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Photography

How to Supercharge Your Apple Photos Workflow With Extensions

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Apple Photos is an easy-to-use Mac photo editor that syncs to iCloud storage. It's included free as a part of OS X (soon to be known as macOS) and can help you organize, correct and adjust your images. With plenty of easy to use tools, it's a great choice for basic corrections.

With the help of a few helper apps, however, we can supercharge Photos and turn it into a full-featured post-production suite. In this tutorial, you'll learn how to use extensions to add more powerful tools and be more productive with Apple Photos.

Photos Edit Interface
The correction tools in Apple Photos are simple by default. You can adjust basic factors like exposure and color.

What's An Extension?

Extensions help Apple Photos do more without leaving the app. An extension lets you use other photo editors inside of Apple Photos. Think of an extension as a plugin that gives you a new tool to work with without having to leave the program.

FX Photo Studio
FX Photo Studio is an app by MacPhun, and is a part of their Creative Kit of photo editors. It can be used as a standalone application, or as an extension inside of Apple Photos to add filters to an image.

We'll look at using extensions to add extra options to Photos. First, let's find out how to install them.

How to Install Extensions

First, we'll need to install an app that adds an extension to Photos. A free app you can test this with is Macphun's Filters for Photos. You can grab this app from the Mac App Store and install it quickly to test out the installation process.

Once we've installed the app, let's jump back to Apple Photos. Start editing a photo by clicking on Edit with an image selected in Apple Photos. Once you install an external app, you might notice that an Extensions option appear in the tools panel. Click on Extensions and choose More to enable the extension.

Launch Extension
Click on Extensions from the same list of adjustment tools that we've been working with and choose More to install an Extension for Apple Photos.

Now, a window will open up to enable the extension. You should see your new app available in the extensions window. Just tick the box of the extension you're going to enable, and it will become available in Photos.

Enabling Extensions
After you click on the "More" button on the extensions panel, you'll open a window to enable extensions for Photos. Just tick the name of the extension and press done to enable it for use.

Now, when you return to the Photos editing window and click More again, the extension you enabled is ready to use! Click on the extension name, and it will launch in its own window.

Extension Enabled
Once you enable the extension, it's ready to be launched from the same "More" menu.

Depending upon the extension you're using, you'll see new options available for working with your image.

Five Powerful Extensions

Now that you know how to install an extension, let's look at a few of the most powerful ones available:

Noiseless

Noiseless is all about removing noise from your images. It's a part of MacPhun's Creative Kit bundle of apps, all of which can be used as an extension with Apple Photos. It's also available as a single app in the Mac App Store

Noise is frequently an issue with mobile photos due to the minuscule sensor size of mobile cameras. When you launch Noiseless from the extensions list, your image will open in before and after view, and a show list of noise reduction presets to the right of the preview. When using Noiseless, try out some of the presets as a starting point.

Noiseless Preset Mode
By default, Noiseless will launch a before and after view of the image you've selected. The best way to get started is to apply a preset using one of the options on the right side. I've used the Strong noise reduction preset.

Make sure to check your noise reduction at all sizes using the zoom buttons that are above the image viewer. The noise reduction presets are a simple and easy way to apply smoothing to an image, but Noiseless also has a more advanced method for reducing noise.

Press the Adjust button in the upper right area of the application to switch from Preset mode, to a much more advanced set of sliders. Whether you're using the preset or advanced approach, click Save Changes to lock in your settings.

Noiseless Adjust Mode
If you prefer a more advanced mode, press Adjust near the upper right corner of the extension. If you are used to reducing noise in Adobe Lightroom or Capture One Pro, you might be more comfortable with the sliders that this option adds.

Affinity Photo: Retouch

Affinity Photo is a full-featured image processor and competitor to Adobe Photoshop. When you install Affinity Photo it actually adds up to six extensions for Apple Photos. The Affinity Photo Retouch extension adds a very useful retouching brush. Let's take a look at it.

Affinity Photo Retouch

There are a litany of tools added in this extension. Try out the Dodge and Burn tools for refined adjustments to lighting in specific parts of the image. Just select the tool and click and drag to start applying it to parts of an image.

Also try out the Blur and Sharpen tools, which can add area-specific details. These are tools that aren't included in Apple Photos. Affinity's Retouch adds local editing power and really takes Photos to the next level.

Pixelmator: Distort

Like Affinity Photo, Pixelmator is a Photoshop alternative. It adds up to two extensions for Apple Photos: Distort and Retouch. Let's focus on the Distort extension.

Sunsphere Distort
I used the Pixelmator Distort extension to reshape the foundation of Knoxville, Tennessee's Sunsphere. With the twirl tool, I moved the vertical supports, while the globe was expanded using the bump tool.

This is a fun extension for adding some creative twists to your photos. There are six tools inside of Distort:

  • Warp: warp is used to fluidly move parts of an image around; similar to Photoshop's liquify tool, for example
  • Bump: bump expands a part of an image, such as the globe in the building above
  • Pinch: pinch helps reduce part of an image; effectively the opposite of a bump
  • Twirl Left/Twirl Right: the twirl tools can be used to "push" parts of an image in a respective direction. I used twirl to have fun with the supports of the building above
  • Restore: undo any of the tweaks applied

Select any of these tools, choose a size for the brush, and finally the strength of the effect using the tool's sliders. Then, go to work reshaping the image!

Pixelmator Distort 2
No, this isn't a real life funhouse - all of these effects were applied inside of Apple Photos using Pixelmator distort. I used a combination of the twirl, warp and pinch tools to reshape the photograph. This use may be far from practical, but the key here is that we're extending Photos to do things it normally can't.

Snapheal

Snapheal is another app from MacPhun that can be purchased through the Creative Kit bundle or individually in the Mac App Store.  It adds a more powerful spot removal tool called Erase, as well as a Retouch and Adjust option. Let's focus on the Erase tool to remove any unwanted objects.

When you launch Snapheal, you're placed on the Erase tab. Set the size of your eraser using the Diameter tool, and begin painting over the spots to remove. You'll also want to set an Erasing mode, as well as a Precision level. I typically change the Erasing mode to Local, and set the Precision to the Highest option. The erasing algorithm takes longer, but yields the best results.

Snapheal Painting
When you first open Snapheal, you can use the paintbrush to paint over the areas that need to be removed. Set the size of your brush with the diameter slider. You can switch to the Eraser from the Selection tools to undo any painted areas. Then, change the Erasing Modes (I've had great success with "Local") and choose a level of Precision (always Highest) and press Erase. Snapheal will go to work removing these spots.

When you're finished painting over the objects to remove, press the large Erase! button to let Snapheal go to work. You'll see a finished image within a few seconds, hopefully free of spots. If the removal doesn't go well, you can always undo the changes and try it again with different erasing modes and brushed areas.

Before and After Snapheal
This split shows a before and after view of the image I corrected above. Notice that it removed several dust spots and a sizable rock in the midst of the water. At full size, the cloning effect is very believable.

Affinity Photo: Haze Removal

Haze seems to be pretty common in my mobile photos. It's evident when images are low in contrast, and can be caused by environmental conditions or even a smudgy camera lens!

The Haze Removal extension added by Affinity Photo is great for reducing haze and bringing back some life to an image. To use it, simply launch the Affinity Haze Removal tool from your extensions.

Affinity Haze Removal
This photo is a perfect candidate for Haze Removal. The correction is shown on the left, and it's brought a lot of contrast and color back to a flat image shot through a car windshield. Once you launch the Affinity Haze Removal extension, there are three key sliders to adjust the haze correction. Generally, I pull up on the Strength slider until the contrast and color improve and then tweak the Distance slider. Then, I'll apply Exposure Correction as needed to lighten or darken the photo.

Once you're inside of the Haze Removal extension, start playing with the Strength slider. Pulling it up increases the amount of haze removal. I like to use the Distance slider for fine tuning the reduction after applying the initial strength. One thing I've noticed is that haze removal can darken the image, so Affinity has included an Exposure Correction slider to offset the darkening effect. When you're finished, just press Save Changes in the upper right corner.

Recap and Keep Learning

I like easy-to-use software; it's why Apple Photos has a permanent place in my workflow for my mobile images. When I need more from the app, it's great to know that there are extensions available for advanced edits. And for many post-processing workflows, even professional ones, these extensions add all the power you'll ever need.

If you're interested in learning more about Apple Photos, I recently published a tutorial for corrections with Apple Photos. There is also an Apple Photos course right here on Tuts+ that is a complete walkthrough of the app, including how to sync your images instantly between Mac and iOS.

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