How to edit photos on an iPhone—a detailed guide

Editing photos on an iPhone may seem intimidating, given all the options and settings, but it’s accessible to all skill levels. Thanks to its user-friendly interface and intuitive controls, you can easily enhance your images with preset effects or manually adjust settings to achieve the desired look. No expensive editing software necessary.

The iPhone’s photo editor also offers advanced features such as selective editing, which allows you to make precise adjustments to specific areas of your images. Additionally, you can easily share your edited photos directly from the app by posting them to social media platforms or sending them to friends and family. 

How to edit photos on an iPhone

Since most of us snap pictures on the fly, we are not thinking about the composition or lighting when we take the photo. We are trying to capture a moment as quickly as possible. Thankfully, that’s where post-editing comes in. Like icing a cake, editing images gives them a finished look. And editing photos on an iPhone might be even easier than messing around with gloopy buttercream.

Crop, rotate, or flip your photo

Was your selfie interrupted by a random bystander? No worries; that’s why there’s the crop tool. Cropping is one of the easiest and fastest ways to remove unwanted elements or distractions from the frame. Trimming the edges can also help improve a photo’s composition by adjusting the placement and balance of elements within the frame. In Photos, tap any thumbnail to view it in full screen. To start making changes, tap Edit, then tap the crop icon to choose one of three ways you can crop a photo.

“Edit” might be easy to find, but you may not be familiar with what the crop icon looks like. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

1. Manual crop: With the crop icon selected, drag the rectangle’s corners to enclose the area you want to keep in the photo. Tap Done to crop.

The iPhone Photos app, showing how to crop a photo by dragging the corner of the crop outline while editing.
Just drag and crop. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

2. Zoom crop: Alternatively, you can crop iPhone images by activating the crop tool and pinching them to zoom in. When the photo appears as you want it cropped, hit Done to save.

3. Use a preset ratio: Tap the aspect ratio icon in the upper right corner (a small rectangle with other rectangles stacked on top), then choose one of the cropping options, including square, wallpaper, 9:16, and 5:4. Hit Done to save the change.

  • Pro tip: If you choose a ratio crop, such as 9:16, you can select a vertical or horizontal orientation by tapping the two rectangles below the image.
The iPhone Photos app, showing where to find the aspect ratio crop tool and other crop settings while editing.
It’s hard to freehand a perfect square, but thankfully the iPhone can do it for you. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe
How to rotate a picture on iPhone

Tap the rotate icon (a square with an arrow curving around one corner) to turn the photo 90 degrees at a time. Keep going until you get the orientation you desire. Hit Done to confirm the changes.

The iPhone Photos app while editing a photo, showing where to find the picture rotation button.
Just keep tapping until you get the rotation you want. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe
How to flip a photo on iPhone

Touch the flip icon (mirrored triangles with an arrow above them) to reverse the image horizontally. Tap Done to save your edits.

The iPhone Photos app, while editing a photo, showing where the mirror flip option is.
Use this icon to get a mirror image of your photo. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

Just know that if you don’t like your crops, rotations, and/or flips at any time during the editing process, you can tap Cancel in the lower left corner of the screen, then hit Discard Changes

Straighten your image and adjust the perspective

Sometimes, you don’t notice tilted or skewed lines in a photograph until after you take it. Fortunately, altering the perspective is simple with the iPhone’s editing software. Open a photo on your iPhone, tap Edit, then hit the crop icon.

Under the photo, you will see three options for straightening the horizontal lines in the photo and adjusting the vertical and horizontal perspectives. When you choose the one you want to use, drag the slider underneath to make precise changes. There is also an Auto option at the top of the screen, which will automatically adjust the photo based on the selected adjustment.

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing where to find the options for straightening the image.
You can hit “Auto” if you want iOS to do the straightening for you. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

1. Straighten: This adjustment, well, straightens out horizontal lines within a photograph.

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing how to straighten a photo.
No more tilt. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

2. Vertical perspective: Corrects or modifies the perceived height or angle of objects in a photo, straightening vertical lines that may appear tilted or distorted.

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing how to adjust vertical perspective.
Stretch! Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

3. Horizontal perspective: Changes horizontal lines and angles in photos, ensuring parallel lines and your desired alignment. 

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing where to find the option for adjusting the horizontal perspective.
Expand! Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

After editing the perspective, select Done to save your changes; if unsatisfied, hit Cancel, followed by Discard Changes.

Adjust light and color

Light and color are important factors when editing photos on an iPhone—and anywhere, really—because they affect an image’s overall mood and visual appeal. The right lighting will bring out the subject’s features, add depth, and make important details stand out. In the same way, changing a photograph’s colors can make the viewer feel certain emotions, set a particular mood, or even send a message. Your phone’s Photos app has several tools that will let you adjust the light and color of your pictures.

[Related: How to take better selfies]

To begin, open the photo you want to alter. Tap Edit, then swipe left under the image to view the effects you can edit. The quickest and easiest way to make adjustments is to tap on Auto, and the slider under the Auto tab will allow you to adjust the intensity of the iPhone’s suggested edit.

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing how to auto edit a photo.
This one button will make multiple changes to your photo. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

If you prefer complete edit control, though, the iPhone photo editor lets you adjust each effect individually for a custom edit. The effects you can alter are:

  • Exposure: Increasing exposure can make an image brighter, while decreasing it can create a darker and more dramatic effect. 
  • Brilliance: Enhances an image’s overall clarity and vibrancy, making it more visually striking.
  • Highlights: Brings out the brightest areas of an image, adding a sense of brightness and contrast.
  • Shadows: Darkens the darker areas of an image, creating depth.
  • Contrast: Makes the difference between light and dark areas more pronounced.
  • Brightness: Changes how light or dark the photo is overall, but not as dramatically as adjusting exposure.
  • Blackpoint: Adjusts the darkest point in an image, allowing for greater control over the overall tonal range.
  • Saturation: Affects the intensity and richness of colors in an image.
  • Vibrance: Similar to saturation, but designed to enhance the colors more subtly and naturally. 
  • Warmth: Adjusts the color temperature of an image, making it appear either warmer (more yellow/orange) or cooler (more blue). 
  • Tint: Adjusts the overall color balance of an image, adding a subtle hue to the entire picture. 
  • Sharpness: Enhances the clarity and detail of an image, making edges and fine textures more defined.
  • Definition: Improves an image’s overall sharpness and clarity by enhancing the distinction between different elements and adding depth. 
  • Noise Reduction: Reduces digital noise in an image, resulting in a smoother and cleaner appearance. This helps minimize the grainy or speckled effect that can occur in low-light settings. 
  • Vignette: Darkens the corners and edges of the image, creating a subtle or dramatic spotlight effect.

To use an effect, tap on its icon and drag the slider underneath to make precise adjustments. The outline around the button indicates the degree of adjustment, and you can toggle between the edited effect and the original to see how much you’ve changed the photo.

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing where to find all the editing tools to adjust the light and color effects of a photo.
The more you use the iPhone’s editing tools, the more familiar you’ll be with how they change a photo. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

Apply filters

Filter effects enable you to easily add creative and artistic elements to your photos, resulting in more visually appealing and captivating images. To apply a filter, open a photo, tap Edit, then tap the Filters button (the three overlapping circles) to pull up the filter effect options. There are nine to choose from. Use the slider underneath your chosen effect to adjust its intensity, and if you need to remove a filter, tap Original. Hit Done to confirm the edit.

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing where to find filters for your photos, and how to apply them.
Filters can be subtle or dramatic. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

Portrait mode editing tips

If you’re someone who likes to use Portrait mode, you’ll need to be familiar with the iPhone’s Portrait mode-specific enhancements. These allow you to adjust the depth of field (also known as bokeh), which is the range of distance within a photograph that appears in sharp focus and makes the subject stand out. Portrait mode’s editing tools also include studio lighting effects for added flexibility and creativity. 

When you open a photo taken in Portrait mode, you will see two editing options not available in the regular photo mode. The effect at the top with the little “f” is f-stop, or depth of field. The circles at the bottom of the screen are lighting effects.

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing Portrait mode-specific editing tools, like f-stop and lighting effects.
Portrait mode makes your photos look a little advanced, so the editing tools are a little advanced too. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

Adjusting the f-stop will increase or decrease blurring in the background. The smaller the f-stop, the more blur you’ll see. A larger f-stop will mean less blur. Tap the f-stop icon, and a slider will appear at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to adjust the effect.

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing how the background of a photo gets less blurry as you adjust the f-stop setting.
You can see the background of these photos change as you adjust the f-stop setting. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

To adjust the lighting, tap one of the effects. You can choose from natural, studio, contour, stage, stage light mono, and high-key light mono. Move the slider to the left or right to increase or decrease the effect. 

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing how to edit Portrait mode lighting effects.
Messing around with the Portrait mode lighting effects can give your photo the look you want. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

Write or draw on a photo

It can be fun to write or draw on a picture, and the iPhone makes it easy to do so. Choose a photo, then go to Edit and tap the pen-shaped button. Use the various drawing tools and colors to draw on the picture.

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing the options for writing on or drawing on a photo.
Time to scribble all over that perfectly crafted pic. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

You can tap the plus button to magnify or add a caption, text, shapes, or even your signature. Tap Done to save your changes, or tap Cancel if you don’t like them.

How to undo photo edits on an iPhone

Don’t worry if you make an editing mistake—the iPhone’s Photos app gives you plenty of opportunities to undo your edits.

Undo and redo edits: While editing a photo, tap the left and right arrows at the top of the screen to undo and redo multiple edit steps.

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing how to undo photo edits.
You’re probably familiar with the “undo” and “redo” icons in other programs, and they’re essentially the same here. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

Revert an edited photo: If you save changes and decide you do not like the edit, you can open up the photo, select Edit, and then hit Revert to restore the original version. 

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing how to revert changes to any photo.
It’s OK, we all make mistakes. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

Copy and paste edits to multiple photos

The iPhone allows you to copy edits from one photo and paste them onto one or more others, an ability that is particularly useful when you’re trying to edit a series of similar photos. Start by opening the photo that contains the edits you want to copy. Then tap the More Options button (three dots), followed by Copy Edits. Hit Cancel, then the back button to return to your photo library.

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing how to copy edits from one photo.
Your edits were just so perfect on this one. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

From there, tap Select, then touch the thumbnails of the photos to which you want to apply the edits. Finally, select Paste Edits from the More Options menu.

The iPhone Photos app, showing how to paste edits to multiple photos in your library.
We love a good time-saving tip. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

How to remove the subject from a photo on an iPhone

Although you can’t edit the background of a photo with the iPhone’s Photos app (you’ll need to install a separate app for that), you can cut and paste one part of the picture—the subject.

To do so, the photo’s subject and background should be clearly distinct, and the background shouldn’t be too busy or similar to the subject. Start by opening an image, then pressing and holding the subject. You should see a white glow around the subject, and a window should pop up asking you to Copy or Share. If that doesn’t work, move your finger around and try again—sometimes, it takes more than one attempt to select a subject.

The iPhone Photos app in editing mode, showing how to remove the subject from a photo.
That white glow means the subject is about to ascend (out of the photo). Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

When it does work, your iPhone will automatically separate the subject from the background, and you’ll be able to copy and paste it into another app, or share it using standard sharing options.

The iPhone Photos app with a subject that has been separated from its photo.
You can now share this object anywhere. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

If necessary, change the date, time, or location

Your iPhone stores the date, time, and location in the photo’s metadata. If you need to alter this information, you can. Open the photo you want to change, then tap the More Options button (three dots) in the upper right corner. Touch Adjust Date & Time or Adjust Location, enter the new information, and hit Adjust.

The iPhone Photos app, showing how to edit image metadata.
You have your reasons. Screenshot: Apple; Debbie Wolfe

To change the date, time, or location of multiple photos at once, tap Select, touch the thumbnails of the images you want to change, and follow the steps above. Don’t worry if you change your mind, either—you can undo your metadata edits by tapping the More Options button, followed by Adjust Date & Time or Adjust Location, then Revert.

FAQ

Q. Can you erase objects on iPhone photos?

You can only erase objects from iPhone photos with third-party editing apps from the App Store. These programs offer object removal tools and other features that allow you to easily remove unwanted elements from your photos with just a few taps. 

Q. Can my iPhone edit blurry photos? 

Your iPhone can help enhance blurry photos with its sharpening tools and filters. However, the iPhone cannot make an image completely clear if the photo is severely out of focus.