Work in progress – an iPad workflow

Whilst I’m not able to be out shooting I have decided to take a serious look at the workflow options using an iPad or even an iPhone and to see whether they really can replace a lightweight laptop in my working life. I have even bought a new iPad Mini 4 (already upgraded to iOS11) because I’m sure that I will be using the tablet for some form of mobile editing. Should you be seeking wisdom and a fully-formed solution I’m prepared to stick a plot-spoiler in here and tell you that it is still very much a ‘work in progress’ and that I don’t have an answer for you. Yet.

My starting point for this is having used my phone as an occasional method of getting pictures away quickly – mostly for clients to be able to use my pictures in their social media and on their websites instead of their own pictures taken with their phones and tablets. If you are prepared to work with JPEG files then this isn’t too tricky, but what if you want to base everything on a RAW workflow? Not so simple?

I know that a lot of photographers have worked out their own workflows for using iPads as their principal location editing devices. I have been trawling blogs and YouTube videos trying to get my head around how and why they have decided to go down this route and the fact that several photographers that I respect and even admire have gone this way means that it has to be a serious option for professional editorial and corporate photography. A lot of the same people, driven by a desire to reduce the weight of their kit, have also gone to mirrorless camera systems.

As part of my search I’ve used a LOT of different apps. Amongst others, and in no particular order: Lightroom, FSN Pro, Shuttersnitch, Marksta, PS Express, PicturePro, Transmit, Affinity and the sadly no-longer-supported Photogene4. These range from Lightroom being free with the right Adobe CC subscription to a chunky £49.99 for PicturePro.

So here is what I do know:

  • It is possible to replace a laptop with an iPad – especially if you are prepared to go all out and go for the iPad Pro.
  • RAW conversions are totally possible and even quite quick with the right app.
  • There isn’t one perfect solution for all photographers.
  • My background is in news and features and so most of my comments should be read with that in mind.
  • When choosing your workflow options you need to prioritise the most important elements.
  • What cameras you use and how you are going to get the photos onto the tablet is an important decision that you have to make.
  • Not all apps are as well supported as one another.
  • The learning curve for some apps is really steep.
  • The route that you take should be greatly influenced by whether it needs to mimic or at least be compatible with your desktop workflow.
  • The accuracy of colours on an iPad isn’t as good as it is on a calibrated computer monitor and I wish that more app developers would look at adopting the idea of calibrating their apps in line with X-Rite’s ColorTrue.
  • We are a lot closer than we were a year ago.
  • I would love an iOS version of Photo Mechanic!

In the time that I’ve been able to put aside for this project I haven’t been able to learn all of the nuances for all of the apps. I have probably also failed to even look at some apps that some of you will be using and championing – that’s why this is still a work in progress.

So here is where I am right now:

  • As a single app solution I still like FSN Pro but it isn’t the best at anything.
  • My favourite RAW converter is Lightroom.
  • My favourite IPTC app is PicturePro.
  • My favourite distribution app is Transmit.
  • I’m already missing Photogene4.
  • The iPad isn’t even close to replacing a lightweight laptop with Photo Mechanic, Photoshop and Transmit in my life.

It isn’t where I want to be and, as I’ve mentioned once or twice before, this is still a work in progress. For now the iPad and my iPhone will be limited in their use to being the pocketable devices that allow me to turn around a small number of JPEG files for my clients to use quickly. For that I need to be able to caption, rename and distribute the files rather than do heavy duty file preparation – did I mention already missing Photogene4?

NB PicturePro appears to have disappeared from the UK App Store. If that signals the end of development then that’s sad.


    1. If someone wants to lend/give me one I’ll happily put it through it’s paces and report back. My old 11” MacBook Air is a very capable lightweight option but it is showing it’s age now.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Neil, I’d love to hear more about your workflow. I shoot high school sports photos for a news property, which means I’m primarily concerned with getting a gallery online as quickly as possible after a game. I am in love with my new iPad Pro, and I’m *SO CLOSE* to being able to use it exclusively for quick edits and distribution/upload. What’s killing me is that Lightroom Mobile limits me to 15 exports at a time, and I often have 80-100 photos in a gallery. So I’m curious about how you’re using Transmit.

    I upload photos to Smugmug, then use a WordPress plugin to pull those photos into my website in a new article. I would love to find a way to quickly triage 200 photos, cull them down to 80-100, crop and lighten very quickly, and get them online before everyone has gone to sleep. Lightroom does everything except the last part. Any ideas that might help me?

    (Incidentally, have you used the Workflow app on iOS? If not, it’s worth looking into for some of your repetitive tasks.)


    1. If Smugmug is WebDAV compatible then it may be an answer. The other answer could be to import directly into WordPress but that would probably cause more problems than it solves. So far I don’t think that The iPad is the answer for large jobs – and 200 image uploads are large jobs! I have no experience with Smugmug but I’ll have a look. I know PhotoShelter well and use their iOS app occasionally. It would be easy enough to crack a workflow using PhotoShelter so let’s see.


      1. Thanks for your response. I just looked into WebDAV for Smugmug and it doesn’t look good. (The last related post on their wiki is from 2008!) I tried using Transmit to reach Smugmug using those settings, with no luck.

        It just occurred to me that I may be going about it backwards. I love the process of editing in Lightroom Mobile, so I’ve been hoping to hang onto that — but getting the photos into Smugmug is actually easy, if I could do my triage and quick-edits in something besides LR. (What I need is something quicker than Apple’s own iOS photos app to triage and quick-edit. That just requires SO MANY TAPS for basic stuff.) I’ve hunted, but haven’t found anything that really meets my needs there.


  2. Hi Neil – got busy with a deadline and let this drop for a while, but I wanted to thank you again for the suggestions. I had PS Express, and it definitely won’t work. I downloaded FSN Pro, and it SEEMS like it could work, but in practice, it added more extra steps (although I get the nagging feeling that I’m not using it as efficiently as I could).

    For now, I’ve settled on using PhotoSync to copy photos from the iPad to the external hard drive connected to my Mac. Then I just import them into LR from there. I’ve experimented with LR’s auto-import feature, but I don’t know if I’m able to auto-import sub-folders within the folders I’m watching. That’s probably my next step.

    I don’t really have any idea why LR Mobile limits us to 15 exports at a time. Maybe it’s a memory issue, but even the 2048-pixel option there is bigger than I need for my purposes. Life would be much simpler for me if I could go start-to-finish on the iPad.


    1. I am leaning towards leaving my iPad use for emergency or rapid images only with a RAW workflow available should the laptop that I travel with develop a fault (I usually travel with two).

      Liked by 1 person

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