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How to Edit Photos on Your iPhone (Using the Photos App)

How to Edit Photos on Your iPhone (Using the Photos App)

You can use your iPhone to capture and share images in a matter of seconds, but it might be a good idea to pause before you hit upload. Editing your photos before you share them can make a big difference to the final image, and everything you need is already in the Photos app on your iPhone.

How to Edit Images in the Photos Apps

Apart from being a great camera, the iPhone is a photo editing powerhouse. Apple’s built-in tools are more than enough for most users to take mediocre pictures and take them to the next level. Making quick edits and cuts has never been easier.

You can also edit photos on iPad. If you have set up iCloud Photo Library, the photos you take on your iPhone will sync to your iPad where you can edit them on a bigger screen.

Photo editing in the Apple Photos app is non-destructive. As the term suggests, this means you can make all kinds of edits to your photos and still revert to the original if you want. This means that you can make adjustments, apply filters, and crop your images without worrying about breaking anything.

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To edit a picture on your iPhone, first search for it in the Photos app. Once you find an image, tap it to view it, then tap “Edit” at the top right corner of the screen. If you have iCloud Photos turned on, you will have to wait a while for the full-sized image to download. You will be able to edit your photos.

At the bottom of the screen, you will see four buttons, each referring to a specific set of editing tools. From left to right are:

  • Live Photos: Only visible if your image is a Live Photo (video recorded together with still image).
  • Customize: Standard editing controls that you will find in most image editing applications.
  • Filters: Apply or remove Apple photo filters.
  • Trim / Straighten: To change the aspect ratio, crop and more.

We’ll look at how each of these works in more detail below.

Preview Your Changes

Whenever you are editing an image, you can tap the photo to see the original. It provides a reference for any edits you’ve made. You can see if your changes improve the image or not.

If you’re editing a Live Photo, which is just a still image with three seconds of video for context, you can also tap and hold on the image at any time to see how your editing affects the video.

Restore to Your Original Photo

Non-destructive image editing means you can always go back to the original image if you want. You can do this by editing your image and changing or canceling any parameters you’ve changed, but there is a quicker way to get rid of all the edits to the photo.

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To return to your original image, find it in the Photos app and tap “Edit” in the top right corner. Tap the red “Revert” button in the lower right corner of the screen to discard all of your edits. You can’t get these edits back (without repeating them), so make sure you’re happy before you do.

Making Image Adjustments

Most of the editing tools are found under the “Customize” option, which is automatically selected whenever you tap the “Edit” button in the Photos app. You will find standard photo editing tools for changing the appearance of your photos here.

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In total, there are 15 customization parameters and an “auto” option with a “magic wand” icon. Tap the pointer to auto-enhance the image, then move the sliders left and right to adjust the image. Tap the pointer again to cancel this change.

While automatic editing makes it easy to enhance mediocre images, you’ll learn more about photo editing in general by experimenting with other options. If you want your images to show a unique style, editing your images manually is a must.

Light Adjustment

This parameter primarily affects the light in your scene, giving you the ability to increase the overall exposure and increase or decrease shadows and highlights. Keep in mind that because the image is compressed, a lot of data is lost as a result of decreasing the file size, which limits how much recovery you can make for overexposed or too bright images.

  • Exposure: Determines how much light is in the scene, providing a uniform increase or decrease in the total light in an image.
  • Brilliance: Brighten dark images while enhancing highlights and contrast (and vice versa.) Often used to enhance dark, gloomy images.
  • Highlight: Highlight the brightest part of your image. Reducing the spotlight can restore some detail in areas that are too exposed.
  • Shadow: The shadow is the darkest part of your image. The enhanced shadows can restore more detail in less bright areas.

Color Adjustment

You can change the appearance of your image by adjusting the various color options. It can be used to make an image “pop” by adjusting contrast or saturation, or to correct white balance inaccuracies for more natural-looking skin tones.

  • Contrast: The overall difference between the color tones in the image. Increasing contrast results in a more striking image at the expense of detail in shadows and highlights.
  • Brightness: Light or darken your image without adjusting exposure and risk under or areas of your image being too bright.
  • Black point: Target the darkest part of your photo. Increasing the black point will saturate the black to create a dramatic, more contrasting image.
  • Saturation: Determines how colorful the overall image is. Turn it all up for a bold color, or down for a monotone (black and white).
  • Vibrance: Target the dullest colors in your scene while limiting skin discoloration. Like the saturation tool, but tamer.
  • Warm: Adjust the overall temperature of your image by increasing it to warm up the image and lowering it to cool it. Good for correcting white balance.
  • Hue: Apply a green or magenta hue to your photo. Shrink it down for green, up for magenta. Use in conjunction with the Warmth tool to correct white balance.

Customization Details

The overall amount of detail in your image is limited by the size of your iPhone sensor. Processing software can help bring out details or hide unsightly noise, be careful not to overdo it especially if you want a natural look.

  • Sharpness: Applies digital sharpening to your image.
  • Definition: Make slight adjustments to the contrast for a more striking image.
  • Noise reduction: Apply digital noise reduction to grainy images – for example, one shot at night in low light.
  • Vignette: Vignette is a dark or bright circle around the edges of an image, which is often an unwanted shooting effect with certain lenses.

Editing with Filters

Tap the “Filter” button to the right of the “Adjust” section to see Apple’s photo filter options. Swipe through them and tap on one to apply it, then move the sliders below it to adjust the intensity of the effect. You can only apply one filter at a time.

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Like other Apple photo editing tools, filters are non-destructive. You can apply filters, save your image, then come back at any time and choose a different filter (or turn off the filter altogether).

It is also possible to shoot with filters activated. Launch the camera app and look for the familiar filter icon at the top right corner of the screen (portrait). Even if you shoot an image with a filter turned on, you can still remove that filter or switch to another one using the built-in editing tools.

Trim, Straighten and Perspective

To the right of the other editing tools are the cut, straighten, and perspective tools. When you tap this section, you’ll be presented with a manual straightener tool at the bottom of the screen. Move the sliders left or right to reposition your image the way you want.

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There are also two perspective correction tools: one titled horizontal, and the other vertical. These tools distort the image on a horizontal or vertical axis to correct for perspective distortion. A good example is an image of a building taken at a wide focal length, which causes straight-line distortion in the image.

There are also several new options that appear at the top of the screen. On the far left, you have a mirroring tool, which mirrors the image as it currently appears. Next to it is a rotate tool for quickly rotating the image 90 degrees clockwise. If you see an “Auto” button in the middle, tap it and your iPhone will try to straighten your image automatically.

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On the right side of the screen is the aspect ratio tool. It lets you choose from predefined aspect ratios including portrait / landscape and square presets.

You can use this tool to crop your photos for better composition, to remove sensitive information from screenshots that you want to share or to create square format images from portrait and landscape shots. Just like the other tools on this list, you can always come back to the original photo by re-editing it.

Take Photo from Live Photos

When you tap Edit on an image in the Photos app, you may see a Live Photo icon at the bottom of the screen. (It looks like a circle surrounded by a circle of dots.) Tap this to view three or more recorded videos next to your photo.

You can trim this video just like you would any other video by taking the start and end points on both edges of the film strip. You can also grab a still image from the video to replace your main image, just in case you don’t press the shutter button at the right time.

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To do this, rub with your finger until you find a frame that you like. Tap “Make Key Photo” to select the frame. Now when you return to the Photos app, you will see the photo frame you selected, not the picture you took.

Unfortunately, the quality of these still images can vary slightly. They’re basically still framing from the video, so they can’t match the resolution or detail of the original main photo.

Do More with Live Photos

Live Photos gives you the option to create fake animation and time-lapse photos thanks to the video recorded alongside your image. Find any Live Photo in the Photos app and swipe up (don’t press “Edit” yet). You will see a list of “Effects” including Loop, Bounce, and Long Exposure.

Loop creates a looping animation that works best if your iPhone is perfectly still while you take the picture. Bounce plays the video, then reverses it, and plays it again (and so on) to create a smooth video if it repeats a little. Long Exposure mimics the effect of leaving the shutter open on a digital SLR or mirrorless camera by blurring motion and creating light trails.

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Exporting loops or bounces via the Share menu exports a .MOV looped video instead, as shown above. You can also create GIFs from Live Photos directly on your iPhone. If you want to share a still image, you’ll have to scroll up, and select “Live” again.

Editing with Other Apps

So far we’ve only covered Apple’s editing tools, and for many that will suffice. The iPhone also includes support for editing with other apps you have installed, without leaving the photo app.

To do this, go to “Photos” and find the image you want to edit. Tap “Edit” in the upper right corner, then on the editing screen tap the ellipsis button “…” in the upper right corner. You’ll see a list of apps that have editing tools you can use here in the Photos app.

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One example is Adobe PS Express, which lets you make one-touch adjustments in categories like Matte, Charm, and Duo Tone. These tools are fine, but we found that it’s better to use native apps instead, because you usually have more options available to you.

Some Good Editing Tips to Remember

Hopefully with this guide and some experiments, you can understand the tools that Apple has provided. The best way to learn it is by editing, and you can do it without consequence, knowing that you can return to the original image at any time.

With that in mind, you might want to hold back with a few sliders. Increasing the saturation too high can result in overly colored images and extremely unnatural skin tones. Some digital sharpening can help keep the image soft, but too much will create noise.

If you’re editing a dark image, don’t forget to adjust the noise reduction lastly once you’re happy with the overall exposure. You can add a lot of grain to your image by adjusting the exposure and enhancing the shadows, and the noise reduction slider is a useful tool for dealing with this.

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