Elements versus Photoshop – which is best? Tell us what you think…

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

Elements versus Photoshop – which is best? Tell us what you think…

Adobe Photoshop CS4 - FullAdobe Photoshop Elements 7 - FullAdobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 - Full

[poll id=”18″]

Here are a few questions I get asked in emails on a daily basis:

– Should I buy Elements or Full Photoshop? If I am just starting out as a photographer which should I get? If I am building a portrait business which should I get?

– Why do most of your Photoshop Actions only work in Photoshop (not Elements)?

– What are the differences in Elements and Photoshop, and why is Photoshop significantly more money?

Now I will explain, from my perspective, answers to these questions.

Photoshop is a very powerful product, designed for photographers and digital artists alike.  It is capable of doing almost anything you can imagine to a photograph, if the artist knows how to properly use the program.  Photoshop has been around a long time.  A new version usually comes out every year and a half or so.

Each version has a number.  After they got to Photoshop 7 (not the same as the new Elements 7), they started grouping Photoshop with the Creative Suite.  And Photoshop CS was born (AKA version 8).  From there CS2 (version 9), then CS3 (version 10) and the most current is CS4 (version 11).  So on my site if I say an action works in Photoshop 7+, this means Photoshop 7 and then CS-CS4.  It does not mean Elements 7.

Elements is basically a striped down Photoshop (with a few novelty items added back).  To visualize, picture Photoshop as a car.  If you have luxury car, and take away the leather seats, sunroof, power windows and door locks, cruise control, and the fancier engine – you have Elements.

It is limited in that it is missing some of the key editing tools which make Photoshop an industry leader.  These tools are why most of my Photoshop Actions do not work in Elements.  In order for an action to work, the program needs to have the commands and tools used in the action.  So if an action calls upon the full curves, channel mixers, lab mode, or a filter that is not available, etc – it will NOT work in Elements since Elements does not have any idea what it is being told to do.

As far as versions, Elements in now on version 7 – so remember Elements 7 is not the same as Photoshop 7 (an old full version of Photoshop).

So which do you need:

Elements can do most basic editing.  If you are a hobbiest who wants to digitally scrapbook, brighten up your photos, and make your photos better, Elements may be a great choice.  Elements also has some added goodies not in Photoshop that make editing faster and easier, but more automatic and less controlled.

If you are an amateur or professional photographer, or just LOVE playing with your photos and having all the tools available for you at your fingertips, buy Photoshop.  Nothing compares. But only buy it if you are going to learn to use it.  Once you really get to know Photoshop you will be in awe.  I cannot imagine life without full Photoshop.  I did start with Elements but after a few months felt like it was missing something.

The cost factor….  Photoshop costs significantly more than Elements.  You need to decide if it provides enough value to you and your life and/or business. If you are a student, there are discounts available. And occasionally you can find an older version clearanced out (for example now CS3).  Do beware, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it may be.  I have seen many buy on eBay at dirt cheap prices only to find out adobe will not support their product and that it is missing certain things when running.

I hope this helped some of you have a better idea of which fits your needs best. I would love to hear which you have, which you want and why?  Please take my poll and add to the comments below. (Notice I have Lightroom and Raw Editors listed in the poll – but that I did not discuss them here – I wanted to let those who edit in Raw exclusively vote – but this post itself is about elements versus photoshop).

Thank you,


Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™
Previous post
Winner of the amazing SarahQ Designs pricing templates
Next post
Interview with Wedding and Fashion Photographer Scarlett Lillian


  1. May 18, 2009 at 10:49 pm —

    Im using CS4 at the moment and going INSANE!!! I have a new Mac book pro and the pad keeps zooming pics in and out when editing!! I dont use a mouse and prefer the track pad but this is INSANE. It never used to happen in CS3. Needless to say I have lost my CS3 disk and dying to get another copy. However I cannot find CS3 anywhere!!!!! If anyone knows place to buy or willing to part with theres please please let me know!! My email is ttexxan1@yahoo.com Adobe no longer sell CS3.

    I have tried lightroom and several other programs. Nothing can touch the power of photoshop. Lightroom has its place but for serious editing photoshop is the master!!

  2. May 18, 2009 at 10:28 pm —

    Well, if your a photographer like myself then I suggest you use PS; Photoshop and LR Lightroom to convert your RAW images and adjust in LR then take into PS for final editing.


  3. Mandi
    May 18, 2009 at 2:23 pm —

    I own both elements 6 and Photoshop 7, and I use both. The thing is, I use Elements by far and away more than I do the full version of photoshop. It has my favorite actions on it, I can open my files in raw and adjust away, and it’s easy peezy. I’d recommend it if you’re on a tight budget for sure.

  4. May 18, 2009 at 1:34 pm —

    I use Elements, CS4 and Lightroom 2. Like Paul Kremer said, LR is an excellent workflow improvement.

    If you can find actions that are designed correctly, many Photoshop features can be “snuck” into Elements. For a long time, I used nothing but Elements with these actions quite contentedly.

    If I could figure out how to get LAB mode into Elements, I would be quite happy.

    I have a few actions on my website that are Elements compatible, and there are lots at CoffeeShop also.

  5. May 18, 2009 at 12:56 pm —

    I purchased Elements first and was thrilled with it! I couldn’t believe all of the things I could do with it! After my first few clients though, I started to realize that there was no way I could have such a slow workflow for hundreds of images and make money at it.

    Then I downloaded the trial of CS3 and was absolutely blown away! The actions, the curves, the SPEED. It easily sped up my workflow to 1/4 of the time I had spent…not to mention layer masks and full control of curves, which are 2 of the most powerful functions in my book.

    Then I purchased Lightroom 2, and can’t go back. Together, Photoshop CS3/4 and Lightroom 2 have made my workflow unbelievably fast and powerful. Now I can edit 1 picture in Lightroom, and apply the settings to 50 other pictures in the same series immediately. I can shoot in RAW and in seconds export every one of them to the proper size for printing or web, along with sharpening. And when I want some serious editing power, out comes CS3. I have no idea how I would have been able to be a professional photographer with Elements. Elements is great for a hobbyist or someone with 100 photos from their vacation, but for someone who comes home from a wedding with 1500 images? It just won’t cut it. 🙂

    In my book Photoshop CS3/4 equals power, and Lightroom 2 equals speed. Together, they are amazing!

  6. May 18, 2009 at 12:54 pm —

    I do probably 95% of my editing in Lightroom 2 and only zip over to Elements 6 occasionally to do something LR doesn’t do as well or apply a texture, etc. At this point, the Lightroom/Elements combo works well for me.

  7. May 18, 2009 at 12:40 pm —

    Oh, and I do edit my RAW photos with the Photoshop RAW editor first, but then I always end up running a few actions on them to really get them to boost – I LOVE Photoshop’s RAW editor!

  8. May 18, 2009 at 12:39 pm —

    I use Photoshop CS4 right now (just upgraded from CS2!) and I love it. I think I tried Elements once as a trial to see the difference, but I could not imagine having to do with less than the full version – and now that I have CS4 which works so much more efficiently with my Macbook, I can’t imagine even going back to that previous version. I have a lot of people ask me to teach them how to use Photoshop so they can do the same things with their photos that I do with mine, only to find that they actually have Elements. You can do a lot with Elements, but sometimes they are disappointed that they can’t get exactly the same effects that the full version of Photoshop can get.

  9. May 18, 2009 at 12:14 pm —

    We have CS2 and CS3 but we don’t use them anymore. Every since I began using Lightroom to edit I don’t see a reason to open all my images in the sloooooow moving photoshop programs. I do use Elements for just a few things (like the cloning tool) to touch up images and to create layers and watermarks, but that is about it. I love my editing combo! My hubby still uses Photoshop CS3 sometimes just to be able to play with actions, but he is beginning to appreciate the speed and ease of LR as well.

  10. Linda V
    May 18, 2009 at 11:27 am —

    I use Elements 7 and love it, not to say I won’t upgrade to Photoshop when I find a food deal. I think Elements does a lot more than people think, minus curves and the CMYK. I like the simple way I can send cute e-mails to my family, quick and easy. I like the way the Organizer works. I have recently purchased Lightroom 2 and am getting to know my way around. The more I use it the more I love it. I am finding some ways to make it work with Elements.

  11. May 18, 2009 at 11:03 am —

    I love PS but I’m biased cuz I also use it for my design work. For those who don’t want to pay that kind of money for a program, there is an amazing program you can download online called Gimp. It’s 100% free and does everything PS does. It won’t support PS actions, unfortunately, but it’s easy to use (some say a lot easier than PS) and you can find a lot of tips and tutorials online. I used Gimp for awhile before I had to use PS and I loved it. I still use it every now and then. I had to switch to PS because of work, basically.

    Btw, just want to say I love your site! I recently discovered it and it has been so helpful. Thanks for all the great tips!

  12. Keith G
    May 18, 2009 at 11:00 am —

    What about Lightroom? I’ve heard that for photographs, it has everything you need. Can I use photoshop actions like yours in Lightroom? $259 for Lightroom is much better than $639 for CS4. It would be great if you could do a similar post about Lightroom. Thanks!

    • May 18, 2009 at 11:09 am —


      Personally I like LR for the basic Raw editing but until they have true layer masks it does not provide me the control I want over my photos. I also personally feel it is limited it what it can do in terms of retouching. Someday as they add more – I may change my mind – but I am pretty bias here as I much prefer photoshop CS-CS4 (at least as of May 2009)…


  13. May 18, 2009 at 10:59 am —

    Also – Elements doesn’t have Curves. Curves is a great tool!!!

  14. May 18, 2009 at 10:58 am —

    I had Elements for about 6 months and quickly realized that I had outgrown it. I like CS2 because I can use Actions. And not so much to use OTHER PEOPLE’S actions, but to make my own. Trust me, if you’re editing even 100 photos for a client, setting up specific actions to do things like watermark and downsize for web make ALL THE DIFFERENCE IN THE WORLD. Actions will change your life.

    I’m perfectly happy with CS2 and have no desire to upgrade, however, I’m also shooting with a Canon 30D. If I upgrade my camera, which I would like to do soon, I’m also forced to upgrade Photoshop because CS2 only has Camera Raw support for the 30D. Adobe you SUCK for that BTW!!!!!

  15. Laurie
    May 18, 2009 at 10:02 am —

    I learned on Elements 6.o and recently upgraded to CS4(when Adobe had the upgrade for $299). At first I hated CS4, but I hate change. Now I am really loving using actions that I couldn’t use with Elements as well as learning how to use the adjustment layers. Thanks Jodi for all of the tips that you offer up!

  16. May 18, 2009 at 10:02 am —

    I used Elements 6 for nearly 2 years. I think it was great to cut my teeth on. Now that I’m using CS3 I wouldn’t go back! However, I must say that because I had to use Elements it made me not rely on actions so much for my editing. I think that has given me a better understanding of how to use the various tools…but also when a good action could/should really be used. I just got CS4 last night and haven’t uploaded it into my computer yet! 🙂

  17. MariaV
    May 18, 2009 at 10:02 am —

    I’ve never used Elements and unless someone provides me with a compeling reason to do so, I probably won’t.

  18. May 18, 2009 at 9:50 am —

    I used Elements up until recently when I became more serious about editing and I really wanted to be able to use more tools and actions then Elements could provide. I took a Photoshop class at a local college and never looked back. Full photoshop is amazing.

  19. May 18, 2009 at 9:33 am —


    I really love photoshop but I truly think that for most people, elements is just fine. Especially for the price. Unlike most other cheap photo editing software, you can use elements for more graphical editing, rather than just photo editing. This could be fun for some folks. Unlike you, I learned photoshop first then tried elements and I still am a fan of elements. Of course, I’m not a professional so I still don’t know some photoshop bells and whistles but one day I’ll take a course!

    Thanks for the post.

  20. May 18, 2009 at 9:21 am —

    I use elements for the cost issue for now, it can do a lot more than some people think it can. Maybe I like the challenge, but really it was do I get the camera and lens I want or photoshop creative suite? I went for the equipment first.

Leave a reply




Elements versus Photoshop – which is best? Tell us what you think…