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First look: Photos for OS X brings easier navigation and more powerful editing

Christopher Breen | Feb. 6, 2015
Last June, Apple announced that it would stop development of its Aperture and iPhoto apps and offer a single photo app in their place--Photos for OS X. Today, developers are getting their first glimpse of Photos, as it's bundled with the beta version of OS X 10.10.3.

Editing your images

Photos, like the iOS version, presents editing as a collection of tasks. When you view an image and then click Edit in Photos' top-right corner you're presented with a list of tools — Enhance, Rotate, Crop, Filters, Adjust, and Retouch. Enhance does what it did before — takes a guess at what might look good and applies those changes. Rotate does exactly that in 90-degree increments. Filters offers up eight tasteful filters: Mono, Tonal, Noir, Fade, Chrome, Process, Transfer, and Instant. And you use Retouch to remove spots and blemishes (including senor dust) with a resizable tool. Crop and, particularly, Adjust need more explanation.

Crop not only lets you cut away unwanted material by dragging corners and borders, but provides a wheel similar to the one in Photos for iOS that you use to straighten your image to a grid. Or, if you like, you can simply click an Auto button and Photos will calculate the horizon line and straighten and crop the image for you, using the rule-of-thirds to place the important portions of the image within the frame. Within the Crop tool you can also choose an aspect ratio for your crop — custom, 16:9, 8:10, 5:7, and so on. Select a ratio and the image will be cropped accordingly.

Making adjustments

Photos' Adjustments tool is one of its most intriguing features and provides some insight into how its iOS cousin handles the job. The idea behind it is that many people don't want to spend time tweaking their images. They'd prefer to click Enhance and when presented with the results — whether great or garish — accept them as all that can be managed. Intuitive though Exposure, Contrast, Saturation, and Definition sliders may seem to some of us, they're confounding to many casual photographers. Photos' designers set out to simplify the process while bringing greater intelligence to the app's editing tools.

When you click on Adjustments (which Apple terms "Smart Adjustments") you see three entries — Light, Color, and Black & White — that are controlled using "smart sliders." To make an adjustment in this view, just click somewhere in the thumbnail image below one of these entries and drag to the left or right. For example, if your image is too dark, click in the Light tool area and then drag right or left to brighten or darken your image.

This addresses your need to make a dark image brighter. But it's doing far more than just adjusting the image's exposure. As you drag to the right or left, a variety of factors change including exposure, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, and black point (and probably several other things lurking under the surface). And not always in a similar direction. Dragging to the right may increase the image's exposure but decrease its highlights, for instance. Photos is calculating the best look for the overall image rather than just dumbly making it brighter or darker.


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