On the fourth week of the graphics workshop feature, lets look back over the previous weeks; so far we have covered the subject of getting photo’s onto your computer using scanners and digital cameras and how to get them off your computer using a printer. However, what do you do if you want to have some fun with them half way? Modern image editing software lets you do just that, you can put a photo on to your computer and play around with it; changing heads on peoples’ bodies, changing the background and so on, then, when you’re happy with it you can print your masterpiece.

Most scanners and digital cameras come with software to allow you to do just this, although probably on a very basic level; if however you really want the best then perhaps go for a program such as ‘PhotoShop 6’ by Adobe. Weighing in at around about £560, I’m assuming that most of you won’t want to spend this much money on one piece of software and so this week I’m reviewing its little bother, ‘PhotoShop Elements’. This includes everything you need for image editing at home but with a substantially lower £69 price tag.

So what does an image editor actually let you do with photos? For those of you not yet in the know, quite basically, an image editor is a program that allows you to grab any picture, either from a scanner or digital camera, off the Internet or from some other source and manipulate it in someway. The word manipulate can cover a whole range of possible things but generally speaking you’ll find that the most simple ones will allow you to print out, save the file, resize the picture etc. After a couple of months of using such a simple piece of software, you might find that you require a little more. There are currently plenty of products on the market, but as stated earlier, I believe I have found one of the best at a good price; ‘PhotoShop Elements’ by Adobe Software.

Starting with some of its most impressive features, PhotoShop Elements allows you to effortlessly merge two or more photos together; for example if you have scanned in 5 pictures that you took in an attempted panorama shot using multiple shots on your camera it will automatically stitch these together.
Another nice feature is that it allows you to actually remove the background from a picture. Assuming that you have a picture of you on Broadsands beach, not that there is anything wrong with Broadsands, but wouldn’t it be nice if you could change the background to, say that of a location in the Bahamas? Well if you scan in the pictures of the two different locations, Photoshop will delete the existing background and then if you just put the picture of yourself on top of that of the Bahamas, you’ll find that with a small amount of touching up (changing the light level, removing shadows etc.) you will be able to get a realistic looking scene.

One of my favourite features of the better quality image editors is the feature of ‘Layering’. This is a process used to ensure that if, for example you write text over the top of your picture using the computer that you would always be able to remove it and see the image behind once again. This may seem like an obvious feature, but most low end editors would simply leave black where the text once was.

In addition to these features above you also get around one hundred filters and 50 different effects to apply to your photos, features such as automatic red-eye reduction, automatic straightening of photo’s you scanned in wonky as well as the ability to compensate for improper lighting or colour levels and the list goes on.

Obviously the package also has the standard features such as the ability to view multiple pictures, the standard paint and drawing tools, the ability to compress files, create animated graphics for web pages and many more.

To summarise, I would say that PhotoShop Elements is a very worthwhile package for anybody with a scanner, digital camera or an interest in Web graphics. The majority of home users will have no need for the £560 package that I described at the beginning of the article and so by just cutting out the more advanced functions of the package, Adobe have allowed home users to buy the simpler version for around £69 from retailers such as Dabs (www.dabs.com). Obviously there are some downsides when you compare the product to the more expensive package but I feel that these are more than compensated for by the lower asking price.

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