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. 

How to Add Photos to an iMovie Project

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.

  1. Launch iMovie and start a new project or open an existing project.

  2. In the left panel, under Libraries, select Photos.

    Adding photos to an iMovie project.
  3. Select the My Media tab at the top of the browser to browse through your Photos library content.

    Adding photos to an iMovie project.
  4. 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.

  5. 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.

    Drag the selected photos to the timeline.

    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.

  6. When you add photos to your iMovie project, they’re assigned a set duration (4-6 seconds). To change the length of time that a photo stays on screen, double-click it on the timeline. Click and drag on either the left or right side of the photo to designate how many long you want the image to remain onscreen.

Add Effects to iMovie Photos

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.

Choose the Clip Filter icon from the row of icons above the preview image.

Change the Look of Your iMovie Photos

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

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

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.

When Ken Burns is selected in the Style section, you'll see two boxes superimposed on the preview. You can also select Crop or Crop to Fit in the Style section.

Fit a Photo to the iMovie Screen

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.

If you want the entire photo to show, choose the Fit option in the Style section.

Crop Photos in 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. 

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.

Rotate an Image

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.

While a photo is open in the preview window, you can rotate it left or right using the rotation controls above the image.