My current favorite five new PsCS3 features in order are:
1. Nondestructive Smart Filters
2. Quick Selection Tool & Refine Edge
3. Photomerge with advanced alignment and blending
4. Automatic layer alignment and blending
5. Vanishing Point with adjustable angle
* Nondestructive Smart Filters
Adobe has finally given us non-linear, nondestructive filters. Can I just say "HOORAY!" In the past, you applied filters and effects in a linear order: one filter would alter your image, and the second filter would alter your now altered image, and a third filter would alter the altered altered image. The problem with that workflow is that if you decide you want to slightly tweak the second filter, you'd have to either undo back to that point (losing your subsequent edits), or use the history palette to step directly "back in time" to the point before you added the second filter, add your "revised" second filter and then add your third manually. All too often, you don't quite remember what exact parameters you had set on that third one - or worse, your real world project involved applying 20 filters instead of the 3 in my example and changing the second filter would mean redoing the 18 that follow it. What a drag. Because of this issue, people developed many work arounds (often involving saving off multiple "partially completed" versions of files all over your hard drive with iterative file names, hoping that if you needed to go back to a certain point in time you'd be able to figure out where you needed to be), and while these workarounds were clever and well-conceived in many cases, there was a perfect, real solution, waiting to happen.
The real solution to all this is what we have been given in CS3: Nondestructive Smart Filters. In this new version, each filter and effect that you apply to a layer, remains live and continually re-editable, in real time, and the parameters that you adjust will all cascade down through whatever subsequent filters or effects you might have added to your layer. These are savable, movable, copy and pastable, and most importantly scalable.
* Quick Selection tool & Refine Edge
A design mentor of mine once told me "Photoshop is all about the selection. You select something, and then you do something with the selection. Nothing more, nothing less. Remember that, and you'll never go wrong using this app." Almost 10 years later, I must say she was absolutely correct. Using Photoshop is all about "the selection." There are more tools in Photoshop for selecting than for any other single task.
As in just about every version of Photoshop that has ever been released, CS3 has made even greater strides in the area of "making your selection" than comes to memory in recent years. The new Quick Selection Tool used in combination with the Refine Edge palette is about the most helpful and clean way of selecting the edges of an object in your image that I have ever seen. This new revised Quick Selection tool is so smooth. You basically set the parameters of your Quick Selection tool - as if it were a brush - and paint the general area of your image edges (like trying to select just a kid and his soccer ball out of the photo of the big game) and Photoshop is watching what you do, and interpreting what you consider to be the general edges of what you are wanting to select and it figures out what's kid and ball and what's grass and goal posts and sky and crowd and selects just what you want it to. It's VERY fast and clean. Then, you can invoke the Refine Edge palette, and you have seemingly infinite control over exactly how the edges of that selection behave. Check out the palette to the right to get an idea of what you could do to "refine" that edge. With radius, feathering, smoothing, and various display settings, I believe this new combo will cut down on my masking and selecting time in a quantifiable way.
* Photomerge with advanced alignment and blending
Ever tried to stitch together a series of images that you took, that you intended to "put together" into a panorama? Even with some of the stand alone tools that have been available over the years—even those for doing quicktime VR's—are clunky and difficult to use - with mixed results at times. I have always wanted something built into Photoshop to let me do these "photo merges" - I never expected that Photoshop would actually be able to automatically do it for me. This feature floored me. The technologies involved in my number four choice "Automatic layer alignment and blending" are at work here in this feature as well, and the new auto layer alignment features in CS3 are far-reaching and crop up again and again in different areas of the application. It's really one of the revolutionary things about this new version.
All of the things that have made making panoramas a difficult task in the past are all done automatically. The primary among these being 1. those times when you have to actually distort, rotate, skew or transform one of your elements because the perspective is screwy, 2. those times when the sun or lighting or a window made the white balance, color space or over all wash of brightness and contrast different from one image to the next (especially when doing 360's) and of course 3. actually finding and aligning those overlapping areas of consecutive elements. Photoshop CS3 does these all for you and with surprisingly amazing results. It's not just about the typical "panorama" either... I saw a demo of someone standing "too close" to a building, and taking pictures zoomed all the way out, of the front door, windows and window-boxes, front brick walk way, tilting upward and taking a picture of the balcony and roof line of the second floor - in other words, many elements that were WAY out of whack in terms of perspective, lighting and color space, and these 4 or 5 images were distorted, tweaked, rotated, matched, blended, lighting and color density matched... and I was amazed in like 5 seconds, there was this "wide angle" almost "fisheye" photomerge of the front of the building, from brick walkway to roof-line, and it looked incredible.
* Automatic layer alignment and blending
Another powerful application of this new alignment and blending technology is with a series or stack of images of the same subject. Let's say you wanted to take a picture of a statue in a park somewhere, or a huge fountain, or the front of a monument or building. There are always people walking through the frame - if you can't close down the area and still need a picture of the statue, in the park, in it's beautiful setting, but with no people or birds or random elements - what are you to do? In the past, it was a painstaking process of shooting a bunch of images, selecting the "closest" one to your vision of a nice, clean, tourist-less frame, and begin the hours and hours of painting, cloning, healing, brushing etc., to remove all of your "randoms." There are artists who are very good at this process, but I'm fairly certain they would agree that if there was a way to not have to spend all that time, they'd take it. Well, it's here. Photoshop CS3 can take your stack of images and by analyzing all of them, figure out which things are permanent (things that appear in all the images like that building in the distance, the big tree, the sidewalk, and which parts of the image are obscured in one of the frames but not all of them, are healed automatically by borrowing pixels from other images in the stack and building an advanced composite of all the images and doing 90% or more of the work for you. There's even a set of "fuzziness" sliders letting you say "eleminate things that are in X% of the images in the stack or less." This is so impressive to see in action. You have to try it on some of your own images. It's really hard to believe that it's this easy to do this sort of process now. This is one of those new areas that I'm sure we'll see artists finding incredibly creative ways to utilize this feature. Again, this one floored me when I first saw it.
* Vanishing Point with adjustable angle
One of the most powerful new features of Adobe CS2 was the vanishing point feature. One limitation it had was that you only had one set of right angles to work with in the vanishing point interface. Adobe took it one exponential step further by adding multiple, adjustable angle perspective planes to this vanishing point feature. What this enables you to do is copy, paste and clone in far more complex image planes than just the "clone parts of a building in perspective" job that the first iteration of this feature offered (impressive and powerful, but not very flexible). One of the big examples Adobe is pushing with this feature is to simulate 3D packaging and work on multiple planes at various angles in the same image. Like an open box for a new product, or even for experimenting with your final package art by seeing it in its real-world context. Again I think this feature has so many far reaching implications for inventors, prototypers, 3D modelers, visual effects artists... and can give Photoshop artists the ability to render full blown mockups of product packaging art for clients in a whole new way - getting us to sign-off, green-light and on to the next project at hand much more quickly. I like that a lot.
There are numerous new features in the application, especially when you dig down deep into the Photoshop Extended editions (sounds like a Peter Jackson DVD...) and as the week progresses here, I'd like to look into some of what PsCS3 Extended has to offer. The versions of PsCS3 that are available are the Film & Video, Medical & Science, AEC (Architecture, Engineering & Construction), and Manufacturing editions.