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 Photoshop Express - Free Online 'Photoshop' is a pretty good deal

By Dr. Elizabeth Hinkle-Turner, Student Computing Services Manager

I've been using full-blown Photoshop for my creative work and my job-related work since 1991 which makes me pretty much a 'from the start user' (Photoshop was released in 1989) and there are two things that have especially marked my progress through the at least 10 upgrades of the product: 1. The application is incredibly expensive and 2. The application is incredibly large in size. I recall when I got version 3.0 for my Mac SE (yeah - Photoshop in black and white....) which came on 12 floppy disks and cost $500. Ah - the days!

So you can imagine my skepticism when I read in the business pages that Adobe was offering a 'free online version of Photoshop.' I just had to investigate and I have got to say from the start, while this (beta) application is certainly not for a digital artist or videographer like myself, it is a terrific deal for someone who simply wants to shape up the photos of their pets or kids, or family reunion with simple edits like crop, color/light balancing, red-eye removal and the like. In fact the Photoshop Express site (found at https://www.photohop.com/express) ought to really make the folks at Picasa and Flickr pretty nervous as it offers editing options (in addition to the standard album and shared gallery options) that put it head and shoulders above these other photo-sharing sites. For someone who would like an easy-to-use and powerful way to edit their digital camera pics that is free, Express is definitely your product.

An in-depth look at Photoshop Express

All gushing aside - let us get into 'the bowels of the product' (as one of my ACS colleagues likes to colorfully describe it) - and take Express for a beta-test-drive (The Fast and the Furious: Digital Drift):

Before you do ANYTHING - make sure that you have Adobe Flash 9 Player installed in your browser. Photoshop Express is a Flash 9 application. You can get Flash 9 at http://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer. If you are using a Mac (like all the really cool people), installation is a snap - when you download and install, the player installs in Safari, Firefox, and Opera automatically and all your browsers are covered (because who uses IE on a Mac? Really you do? Please stop!). If you are on a PC, you need to install Flash 9 for Firefox and for Internet Explorer individually because, well, you are on a PC so you must suffer (it's the 'Microsoft Tax').

Note: all the screenshots for the article were done in the latest version of Firefox on a Windows XP machine (my Mac was busy chewing on some digital video rendering so it was unavailable - see... I am actually cool - someone tell my children!). I thoroughly tested all Express functionality on the latest Firefox and IE 7 on my PC and on the latest Safari and Firefox on my Mac (OS X 4.1) - got no glitches with any of the browsers or either operating system.

OMG - AMAZING! This application works in LINUX (so the 'ultra ultra cool folks' can use it too!) - latest version of Firefox with Flash 9 - tested it/works great!

Next - the site is 'https' instead of 'http'? I feel all warm and fuzzy and secure already. You can either take Photoshop Express for a 'test drive' without creating an account or you can go ahead and set up your account. This is nothing different than the Spam Generator process one finds on other sites like FaceBook, Flickr etc. - fill out your information and go:

screenshot of the sign up screen for Express
The standard sign up Spam Generator screen

Please note that if you are someone who puts in a fake email address in order to mis-direct spam, this email address does become your login username so be sure you remember it. Also, the email address becomes the default for emailing your edited photos back to yourself. So you might want to resist the urge to type in your ex-boyfriend's email address as spam revenge in this text box instead of your actual preferred address. Also - see next paragraph for why you can't do this.

Next you have to confirm your account at your email address (ah - those smart Adobe people - they know that you are going to try to avoid that spam...but you CAN'T and use their product so 'nah nah NAH'!):

screenshot of the confirmation screen
The confirmation screen - you just can't avoid that spam!

Here is the login screen:

screenshot of the login screen
Log in screen

The opening page allows you to go into the Photo Editing and Uploading area, check out your shared items, or browse others' shared items (why do people think the whole world wants to see their children? C'mon, often I don't even want to see my children - why would someone else?):

screenshot of the choice for Express
Your choices in Express

For this article, we are going into My Photos (though I will discuss the other areas briefly too) - Uploading Photos is easy - just click on the button and browse your computer for the photos you wish to edit. The Express FAQ page recommends that you do not upload more than 100 photos at one time. A few other limitations (from the Express FAQ) - Photos larger than 10M and 4000 pixels in height and width cannot be uploaded. Photos larger than 2880x 2880 pixels will be shrunk after editing.:

screenshot of the Upload Photo option
Upload up to 100 photos

screenshot of the second upload screen for Express
The second upload screen

Once you have uploaded some photos (aren't my children cute?) click on a photo to edit it or to do some simple rotations and other moves:

screenshot of the initial edit menu
The menu of options is accessed by clicking on the bottom of the photo

The edit choice gives you a variety of ways to fix your photos from cropping to removing red-eye and adjusting color balance and light levels. You can even use distort, touch up and auto correct to do things like make Aunt Martha lose 10 pounds (A recent Photoshop trainer called this The Slim-Fast Filter) or erase wrinkles and worry lines (he called this The Botox Filter). Yes - at last you can have the 'perfect American family'. Just look at how cute I made my kids!:

Edit options in Photoshop Express
Lots of 'fix-its' for bad digital photographers! (or ugly subjects!)

From the FAQ's of Adobe Photoshop Express, here is a complete description of the tools they offer:

  • Crop & Rotate—Turn it, straighten it, crop out the background.
  • Auto Correct—Automatic, one-click, optimal lighting and contrast adjustment.
  • Exposure—Change the brightness of the photo.
  • Red-Eye Removal—Removes red eyes caused by some camera flashes.
  • Touchup—Remove scratches and other imperfections.
  • Saturation—Ramp up the colors to blinding brightness, dampen them down to black and white, or anywhere in between.
  • White Balance—Ever notice how people look different inside an office with the ugly fluorescent tubes, as opposed to outside on a bright sunny day? Adjust the white balance and you change the type of lighting in the photo.
  • Highlight—The brightest parts of a photo are the highlights. This control lets you brighten or darken just the brightest part of the photo, without affecting the darker parts (we call those the shadows).
  • Fill Light—If you take a shot facing into the sun, your subject can end up too dark due to the camera’s automatic exposure adjustment. Fill Light brightens the dark area without over brightening the background.
  • Sharpen—It’s like putting in your contacts. Suddenly everything comes more into focus.
  • Soft Focus—It’s like taking your contacts out. Soft Focus creates a subtle blur for artistic effect.
  • Hue—This one changes all the colors in a photo at once.
  • Black & White—Control how the colors are converted when you change a photo to black and white.
  • Tint—Imagine instead of black and white, you want red and white, or pale brown and white for that old Western look.
  • Sketch—Makes any photo look like you drew it yourself.
  • Distort—Stretch, twist, bulge specific areas of your photos.

After you finish sprucing up your photos you can either save them in an album and post them publicly, email them to yourself, or email them to friends. It is pretty slick and certainly a lot better than any of the lame editing applications I've gotten with my various digital cameras. It is these pretty powerful basic editing tools that truly distinguishes the Photoshop Express site from others like Flickr and Picasa. Flickr doesn't offer these editing features and while Picasa has some editing capabilities, in my opinion, the cumbersome effort of transferring and moving files around your site and your computer is really a hindrance with Picasa plus their tools are not nearly as intuitive:

The Public Gallery section of the Express site
Look at all the folks who want you to see their photos!

The 'Gotcha's':

Now - just so no one thinks that Adobe is paying me a bunch of money to promote their product - I am going to take you through all of the 'gotchas' , glitches, and 'oh dears' that I found in my testing. This site is a beta test so users can actually go to a section where they can offer suggestions and comments. My first comment was, "Where in the world is UNDO?" There is no undo button so save often if you are doing a bunch of edits. The only way you can undo a mistake is to get out of edit without saving. So - if you removed red-eye from the dog, adjusted light and color, cropped out that annoying cousin you always disliked and THEN you made Aunt Martha just a bit too unbelievably skinny with the Slim-Fast Filter so you need to undo the Aunt Martha stuff...well, you can't. You have to get out of edit without saving and thus you lose not only Aunt Martha's 50 unbelievable pounds but all the other good stuff too (unless you saved after each adjustment) and have to start again with Rover the Demon Dog's red eye removal.

The second thing that is annoying is: what if I only want to share an album with a selected few folks instead of the entire world? You can't do that - it is either have everyone see your lovely children on your site or have no one see your lovely children on your site. There should be some way that you could password protect your albums or limit them to a certain few email address accesses or something. The only way you can selectively distribute your photos is via email.

As with all of these 'sharing' sites and 'free application sites', I strongly urge users to read the fine print regarding privacy and terms of use. I must say that having slogged through documents of this type from Google, MS Live, Facebook et al, the Adobe documents are really amazingly easy to understand. And you can pick out the 'iffy legalize' pretty easily too: just look for the word 'reasonable' and you know that you are getting into 'uh-oh' territory. Basically, as far as I can see, the Adobe terms of use are less draconian than Google Apps but a user must still be aware that the content they have on the Adobe Photoshop Express site is the user's intellectual property but it CAN be used by Adobe to promote their applications. A good example of this is the opening page of the Express website where one sees an animation of a bunch of photos. I imagine that those are photos that were edited with the Express application and reside on the site in a user's album(s). And Adobe went and grabbed a bunch of them to use here on their opening page. And by clicking 'ok' on Terms of Use, you have granted Adobe the right to do this. Adobe is careful to outline the ownership risks and liabilities inherent in sharing your albums. You are sharing them with the world; the Terms of Use that Adobe has one sign clearly states that 'the world' is not allowed to legally use your posted shared content for monetary gain of any kind but there is really no way to enforce that unless you are combing the Net daily for your stuff. The upshot of all of this is: if you are a video artist or photographer who does digital work for money and want to protect your product and/or you want to protect the privacy of your Aunt Martha, or Uncle Joe or your kids and make sure their photos aren't potentially splashed all over the universe - DO NOT UTILIZE THIS PRODUCT - especially, do not SHARE your content, email to specifically who you want to see it and also remove images from your site as soon as you are finished using Photoshop Express on them. As with everything, your degree of ownership protection depends on your vigilance and attention - it is not the job of the company providing the service to help you with this.

For persons with disabilities (specifically persons who need to use screen readers) - Adobe provides the following site: http://www.adobe.com/help/accessibility.html with full instructions on accessing Photoshop Express in HTML mode. However, I could not get this to work - I kept getting put back into Flash mode - so I would not count on this product being accessible at this time.

Finally - and for those of us at UNT, this does not apply - Photoshop Express is a beta site and it is not available outside of the United States. So don't go telling all your friends in Portugal about this great free product because those friends will go to the site and be quite disappointed.

But in the meantime, I encourage you to try out Photoshop Express. For the average digital snapshot taker, it is going to be quite a blessing. It seems to be a fully cross-platformed, easy-to-use way to organize, edit, spruce up and send all those digital photos languishing in your camera. For those of you who need the full-blown, big Adobe products you pay for - at least go check out the offerings at the UNT Bookstore. The bookstore has an agreement with Adobe that allows the UNT community to get these products at a significant discount which means that you may only have to eat Ramen for two weeks instead of four in order to afford them (good thing my children like Ramen)! Enjoy!

 


Originally published, April 2008 --  Please note that information published in Benchmarks Online is likely to degrade over time, especially links to various Websites. To make sure you have the most current information on a specific topic, it may be best to search the UNT Website - http://www.unt.edu . You can also search Benchmarks Online - http://www.unt.edu/benchmarks/archives/back.htm as well as consult the UNT Helpdesk - http://www.unt.edu/helpdesk/ Questions and comments should be directed to
benchmarks@unt.edu

 

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