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10 Tips for Post-Processing Images in iPhoto

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You don’t need Photoshop to make your photos look good. Not only is it difficult to learn all of the fancy features it offers, it’s also not necessary for you to spend nearly half your Mac’s value on a photo editor when Apple includes one for free.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of iPhoto, a photo management app developed by Apple and pre-installed on all Macs. It looks basic, but there’s a lot of power hiding behind that edit button. In this tutorial, I’ll show you ten ways to make your photos look more professional using iPhoto.


1. Quick Zoom With Double-Tap

Zooming in on an image to see how the sharpness adjustments have been applied.
Zooming in on an image to see how the sharpness adjustments have been applied.

Getting down to the details means you need to see them. Zooming is easy with pinch-to-zoom (if you have a trackpad), but there’s a faster way of zooming in on an object. Pointing your cursor at the area you’d like to see closer and then double-tapping your trackpad with two fingers (or Magic Mouse with one) will quickly zoom in on an object. This is incredibly useful for editing the little things.

Tip: When zoomed in, use the small Navigation window to move around the image.

2. Remove Spots, Dust, and Blemishes With Retouch

See that little red dot? Let's make it go away.
See that little red dot? Let's make it go away.

iPhoto has a built-in tool for fixing imperfections. It’s called Retouch and is available in the Quick Fixes tab of the edit sidebar, which can be accessed through the pencil button in the bottom right of the screen. To use Retouch, click it and find a portion of your photo that needs to be removed. You can adjust the brush’s size using the bracket [ and ] keys or by dragging the slider below Retouch.

Poof. Red's no longer in the details.
Poof. Red's no longer in the details.

Please be aware that you can’t take an entire person out of a photo unnoticeably: it’ll look like one horrible blur. Try to remove small details rather than large ones. Don’t expect it to look prefect, either. It’s not a manual cloning tool like the one in Photoshop.


3. Straighten and Crop

Keep that horizon balanced.
Keep that horizon balanced.

If you take a lot of landscape photos you’ll know that the horizon should be as level as possible. When mountains are the object, it’s not generally a good idea to have them slanted, even if slightly. Often photos don’t come out perfect, though. iPhoto’s Straighten feature makes aligning the horizon one quick slide away. To use it, click Edit, select Straighten, and drag the slider left or right, depending on which way you want your photo to tilt. iPhoto will automatically crop the image for you when you click Done.

Crop out those unnecessary elements for a clean photo.
Crop out those unnecessary elements for a clean photo.

Cropping can also come in handy on photos that capture a bit too much. To trim an image’s borders, click the Crop button in the Edit sidebar and drag the corners of the borders to where you want them, then click Done. You can click Reset to start over if you make a mistake. If you need the image to be a certain aspect ratio, check the Constrain box and, using the drop-down menu, select the option you prefer. There’s even one for the computer you’re currently using; it can be used for quickly making wallpapers.


4. Edit Side by Side

Comparative editing.
Comparative editing.

Need to compare one image to another? Easy. In the album/event view, select them both by clicking one, holding Command, and clicking the other. Then open the Edit sidebar with Command + E. Click whichever image you’d like to edit and begin adding some adjustments. You can edit up to four image simultaneously.


5. Copy and Paste Adjustments

Make your edits of related subjects more consistent.
Make your edits of related subjects more consistent.

The Adjust tab of Edit allows for exposure, contrast, saturation, shadows, and more to be modified. When you’re finished changing these values on one photo, you might want them on another, similar, image as well. To move these settings, secondary-click the photo and choose Copy Adjustments. Then head to the new photo, secondary-click, and select Paste Adjustments. You can take adjustments from any photo and save them to another, so long as those changes have been made in iPhoto.


6. Tune the Highlights

One of the most common problems with outdoor photos is their blown-out highlights. If you’re not familiar with the term, it basically means that something in the image is too bright and overpowering. To fix this using iPhoto, head to the Edit sidebar, select the Adjust tab, and slide the Highlights slider to the right until you’ve gotten the desired effect.

iPhoto’s highlights modifier may not even be enough for the image you’re working on. In this case, go to another photo and then return to the troubling one and re-apply another coat of highlights tuning. Do note that too much will look underexposed, too warm (in the case of the sun), or even grey. Be especially careful when editing clouds.


7. Duplicate a Photo to Have a Backup

Have two to compare.
Have two to compare.

There’s a Revert to Original button in iPhoto, but sometimes it’s nice to have a backup just in case. To create a duplicate of an image, secondary-click it and select Duplicate or use the keyboard shortcut Command and D when it’s selected. The duplicate will be created just after the original in the album/event.


8. Edit in Fullscreen

Clean, dark, distraction-free editing.
Clean, dark, distraction-free editing.

One thing Photoshop still doesn’t offer is a native fullscreen mode on Lion and later. With iPhoto, you can take your editing workflow into distraction-free mode by clicking the fullscreen icon in the top right corner of the screen or by using the Command, Control and F shortcut. This removes the left sidebar and gives you more room to see what you’re editing, which is great on smaller Macs. The whole interface is also pleasant on the eyes, using only dark colors for a night-mode feeling.


9. Rediscover the Details With Sharpness Adjustments

Lost details can sometimes be brought forth with an increase in sharpness.
Lost details can sometimes be brought forth with an increase in sharpness.

Forgot that you were using manual focus? It happens. Not all out-of-focus details can be recovered in a photo, and it always comes at a cost. However, increasing the sharpness of the image in Adjust may help. Carefully drag it from left to right until you have a clearer image. This function is very easy to overuse, so be sure to compare the image to its previous appearance before saving it. Your eyes can quickly get used to the new look and forget how different it is.


10. Use Enhance to Automatically Adjust a Photo

If you don’t feel like playing with all the sliders in the Adjust tab, just click Enhance in Quick Fixes. It will automatically add modifications to the photo and typically does a nice job. If you do want to give it a custom finish, you can always head to the Adjust tab to change up the white balance and such. Everything Enhance changes can be seen in the Adjust tab, too. Numbers are zero by default, so just look for the ones that have been moved.


Wrapping Up

Everything needs a little tweak here and there.
Everything needs a little adjustment here and there.

I’ve demonstrated how you can use side by side editing to compare your creations, copy and paste adjustments to keep edits in the family, duplicate a photo to have a backup, and use your Mac’s fullscreen mode to edit in peace. There’s a lot more out there, though, and I’d love to hear your suggestions for photo editing using Apple’s free tool. See you in the comments!

For more photography-related tutorials and tips for improving the way you capture things around you, be sure to visit Phototuts+.

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