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30 Minutes with Photoshop Express

By  Mar 28, 2008

Topics: Adobe Photoshop

Last night, Adobe sprung the beta release of an online version of Photoshop, called Photoshop Express. It didn't take long before I was hooked...

I caught a preview of Photoshop Express at Adobe MAX last October and was blown away by what I saw: a lightweight version of Photoshop running within a Web browser. Holy smokes, that was cool! At the time, Adobe said it was testing it and that it didn't have a release schedule, so all I could do was hold my breath and click my heels, waiting for it to pop.

And that POP! came last night around 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time as Adobe unveiled the Photoshop Express beta. Try as I might, I wasn't able to create an account last night (granted, I tried three times in the span of an hour after I saw the story hit on Google News so I figured the servers were getting banged on pretty hard), but I was able to create an account this morning, so here's my quick take on Photoshop Express, after about 30 minutes of poking around...

The site itself is pretty easy to use. Just go to and click the Join Now button to start creating your account. While setting up your account, you're asked to give a name for your Photo Sharing URL (for example, http://[your_name] This is a unique URL you can give to friends so they can look at the images you've made public. After configuring your settings, you'll have to wait a bit to receive a confirmation e-mail from Adobe, authorizing your account. Once you receive that e-mail, click the link and you're in.

Once I was in, I decided to upload three photos so I could play around with the editing tools. I ranked the photos, gave them captions, and then set about to editing one of them. The image I chose was one I took of the Space Needle in Seattle when I was there for a conference last summer. (The shot was taken at sunset using a Canon 30D, without a tripod, and me flat on my back on the grass to get the angle.)

One thing that comes to mind when you're using Photoshop Express is the word hover. Just hover your mouse over buttons when you want to know what something does or when you want to do something. For example, when you move your mouse over an image in your library, you'll see the Photo Options menu appear along the bottom of the image; click that and then select Edit Photo at the top of the menu to start hacking on your image.

A great feature I discovered by hovering over the various buttons is a full-screen mode that takes Photoshop Express out of your browsers and uses your entire display. The button that lets you do this is in the upper-right corner of Photoshop Express's window; it looks like a little blue display with little brackets around the corners of the icon. Click this to go into full-screen mode, and hit the Esc key on your keyboard to switch back to browser mode. This is great for people who have a monitor with limited screen resolution (for example, my MacBook).

The image editing tools are broken into three categories: Basics, Tuning, and Effects. I wanted to see what Photoshop Express could do, so I went right for the Effects section and started playing with Pop Color. This tool appears to select the two most dominant colors and provides you with buttons that allow you to filter that color to the entire image. With the Space Needle photo, the two dominant colors there were the deep blue of the sky and the tan/gold color of the building and its lights. To see how the colors might appear if applied, just hover over the buttons and the image in the edit view changes to that color palette. In this case, I clicked the tan/gold button since that converted the sky to black and white and gave the Space Needle a really cool sepia-tone effect. Clicking the blue button would have washed out the entire image, which I didn't really like. (See the image below for how the two Pop Color effects appear next to the original photo.)

After that, I applied a few more of the editing tools, including some Saturation, Fill Light, and Soft Focus. Once I was happy with the tweaks I made, I clicked the Save button to save the changes. Ta-da! It was that simple.

The only thing I didn't like about the Save operation, though, was that when I went back to the image library, the edited photo appeared there, not the original. This makes me wish there was a Save As button as well so you can keep different edited versions of an image in your library. If you want to convert back to the original image, you'll need to open the image again and click the Reset All button at the bottom of the edit window.

For a beta, Photoshop Express is a really great tool. It is easy to use, and while it lacks a lot of the features you'll find in the real version of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, it makes some of the most basic editing tools of Photoshop accessible to a much wider audience. And of course, that's the goal here, because to a photographer, Photoshop is like (at least to me) cheese; once you've used Photoshop some, you'll want to use it more.

If you want to learn more about Photoshop Express, author Jeff Carlson has been working on the Adob Photoshop Express Beta Pocket Guide for Peachpit. Look for an online sample chapter of that on Peachpit's site very soon, and look for it in a bookstore near you in the coming weeks. I've seen the outline for the book and it looks like it will be really useful.