Katherine Boehret

Letting Your Fingers Do the Photo Editing

Editing digital photos is a thankless job that involves hours in front of the computer. Mouse click after mouse click, one lucky person fixes red eyes, crops layouts and brightens hundreds of images from the latest birthday party or family vacation. Now, Apple wants to free people from their computers with a mobile photo-editing option.

When the company introduced its new iPad last week, it also released a retooled, $5 version of iPhoto made for the iPad and iPhone. Until now, iPhoto was the only software program in Apple’s iLife suite that wasn’t available in a mobile version.

So what’s different about this iPhoto? It incorporates smart new finger gestures that you can’t make using a mouse or trackpad, and applies settings like “Detect Edges,” which automatically detects where an object starts and ends, so editing with a finger can be done without worrying about being messy. It offers simple and helpful tips that explain its many features and has an always-visible, one-tap button that lets users see the original, unedited photo at any time. New Photo Journals make digital scrapbooking a breeze.

I’ve been testing this new version of iPhoto on two iPads and an iPhone 4, and it has remarkably fast performance. Photo-editing options are more clearly explained in this app than in any other version of photo-editing software I’ve tried. It strikes just the right balance between what the average person wants — bluer skies and glowing skin tones — and what enthusiasts want — eight options for white-balance adjustments.


Apple’s iPhoto has features that both the average photo taker and enthusiast would enjoy. Above, making blue skies bluer with a variety of photo-editing tools that appear at the bottom of the screen.

Four clear categories at the top of the screen help users quickly navigate through sections in iPhoto: Albums, Photos, Events and Journals. Albums appear on handsome glass shelves, and automatic albums are generated to hold all Edited, Flagged or Favorite images. A variety of tools appears at the bottom of the screen for editing photos. My favorite of these tools is Brushes, which spreads a rainbow of virtual brushes across the screen. Each does a different job, like repair, red eye, saturate, desaturate, lighten, darken, sharpen or soften. I selected the brighten brush to add color to a shadowy image and swiped my finger back and forth across the screen with quick results. The Detect Edges button kept my finger fixes neatly limited to one object.

Photo Journals are clearly designed to take over Apple’s now-defunct MobileMe photo galleries. Photo Journals are feature-rich scrapbooks you can make with photos that are already neatly sorted into albums and events, and anything else you want. With Apple’s distinctive polish and artistry, the Journals combine lots of information in one place, including maps, weather, quotations and food memories. I’m tempted to go through past vacations to make a Journal for each trip.

But iPhoto has three problems. First, it isn’t designed to truly organize photos into events and albums. It assumes you’ve done this elsewhere, like in the desktop version of iPhoto before syncing with iCloud, Apple’s remote file-syncing system, or in the Photos program on the iPhone or iPad.

Second: The only way to wirelessly share Photo Journals from iPhoto is by first uploading them to iCloud, which generates a unique Web link to that Photo Journal. This link can then be shared with others by email, but it’s frustrating that Apple didn’t directly integrate a way to share these creations via Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug or other photo sites. The emails generate terribly long URLs that look ugly in Facebook and don’t include any thumbnail images. A spokeswoman said Apple would address this issue in a software update.


A Photo Journal combines lots of information in one place, including maps, weather, quotations and food memories, as well as photos.

Third, due to its technical requirements, iPhoto for iOS works only with iPhone 4, 4S, the iPad 2 and the new iPad. This is bad news for people who have an iPhone 3G or 3GS, an iPod touch or the original iPad.

If you know the new touch gestures for iPhoto, you can be much more productive. By tapping two fingers on a photo, a loupe appears. This allows you to instantly see a magnified portion of the image, which is helpful in knowing if a part of an image is in focus. By rotating two fingers in a turning motion on this loupe, you can zoom in closer.

Another touch gesture makes it a cinch to compare multiple photos with one another. When looking at the thumbnail grid of images that appear beside one large image, select a bunch of photos at once by holding one finger on the first image in that group and a second finger on the last image. Doing this magnifies all images in between for closer inspection. A swipe down on any image quickly tosses it out of the selected pile.

IPhoto will find look-alike photos when you double tap on an image in the thumbnail grid view. A sound plays, and the images appear, side by side, making it easy to get rid of excess shots. An alert sounds if no similar images are available.

After using the mobile iPhoto for a while, you may dread going back to your PC to upload images from cameras or smartphones. ICloud can sync images to your mobile devices from the computer. But if you don’t use iCloud, Apple’s $29 iPad Camera Connection Kit adds a USB adapter and an SD card adapter to the iPad.

People shouldn’t be tied to their computers when editing photos, and this version of iPhoto is an asset to people who want to be more productive on their iPhones and iPads.

Write to Katie at katie.boehret@wsj.com.

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