Photoshop Elements 3 Organizer

Mac users should take note that this part of Photoshop Elements 3 is not available in the Mac version. The Organizer window is very similar to the Photoshop Album 2 window. Just like Adobe Photoshop Album 1 and 2, Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 Organizer is based around catalogs. A catalog is basically a database of the thumbnails of your images which keeps track of where the actual images are stored. This way you can view, for instance, the thumbnails of all images on a CD even though the CD is no longer in the CD-ROM drive.
The catalog system also allows for easy backup and restore of the thumbnails and original images. You can organize your image in different ways without having the need for multiple copies. For instance you can tag your images per country visited, and per topic, e.g. people, nature, animals, architecture, etc., or give them a ranking. It is then easy to show for instance all nature shots across countries with a certain ranking and create a slideshow of photo album based on that. There are numerous ways to find your images, including the find by color similarity feature introduced with Album 1. Most of the features described in Phil Askey's excellent coverage of Photoshop Album 1 on this site are incorporated in Photoshop Elements 3 Organizer.

You can also rank your images and even "stack" them in the Browser window like you would do with real photographs as shown in this animation:

A variant of stacks are "version sets" which contain the original version of the image and all edited versions. This preserves your original image and makes it easy to keep track of all edited versions.

From the Photo Browser window you can easily enhance your images in the Smart Fix window:

The Smart Fix window is a simplified "Auto" version of the earlier discussed Quick Fix mode in Elements Editor which also has sliders. If the Smart Fix window does not lead to satisfactory results, you can easily switch to Elements Editor in Standard or Quick Fix mode.

Creation Setup

The whole purpose of organizing your images is to select your best images and show these to family and friends. This is where the create button comes in:

The Create window could hardly be easier to use and requires virtually no experience.

Create Window

Template Example

The slideshow option consists of "Simple" PDF slideshows, which have the benefit of being universal. The only downside is that you cannot specify transitions per slide. This can only be done with the "Customized" slideshow option, but that option has unfortunately no PDF output and is limited to *.WMF (Windows Media File) or VCD (you can burn directly from Photoshop Elements 3 without the need for third-party software). The slideshow feature also allows for the integration of video and audio. For those of you interested in video editing, Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 also can be purchased together with the new Adobe Premiere Elements for video editing.

Photo Compare

The Organizer has also a full screen photo compare feature, ideal to select the best image out of a series of similar shots.

Thumbnail Generation Speed

I ran a test on a 2.6GHz Pentium 4 machine with 756MB RAM, FireWire connected to a 250GB 7200rpm hard disk and no other applications running and imported 1,000 JPEG and 100 RAW Nikon D2H 4 megapixel images. Test results with other images and hardware configurations will of course be different, but this should give you a general idea:

1000 JPEG images (4 megapixel each, total 1.75 GB) Time
Import images with thumbnails 105 sec
Import images with thumbnails + refresh of all thumbnails 460 sec
View all thumbnails with ACDSee 7 73 sec
100 RAW images (4 megapixel each, total 327 MB) Time
Import images with thumbnails 44 sec
Import images with thumbnails + refresh of all thumbnails 105 sec
View all thumbnails with ACDSee 7 73 sec

In terms of importing images with their thumbnails, Photoshop Elements 3 was slower for JPEG images and faster for RAW images compared to ACDSee 7 which took 73 seconds in both instances. However, after importing, Photoshop Elements 3 seems to need additional time to rebuild the thumbnails from low quality to high quality. This makes it much slower compared to ACDSee7, especially for JPEG images. The animation below alternates between an initial lower quality and final higher quality thumbnail.


Photoshop Elements versus Photoshop CS

If you are on a tight budget and/or are a beginner, Photoshop Elements 3 will go a long way and is an excellent starting point on the Adobe Photoshop learning curve. It gives you the benefit that most of what you learn in Elements 3 can be used again in Photoshop CS, should you decide to upgrade in the future because most of the commands and shortcuts are the same.

As the name implies, Photoshop Elements is not meant to replace the professional Photoshop CS which is the right choice if you are serious about one or more of the following: working in wider color spaces such as LAB or ProPhoto RGB, advanced color balance tools like color balance and selective color, CMYK conversions, layer masks on layers other than adjustment layers, curves adjustments, duotone, tritone, and quadtone images, working in individual channels, advanced work in RAW, unrestricted work in 16 Bits/Channel mode, working with paths, working with extremely large documents, creating advanced web graphics, slices, actions, etc.

Essentially Photoshop Elements 3 is ideal for beginners up to prosumers, while Photoshop CS is ideal for prosumer to professional level.


Great leap forward compared to Photoshop Elements 2 and targeted towards digital photography.

  • Excellent value for money
  • Industry standard quality and performance
  • Improved and user friendly graphical user interface.
  • Many features from Photoshop CS, albeit with reduced functionality (indicated with *)
    • Healing Brush*
    • Histogram Palette*
    • Shadows/Highlights*
    • RAW and 16 Bits/Channel support*
    • File Browser*
    • Divide Scanned Photos
    • Filter Gallery
    • Photo Filter
    • Bicubic Smoother and Bicubic Sharper Interpolation*
  • All new features such as
    • Spot Healing Brush
    • Cookie Cutter
  • Smooth integration of Elements Editor with improved functionality Elements Organizer
    • Fast switching between applications after initial startup
    • Improved features such as the Creation Setup and Smart Fix
    • New features such as Stacking and Photo Compare
  • Covers the complete workflow: RAW, editing, organizing, and creating.

Potential Areas of Improvement

  • Application startup and thumbnail generation speed could be improved.
  • Non-RAW noise reduction is rather weak.
  • RAW conversion is less "native" (this applies to CS Camera Raw as well).
  • Reduced functionality compared to CS (acceptable from an entry-level package).
  • Unable to specify individual slide transitions in PDF slideshows.
  • Mac version does not come with Elements Organizer.

Highly Recommended
(for beginners up to prosumers)

This article is written by Vincent Bockaert, author of
The 123 of digital imaging featuring
Adobe Photoshop Elements 2 & 3 and Photoshop 7 & CS