iPad Photo Workflow

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For the traveling photographer—or anyone who shoots in the field—the release of the iPad offered the possibility of a much lighter, easier field kit. Unfortunately, for the first few years of the iPad’s existence, the software did not exist to facilitate a pro-level workflow. Over the last few months, though, a few new apps have hit the store, and they’ve brought some important new post-production capabilities. Depending on your post needs, you might now be able to get away with taking only your camera and an iPad into the field.

Workflow needs

I travel a lot, through a variety of environments and situations, and almost always with a concern for traveling as light as possible. While I love the tiny size of my 13" MacBook Air, the fact is that it doesn’t fit very well into a motorcycle bag, is a hassle to take through international airports, and doesn’t fare very well in harsher climates like dusty deserts, or dripping rain forests.

By comparison, the iPad is small, doesn’t flex, doesn’t get damaged if you set heavy things on top of it, is fairly impervious to dust, is hard to damage by water, and doesn’t have to be taken out of a bag when going through airport security. However, it also doesn’t let me run my usual photo workflow, which is based around Photoshop and Bridge. However, thanks to recent software changes there’s a lot of useful photo-related work that I can do on the iPad.

You can divide post-production into two major categories: metadata editing, and image editing. Metadata editing is the process of tagging your images with location information, notes, comments, and ownership info. I also include rating and selecting in this category. Image editing, on the other hand, is the process of correcting and adjusting your image to get it ready for final output.

There are a couple of great image editing applications for the iPad, most notably Google’s Snapseed, which is now free. I’ll often edit images on the iPad while on the road, for posting to the web or sending back home, but in general, I don’t do serious image editing on the iPad. There’s no raw-level editing, few editing tools include a histogram, and the iPad’s screen just isn’t good enough for serious work. Also, when I’m on the road, I like to stay focused on shooting. This means that there’s not a lot of image editing that I want to do in the field.

That said, I do like to get started on my selection process and metadata editing while on the road. Often, it’s important for me to tag images with location information and notes on location, while I still remember exactly where each image was shot. Rating and tagging can take time, but is kind of mindless, so it’s a nice thing to do while waiting in an airport, or sitting in a tent or hotel room after a day’s shooting.

If you shoot raw, though, you’ve probably already identified one of the main problems with the iPad: limited storage.

My iPad Field Workflow

Assuming your field post-production goals are limited to metadata editing, and light image editing, then you can build a great iPad workflow as long as you choose the right software, and employ one extra piece of hardware. If you want the full capability that you get from a Mac or Windows PC, then you’re going to be frustrated.

For storage, I carry a HyperDrive Colorspace UDMA2. This is basically a hard drive with an LCD screen, some media slots, and a simple operating system. At the end of a day’s shoot, I can simply stick my media cards in the device, and they’ll be copied to the unit’s 500 GB hard drive. I try to carry enough flash cards that I don’t have to erase my cards, so I’ve got full redundancy while in the field. (If I run out of storage, I’ll simply start re-using cards, but with flash storage as cheap as it is, this isn’t usually a problem.)

Next, using the Apple Camera Connection Kit, I’ll import a card into my 64GB iPad. Now I’m ready to start making selects, and adding metadata tags.

PhotosInfoPro

There are now a few metadata editing options for the iPad. Photosmith offers metadata editing and the ability to sync with Lightroom. Unfortunately, it’s hampered by bugs and interface issues, as well being pricey (for an iPad app). Meta Editor is another but it, too, is not quite fully baked.

Photos Info Pro, on the other hand offers just about everything I want in an iPad photo workflow tool, and for the very reasonable price of $4.99.

After importing images using the Camera Connection Kit, fire up Photos Info Pro and load up the relevant album in your library. The easiest way to do this is simply to choose Last Import, though you can point the app to any part of your camera roll.

Figure 1: You can look at any part of your camera roll using PhotosInfoPro. The app quickly displays thumbnails, and leaves you ready to start tagging.

Tap on a thumbnail, and you can see a larger preview of the image along with a detailed EXIF display.

Figure 2: You can easily assign rating and IPTC metadata to individual images.

From this screen you can rate images, swipe to the next or previous image, or hit the Metadata button to get to the metadata interface.

Figure 3: The metadata editor provides tabbed categories of metadata.

Tabs on the side take you to different metadata categories, and you should find all of the fields that you would find in any application that supports IPTC metadata.

You can even use the metadata tool for geotagging, assuming you have an Internet connection for your iPad. If you’re not still at the location where you shot the image, then you’ll need to do a search. If you lack an automatic way of geotagging, this is a very nice alternative.

Figure 4: PhotosInfoPro lets you add location data to images, making for a simple method of geotagging.

The keywording interface is very simple, and keeps a running list of keywords you’ve used before, so you don’t have to worry about remembering a precise keyword spelling, or type in the same keyword over and over. It lacks any kind of hierarchical structure, so if you have a lot of keywords in your list, you could be scrolling for a while.

Figure 5: Keywords are stored as you create them, making it easy to tag images precisely.

You can easily batch edit your images by simply tapping the Metadata button while still in the thumbnail view. You’ll then be given the option to select all of the images that you want to batch. With a selection made, you’ll be taken on to the standard keywording interface.

Figure 6: Batch key wording is simple and intuitive.

There’s no way to select a range of images, so if you want to include a lot of images in a batch, then you’ll be tapping for a while. Also, there’s no way to define any kind of metadata template, so if you need to routinely fill in fields in the same way (with your copyright and personal information, for example) then you’ll be typing the same things over and over. I prefer to leave those tags for when I get home, since it’s easy to add those using a metadata template in Bridge or Lightroom.

Exporting

Now the cool part...

The big drawback with the iPad for any extended travel is that it doesn’t pack a lot of storage. I’ve solved the storage problem with my Colorspace drive, but if I want to tag a lot of images then I’m back to the iPad storage limitation, especially if I’m shooting raw. If I’m shooting JPEG images, then I probably don’t have too much to worry about, as a 16 or 32 GB card will hold a lot of images. But with a 64 GB iPad—which already has a lot of stuff on it—I can’t import too many raw images before I run out of space. Fortunately, PhotosInfo Pro provides a simple solution.

Photoshop Camera Raw and Lightroom both store the metadata for raw files in separate text files—sometimes called “sidecar” files. These files are really just XML documents that have an XMP extension. When you open a raw file in Photoshop Camera Raw or Lightroom, if there is a sidecar XMP file with the same name as the raw file, then all metadata is read from that sidecar file.

PhotosInfoPro can export XMP sidecar files containing all of your metadata. Because of this, limited iPad storage is no longer a problem. I import my raw files into the iPad, tag them and rate them using PhotosInfoPro, then export XMP files and delete the raws from the iPad. Since I have the raws stored somewhere else, I don’t lose any image data. When I get home, I copy the raw files to my computer, then dump the XMP files into the same folder. Now when I open the raw files, all of my metadata will be there.

PhotosInfoPro provides a few export options. First, you can choose to export JPEGs with embedded metadata, original raw files with sidecar XMP files, or just XMP files. All three work, but I find the stand-alone XMP export to be the most useful.

JPEGs can be exported to an iTunes shared folder, Dropbox, the iPad photo library, or can be emailed or FTPd. XMP files can be exported to an iTunes shared folder or Dropbox, or be emailed or FTPd. Original raws + XMPs can be sent to an iTunes shared folder, Dropbox, or FTP.

Figure 7: PhotosInfoPro’s export controls offer several export options and destinations.

In my tests, all the export mechanisms worked fine, but Dropbox was the most convenient. PhotosInfoPro creates separate folders for each export session, and shows a simple progress bar while it’s exporting.

The export feature has only one shortcoming: it requires an Internet connection. I’m often in locations that don’t offer any connectivity. For these instances, I’d like to be able to stash XMPs somewhere on the iPad, and then export them when I get home. Because they’re so small, they would have a negligible impact on the iPad’s storage.

Despite this complaint, I find PhotosInfoPro to be a wonderful tool, and the iPad to now be a reasonable addition to my field shooting kit, for times when I don’t want to take a laptop.

Update

Three important notes from the developer: if you choose the iTunes Shared Folder export option, XMP files will be stored locally, for later download. So you don’t need an internet connection to sock away your metadata.

In thumbnails view you can select a range of images by tapping one image and then double-tapping a second. All images in between will be selected

Finally, a feature for copyright and creator templates should be available in an update that will be released by June.

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