Image Really is Every Thing
One of the tasks of a modern education is to go beyond reading, writing and ‘rithmatic to introduce students to the tools required for living and working in a digital word. That includes not only using Office and some HTML programming but manipulating images with Adobe Photoshop.
With a simpler, less cluttered interface, the latest Photoshop Elements 11 program is the best version for education, yet. At 1.2GB, the software can be ordered as a physical disc or as a download and takes about 15 minutes to install and get ready for schoolwork. Be warned that it requires a mid-range computer, so it may not work on an anemic netbook.
When starting Elements 11, you can browse through the program’s Organizer, which gives vivid previews of existing images and can be categorized in a variety of ways. A big step forward for schools is the Event section, where photos of things like each year’s graduation or the spring concert can reside forever.
Or, you can dive right into the Photo Editor to open a file or start a new one. One of my favorites is that Elements 11 lets you start a new file with whatever is in the clipboard. It’s not new and it’s a little thing but one that can shave several mouse clicks off of a project.
The software can load most popular file formats, including a variety of uncompressed raw images directly from digital cameras. Elements 11 has a depth that is unrivaled by other image editing programs, but with that comes a lot to learn. I suggest having a companion book on hand and liberally going to the Help material. It’s a very complex program that can perform image magic.
To address this, the software has three different entry points that correspond to different levels of sophistication. In addition to Basic and Guided, the program has Expert settings. Each has progressively less hand-holding and more control over the program’s tools and abilities.
By starting with Basic, the student has a limited toolbox of things they can do as well as preset items, making it perfect for young children or newbies. There are routines for automatically fixing a photo, adjusting the exposure, levels or colors as well as ways to sharpen the image or work with the color balance.
By contrast, all of the program’s tools are available with the Guided sequences, and are a great for teaching kids (and often teachers) how to do specific tasks, like adjusting color or turning any image into a line drawing, until they become second nature. The sequence of steps you’ll need to follow are in the right in a gray box and as you finish one portion, the next one is ready.
At the pinnacle is the Expert section, which does away with all the training wheels. The good news is that at any time you can back track to the Guided lessons. There are also dozens of free videos available online that show how to do all sorts of things with the software.
In the Expert section, anything goes with an astounding variety of filters and actions, although you can’t create your own as is the case with the CS6 version. In addition to the expected rudimentary techniques, like moving an item, cutting and pasting or cropping, Photoshop Elements 11 is the easiest so far for silhouetting an item or adding a blur. All of these tools have a nearly infinite variety of adjustments and settings.
The program is useful for everything from pulling an image of the school off of a photo for a newsletter cover to merging elements from different photos for a graduation day montage. There’s a wide variety of image enhancements that can make a poor-quality or old photo look better or make photos of people look like comic book characters or pen and ink illustrations. But, by far the most astounding thing that Elements 11 can do is change the depth of field of a photo.
When you’re done, Photoshop helps to get it out of the computer and off to wherever it needs to go. In addition to output selections for sending it to a traditional printer, the program can format it for a greeting card, DVD cover or as a slide show. It can even automatically be sent to a variety of photo-sharing and social media sites.
At $100, it is about one-third the price of Photoshop’s CS6 professional version, but could still be overpriced for many schools. The software works with PCs and Macs, but the more limited iPad Touch app costs another $10. With Adobe’s educational discount, a school with 250 students might pay as little as $16,500, or about $66 each For Photoshop Elements. There’s a free trial version that lasts for 30 days to try before you buy.
+ Works with Macs and PCs
+ Good performance
+ Excellent range of image tools
+ Three different entry points for software
+ Great online videos
- iPad apps are extra
- Can be too much