A Look at New Features in Apple Photos for High Sierra

Apple’s macOS High Sierra is due out in a couple of months, and beta versions, both to the public and for developers, have been circulating for a while. We’re up to the third version of this beta software, and we can now see many of the more obvious improvements in the operating system, and in specific apps.

Photos sidebarPhotos is one app that is getting an overhaul. The sidebar that lets you browse your library has been updated to include sections, as in iTunes:

The Library section includes Photos, Memories, Favorites, People, Places, Imports, and Recently Deleted.

The Shared section shows Activity and Shared Albums; a top-level Shared Albums folder contains all the albums you have shared.

The Albums section contains two top-level folders:

  • Media Types, which houses everything other than regular folders, such as Videos, Selfies, Live Photos, and more.
  • My Albums, which includes all the albums you’ve created, though the All Photos album is no longer present; it now shows at the top of the sidebar under Library.

Finally, a Projects section displays with a My Projects folder, which contains any card, book, calendar, or print projects you may be working on.

The more visible changes in the Photos app are apparent when you edit a photo. The interface has been rearranged, with three tabs at the top of the window: Adjust, for editing tools, Filters, to apply preset filters, and Crop, to trim your photos. You can access these three tabs quickly with keyboard shortcuts: Command-1, Command-2, and Command-3.

Here’s the Adjust interface:

You can see that some of the tools have been moved to the toolbar: the Rotate button and the Auto Enhance button are near the right side of the toolbar. Other buttons have been moved around, and the Adjust interface displays all the various tools with both icons and names. You can click disclosure triangles next to each one to display their options. This version of Photos also adds two new adjustment tools: Curves and Selective Color.

One tool that has been demoted is the Histogram. Most Photos users don’t use this tool, and it is no longer visible by default in the Adjust tools, but you can display it by choosing View > Show Histogram.

A useful tool is the Before/After button at the left of the toolbar. Click this to show your photo without any adjustments, so you can see if your tweaks really make for a better image. This feature exists in the current version of Photos, but without a button: you need to know that by pressing the M key, you’ll be able to toggle back to your original.

Photos for High Sierra also extends the use of external editing tools, which you have been able to access from the … button for a while. While some editing tools will still run as extensions via that button, you can also right-click on a photo and choose Edit With, then select an app, to edit it directly in that app’s window, rather than in a modified Photos window. Edits you make in that external app are saved to your Photos library, and you can, of course, revert to your original photo at any time. This means you can use apps that haven’t hooked into the Extensions system – such as Photoshop – directly on photos in your library.

If you’re a casual photo shooter or a more serious shutterbug, you’ll find that Photos for High Sierra improves a lot of the app’s features and interface. If you don’t work on your photos much, you may be a bit overwhelmed by the new Edit interface, especially since you cannot hide the tools that you don’t use as you can in the current version of Photos. I would like to see that option returned to the app; many users never use Levels, Curves, and some of the other tools, and it would be practical if they weren’t visible.

These changes show that Apple is trying to bring Photos up a notch toward what Aperture used to be, while retaining the simplicity of the app for users who don’t need those extended features. Adding full access to all third-party editing tools is a big step up for those who want to store their files in Photos – notably to take advantage of iCloud Photo Library – but also use more powerful tools to edit their photos.