© 2010 photobookgirl photo editing tools

How to Make Your Photos Look Better – Edit Your Photos with iPhoto (Updated 2016)



This is Part 3 of my series on making your own digital photo book. Check out the overview of my step-by-step photo book guide with links to each of the individual posts.

PLEASE NOTE: As of 2015, Apple has replaced the iPhoto program with Photos – a new photo database that syncs automatically with Apple’s iCloud. Also gone from Apple’s lineup is Aperture – a post processing program aimed at pros. Photos retains much of the similar photo editing tools as you see here. I don’t have Photos so I can’t do an update yet, but here’s info from Apple’s website.  

Part 2 of my series focused on how to narrow down your photos to a workable set in preparation for your photo book.  Once you’ve selected those photos, you may find that some of them need some tweaking.  The next series of posts will focus on how to edit your photos using various photo editing programs.  First we’ll take a look at iPhoto.


What is iPhoto?

iPhoto is the photo storage, organization and editing software program that comes factory installed on Mac computers.  iPhoto also includes photo book making software that you can print with Apple.  I have read on Apple’s support forum that you can save your book design as a PDF or as 200 dpi jpegs.  However, if you want to save them in the 300 dpi jpeg format, which is the recommended minimum dpi for printing photo books, there is a way to do that by downloading additional software.  The link to Apple’s forum above explains the workaround.  That means you can print your iPhoto books with any photo book printer.  I haven’t tried iPhoto’s photo book making program yet, but I did do a review of Apple Aperture 3.0.  Both iPhoto and Aperture 3 photo books are printed at the same Apple facility.  The topic of this post is photo editing however, so let’s take a look at how Mac users can use the software already provided on their computers to easily give a boost to their photos.

How to Edit your Photos with iPhoto

Photo #1

1) After uploading to iPhoto, select the photo you want to edit;

2) Click on the “Edit” button on the bottom navigation bar;

3) Click on “Adjust” and the editing panel will pop up as you see below. This shows my photo in it’s original unaltered state (the “Before”);

photo editing

photo editing

4) Just above is my “After” shot. If you compare the two screenshots and look at the numbers you’ll see what I did.

5) On the Adjust editing panel you can use the slider to increase or decrease exposure, contrast, saturation etc.

When you hover your mouse over the specific slider bar, a description of what that tool does pops up which is helpful. The best thing to do is to just try it and adjust the photo to your liking by sight and don’t worry about the numbers.  The reason why I’m adjusting this photo is because I feel the grassy area at the bottom is a little dark and I want a bit of the green of the grass to come through.  Below is a close up of what the panel looks like in case the screenshots are too small to read.

iPhoto Editing tool

  • Levels: I lightened the photo overall by changing the white level from 100% to 94% and I moved the middle (grey level) to the left – both actions brought out more of the color in the grass and gave me more detail in the fence too.
  • Sharpness: I increased the sharpness from zero to .24. It’s kind of hard to see the difference by doing that – but it didn’t hurt.

Note that the numbers don’t really mean anything, I’m doing it by eye.

What’s useful is if you’re touching up two photos that are similar, you can “Copy” the settings and then “Paste” the same settings onto the similar photo so you can save some time.

***Photo Book Tip: From personal experience and from what I’ve seen in some other reviews, photos tend to print darker in photo books overall, so if you’re not sure, err on the side of brightening your photos.***


Photo #2

Here’s another example of a “Before” photo below. I think it’s a little dark – there’s a grey overcast on the whole photo. A good way to look at a photo is to judge whether the part of the photo that should be white, actually looks white. If not, we need to adjust it. In this photo of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, the structure should be deep black and bright white so we need to fix it.

iPhoto post processing

photo editing before and after

Above is the “After” photo.

1) You’ll notice that I adjusted the “Levels” first by lightening the white by dragging the right slider to the left from 100% to 76%;

2) I moved the black level slider at the top left from 0% to 5% to boost the black levels.  By doing this the sky also looks more blue than the overcast grey from the before version and the red of the base pops more.

3) I then brought the “Highlights” level down a bit to keep the detail from getting washed out.

Here are the two photos side by side. I duplicated the photos for purposes of this tutorial so you could see the Before and After next to each other.

iPhoto editing software

I like the second version much better don’t you?

Other tools such as “Enhance” allow you to click the button and the software automatically makes adjustments to your photo – I haven’t had great results with that tool, but you can always try it first and if it doesn’t do what you want it to, you can undo it. The “Retouch” tool can get rid of some small imperfections by blurring the area. I won’t go into detail about these tools – the best thing to do is to try it and see if you like what the tool does. If you realize you don’t like any of your edits, you can go to the “Photo” drop down menu and select “Revert to Original”. Since iPhoto keeps an original version of every photo you upload into it, you can always start fresh.


Photo #3

In order to get a larger view of the photo you’re working with, you could opt for a full screen mode by selecting “Full Screen” under the “View” drop down menu.  This “Before” photo is a touch dark and could use a little higher contrast.  It looks a bit flat and makes the turtles look sad to me.

Editing photos in iPhoto

3) I brought up the white level, and increased the exposure, contrast and saturation.  I would have preferred to make the leaves a touch brighter (I’m very partial to the color green), but the wood branch under the turtle at the bottom middle of the photo is already getting a bit too bright and is starting to lose detail.  More sophisticated editing tools will allow you to select the specific areas of the photo to apply the edits, but I didn’t think that was necessary here.  The turtles look happier to me here.

photo editing tutorial

4) Below – the side by side comparison

photo editing tools

***Photo Book Tip: Even after you narrow down the photos for your photo book, there are probably at least a handful you really think turned out well and want to feature in your book.  You may want to devote a full page bleed to those photos (“bleed” in printing terms means the photo will cover the entire page, all the way to the edges with no border).  You should spend more time making adjustments to those photos if you plan to highlight them as they’ll be enlarged on the page and any “faults” will be magnified.  For those photos that are secondary and may be placed in smaller photo boxes, you may not need to spend as much time adjusting those.***


So as you can see, it’s not that difficult to take a few steps to make your photos look better.  Once you get the hang of it, it will go much faster and it will become part of your own photo book workflow.  The extra effort will definitely show in your final product and you’ll be amazed at how much better your photos will look!


STAY TUNED: In Part 4 of this series on how to make your own online photo book, I’ll show you how to edit your photos using Adobe Photoshop.  I’ll feature my underwater photos in that post and you’ll see the drastic differences between the before and after shots.




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  1. Ann Pham
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 10:25 pm | #

    wish i would have read this earlier. i’ve been trying to alter in picaboo but their options are limited compared to iphoto. next time i’ll first alter it via iphoto. Thanks for the tip!

  2. Posted November 17, 2010 at 3:40 pm | #

    Ok, wow. SO helpful. I just usually autocorrect. Thank you!!

  3. jerry c
    Posted November 4, 2011 at 10:36 pm | #

    after the adjustment are made how do you save that image ? when I
    move the image to a new fold I seem come up with the original unadjusted image. can anyone help ? Thanks !

    • photobookgirl
      Posted November 5, 2011 at 10:38 am | #

      iPhoto automatically saves the edited version and also keeps an original unaltered version too. I personally prefer to export a separate copy of the photos I want to use to a separate folder ready for uploading to the photo book software. So, I do an export of the files. Under the File menu choose Export and then I use JPEG, Maximum, Full Size as my settings. So when I want to upload into the photo book software program of whatever company I’m choosing, I just upload from that exported folder. Hope that helps!

  4. Cyn
    Posted February 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm | #

    The LINK in this paragraph returns as an error… Do you have a good URL for it? Thanks

    “What is iPhoto?

    iPhoto is the photo storage, organization and editing software program that comes factory installed on Mac computers. iPhoto also includes photo book making software that you can print with Apple. I have read on Apple’s support forum that you can save your book design as a PDF”

    • photobookgirl
      Posted February 12, 2016 at 5:21 pm | #

      Hi Cyn,

      Looks like Apple took that page down. I updated the post at the top to reflect new info (see note in red). Apple discontinued the program and replaced it with Photos. You’ll see an updated link in that red text I mentioned. It’s supposed to work basically the same though so my info is still good as the tools are similar, it’s just a different interface – a different look to the program and a few added features.

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