Photoshop is sort of like Google, a brand name that has become synonymous with a function. Everyone has heard a doctored photo described as “photoshopped,” although there are dozens of programs that might have been used. Even so, the high price and relative difficulty of using Photoshop has kept many of us from trying it out.
But for the first time, Adobe is letting users download a beta version of Photoshop CS6, the newest version of the software. It’s free and fully functional, but will stop working once Adobe releases the finished version of Photoshop later in the year.
There are two reasons you might want to try it out. If you’ve ever thought of buying the program, this is a great opportunity to use it for a while and see if it’s worth the expense – the real deal will cost you $700, or $200 to upgrade. The other reason: It’s extremely cool to see what you can do with it.
Here’s one example of something that even an amateur photog like me would love: a de-blurring tool. That’s especially useful if you’ve taken a shot with a camera phone and weren’t able to hold it with a steady enough hand. (The photo below was taken by Adobe researcher Jue Wang, and was originally posted on our sister site, PCWorld.com)
You’ll also be able to blur parts of a photo to get the same effect you’d have if you were shooting with a camera and used a very shallow depth of field. Yes, you can blur with other programs, but Photoshop gives you much more control over the result.
If you’ve ever used the stripped down version of Photoshop, called Elements, you know that you can copy bits of a background and then move it to fill in a part of a photo. It works fairly well, but getting an exact match is not easy. In the CS6 there’s a tool called Content Aware which allows you to select and duplicate an area of an image to fill in a different area within the same photo, or select and move an object to a new place in the image, while the background is filled automatically behind the moved object.
That sounds complicated, but it isn’t. In a demo built in to the beta, there’s a photo of two women in red dresses walking on a grassy hill. The user simply clicked the image of one woman (no laborious outlining to select her) and dragged it to another part of the hill. And just like that the background that had been covered by her image was filled in perfectly. The journalist in me worries that a tool like that will make it even easier to fake photos convincingly; the amateur artist in me simply says, “Wow. I want it.”
I’ve only mentioned two functions that caught my eye. There are many, many more, including quite a few that I wouldn’t begin to understand well enough to use without some training. Even Elements is difficult enough so it makes sense to buy a how-to book when you get that much simpler program; I suspect a class might be what you need to get your money’s worth out of Photoshop CS6.
Sure Adobe is hoping the free beta program will drive some sales and garner some publicity, but what’s wrong with that? It’s great that we beginners have a chance to play with a very grownup toy.
It’s worth mentioning that the download is really big, 1.7 GB, so if you have a slow Internet connection, start the download and then forget about it for a while. You’ll also need to sign up for an Adobe ID, but that just takes a moment, and Adobe has not been spamming me.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.