Photoshop CS3, by Adobe

Posted: 13-Feb-2009

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice Vendor: Adobe Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Mike Saemisch Class: PRODUCTIVITY


Adobe Photoshop continues to be the most popular photo editing application for the Macintosh. Photoshop is such an important and incredible program that it has spawned its own conventions, professional associations, businesses, and can be a life-long hobby or occupation. Someday there could be PHD's in Photoshop, if not already. It provides limitless possibilities in manipulating pixels in photography or creating art. The latest incarnation of Photoshop is part of Creative Suite 3 (CS3). This update contains some great new features that will tempt most Photoshop users.

My primary use of Photoshop is as a photographer. I shoot ski action photos and have a home studio for shooting portraits and families. I have learned Photoshop through reading and studying several books aimed at photographers (Scott Kelby has several good options), read countless articles, and look for new ways to learn new techniques, such as PhotoshopTV podcasts. If you learn an exciting technique, chances are you will learn two new ways to do it better within a year. The latest update has several great features that aid photographers that I will concentrate on here.

Vendor Description

Adobe Photoshop CS3 software accelerates your path from imagination to imagery. Ideal for photographers, graphic designers, and web designers, the professional standard delivers new features such as automatic layer alignment and blending that enable advanced compositing. Live filters boost the comprehensive, nondestructive editing toolset for increased flexibility. And a streamlined interface and new timesaving tools make your work flow faster.


See more features listed on the Photoshop web site.

New CS3 Features


Test Machines



Photoshop installs with the typical Apple installer program. During the install, you are asked to enter your name and serial number. Towards the end of the installation, a 2nd progress window pops up showing installation of Shared packages, such as Adobe Bridge, Help Center, and Stock Photos.

Since CS2, activation is now required to unlock your software so you can use it, and the activation is tied to the hardware on which you are using the software. Unlike with Photoshop CS and prior where you could install and run the software on all the computers in your household, you are only allowed to activate and run your single license for Photoshop CS3 on up to two computers.


The Photoshop interface has made small improvements over the years, but it's interface is still recognizable for those familiar with older versions. Instead of going over the interface, I will jump directly into the features that I use for my photography.

Smart Filters

This feature allows you to apply filters to smart objects. You can take any layer and convert it to accept smart filters. They appear in the layers palette below the layer to which they are applied. You can adjust or remove the filters, and turn on and off to see the effects. You can apply most of the filters in this fashion, but many only in 8-bits/channel mode. This is particularly useful now since you do things like create a smart filter for Unsharp Mask, and adjust or remove sharpening non-destructively (finally), and mask it for localized effects.

Here, I created a layer called "FinalEdit", converted it for smart filters, and applied two, Reduce Noise and Unsharp Mask. The order of the filters can be changed by dragging, they can be turned on and off by clicking on the eye icon, and best of all, clicking on the little adjustment icon to the right of the filter title brings up the filter dialog and lets you make changes, all non-destructively.

Using Smart Filters

Black and White Conversion

There is new layer to convert to black and white, versus using previous approaches such as using a Channel Mixer layer. The best feature of this new layer is that you move your mouse over a particular area of your photo, click and then adjust that area to be darker or lighter, aiding in achieving the proper level of brightness and contrast for the underlying color, making achieving a good black and white conversion that much easier. Here, a black and white layer was used and the bride's skin was lightened by clicking on her shoulder and dragging to the right to increase the lightness of that particular underlining color, to give her and similar tones a brighter appearance.

Black & White Conversion

Quick Selection tool

A new tool appears that improves on the Magic Wand tool, called the Quick Selection tool. Using it creates a selection of an area with similar characteristics (like a face) as you drag. It expands to find a natural edge. Option clicking and dragging deselects areas in a similar fashion. On my Intel Powerbook, this is an incredibly fast feature. On my dual-G4, it is not particularly fast and you may find yourself using something like the Magnetic Lasso instead.

Refine Edge feature

To assist in refining selections, PS CS3 now has a new dialog that is available after you have used one of the many selection tools. The tool bar shows a button called "Refine Edge..." that opens up this dialog with several selection adjustment tools and various ways to view the selection you have made (here shown with a red mask over the non-selected areas).

Refine Edge

You use this dialog to affect the outline of the selection. Closing the dialog allows you to use the other tools to work with the selection as you wish (such as painting in the Quick Mask mode). I find the best way to use this feature is to first do your best to select and cleanup the selection before refining the edge. For the example above, cleaning up around the groom's head should be done before refining the edge.

Photomerge with Advanced Alignment Blending

Also improved in several ways is the ability to merge photographs in multiple layers much more easily (say you are combining a couple group shots to select the best facial expressions on the various subjects. "Auto-Align Layers..." and "Auto-Blend Layers" show up as menu items under the Edit menus.

Auto-Align Layers automatically aligns layers based on similar content. It then masks the layers so you can paint to erase the mask to use the content of the various layers.

Auto-Blend Layers creates the appearance of smooth transitions when stitching or combining images that may have slight exposure differences between the source images.

The Auto-Align Layers command can automatically align layers based on similar content in different layers, such as corners and edges. You assign one layer as a reference layer, or let Photoshop automatically choose the reference layer. Other layers are aligned to the reference layer so that matching content overlays itself.

Brightness Control or Layer

CS3 has a new brightness control that is much better at adjusting brightness without causing areas to washout as you adjust brightness. If you do not like the new effect, there is an option to use the "legacy" approach. Brightness can be applied to a layer, or as a separate layer which allows you to return to the adjustment and adjust later.


For Mac users, one of the best reasons to upgrade to Photoshop CS3 is that it now runs natively on Intel-based Macs. The speed improvement on my Intel Powerbook is dramatic over my dual-G4 desktop computer. Some tools such as the quick selection tool are near instantaneous while it is very slow on the G4 machine.

Camera Raw 4

Photoshop CS3 includes Camera Raw 4, the latest version of the raw-image processor. Camera Raw 4 includes new image-processing capabilities, including monochrome conversion and new controls for lighting, tonality curves, and color. An example of using these types of controls is decreasing blue luminance which is a method to achieve more dramatic bule skies. Camera Raw has a new Retouch tool that lets you do rudimentary cloning and dust-spot removal-great for getting rid of sensor dust spots that appear in every frame of a shoot or eliminating objects such as a piece of trash or something that made its way into your picture.

Adobe Bridge

Adobe Bridge is the photo sorting and organizing software that is included with PS CS3 and which receives an update to a CS3 version, as well. It has been my preferred method to organize, view, and interface to all my photo files. It is not much more than an expanded Finder-type program with that provides thumbnails of the files, a viewing area, folder area, file information, etc. I find myself using it more than iPhoto and Aperture since it works with your existing folders without the need to import photos to a unique library. If you add photos to a folder, Bridge will build previews for the new files when you open the folder again in Bridge. Plus, it runs on my dual-G4 while Aperture will not.

The workspace is highly customizable, and here is my primary setup with my Favorites folders and file information on the left (a tab above my favorites folders shows the normal folder structure for you to navigate to other folders). Preview of the selected photo is displayed in the middle, and rows of 3 thumbnails on the right with optional file information below each thumb (file name and ranking, in this illustration). The bottom left shows information for all of the files in the folder and can be used to filter and display only files that meet the selected criteria (e.g. ranking or file top). You can set up the workspace in a variety of ways (say, all thumbnails for sorting) and save the workspace which becomes a menu choice under the Window menu.

Adobe Bridge

You can stack photos in the thumbnail display to just see the best of a series of shots and collapse or expand the stack similar to Aperture. One of my favorite uses of Bridge is that since I shoot raw photos, when you double-click on photos (1 or many), the photos are opened in Adobe Raw, without going to Photoshop (unless you deselect this preference). You can make adjustments in this view, and them select and apply the same adjustments to other files you select. It

Here are the key points cited in the Bridge help file on the improvements in Bridge CS3.

Unfortunately, I experienced a problem with Bridge on my G4. Since I have upgraded to my Nikon D300, Bridge has the nasty habit of locking up my G4. It may be related to the fact that I have only 1.5G of memory in the G4 and I usually have several programs open, but it will lock the machine hard and have to do a forced restart. I have tried reloading the program and deleting caches and such, but the problems continue, so I have looked and found an even better sorting and processing program that runs great on the G4, Adobe Lightroom 2. It is a much more capable program and does other incredible things for a photographer, but you will have to wait for a separate review. Bridge does still run on my Intel Powerbook with 4G of memory, but Lightroom 2 has replaced it there, too.

Besides the problem I had with Adobe Bridge on my G4, I had no other major issues with Photoshop CS3. The activation scheme and limitation of two computers could be a hinderance to some, especially if you have more than two Macs at home and like to change between them. With one exception, CS3 is a great improvement over CS2. The only part of CS3 that was nicer in CS2 (as well as all previous versions of Photoshop) is the application icon. In what appears to be a dramatic over-simplification, it's a bit ironic that one of the most creative applications on the Mac now sports the least creative looking application icon.

The new lackluster Photoshop icon


Adobe Photoshop CS3 is the quintessential photo editing application on Mac OS X, providing amazing results for photo retouching and image composition, and an endless range of special effects for photographers. As is pretty typical for a Photoshop upgrade, there is an assortment of features that are "must-have" for any serious Photoshop user, not to mention native Intel code. Photoshop itself requires serious study and practice, which can be a rewarding hobby in itself. There are numerous resources, such as the National Association of Photoshop Professionals and books that are focused on particular users of Photoshop, such as Scott Kelby's books for photographers. The rewards are worth it once you master techniques that you can turn into actions which allow you to repeat them on new files through a simple click. If you do only just basic adjustments to photographs before printing, Photoshop is likely overkill. But if you are a professional user or serious hobbyist, it is once again an essential update.



Overall Rating

4 1/2 out of 5 Mice