iPhonegraphy Workflow —
Expectations and Reality
Let’s face it: point-and-shoots are dead. Today’s phones cameras can produce quality images for 99% of casual photo takers, so why carry around one more device, one more battery to charge and memory cards, when you can have it all on your phone?
After I bought my first iPhone (iPhone 5) I slowly started to leave my Canon and my two lenses (50mm 1.4 and 18–55mm) at home. Yes, my iPhone doesn’t take raw pictures, can't do a proper bokeh and certainly doesn't match the sharpness of any modern DSLR, but it is always with me, allowing me to create shareable content on the go and empowering my creativity.
Back in the days when I used my DSLR, I think I had a pretty good workflow. I started by importing all new pictures to Lightroom and stored them in folders that contained the date followed by the event, ex: “20150428_Bob_Birthday”. Then I did a quick cleanup of unwanted photos or A/B any similar photos to select which one to keep and edited them. After editing the pictures, I published the ones I wanted to on social networks using a Lightroom plugin that kept the published version synced with my library. Neat, right?
Now, photos occupy a major role and the majority of memory space on my iPhone. Also, as a result of being a device that I carry with me everywhere, I started to take much more pictures than I did with my DSLR.
Because of that, my library grew up exponentially and I started to face some big organisational problems: what pictures have I already edited? What pictures have I already shared? How can I see photos from a specific event? Have I backed up my iPhone to safely store my pictures? Should I keep the edited and original one, just in case I want to create a different version?
In this article I'll share the challenges I still face and the ones that are solved, at least in terms of my workflow.
Pre iCloud Photo Library and Photos App
Before iCloud Photo Library and Photos for OS X came out (I will get there), my workflow was pretty rudimentary and time consuming since I had to manage three different photo libraries.
I have a handful of processing apps on my phone that I think really worth a look — VSCO Cam, skrwt, Snapseed, Afterlight and Slowshutter — but for most of the situations I end up using the native camera app to shoot and VSCO Cam for editing.
My usual workflow used to be: take a photo (or lots of them) using the native camera app (first library to manage); after that, importing them to VSCO Cam for edition (second library to manage) and, when VSCO Cam had that option, I used to flag them. This was my way to signalize the picture as “not shared on social networks yet”. Since I tried to post a new picture every day, this was a quick and easy way to find out how many pictures I still had available for sharing.
Because of the fact that my first iPhone only had 16GB, I constantly had to delete content from my device. This required a handy way to backup my photos, and for that I relied on Dropbox camera upload. Since this was a one-way sync utility, that made it the third library I had to manage.
So, for example, if I took a photo and imported it to VSCO Cam and decided later that it isn't worth sharing or keeping, I had to delete it from three different places: my photo stream, my Dropbox camera uploads and my VSCO Cam library — bummer! Additionally, If I was in a lazy mood, I wouldn't delete the photos from Dropbox nor from VSCO cam at the moment. I guess you've already figured out the extensive list of troubles that this would cause me if I changed my workflow — which I did.
iCloud Photo Library and OS X Photos Advent
Apple has proved many times already that if there is something that they can't do properly it’s syncing. MobileMe and iTunes Match are great examples of how bad Apple can be when it comes to handling content synchronization. Even so, I decided to take the leap and buy some extra space on my iCloud and let the iCloud Photo Library be responsible for backing up and keeping my library synch’ed between my devices. The advantages were obvious, and in the eventuality that this worked properly, it would allow me to eliminate Dropbox from my workflow and the necessity of managing its own library. This way I could even do some more time-consuming photo edition on my MacBook Pro and it would automatically sync with my iPhone.
Living the dream, right?! Well actually, not really…
Just a small note: when I started using iCloud photo library and photos for OS X they were still in the beta version, so some of the issues I will describe next might already be solved by now; anyway from my experience with the official version after its release, I can firmly say that most of them still exist.
I knew what I had to do: merge my Dropbox and iPhone photos in one folder, delete those which were repeated and those which I've ditched from my iPhone but didn’t delete from Dropbox, and then upload this to iCloud. The process would be quick if we were talking about 300 or 400 photos, but in this case there were more than 6000 photos from the past 2 years. Because of this, I've decided to do the ‘heavy’ work on my Mac, expecting that iCloud sync would reproduce it on my iPhone.
After 4 days of photo uploading, I finally managed to have all my photos on iCloud and after that I connected my iPhone to my Mac. For my surprise, Photos app identified the presence of 300 new photos from my iPhone, which was wrong. I searched for some of them and they were already there. Even so, I imported them, just in case, and the result was staggering — some photos got repeated for 3 or 4 times. This issue still happens every time I connect my iPhone to my MacBook Pro — this is, Photos app will always tell me that I have unimported photos, which I don’t.
It was then time to turn on the iCloud Photo Library on my iPhone. All my iPhone photos had to be uploaded during two more days to iCloud, period during which it unexpectedly stopped working with the following error: “iCloud Photo Library will begin syncing when this device has finished restoring from backup”. WTF?! Rebooted the device a few times and it finally continued the upload. Suddenly, the upload stopped again without an error message, this time not solvable by rebooting the device.
Solution: turn iCloud Photo Library on and off, which resulted in uploading/downloading all photos again.
I thought that Apple had developed a smarter system that would only download new photos to my device but no, after the upload my iPhone downloaded ALL my photos and videos again — 6834 items. Since all my photos were uploaded from both my MacBook Pro and my iPhone, couldn't they be matched against each other on Apple servers and mark for download in my iPhone only the ones that were missing on it and vice versa?! Afterwards my iCloud Photo Library started working as expected for a small period of time.
Recently, I went on vacations abroad and I was using a 3G hotspot during my stay to have internet access. Since I had data limits, I wanted to turn the upload off during the day while using the hotspot, and turn it back on when as soon as I had unlimited access to the internet so it could sync again. It happens that if you want to turn it off, either you select to download all your photo library to your phone, or all the photos it has in small resolution will be lost. Once again, a true disappointment.
The reality is that for some reason, photos were not being uploading at all. Every time it tried to upload the photos the message “uploading x items” would show up and then fail with a message stating that there were “x items to upload”. The problem persisted until I came back. When I got back from vacations and turned on my MacBook Pro I came across a message saying that Photos was “downloading 120 items” with no progress whatsoever. This bug turned out to be a good thing for me because it spared my traffic and the solution to fix it was — again — to turn the service off and on on both my devices and wait two more days for the libraries to sync.
I have not found any item missing on my library, but when you have more than 6800 photos and videos it’s hard to say if you lost some photos or not. Even so, I wouldn't trust iCloud to do that. After this sync mess I doubt that they did anything right with iCloud Photo Library.
Other Editing apps also don't play well with iCloud Photo Library
I've spotted some annoying issues when it comes to importing photos from my library to other apps. I'll list them divided by app:
- Photos that have a low resolution don’t appear when you try to import them to the app. If you open the photo in the Photos app, it is fully downloaded to your phone, but even after that step the photo won't show up in there for selection.
- Photos edited on my Mac don't show up when attempting to import them.
- Photos edited on my Mac don't show up when attempting to import them.
The actions I've taken to be able to import the photos to the apps were: reboot device; force the apps to quit; and click on the edit button in the Photos app and wait a couple of minutes. I still don't know which one works better because most of the times I have to combine all of them to be able to import a single photo.
Unfortunately, iCloud Photo Library proved to be an unreliable service to trust one of the most valued personal content there is — our pictures — , and despite the fact that I'm still using it, I keep daily backups of the library. It’s a pity that Apple doesn't put the same kind of effort in all of its products, ending up with mediocre ones like iCloud is at the moment.
Therefore, the problem is that I still have to manage two libraries, although I hope that this changes in the near future.
Keeping an eye on updated apps, Snapseed 2.0 was recently released and I got to know one great feature that this new version has: you save your photos to the camera roll and if you ever want to edit them again on Snapseed, the changes show up on the app and you can revert them! I guess that, like Lightroom, what is saved is metadata about the changes made, so they're reversible. This is similar to what happens in VSCO Cam own library and with photos edited in Photos app. This would be a great feature to see on VSCO Cam, save edited photos into Photos app (instead of using it own library) that are reversible when opened again in VSCO Cam. This would allow people like me to manage only one photo library.
Let’s hope that both Apple and VSCO Cam come with news on this matters.
PS — If you like, you can check my instagram here.