What every iPhoto user should know about image editing

We’ve covered the anatomy of the iPhoto interface, the ways and means of importing and viewing images, and the mechanics of iCloud’s Photo Stream feature. This is all important information, but I know that many of you have suffered through these lessons with this single thought: “Let’s cut to the chase, already. Show me how to edit my pictures!”

I hear and obey.

Before I dig in, allow me to preface the following with this: I am a photo dabbler. As such, I’ll explain what I can from the perspective of such a dabbler. There are far more powerful applications you can use to edit your images and more interesting (and, in some cases, convoluted) ways to adjust them. Consider the following the first steps in image editing. I’ll leave it to the pros to offer more-advanced techniques and tools.

The Edit window

To begin the editing process, select an image and choose Photos > Edit Photos (Command-E) or click the Edit button at the bottom of the iPhoto window. In the resulting window, you’ll see an enlargement of your image, previews of nearby images below, and, to the right, three tabs—Quick Fixes, Effects, and Adjust. Let’s walk through each one.

The Quick Fixes tab

The Quick Fixes area is for those people who want to make very broad edits without a lot of bother. Here’s how the options shake out.

Rotate: If your image is displayed in portait orientation when it should be in landscape view, you can rotate it with this control. Click Rotate, and the image will do just that in a 90-degree counterclockwise direction. (If you’d like it to instead rotate in a clockwise direction, hold down the Option key and click Rotate.) Keep clicking until the image is in the orientation you desire.

iPhoto's Quick Fixes pane.

Enhance: This is iPhoto’s “Take Your Best Shot At Fixing This Image” button. Click it, and iPhoto will set about adjusting levels, exposure, contrast, saturation, and other controls so that—in the application’s view—the image looks better. This is your avenue to the quick and dirty one-button edit. In some cases, Enhance vastly improves the image. In others, those adjustments may be a little too rough for your liking. You can use other controls to tweak the settings that Enhance has imposed. Or, if you’re entirely unhappy with its work, just click the Undo button at the bottom of the pane and read on for other ways to edit your images.

Fix Red-Eye: If a flash photo results in subjects with glowing vampire eyes, you can use Fix Red-Eye to do exactly that. When you click this button, you’ll see that the Auto-fix red-eye option is enabled. This means iPhoto will seek out those glowing eyes and attempt to remove the red. If it doesn’t do so to your satisfaction, switch off this option and then try it manually.

You remove the red-eye effect manually by hovering your cursor over the subject’s affected eye. If the target cursor is too large or too small, use the Size slider to make it as large as the eye’s red zone. Then click on the eye. This should turn the pupil from red to black.

This can be an effective fix, but it can also be a bit creepy in a Margaret Keane kind of way—particularly if you then enlarge the image so that the effect becomes more obvious. To help avoid Weird Big Eyes, make the diameter of the selection as small as you effectively can.

Straighten: A straightforward control (ah ha ha ha…erm) is the Straighten button. Click it and you encounter a slider that allows you to adjust the angle of the image 45-degrees clockwise or counterclockwise. Aiding in your adjustment is a grid that appears over the image. To use it, find something in the image that gives you a reliable horizon line (say, the horizon itself if you’ve taken a shot of the sun setting over the ocean). Drag the slider so that the image appears to be appropriately aligned.

Crop: You may be the rare photographer who captures exactly what she wants with every shot. The rest of us, however, depend on cutting out the stuff on the edges to make for more-compelling images. That’s the point of the Crop tool. Click it, and the frame around the image becomes adjustable.

There are two ways (and reasons) to crop. The first is that you’d like your image to fit a particular media or display—for example, you intend to create 4 by 6 prints of the photo. Or you’d like the resulting image to fit in a perfect square. In such cases you should click the pop-up menu that appears when you click Crop. Here you’ll find a variety of settings that allow you to crop your image to specific dimensions or shapes. When the Constrain option is enabled you can’t change the ratio of the image—regardless of how you resize the selection of a 4 by 3 image, it will always have that 4 by 3 dimension. If you disable the Constrain option, you can resize the image in any way you like by dragging the sides or corners of the selection.

All the action takes place near the center of the image. Crop it to bring that out.

The other reason to crop an image is to get rid of content that you don’t want to see. In a group photo, for example, Cousin JoJo has ruined a picture by leering at a passerby while standing at the end of a line of otherwise well-behaved relations. Use the Crop tool to excise him from the picture. Or you may find that a picture feels a little too static with the subject standing smack-dab in the middle of the frame. Use the Crop tool to sheer off one side of the image, and you may end up with a more interesting picture.

To actually make the crop, create your selection and click the Done button that appears within the Crop area. The unselected content will disappear, and the cropped image will zoom to fill the preview area. To undo the crop, click the Undo button at the bottom of the pane or once again click the Crop tool and click the Reset button.

Retouch: Oh, no—Cousin JoJo has earned himself another angry dueling scar, and just in time for Aunt Murleen’s fourth wedding. What to do about the resulting images?

Conveniently forgetting to photograph your cousin is one option, but if he has weaseled his way into the frame despite your attempts, you’ll have to do something on the back end. And that’s one reason the Retouch tool exists. Click it and you find a Size slider. Adjust this so that it covers whatever it is you’re trying to cover, and “paint” over the offending area. When you let go of the mouse or trackpad, iPhoto looks at areas just outside of the painted area and blends those colors in to cover what you’ve painted. It’s a little like slathering makeup on an offending carbuncle.

In the case of JoJo’s scar, the effect could look unrealistic, particularly if the scar traverses his brow and nose. The Retouch tool removes important details including contours and shadows. So while it’s good for things like blocking out the occasional pimple or—even better—dust that’s landed on your lens, you’ll want to use it sparingly (or not at all) in situations where you want to cover up something big and bold.

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