The iPad for Photographers – Part 1

A number of highly respected experts have posted recently on how to use an iPad effectively as a tool for photographers. I don’t know that I have much to add, but I’m taking the opportunity to write up my thoughts and experiences, for my own reference as much as anything.

The first thing to say is that different people/photographers have different needs, and mine aren’t identical to those of people who have posted on the subject already, nor are they they identical to those of anyone else, so inevitably readers won’t completely agree with what I’m going to write, but I hope that it may, along with the recommendations of others, help you to identify what is best for you.

The second thing I must say is that I shall concentrate on what I regard as the main steps in the photographic process – I’m not going to consider the pre-photography stage (eg planning in general, poses, lighting set-ups etc), nor what happens once a suitably edited image has been created (ie printing, slideshows, web publishing, portfolios, though I may come back to these later).

I shall concentrate on the tasks which are relevant to me, and I will organise this text based on the workflow, rather than on specific iPad applications.

I’ve identified, based on the work I do, four main stages in workflow:

1. Viewing the image at the time the photograph is taken. This is mainly important to studio photographers, whether shooting advertising, product photography, portrait or whatever. Here the iPad can provide huge advantages over only seeing the image on the back of the camera, as the display is so much larger and clearer than any camera display, and it can be passed around easily too. The quality of the display is actually better in some respects than that of many laptops, and laptops can’t be passed around. While some cameras allow the camera to be tethered to a laptop with a cable, and shoot/ display directly on the computer screen, cables are inconvenient and a hazard, one has to go to the computer to see the image, and most computer screens are very direction-dependent. While you can work wirelessly with some cameras, this is usually costly and clumsy – using an Eye-Fi card overcomes those last two issues, but no others, and will only work with a camera which uses SD cards. The usefulness is easily under-estimated – yes, for general landscape and event/action photography an iPad may not be useful for viewing at the time of taking the photo, but still-life, close-up etc could benefit enormously by using the large-screen display to look for unwanted shadows, reflections, focus and depth of field, which cannot be assessed properly on a small screen. One should not be judging exposure on any screen in the field (use the histogram instead), but even-ness of lighting may also be easier to judge on the large screen, and also issues associated with excessive contrast (bright sun and deep shadow, ‘soot and whitewash’).

2. Using the iPad as a highly mobile alternative to a laptop on projects in the field. If it is a one-day shoot, then you really don’t have to worry about this (except as required in stage 1 above), but for a longer time away from base, such as a holiday, and ESPECIALLY when travelling by bus, train, ship, plane, on foot or by bicycle, size and weight of equipment can be a serious problem. An iPad is substantially smaller than a laptop, even a MacBook Air at the time of writing, and accessories such as power supplies are also smaller and lighter. An issue here, though, may be that with a laptop and several portable drives, you have real potential back-up of the images in the field, while an iPad does not support any external storage.

3. Editing the images – enhancing composition, exposure etc. Personally, at least at this time, I would not attempt any ‘heavy-lifting’, ie extensive edits, using the iPad – it seems much more appropriate to do this on a computer which has more powerful hardware and software. However, there are certainly times when it may be useful to be able to do some basic cropping/rotation, exposure correction etc on the iPad, but most of this sort of light adjustment will more appropriately be covered in steps 2 above and 4 below, so my further coverage of this topic will be limited.

4. This may be a personal thing, but after I have got my images into a computer, and done some editing work on them there (typically cropping, exposure etc) using Lightroom or Aperture, I sometimes think it would be useful to go back an re-rate the images, and in particular to refine the keywording. Even with a laptop computer, having to sit down at a screen and desk, in a particular location, is quite a disincentive to doing what is a tedious chore, and so it would be great to transfer small snapshots of the images to something like an iPad, do this rating and keywording in comfort where and when I feel like it, and then update the existing image metadata on the computer from the iPad.

It is worth adding that at this time the iPad has only been available for just over 12 months, and there are some areas of the Apple operating system and Apple applications which place constraints on what other application developers can do (the Photos application is horribly limited, and access to the data in it is also apparently compromised) – it is to be hoped that Apple will address these serious shortcomings quickly, so that the applications can do more, and the basic Photos application and data access (on which applications rely) is improved.

I shall be writing more on each of the above subjects in further parts of this series of blogs over the next few days or weeks.

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About Mike Hessey

I'm a BOF (Boring Old Fellow) and MOS (Miserable Old Soul) whose main interests are photography, cycling, walking and computers. Regrettably recent problems with my legs, back and heart have reduced the cycling and walking.
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