Using an iPad for travel photography

Using an iPad for travel photography

I wrote an article last year about using the iPad for photography. It was before I travelled to SXSW and I intended to write an update on how I got on. I thought I would be able to cope without my Mac, but the truth was, it wasn’t the greatest experiece. The workflow was just too long winded and the Great Escape in May confirmed this.

What I like about my iPad is how convenient it is. It’s small, light, powerful and has great battery life. I can slip it into my camera bag and edit photos on the move. But editing on the move, and dealing with several consecutive days of gig shooting proved to be two different things.

Lightroom on the iPad is now a capable application. It supports the majority of features the desktop application does. It supports all the core facilities like levels, and curves. Presets can be created for quick editing options. One area where it’s lacking is camera calibrations, something I don’t use, but is important for many professionals. But it’s now a serious option to replace the desktop application on a laptop.

My workflow for previous SXSWs had been to use an MacBook Air and an iPad as a second screen. I would get back at night, start charging cameras and copy the photos across to my Mac’s hard disk, then import them into Lightroom or Aperture (until Apple killed the product).

My workflow with Aperture was the quickest, but my Lightroom workflow has evolved over the years to be nearly as quick. Essentially, I would copy the files, import them into the catalogue by reference. Select my preferred shots. Edit one and apply one of my gig presets. Then I apply the setting to whole batch and tweak individual photos. (I now tend to apply them per band/venue). While I’m doing this, I would also copy the files to an external hard disk. If the card is pretty full, then I leave the card in my room. Essentially, I make sure I have backups in case of a card failure.

Depending on how long this takes, I might have to go to bed and leave everything copying and sort out the selection in the morning (it’s usually 2am when I get back to my room). Occasionally, if they are processed, I leave the Mac exporting before going to sleep.

I usually wake up reasonably early and sort out the remaining edits before leaving. My hotel in Austin (still) has slow WIFI. If it’s proving cumberson, I usually try and get photos onto my phone so that I can upload them using the conference WiFi. Essentially photos are on flickr and instagram by lunchtime, just before it all starts again.

This year, with just an iPad it didn’t work. The process was complicated by the fact that I had to import the photos to the iPad Photos application and then import them from there into the Lightroom’s application. I would usually end up going to bed before this had completed and it wasn’t until the next morning that I started to process photographs. This then proved to be slower to process than Lightroom on the Mac because there was no way to copy a base setting across a batch of photos. Instead, all I could do was apply the settings from the previous photos which involved opening a menu so over a few hundred photos, really annyoing. After one day of music at SXSW I was already behind.

In the end, so that something was being uploaded, I would identify just a few photos from the bands I really liked and quickly process them before heading out. The rest waited until after the festival.

This wasn’t the process I thought I would be using. I had purchased a WIFI modem with an SSD card reader and a USB port that would allow files to be copied to an external hard disk. This proved to be a disaster. While Lightroom allowed photos to be imported from wireless hard disks, I had hoped that this would cut out the first step and also allow me to copy files to a hard disk for backup. But it just didn’t work. The import was painfully slow and usally Lightroom would crash so this approach was completely unreliable. By the end of the first full day’s shooting I had given up on process.

Application to manage the modem’s connection was buggy and copying was painfully slow
Although the storage appeared in Files, it was slow and Lightroom prone to crashing

Instead, I was left the problem of the two stage iPad import and an ever decreasing storage capacity. So despite having a 256GB iPad, by the end of SXSW I was running out of space to do the dual import. If SXSW Music had lasted one more day, I would have been unable to import and process the photos as I would have ran out of space.

Initially, I was deleting each set of imported photographs from the iPad’s photo library. However, I ran into issues, importing photos from cards I had already used, as the iPad didn’t show photos by date and you had to wait until the painfully slow rendering of the photos had completed to work out which photo to start to import from. I quickly found a workaround which was to delete all photos from the iPad’s Photo library except the last two. I could then spot the ticks that indicated the iPad had these photos well before the photos thumbnails had rendered, allowing me to select new photos. This sped up the process a little bit.

By the end of SXSW, the process had just collapsed. It was just too cumbersome. With the Great Escape being shorter, two months later, I hoped it would be possible to keep up with the edits. Despite taking my iPad out with me and trying to download more often, I experienced the same issues and struggled to keep up.

Luckily Apple announced iOS13 would allow applications to import directly from storage devices, so I decided to hold off writing the article until the updates came out.

In all honesty, the intital release of this feature was handled badly in Lightroom. Adobe were slow to release an update that was compatible with the facility and when they did, it initially slow and suffered some of the same issues Photos had in that there was no way to import by date. It also crashed regularly when importing.

Since the intitial release, Adobe have continued to improve the facility and it’s now considerably better. Lightroom also introduced a option to apply settings to a batch of photos. For many desktop users, there are still some limitiations in that you can’t apply presets during import. But I’ve never used that facility. It’s great that Lightroom continued to improve.

For the last few months, the iPad has become my default editor. After leaving a gig I can start importing the photos on the train. The speed of import has improved considerably as Apple and Adobe have implemented their improvements. Import is now complete in a few minutes. Before these changes, I would often still be importing photos when I got off my train 30 minutes later. Now, I’ve often selected candidate photographs and in the last month of so, often applied the common settings to the whole batch. With these changes, I’ve cut off about an hour over my Mac process simply because I don’t have to wait until I get home before copying and importing.

Obviously, I don’t want to leave photos on my iPad. I still want them on my Mac (and backed up). I also don’t want to lose edits and only want the selected photos. But thankfully, Lightroom’s cloud sync works really well. I usually delete all the unwanted photos and then enable the sync and the photos are gradually uploaded to the Adobe’s Cloud. I simply leave my iPad to sync overnight and every few days I leave my Mac syncing the photos down to my Mac. Once I have them locally, I remove them from ‘All Synced Photographs’ on the Mac.

In January, I went to the Rockaway Beach festival with all the iPad and Lightroom enhancements. This meant I was able to import the photos directly into Lightroom and apply settings against a batch of photos. While I carried my iPad with me and imported throughout the day, the whole process was so much quicker than previous festivals and I managed to keep up with editing the photos.

Improved import

I you want to see the photos, see my festival reviews on Down At The Front