Apple includes Photos - it's photo management and editing app - on all Macs, iPhones and iPads. You can even access your Photo library on your Apple TV and Apple Watch. It's a great way of organising your photos so that you can view all your snaps or enjoy slideshows, but it also has some advanced editing tools that make it possible to adjust and improve your photos. 

If you want to know how to edit photos using Photos on the Mac you’ve come to the right place. We will take you through the various tools you can use to edit your photos in Photos - and also how you can do further edits to your photos using third-party tools within Photos, and also make edits to your photos in third-party apps but still keep the photo in your Photos library.

This is part of a series of articles in which we will run through the fundamentals of using Photos on the Mac. Elsewhere we cover how to get your photos on to your Mac, the different ways you can view your photos on the Mac, and how best to organise all your photos so you can find the ones you want, but here we will look at the various tools for editing your photos on the Mac.

If you want to jump straight to any of the above articles you can do so by clicking the links below: 

How to edit a photo on the Mac

To edit a photo in Photos for Mac you'll first need to double-click its thumbnail to open it for viewing, and then click the Edit button at the top right.

Edit photo in Photos

Note that if you open for editing a photo in a Shared Album you'll be told it needs to be imported into your photo library first.

Because every inch of screen space matters when you're editing photos, switching to full screen mode might make sense for you (click View > Full Screen, or the button next to the minimise and close buttons). Pro tip: You might notice the toolbar slides off the top of the screen along with the menu. To fix this, click View > Always Show Toolbar in Full Screen.

Edit Tools Photos For Mac

The screen goes black to indicate Edit mode is activated and the toolkit appears at the right of the program window, while a zoom control appears at the top left. When zoomed you can navigate around the image by clicking and dragging, or via a two-fingered scroll if using a trackpad. Pro tip: Holding down Command while tapping plus and minus on the keyboard lets you zoom in and out without using the mouse/trackpad.

One of the great things about editing photos in Photos is that your edits are non-destructive, which means that the original is always stored alongside your edits, no matter how extensive these are - or even if you quit the app after making them. Just open the photo for editing at any time and click Revert to Original.

Warning: Undoing individual actions in Photos via Command+Z, or Edit > Undo, isn't quite the same as other apps. Undos when editing an image are limited to the current tool you're working in. For example, if you alter the brightness and then switch to the Retouch tool, you won't be able to undo the brightness alterations you just made other than reverting to the original image as described above.

What are the editing tools in Photos for Mac

Before we talk you though how to edit a photo in Photos, we’ll introduce the various tools at your disposal.

Above your photo you will see three tabs: Adjust, Filters and Crop. There is also a useful tool if you aren’t all that comfortable making the enhancements yourself - you can find the Enhance button next to the Done button (it looks like a magic wand).

Enhance: If you don’t want to fiddle around with various filters in an attempt to improve your photo you can use the Enhance tool. It tends to brighten up the image a bit reducing shadows and warming up the colours. The Enhance tool may be the only thing you need to make your photos look the way you want them to.

Enhance Photo on Mac

Adjust: When you select Adjust a collection of tools will open on the right of your photo. These include tools to adjust the light and colour levels (including Black & White options). You’ll also find a Retouch tool, which we will discuss in more detail below, a tool for removing Red Eye, White Balance and Curves. If you scroll down there are Levels, Selective Colour, Noise Reduction, Sharpen and Vignette tools. Many of these tools bring pro-level photo editing features to Photos.

Adjust options in Photos Mac

Filters: Choose Filters from the options at the top of the window and you will find a collection of filters that Apple says emulate three classic photography styles: vivid, dramatic, and black and white. For each style you can choose Vvid, Vivid Warm or Vivid Cool, so there is a total of nine filters to choose from.

Filters Photos for Mac

Crop: The Crop button opens up more options to you than just cropping an image. You can flip an image, rotate an image, change the aspect ratio of an image, or just straighten the image. We’ll discuss how to implement these changes below.

The other options along the top of the window include Revert to Original which will enable you to undo all your changes and return to how the photo was originally - even if you have made the changes on a number of separate occasions. In fact there is a button beside that (with a black and white square) that shows you the photo with and without your changes. There are also Markup and Rotate buttons. We’ll look at these in more detail below.

How to crop a photo on the Mac

Want to crop someone out of a picture, change the composition so that your subject's position is more appropriate or make a portait photo square or similar? Here's how to crop your photo on the Mac.

  1. Select the photo you want to change the dimensions of.
  2. Click on Edit.
  3. Click on Crop.
  4. Click on a corner of the rectangle that appears around your photograph. You’ll see the complete image in the background.
  5. Drag the corners until you are happy with the selection. When you let go of the corner your cropped photo will appear.
  6. By default Freeform will be selected but if you want to keep the dimensions of the photo the same, or if you want to change the aspect ratio of the photo click on Aspect in the column on the right. Options include Square, 16:9, 5:7, 3:2 and more.

Crop Photo on Mac

If you want to change a portrait image to a landscape view the option to do so appears on any option other than Freeform and Square.

How to rotate, flip or straighten a photo on the Mac

If you want to flip your photo you can simply click on the Rotate button in the menu at the top of the window (beside Enhance).

Clicking Rotate will rotate the image anti-clockwise but it’s actually really easy to rotate the image clockwise. Just press the Alt/Option key at the same time as you click on the Rotate button.

If you want to be a little more precise about how you rotate the photo, perhaps because you want to straighten it, click on Crop in the menu and drag your mouse pointer on the dial that appears on the right of your image. When you click you will see a grid appear, which could be handy for matching up to a straight line or the horizon in your image.

With this photo (below) Photos automatically straightened it when we selected Crop, using the sea on the horizon as a guide.

Straighten photo Photos Mac

One of the best advanced tricks for using Photos is to hold down Alt/Option while using any of the tools. Doing so while adjusting the cropping box will cause it to resize in a different way, for example, and doing so whilst adjusting the rotation dial will decrease the severity of your drag. Just give it a try!

How to remove Red Eye

In the early days of camera phones and compact cameras red eye was a much bigger problem than it is today, but if you have a problem with red eye in your photos, people and pets, then you can remove it in Photos. Here’s how:

  1. In the Edit view click on Adjust.
  2. Scroll down the column on the right until you arrive at Red-Eye. Click on the down arrow to open the tool.
  3. If you click on the Auto button Photos should automatically correct the red eye.
  4. If it isn’t corrected automatically there is a tool you can use. Start by zooming in on the eye you want to correct. (You can press Command and + to zoom in. Or drag the bar at the top of the window.)
  5. Now click on the Size bar of Red-Eye tool, a cycle will appear. You want this circle to be roughly the size of the red circle in the eye.
  6. Now if you click on the red spot it should be filled in to look like the pupil of the eye.

Correct Red Eye

How to smooth skin colours

You can also use Photos to smooth skin tones and remove blemishes.

  1. Click on Adjust.
  2. Choose the Retouch tool.
  3. Zoom in to the part of the picture you want to adjust.
  4. Drag the size bar to choose the size of the retouch tool.
  5. Draw over the area you want to smooth out - you’ll see a white line where you have drawn.
  6. When you release the mouse you will see that the image has been smoothed out where you drew. It might look a bit fuzzy, but for minor imperfections it’s a quick and easy fix.

smooth skin tones

How to brighten an image

As great as the iPhone is at taking nighttime photos, if you have a photo where a lot of the details are hidden in the shadows, or they were just taken in low-light, you can make adjustments in Photos. Here’s how to brighten up your image by adjusting the exposure and more.

  1. Open the image and click on Edit to bring up the Edit options.
  2. Choose Adjust from the options above the image.
  3. Select the first tool in Adjust: Light.
  4. Click on the triangle below it to bring up the options: Brilliance, Exposure, Highlights, Shadows, Brightness, Contract and Black Point.
  5. The simplest solution would be to drag across the Light bar. You can drag this over to the right to brighten up the image. However you might feel that the result is a bit fuzzy and fake looking.

Maximise light in photos Mac

You might get a better result if you drag each of the tools across to see how the photo could look, so, for example, address the Shadows to brighten up the areas of dark without changing the bright areas (which works better on our photo with Christmas lights in the background). We recommend fiddling with the tools until you are happy with the result.

If you want to see the effect of your changes compared to the original click on the white and black squares in the icon beside Revert to Original. The photo will switch between the two versions.

If you are unsure of the results of your work you can go back to the original by clicking on Revert to Original to return to how the image was before your edits. Prefer your version - just click on Command+Z to undo. You can Revert to Original at any time - even if you made the edits years ago.

How to make an image warmer

If you take a photo in the early morning sunrise, or the evening sunset you might get some lovely warm shades of orange or a subtle red glow. If you want to get some of this ‘warmth’ into your generic photograph you can with tools in Photos.

Photos actually offers a number of tools you can use. You might like to try the Curves, Colour and Filter options to get the effects you like.

Using the Colour filter

The simplest option would be to use the Auto Colour filter.

In Adjust scroll to Colour and beside that click on Auto.

This will make some very subtle changes to the Saturation, Contrast and Cast of the image. You might feel that they are enough to bring out the colours in the image. (If you don’t like the change click on the undo icon beside Auto, or choose Revert to Original).

If you want to increase the colour in the picture you could drag the slide in the colour section to the right. You’ll see the reds become redder. You can warm it up even more by dragging the Cast slide over to the right.

Warm up photos in Photos on Mac

Using Curves

Alternatively you could use the Curves tools in Photos.

With the Colour Curves adjustment you can adjust the tonal range of your image. It's a little more complicated to use than some of the other tools, but you could use it to lighten a dark scene, boost contrast and colour, or make colour shifts.

Curves, scroll down the list and click on its disclosure triangle to reveal the tools and a graph. The images tonality is represented by the line, the highlights of the image are found in the top right section of the graph, the low lights are found in the bottom left segment.

Curves in Photos Mac

You can choose RGB, or focus on Red, Green and Blue separately, dragging the anchor points on the graph until you get the affect you are after.

For example, to brighten up the image, click on the line in the bottom left and drag it upwards until you see a curve form. The image will change in real time so you can decide when you have achieved the designed effect.

You could also create an S-curve, dragging one anchor point up in the highlights, and another anchor point down in the shadows. This would boost contrast and the colour saturation.

You can also use the pipets to pick a colour to set as a black point, grey point, and white point, just as in Photoshop. You can also choose a colour in the image to set as a point on the curve.

You can also warm up your image by selecting some of the filters Apple offers in Photos. We’ll explain how below.

Copy your edits to another photo

This is a great tip if you have a lot of photos taken in similar conditions and you want to edit them all. Rather than duplicate your effort over and over again for each image you can copy and paste your edits onto each image.

Right-click on the image to copy to the clipboard the current set of edits you've made.

You can then paste them onto a different image in the same way by right-clicking.

This is useful if you find yourself correcting many images with a similar low-light fault, for example.

Copy your edits to photo

How to use Filters in Photos

There are also a number of built-in filters that you can use in Photos. These nine filters (which arrived in High Sierra) include standard, Warm and Cool versions of Vivid, Dramatic and Black & White filters. Prior to High Sierra Apple offered more Instagram-like filters including Fade, Chrome, Process, Transfer, and Instant which we were sad to see go, but you can still get some nice effects with the ones Apple offers - and obviously you can use Instagram if you want something else.

To access these filters click Edit > Filters and click through the options until you find one you like.

When you have selected your filter you can continue to edit it using the Curves and other editing tools until you have the style you are after

Photos Filters on the Mac

View Live Photos in Photos

Introduced with the iPhone 6s range, Live Photos is an option within the Camera app that augments snapshots by niftily recording a second or two of movie footage before and after the shutter is tapped. It's saved as a single image file that looks like any other, including syncing via iCloud.

To view the Live Photo's movie component you simply tap and hold the photo within the Photos app on the iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch.

When viewing a Live Photo's thumbnail within the main photos listing or an album view of Photos on your Mac hover the mouse cursor over it to start the Live Photo playback. After clicking to open the photo you'll need to hover the mouse cursor over the Live icon at the bottom left to trigger playback.

How to use the Photos app on Mac

Since macOS Sierra Photos has allowed you to edit Live Photos - short video clips that grab a second and a half of audio and video before and after you press the shutter button.

In previous versions of Photos, editing a Live Photo meant converting it to a still image, but no more. To edit a Live Photo, double-click on it and select the editing tool as normal. If you want to turn off the Live Photo and make it a still image, click the yellow circle to the right of the location and time and date information.

Live Photos also become regular image files should they be copied out of Photos to a Finder window or the desktop.

Turn a Live Photo into a Gif

One of the new features in Photos in macOS High Sierra was the ability to turn those Live Photos into a Gif-like repeating loop.

You can also manually change the Live Photo's representative image to a different segment of the video, trim the Live Photos video, and, in addition to the new Gif-like Loop, you can set one of three other effects: a traditional live photo, a back-and-forth bouncing effect, or a Long Exposure image that mimics a photo taken with the shutter left open for a long time.

To turn a live photo into a looping 'Gif', open your Live Photo in Edit mode. Below the photo you will see a slider (this allows you to change the still image associated with the Live Photo, as well as change the start and end points of the Live Photo).

Next to that is a dropdown box with the options: Live, Loop, Bounce and Long Exposure. Choose Loop. Immediately the image will start to loop. If you were hoping to change the start and end points unfortunately you can't, but you can choose to turn the audio back on (it's turned off by default in Loop mode).

The other similar option is Bounce. Where loop sort of fills in the gap between the different movements, in Bounce the sample is shorter and the one movement is repeated over and over. You cannot play audio in Bounce.

We have a complete guide to turning Live photos into Gifs here: How to make a GIF on iPhone.

How to use Photos app for Mac: Turn a Live Photo into a GIF

Create a long exposure

If you have a Live Photo of something like a waterfall or fireworks you can make a Long Exposure image from it.

Note: this image won't be any good if you moved the camera. Ideally you want to keep the camera completely still when taking the live photo (as you would if you were taking a Long Exposure shot the traditional way.

As before, select the Live Photo, choose Edit and in the box beside the sliders choose Long Exposure.

We'd like the option to make a Long Exposure photo out of a Slow-Mo video. Live Photos by their nature aren't really long enough to give a really good Long Exposure effect.

How to use Photos app for Mac: Long exposure

Use extensions & plugins in Photos on the Mac

Photos in El Capitan addressed the issue of a lack of extensive editing tools within the app by letting app developers create add-ons that appear under an Extensions heading when you click the Edit button while viewing a photo. Just look to the bottom of the tool list at the right of the screen and click the Extensions heading to make your choice.

Some developers have chosen to create dedicated extensions. A good example is Noiseless from MacPhun, that aims to improve images taken in the dark. Others developers, like the people behind the Pixelmator image editing app, let users access one or more functions from their app within Photos.

As with all OS X extensions those for Photos can be activated, deactivated and listed within System Preferences. Just click the Extensions icon and then the Photos entry in the list. Remove the tick alongside any you want to disable within Photos. Extensions are installed by either downloading the installation package directly from the developer's website, as with any app, or by downloading offerings found within the Mac App Store.

How to use the Photos app on Mac

Unfortunately, the extensions used with Photos are incompatible with those used in other image editing apps such as Adobe Photoshop.

How to edit images outside of Photos

You aren't limited to the editing tools in Photos. You can edit your images in Photoshop or similar - but crucially, you don't need to export them or duplicate the images, you can enter Photoshop, do your edits there and then save them back to Photos - and the changes are all non-destructable, so if you decide to revert back to the original you still can.

This has been possible since the arrival of High Sierra arrived. The Photos app lets you make edits using Photoshop and other third-party editors.

From Photos right click on the image you wish to edit and choose Edit With > Other, and then select Photoshop from your applications (or any other photo editor you might prefer).

The image will open in the third-party photo editing app and you will be able to use all the features of that app to edit it. For example, you could choose a Photoshop filter and apply that to your image.

Any edits you make will automatically be saved to your Photos library.

If you want to jump straight to any of the other articles in this series you can do so by clicking the links below: