The iPhone’s camera is great for taking spontaneous photos for sharing on sites like Facebook or Flickr, or even for making paper prints and photo books. A few tweaks in a photo editor can greatly improve your iPhone images, whether you took them with a first-generation iPhone’s 2-megapixel camera or the iPhone 4’s 5-megapixel version. Here’s how to handle some of the problems that regularly crop up in iPhone images.

Get the tools
If you already use iPhoto as a means to transfer your images from your iPhone, there’s no reason not to do your editing there. Photoshop has more image-editing power, but since iPhone images don’t give you a lot of editing latitude the extra power won’t buy you much.

Though we’re focusing on iPhoto, you can make these adjustments in most image editors, and even make some tweaks in Preview. Alternatively, you can use an app like Photoshop.com Mobile, Photogene or Perfectly Clear to do a lot of these edits directly on your iPhone.

Adjust white balance
In general, the iPhone’s white balance is very good when you’re shooting in bright daylight, but with other light sources the white balance can get out of whack. A bad white balance manifests itself as a colour cast in your image –one that is either too warm (reddish) or too cool (bluish), or that has some other colour tone (like yellow or orange when shooting in low light).

Adjusting iPhoto’s Temperature slider can help correct these problems. If your image contains something grey, use the white balance dropper to select the neutral grey and see if that corrects your white balance. Keep in mind that not all white balance problems can be fixed, especially when you’re working with small JPEGs like the ones the iPhone produces.

Fix dull colours and skin tones
The phone often produces images that aren’t as saturated as they could be. Although iPhoto has a Saturation slider, you might find that the Temperature slider works better for strengthening the colour in your image. If flesh tones still look a little unsaturated, try increasing the temperature, or sliding the Tint slider a tiny bit toward the pink side. Just a little bit of temperature and tint correction is all you need when correcting skin tones.

The iPhone’s images don’t pack a lot of dynamic range, and are simply not as data-rich as ones you get from a real camera. This means that your adjustments won’t yield as much change, and that they will quickly degrade the image if you push them too far.

Bump up your contrast
If your image looks flat or hazy, or if the darkest thing in the image is a black object that isn’t appearing truly black, then the photo probably has a contrast problem. Move the leftmost slider in the Levels control to the right to correct it. You can also move the rightmost slider to the left to improve contrast, but be careful that the highlights don’t overexpose to complete white. You can also adjust the Contrast slider, but the Levels slider gives you more control and enables you to protect bright highlights.

If you shot an image in low light, try increasing the Exposure slider, being careful not to overexpose highlights. You can try moving the Shadows slider to the right. But by brightening an iPhone image with either of these controls, you risk increasing noise.

Sharpen soft shots
All iPhone images will need sharpening. Slide the Sharpness slider to the right, but not so far that your image becomes oversharp. If you start seeing halos around edges, you’ve gone too far. With sharpening, it’s better to err on the side of not enough than to stray into too much. Even with a good amount of sharpening, your images will still not be as sharp as what you’d get from a good point-and-shoot camera. This is not so much a function of megapixels as it is of the small lens on the iPhone’s camera.

Sharpening can increase noise, so you want to find a balance. You can try to tackle the noise problem with the Reduce Noise slider, but this can also soften your image.

Don’t overthink
Don’t spend too much time trying to make your iPhone photos perfect. They’re never going to look like images from a DSLR or a good point-and-shoot, and too much editing can decrease the quality of an image. Luckily, iPhone photos have a low-fi feel that can be part of their charm, especially if you play it up with an app that imitates film such as CameraBag (www.nevercenter.com/camerabag) or Hipstamatic (www.hipstamaticapp.com).