Steps Toward a 21st Century Photo Workflow

I see that my photographic workflow is going to be moving to the cloud. I suspect it may be through Apple’s Photos app or maybe LightRoom, but one way or another, I doubt my images will live on my Mac any more than my music does. I can now stream thousands of HiRes albums via Amazon music anywhere and anytime. My photos are joining them there.

For years my iPhone has my most used camera because of convenience. With each new release of the hardware, the image quality improves, but that only makes me feel a bit better about using the phone to capture scenes from travel and family events. No, it’s the ability to capture images and immediately share them either via message or social media. I think of the images as living on the phone, but of course the truth is that they are on Apple servers and I’m just seeing previews on the phone. The problem I’ve had is that images from my cameras can’t get there easily.

There’s a feeling that that the camera industry is slowly dying because of the failure of cameras to easily integrate into this online world. My latest set of cameras all have bluetooth and WiFi that pair with apps that allow instant transfer into the phone, bringing some parity with images captured with the phone’s own camera. While there are limitations and quirks with both the Nikon and Leica apps, both work well enough to get images from the camera over to the phone’s own image ecosystem.

But these apps just don’t work well enough to become a core workflow for me. I’ve continued pulling my storage card from the camera to transfer to the Mac using Capture One Pro to store, organize and serve as hub for editing workflows. Capture One replaced Aperture a few years back. Aperture of course was Apple’s Pro photo management app that split off from the original iPhoto app.

Using a Digital Asset Management program (DAM) is simply the digital equivalent of the film workflow. This is made obvious in how the Lightroom image editing module is called “Develop”. RAW file rendering has like developing film, post processing like printing from negatives. It fits with capturing images as its own activity followed by image organization and processing as its own activity, the digital equivalent of spending time in the darkroom. While an image on the phone is expected to be final, like the print from the film minilab, the RAW file is the negative itself, the score from which the music will be made.

While I print images at home, Flickr has been the central hub for sharing my images. In fact, most of the images on this site, going back to 2007 at this point, are shared from Flickr links, not saved in the WordPress database. So sharing consisted of export as small JPEG, upload to Flickr, then sharing from there to the blog, to Instagram, etc as these social media sites multiplied.

Compared to the multistep, Mac centered camera workflow, the iPhone lives in a world of casual photography, built around sharing everywhere, instantly. The images aren’t processed other than the occasional use of filters built into apps. The images serve documentary purposes, ranging from recording the parking spot in the airport parking deck to holiday family gatherings. It often seems burdensome and intrusive to add a large complex camera into daily life given the capablities of the phone camera. But I wish I had better family portraits from over the years and not jus a collection of Art photographs.

I think Apple and Adobe understand where this is all going, integrating digital cameras into their cloud systems to permit casual, documentary photography to be captured by any device, from phone to camera. Not only am I inspired by the capabilities of the iPad, with increasingly powerful tools like Photoshop available on iOS for quick edits, it’s now becoming possible to ingest cards to the phone or iPad. Photos will do it now and apparently LightRoom on iOS will be doing it shortly without copying to the Photos database. Portable device transfer will no longer be an intermediate step for select images while waiting for importing to the PC, it will serve as contact sheet. As long as I have my iPad and the USB-C dongle for the storage card, I can have images ready to share fresh from the camera. And as I wrote about recently, the out of camera JPEGs seem to be a good starting place for this cloudbased workflow given all of the computation going on inside the camera’s imaging software.

Why go through all this? Just as email and document cloud services lets me work anywhere with just an iPad or even a phone, I hope that this workflow that includes the iPad for image review and editing gives me more opportunity for creative work anytime and anywhere.

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