How to Use the Standard iPhone Photo Editing Tools

Have you ever wondered how you can get the most from your iPhone shots simply using the standard iOS photo viewer on your device? As a beginner, are you confused by the plethora of photo editing apps available to download? I will walk you through the features already available on your phone which will make it easy for you to quickly turn a standard, bleak shot into a photo worth sharing!

I have spoken to numerous people, both those who are relatively tech savvy and those without a technological bone in their body. Many people don’t know that the photos they take on their phones can be easily edited within seconds of being taken.

Why bother editing a photo which looks fine as it is?

In short, the answer to this question is that like any work of art, photographs are never perfect and therefore, can always be improved. You would be hard pushed to find a professional photographer, using iPhone or DSLR, who’s image will go straight from camera to publication with no editing in between.

Editing can transfer focus to one section of the photograph, it can perfectly frame or compose it, enhance or reduce colours, improve texture/detail or simply brighten/darken sections of the image or the entire piece.

I have explained and simplified how these techniques can easily be applied whilst also jargon busting the photo editing features we have, literally, at our fingertips.

To walk you through this process, I have included a photo taken on my iPhone 5c, taken when I was lucky enough to spend a few days in New York City.


When you open up the photos folder on your iPhone home screen and choose the image you would like to edit, facing you will be four icons along the bottom of your screen, from left to right they enable you to share, favourite, edit or delete the selected photo.

You want to tap on the icon which looks like three horizontal lines to begin the process of editing.

You will then come to three more icons along the bottom of your screen, I will explain what these mean as we progress but to start with simply tap on the icon that looks like a dial and it will produce a drop down menu with three lines; Light, Colour and B&W.


From here you just need to click on the option you wish to edit and another drop down menu will appear with more detailed options

Tapping on any of these options will bring up a horizontal slider which you can move from side to side for the desired effect.

There is a slider which appears when you first click on each category and you can just play around with that but for a more calculated approach to your edits, I usually bypass this and tap the drop down icon instead of directly onto the category word itself.

I rarely use any of the light settings other than ‘highlights’ and ‘shadows’ as a more natural edit can be achieved with these two features although, I do sometimes like to use the ‘Black Point’ tool too.

For those readers completely new to photo editing, I will simplify what each tool does and each term means.

Exposure refers to the amount of light which hits the lens at the time the photo is taken. On more advanced cameras such as DSLRs you can manually or automatically change this before shooting but unfortunately this is not an option with your iPhone. The effect slider mimics having more or less light (not brightness)in your photo. One thing to be aware of here is that at either end of the exposure slider, your image can become too bleached or too dark.

Highlights are the brightest areas in a photo so increasing or decreasing these can draw attention to the part of the photo they are situated. I have found that this can create a more subtle brightening effect than when using the ‘exposure’ or ‘brightness’ tools but using it too much can cause an image to discoloured or bleached.

Shadows are the image’s darker areas. If the photograph has detail in its shadows or darker areas, you can play around with this slider and bring those details out without effecting the picture too much but if overused, the photo can become grainy.

Brightness, as the name suggests is how bright the photo is on the whole. Instead of focusing on it’s lighter or darker areas, this will increase or decrease the visibility in the entire picture.

Contrast is the range of difference between the highlights and the shadows or the lighter and darker areas of the photo. Changing this can also affect the focus point of the photograph but with too much use it can cause bleaching.

Black Point will take the darkest points of your photograph and make them darker or lighter. I almost never push the slider left (lightening the points) but I will occasionally darken if it brings focus to the correct part of the photo.

These sliders all do similar jobs but there are slight differences, uses and purposes for each.

Don’t be scared to have a play around, as with all of the tools available, you will have the option to manually reset them on the sliders or once changes are saved, if you just tap back onto the editing icon, you will be given the option to revert to original, this icon stands out in red so is easy to find!


There are less colour settings to play than for light

There aren’t many options available on the iPhone when it comes to editing colours but if used correctly, these sliders can be also have a positive impact on your photograph.

As with the light settings, I will now walk you through the colour editing tools on your phone, how to use them and what they mean.

I actually find the general colour slider more effective than using the individual tools on the drop down menu as it is easier to make colours look unnatural whilst using the individual settings here.

If you are feeling a little more adventurous, tap on the drop down menu on your phone, I have also explained the tools and effects available here;

Saturation in photography refers to the intensity of colour in a piece, you may also hear this referred to as ‘hue’. This slider is to be used carefully as an oversaturated photo can easily look too intense or a desaturated photograph can appear bleak, washed out or dull.

Contrast works with colour in the same way that it does with light. You will notice when playing with this slider that it will change how much the brighter colours in your photo will stand out from those less vivid. If the shot you are editing doesn’t have many intense colours in it, you won’t notice much difference when using this tool, even at opposite ends of the slider.

Cast is an overall colour which affects the whole photograph and if used correctly can add warmth to the picture although more often than not, you can obscure the entire piece. If you are familiar with instagram and ‘filters’, it can have a similar effect to one of these but if you aren’t familiar, I have further explained these in the following paragraphs.

B&W (Black and White)

Unless you specifically want a picture to be black and white, you won’t use these settings however it is useful to understand how these tools work and what the related terms mean.

Black and white photography can be really effective when used in the right context. It can also be great if you want a photo to look more artistic or moody and it can work particularly well when shooting buildings or people but I have often found it to be less effective with landscapes.

On the general B&W slider, you will notice that as soon as you tap on it, the whole image will turn black and white, don’t worry, if you didn’t want this to happen, just press ‘cancel’.

The middle point on this slider will give better brightness, making the whites stand out a little more and making the image look a bit softer but once you move it to either side, more emphasis will be shifted onto the darker areas in the photo and the image will sharpen and intensify.

Intensity in black and white photography literally refers to how intense the blacks are and how intense the whites are so when you use the slider, it will simply change the contrasts of each colour against each other.

Neutrals; playing with this slider, you will notice the dark areas get darker, the greys turn to blacks and the whites turn to greys or it will go the opposite way. This tool works similarly to the ‘shadows’ slider in the ‘Light’ category as it can be used to pick out a little more detail from the super dark spots in your photo.

Tone, also referred to as ‘value’, means the variation of lightness or darkness in a photo. Moving this slider left or right will, even in black and white photography, change the intensity of your photo. Moving the slider to the left will ‘grey up’ the whole picture but moving it to the right will make the whites tones lighter and the black tones darker, also expelling some detail. When used correctly, this is my favourite tool in this category.

Grain refers to the areas of a picture where, if the light isn’t quite right when taking the shot, little black dots will show up, usually caused by the exposure of a photo being wrong at the time of shooting. It is more common when using film photography but when it appears on an iPhone photo, it usually occurs when taken in a dark environment. Grain can also be used artistically and to add texture to a photo which is the purpose and reason for this slider to be here. You will notice that this slider starts out positioned to the left instead of sitting centrally and this is simply because, most photos do not benefit from having graininess. Often people will want to see clear, crisp shots.

Once you are happy with the light and colour in your photo, you can now crop and straighten it.

Crop and Straighten

You will sometimes find that you have a great shot but that it has been ruined by your finger covering a portion of the camera or there being something distracting in the corner of the picture, like a piece of trash on the floor. These are common problems that you may only notice having already taken the picture.

Don’t worry and don’t delete the picture, these things can all easily be cropped out on your iPhone within a matter of seconds (as long as they aren't covering the middle of the photo!).

Another use of cropping is to improve the composition of your shot. Any photographer or photography course will tell you that one of the most important notions in photography is the ‘rule of thirds’. Your phone can help you apply this notion. When you start cropping the image you will see a graph consisting of nine equal boxes appear over your photo, splitting the image into vertical and horizontal sections.

The idea of the rule of thirds is to place your subject at the point of the intersecting lines and in doing so, you will create a better composition to your picture, easy!

When taking a photo, you can also look out for this yourself and if your subject is just off, cropping it into place will be much easier.

To access these options, tap on the far left icon at the bottom of your screen

Once you have reached this point, you will be faced with the screen pictured above and you can manually or automatically straighten and/or crop your image.

Straightening your image can either be done by simply tapping on ‘auto’ (even if you intend to manually change this, I recommend tapping on ‘auto’ to start with). This is not always accurate though, so to alter it yourself, place your finger on the semi circle under the picture and like the sliders, move it until the image looks straight.

You can also use the graph (rule of thirds) for help with lining it up.

Rotating an image can be done by using the icon on the left hand side of your photo depicted as a square with an arrow over it. This is how you will change your picture from landscape to portrait or vice versa.

Cropping the image manually is done by placing your finger over the lines which now outline your photo and moving them inwards, cutting out the parts of the photo which you would like to remove. Remember the rule of thirds and line the photo up with the graph covering the photo and you should immediately see how this helps the composition.

You can also set the scale (size of your photo) yourself this way. A quicker way to do this is to use the icon on the right hand side of your photo which, when tapped will show a list of options which can be used to set the scale, as shown below.

Once set, all of these can be reverted to the original so just have a play and see which best suits your photograph!


A digital filter in photography is a pre-set edit of a photo which when chosen, will change the characteristics of the entire image.

If you have used Instagram, you will have likely used a filter before and they are no different to those on your iPhone. Filters can be accessed by choosing the middle icon at the bottom of your screen (the one with three circles).

You won’t find as many filters on your iPhone as you would on platforms such as Instagram but they are there!

As an example, I have chosen the Chrome filter to apply to this picture, but the same effect this gives you could be achieved by playing around with the settings manually.

You will find that some filters can be extremely subtle and some can be drastic but to apply them, all you have to do is swipe through the options and choose your favourite!

Start playing around with all of the tools, have fun and you will soon see that you can still produce great shots worth sharing from your phone!

My finished product, shot and edited exclusively on my iPhone 5c