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.

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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.)

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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.

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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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Photo: Dahlias

My partner is an avid gardener, and we have hundreds of flowers of many kinds. As part of my recent office makeover, I have a space where I have decided that I will experiment with flower arrangement, and photograph some of my creations. While this isn’t properly ikebana, I have been perusing a book on that Japanese art to get some inspiration. Here’s an example.

Link to full-size version.

See more of my photos, and follow me on Instagram.

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.

The Composition of Michael Kenna’s Photographs: Centering

Michael Kenna is one of the most important living black and white landscape photographers. With a career stretching more than 45 years, his work has been exposed in hundreds of exhibitions, and, to his count, he has published 72 books, with more in the works.

I recently had an opportunity to meet Michael Kenna and interview him for the PhotoActive podcast, just before the opening of a 45-Year Retrospective Exhibition at Bosham Gallery, on the southern coast of England. One thing I took away from our discussion – both during the interview and afterwards – was the carefully refined composition of his photos. Thinking about this, and looking over his work in the dozen books I own, I’ve isolated a number of types of composition in Kenna’s photos.

In my first article, I looked at leading lines and how they draw the viewer’s eye into a photo and lead it to a point, often in the distance. In this article, I’m going to look at centering, the way Kenna sometimes places objects dead center in his frame. Since all his photos – at least since the mid-1980s – are square, centering has an important role is his composition.

When Michael Kenna started shooting with Hasselblad cameras, he appreciated the square format because “There’s a predictability about the 35mm format,” Kenna told me. “You had to make choices right from the beginning. Should it be vertical, should it be horizontal? Things seemed to be squashed in somehow. The 2 1/4 – I got it first of all with a waist-level viewfinder so everything was back to front – it was a completely different format for me, and it made me look more abstractedly at the landscape. It just becomes forms, lines, shapes, and densities…”

The square format lends itself to centering subjects, but photos would be boring if all subjects were centered. Kenna uses this technique sparingly, but when he does use it, the effect can be quite arresting.

Take, for example, this photo Chrysler Building, Study 3, New York, New York, USA 2006.

Chrysler building study 3 new york new york usa 2006

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The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 45: Photo Editing Applications

Photoactive 400Maybe you’ve used Apple Photos and are looking for more editing features, or perhaps you’re in the Lightroom ecosystem and weary of subscription pricing. In this episode, Kirk and Jeff chat about other photo editing applications you may not be aware of.

Listen to PhotoActive, Episode 45: Photo Editing Applications.

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 Composition of Michael Kenna’s Photographs: Leading Lines

Michael Kenna is one of the most important living black and white landscape photographers. With a career stretching more than 45 years, his work has been exposed in hundreds of exhibitions, and, to his count, he has published 72 books, with more in the works.

I recently had an opportunity to meet Michael Kenna and interview him for the PhotoActive podcast, just before the opening of a 45-Year Retrospective Exhibition at Bosham Gallery, on the southern coast of England. One thing I took away from our discussion – both during the interview and afterwards – was the carefully refined composition of his photos. Thinking about this, and looking over his work in the dozen books I own, I’ve isolated a number of types of composition in Kenna’s photos.

In this article, I will discuss Michael Kenna’s use of leading lines. This is one of his primary compositional elements, and looking at a collection of his work, even the one in this exhibition (which contained about 40 photos), it’s clear how he uses this technique. I don’t need to go very far to find examples, and, to discuss leading lines, I’ve decided to limit myself to the photos that were in this exhibition, though there are plenty of other examples throughout his work.

Leading lines are a common element of composition. The eye is drawn by the lines which generally stretch from the foreground to the distance. These lines may be straight, crooked, or angled, and light can affect how they are perceived. There is something satisfying about leading lines, as they give the viewer a path to follow in an image. Sometimes, lines lead the viewer to a main subject; other times, which is common in Kenna’s photos, they lead into the distance, often into a vanishing point of nothingness. Leading lines don’t always have to be straight lines, and can sometimes be implied by elements of a photo.

Here’s a photo from the exhibition: Winding Wall, Mont St. Michel, France 2004.

Winding wall mont st michel france 2004

This is a very simple image, but it represents the most typical use of leading lines in Kenna’s photography. Here’s what he said to me about the above photo:

"I think with many of my images I have pathways, I have directions, I have tunnels of trees… I have boardwalks that go out because I’m creating something of a stage for the viewer to go onto and to be on their own, to be solitary. Naturally, in a black and white photograph, you go from dark to light, it’s the way we see. So you come in here [bottom right] and you wander along and you go out here [top left]. And this is the lightest part; it’s not by coincidence. Everything guides you to that corner and out, into a place […] we don’t know what’s there. And I love that, because there’s a question mark. We are naturally inquisitive animals and we want to see what’s behind there. It’s that enigma, that illusion, that use of our own creative imagination that’s very important to me."

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The PhotoActive Podcast, Episode 44: Minimalist Photographer Michael Kenna

Photoactive 400Michael Kenna has been photographing for 45 years, and is well known for his minimalist, black-and-white landscape photos. Kirk took a trip down to Bosham, on the southern coast of England, to see a 45-year retrospective exhibit of his work, and to talk with Michael Kenna about his photography.

Listen to PhotoActive, Episode 44: Minimalist Photographer Michael Kenna.

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.