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All about Apple Photos

The latest avatar of this app, on both Mac and iOS, does more than ever before. Here’s how it aims to take care of all your imaging needs going forward.

More than three years ago, the 8th update to iOS came out with significant changes, one of which was marking the end of iPhoto and bringing with it Apple’s new photo management application called, well, Photos. Apple always like to keep it simple, so no surprises there. What followed this was the end of iPhoto on OS X too a year later. Apple also shut down Aperture, its photo editing software, making Photos the primary photo organizing and editing software on the platform.

So let’s take a closer look at the features Photos has to offer and how it ties into the cohesive Apple Ecosystem.

Apple photos

Photos: What does it do exactly?

Well, Photos is the new default photo viewing, organizing and editing application across all Apple devices, be it iPhone, iPad, Mac or even Apple TV. It is what you would use to take a look at all your photos, sync them across devices, organise them into albums, create short videos or do basic editing.

Mind you, Photos isn’t a photo editing software and hence cannot compete with a fully-fledged photo or video editors like Adobe Photoshop or AfterEffects, but it has enough features to take care of your basic editing needs, with more functionalities slated to be added to it with the upcoming updates.

Both the iOS and macOS applications are very much alike. The iOS application’s home screen is divided into 4 tabs, namely, Photos, Shared, Albums and Memories. Memories uses various algorithms to make ‘memories’, which are a collection of photos and videos selected from your pictures and are related by date, places or people. The desktop app features another tab, dubbed ‘the ‘Projects’ that lets you create photo books, greeting cards, calendars and prints.

But to fully experience the Photos app in all its glory, you need to set up the iCloud Photo Library feature. Once you do that, your photo library is synced across all your Apple devices, automatically syncing every photo and video you take to your iCloud account. And this is where the beauty of the apple ecosystem is highlighted, especially if you are an apple fanboy and have everything apple.

Imagine this: You took some amazing photos on your recent solo backpacking trip to Iceland with your iPhone 7 and you were about to show them to your friends who came over for dinner, but your phone just ran out of charge. No worries. Plug it in charging, pick up your iPad mini, open the Photos app on it and voila, your photo library is there with each photo in the exact quality you took from your phone. Once they leave, you open your MacBook Pro, fire up the Photos App which is also synced with your iCloud account and you can access all the photos directly there. You sort through them, editing a few of them and directly uploading the photos you selected to your social media accounts from within the application. No need to plug in your iPhone or sync your albums across multiple devices every time you want to access a photo somewhere else.

Apple TV
You can sync your photo library to your iCloud account and can access it from
anywhere including your Apple TV

Some features of Apple Photos are:

  • iPhones have been known to have amazing camera quality. This statement is even more true with the last generation of the device. The iPhone 7 features a 12 MP camera while its elder brother, the iPhone 7 Plus packs two 12 MP cameras, one wide angle while the other a telephoto lens. Without getting into further details (well, because it will end up being another chapter in itself) it’s safe to say that these two devices have one of the best smartphones cameras out there in the market right now. With iCloud Photo Library, every photo/ video you take is stored in the original format and resolution. What’s more is that if you make some edit in a particular photo on a device and don’t like it, you can download the original and undo the changes. One frequent problem iPhone users face, is that all these amazing photos, HD videos and time-lapses you shoot eat into your storage and your phone fills up fast. Photos takes care of that by automatically backing up the original high res photo/video to the cloud leaving behind a lighter copy of the photo on your device.
  • Organizing photos by places and faces: You can organize all your photos into albums, adding custom description and keywords to each photo or album (only through the desktop version though) which you can later use to search through them across all devices. The photos are also automatically geotagged based on where they were taken and you can view them on a map. Photos also did a nice job of identifying faces in photos and tagging them, though mind you this is a resource-intensive task.
  • Editing images and extensions: Photos comes with the standard set of editing tools that you’d have come to expect from any image editing app on your phone. It has various filters, red-eye removal, crop/rotate, and auto-enhancement features. You can also trim video clips, adjust slow-motion section of the videos and save the edited video as a separate clip on your device. The desktop version of the application has some more tools to offer that let you sharpen, adjust white balance and retouch the image. There a number of extensions, both by Apple and third parties, that you can plug in to increase the functionality of the Photos app. Extensions are available for both iPhone and Mac. Extensions will make your Photos a more powerful editing tool and are worth looking into. All changes you make to your photos are non-destructive meaning that you can revert back to the original anytime you want.
Apple photos
There are a number of extensions available that increase the editing capabilities of Photos on MacOS

How much iCloud storage is enough?

Since Photos is tightly integrated with iCloud, it is important to talk about storage requirements. You get 5 GB of free iCloud storage with every Apple account and that runs out faster than you think. And once you start using it with the Photos app, a weekend trip with your friends filled with a couple of intense selfie session is enough alone to fill up that 5 GB. We exaggerate but you get the picture. So what do you do?

Though not as cheap as some of its competitors, iCloud storage has become quite affordable, especially since Apple revised the pricing two years ago. About 50 GB of space costs you ₹75 per month, 200 GB for ₹219 per month and 2TB for ₹749 per month. If you are a photo enthusiast and serious about keeping the backup, the 200GB plan should do

Also, there is something called the My Photo Stream, which uploads your most recent 1000 photos to the cloud, and holds them for 30 days. This isn’t a part of your regular iCloud account.

What if you want to opt out of the ecosystem. What’s the competition?

Overall, Apple Photos is a good application designed to satisfy most of the imaging-related needs of an Apple device user. But there would still be users for whom this isn’t enough.

Maybe the iCloud storage isn’t enough for you or you need more advanced tools, there are a number of reasons which can make you look for alternatives. And if you are looking for one, you don’t have to look further away than Google’s imaging application. So let’s take a look at what makes Google Photos a worthy competitor.

  • You can back up an unlimited number of photos using Google Photos. Yes, unlimited. Though there’s a little catch – the maximum size of a photo can be 16 MP and videos recorded at a maximum of 1080p, which should be enough for most people. But if it isn’t you can always backup the original photo to your Google Drive storage space which is still cheaper than iCloud.
  • Google Photos come with standard editing features that let you edit the brightness, Contrast, Shadows and colours, and filters. Though Apple Photos comes packed with more editing features, especially the macOS version
  • The search giant has something called Smart Search in their photos application, which lets you search through your photos quickly based on objects, people, times etc. Apple is working towards making its search better and is slated to come up with some new features in the upcoming iOS 11 and Mac OS High Sierra.
Apple photos
Google drive (above) and iCloud offer storage space at an almost a similar price

What the future holds?

Last year, we saw a bunch of updates from Apple in the form of iOS 11, which brought a number of changes to Photos as well.

  • The thumbnail of Live Photos became editable with the option of trimming live photos available too. New effects like Bounce and Loop are were added which made Live Photos like GIFs. Also, GIFs can now be viewed in the Photos library, a feature that has been missing for quite some time. Even long exposure mode was added.
  • There are more types of Memories, including categories like Weddings, birthdays, pets etc and scanning is faster and more efficient. Also, there is also an optimised portrait view for the Memories videos you create.
  • Apple has been working on its compression algorithm and now claims that you will be able to store twice as many photos on your device with iOS 11. A welcome update for sure.
  • The macOS High Sierra version of Photos comes with a better machine learning algorithm at its heart that has increased its search capabilities.
  • There will be more extensions that add more editing tools to Photos increasing its photo editing capabilities. Also, there will be new tools which include levels, curves, sharpness and noise added to Photos.

This article was first published in the September 2017 issue of Fast Track on Digit magazine. To read Digit’s articles first, subscribe here or download the Digit app for Android and iOS. You could also buy Digit’s previous issues here.

Purusharth Sharma

Purusharth Sharma