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Beware iPhoto’s Magic Enhance

iPhoto's "Enhance" just plain sucks. So much so, I'm not sure why it's even there - a great stage demo, perhaps? I realize it's intended to be a one-click solution for those who don't know enough to adjust things manually, but it doesn't even seem to be good at that. It destroys pictures more than it helps them.

Here's an example. I realize it may not be representative, but in my experience, the results seen here are pretty common:

Photo Bad Shadow Blowup

Shadow detail? Nah, no need for that! The originals were a bit washed out, as my Rebel XT seems to shoot washed out pictures. That's "A Good Thing™" as it prevents blowouts and blackouts - loss of detail in highlights and shadows - because you adjust things in in post-processing.

iPhoto's "Enhance" button, on the other hand, isn't "A Good Thing™" as it routinely destroys pictures. Yes, in the comparison below, the after photo has a bit more "pop" and contrast, but it's phony. Please, people, spend sixty seconds (or, at most, three minutes) with iPhoto's sliders. You'll get a picture ten times better than just clicking "Enhance."

Carey On Bench Comparison

Until Camera Raw 2.5 (or later!) comes out with support for my Canon Digital Rebel XT, and while I'm still learning, I'm just shooting in JPEG and storing some pictures in iPhoto. I tweak in iPhoto too, using the minimalist set of sliders and whatnot.

When Camera Raw supports my XT, I'll shoot in RAW + JPEG mode and probably work almost exclusively with the RAW files. I am not sure how my workflow will go at that point, but it's safe to say it won't include iPhoto (except to store JPEGs of my finished work), and it sure as hell won't involve "Enhance."

7 Responses to "Beware iPhoto’s Magic Enhance"

  1. It's funny, I noticed that yesterday. I would click "Enhance", just to see what it did, and remark "what?!". It completely butchers almost all pictures, especially where the colour temperature appears to be wrong.

  2. I totally agree, but:

    It bears noticing that such features in every other program suck as well. Photoshop Elements has three one-clicks and I've found all of them to destroy my images. Same thing with Picasa (even 2.0) and Microsoft PictureIt on the PC.

    So while this does indeed suck, it's not like Apple is alone in this amongst the consumer image editing crowd.

  3. Rarely do I ever use Enhance to "Enhance" my photos. On occasion, depending on the photo, I use Enhance and I get the precise look I was going for. Of course, it really depends on the subject and the mood I'm trying to convey in the photo, but there just sometimes I don't want a lot of detail.

    That said, Enhance is a disappointment in any photo editing program. This type of feature assumes every photo is the same and gives a one-size-fits-all approach to them.

  4. I like the color contrast on Velvia-50 photo film. It's not particularly accurate -- a crude way to describe it is a little cartoony with slightly exaggerated colors. Hopefully my opinion of defending inaccuracy isn't too ridiculous.. But the slight exaggeration makes for better enlargements to hang on the wall.

  5. I believe the reason the auto enhance tools frequently "butcher" photo images is that they simply adjust the white point and black point for each color channel without maintaining color balance. They essentially make the lightest point white and the darkest point black. For images that are washed out, very low contrast, or skewed heavily towards the darker or lighter side, the adjustments are dramatic and oftentimes inappropriate.

    You may want to examine the histograms of your Rebel XT's RAW files to make sure you're not too far from the endpoints. While you may be preserving highlight and deep shadow details, you may be sacrificing a great deal of potential color information throughout the image, forcing the imaging software to interpolate far more than it needs to.

    Just my 2¢.

  6. Nothing is all good or all bad.

    You overlook the fact that the original images you took are merely a shadow of the actual scene you photographed. The colors are not particularly "accurate", no camera can really capture nature. Enhance brightens blues and greens well, does a pretty bad job with yellows, and generally makes skin tones "healthier" if not particularly realistic. The young woman's face in your sample looks washed-out, pale in the un-enhanced, she looks much better in the enhanced.

    I find enhance useful for processing large batches of vacation snapshots taken with a low-end camera. Then I un-enhance the truly good photos and manually work them using the sliders.

  7. Oh my! How precious. In each case the enhanced version is greatly improved over the original. If you prefer to spend hours fine tuning your photos, good on you. But the iPhoto enhance function does just as its name suggests: it enhances. And for the rest of us, bravo!