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Using Photoshop Elements with Adobe Lightroom

I like Adobe Lightroom. As a photographer, I can do a great deal of what I generally needed to when optimizing an image directly in Lightroom without the need of an external editor. When I do need to go beyond what it can do, I use Adobe Photoshop which automatically integrates quite well with Lightroom. But Photoshop isn't cheap, and many photographers find Photoshop Elements perfectly capable and much less expensive. If only there was a good way to integrate Elements with Lightroom. Well, now there is.

First, you may already know that Lightroom lets you register an image editing program via the Edit >> Preferences >> Additional External Editor menu option. You can use this method to add Photoshop Elements to the Lightroom "Edit In" menu but you only get that one option. The native integration with the full version of Photoshop also provides the ability to open a group of selected Lightroom images as layers in a single Photoshop document, open Lightroom images as Photoshop Smart Objects, or merge images from Lightroom into a Photoshop panorama or HDR image.

Photoshop Elements doesn't support High Dynamic Range (HDR) images, and it only sort of supports Smart Objects, but current versions do support Panoramas, and of course Layers. If you limit yourself to what Adobe provides, you're out of luck you want to add menu options for these to Lightroom. Thankfully, Matt Dawson of has found a way to make that happen. On his website he writes that he's a "geek that likes taking photos, tinkering with computers, and writing code." After downloading and evaluating his "Elemental" plug-in for Lightroom, I'd say this description fits him quite well.

After downloading The Photo Geek's Elemental plug-in, you'll need to unzip it into a folder on your computer. Depending on your operating system, you can find your Lightroom plug-in folder here:

  • Windows Vista or Windows 7: "C:\Users\(username)\AppData\Roaming\Adobe\Lightroom\Modules"
  • Windows XP: "C:\Documents and Settings\(username)\Application Data\Adobe\Lightroom\Modules"
  • Mac OS: "~/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom/Modules" for just the current user, or "/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom/Modules" for all users

After this, start up Lightroom and go to File >> Plug-in Manager and click on the "Add" button. Navigate to the folder you extracted the zipped files to and click "OK." The dialog should automatically detect where you have Photoshop Elements installed but if it doesn't you can enter the path in the Plugin Configuration Settings section. When finished, click on "Done." Now you're ready to make use of Elemental.

Select the image or images you want to work with in Lightroom and go to the File >> Plug-in Extras menu to select the Elemental action you want. The current version of Elemental (version 1.07) supports the following actions:

Open in Photoshop Elements — This one does what you think it does. Each selected image file is opened as an individual document in Photoshop Elements.

Open as Smart Object in Photoshop Elements — Opens each selected image as a Smart Object in the Elements editor. Note that even though you can indeed create a Smart Object in current versions of Elements, you can't really do much with one in PSE. Still, it does work, and if you do also have the full version of Photoshop, this is a nice feature if you want to start first in Elements. And if Adobe sees fit to add more support for Smart Objects in future versions of Elements, you're ahead of the game.

Merge to Panorama in Photoshop Elements — This opens the selected images in the PSE File >> New >> Photomerge Panorama dialog where you can select your desired options for panorama type and other settings.

Open as Layers in Photoshop Elements — This action will open all selected images as layers in a single Photoshop Elements document. The images may be related in some way, or you may simply want to process them together for some reason.

Remove Lens Distortion in Photoshop Elements — The native Photoshop integration in Lightroom doesn't even let you do this one, but Elemental does. This will open the selected images individually in the Elements Camera Distortion filter.

If the image you were working on in Lightroom is a raw image, your Develop settings will automatically be used so you can bypass Camera Raw which is a nice touch. When you exit Elements, the resulting file can't be automatically loaded back into Lightroom although the author states that he's working on solving this as well as adding further integration options. With the current version of Elemental, you can get Lightroom to see your new file by using Library >> Synchronize Folders from the menu after navigating to the folder you saved it in.

Before opening an image with Elemental, make sure your Lightroom edits for it are saved. Lightroom will remind you when you use the Plug-in Extras option in case you forget but if you don't you'll see the unedited image in Elements without your changes. If this happens, just exit out and save your Lightroom changes and all will be well. Lightroom will also warn you if try to open a virtual copy. Lightroom lets you create virtual copies of images that all share the same original source file but differ only in the Develop settings saved for each. If you try to open a virtual copy using Elemental you will be asked if you want to instead edit the master copy of that image.

There is one other prompt you might see after using the plug-in for a while and it relates to how the software gets licensed. The author doesn't charge money for Elemental, but he would appreciate it if you'd buy him a beer. Or at least send him a donation so he can buy one himself. If you do, you'll get a Registration code you can enter to turn off the "buy me a beer" prompt. Sounds like a reasonable system to me.

Even though it doesn't come with Photoshop or any of the Adobe Create Suite bundles that include Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom is officially known as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. That's always puzzled me and I bring this question up here often. Perhaps now that Photoshop Elements users have a way to integrate their image editor of choice with Lightroom Adobe will get requests to create a bundle with Lightroom and Elements too. Users want choices, after all. The ball's in your court Adobe.

ThePhotoGeeek's Elemental plug-in for Adobe Lightroom

Date posted: February 6, 2011


Copyright © 2011 Bob Johnson, Earthbound Light - all rights reserved.
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