Review: Adobe Photoshop Elements, Version 7

By Gerry Blackwell
  • Print Article
  • Email Article

Photoshop Elements, the simplified consumer version of Photoshop, the premiere professional photo editing package, is the perfect image editor for small business folks who don’t need a pro tool but do need something more sophisticated than the software that came with their camera.

Elements offers a subset of the most popular features of Photoshop – everything most non-professional business people will need, in fact – and saves you a significant chunk of change. The new version 7, sells for $140. The latest version of Photoshop goes for $700.

You can also buy Elements in combination with Premiere Elements, a similarly simplified consumer version of Adobe’s professional video editing application. The two-fer price: $180. If you need both, it’s a good deal. We review only Photoshop Elements here.

Essential Upgrade?

If you already have Photoshop Elements 6 or earlier, do you need to upgrade to 7? Probably not. For one thing, the upgrade costs only $20 less than buying the program outright – which doesn’t seem like much of an incentive for people who own earlier versions.

Elements 7 also isn’t exactly a treasure trove of significant new features, and some of the more substantial enhancements will mainly be of interest to consumers. Still, as we’ll see, there are a few gems that might make an upgrade worthwhile for some of you. 

If you don’t have a photo editing tool and you’re in the market, put this one at the top of your list of contenders. Elements is the best-selling consumer photo editor for a reason. The program has four main modules or functions – Organize, Edit, Create and Share.

Creating a Masterpiece

Organize makes it easy to find and organize images located anywhere on your system, group them in albums and add captions and tags.

The Edit module is the guts of the program. It includes a variety of tools originally developed for Photoshop to crop, resize, improve color and exposure, apply special effects – make the image look like a painting, for example – and actually change the content of an image.

The Create module – mainly of interest to consumers – helps you put together slide shows, collages, calendars and books incorporating your images. Adobe provides templates, styles and ready-made artwork to make them look polished.

The Share module guides you through printing and creating e-mail attachments, online albums and CDs or DVDs.

As usual, our out-of-the-box experience with Adobe products was absolutely glitch free ‑ but not without some frustration.

We’ve never been able to figure out why it takes so long to install Adobe products – longer than most it seems. This is not a big deal because you will presumably only do it once, but it took more than ten minutes to install Photoshop Elements 7 on our test system, a 2GHz dual-core Dell laptop.

Adobe products also seem to take longer to load. It’s a minor frustration to be sure, and we tend to forgive Adobe because the products are otherwise so impressive.

However, one thing we really don’t like in Elements 7 is the constant pop-ups offering to sell you photo printing services. We’re sure there’s a way to turn them off – we certainly hope so – but it’s not immediately apparent how you do it.

Find Images Fast

Adobe has introduced enhancements in all of Elements 7's modules. A new Text Search function in Organize, for example, exploits the power of existing tagging features. You can add any number of tags (descriptors, typically one word) to each image. Tags could be people’s names, themes, place names.

Now you can search on them to quickly find images and create new subsets in the Organize window – all the pictures with Sally in them, for example, or all the pictures with both Sally and Mae, or all the pictures of Mae in San Francisco. The image set is created almost instantly as you type in the search field.

You can also search some – though not all – of the EXIF data, the information the camera automatically attaches to an image. Searchable fields: shot date, camera used, file name. Searches on other EXIF data items, such as shutter speed, yielded no matches.

Most of the best new features are in the Fix module, and most of them take existing capabilities and make it easier and faster for people who aren't graphics professional to exploit them.

The Guided Edit mode in Fix applies multiple actions with one click. So for example, “playing” an Automated Action called Faded Ink Vignette applies a series of changes to an image that make it look like an old faded color photo.

Also new is a section of Photographic Effects under Guided Edit that lets you do things such as create a line drawing from a photo in one click, or make your image look like an old-fashioned black and white photo or as if it were taken with high-saturation slide film. These effects were available before, Elements 7 just makes them easier to use.

Out Damn Spot

One of the best new edit features quickly eliminates distracting elements in an image, automating and simplifying the process of “cloning” elements from one image to another. It can be truly magical – though we’re not sure how often it will work as well as it does with the sample images Adobe provided for reviewers.

The trick is, you need two pictures with virtually identical set-ups. In both sample images, a tourist is posed standing in front of a sculpture. In one, a pedestrian is walking into the frame in the right foreground. In the other, a different pedestrian is walking out of the frame on the left (see Figures 1 – 4).

Using the Clean Your Scene action in Guided Edit, you load both pictures into the edit space, with the image you want to use as the final uncluttered picture on the right. Use the pencil tool to mark the unwanted object in the final picture – you just have to draw a line through it – and it magically disappears.

Photoshop Elements 7 replaces the pixels of that object with pixels it takes from the source image on the left in which the background is unobstructed. With the Adobe sample pictures, no remnants of the unwanted pedestrian could be seen – the clone was seamless.

If you often shoot in crowded places – trade shows, for example – and use multi-shot mode so you get multiple images with virtually the same composition, you could use this feature to make a composite of the best elements from two of them.


A new surface-blur filter (a filter is a small program that makes changes to a selected part of an image) softens surfaces while retaining sharp edges. This may not sound terribly exciting, but it’s great for enhancing portraits. If you select faces in harshly lit shots, this filter will eliminate blemishes, wrinkles and other unwanted surface detail in an instant.

Photoshop Elements has always provided various ways of presenting pictures and Elements 7 introduces some nice enhancements. They’re mainly of interest to consumers, but could be useful in business too.

The new photo-book creator lets you import pictures from your catalog (in Organize), then select a visual theme and layout style from the included template library. When you click the Create button, Photoshop Elements automatically creates pages using your pictures and the selected theme and layout style and shows it on the screen in double-page spreads so you can see what it will look like.

At this point you can move pictures around in the book and add text and decorative art objects to pages before – Adobe hopes – ordering the book from its online service, which of course you can access from right inside the program.

You could create books about company events and give them to employees as morale boosters and team builders – the company picnic, the management retreat, the trade show, etc. Or shoot pictures when important customers come to visit and create books to give them.

Bottom Line

Elements 7 is by no means an essential upgrade for existing Photoshop Elements customers, but it does offer attractive ease-of-use enhancements that help people get the most out of the program’s rich feature set. If you’re in the market for a new photo editor, the enhancements make Elements an even stronger contender than before.

Based in London, Canada, Gerry Blackwell has been writing about information technology and telecommunications for a variety of print and online publications since the 1980s.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

This article was originally published on December 11, 2008
Thanks for your registration