Photo Sense: User Guide

This is the Photo Sense 1 for Mac OS user guide. It focuses on the application usage. See also Photography Guide for photo shooting advices.

This User Guide is based on the full Photo Sense version. It is mostly relevant also for the discontinued Photo Sense Lite, except for parts on working with multiple photographs simultaneously and the manual adjustments.

Main concepts

Photo Sense is designed to make many photographs more attractive very quickly. In traditional image editors you have to spend a lot of time for photo enhancement. First of all, you need to learn them, which might not be quick and easy (especially for professional editors). Then, if you did a good learning job, you will be able to improve photos better than Photo Sense does automatically, because Photo Sense does not have human eyes. However, you will still need to spend quite a lot of time for every photograph. Moreover, Photo Sense also gives you manual controls sufficient for most needs, and helps you to save a lot of time even when editing manually.

Photo Sense takes a completely different from traditional approach. First of all, it does its best to enhance all the photos you give it automatically. You can stop already here: just choose the results you like and save them. You have enhanced many photos, using complex professional techniques, in a few minutes! In addition, Photo Sense also allows you to improve the results if you wish. You can do it semi-automatically in a batch processing mode: select the photos you want and adjust their processing options, for all the photos at once! For example, select all photos where the automatic color correction failed, and disable it. Finally, to improve the results even further, you can perform a more traditional manual editing on selected photos. Even with manual per-photo editing Photo Sense helps you to save a lot of time by supporting image settings synchronization.

Another key Photo Sense concept is non-destructive editing. Traditional image editors apply every change you make to the current state of the image. There are two disadvantages in this approach: (1) if you make many changes, it is difficult to roll back to some earlier state, and (2) some operations may degrade the image quality, thus you should take care of the operations order, and avoid performing many of them. Whenever you change something in Photo Sense, it completely reprocesses the original image, rather than applying the latest change to the current image state. As a result, you can easily restore any state, and you do not need to worry about the operations order and their number.

User interface overview

The following figure presents the main Photo Sense window and its parts:

The main Photo Sense window

The Image Browser (Browser) shows all the imported (or filtered out if a filter is active) images. The Preview shows the focused photo, its original and processed versions. Commands available in the Toolbar are applied to all the photos selected in the Browser. Commands invoked by the buttons under Preview are only applied to the focused image (the one shown in Preview).

Adding photos

Dragging photos to Photo Sense

To add photographs to Photo Sense for processing, do one of the following:

In cases other than using drag & drop, the standard file open panel will be displayed. Choose the image files and/or directories and click the Open button.

Note that you can drag or select both individual image files and directories with image files. When a directory is added, Photo Sense scans all its contents (including subdirectories) and adds all the image files.

Also note that you can drag items not only from Finder, but also some other applications. For example, you can drag & drop both individual images and complete events from iPhoto. However, be careful when saving photos back to iPhoto, see more details.

As soon as some photographs have been added, Photo Sense starts processing them with the default processing options. In fact, if a large number of images have been added, Photo Sense starts processing the first ones in parallel with importing the other ones.

Exploring results

Once (some of) the photographs have been processed, it is time to explore the results Photo Sense managed to achieve automatically. At this step, the user decides which photos became better and which did not. This is a very individual process, because what one person sees a better photo might not be such for another person.

Photo Sense provides two convenient ways to compare the result of its work to the original image:

The first option is good for a fast shallow comparison, because the image thumbnails shown in the browser are usually relatively small and lack details. Also note that mouse hovering only works if the corresponding user preference is not disabled (by default it is not).

The second option provides a convenient way to perform in-depth comparison of an image before and after processing. It allows to explore the whole photograph at up to 100% zoom.

To see the preview, select an image in the browser with a mouse or using the arrow keys. If preview is enabled, it will open automatically. If not, enable preview using one of the following methods:

Preview shows the original photo on the left and the processed one on the right. It shows a complete photograph by default (the zoom is at the minimum). You can zoom in until the maximum, which shows the actual image size (every image pixel is represented by one pixel on the monitor). To configure the zoom level of an image in the preview:

Preview supports three tools: Move, Zoom, and Crop & Straighten. To choose the active tool, use the buttons (Preview tool selection buttons) to the left of the preview zoom slider (under the processed image). You can also choose the active tool using the items in the Edit → Preview Tool menu, or the corresponding keyboard shortcuts.

When the Move tool is active (Move tool selection button), click and drag the image (either original or processed) to move it around. Note that it only moves the images if they do not fit in the preview. The Synchronize image positions in previews button located below and between the previews (Synchronize image positions in previews button when the synchronization is on when the synchronization is on and Synchronize image positions in previews button when the synchronization is off when the synchronization is off) defines if the position of the other image should be automatically synchronized with the position of the dragged image. It can only be synchronized if the image is not cropped. To zoom a specific image point while in the Move tool, press Command and click that point. Press Command and Option and click to zoom out.

When the Zoom tool is active, click on the photo (either original or processed) to zoom in and center the clicked point, if possible. Hold the Option key on the keyboard while clicking to zoom out. Press and hold Space and drag to move the zoomed image.

The Crop & Straighten tool, which only works with the right (processed) image, is described in Cropping and straightening.

See Preview controls for more information on working with Preview.

Customizing processing options

To customize the processing options applied to particular photographs, select these photographs and open the Processing Options panel in one of the following ways:

Processing Options panel in Photo Sense

If you change the image browser selection while the Processing Options panel is displayed, it will update accordingly.

Choose the operations to perform in the Processing Options panel and click the Apply button. Note that these options will be applied to all the photographs selected in the image browser, not only to the one displayed in preview. See processing options for a description of all the available processing options. See the Tips for advise on how to choose processing options in several common cases.

Click the Reset button to reset the Processing Options panel. The processing options currently applied to the selected images will become selected.

If some settings differ in the selected images, or manual adjustments are applied to some of the selected images, these operations are shown with the "mixed" state (a minus sign in the selection box, Check box in the mixed state) in the Processing Options panel. Click the selection box to change the "mixed" state to the "on" state (a check mark will be displayed in the box, Check box in the ON state). If you now click the Apply button, this automatic operation will be performed on all the selected images (discarding manual adjustments, if they are present). Click the check box again to change to the "off" state (the box will be empty, Check box in the OFF state). If you now click the Apply button, this operation will not be performed on all the selected images (manual adjustments, if present, will be discarded). Click the check box again to return to the "mixed" state. If you now click the Apply button, this operation will remain unchanged in all the selected images. Clicking the check box again starts another iteration of the same cycle.

Photo Sense allows to copy & paste (synchronize) processing options, as well as other image settings, between photographs. See Image Settings Synchronization for more details.

If you want to change the default operations applied to all images added to Photo Sense, this can be done in user preferences.

Applying manual adjustments

To adjust image settings manually, select a single photograph. Click the Adjust image manually button (Adjust image manually button) underneath the preview, choose the Window → Manual Adjustment menu, or press "Cmd"+"Shift"+"M". The Manual Adjustment window shown below will open. Adjust the image to your liking, and close the window, or go to another photograph.

Manual Adjustment panel in Photo Sense

The Manual Adjustment window contains four groups of controls for color, exposure, contrast, and saturation adjustment. Several controls are discussed in more detail below. Every group has an Auto button, which lets Photo Sense adjust the corresponding aspect automatically. In addition, the image histogram is depicted, which can be set to show any of the RGB and LAB color channels, or the combination of the RGB channels.

There are two separate color correction tools:

Three sliders control the image exposure:

There are two saturation sliders, one general, and one for skin colors (colors which Photo Sense considers similar to skin). It often happens that a strong general saturation looks good on everything except human faces, which appear oversaturated. This control allows to adjust skin colors separately to your liking. Moreover, it can be used to generate special creative effects, such as completely desaturating everything except human faces. A small lock button between the saturation sliders controls if they are synchronized or independent.

Unlike the processing options customization, manual adjustments can be applied only to a single photograph at a time. It is, however, still possible to save time by copying & pasting processing options, including the manual adjustments, between images (see image settings synchronization). For images taken in similar conditions (having similar exposure and color problems), synchronizing manual processing options may be very useful.

Cropping and straightening

Working with the Crop & Straighten tool in Photo Sense

The Crop & Straighten tool can be activated when Preview shows a processed image. Click the corresponding button in the Preview toolbar (Crop tool selection button). You can also choose the active tool using the items in the Edit → Preview Tool menu, or the corresponding keyboard shortcuts.

The Crop & Straighten tool only works with the final image shown in the right Preview part.

Starting from version 1.8.0, the crop rectangle is defined on the original, rather than processed, image. When you activate the Crop & Straighten tool, the image changes to the original, until you dismiss the tool. This is because the image is first cropped, and then processed, to improve both the results and performance (see more info below).

The following controls are enabled while the Crop & Straighten tool is active:

You can constrain the aspect ratio of the crop rectangle. For that, select one of the presets and previously used values, or select Custom... to enter a new value. Photo Sense remembers the last 10 custom values. You can also choose Original to make the crop rectangle proportional to the original image. Choose "Free" to cancel any aspect ratio constraints. Note that when defining the aspect ratio, you do not specify the crop rectangle orientation, if it should be portrait or landscape (in other words, the ratio 2×3 is considered the same as 3×2). To change the crop rectangle orientation, drag one of its corners with a mouse.

To straighten the photo (rotate by less than 45 degrees), hold the Option key on the keyboard while dragging the mouse. You can also use the Trackpad rotation gesture when the mouse pointer is over the processed preview to activate the straighten mode.

To apply the changes, press Return on the keyboard, or the Apply Crop & Straighten configuration button (Apply Crop & Straighten button) on the Crop & Straighten tool panel. To reset the crop & straighten settings, press Esc on the keyboard, the Reset Crop & Straighten configuration button (Cancel / Restore Crop & Straighten button) on the bottom of the Preview. To cancel the last changes, choose another Preview tool, or select another image.

Like everything in Photo Sense, the Crop & Straighten tool performs non-destructive editing. When you activate the Crop & Straighten tool for an image which has already been cropped or straightened, Photo Sense restores the previously selected crop rectangle and rotation. You can easily adjust these settings, or reset them to restore the image.

Starting from version 1.8.0, Photo Sense first crops the image, and then processes it. This slightly decreases the Crop & Straighten tool performance, but improves the automatic enhancement results and performance, because the processing is now based only on the most important (cropped) image part. It also improves manual adjustment performance for cropped photos. As a result, after cropping, the image look may significantly change. This might seem strange, but it is the intended behavior.

Applying creative effects

Effects panel in Photo Sense

To apply creative effects to particular photographs, select these photographs and open the Effects panel. To open the Effects panel, do one of the following:

You can select one of the pre-defined creative effects. For convenience they are classified into the Color and Monochrome groups. In addition to using the pre-defined effects, you can also stylize the selected photos by applying one of the available textures, adding noise and vignetting.

Several monochrome effects are available. Their normal versions take the luminance information and apply color (black in the case of black & white). The "Red Filter" versions are based on the image red channel. They tend to brighten human skins and darken blue skies, often creating a pleasing dramatic look. The "Pencil" effects mimic pencil drawing, both black & white and colored.

Note that the chosen effects configuration is applied to all the selected photos. If several photos are selected, any change may take quite a long time to execute. This is why, depending on what you are doing, you can choose if Photo Sense should apply changes immediately, or only after you click the Apply button. If you want to quickly try several configurations on one photograph, applying immediately might be more convenient, because you will immediately see the effect of every change. However, when working with multiple photos, it is recommended to disable immediate changes for performance reasons.

Saving photos

Save all the images shown in the browser (if a filter is active, hidden images are not saved) in one of the following ways:

Alternatively, save only the selected images in one of the following ways:

If only one image is being saved, the standard file saving panel will be displayed, extended with the file format and size options. Choose the name, location, file format and other options, and click the Save button.

Save Multiple panel in Photo Sense

If multiple images are being saved, the Save Multiple panel is displayed. You can choose between saving to a specific directory and the original location from where you imported images (only specified directory in the Mac App Store version, see products comparison).

Further you have the option to Replicate the original directory structure. If selected, you define the starting point from where the directory structure should be replicated. When saving files from sub-directories of this location, these sub-directories will be replicated in the target location. Files originating at locations outside the starting directory will be saved at the main output location, no sub-directories will be created.

After that you define how the output image files should be named, and the output image file format. The output filename is defined by a combination of pre-defined tokens and custom text. The pre-defined tokens can be entered manually or inserted using the popup button under the input field. In the output filename, the custom text will remain unchanged, while the pre-defined tokens will be substituted with the corresponding values. The following tokens are defined:

When saving to the original location, make sure the output filename template is not just the filename token. Otherwise you risk to overwrite your original image files (and you may be unable to recover them). If Photo Sense discovers that any file will be overwritten when saving, it will warn you, proposing to generate a unique filename, to overwrite, or to skip saving this file.

Photo Sense supports several output image formats: JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, and BMP. You choose the desired one in the Save Multiple panel. For JPEG, you can also define the image quality. The higher the percentage for JPEG quality is, the better the image quality will be, and the larger the file size will be. You can also constrain the image dimensions while saving, in which case Photo Sense will down-sample the saved photographs if needed (see resizing photos). Photo Sense provides several presets controlling the image format and size options.

As input, Photo Sense accepts all the image formats natively supported by the operating system. The saving options enable you to use Photo Sense as a batch image format converter and/or resizer (down-sampler). To use Photo Sense for this purpose, open a number of images, disable all the processing options for them (so that the images are not altered), and save them, adjusting the format and size as required.

Processing options

The Processing Options panel allows the user to define how photographs should be processed. It lists the operations which should and should not be performed on the selected images (see customizing processing options for more information on the panel usage). If you want to change the default operations applied to all images added to Photo Sense, this can be done in user preferences. See the Tips for advise on how to choose processing options in several common cases. Below the processing options currently available in Photo Sense are described, with examples.

Adjust Colors

When this option is selected, Photo Sense attempts to correct the image colors, if it thinks they are wrong. Note that technically correct colors are not always what the user wants to see in a picture. For example, consider a photo with snow. Photo Sense will try to make snow white, while someone might prefer it to have a blueish cast. As another example, the user might prefer night shots with lamp illumination to have warmer colors (more yellow) than is technically correct, as discussed here. The screenshot below demonstrates how the Adjust Colors option removes a blue color shift:

Processing Options - Adjust Colors

Adjust Exposure

When adjusting exposure, Photo Sense tries to brighten images if it finds them to be too dark, and vise versa. Photo Sense also brightens dark image parts separately if it thinks this is necessary. A possible negative side-effect of this operation is a diminished contrast. If you face this problem, enabling the Adjust Contrast option presented below is likely to fix the problem. The screenshot below gives an example of what the Adjust Exposure option does:

Processing Options - Adjust Exposure

Adjust Contrast

With this processing option enabled, Photo Sense tries to improve the image contrast. This option is a good candidate to apply when a photograph looks washed-out, as shown in the example below:

Processing Options - Adjust Contrast

Increase Saturation

With this processing option enabled, Photo Sense boosts the color saturation, at the same time trying to avoid over-saturation. You can control how strong the auto saturation is with the user preferences. The screenshot below shows an example:

Processing Options - Increase Saturation

Preserve Skin Color Saturation

With this (and the Increase Saturation) processing options enabled, Photo Sense only increases saturation of colors that, in its opinion, cannot represent a human skin. This is useful when human skin colors on the processed photographs look over-saturated, too red or purple. Instead of disabling saturation of the whole photograph, this option allows to disable it only for skin tones. It is recommended to enable this option for all photographs with people, and to disable it for all photographs without people.

The screenshots below compare a photograph processed without and with the Preserve Skin Color Saturation option:

Processing Options - Preserve Skin Color Saturation disabled Processing Options - Preserve Skin Color Saturation enabled

Perform Sharpening

Enabling this option lets Photo Sense sharpen the image. To be able to see the result, it is best to zoom the photograph in Preview as much as possible.

Sharpening might create artifacts in the image. Moreover, the nature of the sharpening process is similar to one of the processing operations which the Adjust Contrast option applies, and thus images with adjusted contrast might already look sharpened. This is why the Perform Sharpening option is disabled by default in Photo Sense. You can of course enable it, if you want, in user preferences.

The screenshot below shows a sharpened image at the 100% zoom:

Processing Options - Perform Sharpening

Reduce Color Noise

Color noise (also called chroma noise) is a fine-grain hue variation (colored dots) usually seen in dark parts of photographs. Color noise can be expected in photos taken in dark conditions, and/or in images whose brightness was significantly increased in software. Color noise is more likely to be visible when a high ISO sensitivity is set in the camera when taking photographs.

Unlike luminance noise reduction, the color noise reduction is generally considered harmless in Photo Sense. It is only likely to lose image details if there are some small but significant colorful objects present in the image, which is a rare case. The color noise reduction process is also relatively fast. Thus, the Reduce Color Noise processing option is enabled by default in Photo Sense.

To be able to see the result of color noise reduction, it is best to zoom the photograph in Preview as much as possible. The screenshot below shows the Reduce Color Noise setting applied to a noisy image (at the 100% zoom). It might be hard to see, but there are many reddish stains in the original photograph:

Processing Options - Reduce Color Noise

Reduce Luminance Noise

Luminance noise is a fine-grain brightness variation (dark/bright dots) usually seen in dark parts of photographs. Similar to the color noise, luminance noise can be expected in photos taken in dark conditions, and/or in images whose brightness was significantly increased in software. Luminance noise is more likely to be visible when a high ISO sensitivity is set in the camera when taking photographs.

Luminance noise reduction is likely to lose some fine-grain details and to create artifacts in the photograph. Moreover, this is one of the most time-consuming operations in Photo Sense. For these reasons, luminance noise reduction is disabled by default in Photo Sense. You can of course enable it, if you want, in user preferences. In addition, because luminance noise is likely to appear when a high ISO speed is used, Photo Sense has an option to only enable luminance noise reduction for photos taken with the ISO speed above the predefined threshold value.

To be able to see the result of luminance noise reduction, it is best to zoom the photograph in Preview as much as possible. The screenshot below shows the Reduce Luminance Noise setting applied to a noisy image (at the 100% zoom):

Processing Options - Reduce Luminance Noise

Preview Controls

Preview supports the following controls:

With the Move tool:

With the Zoom tool:

With the Crop tool (only for the processed image): see Cropping and straightening.

Image settings synchronization

Photo Sense allows to copy & paste (synchronize) image settings between photographs. You can copy & paste processing options (including manual adjustments), effects, and even the crop & straighten settings.

Crop & straighten settings synchronization enables you to use Photo Sense for batch image cropping and straightening. There are some restrictions, however. Crop & straighten settings synchronization is only allowed:

To copy the desired image settings from a photograph, select it in the image browser (only one image must be selected) and do one of the following:

Then select the target photographs (one or more photos to which you want to apply the copied image settings). Do one of the following to paste the image settings:

The previously copied image settings will be applied to all the selected photographs. Their other image settings will remain unchanged. For example, if only the effect has been copied, it will be applied to the selected images after pasting, while leaving the other image settings (processing options and crop & straighten configuration) unchanged.

Image duplication

Photo Sense supports duplication of images with all their processing options. If you like a photo as it is, but want to try alternative processing options or effects, the simplest way to do this is to duplicate the photo and edit the copy. If the latest changes do not succeed, you already have the previously chosen configuration, no need to undo etc. It might also happen that you decide to save both versions.

User preferences

The User Preferences panel allows the user to choose the default processing options applied to all images, and to configure application performance parameters.

Default image processing options

Preferences panel (Image Processing) in Photo Sense

The Image Processing tab of the preferences panel defines the processing options that Photo Sense applies by default to all the added photographs. Most options are the same as those in the processing options panel, they are described here.

It is convenient to set the default processing options to the settings you usually use. For example, if you rarely photograph people, it is recommended to disable the Preserve Skin Color Saturation option which prevents increasing saturation of skin-like colors. If you often find processed photographs to be over-saturated, you can adjust the automatic saturation strength, or even completely disable it. When processing photographs, you can always change these settings for selected images.

In addition, the Image Processing tab in the preferences panel allows configuring Photo Sense to apply luminance noise reduction only to photographs shot with the ISO speed higher than the specified value. Luminance noise reduction might destroy some fine image details. Moreover, it takes more time than most other operations. Hence it is only recommended to apply it to very noisy photographs. Digital cameras tend to produce noisy images when the ISO sensitivity value is high. Taking this all into account, Photo Sense enables you to only apply luminance noise reduction to photographs shot with the ISO sensitivity value higher than the specified threshold value. The correct operation of this setting of course depends on the correct ISO sensitivity specification in image files. Most modern digital cameras can be expected to fulfill this requirement.

Preferences panel (Performance) in Photo Sense

Performance settings

By default Photo Sense uses all the processors available in the system to process photographs in parallel as quickly as possible. If you prefer Photo Sense to run on the background and leave some system resources for other applications, you can limit the number of processors involved in image processing. The smaller this number is, the more processors are available for other applications, and the slower image processing will be in Photo Sense.

This tab also allows the user to disable showing the original when the mouse cursor hovers over a photograph in the image browser. Normally the image browser shows processed photographs as soon as they are available. Disabling this option might help if the application feels slow.

Click the Restore the Recommended Configuration button to restore the default (recommended) settings on the currently selected tab.

Filtering photos

To filter (search) photographs shown in the image browser, enter the search criteria in the Filter Images field (Filter Images search field in Photo Sense) at the right part of the application toolbar. Only images whose filenames contain the entered string will be displayed. The string comparison is performed in the case-insensitive mode.

To disable the filter, do one of the following:

Removing photos

To remove photographs from Photo Sense, select them and do one of the following:

Note that with this, you only remove images from the Photo Sense browser. The image files on the disk remain untouched. You can add them to Photo Sense again if you change your mind later (only the custom processing options, if any, will be lost).

Rotating photos

To rotate photographs by less than 45 degrees (to straighten them), use the Crop & Straighten tool, as described in Cropping and straightening.

To rotate photographs 90 degree either left (counterclockwise) or right (clockwise), select them in the browser and use one of the following options:

Note that all the selected images are rotated, not only the one shown in preview.

Resizing photos

The resizing (to be more precise, the conditional down-sampling) function in Photo Sense is available in the saving panel (see saving photos). When saving, it is possible to constrain the long image edge size in the saved files. When the size is constrained, Photo Sense proportionally down-samples the image, if needed, to ensure that the long edge of the saved image fits within the requested limit.

There is no up-sampling (increasing the size) functionality in Photo Sense, because it degrades the image quality, and it is not what most photographers need.

Using Photo Sense with iPhoto

This section describes how to use Photo Sense in combination with photo management software such as iPhoto, Aperture, and Lightroom. You can of course export photos to a temporary location, process them in Photo Sense, and then import the results back. However, Photo Sense supports a more convenient workflow if configured as an external editor.

Opening iPhoto images in Photo Sense

There are two ways to open photos from iPhoto or another photo management application in Photo Sense:

iPhoto Preferences

Saving photos back from Photo Sense to iPhoto

If Photo Sense is configured as an external editor in iPhoto or another photo management application, and it is launched using the corresponding Edit in External Editor command, saving back is easy. Simply use the special menu commands File → Save All Overwriting Originals or File → Save Selected Overwriting Originals. Photo Sense will warn you that the original files will be lost unless you have their backup. However, because you used the special external editing command, iPhoto (or another application) already has the original backup, and the files it gave to Photo Sense are meant to be overwritten. Thus, click Overwrite originals, and you are done.

However, be careful if you did not use the Edit in External Editor (or similar) command in iPhoto (or another application)! Also if you dragged & dropped photos to Photo Sense. In this case, you do not want to overwrite the original files! You do not even know exactly what the original files are, because different applications may perform this in various ways. Thus, it is highly discouraged to overwrite original files unless you use the special Edit in External Editor command! Instead, save the results in some temporary location, and import them to iPhoto (or another application) from there.