The iPad for Photographers

Photography: Yutaka Tsutano

With photography’s move from film to digital, photographers have become used to working with all sorts of new equipment. A laptop is now as essential as a bag full of lenses, and Photoshop skills are as much a part of a photographer’s training as darkroom knowledge used to be. But could that be about to change? If Apple’s Steve Jobs is right, and we are entering a “post-PC age,” should photographers be thinking about trading in their Macbooks and picking up an iPad?

For some photographers, the answer is at least a partial yes. Ray Dauphinais has been taking pictures since the 1970s when a deployment in Germany gave him plenty of Gothic castles to shoot. He now specializes in portraiture and takes a top end 3G/wifi iPad with 32GB of memory with him on shoots. He says he’s found it surprisingly useful. Altogether, he’s identified almost two dozen ways in which the Apple tablet has helped in his photography work.

Some of those uses are relatively minor and could easily be fulfilled in other ways. The iPad can give him something to do while he’s waiting for a model to get ready and the stylist something to do while he’s shooting, he says. It gives him a way to take and store notes on shoots and lets him show models and clients sample poses. It can hold educational videos and books that he can watch and read while he’s traveling or waiting, and he’s even used it as a prop in a shoot itself.

The apps he’s placed on the iPad though have added a number of other more useful functions. Weatherbug and MyRadar let him check the weather conditions at a planned location. Sunlight lets him predict the light conditions and choose the best time to photograph. Yellow Pages enables him to find resources near the shoot such as food, gas and stores.

More importantly, Square, a piece of hardware that plugs into mobile devices and works with a dedicated app, lets him take credit card payments on location. While the device was originally built by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey for the iPhone, the iPad version has a number of additional functions and looks more professional.

Using the iPad as a Remote Release

All of those are useful and all require a more expensive 3G-connected iPad — wireless connections aren’t always available on location. But few of the uses to which Dauphinais puts his iPad are photography-specific. He occasionally uses DSL Remote to operate his camera and the Portfolio to Go app links to his Flickr account. But perhaps the most useful photography-specific function comes with the use of the Easy Release app, a program that allows him to obtain model and property releases while on location.

The process though is a little awkward. Dauphinais first takes a picture on his iPhone of the model or property which he then emails to himself and collects on his iPad. The model fills in the information on the iPad, he saves the image to his photoroll and uses Easy Release to attach it to the image.

“This process works but it ain’t pretty,” he admits. “The new iPad 2 with a built in camera will solve this problem.”

But it’s when you try to use the iPad as a real photography tool, rather than a way to make locational shooting a little easier, that the tablet’s limitations become clearer.

When Jack Roth, a professional photographer who mostly shoots corporate events and portraits, borrowed a friend’s iPad to take on a dive trip to Fiji, he was surprised at how little the iPad helped with his photography.

His aim, he says, was to use the tablet to organize by quality, date, subject, type and camera the images he was shooting each day so that when the trip was over he’d have 20 to 30 images ready to go.

Once he’d downloaded the images though, he explains, he found that there was no easy way to categorize each image or create libraries of common photos. He couldn’t bulk process multiple images at once, an essential feature for a photographer shooting hundreds of images a day. Worse, Roth found that when he tried to upload his Raw images to another device, they underwent a significant loss of quality.

His conclusion was that the iPad was a useful device for displaying images, but for every other function, from saving and editing to categorization and back-up, photographers still need their laptops.

“From my experience I’ve decided to not purchase my own iPad,” he says.

Only Try Photo Editing at Home

That’s not a conclusion that Ray Dauphinais would necessarily argue with. Despite all of the uses to which he’s able to put his iPad during a shoot, he still relies on his desktop and a couple of laptops for post-processing.

“[O]ther than a quick and dirty crop or adjustment of a photograph, I don’t even attempt to do a serious edit with the iPad,” he says. “If I think I’ll need to do on-site editing I bring a laptop.”

The iPad’s flexibility then means that it can fulfill all sorts of useful functions during a shoot. But just as a Swiss Army knife can open a bottle, cut string and remove a stone from a horse’s hoof, but it can’t replace a professional chef’s knife, so a tablet computer is still far from an alternative to a fully-blown computer with lots of processing power and a professional image editing program. It can’t store images, edit them properly or categorize them. And although Apple hasn’t revealed the power of the new model’s back lens, no one’s expecting it to compete with a professional camera.

The device does however have at least one asset that’s very difficult to beat: its large screen makes displaying a portfolio of images a real pleasure. The iPad might not replace the laptop but it is great for showing off.


11 comments for this post.

  1. Daniel Hoherd Said:

    I agree that the iPad is not useful for serious photography. In fact, I had one but I got rid of it because I never used it. A few missing apps would could turn this.

    For instance, if there was a liveview app that allowed you to see the camera's live-view image on your iPad I would probably go buy one right now. This would be incredibly useful when doing tilt-shift product photography where you want everything that is important to be exactly in focus with no soft bounds on the primary subject.

  2. Ray Said:

    Hi Dean,

    Good jobs here. Not long after this article was posted, I received a couple of emails asking for a detail list of my uses and apps.

    I have written a companion article on my blog listing the apps and how I use them.


  3. Cool Pictures Said:

    Hello guys!

    Very informative article but with many controversial thoughts. Thanks by the way.

    Today we published a series of interviews with professional photographers about using iPad. Please, have a look and share your thoughts!

    The post is here -

    Best Regards,
    Photo Editor

    P.S. As a bonus you will see a video review of one cool photo app

  4. Brian Schade Said:

    @ Daniel Hoherd - The DSL Camera Remote app that the author references in this article provides the live-view option you are mentioning. I've used it personally through my iPod Touch and it works very nicely.

  5. Heather Parker Said:

    I have had the iPad for a while now and have found it very useful for consultations with clients and sharing my work with anyone who is interested in taking a peek. I use it more for a portfolio than anything.

  6. bryan grant Said:

    you need to check out the light room plug in for the ipad very cool

  7. Edward condd Said:

    I use the iPad as my only source for editing my photos. For my needs it is a perfect fit. I am not a pro, so desktop editing is more of an option for me. I would strongly suggest looking at 2 apps in particular Filterstorm and Photogene. Both have excellent features.


  8. Michael Said:

    mentions of DSLR Remote - it requires connection to a computer. The computer acts as a wiFi server to iPad. I have an iPad but find my MB Air much more useful... and lighter 😉

  9. Sue S Puetz Said:

    I purchased an iPad as soon as they were available. Although I loved it, there were 2 major deficiencies as a photographer's go-to gear during a shoot: 1) no means to backup photos from the iPad to an external device, e.g. flash drive and 2) no way to upload a batch to an offsite cloud storage. When Apple solves those needs, I'll definitely purchase another iPad.

  10. Ron Said:

    Here are two apps you might be interested in.

    iAlbum provides a beautiful way to organize and display your photos in a virtual photo album that’s as intuitive and easy to use as the real thing. You can change covers, photo pages, photo corners, and even photo borders. Supports photo special effects, such as black & white and sepia.

    Photo Shack is the perfect digital camera companion for the iPad. It allows you to view, sort, and organize your photos into custom folders. You can zoom to full resolution, add titles and comments to each photo, and access detailed embedded photo metadata in each photo. Rotate correct, email, and file transfer as well, all without duplicating a single photo.

    Both are available in regular and Pro versions from Applgasm-Apps.

  11. Pro Photographer (@ProPhotogBlog) (@ProPhotogBlog) Said:

    The iPad for Photographers #photo #photographyequipment

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