|Photoshop Elements includes playful filters and effects like these floating hearts (Credit: Adobe)|
Adobe recently announced the latest version of its consumer editing software: Photoshop Elements 2023 ($99.99 or $79.99 as an upgrade). With the power of Adobe Photoshop at its core, Elements includes many of the features of its high-end sibling but without the steep learning curve (or, maybe more importantly, the subscription commitment). It’s the only remaining Adobe product to come as a perpetual license, so if you like this version of Photoshop Elements, you can stick with it for years to come.
Users can opt to edit photos on their own, utilize automatic adjustments or get assistance from the software’s Guided Edits. Project-oriented users, such as scrapbookers and craftspeople, as well as those who want to add artistic or fun effects to their images, often gravitate to Adobe Photoshop Elements for its creative content as well as its ease of use.
First released more than two decades ago, Adobe Photoshop Elements has reached a level of maturity that places many of its updates into the evolutionary versus revolutionary category. That said, Adobe has given Photoshop Elements 2023 a boost in performance and continues to take advantage of its Sensei AI technology to add features and make certain tasks easier.
Adobe has added new Guided Edits (and a search function for the edits), bringing the total to more than 87 step-by-step guides. These include ‘peek-through overlays’ – elements such as flowers or plants that can be added to one or more corners of an image to frame the photo. It has an option to adjust the overlay’s blur to give a sense of depth, though it’s important to choose the right image to make it work. I chose to mimic focus stacking instead with both the overlay and main image in focus since I couldn’t find any images in my archives that made an interesting combination.
|Included with the software are visuals that can be added to the corners of an image to add depth or use as ornamentation, like the foreground reeds seen here.|
New content, including new backgrounds and skies, as well as new patterns have also been added. Collage and animated slideshow templates have also been updated.
Overall, Photoshop Elements is logically organized and easy to navigate. There are a few little quirks. Camera Raw wasn’t installed by default, for example, and had to be downloaded. Instinctively, I double-clicked on an image in the Organizer expecting it to open in the Photo Editor. Instead, I had to use a drop-down menu to choose whether I wanted to open it in an external editor or the native Photo Editor. None of these quirks are a big deal, but to make full use of the application it’s best to explore all the drop-down menus to get a better idea of what’s available.
The software is segmented into three different sections: the Home Page, the Organizer and the Photo Editor (plus, if installed, the Premiere Elements video editor). The Home Page, which is the opening screen, provides direct access to news and special tasks like creating slideshows and accessing recent projects and images.
Not surprisingly, I disagreed with some of the software’s automated choices but many were spot-on in terms of exposure and focus.
Move to the Organizer for photo management tasks including importing, rating, captioning and categorizing images. While organizing images requires input from the user, Adobe provides the tools needed to sort photos logically – from creating albums to automatically recognizing and stacking faces so they can be further grouped (family, friends, etc.). And, if you want the program’s help in picking out your ‘best’ images, there’s an Auto Curate function. Not surprisingly, I disagreed with some of the software’s automated choices, but many were spot-on in terms of exposure and focus.
|Adobe Photoshop Elements’ Organizer provides multiple tools for searching and sorting images, including an automatic curating function that selects your ‘best’ photos. While I disagreed with some of the choices, most were some of my favorites, too.|
Within the Organizer, users can share images via email and to a handful of social media sites. There are options to order prints or begin various creative projects including slideshows, photo collages and photo books.
Undoubtedly, the Photo Editor is where most users will spend their time. A trio of options appears at the top of the main window: Quick, Guided and Expert. Choose Quick for some basic editing options, including a Smart Fix that often does a pretty good job and can be a safe place to start. For more control, there are options to tweak exposure, lighting, color (saturation, hue, vibrance), color balance (temperature and tint) as well as sharpening.
|Using Smart Fix often gives a good place to begin editing an image, which can then be tweaked to help improve exposure, white balance and other aspects of a photo.|
Guided provides step-by-step directions for various tasks, from resizing to correcting skin tone and more. The Guided edits are conveniently organized into categories such as Basics, Color and Special Edits.
|Step-by-step directions are available in the Guided mode. In addition to a new search function, topics are broken up into categories that cover various photo and creative processes.|
Finally, users can work on their own by choosing the Expert mode with its Photoshop-like interface and access to layers, selections and other advanced tools.
|For more experienced users – or those who want to explore manual adjustments – check out the Expert mode to access many of the same tools provided by Photoshop.|
In Quick and Expert modes, a toolbar is available for both automatic and manual adjustments.
Photoshop Elements is equipped with a number of special features that are often useful and time-saving. However, it’s important to note that AI features like sky replacement are only successful when working with certain images. When replacing a sky, for example, users need to match the lighting and exposure of the main image with the selected substitute sky. A bright, sunlit sky will look out of place when added to a photo shot on an overcast day – unless the goal is to produce a non-realistic setting for creative purposes.
Likewise, features using Content Aware Fill, like Move and Scale Object, work best when the technology is easily able to reproduce the surrounding area. When moving the young model below to another part of the runway, the dark portion of the photo surrounding the subject worked seamlessly. A background with a lot of small detail may not be as successful.
Another special feature is Moving Overlays, where you can add an animation to a still image. It’s kind of fun for posting online or sending greetings to a friend via email.
|The Moving Overlay feature lets you add motion to still images to text, email, or share on social media.|
Overall performance has improved significantly in Elements 2023; it’s faster on install and start-up times as well as most tasks. The software’s footprint is smaller, saving hard drive space and, importantly, the software now runs natively on Apple Silicon-based Macs. Not surprisingly, these Macs get the best speed improvements with launch times up to 62% faster than Photoshop Elements 2022 on an Intel-based Mac machine.
I found that installation was far faster than with previous versions, and although switching editing modules can be a bit sluggish, Elements 2023 is better optimized on the whole.
Photoshop Elements now runs natively on Apple Silicon-based Macs.
Although we were unable to confirm Adobe’s performance specs, the software was generally faster on our 2019 MacBook Pro during testing. Naturally, working with large files and/or performing complex adjustments and editing tasks slows things down – perhaps our expectations were a little too high in some cases. Still, performance improvements may be one of the best reasons for current users to update their older Photoshop Elements.
One of the software’s new Adobe Sensei-powered features, Moving Elements, is an easy-to-use cinemagraph-like motion effect. Like a cinemagraph, this process applies motion to part of a still image. In Elements, users select an object or section of the image and choose the direction and speed of the movement, whereupon a short MP4 or GIF is automatically created. The process itself is simple, but here again end results will vary depending on the image. For example, the movement of a red silk scarf trailing a dancer moving across a studio with a white background was disappointing since the scarf seemed to be slowly melting rather than flowing. On the other hand, a model in a chiffon dress walking on the runway seemed to work better. The best application we’ve seen is Adobe’s demo using a waterfall.
The Moving Elements feature can be fun but the dancer’s scarf doesn’t flow as nicely as I had hoped in this instance.
There are a number of third-party cinemagraph apps – some for free, others with annual prices that can reach about $300 – and you can always create your own using video clips and software. But if you choose an appropriate image, Photoshop Elements’ Moving Elements feature can produce some interesting visuals.
A new Photoshop Elements Web browser and Beta iOS and Android apps have been released, with plans to add features throughout the year. Right now, they’re very basic – pretty much for sharing and viewing inside the Web-based app. There are templates for photo collages and slideshows, complete with a choice of layouts, graphics and audio. You’ll need to be a licensed Elements user to access the apps, which come with 2GB of cloud storage.
Adobe Photoshop Elements is a solid editing application that spans a wide range of experience levels and, as such, is a good learning tool for those who want to grow their skills (almost) painlessly thanks to the many Guided Edits. At the same time, more advanced users will find more than enough tools and features to keep up with much of the image editing basics featured in other software on the market. While you won’t find some of the higher-end tools such as lens corrections, most editing tools – including selections and layers – are available if and when you need them.
Should current Elements users upgrade to the 2023 version? Other than its performance upgrades, there may not be enough new features to justify making the jump. But keep an eye on how Adobe develops the Web browser and mobile apps down the road since that may make Photoshop Elements even more attractive.
|What we like||What we don’t like|
Adobe Photoshop Elements: $99.99/$79.99 upgrade
Adobe Photoshop Elements and Premiere Elements bundle: $149.99/$119.99 upgrade