How to straighten photos in iPhoto

How to straighten photos in iPhoto
Mac Tip #476, 02 March 2011

My friend Anne sometimes puts photos on her Facebook page. Recently one in particular caught my eye and I asked permission to write a Tip about it. The problem was, it just didn’t look quite right.

A holiday photo at the beach.

A holiday photo at the beach.

Does anything strike you as a little odd about the photo here? It’s a photo of the beach and sea, rocks and the horizon. Does it feel just somehow not quite right?

My friend, Anne, took this photo at Tauranga Bay on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. She gave me permission to publish it and write about it here.

What makes this photo seem a bit ‘off’ is that the horizon’s not horizontal — it slopes down to the right.

In the real world the horizon is always straight, flat, not dipping down at either end. Here’s a close up, with some lines drawn on it. The red line shows where the horizon should be, while the white line shows where the horizon actually is.

The crooked horizon, emphasised.

The crooked horizon, emphasised.

I don’t know how many times I’ve accidentally got a crooked horizon in my photos — more than I can count. But it’s easy to fix in iPhoto, and you should fix it for any photos you publish by emailing to friends, adding to Facebook, or whatever.

Here’s how to fix such crooked photos in iPhoto ’09.


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I used iPhoto ’09 for the Tip. Earlier or later versions may do things differently.

Edit the photo

iPhoto editing toolbar.

iPhoto editing toolbar.

Select the photo in iPhoto and click the Edit button on the Toolbar. The photo is isolated so others are hidden and the Toolbar changes to provide editing tools.

Resize the window if necessary

Resize the photo with the slider.

Resize the photo with the slider, or resize the window with the diagonal drag stripes.

You may not be able to see all of the photo, or it may be too small to easily see what you’re doing.

Either click the green button at top left of the window to zoom the window to fill the screen or drag the stripes at bottom right of the window to resize it how you like.

View the photo at a suitable size

Use the Navigation window.

Use the Navigation window.

Use the size slider at bottom right to view the photo itself larger or smaller.

Choose Thumbnails > Hide from the View menu to hide the strip of photos from across the top of the window, leaving more space for the photo you’re working with.

If you make the photo large enough that you can’t see the whole thing on screen a small floating Navigation window appears.

The Navigation window shows the entire photo, with the part you can see in the main window darker and the part you can’t see paler. Drag the darker box within the navigation window to view other parts of the full size photo.

Straighten the photo

Click on the Straighten button in the Toolbar. A grid of yellow lines appears over the photo. A slider appears at the bottom, possibly displaying a number of degrees of tilt.

Drag the photo angle slider until a horizontal or vertical line in the photo matches a yellow guideline. In my example photo it was around -2.9°.

Using the yellow gudielines to correct the horizon.

Using the yellow guidelines to correct the horizon.

You may find the yellow guidelines don’t appear close enough to a suitable line in the photo. You can’t move the yellow lines. But if you zoom the photo in so it’s bigger than the window you can move the dark area of the Navigation window around to line objects in the photo up with the yellow guides. In my example I was able to line the horizon up exactly against a yellow line.

When you’ve finished your adjustment click the Done button in the Toolbar. The photo again appears amongst the others in your photo library.

iPhoto has not made any destructive change to your photo. If you want to change the angle of rotation or make the photo crooked again you can simply edit the photo again.

It’s worth your while getting horizons straight, poles vertical or any other lines that ‘should’ be horizontal or vertical to be so. Otherwise your photos look ‘off’ somehow.

Of course, if you’re going for an artistic effect that’s another thing. But I know when I grab quick photos with my iPhone the chances are high the image will come out disturbingly crooked. It takes only a moment to fix them, and now you know how.

Please tell us in the Comments at the website about your crooked photos. And if you have a version of iPhoto later than ’09, please let us know if these instructions hold good.

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  1. Mark Robert said:

    I want to straighten an image, a photo of a painting, that was photographed askew! and is in my i-photo Events File on my Apple.

    I do not want to straighten the inside of the image, but the whole image itself.

    How do I do this? Please help.

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Ah, I suspect what’s happened is that you’ve taken a photo of the painting and the painting now no longer looks square or correctly rectangular. Is that it?

      In other image editing software, such as Acorn (the one I use), you can choose a command such as Perspective Transform, or Skew. That’s the kind of thing you need, to draw the top corners of the image outward, while leaving the bottom corners where they are.

      iPhoto does not seem able to do that.

      I suggest giving Acorn a try. It has a free download, so you could see if it does what you need.




  2. Greg Baumgartner said:

    great tip- thanks for posting it- I am always learning new ways to use my Macs. Being a new convert- this site has been very educational for me- Thanks.

  3. Alistair McBride said:

    Hi Miraz,
    A really clear set of instructions. I’ve recently upgraded to iPhoto 11 on my 13″ MacBook Pro and everything works as you describe. A very useful tool I hadn’t realised was there.

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