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There appears to be no dramatic changes to this widely used app. However a number of aids will make any image work much easier: a tabbed interface should make the work area much simpler to get around. And noticeable is the attention given to purely photographic tasks.
In using the Adjustments panel you don’t have to fight your way through a dialog box and its options: the new Vibrance adjustment allows increased control over colour saturation but still preserves such sensitive tones such as skin colours. There’s now a wide variety of modifiable presets for each type of change, plus more than 20 new preconfigured, customisable starting points.
With the Masks panel and working with pixel and vector masks it is now much easier to apply effects to precisely defined image areas. Using simple sliders the density and feathering of a mask can be adjusted, so you can control both the sharpness of the mask edge and how degree of adjustment you’d like to expose.
There have been many times I have needed to vary the exposure of an image, with a need to fix specific areas, such as unevenly lit flash shots. It has often been a pain to fix. Now you can enjoy natural results with the Dodge, Burn and Sponge tools. Tonal quality can be preserved while exposure and colour saturation can be spot-corrected.
There are plenty of panorama stitching programs, some even bundled with compact digicams. Until now, Photoshop’s Photomerge (is it called that?) feature did work better than most of these, but in my opinion, not quite get there.
Adobe has now built in enhanced blending actions along with new vignetting and geometric distortion corrections; a new option can create 360 degree panoramas. Plus there is a way to find and fix fisheye lens distortion … that is, if you wanted to correct fisheye shots!
Ostensibly in an attempt to remove the need for the need to make shifts and swings, only available in high end cameras or perspective control lenses, Photoshop CS4 can now enhancement a scene where lighting and depth of field are limited. This appears to be a feature which leans heavily on the technology used in the Photomerge function in that it stitches separate shots and bends together their exposure variations. So, if you’ve shot a series of images that have correct focus and exposure — in parts — Auto-Blend Layers can merge these together into one acceptable single image.
Not all of us like to work on an image with the picture straight up and down, especially when using a graphics tablet. The new fluid canvas rotation action lets you work almost as though you were working at an easel. You can drag the image to turn the canvas to any orientation; a compass guide graphic can even be used to help you orient the image to a specific angle.
Following a similar track you can now zoom in or out smoothly and not by fixed enlargement degrees … 125 per cent, 300 per cent etc.
It’s obvious that the separate application Lightroom has bolted from the stable and won many friends for its ability to polish and improve photographic images. There is now improved and tighter integration with Photoshop. You can even open images from Lightroom directly into Photoshop CS4 as a layered Photoshop document, high dynamic range (HDR) image, panorama, or Smart Object. This means the nondestructive changes you make in one application will be recognised when you open the image in the other.
Recently I discovered that much of the high end photography of cars is being displaced by vector art, which allows dramatic angle changes as well as major lighting tweaks, working with original data files.
Now, with Photoshop CS4 Extended, you can work with 3D models in similar fashion to dealing with 2D images, without no need to navigate through dialog boxes and special layer contents.
A wow of a feature is Intelligent Image Scaling or Content-Aware Scaling. It may be of more interest to designers or photographers who have to prepare material for press in multiple formats but nevertheless it is an impressive feature.
Let’s say you have a nice picture, horizontal in format and you need to re-purpose it for a vertical page layout. Content-Aware Scaling lets you resize and recompose images simultaneously. What happens is that this feature automatically analyses the image as you adjust it and intelligently recomposes it to preserve the most visually interesting areas. It doesn’t just squeeze the image laterally; it uses an understanding of the image contents, then lets you convert a horizontal layout to a vertical.
Using no cropping as such, the feature automatically identifies and protects important image elements, such as people, from unwanted distortion, even though the overall aspect ratio is changed.
If you need even more precise control, you can use a simple alpha channel to preserve selected image areas during scaling.
As indicated earlier, there appears to be no dramatic changes as many of the new features are layout oriented and don’t delve into an image at pixel level, which is the way that Photoshop has worked before. Is this the sign of a trend? Will it be the practice that any new tricks Adobe’s team conceives will appear in Lightroom instead?
Mac OS: PowerPC G5 or multicore Intel processor. Mac OS X v10.4.11–10.5.4.
Windows: XP with Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise with Service Pack 1 (certified for 32-bit Windows XP and Windows Vista).