Alaska

Denali - Talkeetna – Version 2Our trip to Alaska was fantastic. The weather ranged from blue skies to foggy rain but mostly was a not problem. Mosquitoes were mercifully nonexistent! We experienced great views of Denali, flew on float planes to see bears on Crescent Lake and helicoptered to top of the Knik Glacier. The only bust was a cruise of the Kenai Fjords that was cut short by rough seas – at least I didn’t get sea sick.

From a photography standpoint it was a great trip. I pretty much nailed my gear requirements, ending up using most everything I brought. Here’s what I ended up taking:

  • OMD EM-1 Mark 2
  • M. Zuiko Digital 40-150mm f2.8 PRO + 1.4x teleconverter – Great for wildlife photography (although I found myself wishing I had a longer lens get tighter on the bears)
  • M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-100mm f4.0 IS PRO Lens – Great all around travel lens. Not too big and very capable especially with the great stabilization.
  • M. Zuiko Digital 7-14mm f2.8 PRO – It’s Alaska, sometimes you need a wide angle lens!
  • I also brought my MeFOTO travel tripod and used it to shoot early morning Denali images, and brought my Manfroto monopod that I used for bear photography.
  • The camera and lenses fit neatly into my thinkTANK Mirrorless Mover 30i camera bag, which, in turn, was easy to stuff into my airline carry on bag and then carry with me when I reached Alaska.

The big experiment for this trip was bringing along the 500GB Western Digital My Passport Wireless SSD to back up all my images. It worked flawlessly for me. This unit has a built in SD card reader that allows you to easily insert the cards from you camera a the end of the day and have it transfer the new shots of the day onto the SSD. The unit has a battery so you don’t have to mess with plugging it in, just power it on an insert the card. Movies, raw files and JPEGS are all handled easily. When you get home just plug the unit into your computer and everything from you trip is available to load into Lightroom.

The big bonus for me with the My Passport was that you can wirelessly connect to an iPad and review your images and then transfer selected photos to your iPad to edit and share. This worked out amazingly well on our trip. I was able to find some nice shots to share with Melinda, our kids and other people on the trip. Very nice

Lessons

I learned a couple things on this trip that I hope I can put to good use in the future.

First, I heed to take more pictures. The more you shoot the better yo get. I hear this all the mime and know that it’s true. Not sure why I had to prove it to myself AGAIN.

Second, video is different than still photography. Although I shot more video than I ever have before, most of it will just serve as a documentary of our visit. With video you need to have a story. With still photography an image can stand on its own.

Anyway it was a great trip and generally successful from a photography standpoint.

Chasing My White Whale

Someone at Apple has strong opinions about how a photo workflow should go.

They are wrong.

For many years now I’ve been on a quest to use my iPad as my main travel computer and while for most uses the iPad is very capable, and perhaps superior to a laptop, it falls short for my photography workflow. Apple’s view of photography is very Photos App centric, everything photo related begins and ends in the Photos App, and while I use the app to share images with my family and across all my devices I prefer it to be one of the final destinations for finished images rather than the hub of my workflow.

Here’s what I want my iPad to be able to do, and to be fair it can do all these things already, just not in the way I want it to.

Backup my images

One of the they things my iPad should do is provide me a place to back up my images. I have a 256GB iPad Pro, so I have plenty of room to store my images. I’m not a pro photographer who fills several 128GB SD cards a day and I don’t shoot a lot of video so my iPad is perfectly adequate to store all the images I’ll shoot on a one or two week vacation. If I plug in a SD card to the iPad everything gets sucked into Photos. I don’t want this for a couple reasons. First, this is not where I want them to end up. I keep all my raw images in Lightroom and only a few make their way to Photos. Second, I don’t want to sync all these photos to iCloud, primarily because I often don’t have access to an unlimited, inexpensive internet connection when traveling.

Process my images

I want to process my images in Lightroom. I use a few other apps as the need arises but it’s mostly Lightroom. Since this workflow is travel focused and I don’t spend my travel time processing huge numbers of images I’ll wait until I get home to do any heavy duty photo editing in Photoshop, Luminar or Aurora. Pano’s can wait. Also, I’m not working on every image just one or two from a day’s shooting to share with family and friends and perhaps post to Flickr or my website

Stop the pain

So what would I like to happen? The iPad should allow SD cards or USB drives to mount and be accessible through the Files App so I could do what I want with them. I would like to be able to copy all my photos to a local, non-iCloud folder on my iPad as a backup. From there I can open selected images in Lightroom to process or share while traveling and when I get home copy my images to my Mac and from there process according to my usual Lightroom centric workflow.

Is this really a problem?

No. But it is a bit of a pain. I can manage my images the way I want; I just have to screw around exporting my images from photos, delete them from Photos and screw around to get the images into a non-iCloud syncing folder. I have Workflow (now Shortcut) workflows that do some of this. But it is a bit of a pain. And you have to do it every time. Come on Apple.

Chasing the whale

So I’m trying to fix this with new hardware. This feeds my tech nerd habit and offers me hope that I can beat Apple in this silly game. I’m headed to Alaska for ten days and photography will be at the center of the trip. I just purchased a 500GB Western Digital My Passport Wireless SSD with the hope that it can be the photo hub for this trip. The My Passport will read SD cards and offers plenty of space for storage. I can wirelessly access the images on my iPad and copy the images I want to process to Lightroom. When I get home I can copy all the photos from the disk to my Mac Pro into Lightroom. In my testing at home it looks like this will work but I’m not unreasonably optimistic. I have multiple other gizmos each costing hundreds of dollars that let me down in the past and this could happen again. What really needs to happen is for Apple to release it’s iPad–Photos grip on my workflow.

Thoughts on the iPad Pro

Usery Pass -20170519-206 - Edit 920

This year’s WWDC was the most exciting in recent memory for me. After a couple of years of apparent stagnation Apple showed us new Macs and new iPads pro together with significant OS improvements for the iPad in iOS 11 that will make the it a much more reasonable candidate to use as a solo computing device. I was particularly interested in the new iPad hardware and software.

My holy grail has been to be able to do 100% of my photography processing on my iPad while traveling and then seamlessly integrating the processed images to my desktop Mac. Ultimately the Mac could disappear from the process. Some of this is possible using the Photos app but the process is clunky with third-party apps such as Lightroom. We seem to be tantalizingly close to realizing this reality but it is still just out of our grasp. From a hardware standpoint, the new iPads Pro are reportedly as capable as Apple’s lower end laptops and even my current (now obsolete) 9.7-inch Pro runs Adobe Lightroom and Affinity Photo like a champ, so the metal seems capable of hauling the load. The uncertainty is on the software side.

Although I haven’t tried the iOS 11 beta yet it looks like a great improvement adding drag and drop, and direct access to documents stored on the iPad’s and cloud services. What I don’t yet understand is how my photo apps will integrate with the file system since most all of that is currently hidden from my view. The following are my Big Questions.

  • Will Apple’s Photos app continue to be the only app that can accept imports of images from external devices or will I be able to copy images to the file system or directly into other apps? This limitation is clumsy and time consuming for me. I don’t want my unprocessed images in Photos, I want them in Lightroom. Doing the Photos to Lightroom dance with hundreds of imported images is an irritating waste of time. My guess is that this is baked into the system and won’t change in iOS 11.
  • Will apps be able to open images directly from the file system or only through other apps?
  • How are files being stored by images processing apps? In some awful, inaccessible package file or as simple images in a directory?
  • Will I be able to offload images directly to another device through the file system?
  • What changes will Adobe make to their apps to take advantage of the new hardware and software, particularly improvements to Photoshop for the iPad? Affinity Photo showed what’s possible – time for Adobe to step it up.

My guess is that iOS 11 will make things better for me but won’t get me all the way to my goal. I am, however, guessing that the new operating system will significantly improve the experience of using the iPad for non-image processing apps and I’m totally jazzed to try it.

Hardware

I’m currently in the post announcement decompression phase of my hardware purchase decision making. I’ll wait to pull the trigger at least until mid-July. I’m planning on buying a new Mac and perhaps an iPad Pro. Although I love the idea of going all iPad the reality is that a Mac is still more capable, customizable and automate-able than the iPad and there is still a role for a desktop computer in my life.

My current Mac is a 2013 Mac Pro and it remains a great machine from a processor speed standpoint, its only weakness is the lack of the ability to drive a Retina display. Since there doesn’t seem to be an upgrade path, I’m considering getting an iMac. Not one of the Pro models, although I’m tempted, but I’m looking at maxing out a 27-inch iMac (1 or 2 TB SSD, fastest processor) so I can keep it as long as possible. Perhaps it will be my last Mac.

As far as a new iPad is concerned, I’m waiting. A lot will depend on the answers to the questions I outlined above and any new capabilities added to iOS photo processing apps (I’m looking at you, Lightroom and Photoshop). Currently I’m thinking of buying the 12.9-inch iPad since the big screen seems made for photos and holding on to my 9.7-inch model for use as a media consumption device and light-weight portable machine. But I need to to see some improvements in my photo work flow before I pull the trigger.

In any case it seemed to be an exciting time in the Apple ecosystem – let’s see how it pans out.

The New Site

Once again I’m in the process of rebuilding websites, or at least trying out an alternative to my current Squarespace website. There is absolutely nothing wrong with my Squarespace site except that it costs me more to maintain it than the value I receive from it and there are now alternatives that do 80% – 90% of what my current site does for free or at no additional cost.

All I’m really looking for in a website is a place to post my favorite images that looks “professional” – although I’m not a professional – that I can point friends and family to when they ask to see more of my photography. I’m not selling images and don’t need e-commerce capabilities nor do I need to accommodate huge web traffic, so $200 per year seems like a bit much to spend on something I can get for free.

When I recently got around to reviewing Adobe Creative Cloud’s Portfolio service I realized that it would satisfy my online presence requirements and its cost was already included in my $10 per month Lightroom/Photoshop subscription costs. The portfolio site together with this blog site replicate most of my Squarespace site’s functionality with the exception of an online slide show function. Integration with my Lightroom library is a plus and I suspect that Adobe will improve functionality in the future making this an even better value. Although Adobe doesn’t include a blogging platform with their portfolio, this free WordPress site will probably serve my limited needs (alas, poor reader, at the cost of you having to see some adverts).

At the moment I’m in the process of transitioning to the new setup and my existing site is paid for through June so I have time to evaluate if this will work for me. In the meantime, my aeolist.net domain is still pointed to the existing site while charlesbrown.photography points to the new site. At some point in the next five months I’ll flip it over if I decide to head in this new direction.