All About iMovie Photo Editing

Learn how to enhance your iMovie project

Apple’s iMovie software is a free download for new and recent Mac buyers and a low-cost option for owners of older Macs. With iMovie, you have powerful, easy-to-understand editing tools for creating your own movies. These movies usually contain video clips, but you can add still photos to your movies. You can even make an effective movie with only still photos using movement effects and transitions. 

Any images located in your Photos, iPhoto, or Aperture library are available for use in iMovie. If the photos you want to use in your iMovie project are not located in one of these libraries, add them to the library before you open iMovie. Apple recommends you use the Photos Library when working with iMovie.

You can use any size or resolution photo in iMovie, but big, high-quality photos look best. Quality is important if you're going to use the Ken Burns effect, which zooms in on your images.

Locate the iMovie Photos Library Tab

Screenshot of iMovie

Launch iMovie and start a new project or open an existing project. In the left panel, under Libraries, select Photos Library. Select the My Media tab at the top of the browser to browse through your Photos library content.

Add Photos to Your iMovie Project

Screenshot of iMovie project

Select a photo for your project by clicking on it. To select several photos at once, Shift+click to select sequential photos or Command+click to select photos at random.

Drag the selected photos to the timeline, which is the large work area at the bottom of the screen. You can add the photos to the timeline in any order and rearrange them later.

When you add photos to your iMovie project, they’re assigned a set length and automatically have the Ken Burns effect applied. It’s easy to adjust this default setting.

When you drag a photo onto the timeline, position it between other elements, not on top of an existing element. If you drag it directly on top of another photo or other element, the new photo replaces the older element.

Change the Duration of Photos in iMovie

Screenshot of inspector in iMovie

The default length of time assigned to each photo is 4 seconds. To change the length of time that a photo stays on screen, double-click it on the timeline. You'll see 4.0s superimposed on it. Click and drag on either the left or right side of the photo to designate how many seconds you want the image to remain onscreen in the movie.

Add Effects to iMovie Photos

Screenshot of effects in iMovie

Double-click a photo to open it in the preview window, which contains several sets of controls to apply changes and effects to the photo. Choose the Clip Filter icon from the row of icons above the preview image. Click on the Clip Filter ​field to open a window with effects that include duotone, black and white, X-ray, and others. You can only apply one effect per photo, and you can only apply that effect to one photo at a time.

Change the Look of Your iMovie Photos

Screenshot of color inspector in iMovie

Use the icons above the photo in the preview window to color correct the image, change the brightness and contrast, adjust saturation. 

Adjust Ken Burns Effect Movement

Screenshot of cropping option in iMovie

The Ken Burns effect is the default for each photo. When Ken Burns is selected in the Style section, you'll see two boxes superimposed on the preview indicating where the animation of the still photo begins and ends. You can adjust that animation in the preview window. You can also select Crop or Crop to Fit in the Style section.

Fit a Photo to the iMovie Screen

Screenshot of video on iMovie

If you want the entire photo to show, choose the Fit option in the Style section. This reveals the full photo with no cropping or movement for the entire time it’s on screen. Depending on the size and shape of the original photo, you might end up with black bars along the sides or top and bottom of the screen.

Crop Photos in iMovie

Screenshot of crop on iMovie

If you want a photo to fill up the full screen in iMovie or if you want to focus on a specific part of the picture, use the Crop to Fit setting. With this setting, you select the portion of the photo that you want to see in the movie. 

Rotate an Image

Screenshot of Ken Burns on iMovie

While a photo is open in the preview window, you can rotate it left or right using the rotation controls above the image. You can also play the movie from inside this window to see the effects, cropping, and rotation you have applied to the photo.