iPhoto: the ultimate guide for Mac and iPad

3rd Jun 2012 | 11:00

iPhoto: the ultimate guide for Mac and iPad

Master iPhoto on OS X and iOS

iPhoto on the Mac

No photo is perfect straight off the camera. Whether you need to brighten an outdoor scene, sharpen up a smile, or crop out other holidaymakers on the beach, a few quick edits can work wonders. And you don't even need a heavyweight program, such as Photoshop, for this (having too many options can work against you if you don't know how to apply them, anyway).

iPhoto makes editing your images easy. On the Mac, everyone gets a free copy of it, and while you do have to pay extra for the new iOS version (£2.99), it's now possible to get the same controls in a touch-friendly way, but you will need at least an iPad 2/iPhone 4 to run it. If you're behind the technology curve here, check out other tools, such as Luminance or Snapseed for mobile editing. Over the next few pages, we'll show you how to use iPhoto to the full.

Most images follow the same basic workflow - correct the lighting, correct the colour, then use more specific brushes to paint effects like red-eye removal and extra sharpness directly onto your photo. None of this is tricky, though it does take practice to work out how far you should go. In most cases, less is more, and too much processing in the name of brightness and saturation can look worse than the original unedited version.

With a few simple tweaks though, any photo you take can be ready to take pride of place on your wall.

Use iPhoto on your Mac

Let's start by looking at how it works on your Mac

iphoto mac

Apple's iPhoto is perhaps the most used of the iLife apps, and it's far more powerful than any photo program that's ever been bundled with Windows. The main interface change sees the predominant use of fullscreen views, enhanced email and Facebook integration. There's some new slideshow effects too.

Once your photos have been imported into iPhoto's library, there's so much you can do with them. You can create albums, pin your photos to a map, have iPhoto pick out the faces from your shots and, you can even show all the photos in which particular people appear - ideal for organising your family shots into useful folders.

It's also an accomplished photo editor. iPhoto hasn't got the power of software such as Photoshop - and you won't be using it to create rich photo montages - but it does a brilliant job of correcting poorly exposed shots and giving your images a polish. And what makes it more attractive for most photographers is that it's fast and friendly to use, with major features built-in.

When you're done, you can use iPhoto to share your pictures. You can publish them to online galleries or produce stunning photo books and calendars. iPhoto '11 makes some great improvements in this area, including the ability to create letter-press cards.

Perform some basic edits

Straighten up and improve your shots with just a few clicks

With the best will in the world, not every photograph that you take will be a prize-winning masterpiece. Almost any photo can be improved with more creative cropping, adjustment of exposure, tweaking of colours and removing nasties such as red-eye from a camera's flash.

But iPhoto's editing controls aren't just for photographic mistakes. For example, there's a handy Re-touch tool that can conceal spots, blemishes or just things that you don't want in the photo. In fact, iPhoto can handle many of the tasks that a professional image-editing program can, although you can still use one if you prefer.

If you do a lot of editing, you can choose to set up iPhoto to make it quicker and easier when you're sorting through your photos - the step-by-step guide below shows you how to do this.

The basic editing tools iPhoto offers are Rotate, Crop, Straighten, Enhance, Red-eye and Retouch. There are also panels called Effects and Adjust, which we'll discuss in detail later. With these few Quick Fixes, it's easy to make edits.

How to get started with edits

1. Get started

step 1

iPhoto is not your only option. If you're a Photoshop pro, for example, then you might prefer to do your edits in Photoshop. If you'd like to do this you can set up Photoshop to open whenever you edit a photo. In Preferences, go to Advanced and choose a new photo app.

2. New editing options

step 2

The editing controls have changed slightly in iPhoto '11. Instead of being in a floating panel, they are now part of the interface, so select a photo and click the Edit button at the bottom of the iPhoto interface. The Edit panel appears, showing Quick Fixes, Effects and Adjust tabs.

3. Go full screen

step 3

The best way to edit your photos is in Fullscreen mode; that way you see more of the image. Press the Fullscreen button at the bottom left of the interface to enter this mode. Some menu options aren't available in Fullscreen mode, but you can easily pop back out.

4. Removing red-eye

step 4

Removing red-eye is a common photo edit. Just click the Remove Red-Eye button and make sure the Auto-fix red-eye option is ticked. Or you can click on a pupil using the pointer. Change the size of the circle in which iPhoto will remove red-eye using the slider.

How to edit and enhance photos via simple steps

1. Rotate a photo

step 1

If you have vertical shots that haven't rotated automatically, use the Rotate button in the Quick Fixes panel. It turns a photo 90 degrees. By default, the tool rotates anti-clockwise, but you can change this in Preferences>General, or hold Option before you click Rotate.

2. Straighten up

step 2

Wonky shots can stick out like a sore thumb, especially if you have a picture with a slanting horizon. Just select the Straighten tool and move the slider. A handy grid helps you to get things straight. An adjustment of 1.2 degrees is all that's needed for our pic.

3. Enhance

step 3

If your shot wasn't perfectly exposed, iPhoto has the Automatic Enhance tool. While it doesn't always work out - you can press Command+Z to reverse the tool - it does a great job in most cases. The photo on the left is the 'before' shot, and the one on the right has been well enhanced.

4. Touching up

step 4

To retouch a photo,first select the Retouch tool and drag the slider until the brush size is slightly larger than the blemish you want to remove. Now dab on the picture to remove dust spots and marks, or drag to remove scratches or tears. To view the original, hold Shift.

5. Compare shots

step 5

If you can't decide between shots that are similar to each other, you can compare them directly. Select the photos you want to compare next to each other and click the Edit button. You can click on any of the photos to make adjustments while you're choosing.

6. Oops!

step 6

If you go wrong, press Command+Z to undo an action. You can also revert to the original photo even after you've exited the Edit mode by choosing Revert To Original from the Photos menu. iPhoto is a 'non-destructive' image editor - your original photo is always preserved.

Enhance colours and more

Create balanced and vibrant-looking colours in your shots


Most digital cameras have a variety of shooting modes such as Portrait or Landscape, where the camera processes a shot's colours to flatter the subject matter. Portrait mode increases the saturation of most colours to create vibrant-looking clothing, but without boosting warm colours that makes skin look orange. In contrast, Landscape mode boosts natural-looking blues and greens.

If you shoot in Raw format then the shot's colours will remain fairly faithful to the original scene, but you can boost the Raw photo's colour saturation in iPhoto to create more vibrant and attractive colours. We show you several colour-boosting techniques below.

Your camera also has a White Balance setting that can dramatically alter the colours in a scene. This is important because to a digital camera, indoor light is warm (orange), while outdoor light is cold (blue). The White Balance setting picks what it thinks is a neutral grey, and then cools or warms your shots to banish the oranges and blues and create more natural-looking colours. Sometimes, it makes mistakes, so we'll show you how to correct colour tints, as well as boost the shot's colour saturation.

How to create more vibrant colours

1. Quick Fix

step 1

The fastest way to boost colour is to click Edit and go to Quick Fixes. Click the Enhance button. iPhoto analyses the shot's colours and tones and make adjustments automatically. It will increase contrast for a range of tones and boost colour saturation.

2. Special effects

step 2

To take manual control of your colour enhancements click Effects. Click Saturate to boost the colours in your shot. Press Shift to switch between the original and the colour-boosted shot. You can also enhance tones using Contrast, or use Revert to original.

3. Boost

step 3

The Effects palette is another way to boost colour saturation and contrast. Click Boost and the shadows get darker and the colours more saturated. You can click the Boost icon's arrow keys to increase the intensity of the adjustments. Click None to undo.

4. Adjust

step 4

For more advanced colour-boosting click the Adjust tab, and use the sliders to create brighter highlights or blacker shadows. To target and enhance colours drag the Saturation slider to the right. If you have people in the shot tick the Avoid saturating skin tones box.

5. Colour temperature

step 5

Our start image is a little too warm (orange) - dragging the Temperature slider left, to around 4611, cools the colours down. This is a creative use of colour balance, but many shots need a tweak for more natural-looking colours; there are several ways to do this.

6. Warm it up

step 6

If your camera's White Balance setting is incorrect, your shots may suffer from colour tints. The picture above has a blue colour cast. A way to warm it up is to click on Edit, then pop to Effects. Click on the Warmer icon to banish the blue cast and create a healthier range of colours.

7. One-click wonder

step 7

For precise control of colour temperature click the Adjust tab; to warm up a cold-looking shot drag the Temperature slider to the right. Or grab the Eyedropper tool and click on an area that should be white. iPhoto will warm up or cool down the area to remove any colour casts.

iPhoto on iPad

Using iPhoto for iOS

Get started by importing, organising, and tweaking photos on your iOS device

iOS iphoto

To make the most of iPhoto on your iPad or iPhone you'll need some photos to play with. There are several ways to get photos onto your iPad or iPhone camera. For starters, you can use the actual device to take the photo, or email yourself a file (save images to your Photo Library by holding your finger down until a menu pops up, letting you choose 'Save Image'.). Or you can use Apple's Photo Stream to keep all your photos in sync across your devices.

Get files

Photo Stream is available whenever you are online, and is the most seamless way of getting files from one device to another. It's part of iCloud, and if you don't already have it switched on, visit Settings > Photo Stream to do so.

Once on, any photo you take is downloaded to all your devices, including your Mac, ready for editing. If you're shooting with a separate camera, look into buying Apple's Camera Connection Kit. This is a dongle that fits into your iPad's docking port and lets you plug in memory cards and USB leads to download images from your camera directly onto your iPad.

The iPad will convert RAW images into editable JPEGs for on-screen work. To get the images onto your Mac just plug in your iPad, run Image Capture and you'll see them all there, ready to go into Aperture, Photoshop, or any other editor you prefer using. Any edited version will be saved alongside them.

Your final option for getting photos onto your iPad is to sync via iTunes. To do this, make sure your iPad or iPhone is connected, select it in iTunes, and go to the Photos tab. Here you can sync with iPhoto or a folder on your hard drive, usually Pictures, and copy files into there. When you sync, files will be updated on both sides.

If you're syncing with iPhoto you can choose selected albums, Events or Faces to sync. On the iPad or iPhone iPhoto (and the default Photos app) arranges your snaps into Albums, Events and Places. Any pictures taken on your iPad or iPhone are saved in an album called 'Camera Roll'. Anything from iTunes takes its Folder name or iPhoto album name as its album title. Anything imported via the Camera Connection Kit is placed under the Events tab, labelled by a photo's date. Once your images are imported to your iPad they automatically appear in iPhoto.

Get organised

To sort and get rid of photos, double-tap on one, and iPhoto selects it with similar shots, giving you a larger preview in the main window. Swipe to switch between them. Or, maybe you want to compare shots. Tap and hold photos to add them to a group.

When you find images that you want to work on, tap the rosette icon at the bottom of the screen to mark them as a Favorite. Or, if you find a dud, tap the cross icon. This doesn't delete the file, it merely hides it from view.

To bring it back, tap the photo count above the album grid and choose 'Hidden Photos', then select the image and remove the mark of shame by tapping the cross again. On the iPhone screen, you'll need to flip the device into landscape mode to see this menu.

Editing in iPhoto

Powerful editing means you might never need iPhoto on your Mac again

Crop & Straighten tool


Even with the steadiest hands, most photos don't come out entirely straight, or completely focused on the subject. This tool fixes that.

Drag left and right on the dial at the bottom of the screen to rotate the image, using the popup grid to gauge the horizon. If iPhoto automatically detects one, it'll show you a preview and offer a button to tap to do this automatically. To crop, tap the gear icon to set a suitable aspect ratio for the finished image, then drag the photo with your finger or pinch to zoom in and out.

Colour tool


Washed-out colours suck the life out of a photo, but these tools will help restore them. Try not to over-compensate and end up with something gaudy, though. Your basic control is Saturation, which pumps up all the colours at once.

However, you can be more specific. The other three bars here focus on blue skies, greenery and skin tones. They're not that fussy though, so anything blue will be deepened by that slider, sky or not. Hold your finger on the image and drag up and down to alter global saturation. If you tap something blue, green or skin coloured, you can also go left and right to tweak that. Tap the gear icon and switch 'Preserve Skin Tones' if people are looking orange.

Exposure tool

exposure tool

Exposure manages the effect of light on your photo, making this arguably the most important option in iPhoto. Tap it and you'll see a bar with five draggable icons. The ones on the sides determine how the darkest and lightest parts of the image should look, adding depth to the image and pulling out detail invisible to the naked eye. Tweak these first.

The one in the middle controls overall brightness. The two on either side move together and control the image's contrast. A little tweaking goes a long way, but if your photo looks washed out, this is the bar that fixes it.

White balance

white balance

White Balance is how your camera adjusts for the different temperatures and colours of light you might encounter - a flash bulb versus a tungsten light versus the sun. If it's wrong, you'll get a notable colour-cast on your images.

In most cases, leaving this on its default setting will be okay. If not, tap the White Balance button to switch from everything from Sun to Florescent. At the end of the row are Face Balance, which you use to select a face, and Custom, which you can point at any colour to find a setting that works.

Copying/pasting adjustments

copy paste

Many images taken at the same time and place will be very similar, and you don't want to have to repeat every edit on every single one of them. Luckily, you don't have to. Tap the gear button, either on the main editor or a specific editing tool, and you can copy the Exposure, Color and Effect settings (all at once or individually). Open a new image, tap the gear again and Paste to apply them. You might still need to do a few extra tweaks, but it'll be much faster - and more consistent - than recreating your tweaks by hand.


Auto enhance

Auto-Enhance does exactly what it sounds like - automatically trying to work out the best brightness, colour and contrast settings for an image without you having to get involved at all. If not, it might still work as a better base for fiddling with iPhoto's other options than the original raw image. In the worst case scenario, if it looks worse or takes the various options too far, simply tap the Undo button from the top bar and start the editing process afresh, the old-fashioned way.

Flagging and favouriting images


Both these buttons mark images for future reference. Once you use either, an Album is created holding the photos bearing that mark. The best way to work is to treat Flagged images as ones you plan to edit, and Favorites as a collection of pictures you want to show off. This is the only real way you can create a dedicated album without your Mac, even if only temporarily

Brushes in iPhoto

Brushes are a stand-out feature of iPhoto for iOS - here's how they work



Repair is a clean-up brush, getting rid of splotches, dust and other minor problems with the image. It won't do anything as advanced as removing a tourist from the background, but it's fine on more subtle edits. To use it, zoom into the image and paint over the artefact as carefully as possible. If you can't zap it, you may need to bite the bullet and use the Clone Brush tool in a desktop app like Pixelmator instead.



Red-eye is a common problem with photos taken with a flash - the effect of the light hitting the back of the eyes and creating a sinister demonic look. The Auto-Correct option will try to get rid of it without your intervention, but this brush will sort out any lingering traces. Zoom in on a face and tap it. Either the brush will go to work, or make an "uh-uh" sound and show a shaking circle if it doesn't see anything to fix.



Saturate adds colour to an area. This is useful if the general Saturation controls aren't subtle enough, for instance brightening up a t-shirt without affecting the theme park behind it. However, remember, what looks good in editing can look garish the next day. Take a break and look on a different screen before finalising.



This removes colour to the point of going monochrome. However, if you're looking for a noir look, you won't get the options to filter the colour to create different attitudes, only to tone it down. Desaturate is handy for touching up areas that the general controls took too far.



The sharpening brush draws extra definition from the image, which will often come off your camera looking overly soft. Painting sharpening onto an image of people, focus on their eyes over almost anything else. If those are sharp, the rest of the picture looks after itself.


The Lighten brush lights up dark parts of the image. Photos conceal detail in its darker regions, and this tool lets you pull some of it back. A light brushing over your subject will help draw them out of the background. The lack of pressure control can make it fiddly to do this neatly though, especially compared to the control you have with tools that have full masking capabilities.



The same as Lighten, but in reverse. This is used to add shadows back and add definition to creases, folds and anything else that looks flat. It's best saved for very small touch-up work though, and its effects are noticeable (in a bad way) when over-used. Skin, for instance, will usually look mucky. Done lightly, and it's perfect for adding depth and repairing over-exposed scenery.



Soften is a blur effect that can be used to highlight an object in sharp focus, cover up glitches, or add a hazy look to all or parts of it (though this is better done with Effects). Even the Low setting is very strong, making this less useful than it might have been, but filling the whole area and painting out the bits that you want to remain sharp is an easy way to make good use of it.

Sharing your photos

Sharing your photos is fun in itself - that's where iCloud comes in


Both the Mac and iOS version of iPhoto offer several ways to share files, though, for some reason, some of these ways are unique to just one platform. With the iPhone/iPad for instance, you can create blog-like online Journals hosted by iCloud, which you can't with the current Mac version. At the same time, it's only with the Mac that you can order physical collections of your photos. Swings and roundabouts.

On the iPad, most sharing is done on a picture-by-picture basis from an individual Album, though it is possible to group multiple pictures together and upload/send them somewhere in one go, and tapping the Share button will give you the option to send everything in your current view.

The standard destinations are to a Journal, which we'll get to in a moment, the Camera Roll for easy importing into other image editors and your desktop (as well as your Photo Stream if you have it switched on), an email message, another iOS device via Beaming, Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, an AirPrint enabled printer, or iTunes. If you choose this last one, you'll find your files in a folder in iPhoto's slot of the Apps screen.

Journal is the newest option. Select an image or group of images, tap the Share button, choose the Journal option, and you'll be asked to either create a new one, or add the images to an existing one. If it's new, give it a name.

What makes Journals interesting is that you can combine your images with notes, quotes, maps and other bits of information and lay them out as if using a simple desktop publishing package. They don't have to be shared online, but they can be, with iCloud hosting the finished version and automatically updating it as you add content and make changes. You likely wouldn't use it as a photoblog for professional purposes, but it's the perfect way of keeping friends and family in the loop without going to the hassle of setting up a Wordpress account, and with more flexibility than Facebook or Flickr.

Even if you don't have any interest in publishing your photos online, Journals offer a second handy function - building customisable slideshows for your iPad/iPhone. You can do this from any Album or Event screen, but not being able to move images around makes that problematic. Here, you can include anything, with your choice of music, integrated captions, and a choice of a soundtrack from Apple's plonkity-plonkiest archives or your own music collection.

Unfortunately, while iPhoto does remember your previous settings, you can't specify a preset style and track for each slideshow individually.Subscribe and save
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Over on the Mac, you may not be able to create Journals, but there are plenty of extra options to compensate tucked away in both the Share and Create menus. For starters, while both it and the iOS version can create slideshows, only the Mac version can export them as video files for easy sharing, and it's only there that you can control timing - how long each slide should appear for, and if the whole show should be tied to the length of the music.

You also get more control over transitions, while the iOS version only offers a few specific themes and a Ken Burns floaty effect to liven up your still images. If you prefer your memories a little more physical, return to the Create button and note the Book, Card or Calendar.

To create one, select an Event or Album, then the option you want. Each one begins with a few standard templates. Click on Picture Book for instance and you'll see both the cover, available in a few different colours you can set by clicking on the fabric swatches in the main screen, and a preview of how the book will look inside. Here, it's clean and simple.

Move over to Old World Travel and it takes on a more tactile look, with images scattered and framed more like a scrapbook. You can also opt for a hardback, soft cover, or wire-bound album, each in a selection of sizes and prices. Click the Create button and you get to drill down to individual pages.

You can't simply put things wherever you like, but there are multiple layouts to choose from that should fit whatever you want to do. Some are simply images. Others are importable graphics like maps. The choice is yours on each page, giving you free reign to do things like keep the left-hand pages as diary entries with associated pictures on the right, or simply filling every inch with up to 16 photos in a single go.

For books, you get a certain number of pages as standard, but can add extra (for a price) if you need more space. They're far, far too expensive to sell to other people, but make for extremely handy gifts for family and friends.

To add a photo, simply click on one of the preset photo blocks and select it from the album view on the right. You can also pull in content from other albums and events using the dropdown bar. When you're sure everything is right, and after clicking the Options menu to untick the option marked 'Include Apple logo at the end of book', click Buy Book to hand over the cash and sit patiently for a few days as you wait for it to arrive.

The process is the same for cards and calendars, just with fewer options. Most modern sharing is done digitally though, and both versions of iPhoto have you covered there. Click the Share button in either to bundle up your images for email, Flickr or Facebook groups, or send individual shots out to your Twitter account. This is obviously quicker from the Mac, especially if you're adding captions.

There is one big benefit of doing it from iPhone/iPad though - any Facebook or Flickr comments people leave on the image are available in iPhoto itself. Tap the Info button to read them.

How to create a journal

1. Assemble your photos


Open an album containing photos you want to journal. Select them, flag the ones you want, or export everything. Tap the Share button. Next, enter a name for your Journal and pick a style by swiping the thumbnail. You can rename it or change the style later.

2. Digital scrapbooking

journal 2

Your images will be added in a grid form. Hold your finger on an image until it lifts off the background and drag it around. Tap the plus icon to add other elements. Keep your finger down while pressing the arrows by the Page number to move elements between pages.

3. Photos in the Cloud

journal 3

When you're done, tap the Share button. Choose iCloud and your Journal, and any later changes will be pushed to the web. There's also a button to mail links. Or, choose iTunes and find files on the Apps tab that can be sent around or uploaded to your own webspace.

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