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Photography Question 
John G. Clifford Jr
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/18/2005

Photoshop versus Elements

I know that full-blown Photoshop has a multitude of features for graphic artists, etc. What I'd like to know is, as a person who is interested in photographic retouching and slight editing (not wholesale swapping of backgrounds, etc.), but who also wants access to things like PS actions, will I ever regret buying PS Elements versus the full monty?

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12/19/2008 10:15:12 PM

Richard Lynch
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/12/2005
I think I am in a unique spot to answer this question. I was a Photoshop snob until 2000, when a publisher asked me if I would write a book on Elements. I'd already published a few Photoshop books and wrote about it in magazines. My knee jerk reaction was to reject even the idea of it, as why would a pro take Elements seriously? But instead I agreed to take a look and see if I could come up with an angle. Within a week, I found that my previous perspective on Elements was all wrong ... the program could do a lot more than most people thought. Not only that, it would do a lot more than the manufacturer said it would. In fact, there were features hidden in the interface that you could access if you knew how that rolled out more of the power of Photoshop and made Elements a serious tool for digital photographers. That was when I wrote the first of my Hidden Power Books. I actually took apart the program folders and explored what could be added to Photoshop to bring back the editing tools I thought I needed. That process of discovery actually changed the way I edit images in Photoshop and Elements for the better while giving me new respect for the program.
That said, I know fully what Elements can do, I think, and what the real limitations are. For example, you can indeed save a CMYK image out of Elements successfully - and no you won't find it on the color mode menu. You can work with channels - in a different way than Photoshop, and I think a better one. You can apply layer masks ... you can run actions ... you can mix channels, do calculations, you can apply obscure features like Blend If, you can work with and combine vector elements. ... some of which require the tools I make available from my elements website: There are tools for every version of the program. They are not plug-ins, really, but actions that you install in Elements to access native features that lie hidden there.

In consideration of all that, here is what I am fairly certain cannot be done in Elements:
-Create actions (I've done it, but the process is ridiculous, and I'd never want to explain it to anyone who was not already a programmer)
-Work with scripts and custom script additions
-Edit 16-bit images with layer support
-Work with 3D models (PSCS Extended)
-Do graphics for web design (Image Ready until PSCS2, and then the features were rolled into PSCS3 as the Image Ready program was discontinued.
-Sophisticated video support
-Medical imaging support (PSCS Extended)

Other things I would tend to want to use Photoshop for rather than Elements:
- Volume CMYK editing work
-Bezier vector tool applications (there is a Paths plugin for Elements, but it comes with little support).
- I feel the color management in Elements is slightly lacking ... but the proper understanding and effort can overcome that issue.

I may have missed a few minor things here and there will be specific tools you will not have access to if you are used to working in Photoshop. Some people find that to be a huge drawback, but my impression is that just about anything you need to do in normal photo correction can be accomplished. In fact my Photoshop Courses here on are open to Elements and Photoshop users because the techniques I prefer are so similar and applicable to both programs, without requiring any modification to the program as is.
So, for the most part I completely agree with your quote: "you'll be well-served by Elements and will never need full-blown PS for what you want to do"...In fact I may be the one who started saying that 8+ years ago. You will be good with Elements, unless you want to definitely record your own actions, have the need to work in and edit CMYK images, are interested in scripting, video, 3D modeling, web design, architecture, medical imaging, and more complete high-bit support (16 and 32 bit). That may sound like a lot, but none of it is necessary to editing photos, and if none are an interest, I am not sure why you'd need more than Elements.
I hope that helps!

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12/20/2008 6:40:42 AM

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