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Originally published October 12, 2012 at 7:06 PM | Page modified October 13, 2012 at 8:00 AM

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Photoshop’s new Elements is modern, accessible

Version 11 looks almost nothing like previous versions — which will be initially confusing to upgraders — but it changes in ways that reflect how people are using the application today.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Practical Mac

The personal-technology industry is conditioned to produce new ideas, new applications and new features. As consumers, we’re always looking for the latest cool thing.

But the industry itself is now quite mature, which means not everything is new. What do you do if you’re a stalwart company shipping the 11th version of one of your most popular applications?

Adobe found itself asking that question about Photoshop Elements, the consumer image editor and photo organizer that’s built using the foundations of Photoshop CS. A top-seller that delivers almost everything most consumers (and some pros) want in a photo editor, Photoshop Elements nevertheless was starting to show its history of feature accretion.

So Adobe revamped it. Version 11 looks almost nothing like previous versions — which will be initially confusing to upgraders — but it changes in ways that reflect how people are using the app today.

The biggest change is the application’s interface, which now makes you feel less like you’re locked in a windowless basement, swapping light grays for the blacks that permeated earlier versions.

I know, it sounds like a cosmetic adjustment, but it does make a difference. My only complaint is that, especially at first, the interface is almost sterile. It has no ornamentation to speak of, unlike its cousin Photoshop Lightroom (which in my opinion can go too far in that direction).

But, of course, that’s the point because what you want to focus on is your photos. After an hour or so, I settled comfortably into the new look.

Photoshop Elements comprises two separate applications. The Organizer, which is where you import photos and manage your image library, makes it easier to see where files are located on disk, and — thankfully — offers an Information panel where you can see and edit metadata about selected photos. In previous versions, this essential area was hidden away in a separate floating Properties palette.

A few changes are jarring. In iPhoto and Lightroom I often make use of smart albums, which display photos based on criteria I specify (such as all photos rated three stars or higher captured within the past six months).

In Photoshop Elements 11, smart albums are gone — sort of. Any smart albums you had in previous versions are converted to “saved searches,” now accessible by clicking the magnifying glass in the Search field. (In truth, this is just a reshuffle; smart albums were never too smart because you couldn’t easily edit them. It’s mystified me for years.)

However, a new advanced-search option makes it easier to find photos based on various metadata, so you can still get to what you’re looking for.

Making a triumphant return in version 11 is the Places feature, which maps photos based on embedded GPS data or locations you specify. The Maps feature disappeared in Elements 10, so it’s nice to have it back now.

The Organizer also adds a new Events view that echoes iPhoto’s, offering another way to locate photos based on time or by events you create yourself.

A bit more reshuffling occurred with Elements’ online-sharing options. You can still upload photos directly to Facebook, Flickr and SmugMug, but support for Adobe’s own service has been replaced by support for Adobe Revel (which has its pros and cons). That also means there’s no easy online-backup option, which is what I liked best about the integration.

The Editor component also gains improvements, although none as exciting to me as the addition of content-aware touchups in the Spot Healing Brush tool added in Elements 9.

An addition to the Refine Edge selection command will make you happy if you find yourself pulling your own hair out while trying to create masks around subjects’ wayward locks.

And there are improvements to areas where Elements really shines: guided edits that let you create effects with a few clicks instead of a succession of layers and adjustments.

What’s most important, though, is that Photoshop Elements 11 now packs all of its image-editing power — which is considerable, compared with most alternatives in this price range — into a package that’s modern, friendly and accessible.

Elements 11 costs $99.99, with upgrades from any previous version for $79.99; it’s also available in a bundle with Premiere Elements 11 (Adobe’s consumer video editor) for $149.99.

Jeff Carlson and Glenn Fleishman write the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to More Practical Mac columns at


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