iPad for Photography

Can the iPad be a Tool for Serious Photographers?

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:

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

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

    Updated by Tom Green

    Readers Respond:
    Tell us How You Use the iPad for Photography Work

    Getting Photos off the iPad

    After you have transferred photos to your iPad using the CCK, you may be wondering how you get them back off the iPad. You do this by connecting the iPad to a computer using the standard sync and charge cable that came with your iPad. When connected this way, the iPad appears as a removable drive in your file browser, just as if you had connected a camera or a card reader.

    You can then copy the files over to your computer using the default file manager, or using the import function within your desktop software such as Lightroom or Bridge.

    The raw files will be just the same as if you can transferred them from your camera or storage card.

    Frequently Asked Questions about the iPad Camera Connection Kit:

    Can I use the CCK to copy photos from my computer onto the iPad instead of directly from the camera?
    Yes, but you must follow strict conventions for the file and folder structure, similar to the directory structure your camera creates on its storage card. The files must be in a folder called DCIM, and the file names must have no more than 8 characters preceding the file extension. (IMG_1011.cr2 will work. Vacation06252011.cr2 wont work.) You can create subfolders under the DCIM folder, but these are ignored when the photo are imported to the iPad.

    Can I use the CCK to connect a thumb drive or external hard drive?
    In most cases, no. You will get a message saying unsupported device or not enough power. If you are lucky enough to have a drive that is readable by the CCK, it can only be accessed for the purposes of photo transfer, and the image files must adhere to the naming conventions described above.

    Does the CCK work with the iPod touch and/or iPhone?
    You can transfer photos from the iPod touch and iPhone to the iPad, but not the other way around.

    Can you choose to transfer only raw files or only JPEG when transferring RAW+JPEG with the CCK?
    No, the CCK transfers both the raw and the JPEG files when they are found, but will treat them as a single image on the iPad.

    When the iPad is connected to a computer, you can browse the files, where both raw and JPEG copies are visible and delete-able.

    Can the CCK be used for live preview or tethered capture when connected directly to a camera while shooting?
    Although the USB connector does support a few accessories like keyboards, mics, and headsets, when connected to a camera it can only be used for photo transfer.

    If you use an iPad as a tool in your photography work, please tell us how you use it, what effect it has had on your workflow, and what your favorite iPad apps for photography are.
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