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iPad for Photography

Can the iPad be a Tool for Serious Photographers?

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Adobe Lightroom mobile on the iPad

Adobe Lightroom Mobile for the iPad arrived in Spring 2014.

© S. Chastain, Splash Screen © Adobe

The iPad can certainly replace many of the functions of a laptop while traveling, but can it be a useful tool for photographers?

More serious photographers, and those who shoot raw camera files, may be wondering if the iPad can fit into a raw photography workflow. This article discusses some of the ways photographers can utilize an iPad, as well as the limitations of the iPad for photographers.

While the original iPad was rather underpowered for working with large camera files, the lighter, faster iPad 2 presents a more compelling case for a photography workflow. In fact, at least two raw photo processing apps have already been developed for the iPad at the time of this writing--PiRAWnha and PhotoRAW.

While you probably won't want to move your entire photography workflow to the field using an iPad, it can still be a useful photography tool for some tasks, and, for the most part, you don't have to give up shooting raw files to benefit from the iPad's long battery life and compact size.

Here are some of the ways an iPad can be used by photographers:

  • Backup storage.
  • Previewing, culling, and rating photos on a larger display than what your camera offers.
  • Showing proofs to clients before leaving a shoot location.
  • Light photo editing/creative experimentation.
  • Posting photos online from the road.
  • Mobile portfolio.
  • As a soft box or light table.
  • Access to your entire photo library while away.
  • Carry reference material with you into the field (manuals, etc.).
  • Taking notes or voice memos about the photo shoot as you work.

iPad as Photo Storage

If you simply want to use the iPad as a portable storage and viewing device for your raw camera files, no additional apps are necessary, but you will need Apple's iPad Camera Connection Kit (CCK). You can transfer your photos (including supported raw files) to the iPad with the CCK and view them in the default Photos app. The CCK supports raw camera files from many cameras and is currently the most convenient way to get raw camera files onto the iPad.

But remember, if you are copying files to your iPad while traveling, you still need a second copy in order for it to be a true backup. If you have plenty of storage cards for your camera, you can keep copies on your cards, or you can use the iPad to upload the photos to an online storage service such as Dropbox, or directly to another computer using Cinq Photo.

Photo Editing on the iPad

When you want to do more than view your raw camera files, you will need a photo editing app. Most photo apps for the iPad will work with raw camera files transferred to the iPad using the CCK and some apps also support other import sources, but there is a catch:

The vast majority of photo editing apps for the iPad which claim to have raw support are actually opening the JPEG embedded in the raw file, or a JPEG sidecar file which is saved when you shoot RAW+JPEG. Depending on your camera and settings, the JPEG may be a full-size preview or a smaller JPEG thumbnail.

However, this is not such a terrible situation. As I mentioned above, there are raw processors which have been developed for the iPad platform, but they are extremely slow and cumbersome to work with. For most of the tasks you will want to perform on the iPad, working with the JPEG is a suitable compromise. Therefore, it is recommended to shoot RAW+JPEG if you require raw files but also wish to incorporate an iPad into your photography workflow.

When you edit photos on the iPad, you can experiment freely because your original photos are never modified. Apple prevents apps from having direct access to files, so a new copy is always generated when you edit photos on the iPad.

Another thing about editing photos on the iPad is that it usually feels more like play than work. When I sit down at my desktop computer to process a batch of photos, I'm working, but editing photos on the iPad is usually more fun and doesn't feel like I'm working.

Here are some of the iPad photo editing and photo organizing apps I recommend for serious photographers:
Snapseed
Photogene
Filterstorm and Filterstorm Pro
Photosmith
Sort Shots

These iPad apps are for viewing and converting raw camera files:
PiRAWnha
PhotoRaw
Lightroom

On the next page, I discuss getting transferred photos off the iPad and answer some common questions about the iPad Camera Connection Kit.

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