Use advanced iPhoto 6 edit tools

iPhoto 6 has some nice built-in editing tools, including red-eye correction and retouch. But you can make these tools even more useful by activating a super-secret advanced editing mode. In advanced mode, you’ll be able to control the size and intensity of the retouch brush, as well as the size and ‘brightness’ of the red-eye correction tool.

To activate this super-secret mode, you’ll need to do just a bit of finger gymnastics. Start by double-clicking an image you’d like to edit, to switch into edit mode. It should go without saying, but this hint will work only when you’re using iPhoto as the editor. (It also works best when you use the “edit in Main window” setting in iPhoto’s General preferences—if you edit in a separate window, you’ll need to reactivate advanced mode every time you re-enter edit mode.)

Once you’re editing an image, to enable the advanced editing mode, you’ll need to select either the Red-Eye or Retouch tool. With either tool active, press and hold Control, then press and hold Caps Lock (yes, Caps Lock). Now, with both keys still held down, press 9. Nothing will appear to have changed, and you won’t hear any sort of confirmation tone, but you’ve now activated advanced edit mode. To verify this, press the Tab key. You should see the cursor change shape, depending on which edit tool you’ve activated. Here’s a quick look at the cursors you’ll see with advanced mode active:

On the left is the standard cursor for both the Red-Eye and Retouch tools. The second and third images are the two advanced modes for the Retouch tool, and the final image is the advanced Red-Eye cursor. To cycle through each tool, including the default mode, just press Tab. So now that you’ve activated them, how does each advanced tool work, and what are they good for?


After pressing Tab once with the Retouch tool active, you’ll see the second cursor in the above series. Using this cursor, you can resize the area on which the Retouch tool will have an impact, as well as change the ‘intensity’ of the tool. To increase or decrease the tool’s area of coverage, use the bracket keys ( ] to increase and [ to decrease); to increase or decrease its intensity, use the curly braces keys ( } and { ). You can experiment with these settings to see exactly how they work, but basically, the larger the circle, the more of your image that will be affected when you click the mouse, and the higher the intensity, the more noticeable the effect will be.

If you press Tab a second time with the Retouch tool active, you’ll switch to the Lighten tool. You can use the bracket keys with this tool to increase its size, but you can’t change its intensity. Lighten does just what you might expect, lightening the area of the image under the tool’s outlined circle.

To get back to the normal Retouch tool, press Tab one more time.


Press Tab with the Red-Eye tool active to switch to the advanced editing tool, which is shown in the rightmost of the four images up above. Once you have the advanced tool active, use the bracket keys to change the size of the tool’s impact area—this is quite useful, as you can zero in on just the area of the eye that needs red eye correction.

One other feature of the advanced mode is the ability to use a “lighter” red eye correction. With the advanced tool active, press and hold Shift prior to clicking, and you’ll get a lighter fill than you do with the standard tool. Caution, the following image is just, well, kinda weird, but it shows the differences quite well:

On the left is the standard red eye fill, on the right is the “lighter” version. It’s subtle, but at normal magnification, I find the version on the right to be more realistic looking.

You’ll have to enter the advanced edit mode each time you quit and restart iPhoto6 (or every time you edit a photo, if you edit in a separate window). However, I find the extra precision allowed by these tools to be worth the minor hassle of activating them each time. Just remember to select one of the editing tools before hitting the magic kebyoard combination, otherwise nothing will happen.

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