Further thoughts on iPad photography workflows

My recent article on iPad mobile photo editing with Lightroom has proven popular. Here are some further thoughts on advanced photo editing on iOS, and a couple of infuriating bugs I’ve discovered.

Progress with Lightroom Mobile

First, an update on Lightroom.

I have been in talks with the support team at Adobe about the ‘Uploads Pending’ bug in Lightroom Mobile for iOS. Initially, support weren’t particularly helpful – the first guy I spoke to simply said my Wi-Fi must be slow. Subsequent contact was more positive, and the good news is that Adobe is taking the issue seriously. I received an update on the 5th of October:

Yes, we haven’t shipped any fix for this issue yet. As soon as we have one we will let you know.

Since then, I have been able to successfully transfer a full-resolution raw file from my iPad to my desktop Lightroom catalogue. I managed this by keeping the iPad switched on with Lightroom in the foreground for the entire duration of the uploading process, which took about five minutes. If you hit the home button, or switch to another app, the upload is disrupted and doesn’t always resume, which – I think – is the source of the issue.

So, for now, Lightroom Mobile can upload full-resolution raw files IF kept in the foreground with the screen on.

This is far from ideal, but at least I know it works now. The biggest outstanding problem is the uncertainty of whether or not switching to another app will crash the uploading process, because it seems inconsistent. I’m hoping Adobe is working on a fix. Being able to see precisely what is uploading, with a progress bar, would help too – ‘Uploads Pending’ by itself isn’t very helpful, as you can’t actually tell if it’s working.

In addition, I’ve noticed another limitation in Lightroom Mobile. There’s no control over sharpening! Selecting the ‘Detail’ preset applies some kind of blanket sharpening to the whole image, but there’s no control over it whatsoever. Lightroom Mobile needs the standard sharpening sliders that are present in the desktop version. This is a weird omission from an otherwise comprehensive feature set1.

iCloud Photo Library bugs in iOS 10

I’m not sure whether these are bugs or features, but they have been driving me up the wall.

I have started using iCloud Photo Library as a repository for the final JPEGs rendered by Lightroom, but because of the way iOS works, all raw files transferred from your camera also have to reside here until they have been imported into Lightroom2. Because I’m using Lightroom to store my raw files, not iCloud, I don’t want raw files (which are very large) to start uploading to iCloud immediately after I have imported them. I want to save my precious bandwidth for the Lightroom upload process.

I assumed that deleting files would stop them from uploading, but it doesn’t. Even removing them from Recently Deleted has no effect. As of the current version of iOS 10, there seems to be no way of stopping photos uploading themselves to iCloud once they are in the camera roll. Logically, the system should recognise that if a photo has been deleted and then purged from Recently Deleted, the user does not want it in their iCloud Photo Library.

The second bug is just as infuriating. Once I have exported my JPEGs from Lightroom to the camera roll, I want them to upload to my iCloud Photo Library. But, just like Lightroom, this only works if the Photos app is in the foreground, and the screen switched on. Switching to a different app, or turning off the screen, resets the data uploaded counter back to 0 Bytes. Every single time.

Post-PC growing pains

Once the problems outlined above have been solved by Adobe and Apple – and I’m confident they will be solved, even if it takes a year or more – then the iPad will be a slick, competent tool for pro-level photography. That means complete support for editing raw files at full resolution, including the ability to output print-quality files. High-volume photo processing is always probably going to be more comfortable with a desktop3, and a few niche scenarios may remain impractical on iOS, but in the near future the majority of photographers will find their needs amply satisfied by Lightroom Mobile.

I am really looking forward to being able to perform the photographic side of my job entirely from iOS, if I want to. We’re so close. Things have come on a hell of a long way in the last year. In building support for raw photo files into iOS 10, Apple has proven they are interested in catering for the needs of serious photographers, but we just need a bit more.

As I said in my original article, we are this close to a practical iPad raw photo editing workflow. At the moment, professional photography work on iOS feels a bit like using a Mac at school in the early 2000s – most things mostly worked, but a few tasks had showstopping limitations. iOS is at that weird point in its development where it is almost ready, but not quite.

Addition 18-12-16

I have been contacted by several people about these articles, expressing their frustration with trying to get a raw editing workflow operational on iOS. And my enthusiasm for trying to do any kind of serious editing on the iPad has also cooled, so I thought it was time I edited this piece to reflect my current views.

There are two other potential issues you need to be aware of:

  1. No system-level support for external volumes, which means no reliable and convenient way to backup physical copies of raw files. Yes, Lightroom transmits your raws to the cloud, but no photographer dealing with important files would rely on this 100% without a backup. Speaking of which…

  2. iOS can’t do things in the background. If you could set Lightroom to start uploading your photos, and leave it to do its thing in the background while you use your device for other tasks, there wouldn’t really be an issue. But you have to leave Lightroom active and the device unlocked for as long as the upload takes! This is ok for a tiny batch of files but completely ridiculous for any kind of volume at all.

iOS is great for many things, but as a photography tool it isn’t there yet. My initial appraisal was too enthusiastic.

  1. There appears to be no HDR either, but I don’t use HDR.
  2. I don’t yet know if it’s safe to delete the raw from iCloud Photo Library while it is being uploaded to Lightroom. Further experimentation is needed.
  3. Until we get iOS computers with 24-inch screens and mouse support, that is.
%d bloggers like this: