The guide my brother bought for eBay said to touch up the photos by highlighting everything but the item and its' shadow, put it on a new layer, use the 'adjust light levels' function to fade it out, and paintbrush any dark spots. Then it said to put the item and the shadow on its own layer as well (using the above method) and to lighten it some as needed. We would also 'blur' any hard edges it left behind between the item shadows and the background. This took around 5 to 10 minutes, per image. As you can see, very time consuming.
So, today, while tinkering, I found a new method. Feathering. Photoshop Elements' manual said to highlight the object, feather it, invert the selection, and then fill the selection with another color to keep a soft edge around the object. This worked, minus the fact I was already selecting the background so I would invert it, feather it, and reinvert it again (I later realized this was unnessicary, and I could've just feathered it without inverting it, but that wasn't until later). So, realizing how redundant it would be getting to do that over and over and over I searched Photoshop Elements' help for 'scripting' because I knew Paint Shop Pro 9 (and 8) had it. Nothing. Not a word about scripting.
I searched the net high and low looking for something that would allow me to script the commands in Photoshop Elements 3. I looked under "plugins" and "scripting", but all I could find was something about "Actions" for Photoshop 7. So, failing all that, I went back to my baby, Paint Shop Pro. It took about fifteen seconds to create a script to do what I needed, but then I realized I could do so much more with a script than just the feathering. I then scripted it resizing and saving the image into the big and small sizes we would need, as well as saving the working image.
By this time my brother had gotten home and he helped me automate the script. The scripting language itself is based on Python, so we had to do a little research into how to process strings to add the _small tag into image.jpg (making it image_small.jpg). We also had to figure out the resizing dimensions ourselves because PSP wasn't doing it without running interactively.
After all that was said and done, the process to refine images is as simple as opening them, using the magic wand to select the background (Very very simple), and then running the script. The script does everything else that we used to do for us, including cropping the photo at exactly 30 pixels (whereas we just cropped it where ever looked about right, meaning it fluxuated). The new method takes less than a minute for each image, streamlining the process greatly.
I should've gotten more of them done myself since that is my job, but at least I made it as simple as a few clicks and the image is done. I wish my brother hadn't bought Photoshop Elements ($100) because Paint Shop Pro ($95 to $120) can do anything it can, as well as most things Photoshop ($650) itself can. I'll admit, PSP can't do 'everything' Photoshop can and it can be a bit awkward to use at first, but once you've used it for a little while it's like second nature.
Just got off the phone with my brother, and asked him if he was still going to use Photoshop Elements. He said it would be nice to have it, but with the scripting in Paint Shop Pro we probably wouldn't be using it. He mentioned Paint Shop Pro would take a little getting used to but shouldn't be too hard. I told him I was just looking at the Adobe site and, if he wanted, we could return it for a refund. He said that would probably be a good idea, especially seeing as Paint Shop Pro would be expiring in a few days and we'd have to look into getting it (Paint Shop Pro 'expires', but it doesn't stop you from using it until like 60 days after, at least from my experience). So, tomorrow I'll call Adobe and see about a refund. (Yay for refunds!)
This makes me happy that he won't have spent his money (especially so much) on a program he probably won't use (much).