Adobe Photoshop Album 2

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Not a major upgrade but enough to tip the balance for many users and persuade them to take the plunge.

One aspect of photo editing that Photoshop has always tended to ignore as somehow unworthy for such a professional package is the efficient handling of multiple images as thumbnailed albums, but it's actually very important - after all there can't be many Photoshop users who don't have a digital camera. Ironically though, this is one area where I too am an unashamed snob. I'm just not interested in the idea of captioning and cataloguing thousands of images in a budget application that what will only ever be a niche solution and which might not even survive the long-term (Ulead for example hasn't really upgraded PhotoImpact Album since version 3). The bottom line is that I just can't imagine myself let alone future generations digging out PhotoImpact XL 2050 or PhotoSuite 39. 

I can imagine them using a future version of Photoshop however, which makes it particularly interesting that Adobe has finally come around to recognizing the importance of organizing and cataloguing your digital images. Adobe Photoshop Album 2 is designed to provide all the power - visual management, easy cataloguing and retrieval, archiving and sharing - that the digital camera user needs. And because it comes from Adobe and has the magic word "Photoshop" in the title it automatically becomes the standard to beat (and in a field where being the standard is itself almost unbeatable).

So how does it work? Surprisingly, in spite of its name, what distinguishes Photoshop Album from its competitors is that it doesn't actually take an album-based approach at all. Rather than breaking your images down into named sets, usually based on the directories you copy your files into whenever you get around to clearing your camera's memory card, Photoshop Album instead adds all images to a central Photo Well. In other words by default you have thumbnailed access to every image you've ever taken!

This is powerful but potentially confusing: how on earth do you narrow things down to the images you're currently interest in? Photoshop Album provides two main solutions: date and keyword. To begin with, you can use the timeline at the top of the screen to scroll through your images based on when they were taken (this is based on embedded EXIF data where possible so isn't affected by editing). Alternatively you can use the simple, intuitive and very attractive monthly Calendar view which automatically shows a sample preview thumbnail for each day on which you took pictures. Click on this and you can see all photos taken on that day. It's an amazingly efficient way of breaking down your images into logical units and with absolutely no work involved for you.

Photoshop Album automatically organizes your images chronologically in its unique Calendar view.

The second way of controlling your images is through keyword tagging which does involve hands-on effort, but Adobe has done everything it can to make this as simple as possible. Using the Tag palette you can easily create keywords under main categories such as Events, People and Places and then simply drag these onto all currently selected image thumbnails. You can then view only those images that meet certain criteria, say featuring you on your holidays in Italy, simply by checking the boxes next to the relevant tag names. It really couldn't be easier to manage files wherever they are on your hard disk, or even on removable disks.

So what can you do once you've selected the images you are interested in? The most obvious task is to enhance them and here again Adobe with its unrivalled photo editing know-how has a huge advantage. Sensibly though it concentrates on keeping things simple with a straightforward dialog providing Before and After previews and access to a range of one-click fixes for instantly correcting lighting, colour, focus and so on (crucially these can now be managed as sliders to provide finer control). You can also crop the image and fix red eye while more advanced editing is possible in Photoshop/Elements again with a single click. A particularly nice touch is the fact that, by default, your original image is automatically kept unaffected so that you can always restore it if you later regret your changes.

There are also plenty of options for sharing your photos. Photoshop Album comes with a range of templates for creating projects such as calendars, cards and web galleries and its Print command lets you automatically print multiple files per page complete with an instant layout preview (begging the question: why can't Photoshop?). You can also create slideshows complete with soundtracks and save these to PDF format for efficient emailing. Crucially, you can also archive your files and creations to CD and DVD and even create a menu-driven Video CD just as you can in Roxio PhotoSuite 5.

This is all seriously impressive, but almost all of this power was available in the first release so what more does version 2 offer? Adobe is pushing a range of new features such as the ability to copy photos from your mobile phone or to create Atmosphere-based 3D Web galleries, but these will only be of interest to a minority of users. To be honest there is no new must-have functionality. What there is instead is a whole range of tweaks and re-workings of the interface such as the enhanced Calendar view, the support for video files even with slideshows and the incredible ability to change the thumbnail size of all your images in real time. These changes might sound largely cosmetic but taken together they totally transform the whole Album environment and so experience.

Ultimately I wasn't convinced that version 1 was worth the serious commitment involved in tagging, but I'm a hopeless fan of Photoshop Album 2.

Photoshop Album 2.0 Starter Edition comes from Adobe, offers plenty of power and is free!

And to see if you will be too Adobe provides the Photoshop Album 2.0 Starter Edition ( with no time or file limit for free!

Ease of Use
Value for Money

ratings out of 6

Photoshop Album
Software / Upgrade
Save $$!   Save ££!
Books / Reference
Save $$!   Save ££!

System RequirementsPentium III, 128MB of RAM, 250MB of hard disk space, Windows Me, 2000 or XP, 800x600 display, CD-ROM.

Tom Arah

March 2004

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