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

Edit a photo on an iPhone.Konstantin Savusia /

You can use your iPhone to capture and share images in seconds, but it might be worth taking a break before starting the download. Editing your photos before sharing can make a huge difference to the final image, and everything you need is already built into the Photos app on your iPhone.

How to edit images in the Photos app

In addition to being a great camera, the iPhone is a powerhouse for photo editing. Apple’s built-in tools are more than enough to allow most users to take a mediocre picture and take it to the next level. Making quick edits and crops has never been easier.

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

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

To edit a picture on your iPhone, first find it in the Photos app. Once you find an image, tap it to view it, then tap “Edit” in the top right corner of the screen. If you have ICloud photos enabled, you will have to wait a second for the full size image to download. You will be able to edit your photos.

At the bottom of the screen, you’ll see four buttons, each referencing a particular set of editing tools. From left to right, they are:

Live Photos: Only visible if your image is Live photo (video recorded with a still image).
Adjust: Standard retouching controls that you will find in most image editing applications.
Filters: Apply or remove Apple photo filters.
Crop / Straighten: To change the aspect ratio, cropping, etc.

We will see how each of these works in more detail below.

Preview your changes

Anytime while editing your image, you can tap the photo to view the original. This provides a point of reference for any changes you have made. You can see whether your edits 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 the image anytime to see how your edits affect the video.

Go back to your original photo

Non-destructive image editing means you can always revert to your original image if you want. You can do this by editing your image and changing or undoing the settings you changed, but there is a faster way to remove all edits you made to a photo.

To revert to your original image, find it in the Photos app, then tap “Edit” in the top right corner. Press the red “Redo” button in the lower right corner of the screen to undo all your changes. You can’t pick up these changes (without re-editing them again), so make sure you’re happy before committing.

Make image adjustments

The vast majority of the editing tools can be found under the “Adjust” option, which is automatically selected whenever you press the “Edit” button in the Photos app. Here you will find the standard photo editing tools to change the look of your photo.

Open a photo in edit mode in the iOS Photos app

In total there are 15 tuning parameters and an “auto” option with a “magic wand” icon. Tap the wand to automatically enhance the image, then move the slider left and right to adjust the image. Press the wand again to undo these changes.

While automatic edits make it easy to improve a mediocre image, you can learn more about photo editing in general by experimenting with the other options. If you want your images to present a unique sense of style, manually editing your image is a must.

Light adjustments

These settings primarily affect the light in your scene, giving you the flexibility to increase overall exposure and increase or decrease shadows and highlights. Remember that as the images are compressed, a lot of data is lost due to file size reduction, which limits the recovery you can perform for an over or underexposed image.

Exposure: Determine the amount of light in the scene, providing a uniform increase or decrease in total light in an image.
Shine: Brighten dark images while increasing highlights and contrast (and vice versa). Often used to accentuate dark and dreary images.
Strong points: Highlight the brighter parts of your image. Highlight reduction can recover some detail in overexposed areas.
Shadows: Shadows are the darkest parts of your image. Increasing shadows can pick up more detail in underexposed areas.

Color adjustments

You can change the look of your image by adjusting the various color options. These can be used to make images “vivid” by adjusting contrast or saturation, or to correct for white balance inaccuracies to achieve more natural skin tones.

Contrast: The overall difference between the color tones in the image. Increasing the contrast results in a more striking image at the expense of details in shadows and highlights.
Brightness: Lighten or darken your image without adjusting the exposure and risk under or overexpose areas of your image.
Black dot: Target the darker parts of your photo. Increasing the black point will saturate the blacks to create a more contrasting dramatic image.
Saturation: Determine the overall color of an image. Turn it all the way to get vivid colors or all the way to create a monotone (black and white) image.
Vibrance: Target the duller colors in your scene while limiting skin tone changes. Like the saturation tool, but more docile.
Heat: Adjust the overall temperature of your image by increasing to warm the image and decreasing to cool it. Good for correcting white balance.
Tint: Apply a green or magenta tint to your photo. Lower it for green, up for magenta. Use in conjunction with the Heat tool to correct white balance.

Detailed adjustments

The overall amount of detail in your image is limited by the size of your iPhone’s sensor. Software processing can help bring out details or mask unwanted noises, just be careful not to overdo it, especially if you are looking for a natural look.

Acuity: Apply digital sharpness to your image.
Definition: Make small adjustments to the contrast for a more striking image.
Noise reduction: Apply digital noise reduction to a grainy image, for example, a night shot in low light conditions.
Thumbnail: A vignette is a dark or light ring around the edge of an image, which is often an unwanted effect of shooting with certain lenses.

Editing with filters

Press the “Filters” button to the right of the “Adjust” section to see a selection of Apple photo filters. Drag them and tap one of them to apply it, then move the slider below to adjust the intensity of the effect. You can only apply one filter at a time.

Apply filters to iPhone photos

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

It is also possible to film with the filters activated. Launch the Camera app and look for the familiar filters icon in the upper right corner of the screen (portrait). Even if you take an image with a filter enabled, you can still remove that filter or switch to a new one using the built-in editing tools.

Crop, straighten and perspective

To the right of the other editing tools are the crop, straighten, and perspective tools. When you tap this section, you will receive manual straightening tools at the bottom of the screen. Move the slider left or right to reposition your image as you see fit.

Straighten or change perspective distortion in iOS photos

There are also two perspective correction tools: one labeled horizontal and one vertical. These tools distort the image on a horizontal or vertical axis to correct perspective distortion. A good example would be a photo of a building taken at a long focal length, causing straight lines in the image to be distorted.

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

Additional tools to change perspective, aspect ratio, and crop

On the right side of the screen is the aspect ratio tool. This lets you choose from a predetermined aspect ratio, including portrait / landscape and square presets.

You can use these tools to crop your photos for better composition, to remove sensitive information from a screenshot you intend to share, or to create square format images from portraits and landscapes. Just like the other tools on this list, you can always go back to your original photo by reshaping it.

Recover Photos from Live Photos

When you tap Edit on an image in Photos apps, you can see a Live Photo icon at the bottom of the screen. (It looks like a circle surrounded by a dotted circle.) Tap this to see the approximately three seconds of video that was recorded next to your photo.

You can trim this video as you would any other video by entering the start and end points of each edge of the filmstrip. You can also take a photo from the video to replace your main frame, in case you didn’t press the shutter button at the right time.

Create a new key photo from Live Photo in the iOS Photos app

To do this, rub with your finger until you find a frame you like. Press “Create Key Photo” to select that frame instead. Now when you return to the Photos app, you will see the still image you selected, rather than the image you originally took.

Unfortunately, the quality of these still images can vary quite a bit. These are basically still images from a video, so they cannot match the resolution or details of the original key photo.

Do more with live photos

Live Photos offers you the possibility to create animations and fake time-lapse photos thanks to the video recorded next to your image. Find a live photo in the Photos app and drag it up (don’t tap “Edit” first). You should see a list of “effects” including loop, bounce, and long exposure.

Loop creates a looping animation that works best if your iPhone was perfectly still when you took the image. Bounce plays the video, then the reverse, and plays it back (and so on) to create a seamless, albeit repetitive, video. Long exposure mimics the effect of leaving the shutter open on a DSLR or mirrorless camera by blurring movement and creating light trails.

Tim brookes

Exporting a loop or bounce via the Share menu instead exports a looped .MOV video, like the image above. You can also create GIFs from Live Photos directly on your iPhone. If you want to share a still image, you will need to swipe up and then select “Live” again.

Editing with other applications

So far we’ve only talked about Apple’s editing tools, and for a lot of people, they’re enough. IPhone also supports editing with other apps you have installed, without having to exit the photos app.

To do this, open “Photos” and find an image you want to edit. Tap “Edit” in the upper right corner, then on the edit screen, tap the ellipsis “…” button in the upper right corner. You should see a list of apps with editing tools that you can call up right here in the Photos app.

Use other installed apps to edit your photo

One example is Adobe’s PS Express, which lets you make instant adjustments in categories such as Matte, Charm, and Duo Tone. These tools are fine, but we’ve found that it’s best to use the original app instead, as you usually have more options.

Some great editing tips to remember

Hope that with this guide and some experiences you can understand the tools provided by Apple. The best way to learn is to edit, and you can do it without consequence, knowing that you can just revert to the original image at any time.

With that in mind, you may want to exercise restraint with a few sliders. Increasing the saturation too high can result in overly colored images and very unnatural skin tones. Some digital sharpness can help record a smooth image, but too much noise will introduce noise.

If you’re editing a dark image, be sure to adjust the noise reduction last after you’re happy with the overall exposure. You can introduce a lot of grain into an image by adjusting the exposure and increasing the shadows, and the noise reduction slider is a useful tool to combat that.

If you enjoyed learning about Apple’s photo editing tools, why not read more about take the best photos with your iPhone.

RELATED: How to Use the iPhone Camera App: The Ultimate Guide

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