Pixelmator Pro Brings Powerful Editing Tools to Apple’s Photos App

You have long been able to use external photo editors with Apple Photos, but the release yesterday of Pixelmator Pro has made Apple Photos a much more powerful photo editing tool. When you open a photo in other external photo editors via Photos, make changes to the photo, then the finished photo is saved back to your Photos library. If you want to go back and tweak your changes – say you want to adjust your exposure a bit more, or change the saturation – you either work on the edited photo or you start over from your original.


With the new Pixelmator Pro, your edit history is saved, and when you re-open a photo you edited with it as an external editor, you can go back and tweak any of the adjustments you have made. This is a game-changer for Apple Photos, and it now provides the best of both worlds: simple photo library management, including in the cloud, and powerful editing capabilities. (To access a photo editing extension, select a photo and press Return to open it in Edit mode, then click the little circle with ellipsis icon and choose Pixelmator Pro.)


Pixelmator Pro’s ML Enhance (ML for machine learning) is an interesting tool that can automatically optimize your photos. Similar to clicking the magic wand in Apple Photos, or other automatic adjustments in various photo editing apps, I find that it is sometimes a bit heavy handed, but for many people, this is an excellent way to enhance photos. I found it especially good at correcting the white balance and skin tone in this photo, which I shot with my iPhone the other day.


However, I wish Pixelmator Pro had automatic adjustment options for individual adjustments. For example, in Apple Photos, I can click Auto buttons for Light, Color, Black & White, White Balance, and more. Each group of tools has an Auto button. With Pixelmator Pro, there are “ML” buttons for some tools – the ones that display by default – but not all. For example, I recently learned how the Curves tool in Apple Photos can help improve the contrast and dynamic range in my photos; I now often use the Auto button to see how this looks. In Pixelmator Pro, there is no such option for Curves, Levels, or even Black & White.

While Pixelmator Pro’s auto-adjustments are useful, the real power comes in the wide range of editing tools available. You need to take some time to explore the interface.

Pixelmator3In the photos above, I’m in the Color Adjustments section, which is where you will probably make most edits to your photos. By default, only a few adjustments are displayed, but if you click Add at the top right, you discover a menu with more than 15 tools. And when in the Add Effects tool, clicking Add displays ten menus with dozens of options (including vignette, which is one I use often, though subtly).

If, like me, you appreciate Apple Photos as a way of managing your photo library, and making it available across devices, but still want more powerful photo editing, then Pixelmator Pro used as an extension is a great addition to this app. The ability to return to your photos and adjust your edits is powerful, and I would expect other photo editing tools to try to emulate this as well.

For more on photo editing apps for Mac – Pixelmator Pro, Luminar, Affinity Photo, RAW Power, Capture One, and others, check out this episode of the PhotoActive podcast, where my co-host Jeff Carlson and I discuss the many options available. I wish this version of Pixelmator Pro had been available when we recorded the episode; our discussion would have been quite different.

The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 47: Jeff Becomes an Event Photographer

Photoactive 400Recently, Jeff was the event photographer for the CreativePro Week 2019 conference in Seattle, a task that requires a different approach to making photos. You’ve probably been asked to shoot some type of event, so we talk a little about specific gear to deal with low-light situations and catching candid shots in a crowded setting.

Listen to PhotoActive, Episode 47: Jeff Becomes an Event Photographer.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

The Semiotics of Black and White Photographs

"The black and white image was, in some essential way, photography’s defining feature – that was where its power lay and colour diminished its artfulness: paradoxically, monochrome – because it was so evidently unnatural – was what made a photograph work best." William Boyd: Sweet Caress: The Many Lives of Amory Clay

All photographs are simulacra, imitations of a reality that is filtered by a camera’s film or sensor to capture light and convert it to lines, shapes, and colors. Different film stocks and different cameras present the same reality in different ways. (Not to mention choices made by a photographer in post processing.) People generally don’t think about this, ascribing to photographs – at the ones that don’t look "doctored" – a certain level of realism.

As photographers increasingly use digital filters and presets to alter their photos, these images stray further and further from the reality that the camera captures. Perhaps a filter applies a vignette, a bit of texture, and washes out the colors, to suggest an old-fashioned image. Or a filter might increase or decrease saturation, sometimes to create a false ideal of accurate skin tones (this is what Kodachrome was designed for, at least for white people). Other filters are used to match current social media fads, rather than to enhance images in any particular way.

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The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 46: Pet Photography with Norah Levine

Photoactive 400When you think of portrait photography, do you envision tails and fur? This week, we talk to Norah Levine about her book Pet Photography: The Secrets to Creating Authentic Pet Portraits, and how to take great photos of four-legged (or winged) family members.

Listen to PhotoActive, Episode 46: Pet Photography with Norah Levine.

Find out more, and subscribe to the podcast, at the PhotoActive website. You can follow The Next Track on Twitter at @PhotoActiveCast to keep up to date with new episodes, and join our Facebook group to chat with other listeners and participate in photo challenges and more.

Photo Book Review: Bill Brandt, Shadow & Light

BrandtBill Brandt was born in Germany, and moved to England when he was around 30 years old. He began documenting British people, at a time when this wasn’t a common way to make photographs, and published two books in the 1930s. He then went on to shoot photos for popular magazines, and became one of the greatest British photographers.

This book, Bill Brandt: Shadow & Light (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) is a retrospective of his work.

Read the rest of the review on my photo website.

Photo Book Review: The Open Road, Photography & the American Road Trip

Open road coverWhen I buy a photo book, I tend to be more interested in monographs than thematic books. But I’ve always been interested in the road trip, particularly in the United States, where this idea is almost as iconic as the European “grand tour” of the 19th century. People have set out on cross-country trips since the car became commonplace, sometimes to move to a new city for a new job, and sometimes for pleasure.

Many photographers have done this too, as a way of looking for a way to portray the multiple faces of the United States, and its contradictions. This book, The Open Road, published by the Aperture Foundation (Amazon.com, Amazon UK), looks at road trips by 18 photographers, from Robert Frank in the 1950s to contemporary photographers.

In 336 pages, with 248 color and duotone images, this book paints a picture of the United States, as seen through the eyes of a number of great photographers. It makes no attempt to be exhaustive, but focuses on a number of photographers who have made iconic photos in this genre. Each photographer has their own chapter, and the chapters run chronologically, from Robert Frank’s 1955-1956 photos through the 2005-2008 photos of Taiyo Onorato & Nico Krebs.

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Photo Book Review: Elliot Erwitt’s Paris & New York

New york paris box set elliott erwitt teneuesWhile Elliot Erwitt was technically not a street photographer, the black and white photos in this book fit comfortably in this genre. He shot for advertising, and was a Magnum photographer, shooting some of the most famous people in the world, and working for some of the major magazines, such as Collier’s, Look, Life, and others.

This two-book slipcased box set combines two of his books, Elliot Erwitt’s Paris and Elliot Erwitt’s New York. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) With photos from as early as the 1940s and as late as the 21st century, each book offers a wide palette of subjects that are all rooted in their cities. His Parisian photos all have the feel of the classic French style of street photography, but with Erwitt’s often quirky subjects and composition (and lots of dogs).


The New York photos tend to be from the 1950s and 1960s, with some older and newer photos, and feature a number of photos of celebrities, such as Arthur Miller, Jack Kerouac, Nelson Algren, Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, and more. But there are also some wonderful street shots, the type that anyone working in this genre would love to catch.

New york

There is a remarkable consistency of tone throughout these photos. If it were not for the graininess of some of the older photos, and the way the people dress and the cars they drive, you would be hard pressed to date many of them. A master of black and white, and of spontaneous photography, Erwitt should be an inspiration to anyone interested in black and white or in street photography.

And the Paris book contains what may be the best street photograph ever, which you can see at the top of this article.