Digital Photography Workflow on Your iPad

Living in Europe, I spent a lot of time traveling and on the road. Every day spent away from my main workstation is a day less blogging, editing, and producing content (although it is usually a day creating new images). Travel is important for me to create new works, so I'm certainly not complaining! However, the down time spent at airports, on trains, flying, and in layovers between destinations could be spent supporting ScenicTraverse.com. 

It's important to pause here by saying first that as much as Apple and Microsoft would love to convince you that their tablet systems are capable of supporting digital photography workflow independent of a 'traditional' desktop / laptop, I don't think that is fair (at this point in 2016). Processing speed, memory, storage, and application complexity alone are evidence that the iPad cannot substitute for a traditional workstation. And, in my experience, the workflow on the iPad is much slower than on the desktop, so even if you could one-for-one do the same tasks, the time required to complete them is very different. For that reason, the iPad is designed to compliment my workflow by enabling me to extend it to the field.

I can't wait until I get home to edit and download all my images.... I'd have a forever long backlog! So I have complimented my desktop by working in a mobile Lightroom setup, even if it isn't as fast as the desktop. 

Let's start by discussing what I'd like to be able to do, in a perfect world, from my tablet (Apple iPad Pro in this case):

  • Download RAW files from SD media
  • Review / quality control files on the iPad
  • Apply a rating (1-5 stars) in Lightroom Mobile and have that rating preserved when the file is imported into Adobe Lightroom Desktop
  • EASILY send a selection of files between Lightroom Mobile and Lightroom Desktop
  • Do minor adjustments (contrast, blacks/whites, sharpening) to the RAW file
  • Do spot healing adjustments to remove dust
  • Controls for black and white developing
  • Export images to display on my website / Facebook / Instagram

The good news is that most of these things can be done, although not as perfectly as I'd like. For discussion of how this actually works in practice, you should know that I am using the 2016 Apple iPad Pro 9.7" with the Apple Keyboard, Apple Pencil and Apple SD Card Reader.

 The cool thing about Lightroom mobile is that you can share images between your mobile devices, and edits on one carry to another. This is a screenshot of my "photography page" on my phone.... lots of Adobe apps!

The cool thing about Lightroom mobile is that you can share images between your mobile devices, and edits on one carry to another. This is a screenshot of my "photography page" on my phone.... lots of Adobe apps!

Now let's take a quick step backward and look how I got here....... I started using Adobe Photoshop in 2008, long before Creative Cloud existed. I didn't buy Lightroom and just used Adobe Bridge (gasp) and Adobe Photoshop (really, Adobe Camera RAW...... don't want to upset the Adobe crowd with the wrong terms) for all my editing. I became very fast editing a RAW file with that combination, and as much as Bridge sucks, I adapted it to fit my archive method. All was good. When I travelled, I'd haul my laptop and do some editing on the road, but that became a real pain. Laptops are big, they need a different power source (or not the same one as my iPhone), and don't las as long. So I got to thinking about trying to swap out the laptop for an iPad and being even more portable in my editing away from home.

Photoshop on the iPad isn't really "Adobe Photoshop" - its a smattering of the best functions from the desktop version, but it isn't designed to do the basic edits. Adobe gives us Lightroom Mobile and has clearly emphasized that Lightroom is the future of digital workflow and archiving. 

I hadn't learned Lightroom previously because I didn't need to  - I was fast and efficient with Photoshop and Lightroom didn't offer me anything else. But the mobile apps finally tipped the scale, and I spent a few weeks building the muscle memory and recall to be as fast with Lightroom as I was with Photoshop. Now I use Lightroom more. Same results, different app.

Back to the mobile workflow..... does it work? Can I accomplish that list of wants?

Sorta? 

Generally, most of the things on that list can be done with the mobile applications, but I'm not totally on board with the entire workflow. For starters, I hate how many apps are involved. I need at least FOUR different Adobe apps running on the iPad to achieve the same results as I get from desktop Lightroom. For instance, you can edit the basic exposure and sharpness in Lightroom Mobile, but need to change apps to do dust removal. In all fairness to Adobe, I suspect they had to break up the processing into several apps to make it manageable for the processors on the iPad, and they do have the apps able to pass images back and forth between themselves, but it still is a slow down....... in fact, the slow down is really my beef.

I edit roughly 200 images per week. If I spend one minute per image, that's 3+ hours per week spent editing. Kill me please. I've mastered the desktop software and can edit most photographs in 20-30 seconds (there are plenty of exceptions, so don't get all judging). But the same edits in Lightroom mobile might take 2-3x longer. 

 What better time to work on editing your digital images than when you're flying with a budget airline? It's not like they are about to bring me a drink, snack or meal!

What better time to work on editing your digital images than when you're flying with a budget airline? It's not like they are about to bring me a drink, snack or meal!

What that translates into is that I'll edit a selection of image on the road just to 'keep ahead of the curve' and take advantage of that down time at an airport, but if I have access to my desktop, I'm using that. I have also found that using Lightroom Mobile and the iPad is a great way to review, but not edit, the images from that day, and often use it for that without editing. 

As a side note: I LOVE that Leica has programmed apps for the Leica Q and Leica SL to connect to the iPad via wifi. The photo download and transfer rate over the self-broadcast wifi network is significantly faster than the SD card reader that Apple sells (apparently the transfer rate is better on the 12" iPad, but I didn't want something that big). So if you are using a mobile device to edit, get the free apps for your cameras, because they may make this even faster.

I suspect the difference in editing times will shrink in the next few years; mobile devices are getting faster and continue to close the gap in processing performance to their desktop counterparts. As Apple installs better processors, Adobe will be able to collapse apps together and streamline workflow. I genuinely believe that we will get to a point where the tablet workflow is on par with the desktop workflow, at least in speed. 

Do you edit with the mobile applications? Have you found them a nice compliment to your desktop?