Photo Editing on iOS is a mess

Why I think the iPhone and iPad are useless image editing machines. #iOS

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I edit a lot of images on my iPhone 6. Most of them are images taken on the phone with the native camera app or imported and then edited in one of the several apps. Sometimes I used the non-destructive editing tools and the "Edit In.." feature to edit my images via third-party editing tools that I access right from the Photos app.

The challenge is that only a few of the popular third-party editing tools or filter apps support this feature. Here is the list of third-party non-destructive editing tools and filter apps that support "Edit In..".

  • Afterlight
  • Photoshop Express
  • Litely
  • Camera+
  • ProCam

Here are the other apps I have installed in a "Darkroom" folder on my iPhone.

  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Snapseed
  • RNI Films
  • AnalogFilm
  • VSCOcam
  • Darkroom
  • Prime
  • Photogene
  • Filters

If more apps were supported, my iPhone editing workflow would be simple. I would snap an image in the native camera app, then use the "Edit In..." feature of Photos to non-destructive edit or apply a filter.

But instead, my workflow involves snapping a photo in the native camera app, launching one of the filter and editing apps, opening the image in that app, making changes, and exporting a JPEG version of the edited image to Photos. If I want to use multiple apps to edit images, I end up importing and exporting copies of each successive image.

iOS edits JPEG images only. JPEG is a lossy compressed image format. Did you know that each time a JPEG image is edited and saved, it's re-compressed and image detail is lost? Only a few iOS photo editing apps — Afterlight and Darkroom are the standouts — use the “Edit in …” share sheet for non-destructive editing. Doing more than minimalist editing on an iPad or iPhone requires repeated import/exporting of JPEG images. I end up with several copies of the same image in various Photos folders.

Some editing and filter apps, such as Snapseed, Darkroom and Prime, allow the user to do non-destructive editing of images. However, the images have to be opened from Photos directly via those apps. Other than these three apps, I don't know of any other apps that allow this.

The situation is worse if I want to edit images taken with a DSLR or other interchangeable lens camera. The Apple Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader will import standard photo formats, including JPEG and RAW, but iOS doesn’t allow the photographer to edit RAW images. Just JPEG. I shoot images in RAW only. That makes the iPad almost useless to take on a photo excursion. Unless I set my Nikon to capture images in RAW and JPEG, I will not be able to make edits in the field. I guess Apple expects me to buy high-capacity SD cards or assumes that users only shoot JPEG. What's the point of editing the JPEG version of a RAW if I can't sync the changes back to the RAW image?

So I solved this problem by first importing my images to Adobe Lightroom on my iMac and then syncing them over to my iPad for editing in Adobe apps.

Here are the three Adobe iOS apps I use for photo editing RAW DSLR image on the iPad/iPhone.

The workflow is simple. I copy the DSLR images I want to work on into a specified collection in Adobe Lightroom. I then wait for the photos to sync to Adobe Creative Cloud. When I feel that the images have been copied, I launch the Adobe Lightroom Mobile app on my iPad. I wait for the photos to sync down to the iPad from Creative Cloud and then start working on minor edits and adjustments. If I need to do a bit more advanced editing — remove objects, work with layers etc. — I push the image to Adobe Fix or Adobe Mix. Adobe Fix/Mix pulls over the image with all current Lightroom edits. When I have finished my edit, the changes are synced back to Adobe Creative Cloud and available in Adobe Lightroom on my iMac.

Using these apps to edit the images in Adobe Lightroom requires a subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud and sufficient storage on an iPad or iPhone. On a 64GB iPhone, this isn't a problem, but I have already exhausted the storage on my 32GB iPad. Before I start editing images on my iPad, I spend some time, removing unnecessary synced folders and images from Adobe Lightroom Mobile.

I can use the share sheet to export images from Adobe Lightroom mobile to other iOS editing apps, but none of the changes syncs back to Lightroom. The "Edit In..." feature only works with other Adobe apps.

If the photographer is willing to shoot and edit JPEG images only, is happy with reduced image quality, doesn't mind the extra administrative tasks of removing old edits, then the iPad and iPhone could be used as a mobile editing studio. But for me, using my iPad or iPhone as a serious mobile editing platform has too many limitations.

My iPhone Photography Bag

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I almost always have a camera on me. Some time ago, I started keeping a packed camera bag and a tripod in my car. It helped me satisfy my photography urge when inspiration found it’s path to my eyes. With the camera always nearby I could pull over, stop, and capture what I saw. On my lunch break, I could walk around capturing moments throughout my day. The funny thing is, I noticed that I still captured more images with my iPhone than with Nikon.

It’s true; the best camera is the camera you have with you. But what has also become true, at least for me, over the last few years is that the best camera is the one that allows me to process and share my vision at the moment. This article by Daniel Korpai has some great tips that I have incorporated into my instant photography workflow.

With the introduction of iCloud Photo Library, there is a new smart album in the Photos app: Favorites. When you’re browsing through your images, you can find a little heart icon (?) under every single picture. Tap it, and Photos will automatically put that photo in the Favorites album and also make sure not to delete those in case you have the Optimize iPhone Storage turn on under the iCloud Photo Library’s settings. Go through all of your images in the Photos app and tap the little heart icon when you think you might want to process that particular image in the future. In the Favorites album, I then go through for a second time to review my selected images one more time, to make sure I only keep the very best.Daniel Korpai

That's a new tip for me, and I have started using it. It makes cleaning up the mess in my iOS photo library much more manageable.

iOS 8 added the ability to pass images onto a third-party app for editing. The images undergo non-destructive edits which means I can always undo. I mostly use the Afterlight app. It has lots of filters, but I rarely use any of them. But it has a few editing tools that I love. I have a few other apps, but few of them are available as editors from the photos library.

This is why I reverse this process. Instead of opening a third-party app, find the image you want to edit in the Photos app, then pass the photo to the other application with the help of an iOS Extension created by the Workflow app.

I started doing that last week. I created a Workflow to pass images from Adobe Lightroom Mobile to a few of my apps favourite, including Instagram.

beer, flight

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My workflow is simple. Capture an image with the native camera app and either use share sheets or workflows to pass the image to another app, usually Afterlight, for processing. I use other camera apps for specialised captures. I have a camera app for creating HDR images, long exposures, one for macro photography, and a few that allow for manual control of the camera. These are organised into an iOS folder named simply Cameras.

My most used camera apps are:

  • Native iOS Camera
  • vividHDR
  • Slow Shutter
  • Stay Focused

Apps that I use for post-processing are organised into an iOS folder called Darkroom. This includes, Photogene, an app I consider the Photoshop of iOS, Afterlght, VSCO Cam, Snapseed, Darkroom, and Image Sizer to change images to fit Instagram's square format.

My most used editing apps are:

  • Afterlight
  • VSCO Cam
  • Photogene
  • Image Sizer

Daniel uses VSCO Grid to publish his mobile image, but despite the square format, I prefer Instagram. It's easy to post a picture to Instagram and simultaneously share to Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr and Foursquare.

Please read the article. The author mentions a few apps that I may download, try out, and perhaps add to my iPhone photography bag.

Sylvan Lake

As Shaan and drove away from the high school after band class, I decided to drive through Skillman Park. I didn't intend on stopping. I just wanted a more scenic route back home. But as I slowly drove through the park I saw the sunset and had to stop. We walked toward Sylvan Lake. We were both amazed at how much the area had been transformed.

The image was shot on my iPhone 6 with the native camera, with some editing (brightness, highlight, shadows, contrast, exposure, etc.) in Afterlight and Adobe Lightroom.