Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0

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When it comes to managing digital photographs on a Windows PC, I run into organizational problems. Generally, I dump photos into folders that I name and date by hand. Then, when I want a particular photo, I rummage around until Iíve found it. If I want to back up my photos to another drive, I usually just copy the whole mess, or at least the stuff I know isnít yet backed up. Itís clumsy. So I finally decided to enlist the organizational talents of a program Iíve relied on for many years for something else: photo editing.

No, Photoshop is not a gadget, but itís been a trusted friend to gadget lovers longer than the digital camera has been a consumer reality. (My first copy came bundled with a scanner over a decade ago.) When the cheaper Photoshop Elements hit the market about five years ago, I was relieved: all of the really complicated stuff was gone, leaving the more intuitive tools I use to clean up — or totally mangle — a photo. Photoshop Elements 5.0 has new editing features, but I wonít dwell on them, except to say that the program is still tops. What Photoshop Elements now provides, with vast improvement over earlier versions, is a nice way to organize and share pictures.

Mac users get iPhoto for free, so they know the familiar organization window — a giant screen full of pictures that you can scroll through and tag with different characteristics. There is no Photoshop Elements 5.0 for the Mac, probably for good reason. The next Windows release, Vista, will have some comprehensive photo tools, but having the organizing system and editing tools in one package is advantageous.

I dumped over 10,000 photos into Photoshop Elements' library. I probably should have started smaller, but Iím all or nothing when it comes to digital endeavors. I first went through looking for photos that had the wrong dates attached. (Note: If you donít set your cameraís date and time, you will pay dearly later on!) By consulting my calendar and the names of the folders I kept the pictures in, I was able to pinpoint pretty much every shot and re-date it so that it fell in more or less chronologically with the others. Clicking a calendar icon, I could see what pictures I took on any given day going back nearly five years.

I selected the whole library, and chose the ďStackĒ command. The program gathered identical pictures taken at the same time, hiding all but one. This is helpful if you have, say, over 2,000 shots of your wedding (which my wife and I do).

Next I looked for vacations. Selecting every shot from a given trip, I chose ďPlace on Map...Ē then typed in my trip location. It labeled the pictures, and placed a virtual pushpin on a world map. I can click various pins to get slideshows of my trips. Thatís really all the feature does at present — you canít click on a pin to print or e-mail all of those shots — but itís fun and hopefully the beginning of something better.

I went back through vacations and other memorable events and gave them tags, which can be used for printing and sharing. Tags arenít new to Photoshop Elements, but the ways to share are. You can quickly create sweet Flash photo galleries, carousels of revolving thumbnails or three-dimensional piles of photos, any of which you can sort through and view with your mouse. Pick a template, enter in an e-mail address or two and youíre done. You have to join Adobeís Photoshop Showcase, but like Kodak Gallery itís free.

Worry warts will especially like the backup feature — just select Backup, pick a drive, and it does the rest. Once you do a full backup (which takes some time), you can ask it to do incremental backups, only saving changed or new photos to the archive. You can backup to CDs or DVDs, though it helps to buy an external USB or FireWire drive for this.

The Photoshop Elements software I tested was a beta, and I noticed some sluggishness, especially when I loaded up the main library of 10,335 shots. I wish I could have done more with the Map and Calendar views, and tagging everything was a bit of a drag, although, one would hope, a one-time drag. Very soon cameras will have built-in GPS trackers and other ways to create tags instantly. When that day comes, Photoshop Elements will automatically sort íem out. At least, thatís my hope.