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Why I prefer the iPad Pro to my Mac for importing and editing photos

"I didn't expect to go this route, iMac. I'm truly sorry. But the iPad Pro is just better than you are when it comes to importing and editing images." This is a sentence I literally spoke out loud to my Mac a few days ago.

Now, while we could ruminate on why someone who works at home is compelled to speak to her inanimate objects, I'd prefer to focus on the content of said speech: I've pretty much stopped importing and editing images on my Mac. Though I didn't expect it, the iPad provides me with an easier and quicker workflow for posting hero images on iMore than my Mac ever did.

It's all in the workflow

Warning: The disk was not ejected properly.

I didn't always think it would be this way. When I got my iMac, one of my big excitements was that little SD Card slot on its rear port array — something my 11-inch Air never offered. My dongle-less future was here, and it was shiny and chrome.

But once I got past the euphoria, I realized: Even without a dongle, importing images to your Mac is kind of a pain.

For iMore, my photo workflow goes as follows:

  1. Arrange a photo for my article and shoot the photo on my DSLR.
  2. Import the photos from said shoot to my computer.
  3. Pick the best photo of the bunch for my article.
  4. Eradicate any stray pet hair or dust motes with Pixelmator's Repair tool, and adjust color if necessary.
  5. Resize the photo to iMore CMS-acceptable size and export.
  6. Upload to iMore.

On the Mac, that workflow looked like this:

  1. Shoot photos on DSLR. Remove SD Card, insert into iMac.
  2. Manually open Photos, and import the bunch by clicking "Import Selected", then delete the images off the SD Card. Remove the SD Card and get a "Warning: The disk was not ejected properly" alert. Ignore it and pray I didn't screw up my SD Card's formatting.
  3. Flip though images, pick the best of the bunch. Save it to the Desktop, because Photos doesn't consistently support directly dragging a thumbnail into a program.
  4. Open that Desktop-exported image in Pixelmator. Clumsily attempt to edit with mouse, or take three minutes to set up my Wacom tablet. (99 percent of the time, it's the former.) Adjust color appropriately.
  5. Resize and rename the photo in Pixelmator, and export as JPG to the Desktop.
  6. Open the iMore CMS article, and upload the image.

Not the worst workflow, but there are a couple of frustrating bits in there. First off, while it's a small thing, remembering to manually eject an SD Card is a pain — especially when there's conflicting evidence that it hurts your drive. Also, in order to edit an image with Pixelmator's Repair tool, I have to save a copy to the desktop, because Photos is weird about directly editing an image from its library. I could use Pixelmator's Photos image extension, except that it doesn't offer the repair tool — only filters.

Once I'm in Pixelmator, trying to perform any sort of complicated repair with a trackpad is laughable. I've hooked up my wired Wacom tablet in the past, but it's a hassle — more cords, positioning it in such a way that I'm not accidentally pressing keys while I draw, all sorts of fun. I usually just default to using the repair tool as a circle stamp for dust motes and praying I don't need to remove any pet hair.

It's gotten so crowded that I've had files sitting atop files on my Desktop before.

When I'm done with repairing the image and any color correction, I have to save it once more to the Desktop in resized form, with the proper title for iMore's CMS. If I'm not diligent about cleaning up my desktop, this results in an invasion of JPGs after a week or two: It's gotten so crowded that I've had files sitting atop files on my Desktop before.

After saving my file, I visit iMore's CMS and upload the file, all the while praying that viewing "Modified by" in the file uploader's list view will actually give me the latest files at the top of the screen. (There's a fun OS X bug that results occasionally in new images being organized under a "No Date" heading at the very bottom of the screen.) Once I find the file, I upload it, and add it to my article.

My glorious iPad Pro solution

There's nothing egregiously bad about that Mac workflow — no showstoppers, no "throw my hands up in the air" frustrations. But the tiny nits and bugs add up to a general malaise over preparing images for iMore.

Thankfully, here's where the iPad Pro came in and saved my sanity. On the iPad, my workflow looks like this.

  1. Arrange a photo for my article and shoot the photo on my DSLR or iPhone.
  2. Use the SD Card to Lightning dongle to import said photos to my iPad. Photos automatically opens, and I can swipe to select the images I want and tap "Import selected." (If shooting on my iPhone, I can also AirDrop images to my iPad.) Once done, I can remove the SD dongle at my leisure, no Eject button necessary.
  3. In Photos, I pick the best photo of the bunch for my article, then tap the Share button and use my "Send to Pixelmator" workflow.
  4. The iPad opens up Pixelmator automatically with my image inside it; I use the Apple Pencil to eradicate any stray pet hair or dust motes with Pixelmator's Repair tool, and adjust color if necessary.
  5. I tap "Open in Another App", choose my format (JPG), and run my "Resize, name, and upload to iCloud Drive" workflow that resizes the image, names it, and uploads it to iCloud Drive.
  6. I open iMore and upload the file to iMore's CMS.

Where the iPad Pro succeeds, surprisingly, is in app interconnectivity. We generally think of iOS apps as their own individual sandboxes, but sharing extensions are exceedingly powerful at moving your files from one location to another.

Workflow (opens in new tab) removes steps I might otherwise have to take on the iPad by giving me great cross-app automation power. I have two sharing extension-based workflows I regularly use in my photo work with iMore: Open In, and Preview, Rename, Resize, and Save. I built the first one myself, but I have to give MacStories's Federico Viticci credit for the latter — that workflow alone helped make the iPad Pro a viable work machine, and I've built several non-photo workflows based off of it.

The "Open In" workflow lets me automatically send a copy of the image or other file from my current location to the new app. Because iOS apps use iCloud Drive and the sandbox, they automatically copy data from one location to the other. I never have to worry about saving my files and re-opening them in a new program, or deleting those files later; iOS takes care of that automatically for me.

I never have to worry about saving my files and re-opening them in a new program, or deleting those files later; iOS takes care of that automatically for me.

The Preview, Rename, Resize, and Save workflow is the iPad's finishing move: Once I've completed any image editing, running this workflow results in a chain of events. It previews the completed image for me, asks me for a file name, resizes the photo to 1536 pixels tall for iMore's CMS, and asks me for a location in iCloud Drive to save the file. Once it's in iCloud Drive, it's only two taps to get it into iMore's CMS — files are organized properly by date, so it's easy to find the latest file.

On top of the Workflow automations, I've got added bonuses in no-nagging SD Card removal and Apple Pencil support. On the SD Card side, there's no digital Eject button anywhere in Photos, so no need to worry about whether or not you're damaging your SD Card — it's all taken care of for you. Is it worth the hassle of adding a dongle back into my workflow? For me, absolutely.

The Pencil, likewise, makes image editing a breeze: I can just pick up my Pencil and edit away, no pairing or extra connections necessary. Pinch to zoom means I can work with precision detail on my images, and the Pencil is a heck of a lot better at helping me make pet hair disappear than my Magic Trackpad.

The right tools for the right job

I'm not going to go so far as to say that the iPad Pro should be everyone's solution for photos. It still falls short in a major arena for many photographers, myself included: image management.

Organizing images is nigh-impossible on the iPad. Photos isn't the right tool for it yet — and I'm not sure it may ever be one — and there aren't really third-party apps out there designed to capitalize in that area. Batch processing is virtually non-existent, and you can't create or edit smart albums from your iPad to make up for it. RAW support isn't great, either; nor is keyword organization; metadata viewing and editing is impossible without a third-party app.

There's no need to insist on using one for everything.

But here, I don't actually mind going back to my Mac. The beauty of iCloud Photo Library is that any images I upload to my iPad get wirelessly downloaded at full resolution on my Mac; there, I can do more advanced batch management — tools that Photos for Mac offers but the iPad has yet to.

I own both devices, so there's no need to insist on using one for everything: My iPad works better for importing and editing images, so I'm using it for those tasks; my Mac is still king when it comes to organization and management, so it wins out there. And honestly, I like that workflow. I'm more likely to have my iPad close to me when out and about shooting images for iMore; when it comes to actually organizing them long-term, it makes more sense to do that in the comfort of my office, with my iMac at my side.

And at the end of the day, I'm just excited I found a workflow that will never yell at me about improperly ejected SD Cards again.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

42 Comments
  • It might just be the software you're using on the Mac. E.g., if you'd used Lightroom, both the eject and export workflows can be completely automated. However, kudos on finding a nice workflow for iPad Pro. I agree it's probably a more right-sized machine for what you're doing.
  • True! Sadly, that'd also mean switching my entire photo workflow to Lightroom and CC, which I'm not quite ready to do yet.
  • Yeah as I was reading this article I was thinking the same thing, the grievances with your photo software, manual importing, export to desktop and bringing into the photo editing software are done automatically with lightroom. However there is still the matter of using the apple pencil instead of an attached waccom tablet. Until apple makes a tablet like macbook you are stuck using the ipad pro as an all in one.
  • Could you have not done the same thing on iPad air 2! Well minus pencil. Of course!
  • Sure! (You could even do it on an iPhone, honestly.) But Pencil is a pretty big deal for me.
  • you know you can dig a hole with a rake if you really want to...
  • Exactly! How did you know that's how I feel doing image correction with a trackpad? :)
  • Zing! :D
  • Don't you just wish the Pencil worked on all iOS devices AND Mac trackpads? I mean, they're big enough for signatures and some light editing...
  • I recently switched from Windows to Mac and use LR. I enjoy using the trackpad for correction and retouching. :) Sent from the iMore App
  • I really love your articles on making workflows for the device that better fits your needs. While I'm still molding my workflows to my iPad usage, it is very encouraging to read about how other people get it done, and then use that as motivation.
  • 2 things that iOS needs to do to turn the PC into niche category. 1) Proper new generation file management, rather than everything being shoe box style apps or simple trying to bring PC style file management iOS.
    2) Some new revolutionary method/deign for text input. In hindsight even dictation is not that practical in many situations.
  • Isn't file management fun in iOS?!
    My favorite is the fact that 99% of the apps that handle the files I work with - especially pdf - COPIES the file to that app, rather than just working with it in place. Which also requires me to manually upload the edited file to the original location - Dropbox, OneDrive Personal, OneDrive for Business, Sharepoint, iCloud Drive, AutoCAD 360 drive, my NAS... Where as on my pc, those locations are folders, with all different file types pertinent to the project/subject, and I can just open them with any app, save it and it stays there. No duplicate, no manual re-saving.
    "Open In..." Doesn't always work right in iOS either. Sometimes the file browsing app doesn't show apps that clearly support that file (yes, I check the "more" option) but doing that pretty much guarantees duplication of the file, with little to zero chance of getting it back into the folder from where it started.
    Microsoft Office apps on iPad are the only apps that actually let me keep the file where it is (downloads local copy, but it knows where it belongs) and auto-saves changes to the original location.
    It's a f'n shame that Photos on OSX is following the same iOS bs of exporting, or using Open> "Media browser" in an app, which doesn't always show Photos as a resource, and is usually super slow to load the library. Why the flying f can't I just drag the f'n photo out of Photos into any other program blows my f'n mind. I never had that problem with iPhoto. Also removed is [right-click] Show In Finder... WTF?! And have you ever opened the Photos library package to find your photos?! (Since I'd rather not drop it on the desktop) The folders are arranged by date imported, instead of the date of the picture, making it even harder to find the picture you want... WTF?!?!? (This rant was much longer than I planned, sorry) Sent from the iMore App
  • Goodreader??
  • "Remove the SD Card and get a "Warning: The disk was not ejected properly" alert. Ignore it and pray I didn't screw up my SD Card's formatting." Right-click on the SD Card icon, select "eject", don't get that warning.
  • Yes, but that's an extra step which she is trying to avoid. You don't have to do that with an iPad because the SD card isn't mounted in the same way so it won't corrupt the images or file system Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • 1st world problem.
  • All you did was illustrate why Photos is such a step backwards from iPhoto for workflow.
  • Haven't really done so on my iPad Pro. I have a pretty good photo-editing app but I want one that allows me to edit RAW images. Importing a photo from my camera is no biggie, though. I only found out recently that Sony put their PlayMemories camera app for the iPad on the App Store, so getting photos off my a6000 wasn't hard at all without needing a dongle.
  • I'm sorry but this story, while useful is a bit overdone in its exaggerated work flow hassles for the mac in an attempt to make the iPad workflow sound super convenient. If this is a common work practice why is there no workflow designed on your mac to do it? Why is the Wacom put away, why no Automator steps. I apologize but this sounds more like a story about making the iPad pro sound super convenient and cool (which it is), by artificially ignoring the mac's ability to create fast and efficient work flows in its own right. Seriously you lost me at removing the SD card incorrectly, such a truly onerous task? It's clear some work went into the iPad work flow, why not also put in the same effort on the mac? I think you could have written this without even mentioning the mac at all, the fact you can do all this on a tablet is awesome, no need to put the other tools in your tool chest down, especially in such a contrived manner.
  • In the article, I say that these things aren't actually a major hassle—they're just little nitpicks I've had to deal with for a long time. I highlighted my Mac's problems to show precisely where my iPad fills those gaps. The Mac's far from a trash tool, and I still use it regularly for many other things.
  • I'm curious about the need to reconnect the Wacom tablet. Desk space too small ?
    You do say iMac, not Macbook, so it shouldn't be a problem to keep the thing attached like a mouse right ? The cable length should allow it to be tucked away to the side when not needed.
  • The ease of photo editing and processing was the main reason why I decided to buy my 1st iPad a couple of years ago. It's even easier if you shoot with iPhone now that we have iCloud Photo Library but I realise that a DSLR is better suited for challenging stuff like sports or concert photography.
  • I have a question. You said you made a "Send to Pixelmator" workflow. When trying to do this it keeps telling me Pixelmator is not supported in workflow. I was wondering how you did it. Its entirely possible Im just missing something. Thanks
  • Works ok........ for a JPG shooter. :)
  • Agree on that. BTW, does iOS have a way to remove the RAW files after import through the camera connection kit ? I shoot RAW + JPG. Raw is for editing in computer later with more time to spare, while JPG is for the quick review and sharing. I'm really worried that iOS would download both, claiming a lot of the precious space (have a 16 GB iPad Mini 1) without any way to delete them.
  • It will only import the jpg. iOS will not import both. If no jpg is found it will import the raw file.
  • Great Article Serenity, enjoying your articles about using the iPad Pro in your work and as your main computer. I have been really enjoying using my iPad Pro for as much as I can.
  • Importing photos to your Mac is not a pain . Apple's Photos is dog of a program. I choose to have a workflow that doesn't corrupt my libraries. From SD card to Lightroom on my Mac is trivially easy. It takes more time to get a cup of coffee.
  • Another question: you said you swipe the photos you want to import to the iPad--how do you do that? I never have gotten the rectangle select motion to work in the import screen of Photos for iPad, so have to tap each photo to import if I don't want to import every photo on the SD card. It is pretty painful when selecting several hundred photos.
  • Tap, hold and swipe ? It's not really rectangle select like file managers in Windows or Mac, more like selecting with keyboard and shift key. Tap and hold the first file, then swipe to the last file and all inbetween are selected.
    Also works in the camera roll.
  • I have been able to get the "tap, hold, and swipe" method to work in camera roll, but I still can't get it to work in the import screen of the iOS Photos app when using the SD card reader.
  • Serenity,
    You can tell Photos to launch when an SD card or iPhone is connected. You can even choose specifically- launch for this SD, but not this one. Launch for this iPhone, but not that iPad. It's just a check box in the Import page.
    Also, in Pixelmator, try: Open then scroll down on the Source List (left column of the pop-up Finder window) then click Media, which should show your Photos library, which is arranged by albums, look for Last Import. Or preemptively create an album for this photo shoot.
    This will at least save you from having to create the redundant file on the desktop. But I guess you'll need to save the edited file somewhere anyhow. Sent from the iMore App
  • Photos launches like that by default. So it's impossible for her to not know that. That feature is opt out, not opt in. I still think iPhoto is superior due to its ability to I tegrate external editors into the workflow. At this point, prosumers should be moving to workflow apps like Lightroom, AfterShot Pro, or ACDSee. IMO.
  • I don't have any iPad pro but iPad Air 2. I prefer editing my 99% of the photos on iPad rather than on my Mac unless I have to do professional photo editing. I use Pexilmator for iPad which is optimized for the larger touch screen. Just because all the apps on iPad are extremely easy to use and very intuitive, I prefer editing on the iPad. People saying you could do the same things on iPhone are wrong. The work flow on the iPad apps is better than computer let alone a smartphone, because iPad is very intuitive at least to me. Sent from the iMore App
  • I recently bought a lightning to USB dongle (my camera uses compact flash) and have been playing with editing photos on my iPad air. In some ways it's a dream. In others, super frustrating. Right now, I don't have any good apps for doing certain things I do frequently in Lightroom; merging HDR & pano's, gradient adjustments, and brush adjustments. Also, any major photo manipulation is just easier/faster in Photoshop. I would love for iPad to be my go-to for photography on the go and I hope Apple keeps pushing the capabilities of them in this regard. I would love to be able to use an iPad as a super-high res viewfinder so I can spot-check images quickly (and maybe flag/rate them), for example.
  • I mourn the loss of the organizing tools in the move from iPhoto to Photos. the simple notion of seeing the image number under the image ( Img_0305 ) is beyond it. If you shoot 100 pics a day, you are soon awash in your own bad memory. The long rant above by durfmobile copies my thoughts exactly.
  • You can have Photos open automatically on the Mac. I know this because I have to keep turning it off every time I insert an SD card the Mac hasn't seen before. Sent from the iMore App
  • Interesting, but I don't think I could give you the capabilities of Lightroom and if needed, Photoshop. Also, are raw files supported?
  • jerrykur, my understanding is that RAW files will indeed be supported iOS 10. My dream scenario would importing raw photos directly from a Sony a7rII to an iPad Pro 12.9, then fixing stuff in RAW, with the PENCIL! That would be killer. Whether I use Photos or Adobe CC is immaterial to me, as long as Photos gets new cloning and painting features to compete with Photoshop -- but the truly big deal would be using the Pencil on raw photos. Serenity, do you think Sony shooters will have this dream come true?
  • Did not work for me ...
    As my icloud photo library got large, I noticed it corrupted images.
    The edits were not syncing despite having good internet connections.
    I ditched iCloud Photos since the service was not reliable.
  • I have not used Adobe Lightroom yet but I want a Adobe Photoshop reality for my iPad Pro . I also would like a storage solution that is not so prohibitively expensive especially when pc and Mac users can get a tb for around $60 ? I don't agree about the keyboard when I am not using the dictator the predictive text onscreen keyboard is fine but sometimes frustrating because of the fact I may type something and it auto corrects.