I see that Adobe has recently released Photoshop Elements 9. I last used Photoshop Elements when it was at version 4, and stopped using it because the Organizer part of the package had too many limitations for me. I did like the features of the Photoshop Editor, but I hated the Organizer with a passion.
Still, time passes and now we’ve arrived at version 9, so I thought I’d just take it out for a test drive and downloaded the trial version.
Since the Organizer was the weak point the last time around as far as I was concerned, I fired that up first to take a look at it. I imported a subset of photos taken this year and started kicking the tyres.
The first thing I noticed was that the Organizer had successfully imported the IPTC Keyword metadata from the files and used this to create Keyword Tags. However, it did not, unlike Windows Live Photo Gallery, recognise that these were hierarchical tags and create the Keyword Tag hierarchy automatically. Take a look at this screenshot (click on the image to open a larger version in a new window):
You can see the imported Tags under the “Imported Keyword Tags” category, but notice how the Organizer has simply imported them all as a flat list – it has not grouped them into a hierarchy. Also notice how a Tag with multiple levels is too long to be displayed properly.
Now, it is possible for the Organizer to have a Keyword Tag hierarchy, you can see the start of one in the screenshot above, with the first levels being “People”, “Places”, “Events”, “Other” and the “Imported Keyword Tags”. So, having imported all my tags as a flat list, I would have to manually, and laboriously, re-create my tag hierarchy in Organizer to match the hierarchy described in my files’ metadata. This would not be a quick job…
The next question would be, having got a tag hierarchy created in Organizer, what happens when I write out Tags into files as metadata? Does it store them in a hierarchical manner?
To test that, I created a simple hierarchy under People (People/Family/Test level 1/Test level 2/Family member 1) and assigned that tag to a test image in the Organizer:
Here is a screenshot of what the Organizer tells me about the IPTC metadata of this image before I applied the tag:
You can see that there are two hierarchical Keywords already present in the file’s metadata. Here’s what the file’s metadata becomes after I tell Organizer to write out the Tags to the file:
Not good. Although the Tag “Family member 1” is in a hierarchy in the Organizer, it’s just been written out as a flat, single level, tag to the IPTC metadata.
From this I conclude that the Organizer does not support hierarchical tags in file metadata. That was the case back with version 4. It’s disappointing that it’s still this way.
One other thing I looked at with the Organizer is how well it plays in a multi-tool workflow. Like many digital photographers, I have a number of different applications that I use for different purposes. It’s extremely important that these will all play together, and do it as transparently as possible, with little or no effort on my part.
So, for example, what happens if the metadata of a file gets changed by another tool outside of Photoshop Elements 9?
I tested this by first importing some image files into the Organizer. I then added a tag to a selection of the files using another tool (IDimager). Both Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery will pick this change up and update their Tag list to reflect the new one and the files that contain it. Not the Organizer, though. It just sat there and insisted that the tags associated with the files in question were as originally imported, and nothing had changed.
I thought I’d try and reimport the files to see if Organizer would then realise that a new tag had been added. Not a bit of it – it simply insisted that it already knew about these files and did not realise that the metadata had changed:
As far as I’m concerned, this is a showstopper. The Organizer in Photoshop Elements 9 just doesn’t play at all well in a multi-tool digital workflow. It was the same back in the days of version 4. Plus ça change…
And just in case you think I’m being unnecessarily hard on the Organizer here, which is intended for ordinary mortals rather than professional photographers, just consider this… If you have a family and you have a number of computers in your household, then you had better make sure that just one computer is devoted to cataloguing your photo collection. These limitations of the Organizer mean that you can’t have Photoshop Elements installed on multiple computers, and expect the metadata and Keyword Tag hierarchies automatically synchronised between the family PCs. That is one of the plus points about Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery. I do all the heavy lifting of cataloguing and Keyword maintenance on my main computer using IDimager, and all the other computers in the household running Picasa or WLPG pick up the changes automatically. That will not be the case with Photoshop Elements. It may export the Tags as metadata, but it doesn’t export the tag hierarchy.
Oh, one other disappointing thing about the Organizer: geotagging. It uses Yahoo Maps in the geotag interface. The satellite coverage of Yahoo maps in comparison to Google or Bing Maps is but a pale shadow. For the majority of my photographs, I get a plaintive “imagery not available” message if I try to place a geotag accurately.
After all this, I haven’t had a chance to look at the editor in Photoshop Elements 9. I’m sure it will be powerful, but frankly, my dears, I don’t give a damn… On the odd occasion when I need more capability than my usual tools give, I can always fire up the editor from Photoshop Elements 4. I see no reason to upgrade to version 9.