Mobile Photography (iPad) workflow

In my search for a viable iPad based workflow for travel…

I don’t want to use the Adobe solution of syncing the iPad to Adobe creative cloud. I’m not into subscription model, nor do I care for the process of syncing the iPad to the cloud then desktop. When I tried this solution, when it first came out around 2012, it was so bad that I walked away from adobe. Capture One is my editing software of choice and I don’t use any catalog system. Capture One sessions allow direct access to the .DNG files for file management and backup and no reliance on a proprietary database (catalog) to store my work. Everything is in the operating system. It also means that you can search for images by keyword out in the operating system using the Mac finder. Windows has similar functionality for searching files. I am in charge of my image files.

I’ve no desire to download from SD cards to iPad. That’s a lot of overhead and then I’m faced with moving the files from the iPad to computer for editing, key wording, and archival. The sync between computer and iPad has become almost unviable with the latest OS X; it’s too slow (takes ~20 mins) for normal syncing. The time to sync (download) thousands of images from a trip would probably pass into the it’s never gonna finish land.

For now, the process (V1.0) is outlined below.

    1. SD card plugged into iPad by the appropriate adapter.
    2. Open iPad file viewer and select SD card.
    3. View images, in standard iPad viewer – don’t import images to Photos!
    4. While viewing image that is a keeper – tag it “3 star.” This tag is a file system tag. It is searchable and in OS X can be added as a column in a finder window. For a quick how to tag files check out OSX Daily article.
    5. If plan to use the SD card back in the camera for more images, also tag the entire group of images as “culled.” Then when you open up the SD card for the next culling session you can filter out everything mark “culled” to save time finding the new images. For me I use a purple tag color and the word “culled” as the tag.
  2. At HOME
    1. Search the SD card or sort by tag to bring “3 star” tagged files into a group.
    2. Copy “3 star” tagged images to Capture 1 session directory.
    3. Open Capture 1 and batch rate them 3 star. This creates the 3 star rating in the EXIF data. Once in the EXIF data any photo editing program will recognize the star rating.
    4. Copy the remaining images to Capture 1. While these remaining images are not marked as keepers, I always keep them. Often there are multiple shots of the same scene which are only slightly different from one another. Some time in the future my taste might change so that today’s keeper is tomorrows dust bin and vice versa.
    5. Finish key wording and post processing images as needed.


The initial five steps are conducted on original image SD cards. Obviously there is some risk here. It is pretty minimal. You will be viewing images and changing file attributes directly on the SD card. If you trust your camera to read/write SD cards, I don’t know why you wouldn’t trust your iPad to do the same. Just don’t accidentally delete a file!

One of the big advantages of this workflow is you aren’t dependent on a small app developer or any third party software. The functionality is now built-in to iPad OS. While Apple does some pretty silly things with updates, my experience them has been better than with most software. This advantage comes about for a couple of reasons. The first is there are no third party developers making photo culling apps for the iPad that actually can edit the EXIF data. If one was out there, I’d give it some consideration. The second reason is the latest iPad OS (13) finally included the ability to access files directly, just like a real computer.

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