How To Use Your Trackpad To Powerfully Navigate Any App [Mac]

Bakari Chavanu 14-03-2011

Recently I wrote a review of a powerful application, BetterTouchTool that empowers users to activate all kinds of menu shortcuts and perform other application, desktop, and Finder actions using Apple’s Magic Mouse, Trackpad/Magic Trackpad, or normal mouse.


As I mentioned in the previous article Become A Power Trackpad User With BetterTouchTool It's especially useful for Mac users who do lots of work in applications like iPhoto or Aperture, or who surf the web. Read More , BetterTouchTool will be especially beneficial for Mac users who work in iPhoto, Aperture, and similar applications where you may primarily navigate controls using the mouse or trackpad. Of course if you use a MacBook laptop, BetterTouchTool is a must have program for power users.

In this article, I provide tips on how to use the trackpad on BetterTouchTool with iPhoto. What I cover can of course be applied to any application that you use on a regular basis.

While it may seem time consuming to set up presets in BetterTouchTool, the effort will save you time over the long run. BetterTouchTool is what computer automation is all about””saving us time.

Default Gestures and Actions

Apple provides a small set of trackpad presets that are especially useful in applications like iPhoto or Aperture.

how to use trackpad


Opening the trackpad settings and instructions in System Preferences, you see how to use your trackpad or Magic Mouse to rotate, zoom-in and scroll through a sets of photos. These actions are useful but they don’t compare to the power of BetterTouchTool. So let’s move on.

Set Up of iPhoto

I’m assuming you have already downloaded BetterTouchTool and have read over the basic setup in my first article Become A Power Trackpad User With BetterTouchTool It's especially useful for Mac users who do lots of work in applications like iPhoto or Aperture, or who surf the web. Read More , as well as the instructions provided in the application’s manual. As you may or may not know, you can scope BTT gestures and actions to work only in specified applications. You add the application in the left column.

How To Use Your Trackpad To Powerfully Navigate Any App [Mac] interface

The actions we assign in BetterTouchTool for iPhoto are all based on the latter’s menu shortcuts, because that’s mainly how you navigate iPhoto””using keyboard shortcuts. Typically keyboard shortcuts are useful for when your fingers are already on the keyboard, but when they’re on the mouse or trackpad, your workflow gets slowed down when you move your hand away from your mouse or trackpad in order to activate a keyboard shortcut. The same goes for when you move the cursor to the application’s menu bar to select a menu shortcut. Using BetterTouchTool you can keep your hand on the trackpad or mouse and quickly activate shortcuts.


Re-using Assigned Gestures

If you use iPhoto on a regular basis, you probably do a lot of editing in the program. While you can double-click on the thumbnail version of a photo to enlarge it, you have to use the menu shortcut, Command+E, to open the photo in the Editor. Or you can click the Editor button in the menu bar of iPhoto. But those options are a little troublesome if your fingers are already on the trackpad. Let’s make a simple Three Finger Swipe Down gesture to activate that shortcut.

how to use trackpad mac

Notice when I select the Three Finger Swipe Down gesture, a little pop-up informs me that the gesture is already in use. But I’m going to re-use it anyway because when I’m working in iPhoto, that assigned gesture won’t conflict with what I’m doing while I work in iPhoto. If you already started using BetterTouchTool, you will want to make sure the gestures you use don’t override an important global three-finger gesture you will want to use while in iPhoto. For example, I use a global Three Finger Swipe Left and Swipe Right to control the volume on my computer. I would not use those same gestures again application because I want that volume control in every application I’m working in.

Next, in the Custom Keyboard Shortcut box, I assign the shortcut, Command+E to the gesture. Now when a photo is selected, using the Three Finger Swipe Down quickly opens the image in the Editor. You use the double-tap or clicking gesture on the image to move it back to the browser.


Other Gestures and Actions

To add more gestures and actions for iPhoto, you just need to select those keyboard shortcuts you use on a regular basis. If for example you rate your photos, you might create three and five-finger tap gestures for assigning 3 and 5 star ratings to photos.

how to use trackpad

You might use the Four Finger Click to send selected images to the trash. It takes more effort to use the Four Finger Click than to use a Four Finger Swipe Down; this means you’re less likely to accidentally delete photos.

Another useful set of gestures is one for quickly copying image adjustments made on photo, and another related gesture for pasting copied adjustments in other photos. Using gestures this way helps improve your workflow.


The key to BetterTouchTool or similar programs is to focus on using and learning a few gestures at a time. Presets should only be created for actions you perform on a regular basis, which helps you remember them.

Now that I’m using BetterTouchTool, I probably won’t go back to my regular mouse. With BTT I can pretty easily automate more tasks and do things faster than with a mouse.

Let us know what you think of BetterTouchTool or similar tools. And by the way, if you’re looking for tutorials on how to better edit images in iPhoto, check out my article here A Cleaner, Faster iPhoto: Upgrade to Photos for OS X Yosemite Photos for OS X has finally arrived, replacing iPhoto with an image management application that Mac users will actually want to use — but is there enough here to satisfy Aperture refugees? Read More .

Related topics: iPhoto, Mouse Gesture.

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