Adobe recently released its latest version of Photoshop Elements – Photoshop Elements 2020, they are calling it. As I do each year, I get to play with the software and report back to you on whether you should upgrade. (Thanks for the review product, Adobe!)

My big takeaway this year is that Elements feels, more than ever, like Adobe is differentiating it from Lightroom & Photoshop. And it makes sense, right?

Photoshop Elements 2020

I used to say that PSE is a great software for amateur and even pro photographers to use. And it still is. BUT. Elements has a new version each year and usually costs $99 unless you catch it on sale. Photoshop CC and Lightroom are $120 a year, and you get so much more. It doesn’t make sense for professional photographers to purchase Elements any more. It hardly makes sense for serious hobbyists to buy it.

So who should buy Elements these days? It is still a great product for a large portion of the population. It’s perfect for:

  • People just starting to get interested in photography. People who don’t shoot on manual, don’t know how to create background blur, motion blur, or other creative effects that come from advanced camera usage.
  • People who have no desire to learn the ins and outs of using Photoshop CC and Lightroom.
  • People who want one-touch edits and who aren’t concerned with detailed customizations of those edits.
  • People who love fun edits – colorizing black & whites, turning photos into sketches, creating snazzy text effects, and making cards, scrapbook pages, or invitations from a selection of included graphics. Just to name a few.

PSE 2020 vs. Photoshop CC

Let’s start with some background information. There is nothing you can do in Photoshop Elements that you can’t do in Photoshop CC. There are many things that you can do in Photoshop CC that you can’t do in PSE.

However, Photoshop Elements automates some of the edits that PS CC offers, and it does have built-in graphics for you to use to decorate your creations. PS CC doesn’t offer those graphics. PSE gives you one-click edits that you don’t have to search for tutorials to run. PS CC offers detailed customization of the edits you create.

Photoshop Elements 2020 – What’s New?

Now that we’ve got that straightened out, Elements 2020 offers some great new upgrades. Here’s a summary of my favorites.

Depth of Field

This one mimics the blurred backgrounds that photographers capture by using a large aperture when they shoot.

Where to Find it: Guided Edit/Special Edits/Depth of Field

You have two options when you run this edit: Simple and Custom.

Photoshop Elements 2020

Simple lets you draw a gradient that protects part of your image from blur. Because it’s a gradient, it fades to blur gradually.

Simple wasn’t bad. But the lavender started to blur out near the bottom – I wanted all of it to be sharp.

Photoshop Elements 2020

You know me, I like control in my edits. So I tried the Custom option. Custom lets you select the part of the photo you’d like to remain in focus using the Quick Selection Tool. Do you see the marching ants around the lavender in the next screenshot? I selected that area with just a few clicks. Need more info about how the Quick Selection Tool works, and how to refine your initial selection? Read this tutorial.

You can also see in the image above that the background wasn’t very blurry to begin with.

The difference between the Simple and Custom options is really obvious when you look at the layer masks for each one. The simple version has soft edges that transition from one area to another gradually.

The custom version has precise masks that do not allow blur to show on parts of the photo that should be in focus.

And here is the final version of my blur:

I like the quality of the blur – it’s similar to background blur created on camera. Plus, you can add more or less blur with a simple slider.

Photoshop Elements 2020: Colorize Black & White Photos

Where to Find it: Expert Edit/Enhance Menu/Colorize Photo

Photoshop Elements 2020

I had all sorts of fun with this one, as you can see from the photos in this section. Is it perfectly accurate? No. You have to remember that there is nothing in a black and white photo that tells PSE, “Hey. This flower is orange and this one is pink.”

Adobe’s Sensei technology, which improves all the time, uses its artificial intelligence to determine which color the flower, or car, or clothes, or skin should be. As I understand it, it evaluates the brightness or darkness of a given pixel and uses its knowledge about identifiable elements like people, grass, tires, etc. to select colors.

After accessing the tool in the Enhance menu, PSE automatically converts the photo and gives you the option to either add color shifts (none of which worked for me) or to add Manual edits.

You can see that it did a fairly good job with the standard portrait of my grandfather above.

Photoshop Elements 2020 upgrade review

It even did a pretty good job with baby me. But see how my camera left leg still has black and white areas? And who ever saw a flesh-toned diaper? My left arm was B&W also, so, I went to the Manual edits section to work on it. In order to edit the color conversion, you have to select an area, add a droplet to it, and then select colors from a color palette. Instead of the color palette, I used the eyedropper to click on baby me’s forehead to select that color and fill my arm in it. I then selected the diaper, added a droplet, and used the eyedropper to click on my dress to make the diaper white.

Y’all, I usually find Adobe’s products intuitive. I rarely need to look for tutorials when using a new tool. But I don’t understand where the color palette comes from in the screen shot above or how to access colors that don’t appear in the palette or other areas of the photo. If I understand correctly, you can also use this tool to change colors in an already-color photo. I think using the tool well might need to be the subject of a separate tutorial.

The layer created by this edit is not terribly adjustable. You can go back into Manual and make selections, add droplets, and change colors. Or you could change colors using a method like this.

I was curious to see how this colorization would work with a variety of skin tones, and converted a few color photos that I had taken to B&W. I was pleased enough with the results.

Notice how the clothes present the biggest challenge for the Colorization tool – Elements has no way of knowing what color they should be.

Pattern Brush

Where to Find it: Guided Edit/Fun Edits/Pattern Brush

This cute little brush is perfect for social media. Paint patterns onto your photos – hearts, stars, leaves, confetti, bubbles, footprints, etc. – and PSE helps you avoid painting on your subject. After selecting the pattern, check the “Protect Subject” box and then adjust your brush size. You can also adjust how close the pattern repetitions are to each other with the Scatter slider, and the pattern’s strength or brightness with the Opacity slider.

Photoshop Elements 2020 Upgrade Review

After adjusting the settings to taste, simply brush on the pattern wherever you’d like on your photo. In the image below, PSE interpreted some of the leaves on the ground and the trees as my subject. After I painted the pattern in the areas close to my kids, I turned off the “Protect Subject” box so that I could get coverage wherever I wanted it.

Photoshop Elements 2020 Pattern Brush

After painting, you can use the Erase brush to remove the pattern from places where you overpainted, and you can blur the background. This is a nice feature!

Select Subject

Where to Find it: Expert Edit/Select Menu/Select Subject

Seems like quite a few of the past few Elements upgrades have included new selection tools. Select Subject is similar to a tool that was introduced into Photoshop CC a few years ago. Using the Sensei technology I mentioned above, the software knows to look for items that are typically subjects: people, animals, vehicles, etc.

People often want to select their photo’s subject so that they can edit just the subject – like brightening or color correcting. Or maybe they want to change just the background – like blurring it to mimic a camera’s shallow & blurry depth of field.

Every year, this selection technology gets a bit better. And now that Elements has the ability to select an area that it identifies as the photo’s subject, these edits have the potential to be much quicker and easier than they used to be. I tried it with a few of the photos I used for this tutorial. You can see the one-click-plus-a-drag results here:

Photoshop Elements 2020 Select Subject

The great thing about these selections is that you can refine them in various ways. This tutorial shows you about refining them using the Select menu tools. You can also convert them to layer masks and paint on your refinements the “old-fashioned” way. The layer mask technique still gives me the most confidence, because I know I can get a good result without much experimentation. But I use it less and less the more the selection tools improve.

Animate Skies with Premiere Elements 2010

Where to Find it: Guided Edit/Fun Edits/Animated Sky

This is a feature from PREMIERE Elements, which is the video editor that you can choose to buy along with Photoshop Elements. Press the Play button to see it in action.

Admittedly, it’s a bit gimmicky. But it’s also a lot of fun! It takes a specific type of photo to make it work. You want one with skies a consistent color – no shades of blue, no clouds. A completely blown out sky would work, for instance. You also want a photo whose lighting looks like it was taken on a sunny day.

If you like it, I predict that Adobe will add more animated backgrounds in the future. It’s one way of encouraging us die-hard Photoshop Elements users to use Premiere Elements as well.

To make it work, open Premiere Elements 2020, select Guided Edit, click on Fun Edits, and then scroll down to Animated Sky. Premiere will walk you through the rest of the edits.

Who Should Upgrade to Photoshop Elements 2020?

So here’s the deal. I haven’t been all that excited about the last few Elements upgrades. They’ve all added solid features, but nothing that’s a must-have for photographers who have a fairly recent version of PSE. I think I’ve been trying to reconcile myself with the fact that Elements, which was my first photo editor, just doesn’t compete with the Lightroom/Photoshop CC combo.

Elements has evolved into a program that focuses on Guided Edits for people who want quick, easy, and fun results. Sure, you can still access all the old Expert Edit tools like Levels and Layer Masks, but it’s my opinion that Adobe has reached the limit of Photoshop CC type editing tools that they will put in Elements – don’t stick with it hoping that you’ll be able to have a Curves adjustment layer anytime soon.

Elements is now all about automatic edits similar to what you can do quickly on your phone with an app.

And with the 2020 release, I think that Elements has finally reached a place where the available technology has caught up with the hype and potential for this type of cute, fun edit. I see myself using PSE more now for social media posts and for informal photo edits – edits where I can include graphics or special effects. In fact, I might use it now more than I have been in the past year or two.

I resoundingly recommend this version of Elements for hobbyist photographers who:

  • don’t take huge amounts of photos and don’t need Lightroom’s photo library
  • want good, easy edits. They want to improve their photos’ straight-off-of-camera appearance without stressing about whether their colors have the correct measurements or their exposure is pro-photographer worthy.
  • like to have fun with their photos, post them online & make people smile, and incorporate cute graphics and text effects into their creations.

If you already have Lightroom/Photoshop CC, buying Elements is overkill. Sure, there are some Guided Edits and graphics that Photoshop CC doesn’t offer. But there is nothing you can’t do in PSE that you can’t also do in Photoshop CC with a bit of effort. And LR/PS CC will give you a higher quality edit for your photos, if you know how to use them.

Now for my 11th annual upgrade recommendation! I’m assuming that people considering upgrading to PSE 2020 are not professional photographers and do not have Lightroom/Photoshop CC.

  • Upgrade from Elements 2019: Only if you are excited about the new “toys” I mentioned above.
  • Upgrade from Elements 2018: Unless you are really trying to save money, you will enjoy upgrading from Elements 2018.
  • Upgrade from Elements 13, 14 or 15: Yep. You will have so many Guided Edits to choose from, you won’t know where to begin playing. And you won’t have to worry as much about intimidating features like Levels Adjustment Layers, Layer Masks, and Blend Modes.
  • Upgrade from Elements 12 or prior: Seriously? These versions still work on your computer?! Upgrade already.

When you buy, remember that you can buy Photoshop Elements alone, or add on Premiere Elements for video editing.

Any questions about Photoshop Elements in general or this upgrade in particular? I’m here to help! Post them in the comments below.

Photoshop Elements 2020: Should You Upgrade this Year?