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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

13 Features of iOS 13: Photos

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

The new Photos interface includes Months, Days, and All Photos views.

With iOS 13, the Photos app gets a major interface update, including a whole bunch of editing tools. I’ve been spending a lot of time with Photos for iOS this summer as part of the work for doing a new edition of Take Control of Photos (coming soon!). Dan has covered the video features, but let me tackle the changes to the app as a whole.

The main focus of the Photos interface is the Photos section, which is now populated by default with a curated selection of your photos. You’ll find a set of tabs that let you choose whether to view Years, Months, Days, or All Photos.

The Years view includes images from this time in previous years, and plays videos or Live Photos.

In the Years view, square buttons depict single years in your library, with video, Live Photo, or series of still images selected from the same time of year as the present day. In the summer, you’ll see lots of beaches. In the fall, it’s kids going back to school. Right now it’s all the sample images I have taken for my iPhone reviews the last few years.

In the Months view there are square buttons in a couple of sizes, segmented by Photos in an attempt to detect discrete events based on time and location. An event might just be a single day at home, or it might be a weeklong trip to Europe. Apple uses a massive database of locations and events to make better labels when it can—images I took at a concert were labeled with the artist’s name, detected from the location and time (see the leftmost image at the top of this story)! Not every event is visible in Month view—instead, the Photos algorithms make guesses about the four or five most relevant events from each month.

The Days view provides curated selection of photos and videos, generally separated by day—though sometimes multiple days are pushed together when you didn’t take many photos. In this view you aren’t seeing all your photos (that’s limited to the All Photos view), nor are you seeing all of the photos that are displayed, since they’re cropped to fit in a squares-and-rectangles grid. Photos is removing similar photos and screen shots and pushing to the front the images that its algorithm suggests are the very best photos. You can select and edit photos from this view. If you tap on a photo, it will open full screen and you’ll see all the usual editing tools. You can even swipe between photos in that full-screen view, but you won’t be swiping to the next photo in your library—just the next photo that made the cut to be displayed in the collection.

On the iPad, tap the Aspect button to change from a cropped square view of photos to showing an uncropped thumbnail.

Then there’s the classic Photos view, now called All Photos, which displays every single item in your library. On the iPad, you can choose whether you want to see them in their proper aspect ratio or cropped into squares by tapping the Aspect/Square button. As with the Days view, from here you can tap or double-click on an item to open it full screen and get access to editing mode.

With the introduction of the iPhone 11 series, there’s the addition of a new Portrait Mode effect: High-Key Light Mono. You can use this on older devices in Portrait Mode, too: the effect is similar to Stage Light Mono, but with a white background.

Like video editing, Photo editing has come a long way in iOS 13. The overall editing interface is quite different than it was before, though the controls themselves vary depending on your device and its orientation. In Adjust mode, you’ll find 16 controls displayed as icons inside circles either on the right side of the screen (iPads and iPhones held horizontally) or at the bottom (iPhones held vertically).

You can swipe to move between the different controls, and then use the slider next to it to make adjustments. Adjustments are made on a scale of 0 to 100 or -100 to 100, and that range is reflected by filling in a portion of the circle that surrounds the control icon. Every adjustment is non-destructive—the circle containing the icon for each control functions as a toggle. Tap it and that adjustment will be turned off. Tap again, and it’s back on.

Here are the new adjustments added in iOS 13:

  • Vibrance: Adjusts the contrast between similar colors.
  • Warmth: Increases or decreases the oranges and blues in your image, making it feel warmer (100) or cooler (-100).
  • Tint: Increases or decreases the red and green in your image.
  • Sharpness: Make edges crisper and better defined.
  • Vignette: Adds an old-school vignetting effect, darkening the edges of the image. Vignetting is an effect of the physics of camera optics, something that can happen in all photography—and it turns out that this effect can be aesthetically pleasing. So if your photos didn’t get vignetted, you can fake it with this adjustment.
  • Definition: Add contour and shape to images by bringing out definition in the midtones and adding contrast.
  • Noise Reduction: Remove the amount of visible noise in images by applying a smoothing algorithm.

All the black-and-white editing adjustments in prior versions of iOS have been removed. However, don’t despair: You can still make your photos black and white by adding one of the three monochrome filters, Noir, Silvertone, and Mono, and then modifying the effect using the existing adjustment tools.

Finally, the search interface in Photos is improved. Previously, searching for more than one term was complicated. You had to search, then tap outside the search term, then enter another search term. Now you can just type multiple search terms and Photos figures out what you want, so I can type dog snow and I will instantly be shown the one picture of a dog in the snow that’s in my photo library.

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