The Streamlined Interface will be the first new feature you see when launching the program. There’s a new single-column toolbar (although you can easily change it back to two columns if you want), and there are new docking palettes. The new interface takes a bit of getting used to, but it offers the flexibility to make your desktop more efficient and gain more screen real estate for your images.
Smart Filters will make life much easier for photographers. In the past, filters weren’t editable—once you applied one, it was a permanent change, and if you wanted to apply a filter locally rather than globally, it was a multiple-step process. Convert for Smart Filters is a new command under the Filter menu. When you apply this to a pixel layer, it turns the layer into a Smart Object. When you run any filter on that layer, you get a "sub" layer containing a layer mask and an editable link back to the filter dialog box so that you can reedit the filter at any time. You also get an icon that opens a Blending Options dialog box so that you can change the blend mode of the filter. This is helpful because you can now set the blend mode of the sharpening right with the layer.
Black-and-White Conversion is a new option in the Adjustment Layer list. When you open the dialog box, you’re given the option of converting your color image to black-and-white using several presets that mimic using color filters on black-and-white film. Or, if you choose not to use a preset, you can adjust any of six color sliders (Red, Green, Blue and Cyan, Magenta, Yellow) to influence the grayscale value of those colors in the conversion to a black-and-white image. This is, by far, the easiest and most controllable method for converting color to black-and-white.
The Quick Selection Tool is an advancement of the idea behind the Magic Wand (the old Magic Wand resides under this tool on the toolbar if you still want to use it). The new tool is easy to use—you basically just click and drag over the areas you want to select, and it selects based on color (and does a great job with edges). You can subtract from the selection by holding your Opt/Alt key.
Do you stack multiple exposures as layers in a single image file to control contrast and exposure or to combine elements of images? Auto Align will automatically align layers based on their contents to aid in this process. For example, if you take a series of images of an animal with your motordrive, and in one image the light is better but the animal closes its eyes or turns its head, you can use Auto Align to quickly bring two layers into proper registration, then combine the best features of each image with a simple layer mask. It also works great for lining up landscapes when you need to mask in a new sky or a different exposure.
Auto Blend is used to blend the color and brightness of two layers, but it needs to have transparency on the layers for it to work. This means you can’t take two exact images at different exposures and have it blend the images. But it will be useful for blending overlapping images, such as those in a stitched panorama.
Refine Edges is one of the most important new features in CS3. Whenever you make a selection in Photoshop and want to either change the appearance of that selection with an adjustment tool or use the selection to create a mask, you need to make sure the edges of the selection are smooth enough to make the change look natural. In the past, that meant trying to feather the selection or use the Quick Mask to see the selection and then try to finesse it with a brush. Now with the Refine Edges option (which appears in the Tool Options bar on every tool capable of creating selections or as a drop-down from the Select menu), you can refine the selection edge with Radius, increase the contrast edge with Contrast, smooth jagged edges with Smooth, increase or decrease the feather of the selection with Feather, and expand or contract the selection with the Contract/Expand slider. You can also isolate your selection against different color backgrounds by using the icons at the bottom of the dialog box.
Now let’s look at major improvements to existing features.
Adobe Camera Rawgets a major upgrade. The addition of Fill Light, which adds light to the quarter tones (shadows that aren’t black), and the Highlight recovery, which brings back detail in only the brightest highlights without affecting any other tones, really help with exposure adjustments. The Vibrance Slider (I call it the Velvia slider), which adds saturation without oversaturating, is another favorite new tool. I also like the Hue, Saturation and Luminance controls for individual colors—I can now do almost all my color fine-tuning right in Camera Raw! Along with the Black-and-White Conversion, the Split Toning, the new Curves dialog, plus the new ability to apply all these controls to JPEG and TIFF images in addition to RAW, Camera Raw has taken a large leap forward in quality and control offered to photographers.
Bridge has a new interface, which also allows more customization, better filtering and a much needed Loupe/Magnifier mode. Just click on the preview image, and you get a magnifying glass that will enlarge your preview to 100-percent view to check sharpness. This, and the ability to import images right from your camera or flash media card, are some of the major new features.
The Curves dialog box has had a major facelift and has added a Histogram behind the Curve and Levels-like sliders at the bottom of the Curve, making adjustments much easier. You can overlay changes made to color channels and add a baseline to judge how far you have moved your Curve.
In past versions of Photoshop, Brightness/Contrast was a scary tool. You could easily clip your shadows or your highlights when adjusting the sliders, and many beginning Photoshop users inadvertently damaged their images. But not with the new revised version of Brightness/Contrast. While you still don’t have anywhere near the control you have using Curves, at least with the new Brightness/Contrast, you don’t have to worry about destroying the quality of your image. It has now become a tool that's easy and safe for anyone to use.
The new version of PhotoMerge takes advantage of the new Auto Align and Auto Blend features when creating panoramic images. It does a much better job of creating perfect panos that don't need any refinements.
These are just some of the new features of Photoshop CS3. As you can see, there are plenty of new tools to keep even the most advanced Photoshop user happy and many new features that will make image editing easier for beginners, as well.