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September 05
Photography Workflow

One of the things I've wanted the iPad to have success at since it started shipping in March 2010 is photography and photography-related workflows. Almost immediately, the iPod Camera kit was shown to work with the iPad, but there wasn't a whole lot you could do with your photos. By the time I got one of the kits in 2012, the iPad gained the ability to view RAW photos up to a certain pixel size, but it never really gained any workflow in terms of making the iPad a viable long-term photo storage device. In fact, iPhoto always ended up looking more like something designed for a future where the iPad was itself viable as a camera, for editing highly compressed JPEG files, rather than as part of a bigger workflow or a self-contained version of a normal workflow.

Adobe promises "workflow" with the iPad version of Lightroom, but I haven't actually seen any proof that it is real or that it'll work. It relies on yet another cloud subscription(1), and relies on storage space in that subscription to upload files to Adobe's servers and then download them onto your computer. This would almost be ideal, but I can't find evidence that the iPad and iPhone versions of Adobe Lightroom support things like tagging.

Related to last week's post about metadata, I've had some thoughts about metadata. One of the biggest troubles is that things I think iPads would be really good at is the "ingestion" part of a photography workflow. Pulling files from a camera memory card, putting them on some kind of storage media. In addition, I imagine files pulled in with an iPad could be tagged and rated there. I think that further, the best way to integrate with a larger workflow or larger database of files might be to either directly manipulate original RAW files directly on the capture memory card (especially as bigger memory cards become more affordable) or to allow moving parts of the database from one device to another, with wired USB connections or via wireless networks(2).

Basically, my ideal workflow for photography looks something like this:

  • Shoot a bunch of photos, filling a memory card.
  • Import the contents of the card onto iPad.
  • Rate and tag photos quickly using touch controls. Possibly even make initial adjustments to the photos.
  • When you get back to your home or studio, connect the iPad either to your wireless network or to a USB port on your desktop-experience computer, and then move things from the iPad to the desktop computer's photo library. (Without first uploading them to an Internet service.)
  • Continue doing other tasks with your photos on the desktop-experience computer.

A big trouble with getting to a workflow like this is that the biggest iPads aren't keeping up with the storage demands of the newest cameras, especially when video is considered. An iPad that could, via Lightning, run an inexpensive external hard disk as well as a card reader would add value to a workflow like this, or make entirely iPad-centric workflows possible. I have no doubt that an iPad could address a terabyte of storage, but I have a lot of doubt that Apple could sell an iPad with a terabyte of storage space for less than a thousand dollars. As it stands, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro with a 256GB storage capacity is selling for $900.

The trouble is that for your $900 ($1030 if you want cellular networking) you can buy a smaller iPad, ignore its possible potential for photography workflow, and then go buy a few hundred dollars' worth of really big memory cards, reducing the need to carry a spinning hard disk, spend a bunch on solid state storage, or fight with an iPad to try to force it to do things it doesn't do well.

Using an online service to manage your images is an intriguing option. I think that the Adobe Creative Cloud, OneDrive, Google Photos, and so on could be really compelling options. Unfortunately, I also think that these services aren't designed with that type of workflow in mind. Google Photos' whole idea is that your phone isn't big enough and isn't expandable, and so you should put your photos on Google Photos. (I use OneDrive for this exact purpose, but I also have a phone that's big enough for a few years' worth of phone photos.)

I think the next step for these service is to allow the use of increasingly powerful mobile devices to ingest RAW photographs and footage, converting the photos to DNG as necessary, and upload them to the service. Adobe has experience with small proxy files, which could be used on a phone or tablet for metadata and quick edit purposes. Perhaps I'm the literal only person who wants this, but I'd really love to be able to add tags to photos on a walk, in a waiting room, while waiting for a ride, and so on.

One of the biggest reasons I haven't ever finished tagging even the first few years of my digital photo collection is that it's not easy. It's a task that takes a long time to do really well and I traditionally don't have available time in long spurts, but it's not something you need to do in single long bursts. The other trouble is that because traditionally my photography workflow relied on either having a desktop experience computer and either Adobe Bridge or Adobe Lightroom around, the task wasn't even possible on "mobile" experience devices.

Some software or service company could solve this problem. I think what we're seeing is that they don't necessarily want to solve it or they don't think this particular type of workflow is going to become common. Apple has what they've been building up to be a unified photo management interface on Macs, Phones, and iPhones, and it's slightly different on each one, perhaps suggesting that they don't think it's reasonable to expect things like this to happen. The intriguing component of Apple's solution is that except that they don't appear to expect "Photos" users to do a whole lot of tagging and other metadata management, is that it does most of the rest of this workflow. Supposedly (I haven't tested this) when you take photos on an iPhone or import photos from a memory card or camera into an iPad, those photos get uploaded into the iCloud Photo Library, which you can access relatively equally from your Mac, iPad, or iPhone.

As I've mentioned before, it can be problematic for people with anything but the fastest of network connections. In particular, you need a pretty good upload speed or the ability to monitor and control what's happening on the iPad and iPhone. (Other services need this too. Adobe Lightroom has better monitoring, but no control granularity.) Mobile networks now often have faster upload speeds than home networks do, but these are of course very tightly quota controlled. Enough mobile data allotment to unload a few big memory cards from a cellular-equipped iPad would cost hundreds of dollars monthly, either in a pre-determined plan, or in on-demand passes or overage costs.

I eventually need to try out Google Photos and Microsoft OneDrive. Google Photos advertises itself as a whole ecosystem you'll use to manage photos, and as far as I can tell, OneDrive really advertises itself more as a transfer and storage location. I think there's some opportunity, or perhaps even obligation for Microsoft to improve OneDrive as a photo destination.

Microsoft has started automatically tagging photos with what it thinks the main subject of the photo is. I won't post samples here, but it's laughably wrong, and I haven't found a good way to interface with OneDrive's photo storage tools to work on making corrections, or adding other information, such as location or more standardized tags.

This all comes up because I'm looking into what to do next with my photographs. A few years ago, I was using a very in-depth process using Adobe Bridge CS4, and I later migrated everything to Lightroom, where I started to do some more tagging, but never really fell into it as a habit on new or old photos.

The main reason this is a question, of course, is because of the laptop's untimely partial demise(3). In response to that, I set up my fastest desktop as a real computer and have been having surprisingly good success with productive tasks on it. The thing I haven't done is moved my photo library anywhere and started using or managing it on any different devices.

Helpfully, though, I've actually been doing a certain amount of photo and video, and so I'll have some stuff to categorize when I do finally start working on those things again. The memory card(s) I'm filling will help me benchmark performance of certain tasks on certain systems and make sure that whatever I'm getting into is either not more complicated or loses functionality. Portability was one of the hallmarks of my original Bridge-based photo management system from a few years ago, but it was also painful to actually find things, and unnatural divides in the display of images meant that tagging could be difficult, if you didn't complete tagging while images were in the ingest phase.

One of the problems I hope that whatever I end up using addresses is that I'm starting to mix a lot more video in with my photos. I've had phones that can take video for a few years now, and my main camera can also shoot pretty good video, plus I end up creating video screenshots for various projects.

On the workflow front: I'll be investigating some other things. My first and most immediate move is to install Lightroom somewhere and just get going again. It won't be ideal, but I'm becoming convinced that after working with photos on my computers in one form or another for a bit over ten years now, that it never will be.



  1. I should clarify here that my problem isn't with the cloud subscription in and of itself, but that I don't happen to have that subscription, and so for me to get this functionality, I'd have to buy into either Adobe's $9.99/mo Creative Cloud Photography plan, or into their much more expensive full suite plan. It's a compelling offer if you're regularly using all of the apps, but it's less than ideal if you literally just want a way to move photos from an iPad to a desktop computer.
  2. I can't find the documentation for it, but I swear up and down that Aperture on Mac OS X allowed you to have more than one library opened at once and you could move data back and forth between them at will. The use case here was that either your PowerBook portable computer or your FireWire portable hard disk would have an "on the go" or "capture" Aperture library on it, and you would either connect that disk or your whole PowerBook to your Power Macintosh using target disk mode, and move projects (which represented particular shoots, days, or overall events) from library to library. This was also suggested as the way to archive old content, because libraries had capacity limits.
  3. I don't think there would ever have been a "good" time for that computer to kick it. I've been looking into newer laptop computers for some time now, but I just can't decide on one and can't fit it into the budget.


Re: Photography Workflow

Here's the documentation from Aperture:

It wasn't quite as svelte as having two libraries open as though it wasnothing, but you could export a project and then import it into a new library.

The "import on a laptop and then move it to the desktop" workflow would ultimately look like, capture, tag/adjust, export, then copy the exported file to the desktop and import it into the mainstream library.

Archiving old content could be done the same way, primarily because there were limits on how big a library could be. (Which: kind of a bummer and lightroom didn't ultimately have this scaling issue.)
Cory WiegersmaNo presence information on 12/26/2017 7:43 PM