photojournalist

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.

 

Working with Foliobook

The landscape version of the opening page of my Foliobook iPad portfolio.

My previous post about developing a workflow for acquiring, editing and transmitting images using my iPad is still a “work in progress” and that work has been going on alongside another tablet related project. This time it is to get a decent and easily adapted portfolio onto that iPad so that when I need to show pictures I have a pretty good folio with me. I’m sufficiently “old school” to love the look and feel of a printed portfolio and in the past I have used the Foliobook app on an iPad as a back up to the printed work – a way of having a wider selection of pictures just in case the potential client wanted to see more.

I would be the first to admit that I never really used Foliobook to its full potential. A few galleries of randomly sized pictures with graphics ‘straight out of the box’ was about as good as it got. No longer. That £9.99 that I spent all that time ago has now been well and truly exploited!

It’s taken me about a week spending half an hour or an hour here and there tinkering and making changes to get to where I am now – an iPad based folio that I am very happy to show clients, potential clients and even passers-by if I can get their attention. It’s never going to be finished; no good folio ever is. What I have is something that is as good as I want it to be ready for when I start touting my services around once I’m fit again (picture editors and commercial buyers of photographic services should be wary around January or February 2018).

What I love about Foliobook is what the client won’t get to see and that’s how versatile it is. Almost everything is there waiting to be changed (layout, fonts, navigation, transitions, colours etc) but when it comes down to viewing the pictures they are just there with no fancy borders, embellishments or distractions. Just the pictures and the “next” button. What the viewer also fails to see is the hidden galleries. More often than not you want to have a set of images put together just for that day, for that meeting. You can hide them until you want them to be seen with less than half a dozen taps and swipes of the screen. Exactly what I want and need.

Part of the unseen back-end of Foliobook where you get to edit the gallery choosing the order that the photographs are seen in as well as adding or deleting pictures.

There’s little point going through the actual processes involved when the app developers themselves have published such good instructional material on their site and when equally informative videos are there on YouTube and Vimeo. One of my favourite small features of the app is the ability to have different opening backgrounds for when you view the folio in horizontal or vertical orientation. My current horizontal one can be seen at the top of this page and here below is a screen grab of the vertical option:

The homepage of my Foliobook shown in the upright mode.

Simple, effective and great value. I like this app. A lot. It’s never going to replace my online folio or the many printed versions that I have created over the years but it will be with me most of the time which makes it a seriously useful piece of kit and a very good use of the time that I have on my hands waiting to get over the nightmare of being a freelancer laid up through injury.

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.

AA batteries

Eneloop AA 1.2v batteries and Think Tank 8 AA battery holder.

Back in September 2008 when I returned to the world of freelancing I tried every way that I could think of to cut my ‘cost of doing business’. One of the central ideas was to reduce the number of disposable batteries that I bought and used. I had a number of speed lights and a whole bag full of triggers, transmitters and gadgets almost all of which took AA sized batteries and so I went out and bought a lot of NiCd (nickel cadmium) rechargeables along with three decent quality chargers.

Every-once-in-a-while I would buy a few single use batteries if I was on a job which justified doing so but I kept to my plan and used the NiCd ones where I could. Over time they lost their power and after about four years they were relegated to being used in kids toys and my wireless keyboard. I bought some new NiCds but the way that I used them meant that the dreaded memory effect killed them off more quickly than I would have liked.

For about six months I was lazy and kept buying Duracells (and other brands) but the box I kept the dead ones in filled up far too quickly and I went back to buying and using rechargeable batteries. By this time the nickel metal hydride (NiMH) revolution had pretty much taken place and I started to buy those. It took me a few months to realise that the old NiCd chargers weren’t the best option for the newer generation batteries and so I invested in a couple of new chargers a year or so ago. Slowly but surely and over the course of 18 months I went from NiCd to a mix of NiCd and single use batteries and then to NiMH. The big battery swap-over has now been completed.

The general consensus amongst my peers was that the Eneloop branded batteries (by Panasonic) were the best and so I built up a stock of thirty or so white Eneloops. Very happy with them, they work really well and hold their charge splendidly. One of my colleagues mentioned Eneloop Pro batteries and that upset me – I am always keen to get the best – and so I bought a few of those to see if they were worth the 60% price hike over the standard ones. Well, they are anecdotally about a third better in that they last that much longer under heavy use in Canon flash units. I cannot see any difference in the recycle times for the speed lights and so I had to ask myself whether it was worth paying more in order to have to change batteries a little less frequently. On balance, the answer is “no” but I now have eight of the Pro batteries and so I use them in amongst the set. The big downside of the Pros is that they have a shorter life. They can handle about 500 charge cycles before they lose their potency whereas the standard Eneloop can do around 2000 charges. That makes the Pro quite a bit more expensive than the ordinary one but there will be colleagues out there who are more than happy to pay that extra to get what they need – it’s a personal decision.

Carrying so many batteries around is heavy and cumbersome. I really like the Think Tank nylon case that holds eight AAs and I have a couple of those in my bag in the same pocket as the Think Tank 4x DSLR (Canon LP-E6) battery holder. I hate the idea of running out of power on a job and I have the two DSLR battery holder in my pocket most of the time too.

I saw a couple of reviews of high quality ‘smart chargers’ the other day and so I’ve now invested in new chargers too. That’s made quite a difference and I’m back to being up to date with the technology. It’s cheaper, it’s greener and my flash units are cycling faster. All good!

The third kit fetish

The Phottix 70cm collapsible beauty dish, adapted to fit an Elinchrom Ranger Quadra head.

Everyone knows about the fetish for camera bags shared by most photographers and anyone who has read this blog will know about my own personal one for card readers but there is a third one that has been exercising me of late. I have mentioned it quite a few times over the years and a particular need to have a repeatable set up has led me down this particular equipment rabbit hole once again.

I’m talking about lighting. I’m talking specifically about light modifiers. Those umbrellas, snoots, dishes, soft boxes and hybrid gadgets that you place on the fronts of your flash units in order to control and improve the light.

On our first day in the studio at college back in 1984 we were banned from fixing anything to the lights. Instead we had to place screens and diffusers in the optimum position independently from the light source so that we learned that there was no such thing as the perfect soft box, swimming pool or snoot. By inching a diffuser backwards or forwards by a small margin you could change the quality of the light considerably and you could use all sorts of flags and reflectors to stop the stray light from going where you didn’t want or need it. That was in the studio and that was a very long time ago. As soon as the restrictions about not using ready-made light modifiers was lifted we all sprinted for the big fabric soft boxes and rigid swimming pools and most never looked back.

Unfortunately I was left with a feeling that every time I used a light modifier I am making some really important and potentially detrimental mistakes. I blame the knowledge that I gained about the subtlety of light modification that I acquired in term one, year one of my formal photographic education for the dissatisfaction that I feel with every convenient and portable accessory that I own – and I own a lot of them. A brief headcount yesterday produced the following:

  • Four translucent or shoot through umbrellas
  • Two convertible umbrellas
  • Three reflective or bounce off umbrellas
  • One umbrella box
  • Two rigid beauty dishes
  • One folding beauty dish
  • Two square soft boxes
  • Two rectangular soft boxes
  • Three hexagonal soft boxes
  • Two strip soft boxes
  • Seven reflectors
  • One snoot
  • Three sets of grids
  • Two sets of barn doors
  • Nine reflectors

I have probably forgotten about some others but you get the idea; too many options, no clear direction and no way to always ensure that I have the right one with me at all times. Therefore the compromise is almost always to bring the two or three most versatile with me and have another three or four in the car before making the best of what I have.

This, surely, begs the question about which is my favourite. The answer is as simple as it is shocking. None of the above. My favourite way to work is often to use lights in a way that doesn’t give the signature look of a soft box or an umbrella. I like to bounce. Walls, ceilings, walls and ceilings or any one of a dozen other types of surface will almost always get my vote if I’m shooting a one-off creative image. I have written about my love of large pale surfaces and of using pretty much anything around as a bounce surface and it has become so important to me that creating a ‘look’ has become something I’ve had to work at. I know that something like 33% of photographers rock up and set up their lights complete with their favourite modifier and get on with the pictures and that another 33% turn up and shoot with available light. Many of the rest base their shooting options on what they find and choose between flash with their main modifiers or no flash at all. I like to think that I’m in a small group who will look around for ‘bounceable’ surfaces and go down that route as a matter of preference.

From my list of available light modifiers you can see that I never give up on my quest for ‘the one’ – the light modifier that will make sense of them all. I bought a new one this week and I’m off to use it today. Let’s hope that it both surprises and delights me and that the surprise and delight lead to being able to ignore some of those 1984 college year one, term one lessons

Moody technique post from the old website

I have been cleaning up some of the behind the scenes stuff on my original dg28.com website and got side-tracked looking at some of the old technique posts (again). I really liked this one from July 2003 which was originally entitled “Choosing a Mood”. Anyway, here is the original post cut and pasted:

©Neil Turner/TSL. July 2003. English, Media Studies and Philosophy teacher in a north London comprehensive school.

©Neil Turner/TSL. July 2003. English, Media Studies and Philosophy teacher in a north London comprehensive school.

Every time you take a photograph you are saying something about what is in the image. It’s impossible to avoid a frozen frame being anything other than an interpretation of that moment so it becomes a mark of a good photographer to make sure that every element of the image (composition, subject matter and light) helps to paint a consistent story. 

The mood required for every image – especially with portraits – is something that you have to consider very carefully.Some lighting guides will tell you that there is a lighting set up for each mood and that it is a simple matter of placing light A in position B and light C in position D to achieve this. I have to agree that there are some obvious starting points for many of the moods that I use, but there are many other factors that have to be taken into account when setting the scene.

Even a short list of variables such as time of day, age of subject, subjects clothing and location mean that there can be no such thing as a standard lighting rig. This portrait of a teacher who feels that he wasn’t prepared during his training for the attitude of pupils needed a lot of thought.

We met at his home in a pleasant London suburb and I was determined to give the whole portrait a real inner city feel. I asked him if there were any dark alleys or heavily graffitied walls near his home but he couldn’t think of any. We got back into my car and went in search of a location, being very careful not to identify the location in the photographs. We found this shady wall with a small amount of graffiti and parked the car. It was an overcast, if bright, late morning by this time so I decided to add to the “street” atmosphere by using a strong side light.

My subject was just about the same height as the wall so I decided that he needed to be crouching or sitting down. I set up a single Lumedyne 200 w/s (joule) pack and head without either an umbrella or soft box on a stand at about sixty degrees from the lens axis and about ten degrees above eyeline. The flash was set to maximum power at a range of seven feet (2.1 metres) which, combined with a 1/250th shutter speed, made the available light unimportant. The aperture was f11 at 200 ISO and I shot a few frames with just the subject and the wall immediately around him. When I consulted my LCD screen I liked the shadow and decided to include it more obviously in the composition.

My subject appeared more relaxed looking out of camera so I asked him to fix his eyes on a point in the distance between me and the flash. I also asked him to rest his head in his hand and this gave the shadow a better defined shape. I shot a few more frames and then changed the composition to include some of the grey sky. The sky at 1/250th at f11 was very dark so I changed the shutter speed to 1/125th and the sky was a better tone.

I shot quite a few variations after this, including some safe images without the obvious flash but this was my favourite frame when I came to do the edit an hour or so later. The mood was about right, it conveys the slightly dark theme of the article and screams “street” at you. I’m very pleased with end result, although this wasn’t the frame chosen for the paper!

Technical Note: Canon EOS1D with Canon EF 16-35 f2.8L lens. 1/250th of a second at f9.5 with Lumedyne Signature Series flash.

The Photographers’ Summit 2017

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A graphical breakdown of the types of work that I do these days and where the images end up.

I do quite a few talks and lectures throughout the year and I don’t normally discuss the specifics here on the blog because they are rarely open to a general paying audience. This one is different. The National Union of Journalists here in the United Kingdom invited me to run a couple of one hour workshops at a very interesting event they are running in London this Saturday. Titled “The Photographers’ Summit 2017” the day includes the following:

  • Improve your videography skills.
  • Rights & restrictions: how privacy and property laws affect photographers & videographers.
  • Using copyright law to make sure you don’t get ripped off.
  • Moving from staff to freelance photographer.
  • Innovations in photography — 360degree filming and other developments.
  • New models and ways to make money.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a member of the NUJ to attend and it looks likely to be an interesting day.

My part in the proceedings is to do two identical one hour sessions which I have given the working title of “Making a living with the skill set of a press photographer”. OK, so it isn’t particularly catchy but it does sum up what I’ve been tasked with delivering. What I am trying to do is to say to people with press photography skills that they can take those skills and use them elsewhere within the wider photography industry given that the market for news pictures has been shrinking and changing for many years and given that the world still has a massive appetite for photographs. We’ve all had to accept that a relatively small percentage of those pictures come from professionals but it is my contention that as we reach saturation point for the quantity of images the only place to do go is to do something about the quality. Press photographers have the skills to be part of that change and we just need to do something about applying those transferable skills to the task.

As a quick preview of what I’m saying I have done an updated pie chart (yes, there will be pie charts) based on the one that I did for this blog a few years ago when I wrote about where the work comes from. The changes aren’t too big but it’s worth going back and reading the original article to see how this chart came about.

The 2015/2016 financial year's version of the pie chart.

The 2015/2016 financial year’s version of the pie chart.

Now these are only two of the 20+ slides that I am currently planning to use and for the whole explanation there’s no substitute for being there. These are only a one hour sessions (I’m doing the same one twice) and the material that I have had to condense down normally takes about twenty hours to deliver. Ours is a complex business and it would be childish to promise to distill the last eight and a half years worth of freelance business experience down into a few catchy subtitles but I have had a go, so my talk will feature the following in reverse order;

  • Seven vital skills to learn or develop
  • Six things that press photographers have going for them
  • Five things that press photographers need to know
  • Four assumptions we can make about the industry
  • Three facts about me
  • Two distinct parts to the session
  • One major piece of advice

Christmas is long gone and so there won’t be any partridges in any pear trees (at least in my sessions) and if any Lords turn up they will be asked to restrict their leaping to the breaks. I’m hoping that the whole day will be both fun and informative and that we’ll all get a chance to do some serious networking in the breaks.

If you are interested, there were still a few tickets available at a cost of £35 each for non-members and £15 each for members.

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