The iPad for Photographers – Part 4

In this series of articles on my personal experience of using the iPad as a photographer, I have looked at a number of ways I find it useful. Just to put this in context, I’ve been a photographer since about 1950, I’ve been a programmer since 1967, and I’ve been building, using and an enthusiast for small computers since the Acorn System 1 and Nascom 2.

In part one of this series of articles I identified, based on the work I do, four main stages in workflow in which the iPad is potentially very useful; in the second article I looked at how the iPad can be used to view the image at the time the photograph is taken, or at least within a few seconds. In part three I looked at how the iPad might provide a stand-alone solution to some of the tasks needed to store, manage and do some very basic image manipulation when portability is paramount – such as on holidays when travelling by public transport.

I’ve found the iPad, with the Eye-Fi card in the camera, and Shuttersnitch is brilliant for situations where you need a large picture of the image to judge shadows, reflections, depth of field, pose etc, generally in the studio (shooting RAW plus JPEG, sending JPEGs only from the card to the iPad, assessing the image, then copying the RAW image from the card to the computer later). However, my main interest is using the iPad as a light, portable, alternative to a conventional laptop computer, typically on a one-week photo workshop, and sadly it is much less effective here: you can capture and do a simple copy of the images, but going beyond that is a mess – lots of good apps, but basic limitations of the Apple software make the workflow horrible as you will have gathered if you read my report on workflow. I shall return to this subject in a future report, and I’ll then describe some improvements I have made to my workflow since I previously wrote on the subject.

But for now I’m going to be looking in a little more detail at how you can edit the image using the iPad, assuming you have got your images into the iPad and you have selected an image, or a few images, that you want to enhance.

My initial reaction to the idea of editing images on the iPad was that this would be a waste of time – the edits would be impractical and painful on an iPad, and they would be a dead-end – you could not work on them more later. I have to say I have revised this view to some extent after using some iPad apps – I am amazed at what some developers have achieved in terms of the level of modifications you can do to an image, and how easily. It really puts into perspective the complexity and cost of doing edits in Photoshop and other photo editing software on traditional computers.

Despite this, for me ALL the iPad apps for photo editing, or at least those I have tried so far, are hindered by the following facts:
1. They work on a JPEG image (not RAW), or at any rate create a JPEG at the end of the edit.
2. They are destructive – yes, they keep the original, and create a copy, but the changes you make are ‘baked into’ the resultant new version of the image
3. Repeating point 2, you just end up with a new image which has the mods applied – you cannot go back and rework this image, unless you further modify the edited image, or go back to the unedited image – there are no equivalents to the adjustment layers of Photoshop, or the non-destructive workflow of Lightroom and Aperture.

For me, this means that these editors are just quick fixes for making an image look better for viewing while I’m away from home on a workshop, but these will be abandoned and I will need to start again on editing when I get home and have access to more powerful computers and software. Consequently I’m really not looking for very sophisticated editing capability in an iPad photo editing app – straightening, cropping, exposure adjustment, white balance correction and perhaps some basic brightness and contrast adjustment are really all that is necessary – more than that is a complete waste of time as it will have to be re-done in a non-destructive manner when I get home.

There are very many photo editing apps available for the iPad, and I have only tried a few of these, and it is only these that I shall describe below.

Photoshop Express
Free, but Adobe will be selling some add-on filters to provide more features.
Images are imported from the Photos library, where you select the image from either the photo library, all imported images, the camera roll, or the events by date.
It is quite basic, but includes the essentials, namely cropping, straightening, exposure, saturation, tint and contrast. You can also do a simple conversion to black and white, and you can also sharpen and produce a soft focus effect, but noise reduction requires the purchase of an add-on. All these edits are applied to the whole image – there is no facility for selectively altering parts of the image.
There are a few special effects filters (eg ‘vibrant’, ‘pop’), and some frame/border effects too.
The final modified image is saved to the camera roll section of the Photos library.
Other output options are limited to sending the image to Facebook or Adobe’s own Photoshop Express facility.
It is simple to use.

Snapseed
From the highly-rated Nik Software. It goes beyond PS Express, and it has a good user interface when you have got used to the idea of vertical drag to select the type of modification, and horizontal drag to select the amount of that modification.
Like Photoshop Express, images are imported from the Photos library, where you select the image from either the photo library, all imported images, the camera roll, or the events by date.
The image can be cropped and straightened, and the whole image can be adjusted for white balance, brightness, contrast, saturation and what is referred to as ‘ambiance’, which is rather like definition – a kind of edge contrast enhancement which is very effective.
There are selective adjustments available for brightness, contrast and saturation, which are applied selectively to points which you can define. You can apply these points where you want, and alter the radius of the circular adjustment you apply. Unfortunately there is no easy way to apply the gradient effect for altering the sky as one would do with a neutral density grad filter.
There are 4 basic special effect filters, plus a controllable (for brightness, contrast and grain only) black and white conversion, and some simple frame/border effects.
The modified image is saved to the camera roll.
The sharing options allow the image to be sent to Flickr or Facebook, and you can also email the image. There is also a printing option – I don’t have a printer for the iPad, so I have not been able to test this feature.
The price is a modest £2.99. Video tutorials are available via the Nik web site.

FilterStorm Pro
WOW!!! Incredibly powerful, an amazing achievement. Probably my favourite overall – but to be honest, it is just too powerful given that it inevitably produces baked-in final effects, and I will choose to work on the original image again. But an astounding achievement, which leaves one wondering why PC/Mac apps are so bloated and expensive.
It provides all the straightening, cropping, and other alterations to the basic ‘canvas’ that you would expect, including frame/border effects.
Filters are used to adjust white balance, colour, brightness, contrast and many others, and you can even use curves adjustments! The image can be converted to black and white, with control over the way that red, green and blue are converted.
You can apply adjustments to the entire image, or you can brush alterations onto parts of the image – and there is even a gradient tool!
A history of the edits is kept.
You can rate images with 1-5 stars
There are no special effects filters, but the controls you can apply are so powerful and versatile that this is not really an important issue.
Images are saved automatically to the camera roll, both the original and modified version.
You can also export images to various locations, including Flickr and Dropbox.
Tutorials are available via the web.
It is impossible to adequately describe all the features here.
Filterstorm Pro is priced at $14.99 , but there is a simpler version, Filterstorm 3, available for £2.39, which only lacks some of the batch editing and internal library features. The price of the Pro version is quite high for an iPad app, though only a tiny fraction of the price of most PC editing programs, and it is good value, but for most people the standard version of Filterstorm will probably suffice, and is very reasonably priced.

100CamerasIn1
In some respects this app does not really belong here – it allows you to see some 100 effects applied to the original image. Most are rather over the top, but thought provoking in terms of how you could modify the image in a more modest way later. However, these are not the normal ‘black box’ special effects, you can see all the adjustment settings, and so you can modify these and you can alter the effects to be less extreme.
This is a decidedly quirky program, but quite useful despite this, and at £2.39 a very reasonable price (there is a cheaper version for the iPhone, and also a free version for the iPhone)

Conclusions
There are lots of editing apps for the iPad, and I’ve only reviewed a few. Although they keep the original image unchanged, the modifications you make become baked into a new copy, and you can’t go back and modify individual changes you have made in the way you can with adjustment layers, or non-destructive editors like Lightroom and Aperture, and for this reason I would not use them for more than minor adjustments made to a few images while I am away from a conventional computer but need to display or send those few images somewhere. All the apps described above work well for this situation, and all are easy to use and cheap. Filterstorm is undoubtedly the most powerful, indeed far more powerful than I need for doing the limited editing I have mentioned. It is probably my favourite, though I might well use Snapseed sometimes as it is perhaps rather simpler for very limited edits. 100Camerasin1 is fun to play with, and can provide ideas on how to modify images. And Photoshop Express is a perfectly adequate, free, editor.

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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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