A Mobile Photography Workflow

I find myself wanting to do more and more away from a desk. Not because I travel a lot but mostly because I enjoy the experience of sitting back and working with a tablet. At least when I’m not writing a lot.


I’d like to be able to complete a photoshoot and browse the photos initially on a tablet to select those I want to edit. I’d like to then be able to edit more on a tablet rather than always being at a workstation. And I’d like to be able to edit on a touchscreen with a good quality stylus. Not always, not for everything, but as a regular part of my workflow.

So, along with my other workflow needs, my aims for a mobile workflow are:

  1. Initial selects and edits on a tablet

  2. Ability to import directly to the tablet from camera (when traveling)

  3. Stylus editing

  4. Ability to switch between tablet and workstation mid-edit

  5. RAW and edited JPEGs backed up locally and in the cloud

  6. Final edited images available on a phone

  7. As much automation of that process as possible


My current setup is a MacBook Pro running primarily Exposure X4, and an iPad Pro 10.5. I load all images onto the MBP with a 4Tb external drive, and they're then automatically backed up to a local NAS (Synology) and Amazon Drive. So far, if I want to edit on the iPad, I’ve tended to select and export JPEGs via Apple Photos or Google Photos. The iPad can access the RAW files directly from the NAS drive and I can make ‘favorites’ there, but I have no way of syncing selections or ratings between the iPad and Exposure on the MBP.


I know many use Photo Mechanic for the initial selection process but my ideal is to primarily use one software solution across desktop and tablet.


Solution 1 - iPad and Lightroom

I switched from Lightroom to Exposure a couple of years ago as Adobe started to push their subscription model further and it’s been generally excellent. What it doesn’t have though is a mobile app. Neither does Luminar nor Capture One. On1 does have an app for viewing and adding ratings, but not for editing. So Adobe Lightroom remains, as far as I know, the only full editing suite with an integrated mobile solution. Photoshop has been released on the iPad now too, even if it is much more limited than the desktop version, with promises of closer integration with the Lightroom app. There are plenty of other excellent iOS apps (Affinity Photo, Polarr) but not with the option to sync edits with a desktop version.


One concern with this solution, other than the monthly cost and reluctance to switch back to Adobe, is how to import the images initially. I tried directly into Lightroom CC on the MBP and that seemed very slow. Loading a large number of Raw files to Apple Photos and Google Photos both seemed to cause issues but does work fine with a relatively small number of images. I’d also like to be able to import directly onto the tablet when I’m traveling but I made the mistake of getting the iPad with only 64Gb so that’s a problem. Rumor has it that it will soon be possible to import on an iPad directly into Lightroom from an SD card rather than via Apple Photos, but I don’t know whether that will be direct to the cloud or need local storage.


Pros

  • Use existing kit (iPad and Pencil)

  • iPad is very good as a general tablet

  • Ability to use Lightroom on a phone too


Cons

  • Tied to Adobe and subscription model (monthly costs)

  • Adobe not the best at converting Fuji RAW files

  • May always be difficult with 64Gb iPad


Solution 2 - Surface Pro/Go

I’ve been looking at the Surface for a while, especially now that Microsoft have added usb-c to the Go and Pro 7. A tablet that can run any full desktop software, so I could continue to use Exposure but on a tablet. (Sadly I’d have to discount the Surface X at the moment. While the hardware looks great, especially with the integrated pen charging, it uses an ARM chip that causes some software compatibility issues. It wouldn’t run Exposure for example). I know of at least a couple of photographers that have replaced their laptops and tablets with Surface with good results.

Pros

  • Replace iPad as well as aging MacBook

  • Expandable storage on microSD card

  • No software migration required (continue to use Exposure)

  • Easy transition

  • Could use other desktop software such as Photo Mechanic or GIMP.


Cons

  • Cost of buying a Surface

  • Surface probably doesn’t work quite as well as a tablet as iPad

  • A few iPad apps not available in Windows 10 (e.g. Pixelmator) - more reliance on browser

  • Surface Pro 8 in 2020 likely to be an improved design

  • Exposure loses saved collections when disconnected from the main photo drive (external hard drive).


It’s difficult to weigh up the overall costs exactly. My current photo library is 2.5Tb but then I wouldn’t transfer that to Lightroom or Apple Photos anyway. I would probably need the $20/month Lightroom subscription to get the extra cloud storage. A Surface Go would be much cheaper but less capable. A Surface Pro 7 would likely be about $1k (I’m going to assume that the base model with 4Gb RAM would be too limited), but getting a non-Microsoft pen and keyboard would help. As, hopefully, will Black Friday deals.


Note: One other improvement I’m going to add to my workflow, long overdue, is to add a little descriptive text file for each set of images I upload, with any details names, locations etc. that might be useful later.


Update: Black Friday deals look promising. And my MacBook Pro seems to have a swelling battery so getting a replacement probably became a lot more urgent.





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Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

alastair.arthur@gmail.com

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