You might be tempted to dismiss photo editing software Photoshop Elements out of hand. It's the Fisher Price version of Photoshop CC. The PG-13 cut. It's the kind of photo editor your uncle uses. Boot it up and it brims with social media features: Facebook photo compilations, YouTube montages, Twitter sharing. And there's a quick edit feature so your uncle can perform vital adjustments, such as removing those dreaded red eyes.
Yet tucked away beneath this veneer of consumer-friendly features and enormous icons there's a semblance of the full-blown Photoshop CC. And, as usual, the best features from the latest edition of CC have trickled down into this version of the software.
One of CC's most amazing recent additions was its Haze tools. Not only can these remove atmospheric artefacts from murky photos, but they can also add haze. Elements' version, however, is simply for removing haze, which means you can't add mysterious fog to your background layers. It's still a clever addition, but photo editors will use it more than digital artists.
More useful is a Smart Selection tool. We often wake up in a cold sweat thanks to the nightmares of cutting out fine wisps of hair. In Elements you can create a broad selection, then fine-tune it to tackle more detailed areas with the stroke of a brush. It makes selecting intricate and ill-defined characters a breeze, and it's particularly useful if recomposing someone else's art.
Elements lacks Photoshop's more advanced features. There's no Magnetic lasso, no 3D functions and no vector tools. You will find all the essentials here, though: blur filters, a selection of brushes and transform tools will get you started with painting digitally, and it's tablet compatible so you can draw and paint just as you would in the real world.
The elephant in the room here is the price. At its RRP of £79 it's good value for money as standalone software, but thanks to Adobe's weird pricing structure you can pick up a year-long Creative Cloud subscription to Photoshop CC for £105. For that extra £25 you get the full Photoshop experience, with all the plug-ins and brushes you can chuck at it, as well as Adobe's Lightroom professional file organiser. Yes, it's an annual cost, but think of what you could achieve with Photoshop CC in a year!
There's an exception, though – and that's if you're an absolute beginner. The guided tutorials included in Photoshop Elements are so hands-on that they practically glue your fingers to your stylus. They cover everything from colour tweaks to recomposition, and they're a great way to learn the basics and gently ramp up to the advanced features. We recommend this approach for anyone who's yet to reach Photoshop first base, followed by enrolment in CC once you get to grips with it.