Six years ago my father replaced his personal home computer with Apple's iPad 2. I crinkled my nose. His new little toy was no match for the almighty power of my 15" Macbook Pro. Fast forward to 2018 and here I am, several hundred miles from home, tablet in hand. Meanwhile, my coveted laptop sits at home, gathering dust.
So what the heck am I doing on this road trip with my little plate of tempered glass and silicon? By golly, I'm editing raw photos, and plenty of them.
How to make the magic happen
At a high level, any photographer's workflow consists of the same simple steps: Shoot, offload, cull, edit, then release to the world. In that sense, working on an iPad pro is really no different, although there are some caveats for each step.
iOS 11 brings with it a plethora of new options and integrations when it comes to file management, although it likely won't be what you're used to with a typical computer. Since it's designed for mobile devices, iOS11's files app is almost entirely dependent on using some kind of cloud hosting service. Personally I consider this a benefit, as having my photos stored remotely, accessible from any device, is hugely convenient. However, if you're expecting to be able to just save any ole file willy-nilly onto your new iPad's file system (like I was), you may want to temper your expectations. That disclaimer aside, let's look at a few of the top contenders for cloud storage:
Photos / iCloud
Let's start with the good stuff: sometimes the most obvious choice is the best one. In fact, according to the productivity guru's over at the Sweet Setup, Apple's native solution is probably your top bet for online storage. The reason for this is pretty straight-forward. You'll be importing your images through the Photos app regardless of how you ultimately store it, and if you use an all-Apple ecosystem, iCloud's going to mesh so well with your other devices you'd almost think it was magic. The downside? iCloud is still a bit on the pricey side when it comes to storage, and loses some value for owners of other non-apple devices.
Everybody's favorite and familiar corporate overlords present the most affordable item on our list (especially if you get it for free as a college graduate like I do). For that reason alone, this is the solution I use. Uploading photos is extraordinarily simple. I find that uploading via the Google Drive app is the fastest solution (as opposed to sharing from the photos app). It also works nicely in the background, leaving me free to start culling / editing while everything backs up.
Forever a strong contender in the cloud storage space, Dropbox is no pushover on the iPad either. In my experience using it for work, I found that it operates (for the most part) in a similar manner to Google Drive. However, it does offer a lot of other features with the business professional in mind. Personally, I've found the document scanning feature to be one of the best, though perhaps less useful for the wandering photographer.
Last, but certainly not least, Adobe's offering comes tailor-made for photography. Integrating tightly with Lightroom, and syncing across all your Adobe software, Creative Cloud offers an excellent (albeit slightly pricey) solution for someone heavily invested in their apps. Although you lose the ability to store any file you please, for photographers, the ability to non-destructively edit raw photos and then pick up editing that same photo from another device is almost unparalleled.
Final thoughts on storage...
If you're like a lot of people, you're probably already using some kind of cloud storage. Buying an iPad pro may present an opportunity to switch ecosystems, but for the most part, you'll probably just want to stick with whatever you're already invested in; be it Adobe, Google, or Apple themselves.
Now to the fun stuff! First and foremost, you'll want to double check your camera's raw file compatibility with iOS11 here. Don't be like me and take a bunch of compressed raw photos only to find that that iPad only supports the uncompressed version. (Fujifilm facepalm)
Now that you've got some grade-A, iOS compatible raw photos to edit, there are a few apps that'll do the job for you:
Likely the obvious choice for any photographer who's been shooting raw for a while. Lightroom mobile does a great job of presenting most of its desktop counterpart's features to the iOS platform. The biggest lacking feature is most definitely Lightroom presets, which appear to be missing entirely. I will say though, that Lightroom's gesture-based image culling is immensely intuitive and almost makes me wish I could afford to splurge on the rather beefy subscription it'd take to pay for the software and the cloud storage.
Affinity has been recognized on desktop for a while now as the closest thing to an "Adobe-killer" that's out there. Don't like paying large subscription bills for a software that's built on age-old tech? Affinity's just the company for you! Their iOS debut with Affinity Photo cuts absolutely no corners, and (to my knowledge) offers 100% of the same features as the desktop software. If you're looking for photoshop on the iPad and don't know what the heck to do with Adobe's 3 different half-baked apps, Affinity Photo is hands down the best you'll get. Since I like to do some more in depth pixel-shoving with some of my photos (and don't like Adobe's subscription model), Affinity is my go-to image editor.
Full disclosure: I have not tried Polarr yet, but everything I've read online touts it as the single greatest professional photo editor if all you want to do is make adjustments. What it lacks in "photoshop-like" features, it makes up for in spades by doubling down on the image processing portion of photography. If you don't think you'll ever need to relocate an accidental bystander, or mask out some vulgar signage, then Polarr may be exactly what the doctor ordered. I myself am pretty pumped to try it out on my next adventure.
Sharing is Caring
This is where working on a mobile operating system really starts to shine. Once you've imported, backed up, and edited your work, it's time to share it with the world. Instagram, Flickr, Facebook, etc. all have robust mobile platforms that make it easy to share your work in a matter of seconds. Personally, we use the app Later to pre-schedule our instagram posts for, well, later. Bonus points: Later sports a handy Google Drive integration making it that much easier to share our work from the archives in the cloud.
Of course, working on a mobile operating system is not all sunshine and rainbows. There are still some inefficiencies and caveats that we'd like to see ironed out. Some of them we've already mentioned, like certain raw compatibility issues, and lack of local file management.
By and large though, the biggest gripe I still have is that everything in iOS is siloed. Meaning to work on one photo, that photo will at some point exist in photos, where it needs to be exported to whatever editor I choose, as well as my google drive. And if I want to edit it in multiple apps? Guess I have to export it again. That leaves multiple copies of the same file across several different apps, instead of just making edits to a singular file. Depending on your workflow set up, this could make it difficult to define a source of truth for your photos and increase the likelihood of misplacing certain version of a photo. Mostly though, I don't like how the extra step of exporting from app-to-app slows me down. So at the end of the day, I'm willing to suffer a few lost seconds for the benefit of a light, tactile, and powerful travel tool.
To put this long story short...
The iPad Pro is an extremely capable device that can more than keep up with what you ask of it. The software still has some catching up to do, but in the meantime the existing options are all more than viable.
If you're interested in finding the most optimized photo workflow possible, once again the writers over at the Sweet Setup have done an excellent job. In this bang-up article, they cover all of the best options for everything from tethered shooting, to applying filters.
-Sent from my ipad
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