A PRELIMINARY Workflow for using the iPad in Photography

Please note the word ‘PRELIMINARY’ in the title – I’m still working on this, and apart from any changes I make from a personal point of view, I hope that this workflow will improve as more and better apps are released, and the iPad operating system and built-in applications improve.

I must add that these are just my views and preferences – you may not agree, that is up to you!

Over the years I have developed a workflow for processing my digital images in a way that seems reasonably quick and efficient for me when I’m using a conventional computer. Basically this is all carried out using Lightroom (or Aperture), with just very occasional trips into Photoshop on a few images which need more editting to remove stray twigs etc. When I’m away for a week attending a photographic workshop, I don’t expect to have time during the event to fully process the images, but I aim each evening to import the images from the camera card, back them up at least twice, look through them, pick out a few better images, by progressively refining the selection (rate 1 star or 0, then go through the 1 stars and pick a lesser number to be rated 2 star, then refine this selection). The objective would be to get 6-10 images which I may then crop, straighten and do minor adjustments on exposure ready for projection in the evening. Generally I can do that in an hour or less if I start with 100-200 images. So the challenge when considering the suitability of the iPad as a light, small substitute for a laptop on such outings was whether I could use the iPad as effectively, given that there is no software anything like as versatile as Lightroom or Aperture.

Of course, both Lightroom and Aperture have many features which I don’t use on such outings, though they are useful when working in a more leisurely way back at base, and when I want to get the most out of images. But are the essential basics possible with an iPad? Unfortunately at present there is no single app that will do all of even these basics, so is there an acceptable way to do what I want? At present, the workflow I’ve found least painful is as follows:

1. Import the images using the Camera Kit card reader, or use the camera connector and cable to read direct from the card in the camera and save the images in Photos.

2. Carefully mark and save the cards from which the images have been imported, setting the write-protect tab if relevant – these will be my backups until I get back home and can make further copies of the images on hard discs back at base.

3. The images will be stored by Photos as Events by date. If there is more than one card for a day, more Events with the same date will be created.

So that is a minimum amount of work, but the images in Photos are stored in sequential order, and at present there is no way of rating them, or selecting from them. If I don’t need any more than a backup of the images, I might go no further, and keep things simple, but if I do want to continue and select a handful of images for projection in the evening, I would:

4. Run the Photosmith app on the iPad. With this I can import the recent images from Photos, RAW and JPEG as appropriate (though if I am shooting RAW+JPEG, I will only see the image once on the screen).

5. Arrange the images into folders in Photosmith as required. Since I will be doing this each day, I normally prefer to keep each day’s images in a separate folder/project file.

6. Use the Stars feature of Photosmith to rate each image from the day, very much as I would with Lightroom, progressively refining the selection with the help of the filter which allows me to view only higher rated images.

Photosmith will also allow me to colour code images – normally I would only do that if the final selection is still too many for projection in the evening, in which case I colour code the ones I want for projection.

Photosmith also allows keywords to be applied, using the list of Keywords from my Lightroom machine. Unfortunately it seems that this has to be done for each image separately, ie I can’t select all, or several of, the images and apply the same keyword to them in a single step. For this reason I don’t bother to keyword at this stage, but leave it until I am back on a computer with Lightroom.

Up to this point the workflow is still quite similar to that I use with Lighroom, as I prefer not to use Lightroom’s own card input features, but instead manually copy the images from a reader to a folder on hard disc, and then run Lighroom and import from that folder, and then rate the images and refine my selection. However, at this stage things become less convenient on the iPad using Photosmith (and I have not yet found anything as good). So far I have not really lost anything except the original image file names (the Photos app keeps the names, but will not divulge them to external programs like Photosmith, so Photosmith assigns new numbers in sequence). Importantly though, I have not carried out any operation which will have to be repeated when I get back to base, since Photosmith will transfer the images straight into Lightroom on my computer when I return to base, complete with the ratings I have assigned them. All I have to do is run a plug-in within Lightroom and specify the project to be imported. But that’s for later, what about the other steps I may want to carry out on the iPad in the field? Unfortunately Photosmith does not have any facilities for cropping, rotating, or carrying out edits on the images either locally, or to be imported into Lightroom. If you think about it, there are major reasons for this – the star ratings, colour labels, keywords etc are metadata which can be embedded in the RAW or JPEG file, but the edits are stored in a separate ‘sidecar’ (.xmp) file in Lightroom, and creating, maintaining and syncing such a supplementary file would be a much more difficult task. And of course Photosmith is not really intended for doing editting tasks.

So can we progress beyond this? Well, this is the best solution I have come up with so far, at least in terms of how I work. Note that what I am doing from now on is ‘wasted effort’ in the sense that I will probably discard it when I get back to base, and can do the work ‘properly’ in Lightroom, but I am only working on 6-10 images.

7. Use the ‘Share’ facility in Photosmith to transfer JUST the images I want to do more work on for projection during the time I am away to my Dropbox. Now Dropbox is a Cloud storage facility, and as implemented on the iPad it seems to require an internet connection (on a conventional computer it keeps a local copy of the files which can be worked on when there is no connection available, and which is synced when a connection becomes available). Although I am only using the Dropbox as a temporary place to store things in my workflow on the iPad, this means that if no internet connection is available, I can’t do this, and so I cannot use the selected images for the next stage, unless I can somehow identify the relevant images in the original import of all the images.

8. Start the Dropbox app, and go to the folder where the images are stored, select each one in turn and send it back to Photos. This will now be a JPEG file, and will the stored in the ‘Camera Roll’ section of Photos, not the Event where the original data was stored. Providing I keep my Camera Roll fairly clear, or empty (and I do, as I don’t normally take photos on the iPad camera), there is no problem knowing what images I have there.

9. As a minimum amount of work, I could just use the slideshow option in Photos to show these 6-10 slides using a cable and the video adapter connected to a digital projector, but I would not be able to change the order, and these would not be cropped or adjusted in any way. An alternative, just about as limited, would be to persuade someone with a computer to let me get the images from my Dropbox using their computer, and put them on a USB drive to be projected using another computer. But I would normally choose to go a bit further.

10. If I want to do more than cropping and rotation, then I could run my preferred (at present, more on this in Part 4 of my series) editting program, Filterstorm, and do some edits and then save the new version back to the Camera Roll in Photos.

11. I can now either use the Dropbox to save the editted images, and persuade someone to allow me to copy from my Dropbox to a USB drive on their computer, as described above, or I can create my own slideshow version which can be projected by coupling by iPad to the digital projector with the VGA or HDMI adapter and cable. I would normally prefer to do the latter, so I need to create a slideshow.

Normally using Powerpoint is the last way I would want to create a simple slideshow of images – I find it unbearably slow and over-complicated (well, the Office 2000 version is!). However, on the iPad I’ve found that it is not as bad, and I haven’t found a better solution yet, so I run Keynote, and put my 6-10 slides into a presentation, which I can manually move from slide to slide.


I’m afraid the process is much more complicated and more time-consuming than just going through the features in Lightroom (or Aperture), but the ‘difficult’ part usually only involves 6-10 images, and though the work will be discarded later when I get back to base, it is not unbearable.

I’d hope that at some point in the not too distant future there will be applications which can carry out more of these operations at a time, or at the least make transfer of data between the separate apps easier (eg avoiding having to go through the Dropbox), but in the meantime it is at least possible to achieve using an iPad what I would in the past have needed a conventional laptop to do.

But I must admit that at present, unless size and weight is absolutely critical, I will take a laptop instead, or being me, the way I would work would be to take a laptop with the iPad as a reserve, rather than take 2 laptops as I normally do!!

There are of course many (too many?!) other apps available, and alternative ways of organising the workflow based on how these apps work, but this seems the best (or perhaps I should say the least bad) option for me, my way of working, and what I need from an iPad in these circumstances. Incidentally, to make it easier to remember and carry out the steps I’ve described above, I have organised the apps in the appropriate order on one page of my iPad screen. (Plus these instructions for reference!). I have to admit that I have not tried relying solely on the iPad yet, though I have run through these steps several times to satisfy myself that they could be used if necessary.

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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