technique

My iPad workflow – some conclusions


Over the last couple of months I have been looking hard at the whole idea of an iPad and iPhone based workflow for the kind of photography that I do. I have tried to find a workflow that is repeatable and adaptable that could replace my tried and tested (and damned good) workflow on a laptop or desktop computer.

I’ve failed.

After trying different iPads and iPhones as well as dozens of apps and an endless combination of those apps I have come to the conclusion that there is no way that an iOS device can replace a computer for the vast bulk of my work. There are several reasons for this but the main one is that iOS was never designed for this kind of heavy lifting and the way that you move files around between apps is still pretty painful and that it is even worse with RAW files. Don’t get me wrong, using a fully-loaded top of the range iPad Pro with decent internet connectivity and a keyboard you get really close to a good workflow but by then you have a device costing at least £1,000.00 (and a lot more if you go for the 12″) which weighs and costs almost as much as an Apple MacBook without the access to rock solid made-for-the-job applications.

Now all of that doesn’t mean that there’s no place in my working life for an iPad workflow. If I’ve got to offload a few Jpeg files quickly on the spot then the small, cheap and very lightweight iPad Mini with a few carefully selected apps can do a great job. My cameras are wifi enabled and the iPad fits into even my smallest Domke J3 camera bag which means that half a dozen images can be sorted an uploaded/emailed pretty quickly. Anything much more than that and it pays to get my ageing MacBook Air out and use that.

So far I’ve been through four stages of my quest on this blog:

  • The introduction to my quest asked questions and promised an answer. Eventually.
  • Part Two of my iPad workflow was an investigation of the various ways to get images from the camera onto the tablet. By the end of it I was still unsure which method(s) provided the best results.
  • Part Three of the series included a video showing how I processed files on the iPad Mini. I still use that same workflow and so that video is still worth watching.
  • Part Four concentrated on distributing the captioned, toned and cropped files to the clients. This will always be changing because new clients have their own requirements and old ones seem to keep changing theirs too.

In this final (for now) section I’m going to quickly go through my preferred Jpeg workflow stage by stage. I’m sure that this will only work for a few of you as it is but I hope that it provides you with a few ideas to incorporate into your own workflow and/or some ideas to reject because they don’t work for you.

  1. Use the wireless functionality built into my cameras to send the files to the FSN Pro app on the iOS device using the FTP option.
  2. Select those files, add IPTC captions from templates (the main description is often pre-written in Apple Notes and copied and pasted).
  3. Export them to specific folders in Files.
  4. Use Adobe Lightroom CC to crop and tone the pictures.
  5. Share pictures to a different folder in Files.
  6. From files I share them using the Transmit app for FTP, the Mail app for email or either Photoshelter, Dropbox or WeTransfer apps for jobs where those are preferable.

It’s a simple process with Jpegs but trying to do this with RAW files is a lot harder and has extra stages that make it unsuitable for what I need it to do. You may have noticed that I have avoided any mention of the Apple Photos app. That’s because it annoys the heck out of me. It keeps renaming files and tries to bring images into the Photos system at every stage. I just don’t want to send files to clients with file names starting img. I go to a lot of trouble to use custom filenames in my cameras and I want to be able to go back and find the matching RAW file without having to compare images. I may have shot a couple of thousand images on a job and only picked out six to send for urgent (social media usually) use and by avoiding the Photos app I save myself a lot of headaches later when I come to do a proper edit away from iOS.

An interesting journey which has increased my understanding of the way that Apple’s iOS works as well as giving me a useful, usable and adaptable workflow for when a few quick Jpeg files are the client’s priority. I mentioned near the beginning of this post that I’d failed and that’s true but in failing to replace my desktop workflow I have added yet another string to the bow and that makes the time and money that I’ve invested in this project well spent.

There’s a good chance that I’ll revisit this if and when some better apps come onto the market or if Apple finally decide to stop their Photos app renaming every file. Until then, enjoy working out whether your own work would benefit from a tablet or phone workflow.

iPad workflow part four

Screen grab from Transmit for iOS on my iPad showing a twelve image upload in action.

There are so many ways that I deliver images to various clients these days that I feel that I’m bound to leave something off of this list. The great news for users of the iPad or iPhone to do quick edits of their work is that every single option that I use on the desktop machine is also available on iOS devices;

  • FTP– I use Transmit on the iPad and iPhone. I also have FTP options inside FSN Pro and Shuttersnitch that can all do a good job but Transmit does it all better.
  • Email – adding large numbers of attachments on the iPad isn’t my favourite way to send pictures but it works.
  • Dropbox – The iOS Dropbox app means that I can easily add files to folders on the cloud service and send links to those folders before, during or after the job. It has a very simple interface and works really well.
  • WeTransfer – I wasn’t very happy when the WeTransfer iOS app went over to functioning as “Boards” – making it a very different user experience from the ever-so-simple desktop version but I’ve got used to it and it works really well.
  • Photoshelter – The professional image sharing platform has a dedicated iOS app which is fairly easy to use and very functional.
  • Third Light – This is a niche Digital Asset Management platform used by two of my corporate clients and the iOS app does its job well.

Six different image sharing/transmission options right there on my iPad and iPhone, all of which work well and the first four interact properly with the iOS Files system. Once I have saved my edits I can easily select whichever delivery method suits the job and send my pictures (assuming that I have an internet connection of course). Wherever possible I like to use FTP and having Transmit on the iPad and iPhone is a wonderful option because it is so versatile and because it has the ability to sync settings and passwords from my Mac computers. That means that I can send files to any FTP server that I have set up on my main computers and I can add new ones on iOS devices that get sync’ed to my Macs too. It has so much advanced functionality that I wouldn’t know where to begin listing it all – suffice to say that I have yet to come up against any situation where I’ve wanted something that it doesn’t do.

The way that FTP from the Transmit app works for me is simple. I locate the pictures in Files, select them and use the share option to select the Transmit app. In Transmit I select the FTP server that I wish to send the pictures to and then touch “Upload”. If there are any duplicate issues or if there are any other problems you get a notification but otherwise you just let the app do its job.

In many ways this is the most “sorted” part of the workflow because I have the same options as I do on a computer and those options are provided by the same developers. Sharing photos from iOS devices has pretty much been part of the operating system from day one and, because of that, it’s no surprise that it does it pretty well.

I have put a lot of emphasis on the Apple iOS Files system from the beginning of this exploration because I believe that it helps to keep my workflow a better ‘mirror’ of the the one that I use on my computers. One of the main reasons that I use Files is to stop the Apple Photos app from renaming the pictures – something that Apple needs to address if it is going to continue to market the iPad (and especially the iPad Pro) as a business device and a potential replacement for the laptop. The other advantage of using the Files system is that the images can be automatically added to iCloud providing an extra layer of back ups. Of course iCloud works best (and cheapest) where you have good wifi rather than relying on cellular and 4G connections.

All-in-all delivering pictures from iOS devices is easy to set up and easy to do – if only the import and editing parts of the process were so well sorted!

iPad Workflow – a work in progress

iPad workflow part two – importing the images

iPad workflow part three – captioning and toning the pictures

iPad workflow part three

Welcome to the third instalment of my investigation of the best iPad workflow for the kind of work that I do. At the end of part two I came to the conclusion that adding images wirelessly to the iPad (or an iPhone) was the best way to go for me and in the few days since I made that observation I have largely moved towards using FSN Pro to get the pictures to where I need them to be.

I mentioned several times in part two that I wanted, wherever possible, to avoid storing anything in the Apple Photos app without explaining why I am so keen to avoid it. The simple answer is that my normal workflow for several clients involves keeping the original camera filenames intact so that it is possible to follow up at a later date and find them again without having to spend any time looking. Why Apple are so keen to rename every file with the clumsy “img_1234” formula is beyond me. I guess that it must make what goes on inside iOS easier for Apple – if not for photographers. By avoiding the app it is entirely possible to retain the original filename from start to finish. Don’t get me wrong; if I was rushing and getting a couple of quick edits away to a client then I’d happily rename files and/or settle for the img_xxxx option but when there are five, six or more photographs going through then renaming becomes a pain.

With this in mind I have looked at lots of different apps for captioning and toning both RAW and JPEG images and it has become clear that there isn’t one clear “best option” for all variations on my workflow. As someone who uses Photo Mechanic and Adobe Camera RAW within Adobe Photoshop to handle my pictures I’d love to have iOS versions of both ready to use. Camera Bits say that they have no plans to develop an iOS version of Photo Mechanic and Adobe seem to be more than happy with Lightroom CC as an image editor and RAW converter. During this phase of my research I’ve looked at lots of photo apps:

  • Filsterstorm Neue Pro or FSN Pro – a very capable IPTC and image editor for a JPEG workflow but not for RAW files. It allows all sorts of options and allows you to set up IPTC sets in advance making it very easy to caption photos individually or in batches. FSN Pro is also great for importing photos and exporting them to other apps or directly to FTP servers or other cloud based storage as well as to the “Files” option on iOS11 and later.
  • Lightroom CC – the nearest thing available for Adobe Camera RAW and therefore very familiar for me. It interacts with the iOS Files storage well too and it is definitely the best option that I’ve tried for working with RAW files. The synch with the Adobe CC Cloud is a mixed blessing and I am going to monitor how much mobile 4G data it eats when I’m on jobs using it. It has IPTC captioning built-in but it’s hard to imagine a clumsier implementation of what is such a vital function for me.
  • Affinity Photo – The Apple app store photo app of the year 2017 promises so much and delivers very little for me. It requires a top end iPad (preferably like the iPad Pro I have tried it on) and isn’t available on the iPhone at all. It edits photos really well but the lack of availability on my iPad Mini 4 or the phone means that I’m not interested in it as things stand.
  • Picture Pro Lite – A really good app but it appears to be no longer being supported. Very good IPTC options, decent image editing options but it has no interaction with iOS Files that I can see. Another app that promises loads but doesn’t quite do enough to be THE answer.
  • Shuttersnitch – Great for importing images and it has some good automated features but it doesn’t like RAW files and doesn’t play with iOS Files either.
  • Marksta – excellent watermarking and captioning app developed by an award winning photographer.

I’ve looked at others but I am trying to narrow things down here and so it has come down to choosing between a workflow for just JPEG files where time and simplicity are everything and a RAW workflow where I can get everything out of a RAW file that I could if I were working on one of my Macs. It’s entirely possible to have a single workflow for RAW and JPEG and here’s what I’m using right now:

  1. Connect the camera to FSN Pro via the FTP import option. I have blogged about setting up an ESO5D MkIV before and the process using FSN Pro to receive the pictures is exactly the same.
  2. Select the images on the back of the camera and use the “Set” button to upload them to the iOS device.
  3. If you are working with RAW files, select the photos within FSN Pro and export them to a folder in Files making sure that you check “Files to Export > Original Image File” option.
  4. If you are working with JPEG files then add IPTC captions in FSN Pro before going to “Files to Export > Selected Edit” option and exporting them to Files.
  5. Go to Lightroom CC and select the folder that you wish to import the files into and go to “Add Photos”, select them from Files and import them.
  6. For RAW files then it is easiest to write the main caption in Apple Notes and copy and paste it from there into the IPTC inside Lightroom CC as it cannot import the caption xmp file created by FSN Pro.
  7. For both file types you can now go through the photographs and adjust the colour, contrast, crops, sharpening etc in Lightroom CC making use of the copy and paste settings options as you go.
  8. Save the finished files either to another Lightroom CC album or folder or into a folder in the iOS Files app.
  9. Wait until part four to find out what happens next.

Here is a video that I made as a “walk through” for a basic and quick JPEG workflow. It is fine for RAW files too but you would have to ad the captions after converting the files rather than the more convenient way that they are added before toning in this film:

The great thing about having done all of the research and practice over the last few weeks is that I have a decent and repeatable workflow. The second best thing is that if I need to make a few changes then I understand what all of the other apps can do and I know how they work. This works but I’m not going to stop looking for improvements and changes. Yet!

The video on Vimeo:  https://vimeo.com/247334007

The video on YouTube:   https://youtu.be/rgc_cBjASVI

iPad workflow part two

Apple’s Lightning to SD Card and USB3 to Camera adapters

A few weeks ago I promised to keep working on my iPad workflow and keep readers of this blog up-to-date with my thoughts. Lot of other things have got in the way lately but here is the second instalment. I’ve decided to break the whole process down into four parts:

  • Getting the images onto the iPad
  • Toning and captioning them
  • Getting the pictures to where they are needed
  • My conclusions and (hopefully) a settled workflow

The accessories that I’ve used to import images from memory cards onto an iPad for photo editing.Because I’m vaguely logical, I’m going to tackle them in order and so I’m going to outline the ways that I have looked at getting my pictures onto the iPad. Because this is an examination of the possibilities I’m going to consider all of my options and because I’m a Canon user I will tend to lean towards the options for EOS cameras although much of what I’m talking about is not make specific. I have experimented with several ways to get the pictures onto the iPad and I’ve tried all of them as JPEGs and RAW files too:

  1. Plugging a USB cable from the camera via an Apple adapter into the iPad’s Lightning port
  2. Using an Apple Lightning SD card reader
  3. Plugging either an SD or Compact Flash card into the Apple adapter via a card reader using an external power supply
  4. Using the Canon wifi (built-in on the EOS 5D MkIV and EOS6D, via the W-E1 SD device on a 7D MkII and using the WFT-E8 on an EOS1DX MkII)
  5. Via FTP into specific applications using the relevant functions on the EOS5D MkIV, 7D MkII and 1DX MkII
  6. Using an Eye-Fi Mobi card or one of the other after market SD transmitters

Some of the accessories discussed in this post.

Six options which, in different situations, all have their advantages and disadvantages and from the photo above you can see that it all adds up to quite a bit of extra kit should you decide to have everything that you need for every eventuality (and the photo isn’t even complete as it is missing the various SD cards, wifi adapters and the USB camera cable).

What I’d like to do is to go through each option and what you need to make it work and then discuss the pros and cons of each option – so here we go:

  1. Plugging a USB cable from the camera via an Apple adapter into the iPad’s Lightning port: For this you need the Apple Lightning to USB3 camera adapter and a USB cable suitable for your camera. From there it is simple; you connect everything up and the iPad should automatically recognise that there’s a camera connected and show you thumbnails of the photographs with the option to import all of just the selected images. The advantage is the simplicity but that is balanced by the fact that you have to wait for every single thumbnail to load (which is slow with RAW files) before you can do anything. You also have no control over the size of the thumbnails that I can see and you have no way of viewing the images larger to select which ones you want to import. All imports have to go through the Apple Photos app on the iOS device which is sometimes inconvenient.
  2. Using an Apple Lightning SD card reader: This is similar to the first option in that you have one single and very simple adapter, into which you can slot an SD card. It also uses the Apple Photos app which again means quite a slow build if you have dozens of images and no option to view them larger in order to select which pictures you need. The other disadvantage is that you have to shoot the pictures to an SD card – which isn’t a great option if you have a camera without the right slot or if you have set your cameras up to record the images needed onto a different card format.
  3. Plugging either an SD or Compact Flash card into the Apple adapter via a card reader using an external power supply: This uses the same Apple Lightning to USB3 camera adapter that the first option uses but has the advantage of allowing you to then plug in any type of USB3 card reader. Back on the downside you also have to plug in some sort of power supply and you have to be careful which power supply you choose. I have four different charging blocks and/or power packs with USB output here and only one of them worked reliably with this method – and even then only on one of the two different USB power outputs. The power bank that worked was an EasyAcc PB10000C and it was the 1.5amp port. I am going to try a newer model to see if that’s OK too. The main advantages and disadvantages of this method in use are the same as the first two given that you have to use the Apple Photos app but you have to add the extra weight of the power bank and extra cables and card readers too.
  4. Using the Canon wifi (built-in on the EOS 5D MkIV and EOS6D, via the W-E1 SD device on a 7D MkII and using the WFT-E8 on an EOS1DX MkII): This method requires the Canon Camera Connect app and of course the basic wifi connectivity that comes with some cameras but which requires Wireless Adapters for others. Once set up and providing there’s not too much wifi pollution this option works really well with one camera at a time. Because you go through the Canon app it recognises star ratings applied to images in the camera which can be used to drastically speed up the workflow when the app is set to show the rated images first. Importing JPEG files this way is really fast and very easy. RAW files take three or four times as long but the process still works well.
  5. Via FTP into specific applications using the relevant functions on the EOS5D MkIV, 7D MkII and 1DX MkII: Both Shuttersnitch and FSN Pro (and probably other apps) have the option to set your iOS device running those apps as an FTP receiving device. This requires more sophisticated wifi connectivity (currently only the EOS5D MkIV has this built-in) and can cost hundreds of pounds per camera to get this working. Once you have the equipment and have set the cameras up you can choose to send selected images or everything on a given memory card to the iPad where the apps can start to do some work in the background for you. I won’t lie and tell you that setting these apps up is anywhere near as easy as plugging a cable in but the advantages are many. You avoid the Apple Photos App, can connect with multiple suitably equipped cameras without swapping cards, cables or settings and the background processing that Shuttersnitch in particular can do is a potential time-saver.
  6. Using an Eye-Fi Mobi card or one of the other after market SD transmitters: Three or four years ago I was very keen on the Eye-Fi SD cards and used them every day in Canon EOS5D MkIII cameras. The original cards were effectively emasculated by the manufacturers and replaced with their Mobi range. These still have their uses if you want to offload images to an iOS device via their Keenai app. They can suffer from being overpowered by nearby and much stronger wifi signals but where they work they are extremely simple and very effective. Setting them up is easy and they will transfer either JPEG (all versions) and RAW (the pro version) as you shoot them. I currently use my Eye-Fi Mobi card with a Fujifilm X100S and it makes for a good pairing. I shoot just RAW on the camera and then do an in-camera JPEG conversion on a small selection which the Mobi then transfers to the waiting Keenai app. Toshiba and one or two other manufacturers sell SD based wifi image transmitters too although my experience with them is limited I can say that they also work pretty well where there are no super-strong signals operating on the same band. There is also an option to customise them and, whilst I have not gone down this route yet, I am told that it can be very effective.

That’s quite a lot of information to take in and, having played with all of the options, I am strongly leaning towards option 4 for most of the work and option 5 when I have very tight deadlines to work to. Bits of cable and adapters are fine for occasional use but wireless connectivity when you are running around shooting is less of a hassle. I have spent a lot of time using option 4 over the last twelve months and I am pretty good at getting it working as well as fault-finding if it doesn’t.

The complexity of getting the images from the camera into the right apps on the iPad is one of the reasons why I still think about using an iPad for editing as a second option and one only to be used for a few rapid image offloads. For those who ask why I am avoiding the Apple Photos app as much as I can the answer is that you don’t get to see the images as anything other than a small thumbnail to choose which images you want and because the app doesn’t recognise the star ratings that you can apply in-camera to distinguish between the pictures you want and the rest. Canon’s Camera Connect gives you that option and it is small details like this that make the difference between an app being good to work with and not being so good. I am told that Nikon’s equivalent app is Ok too but I have yet to use it.

 

Customising your Photo Mechanic IPTC interface

This could very well be the single most “niche” blog post that I have ever written but I found it incredibly useful and so I thought others might too. If you aren’t a Photo Mechanic user already, bear with me because it might just convince you to have (another) look at what, for me, is an indispensable piece of software.

When you open up either a Stationery Pad (best for bulk captioning) or click on the IPTC Info tab (best for editing a single caption) the default views show dozens of fields. Most of those fields will have little or no use for basic image captioning and some of them will have very specific uses for very specific clients. Recently I’ve been doing a lot of image editing and I have found that different clients have very different needs and because of that I want the IPTC interface to look different for each client. The great news is that in Photo Mechanic you can customise the interfaces to a very high degree. You can choose to:

  • Hide or remove fields
  • Change the order in which they appear
  • Group them in any way you wish
  • Change the labels on the fields
  • Change the size of the boxes of some fields

Once you have set up your custom ‘look’ you can then save that look and swap between any number of looks depending on the work that you are doing. You can, at any time, swap back to the Photo Mechanic default and create new versions of the interface.

So where does all of this magic happen? If you go to Preferences/Accessibility/ you should see this screen:

You then have two different options:

  1. Customize IPTC Info which will let you change the interface brought up by the “i” icon on a contact sheet.
  2. Customize IPTC Stationery which will let you change the stationery pad or Cmd+I on a Mac or Ctrl+I on a PC.

I have found that having a stripped down IPTC Info option has made amending the captions for individual images much slicker. If I can only see the fields that I’m interested in then I don’t have to continually scroll around to find the right fields every time. By clicking on Customize IPTC Info you get this window:

Which allows you to edit names, drag the relevant fields into the order you want them to appear, enable and/or make fields visible and edit/remove group labels. Once you have it looking the way you want it all you have to do is click on the small lightning symbol in the bottom left corner and Save the set up with a name that you will recognise. As I said before, you can go back to the default simply by clicking on “Restore Defaults“. If you want to make further changes to a saved interface then you can overwrite the file easily.

Deleting saved interfaces is a lot tougher. I have no idea how to do it on a PC but on a Mac you have to go into your Hard Drive/Users/User/Library/Preferences/com.camerabits.PhotoMechanic/CustomizeIPTCInfoDialog and remove the relevant .snap file from there.

If you want to create/remove a custom interface for the Stationery Pad it’s a very similar process – the Customize interface looks slightly different but, in essence, they do a similar job.

Using the Canon W-E1 wifi adapter

When Canon announced the W-E1 wifi adapter for the EOS7D MkII and the EOS5S and 5SR I was decidedly underwhelmed for two reasons;

  • The first was that it was not backwards compatible with the two EOS5D MkIII bodies that I had at the time.
  • The second was that it took away the ability to record to two cards when it was in use.

At the time I couldn’t see any advantage over any of the SD based transmitters from Eye-Fi or Toshiba amongst others. I didn’t buy one and I couldn’t see myself buying one either.

Fast forward ten months and my need to use remote cameras controlled by an iOS devices has grown and I only had one – the wonderfully simple Canon EOS6D. I didn’t want to use either of the EOS5D MkIV bodies as a remote and so I bought the W-E1 adapter to use in my EOS7D MkII.

I know that having used all sorts of wireless devices with all sorts of Canons probably made this dead easy for me but from taking the SD card out of the packaging I was up and running in under five minutes. Put simply, this device is really easy to use. It doesn’t do very much – it just allows you to browse the images on the camera’s Compact Flash (CF) card or to control the camera from your phone, tablet or computer. I got it working, clamped the camera in place, walked away and started taking pictures. Easy. I don’t think that it will be in the camera every time I use it – my love of having the files written to both memory cards easily trumps the need to be able to use the W-E1’s wireless functions most of the time but it will live in the bag with the 7D MkII at all times.

Shot using Canon EOS7D MkII camera remotely controlled via a smartphone app and then downloaded to the phone before being edited using the FSN Pro app and uploaded to Dropbox direct from the phone. © Neil Turner, May 2017

The thing about owning and using all of the various wireless options is that I find myself doing more and more work where getting images away quickly as well as shooting remotely. Versatility has gone from being a useful day-to-day option to being an absolute necessity. Spending yet another £40.00 inc VAT to give me more options hurts but, less than two hours after buying the accessory, it has pretty much paid for itself.

Setting up FTP from a Canon EOS 5D MkIV

A couple of weeks ago I spent a couple of days helping to teach other photographers to send pictures direct from their Canon EOS 5D MkIVs. Over the last couple of years I have taught dozens of people how to do this and set up a huge number of cameras; mostly Canons ranging from the 5D MkII, MkIII and MkIV to the various EOS1D series models as well as various Nikon D4, D4S and D5 models. It’s not rocket science but it is something that takes a lot of practice before it becomes part of your toolkit.

I use this technology all of the time myself and it was suggested to me that I might like to try my hand at making an instructional video. I have a face for radio and so my two thumbs are making a welcome return to the media (last seen holding a power tool in the 1985 Argos catalogue). You might like to check out this old blog post about why I need to get pictures away quickly too.

Here’s a link to the 1080p version on Vimeo
There’s also a 720p option on YouTube.

I’m always happy to answer questions and even happier to get feedback. This is my first real attempt at a “how to” video so be gentle with me!

For those who are interested it was all filmed using a Canon EOS7D MkII and a Canon 24-70 f4L IS lens before being edited in Apple iMovie with some help from Apple Keynote.