One-stop Photoshop

Jay Town
26 September, 2010
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Adobe Photoshop CS5



New Content Aware function; improvements to HDR Pro, Refine Edges, noise reduction and sharpening in RAW; new Mini Bridge; much simpler straightening of images; ability to save 16-bit images as JPEGs.


How can you fault this? It didn’t come out sooner?

$1168; upgrade $337


I have been using Adobe Photoshop every day for over 20 years, and I am still discovering new things about it. I keep thinking to myself that there is no way that Adobe  can possibly make this program any better… and then it does.

The thing that I’ve come to learn about Adobe, is that when it makes improvements to Photoshop, they are usually things that you weren’t longing for in the older version. Then you start to play with these new features and, pretty soon, you wonder how you ever got by without them. Well, CS5 is no exception.

Among the refinements in this version are improvements to HDR (High Dynamic Range – see AMW, April 2010), a new Content-Aware Fill, a much better Refine Edge tool, improved noise reduction and sharpening to RAW images, a new feature called Puppet Warp, and a brand new Mini Bridge.

The new HDR Pro is a vast improvement on the old version. In CS4 you could merge the images to HDR and then save them as a radiance file, but you would need a third-party program like Photomatix to get the desired HDR toning. Now the whole process can be done in CS5, and done with such control that there is no limit to how much or how little of this effect you wish to apply.

Now, there will be readers out there who don’t like HDR – and the reason they don’t like HDR is that most of the examples they have seen have been way overdone and look far too unrealistic. With the new HDR Pro, you can select from a range of presets like photorealistic or surreal, or you can modify one of these or create your own parameters and then save them as a preset.

You simply select the images in Bridge (or Mini Bridge, but we will get to that), open them in HDR Pro, select your preset, and then the images opens in Photoshop for you to do some final tweaking.

Even if you haven’t shot a series of bracketed images, you can still get an HDR effect with HDR toning. This can be applied to a single image and the toning tweaked in the same way as HDR Pro.

Obviously the effects are a lot  better with the correctly shot method, but you’ll be surprised at how good these pseudo HDR images can be.

The Content-Aware Fill function is one of those that will have you wondering how you ever lived without it. It works for either filling or deleting a selection as well as with the Spot Healing brush. Say, for instance, that there is an item you need to remove from an image.  You can either select it and then press Delete and choose Content Aware or you can simply select the Spot Healing brush, click on the Content Aware button, and then paint over the item.

With both of these methods, the subject will be replaced with sections of the background. In most cases, the image will need only a minor tweak with the Spot Healing brush to clean it up, and you would never know that the item was there in the first place.

One of the new functions that will have everybody talking is the Puppet Warp function. This function enables you to bend and stretch an item, any way you like. You start by selecting the subject and then placing it in its own layer and selecting Puppet Warp. Then you add pins that act like hinges and let you move different parts of the image around and perform tasks like bending or straightening arms and legs – just like moving a puppet around.

Of course, if you are doing this to a subject on a detailed background, then you would have to remove the original subject from the background layer, but thanks to our new Content-Aware Fill, that shouldn’t be a problem.

One of the hardest things to do well in Photoshop was to select a person with lots of soft edges like hair, and then move them or enhance just them without the background coming along for the ride. Well, with CS5’s new Refine Edges function, the impossible has just become a reality.

Once a subject has been selected, simply go to any selection tool and click on Refine Edges, which brings up the new and improved dialogue box. A new Edge Detection feature has been added that, along with a Smart Radius tool, allows the selection of both hard and soft edges. This can be further enhanced with the new Refine Radius tool that allows you to select superfine areas such as hair.

To finish the process, you can also choose to Decontaminate Colors, so that traces of the background that usually need to be trimmed are removed as part of the process.

Adobe Bridge – a companion program that lets you locate, manage and organise your photo collections – now also comes in an additional mode called Mini Bridge. This works in the same way as Bridge, but runs inside Photoshop, meaning that you no longer have to leave the program to access it.

In the new RAW 6 that ships with CS5, both noise reduction and sharpening have had significant improvements.

Adobe has been listening to suggestions from the Photoshop faithful and developing not only the things the experts thought we users would like, but also the things that we users asked for. In fact, CS5 has over three-dozen user-requested improvements.

A good example of these is the new Straighten tool. Previously you had to draw a line with the Ruler tool, then go to Rotate Canvas, and then Arbitrary, and then OK the change, and then crop the new image. Now you just draw your line with the Ruler tool and click on the Straighten button.

Another welcome change is the ability to save a 16-bit image as a JPEG. Looks like someone’s listening.

Australian Macworld’s buying advice

There are improvements to Photoshop in CS5 that will impress everybody. Whether you are a professional photographer, a hobbyist or a graphic artist, there are significant advances that are bound to make your life easier. After a week, I guarantee that you will wonder how you ever got by without it.

This review originally appeared in the August issue of Australian Macworld magazine.

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