Review: Apple Brings iPhoto to the iPad


When Apple introduced the new iPad on March 7, 2012 there was an additional announcement that had iPad-using photographers sit up and take notice. On that day, Apple introduced iPhoto for the iPad, joining Adobe, Nik Software, and others in the already well-populated market of iPad-based photo editors.

While there’s no shortage of photo editors for the iPad (see our review of Adobe Photoshop Touch for iPad here), Apple has a history of producing some incredibly powerful tools for photographers. iPhoto for iPad holds true to that history.

The iPhoto initial interface
The iPhoto initial interface

What it is – and isn’t

Let’s be clear about what iPhoto is, and isn’t.

It’s not – at least, not yet – intended to be a replacement for the iPad’s built-in Photos application. That app is still where images from your iCloud Photostream, you camera roll from the iPad’s built-in cameras, and any photos imported from a digital camera via the iPad Camera Connection kit can be found. iPhoto for the iPad draws from that app, and can export edited images back to your Photos app.

iPhoto for iPad is also not intended to be a pro-level image editor. There are no curves, layers, or selection tools. You’re not going to be doing Photoshop-esque effects, masking or blending.

This new version of iPhoto is, however, a smooth, intuitive and beautiful way to browse, edit, and share your images. It’s set up so that pretty much everyone can do basic image processing to improve images before they hit Flickr, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

The iPhoto image browser
The iPhoto image browser

The interface

Starting up iPhoto brings you straight to the albums browser, and from the start the Apple’s signature emphasis on user experience is evident. All the albums you see in the Photos app are here, but represented nicely as physical albums on shelves.

Open up any album and you have a very clean interface for browsing your images. There’s a vertical pane with thumbnails that can go from 1 to 3-thumbnails wide, and can be moved to either the left or the right side of the screen. The main window displays the currently selected image, and the vertical thumbnail pane can be hidden to give you a full-screen editing and viewing experience.

The interface is snappy and fluid, with sounds and animations providing plenty of feedback. Since iPhoto communicates with the Photos app, there is an occasional (and somewhat annoying) pop-up telling you that it’s updating the Photos library, which I thought could just occur in the background, without interrupting the user experience.

There’s an excellent in-app help system too – just tap on the little help icon in the top toolbar and labels pop up for all the on-screen controls. As you change modes, the help icon brings up labels for the controls available in the current mode. Topics for which there is additional help are marked with a little arrow symbol, and tapping them brings up more detailed info on that topic.

Selective editing in iPhoto
Selective editing in iPhoto

Editing with iPhoto

Tapping on the edit button in the top-right corner of the screen gives you access to the editing tools in iPhoto. You can quickly crop, adjust exposure, white balance and saturation, then add effects to your photos.

Apple has worked hard to make editing pretty quick and intuitive on the iPad. It only takes four taps, for example, to straighten a photo’s horizon and do an auto-enhance that adjusts exposure, saturation, white balance and brightness/contrast. If you want to go further than that, there are tools to help you do that too.

There are five icons on the bottom-left side of the screen that let you adjust, from left to right, Crop and Straighten, Exposure, Color, Brushes, and Effects.

In the Crop and Straighten mode, iPhoto automatically scans for a horizon in your image and lets you straighten the photo with one tap. You can fine-tune the image using a rotary wheel at the bottom of the display, or simply pinch, zoom, and rotate the image with two fingers till you have the crop and angle you want.

iPhoto brushes
iPhoto brushes

In the Exposure and Color modes, Apple seems to have taken a page from Nik Software’s Snapseed app, which lets you selectively adjust portions of your image. In Exposure mode, for example, tapping and holding on a bright area automatically brings up the adjustments that are applied to highlights. Similarly, tapping and holding on a dark area brings up shadow adjustments.

While in Color mode, you can tap and hold on a blue sky, then adjust just the sky without affecting skin tones. The same applies for skin tones and greenery – tap and hold to adjust those individually without affecting the others. It’s a really cool way to edit – just point to what you want to change, and change it.

The Brushes mode gives you a selection of edits you can make to your image. Along with brushes to Lighten, Darken, Saturate, Desaturate, Sharpen, and Soften specific sections of your image, there’s also a Red Eye removal brush, and a Repair brush that works a bit like Aperture’s Retouch brush.

You can use the Repair brush to quickly touch up small blemishes in your image. In my experience, the results with this brush are a bit mixed – it works better when zoomed into the image and used sparingly.

Finally, there’s the Effects mode, where you can apply treatments like Black and White, Vintage, Artistic, and more to your images. Some of them are very effective – the black and white treatments can be customized to mimic the effect of using the old colored glass filters (red to make the sky darker, green for better skin tone, etc.) on your photo.

Journals in iPhoto
Journals in iPhoto

A Surprise!

On TWiP #241, Derrick Story speculated that Apple would bring back some form of photo sharing to its iCloud service, having killed off the MobileMe Gallery feature that quite a few photographers used. Well, it looks like we’ve now got a preview of what form that service will take.

One of the nifty things iPhoto for iPad can do is assemble your images into a “Journal,” custom digital album of sorts that can then be shared with anyone. You can use an automatically generated layout for the journal, choose images from an album or your iCloud Photo Stream, chose a template, then add little widgets to customize the look of your journal.

You can add notes, captions, calendar icons to display dates, even a little weather icon to remind you what it was like when you took your images, and a map to display where you took them.

This can then be output to your iCloud account, and you can send the resulting link to whomever you want to let them see your journal as a web page. Journals can have multiple pages and you can also customize the layout to your liking, resizing and cropping photos as you see fit.

The online Journals are slick. Tap on a photo and it fills up your browser window. On the iPad, you can just swipe to go to the next one. On a computer, you can use your arrow keys to swipe through your images. It’s easy, user-friendly, and really, really good-looking.

An iPhoto Journal, exported to a Mac via iTunes
An iPhoto Journal, exported to a Mac via iTunes

But wait! There’s more…

The Journal is, to me, the best part of iPhoto. Snapseed has some editing tools I can’t do without, while Photoshop Touch will let me do some really nice masking and blending. I’ve got my editing tools covered between those two, and while I have started using iPhoto for fast edits and touchups, it’s Journals that will keep me coming back to iPhoto more than anything else.

In addition to publishing the journal to iCloud, there’s also an option to export the journal to iTunes. Do this, and all the assets for your journal – images, template files, Javascript and HTML code, all of it gets saved to a folder you can use iTunes to retrieve when you connect your iPad to your computer.

Then, you simply take this folder, upload it to your website, and viola – instant Journal on your own website.

This is truly powerful feature, and shouldn’t be overlooked. Yes, you can use SmugMug, 500px, or Flickr to publish your images online, but to me, the ability to publish these journals on my own website is a major plus.


iPhoto's built-in help tooltips
iPhoto's built-in help tooltips

What gets me most excited about iPhoto are two things: the image browsing experience and Journals. The editing features are a nice touch, and I do use them, but it’s mostly to do fast edits to images that I don’t want to process with Snapseed or Photoshop Touch.

The sharing experience in iPhoto is also another plus; you can share images on Twitter, Flickr, or Facebook, or view your photos on your TV via an HDMI cable or an AppleTV.

There are a few things I want in this app, though. I’d like that annoying “Updating Photo Library” popup to go away. Make that happen in the background. The help system has a few holes in it and needs better documentation. I want to create and delete albums in iPhoto and have those changes reflected back in the Photos app. I also want the ability to import photos directly into iPhoto from the Camera Connection Kit.

In fact, just do away with the Photos app and give me iPhoto instead.

The Bottom Line…

Few, if any, apps on the iPad provide a unified browsing, editing, and sharing experience in a single package – and I’ll wager that none do it better than iPhoto. I love that we have Snapseed and Photoshop Touch for the iPad, but if I could have one – and only one – photo app for the iPad, it’d be iPhoto.

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