For years (seriously, like 10 years), I've been answering this question pretty much the same way. If you are a beginner, you should get Photoshop Elements. It's like the sleek little brother to the big honking Mack truck that has features you don't need and that will only get in the way*. And it's less than $100. I don't think that anymore.
*This FEATURES YOU DON'T NEED thing has been the major change for me, because it has features you DO need now. Read on.
If you want to read on for the backstory and the reasons for the decision, please do. But I'll sum up right here:
YOU SHOULD SUBSCRIBE TO PHOTOSHOP CC.
Even if you are a beginner, I think you should subscribe to Photoshop CC. If you don't need any of the other Adobe applications (Illustrator, InDesign, Flash, Dreamweaver, etc.), then your price is simple: You can get both Photoshop CC and Lightroom for $10 a month and you should go do that right now.
Here is the link for checking out the Adobe Photographer Bundle. If you already know you like Photoshop, just subscribe. If you're on the fence, get the free trial and head over to take my beginner digital scrapbooking class.
And now for the WHY.
FIRSTLY: WHAT THE HECK IS CREATIVE CLOUD?
(THE CC BEHIND PHOTOSHOP CC).
Creative Cloud is the subscription-based delivery for Photoshop and the other Adobe applications. You subscribe, click the Install button and you get the full version of Photoshop installed on your computer. Every time you connect your computer to the internet (which is all the time for almost all of us), it checks whether there are updates and gives you the option to install them right away.
The good news: You get updates as soon as they come out - no hunting, no extra purchases. Just your monthly fee. Which if you JUST want Photoshop, is $10 a month. So cheap.
The bad news: You never get to actually OWN any software. If you stop paying for your subscription, it goes away. (You own all your files, of course - you just can't edit them unless you buy PSE or install your old copy of Photoshop).
It's actually this bad news that had most people really freaked out. Nobody likes feeling like they have no contingency plan. What if Adobe goes away? What if somehow things go massively downhill and I lose access to all my files? This is a whole life's work here. You might remember the furore over the whole thing. But I REALLY DO think you should subscribe. It's been 2 years now, and there's no sign of slowing down. And I have a few good reasons for changing my mind.
So. Now for WHY. Gonna do these in reverse order like Letterman:
REASON #3: IT IS REALLY CHEAP TO OWN BIG MAMA NOW
In the past, I've always treated Photoshop C+ as the investment you made when you knew you were serious about digital crafting/art/photo editing, etc. But about a year ago, Adobe released the package for photographers, with Lightroom 5 and Photoshop CC. For $10 a month. Less than I pay for Netflix. Less than lunch at anywhere but fast food. And while for a long time my purpose was to get as many people using Photoshop as possible, Photoshop Elements was the best deal in town. Don't get me wrong. It still IS a good deal. You can get it at Costco in September for like $60. So if you upgrade every year, you'll pay $60-$80. If you subscribe to Creative Cloud, you'll pay $120 a year.
REASON #2: SWEET FEATURES
Everything I've ever taught in Photoshop HAD to be available in Photoshop Elements, because that was what the majority of people were using. In a recent poll, however, the numbers are now neck-and-neck, with nearly 50% of people using some version of Photoshop CS or CC. So let's talk about Sweet Features. PS CC offers features like paths, the pen tool, better selections, better color management, better brush handling, and the BIG HUGE new deal: Glyphs. Which are almost single-handedly the reason why I changed my mind about what to recommend. Read on:
REASON #1: THE NEW GLYPHS PALETTE
This is a sweet feature and therefore kind of belongs in Reason 2. But it belongs in its own reason because it's such a huge game-changer. Glyphs are essentially the same as "characters" in fonts. But the Glyphs Palette (which has been available forever in Illustrator and InDesign) is what enables you to access all the alternate characters that are offered in those really nice, expensive fonts like Mercury Script and Samantha.
And the fact that I myself no longer had to go over to Illustrator to get the pretty, and then bring it back in to Photoshop was reason enough for me to change my mind. I think that this is the best move all around, and we've been waiting for it for YEARS.
So if you are on the fence about whether to wait for the next Photoshop Elements (probably coming out in September or October) or whether to dive in to the free 30-day trial of Photoshop CC, GO WITH THE BIG MAMA.
Love it. Go grab it. See you there.