.

So, keeping in mind the options below are somewhat subjective, decide in broad terms what you want to achieve and then see where you fit on the following graph (click to enlarge):

Alternately, decide what sort of user you are likely to be, and then use the graph below (click to enlarge).

There was to be a third version of this graph with a scale that went from “two year old that’s more likely to eat the crayon than use it” to “Michelangelo on acid” but luckily I ran out of crayons myself before it was completed.

As with most choices such as this it is not black & white (not even 16 bit black & white) and you will sit somewhere on a continuum.

You obviously want to do more than just view your photos, as I assume that is why you are here. You probably are not (already at least) a graphics professional. So, I see the vast majority of my readers sitting in that middle area, where we have a choice of tools. Conveniently this is the area I am going to be teaching about (can you believe your luck!). So, I’ll be working with you mostly in Elements, sometimes in Photoshop to show you the more advanced techniques – and then how you can achieve similar results using Elements anyway. Paintshop Pro? Maybe someday.

Most, if not all, graphics packages will let you download a free (usually 30 day) trial of the product, so maybe you are the type of person who wants to go and play for themselves (I am for instance). Keep in mind, however, that as most of the principles involved will be common to all products, just applied in different ways or using different terminology, and therefore the last product you try might unfairly appear the easiest to use (hint: trial the one you really want to use last as then it is far easier to convince yourself it is the perfect solution – well, it works for me).

If you are still unsure then go with Elements.

Why? It’s a great place to start, does not break the bank, but you still have plenty of room to grow into the product and then expand to Photoshop in the unlikely event you do outgrow it. The same can also be said for Paintshop pro, except that the transition if you later switch to Photoshop will not be quite as simple.

Where do you buy it? You shouldn’t have any trouble finding it in your local computer store, assuming it is a decent size. Alternately it can be purchased from any number of sources off the internet. I tend to favour Amazon for this myself, simply as they are so huge you know who you are doing business with and are very unlikely to run into any problems (well, that’s my experience at least). Here are a couple of link to Amazon, US and UK, for both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements for those that are wishing to buy.

Elements at Amazon US

Elements at
Amazon US

Elements at Amazon UK

Elements at
Amazon UK

Photoshop CS3 at Amazon US

Elements at
Amazon US

Photoshop CS3 at Amazon UK

Elements at
Amazon UK

Please note: The above links are for the full Windoes versions of the products. If you require an upgrade, or are entitles to a student edition then follow the links but ensure you then purchase the correct version for you, as I do not take responsibility for anyone buying the incorrect version (sorry).

In next week’s thrilling instalment we’ll be looking at cookies and asking the question “with or without chocolate chips?” (as if there is really any choice!)



18 Responses to “Separation … which way to go? (Part 2)”

  1. Furlinger Says:

    Great article thank u.

    I got Photoshop Elements last month which sounds like a good decision.

    I have not got on very well with it as I have not had the time to learn it.

    How long till u have the video tutorials up?

  2. Natator Says:

    Hi Furlinger, and welcome

    You’ll love Elements I am sure. Be warned though, as you get more familiar with it, and start to do really fun things with your photos, it can become really addictive!

    I intend to start producing the video tutorials in the coming week. They won’t be all up at once though, they are something I will be adding as I do them.

    If you have anything specific you’d like covered then let me know (either here as a comment or using the feedback form). I have a huge list of tutorials I’ll be doing but the order, in most cases, is unimportant so if there is something specific people want I’ll see if I can slot it in early.



  3. Beth Says:

    I am having a tough time with layering. I understand the concept but need step-by-step assistance in its application.

  4. Natator Says:

    Hi Beth, and welcome.

    I know what you mean. Layers are, I believe at least, about the most powerful thing going for photo editing. They can take a little to get your head around, but they are the sort of thing that suddenly goes CLICK! and makes sense.

    I did have tutorials on layers planned for a little later down the track, but I’ll bump them up the list for you and start to attack them probably the tutorial after the cropping as I am mid doing that one already.


  5. Brian Cogger Says:

    Hi, I have just come across your site, and I must admit, it looks very promising. I looked at your introduction to elements 6 and thought it to be very good. I have now added you to my favorites, and look forward to your news letter.

    PS . I like Beth have trouble using Layers.

  6. Natator Says:

    Welcome aboard Brian, I am really glad you liked that video. I hope to get them all up soon(ish) in a higher quality as well (still free).

    Layers is going to be attacked next due to absolutely overwhelming demand … by you both 😉

    I’ll split layers over 2 or 3 videos, I’ve just got to work out the best approach the cover the basics and then build from there.



  7. kramrock Says:

    Great videos. They have been great help. I just got Elements 7 a couple of weeks ago and already feel like a pro. I especially liked the adjustment mask video and linking them together. Having used these features a lot. I am also a fan of the sponge tool especially for enhancing the eyes rather than changing the hue. That way I can highlight certain areas with more color. I would love to have the new cs4, but using Elements for photographs is really more than enough. Keep up the great work and looking forward to more great videos!

  8. Natator Says:

    Hi Kamrock

    Really glad you are finding the videos of use. I hope to be producing a heap more over the coming weeks, once life settles down a little from having our new baby.

  9. Dan Says:

    Just got PS Elements 7 as a Christmas present and it looks as though it will be a lot better than the free Kodak s/w I have been using to date – although it is certainly more complicated. Located your videos online today and have already found the ones I’ve looked at to be very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to do them!

    Congrats on the birth of your child! A lot of photo opps to be had there!!

  10. Natator Says:

    Thanks for the congrats, he is turning into a very bouncy little baby and seldom stops smiling now.

    I’ve not used the Kodak s/w but have used similar. I have yet to find one of those “freebies” that come with the cameras th comes close to something like PSE (though I have come across older versions of PSE bundled with a camera.

    How I can help you with the transition.



  11. malc1 Says:

    I’m enjoying watching your videos, they’re all very helpful. a list of what you’re planning to do would be good to enhance the anticipation

  12. Natator Says:

    What, and spoil the surprise for myself Marc (as I have no idea what I’ll do myself next 😉

    Seriously though, if I get organised enough to do myself a plan I’ll put it up here for sure.



  13. maryb Says:

    I have just watched your Layers videos and can’t thank you enough.
    I have bought tutorials etc .. but I wasn’t getting it. Finally the LIGHT WENT ON!! Thank You.
    I have PSE6 but recently bought PSCS3 Extended.
    Is it possible you will have any videos for this version in the future?

  14. Natator Says:

    Great to know you like them Mary 🙂

    I use CS3 myself, and love it. The reason I did the tutorials for PSE is there seems to be all sorts of expert advice for PS but far less for PSE. I didn’t go the PS path simply as there was more of it already out there.

    I would love to do PS tutorials as well, but am having real trouble even finding the time to do these. I’d also love to do a book with a DVD … but no time.

    I admit, I wish I could do this stuff full time rather than as a weekend hobby.



  15. alcaine Says:

    First things first: a big Thank You for the Elements video tutorials, they are just the right thing to reduce the feeling of helplessness when you realize how much there is to learn. Like the swimming coach who SHOWS you that you can actually float…

    I see myself investing a fair amount of time learning Elements, but I do expect (or rather hope?) to move to CS4 at some point (for now my photography budget is being spent on lenses etc. for my 6-month-old DSLR. Also CS4 is still, to me, intimidating.)

    My question is:
    How different are the basic operations in both, e.g. handling layers? You have indicated in the Separation articles that the basic operations are more or less universal. But how much will I have to UN-LEARN if and when I “move up” from Elements (PE5) to CS4?

  16. Natator Says:

    Hi Alcaine, great question there.

    I work in both CS4 and Elements, as you probably realise. Personally I prefer CS4 for most things simply as I am familiar with it and thus do not find it intimidating (any longer). In fact, I learned in Photoshop (5 or 6 I think it was) and only got into Elements later.

    If I was starting from scratch now, yet with the benefit of hindsight, I would now learn in Elements and only progress up to Photoshop once I was at ease with that. The budget constraints are indeed important and I feel you are taking the right path with getting your lenses in order first.

    The jump from Elements to Photoshop is really pretty seamless. You will probably start using Photoshop exactly the same way you had been using Elements. As you then explore further you’ll simply find better ways of doing things, or that you can do new things you were simply not able to before.

    As far as “unlearning” goes ….. I wouldn’t worry at all. All your learning will still be valid, you’ll just continue to grow and learn more.

    I actually believe you will learn faster with the approach you have adopted ,,,, as yes, CS4 can be a little overwhelming.

    Hope that helps.


  17. alcaine Says:

    Thank you Simon for your thoughts: you have put my mind at ease about investing time in learning Elements with a view to a future upgrade to CS4.

    By the way I have already used with great success your lesson on layer masks. I produced a couple of composite photos of people taken out of busy and unattractive backgrounds and now appearing surrounded by flowers and greenery. I was amazed at the enthusiastic response I received from the people involved. Thank you – and looking forward to any new future articles or tutorials.


  18. Natator Says:

    That is really excellent to hear Al 🙂

    I so need to get into doing more videos and am VERY frustrated at not having done any for so long.

    In the next few weeks hopefully!!!!!



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