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Dave Cross's Top Ten New Photoshop Elements Features

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Compiling your top 10 favorites of anything is difficult, especially when there are many possibilities to choose from. That's certainly the case with Photoshop Elements 3 — trying to narrow it down to a top 10 new (or improved) features was really a challenge. But, top 10 it is, so here goes...
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1. The Dramatically Improved File Browser

The File Browser in Photoshop Elements 3 is a dramatic improvement over the "original" File Browser, offering many new time-saving features.

The File Browser (on the Mac), for example, now has its own menus: File, Edit, Automate, Sort, and View. Each menu contains a slew of options for working with images right inside the File Browser—without forcing you to open any of the images first.

Now, to automatically create a slide show, contact sheet, or Web gallery, you can select several images at once and simply choose PDF Slide Show, Contact Sheet II, or Web Photo Gallery from the Automate menu.

The new File Browser also lets you "flag" images for easier viewing and searching. This is a blessing for those of you who take a lot of pictures because now you can choose to view only those images that you've flagged. You can also search for only flagged images, which makes it faster to find just the shot you're seeking.

Oh, didn't I mention that there's a search function in the new File Browser? Yes, you can apply keywords to an image and then use the File menu's Search function to find all the images with those keywords.

And that's not all! In the new File Browser, you can also access and work with metadata—File properties, IPTC, and Camera Data (Exif) can all be viewed or searched.

2. Camera RAW Support

Photoshop Elements 3 now supports the Camera RAW format from high-end digital cameras allowing for the sort of advanced image editing previously only available in Photoshop CS.

To edit this "digital negative" in Elements 3, just double-click a RAW file in the File Browser. The Camera Raw dialog will open, with a ton of options for adjusting the white balance, exposure, shadows, saturation, sharpening, and more. You can save your Camera Raw settings and easily apply them to other RAW images. Very cool.

3. Shadows/Highlights

One of our former top 10 Photoshop CS features is now in Elements 3: Shadows/Highlights. This command (found under Enhance>Adjust Lighting) is set by default to lighten the shadows by 50 percent and to leave the highlights alone, but you can easily change these settings. This tool is a great solution for times when you wished you'd used a fill flash or simply when you'd like to see what the image would look like if the shadows were a little lighter.

4. Healing Brush and Spot Healing Brush

Have you noticed a trend yet? Many of our favorite Photoshop CS features have quietly slipped into Elements 3. In this case, it's the Healing Brush, an ideal tool for covering up problems in an image without messing with the underlying textures. Elements gets a leg up on Photoshop CS, however, with the Spot Healing Brush—kind of a "one-step" healing tool.

5. Auto Smart Fix

Normally, I'm not a big fan of automated image adjustments, but this one works quite well. And if it doesn't appear to help, you can always undo it and try Adjust Smart Fix, a more interactive version of Smart Fix that lets you use a percentage slider to adjust the image (both options are found in the Enhance menu).

Smart Fix is particularly useful if you first duplicate the Background layer and apply Smart Fix to the copy. Then you can lower the Opacity of the duplicated layer in the Layers palette to lessen the effect of Smart Fix.

6. Cookie Cutter

If you've always wanted to have a photo cut into the shape of a butterfly, a heart, or a paw print, now it's possible—and incredibly simple. (OK, so you may never have wanted to do this, but I'm sure you'll find ways to use this tool, once you see what it does.)

Just choose the shape, click-and-drag, resize if necessary, then hit Enter and you're done. Actually, I would definitely recommend duplicating the Background layer first and hiding it. Then, apply the Cookie Cutter shape to the top (duplicated) layer. That way, you'll still get the effect of the Cookie Cutter, but you'll have a built-in back-up plan in case you change your mind.

7. Organizer

A Windows-only feature, Organizer lets you organize images and automatically create Web galleries and slide shows, including presentations that can be shown on your DVD player. Similar in many ways to the File Browser in terms of photo organizing, but with many added features, Organizer includes integrated access to calendar and email functions.

8. Duplicate Layer Command

OK, so it may seem like a pretty lame thing to put on a top 10 list, but to me, it's a reason to celebrate. The keyboard shortcut for the Duplicate Layer command (which mysteriously disappeared in Elements 2.0) has come back. Again, it may not seem like much, but considering the number of times that I start off by duplicating the Background layer, the ability to simply press Control-J (Mac: Command-J) is a godsend.

9. Photo Filter Adjustment Layer

Photo Filter adjustment layers, yet another feature borrowed from Photoshop CS, simulate traditional screw-on camera filters, such as warming and cooling filters. You can choose from a pop-up list or pick your own color and adjust the density. Since it's an adjustment layer, you can easily double-click the layer to change its settings or simply reduce its opacity to lower the effect.

10. Printing

I'm sorry, but since I was down to my last nominee, I bundled together a few things and called them "printing." Overall, printing is simply better than it was in Elements 2.0. A modified printer interface makes precise printing much easier and there is greater control in the printing layouts, as well as functions such as Picture Package.

There you go, my top 10 list of new-and-improved features in Photoshop Elements 3. Wait, I forgot to mention the changes to batch processing, the Photo Bin for working with multiple open images, the Reduce Noise filter, Match Zoom, the Histogram palette, and 16-bit support. Can we make it the top 20 features?

(Thanks to Dave Huss, author of Adobe Photoshop Elements 3: 50 Ways to Create Cool Pictures, for his Elements 3 feature list, which helped me narrow down my choices.)

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