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Photo Editing

Try as you might, it’s hard to take perfect pictures. Red eye, poor color fidelity, or plain old bad composition can render an otherwise decent photo into junk. Although iPhoto can’t work miracles or match the sophistication of an image-editing program like Adobe Photoshop, its editing tools can save a less-than-perfect image and make a mediocre one look a lot better. iPhoto 5 boasts a nice collection of new tools that give some image editors a run for their money.

You can edit photos either within the iPhoto window or in a separate window. You can even edit in another application. By default, double-clicking a photo or clicking the Edit button on the toolbar magnifies and isolates it, trading in the standard toolbar for one with editing tools, and displays other images from the current album at the top. This is called Edit view (see Figure 3.14).

Figure 3.14

Figure 3.14 Edit view shows the enlarged image and a set of editing tools.

If you’d rather, Ctrl-click a photo in the content pane and choose Edit in Separate Window from the contextual menu. The new window displays the photo and a toolbar with the same options in the main Edit view.

Customize the Editing Environment

As I mentioned earlier, Edit view is the default editing environment. To open a separate window when you double-click a photo, choose iPhoto, Preferences and click the Opens Photo in Edit Window radio button, found on the General tab. To use an external application such as Photoshop or GraphicConverter, click Opens Photo In, and then click the Select Application button. Navigate to an image-editing tool you like. When you save a photo you’ve edited in an external application, your altered image is available in iPhoto, just as if you had worked on it in Edit view or in the editing window.

Basic Editing Tools

I’m going to walk you through all of iPhoto’s editing tools. First though, a few words about what happens to images you edit, and how to avoid making boo-boos with your precious photos.

If you are just getting started with image editing, or if you are editing images for specific exporting or printing purposes, you won’t want to lose the original. To protect your original, duplicate the image before you edit, working on a copy and renaming it so that you can distinguish the two easily. You can duplicate an image in Organize view or Edit view (Ctrl-click and choose Duplicate).

iPhoto lets you recover from mistakes, too. While you are working on a photo, you always have access to the Revert to Original command from the Photos menu or the contextual menu. Like most other OS X applications in which you edit files, iPhoto also provides Undo and Redo commands on the Edit menu. Use these if you catch an edit you don’t like before moving on to another action.


The Rotate button appears on the standard and Editing toolbars. Click it once to turn an image 90°, and again to go 90° more. To choose the rotate direction instead, Ctrl-click the image and choose Rotate Clockwise or Rotate Counter-Clockwise.

Aspect Ratios

Photo provides a menu of aspect ratio options that give you a quick way to crop a photo so that it will fit on a printed page or match some other relative size constraint you might have. Applying an option from the Constrain menu creates a crop area with the relative dimensions of that option. You can drag the selected area around to center it and then click the Crop button to create a photo with the desired aspect ratio. If you need to crop the photo to remove extraneous material, do so before you choose an aspect ratio and then crop again. To use an aspect ratio that’s not listed, choose Custom from the constrain menu and enter width and height constraints. To remove an aspect ratio constraint before you crop, choose None from the Constrain menu.


When a photo is open in either editing view, your cursor becomes a cross. With it, you can select a portion of the image to work on, or you can choose to delete a portion of it. To crop extraneous stuff from a photo, click and drag across the image. iPhoto dims the portion of the photo that’s outside the cropping rectangle. Keep dragging until you have selected everything you want to save and then release the mouse. Here are a few cropping tips:

  • To move the cropping area without changing its size, click inside it and drag.
  • To change the area’s size and shape, drag one of its edges.
  • To make the selected area a specific proportional size, choose an option from the Constrain pop-up menu. iPhoto adjusts the area accordingly (see Figure 3.15). Refer to the "Aspect Ratios" section for more on constraining images.

    Figure 3.15

    Figure 3.15 Select the area of a photo you want to use and click the Crop button to remove the rest.

When you’re satisfied, click the Crop button. The portion of the photo outside the selection rectangle is removed.


Enhance is a one-stop photo cleanup tool; not as comprehensive as twiddling all the dials individually, but a great place to start. When you use this option, iPhoto tries to correct for poor color, brightness, and/or contrast. Some photos benefit greatly, some do not. To try it out, simply click the Enhance button. Keep your eye on the photo to see how iPhoto changes it. To compare the enhanced version to the original, hold down the Control key. iPhoto switches to the enhanced version when you release Control. Figure 3.16 shows before and after versions of an enhanced image.

Figure 3.16

Figure 3.16 This image benefited greatly from the Enhance tool.

If the Enhance button is grayed out, you have selected a portion of your photo. Choose None from the Constrain menu to remove the selection and then click Enhance.

Red Eye

Perhaps the most common problem in flash photography, red eye can be removed or reduced with the nifty Red Eye tool. To use it, click the Red Eye button in Edit view/window, or Ctrl-click to use the Red Eye option on the contextual menu. Then click in the center of each red eye. Figure 3.17 shows ye olde before and after.

Figure 3.17

Figure 3.17 Click the Red Eye button to correct the selected eye. I’ve already fixed the other eye.


Whether they’re birthmarks, the oily aftermath of a chocolate binge, or a bit of unidentifiable gunk, blemishes sometimes appear on faces and surfaces. The Retouch tool allows you to cover them up. To retouch a portion of an image, click the Retouch button. Click and drag the mouse back and forth over the blemish area. Hold the Control key to view before and after versions.


Why take a perfectly good color photo and render it in black and white? You might have artistic reasons for doing so; something to do with illustrating the starkness of the Arizona landscape, maybe? Whatever the reason, you can make the change with the B&W button. Once again, be sure no part of the photo is selected and then click B&W to convert the image.


Whereas unaltered black-and-white images can be stark, sepia-toned images are said to take the edge off. The technique is often used to make newer photos look old-timey. With nothing selected, click the Sepia button.


In Edit view, use the Size slider (right below the content pane) to zoom in on your photo. When you enter Edit view, your image is zoomed out as far as it can go. Click the buttons on either side of the slider for minimum zoom (left) and maximum zoom (right). If you’re working in the Edit window, choose a percentage from the Size menu (up to 200%). You can also fit the image in the window, which is the default setting. Enlarge the Edit window and then click Fit in Window to see more of your image there.

The Editing Dashboard

Hidden behind the mild-mannered Adjust button is perhaps the most noteworthy enhancement in iPhoto 5, the one that will save some people a few bucks on image-editing software, and might encourage others to tweak their photos for the first time. The Apple website calls the window full of sliders the editing dashboard (the window’s simply called Adjust). Let’s take a look at each option. Note that if you run iPhoto 5 on a Mac with a G3 processor, you will see only the Brightness and Contrast sliders. First, find and open a photo that needs some work in Edit view or the Edit window. Click the Adjust button to open the dashboard (see Figure 3.18).

Figure 3.18

Figure 3.18 The Editing Dashboard is a transparent window containing advanced editing tools.

When you move a dashboard slider, you’ll see the effect on your photo immediately. Tweak the image all you want. To undo what you’ve done, click Reset Sliders. When you’re happy with your image, close the dashboard window. As with edits you make with the toolbar buttons, you can return to the unaltered photo. Ctrl-click it and choose Revert to Original.

Here’s a rundown of the dashboard tools:

  • Brightness/Contrast—Although the Enhance option tries to fix photos with brightness and contrast problems, you can often achieve better-looking results with the more precise brightness and contrast sliders, as seen in Figure 3.19.

    Figure 3.19

    Figure 3.19 I used the Enhance tool first, but got better results with the Brightness and Contrast sliders. Although the photo on the right is better, it remains too dark.

  • Saturation—Add intensity to a photo’s color by increasing saturation. Old and faded photos can benefit from a bracing shot of color.
  • Temperature—A photo can take on a color cast, often referred to as its temperature. Blue/green casts indicate a colder temperature, while yellow color casts are warmer. You might see blue/green cast in an image shot under florescent lights. Lots of sunlight can make the cast excessively yellow.
  • Tint—Darken or lighten an image.
  • Sharpness—Increasing sharpness brings a blurry image into better focus by increasing the contrast of adjacent pixels.
  • Straighten—Did you tilt the camera a wee bit, or drop a print onto the scanner at a slight angle? Use the Straighten tool to align your image to a horizontal grid.
  • Exposure—Compensate for over- or under-exposed photos.
  • Levels—Notice the histogram at the bottom of the dashboard? Use the Levels control to set white and dark points in the histogram.

Using the dashboard tools is all about subtle tweaking. Work on an image until it looks the way you want, and then hold down the Control key to compare it with the original.

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