Q. The updated Photos app in OS X El Capitan still falls short of iPhoto in a few ways. Will that change anytime soon?
A. The photo organizer and editor that’s supposed to replace Apple’s long-neglected, now-abandoned iPhoto received surprisingly few improvements in the OS X release that shipped this week–even considering the modest scope of Apple’s operating-system update.
The tools in Photos to crop, adjust, retouch and dress up your pictures seem almost identical, aside from the new ability to rotate and flip multiple photos at once.
The app now offers a fussy geotagging feature in which you can’t add a location to a photo by clicking on a map; you have to type the name of a place and hope Photos recognizes it, after which you get a map featuring a pushpin icon you can move around.
And Photos added a Selfies folder that automatically collects pictures taken with the front camera on an iOS device. (Tip: For quicker access to any of your folders, press the Command, Option and S keys to show the left-hand sidebar listing all of them.)
Unfortunately, Photos’ choices for organizing pictures still don’t match iPhoto’s: You can’t rate pictures with one to five stars or flag them for your attention.
But one other new Photos feature offers the potential to make this a more useful, flexible program: Extensions that plug in additional editing tools.
Jeff Carlson, a photographer and author of dozens of books about Mac hardware and software and other computing topics, explained why that can beat using a separate image-editing app: “You can still have a central repository for images (and for using iCloud Photo Library to have all the images on all your devices) without having to first export from Photos, edit in a third-party app, then re-import an edited version into Photos.”
Finding these extensions, however, is a little tricky. Photos only advertises this option when you edit a picture, but clicking the Extensions button there doesn’t reveal any way to install them. Instead you have to open the Mac App Store and either search for them by name or see what a query for “Photos Extensions” turns up–there doesn’t seem to be any central list of these apps.
Apple’s support page about Photo Extensions shows images for seven of these apps. Four are available now: MacPhun’s $14.99 Snapheal, $17.99 Tonality and $14.99 Noiseless; and BeFunky’s free BeFunky Express. Three more are coming: Serif’s Affinity Retouching, and DxO’s Optics Pro, and an app called Distort with no identifiable developer.
The well-regarded image-editing app Pixelmator is also working on a Photos extension, Carlson said.
To use one of these, you have to install it, then open the System Preferences app, click Extensions, click the Photos heading, and then click the checkbox next to the extension’s name to activate it.
This is not exactly the most elegant software-installation experience ever.
You’ll then see the extension when you click the “Extensions” button in Photo’s editing mode; selecting it will replace Apple’s editing tools with the extension’s. In the case of BeFunky, the one extension I tried, they include controls to fiddle with highlights and shadows in a scene as well as options to whiten teeth and smooth skin that probably can’t do much for portraits of my fortysomething self.
Tip: Silence Web pages in Safari–and not just in El Capitan
One of Apple’s smarter additions to El Capitan catches up with a feature Google added to Chrome last summer: identifying which Web page started playing audio in the background and silencing it.
As in Google’s browser, El Capitan’s version of Safari identifies the offending page with a speaker icon on its tab and places another speaker icon in the address bar; click either one to shush the unwanted soundtrack without leaving your current page.
But you don’t need to install El Capitan to get this feature (along with some important security fixes). Safari 9.0 is also available for the two previous releases of OS X, Mavericks and Yosemite, through Apple’s automatic software updates.
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