Fixing My Photography Workflow So It Will Work For Me
June 18, 2014 10:57 AM   Subscribe

I am in the market for a new Nikon DSLR, but my home laptop/photo workflow situation is sadly out of date and not working for me. Should I consider an iPad for a main photo workflow solution, now that I could get a DSLR with wireless capability? Lots of snowflakes inside.

The current set-up that used to work but no longer works:
I have a Nikon D300 and a backup Nikon D50, a lot of great Nikon lenses that I love, flashes and and stands and tons of equipment. I'm an experienced intermediate photographer and have even worked professionally, but I have fallen out of it a lot over the last few years. My life changed, but I have also found that I hate my workflow for processing & editing. I have what used to be a good home office set-up with a laptop and calibrated monitors.
However, the laptop is from 2009 and, while it works, it definitely is overdue for upgrading. I also just don't want to spend hours in my home office processing photos anymore. I get stuck in a holding pattern after shooting & backing up photos, and I never actually get around to processing. I have hundreds of photos from vacations in the last couple of years that I haven't even processed because I hate the workflow so much. So now I ignore my nice equipment and shoot & process & upload from my iPhone 5 only. It works and it's not terrible, but I miss my real cameras and wish that I could get back to them.

The lifestyle twist:
I am expecting my first baby in August. Hooray! The idea of relying on my iPhone 5 for photos & video of his early days just makes me sad. I want to be capturing his early days with my big cameras. I want great photography of his growth from Day One. I even want to upgrade to a new DSLR that has video capability so that I can record his every eyelid flutter immediately after birth. Document, document, document!!
But a new DSLR isn't going to change my workflow problem, and infants are not known to increase one's free time to spend hours on hobbies. Maybe I could nurse the baby and process images in the first few months, but it won't be long before he's too mobile to want to spend time with me in the home office, and I don't want to spend any time there myself anyway.

What I want to do is be able to do photos & video at DSLR levels of quality, and then do all of my backing up, processing, and uploading from, say, the living room couch. (Or the den. Or my parents' house.) But I want the same level of processing that I had with the desktop PS workflow. And I don't want to lug around equipment.

The possibility:
I'm researching new Nikon DSLR bodies. It seems like the capability to wirelessly upload shots from my camera to a mobile device is in my price range. An iPad would be significantly less expensive than pricing out a new laptop. The Photography suite of Creative Cloud is available for mobile devices.
I could spend $1500 on new camera equipment this summer, but that's pushing it and it would need to be technology that would stay in place for several years because daycare will make future purchases unlikely.
So, is it possible that I could solve my problem and untether myself from the home office by getting a new Nikon DSLR and an iPad? I don't know! Welcome to the question!

The questions & additional complications:
Please advise! Do you think that a new Nikon DSLR with wireless upload capability along with a new iPad and Creative Cloud will be the workflow that I want? What am I missing? Tell me about the advantages and limitations of this idea.

For instance, I am used to backing up all of my RAW files to an external hard drive. This requires a lot of storage capacity and I don't really want to spend money on a cloud solution for endless RAW files. (The processed images are different- I store those in the cloud.) Can I use the iPad to back up photos from the camera to an external hard drive?
I have a ton of actions saved in CS5 that I haven't tried to move to Photoshop CC yet, but I will want them in my workflow. Can I even use those in Photoshop CC on the iPad?
What about color calibration? Are iPads pretty well color calibrated these days?

Will I have the same level of control over details on Photoshop CC on the iPad? The loss of detail would be disappointing for working on nature photos, but the faster processing & upload times might be worth the trade-off.

Do you have a set-up like this? Did you change over to it from an old timey desktop + Photoshop workflow? Tell me about it. Are you happy with it?
posted by aabbbiee to Technology (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I have the Creative Cloud for Photographers and I love it. I highly recommend it to all my photographer friends. I love having a Behance portfolio and that Prosite is integrated with it, letting me easily keep my website updated. These are included in your Creative Cloud subscription. (One side note: CC for Photographers is about $10 a month, and is a bargain. I've heard from numerous sources that after the first year, it will go to $20 a month. If that's true, it might not be a bargain, but it's certainly worth it in my opinion.)

I love that I can cull and edit photos in the mobile version of Lightroom on my iPad. The interface is very nice.

BUT, it is not a replacement for Lightroom proper on your laptop or desktop. You can do basic editing, but not graduated filters or adjustment brushes, which are essential for nature photos in my opinion. Here's a pretty good review, if you haven't already seen it.

There is no Photoshop CC for iPad, but Adobe just announced Photoshop Mix for iPad, which may give more control, but I just heard of it, so I have no insight.

Also, mobile Lightroom is a satellite for Lightroom on your computer. It will sync photos from a collection in Lightroom, and save changes back. You can also view your synced photos on the web. (Note that you have to put the photos in a collection. It does not sync your whole library, or smart collections. Once you indicate that a collection is synced with mobile, then anything new added to it will sync automatically.)

You can indeed import photos from your iPad camera roll into Lightroom, and they will be synced into your desktop and online Lightroom libraries as well. So sending images wirelessly to your iPad from a camera might be technically doable, but you'll have to check into whether the camera you want will send raw files, and how long that process will take.

Keep in mind that there is also a card reader available for the iPad, which might be a faster option. As convenient as "wireless connectivity" sounds, the details of your particular setup will become very important. I think the main selling point of the Nikon wireless capability is sharing from the camera on social media or in emails, and controlling your camera from your mobile device. Maybe an Eye-Fi card is the way to go, but I have never used one. But I don't think either will let you keep a computer totally out of the equation.

I have a 2009 era MacBook Pro, and it is indeed showing its age when editing photos. I'm sure I'll need to upgrade pretty soon, even if it's just more memory and a solid state drive. But I can't rely on my iPad for all of my editing either. It's great for culling and quick adjustments and some pre-set filters, but I can't imagine doing it all on the iPad all the time. The bigger screen, more precise control, and more tools are essential to editing, even on a slow computer.

My current workflow (although it sometimes doesn't seem to "flow" much at all) is this:

- SD Cards get imported into Lightroom on the MacBook. If I want to cull or edit on the iPad, I add them to a synced collection. I find that I immediately start culling as I add them to the collection.

- I take a lot of pictures with my iPhone. I add these to my iPad camera roll from Photostream, and sync them into Lightroom Mobile, where they will show up on my MacBook. (When an iPhone version of Lightroom is released, I can go directly from the iPhone camera roll. For now, I have to take these extra steps.)

- I cull on the iPad. It's pretty fast. Swipe left to see the next photo, swipe up to flag, swipe down to reject.

- After culling, I can edit on the iPad, but I honestly only edit pictures I'm not too picky about there. Snapshots, interesting sights, etc. Anything I really like, and want to get the most from, I edit on the MacBook. Or I will do simple editing on the iPad, but finish on the MacBook.

- Once I've culled and edited on the iPad, I can share photos from the iPad, or go back to the MacBook to finish editing. Any changes I've already made on the iPad will be there.

Another thing about keeping a computer in the flow: easier backups. I have a Backblaze account, so all my images are backed up without having to think about it. I also connect a USB drive once a month or so and copy my image library to it to have a local backup. I know you don't want to pay for a cloud solution for backups, but I find the $50 a year I pay for Backblaze to be a real stress and time saver. There are wireless external drives you can use with the iPad, but I have never used one.

I'm sorry I don't have the magic wireless answer we all want. There might be a way to make it work, but I haven't done it yet. Maybe someone else has been more of a pioneer.
posted by The Deej at 1:28 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Back to add:

Adobe has now released Lightroom Mobile for iPhone. I know you don't want to rely on the iPhone as your sole camera, but the ability to effortlessly add iPhone pics to Lightroom is fantastic.

I was also able to play around with Photoshop Mix for iPad, and it's pretty awesome! The tools are very intuitive, and it offers many options not available in Lightroom Mobile. I think the combination would cover 95% of editing needs. I'm still not sure what it might be missing in terms of editing power, so you'll have to look into it and see if it does what you need.

Info on these releases.

One semi-related side note / opinion about iPhone photos. I've been a serious photographer for over 30 years, and owned all kinds of film and digital equipment, including numerous digital SLRs. My current go-to camera is a Nikon D5000. I also use a Pentax MX-1 when I don't want to lug the bigger camera. But I find that more and more I am shooting with my iPhone 5s. The quality of the images is just amazing, as long as I work within its abilities. Point being: if have days where you find that hauling your SLR along with all the baby stuff is just too much, don't be afraid of the iPhone, especially since you can edit the photos in Lightroom along with all your others.

Congrats on the baby!
posted by The Deej at 6:27 AM on June 19, 2014

Thank you, Deej! I will look into this more carefully.
I do love my iPhone 5 camera, but once I'm chasing a toddler around the house, even the pretty good image stabilization won't be able to keep up. I also get frustrated at its focusing system sometimes- I want to do better close-ups.

And I want to be able to edit much more easily without the whole set-up and allotment of time. I'm realizing how much of that is the problem here.
posted by aabbbiee at 9:43 AM on June 19, 2014

You're welcome.

If I could make a recommendation, I would say that investing in an iPad and Creative Cloud for Photographers is WELL worth it, even if it doesn't get your computer totally out of the loop. The good news is that even if you just use the computer as a hub to load your photos into the Lightroom Creative Cloud workflow, you can indeed do the majority of your culling and editing on the iPad.

For your upcoming lifestlye change, that might mean loading photos (while baby sleeps) into Lightroom on the computer, making sure to put them in a synced collection. Then, grab your iPad to cull and edit. It will at least get you most of the way to your destination, and keep your time in the office at a minimum. And as the apps and services get updated, it should only get better.
posted by The Deej at 11:00 AM on June 19, 2014

An update, a few months later:
I bought a Nikon D7100 and the wireless widget (Nikon WU-1a). I did not buy an iPad or a new laptop.

I am currently taking lots of pictures and videos with the D7100, and I use the wireless widget to connect to my iPhone 5. I can browse and download from the camera to the iPhone, and then I use my go-to iPhone photo app (Camera+) to do some basic editing before uploading to Facebook. I generally only do this with one or two images from any given photo session. The rest of the photos are just stored for later browsing.
There are some limitations. The widget can't download video files. The widget will download a RAW file, but it seems to convert it to JPG to make it readable by iOS. The widget will only let you download the full size image if you download one image at a time; if you select multiple images, it will download them all in a smaller size. The images edited in Camera+ are fine for Facebook/web, but I wouldn't want to print them.

So far, this setup has worked well enough. I don't have to use the laptop to get the files off the camera, so I've removed the significant barrier in getting photos on Facebook promptly. From shooting the picture to posting the picture can be less than 5 minutes, with all the benefits of DSLR usage (off-camera flash, low light shooting, etc.) I still need the laptop to post videos, but that isn't the timeliness problem that photos are. I can take the time to use the laptop to get the videos and upload them to YouTube as-is, without feeling like it's a major time investment. (Well, it takes forever to upload the files, but that's largely hands-off.)

I do still need to upgrade my laptop, which is too old for the new version of Photoshop (required to get the version of Camera RAW that is compatible with my D7100's RAW files). But I am just downloading/backing up images that I don't want to edit yet, and that's fine.

However, I did discover something interesting: by moving my office desk closer to the windows in the office, I have changed my entire attitude about spending time editing. I had no idea this was part of it, but it clearly is. This was all unrelated to the fixing-the-workflow issue; we rearranged to make room for the baby. But it made a huge difference.

A note about the D7100: it is not really a successor to the D300. If you have the D300, I highly recommend looking at DSLRs in person. On paper, the D7100 had a lot of upgraded features from the D300, but the D300 is a much more solidly built camera and the D7100 just feels intermediate. It's lighter, less mighty. But I have much less money to throw at this hobby now than I did. And the D7100 at least as a second dial for the aperture, which the cheaper Nikon DSLR models did not have. So it's working.

Another note, this time about the baby: I did not have as much time in his early days to take great photos, though I did my best. Photos were just not a priority in the early days. So I'm glad we'd booked a photographer to do photos, too, so the weight wasn't just on me to get them done.
And I'm glad I didn't get an iPad. I would not be able to use the iPad with only one free hand while nursing with the other hand. The iPhone is the right size, even if the photo apps are much less thorough.

Thank you!!
posted by aabbbiee at 10:15 AM on November 12, 2014

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