How to use Brushes in iPhoto for iOS

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iPhoto for iOS is not only a joy to use, it's easy to learn—even if you've never used the desktop verion of iPhoto '11.

Indeed, once you've mastered the app's basic editing features, you'll want to explore some of the more in-depth editing capabilities that the program has to offer. iPhoto for iOS provides an array of photo enhancement tools, collectively called Brushes, that help to bring out the best of an image you’ve already captured.

When in the app's Edit mode, tap the Brushes icon at the bottom left-hand side of your screen—the icon with a trio of paintbrushes between Color and Effects. Eight large paintbrushes pop up. From left to right, these brushes are: Repair, Red Eye, Saturate, Desaturate, Lighten, Darken, Sharpen, and Soften.

This group of tools takes advantage of your iPad’s touch interface, making it easy to tweak small sections of a photo. (You can also use them with iPhoto for your iPhone, but the screen size makes precision a little difficult.) These effects are intuitive—just brush the area of the photo you’d like to enhance with your fingertip. You'll likely see the difference immediately. If you don't, you can always tap the Show Original button (next to the Edit button) to toggle between the original and the edited version to view the effects, and undo what you don't like.

Once you select your brush, you can choose to apply the effect to the whole photo by tapping the Gear icon at the bottom right corner and selecting the Entire Image option for that tool. Or, you can apply the effect to just a portion of a photo by dragging your finger over the part of the image you want to change. You can also enable the Show Strokes feature for the tools that have it, which highlights the area of the photo that you’re editing. Erasing brush strokes is also simple—tap the Gear icon, and choose to erase strokes from the selected brush or from all brushes you used on that picture. To remove a single stroke, use your Eraser.

But how do you know when to use which brush—and where to apply it—to make the most out of these cool features? Below, we break down each brush and describe how to use it to its best advantage.


The first brush on the left is called Repair—it actually looks like a magic wand complete with a star animation. This brush patches up areas of a photo that don’t look right by using pixels from the surrounding area to blend it in. This brush technique cannot be applied to the whole image—only to certain spots. For example, if you snap a landscape and an unwanted object (or passerby) makes its way into the shot, you can use the Repair brush to make it disappear. In Edit mode, tap your Brushes icon and select the Repair brush. Then, brush or tap the area on the photo you’d like to fix. You’ll see the spot start to blend in with its surroundings. Keep tapping or brushing until the spot is blended.

Turn on the Show Brush Stroke feature (if you’d like) by tapping the Gear icon. You can also use the Gear icon to undo your repair strokes if you brushed too generously.

I used the Repair brush to edit out my friend's backpack from this shot.
I used the Repair brush to edit out my friend's backpack from this shot.

Red Eye

Next in line is the Red Eye brush, which looks like a red felt-tip marker. Unsurprisingly, the Red Eye brush removes unwanted red eyes from the subjects of your photos. To apply, tap the brush, then highlight the eyes that you’d like to fix. To zoom in for more precision, pinch open and close using the standard trackpad/iOS zoom and expand gestures. Next, tap the affected red eyes. A white circle will surround the area and brush away the red color. Keep tapping until the redness is gone. Here too, you can use the Gear icon to clear red eye repairs or to erase all strokes.

Saturate and Desaturate

Use your Saturate and Desaturate brushes to play around with the color intensity of your photos—the Saturate brush increases the strength of colors, while the Desaturate brush decreases the coloring effect. Saturating a photo can make certain colors pop, while desaturating can restore color balance for a more natural look (or, conversely, you can desaturate photos to see them in a classic grayscale).

For the saturate effect, tap your Brushes icon, and then select the multi-colored Saturate brush. Next, you can opt to saturate the entire photo or just specific areas by considering the options listed under the Gear icon. To apply this effect to the whole image, tap Saturate Entire Image. To saturate only part of the photo, brush your finger over the area. I find it easier to brush with the Show Strokes feature on—the brush strokes are highlighted red while you paint. Just tap the Gear icon to toggle this feature; flip it back off when you're finished to see the effect come to life.

The fruit and juice have been saturated; the person has been softened. The combination of brush effects draw focus to the fruit.
The fruit and juice have been saturated; the person has been softened. The combination of brush effects draw focus to the fruit.

The Desaturate brush works similarly—it’s next to the Saturate brush, and looks like it has been dipped in gray paint. Desaturating the whole image at its strongest setting (with the slider pulled to the far right) will render the image black and white. If you’re desaturating the whole image, try sliding the saturation level to different settings to get the look you’re trying to achieve. Desaturate certain parts of the photo by brushing your finger over specific areas.

Some leaves have been desaturated to show depth.
Some leaves have been desaturated to show depth.

Lighten and Darken

Two complimentary brushes in your pallet are Lighten and Darken—the Lighten brush is a thick white paintbrush, and the Darken brush is black. Use these brushes to lighten or darken areas of a photo. For example, if part of your photo has heavy shadows, or if you captured a photo at night and didn’t use the proper flash settings, the Lighten brush can fix that a bit. If you’ve taken a photo with bright overhead or natural lighting, which resulted in a washed-out look, you can darken the area to make it less so.

A combination of lightening and darkening strokes were used to make heavy shadows less obvious.
A combination of lightening and darkening strokes were used to make heavy shadows less obvious.

These effects can be applied to the entire photo, or you can brush certain spots to lighten or darken them up. Once the brush strokes are applied, you can change just how dark or light you’d like them to appear by using your Gear options, or you can blend them together.

Sharpen and Soften

Finally, there's the Sharpen and Soften brushes. The Sharpen brush increases clarity in a photo by strengthening hard edges to give your photo a crisp finish. The Soften brush is used to blur and soften edges, such as the area surrounding the subject of your photo, which will place more focus on the subject. With both the Sharpen and Soften brushes, I like using the Detect Edges tool to help me apply brush strokes in the right places—tap the icon next to the Erase tool to enable it.

Sharpen is the pointed paintbrush. To use it, first set your sharpness strength by tapping the Gear icon, then select Low, Medium, or High. If you’d like to sharpen the whole image, tap Sharpen Entire Image; if you’re only sharpening a few spots, tap the photo to close the Gear tab, then paint the areas you want to patch up.

Some twigs have been sharpened to show texture.
Some twigs have been sharpened to show texture.

The Soften brush is the soft sponge brush on the far right, and the last one in the sequence. As with the Sharpen brush, your first step is to set the softness strength by tapping the Gear icon and selecting Low, Medium, or High. While you can apply the brush to the entire photo, doing so will result in an overall blurry finish. Instead, this tool should be used to soften certain spots to draw focus to other areas of the photo. Brush those spots across the touch screen, and remember—you can turn the Show Brush Stroked feature off or on to keep track of where you’ve already painted.

Combine with other iPhoto tools

Once you've used one brush effect with a photo, try playing around with another. You can use any combination of these brush tools while editing a photo—you'll definitely find images that need a few tweaks and enhancements with different brushes. Make basic edits first (like crop, straighten, or Auto-Enhance), then use your brushes to really make your photos shine.

When you're finished, tap the Edit button on the top right to get rid of the toolbar and go back into Viewing mode, where you can show off your work.

Wondering what your other iPhoto for iOS features do? Stay tuned for future how-to articles that will cover specific editing features, such as the Colors and Effects tools, in more depth.

This story, "How to use Brushes in iPhoto for iOS" was originally published by Macworld.

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