Procrastinate no more. Apple's new Photos app for Mac computers, available Wednesday as a free software update, makes it easy to organize and edit your pictures. The app, which replaces iPhoto, bundles professional-level tools such as granular colour correction into one free consumer package.
Like other free apps such as Google's Picasa, Photos is good for auto-enhancing, cropping and other basic touches such as lightening underexposed shots. But it goes further by also including some of the advanced fine-tuning you'd find in a tool like Adobe Lightroom, which costs $149.
If you already use Photos on your iPhone or iPad, you'll see many similarities. Images are organized automatically, partly using location information embedded in the pictures. You can also view photos on a map. The Mac's app goes further in using face-detection technology to group photos by the people in them.
Click on any photo to begin editing. The Enhance button alone will improve many shots. The Adjust tool enhances lighting, colour and other attributes separately. Each attribute has an auto button along with a slider you can adjust. Click an arrow to unveil the advanced controls.
I like to adjust something called white balance to compensate for, say, the yellowish glow of indoor lighting. Cameras do this automatically, but not always correctly. In pictures taken on a recent trip, a friend's baby looked too blue, and a waterfall looked too yellow. Photos fixed those quickly, just by hitting "auto." Lightroom usually requires more steps to correct similar issues.
Photos has a lot of cropping options, though my favourite is the auto button. It straightens photos based on the horizon, among other features. My only complaint is it takes a few extra steps to make sure the cropped image retains the original's dimensions. I hope a future update will let me set that as the default.
With a new iCloud Photo Library online-storage service, all your mobile photos will sync to the Mac app, along with your iPhoto albums. You can import additional photos, including those in cameras' proprietary RAW formats, which many pros prefer using. All images are stored online in high resolution, whether they were taken on an iPhone or imported from another camera. Your entire library is then accessible on all your devices, and any edits you make will sync.
By storing full-resolution images online, Photos can free up space on your Mac or mobile device by substituting a lower-quality version. You can still get the original whenever you need it, but it's not taking up room if you don't. Photos figures all that out for you and takes into account how much space you have.
Any photo you delete disappears from all your devices simultaneously, but don't fear, you have about a month to retrieve it from the cloud.
HOW TO GET THE APP
Check the Mac's App Store for version 10.10.3 of the Mac system. Turn on iCloud Photo Library on your Mac and mobile devices when you see the prompts. You may need to buy more iCloud storage through Apple, as the 5 free gigabytes only translates to roughly 3,000 iPhone photos, not to mention video or larger files from stand-alone cameras.