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With each version of Apple’s premiere photo editing application, iPhoto, it seems the company tries to make the application as accessible and user friendly as possible for people who are not professional or even serious amateur photographers. With iPhoto ’09, Apple added some quick Effects tools that require little or no knowledge about photo editing. All you need to use them is a little time and willingness to experiment.

Let’s see how they can be applied to an average photo.

The Average Look

Many photos taken with a digital camera may look like the one below. When you have an image shot in good lighting conditions, with pretty good composition; not a huge loss in detail in the shadow and highlight areas, and a subject that you adore, then your image may be a good candidate for enhancing or adding some drama. This photo of my son could rest in iPhoto as it is, but let’s see how we can make it stand out.

Original photo

iPhoto Effects

Select a photo, or download this one to work with for this tutorial. Double-click on the photo and select the Edit button in the menu bar of iPhoto. iPhoto has six exposure and tonal effects that simply require you to click on them to add the effect. These effects are similar to the more advanced exposure settings in the Adjust pane, but let’s see how far we can get just using these simple edits.

IPhoto 1


Start off by clicking the Lighten button. I find that most digital photos are either a little too dark or too light. So you’re safe starting there. Click Lighten 2 or 3 times, making sure not to blow out too much detail in the highlights. If you go too far, click the Darken or Undo button.

Notice the Lighten effect brightens the entire photo. In advance edit tools, there’s a tool that will selectively affect only the highlighted areas. We’ll see how in a few steps below.


Nearly all digital photos need use some contrast added. This editing tool helps a photo not look so flat. So click Contrast few times and watch the colors in the shirt and face improve some.

IPhoto 2


The saturation effect intensifies the colors in an image. Click that several times. There’s no precise amount; it’s like adding seasoning to your food. You apply to taste. If you go too far, just undo.

IPhoto 4


While we’re at it, try warming up or cooling down the image some. Outdoor photos are always good candidates for warming up slightly.


If you like what you’ve done so far, let’s take some risk and apply the Boost effect. This works like the Saturation edit, but it really pops the colors out. After you click and apply it, notice a number 1 shows up. Well, that’s an invitation to you to increase it some more. Put your cursor next to the 1, click on the right arrow that pops up and give it a second boost. If it makes the photo a little too dark, Lighten it some.

IPhoto 4


Now let’s try the Vignette effect. It seems like Apple threw in this effect and a few others (Matte and Edge Blur) without providing a way to really control the opacity of the dark edges. So the Vignette is typically not that useful, but since we’re experimenting, let’s add it and see what we can do. You probably think it looks cheesy, but try it anyway.

IPhoto 5

Advanced Adjust Tools

Now, let’s head over to the Adjust pane, and see how to use the Shadows and Highlights tools, which are similar to what you would find in advanced editing programs like Photoshop.

Notice that in my photo, my son’s eyes are a little too dark. So if I move over the Shadows slider, it will bring some exposure and detail only to the shadow/darker areas of the photo, not the entire photo. I tried using the Highlights slider to bring back detail in the white napkin, but it is too blown out, so that’s a loss.

IPhoto 6

You can also try applying the De-noise edit, which smooths out parts of the photo that look a little grainy. Finally in this area, sharpen the photo some to make the eyes and other details stand out.

Quick Fixes

Finally, let’s head over to the Quick Fixes options. Here we’re going to get outside of the box, so to speak, by using the Straighten tool. If you want to add a little drama to a photo, tilt the image some and see if it improves the composition. Move the slider to the right and notice how it crops the photo and brings the image closer.

IPhoto 7

Most amateur photos typically lack good cropping. In this photo there’s lots of dead space. So tilting it some, getting rid of the dead space brings our cute subject closer to the edges of the frame.

Before & After

I hope you agree with me that the applied effects of this image improves it greatly, and it doesn’t take a lot of time to bring about this effect. It’s similar to the retro effects you get in Instagram.

Before after

For other iPhoto related articles, check out these:

Let us know what you think about these effects.

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