One secret being a great photographer is to take lots of photos and only show people the best ones. It’s standard practice for professional photographers, and it pays off for casual snaps too. Whittling down hundreds of photos to only the best is quite a chore though.
Photosmith is an iPad app that lets photographers catalogue and filter their photos on the move. There are no editing facilities, but users can add ratings, labels, keywords and other metadata, and group photos into collections. It handles exports to Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox and iPad Albums, but its party trick is the ability to sync tags and ratings with Lightroom. The app promises to help with some pretty heavy duty tasks, at a price tag to match: Photosmith is $19.99 in the App Store.
For professional photographers, it makes perfect sense to start cataloguing on the way back from a photo shoot – or even during a shoot – so you’re ready to start processing your top shots as soon as you’re back at your Mac or PC. For holidaymakers, cataloguing photos at the hotel or on the plane home is much more productive than turning to the mini-bar or in-flight magazine to fill the hours.
The iPad is an excellent choice of hardware for this task, too. It’s lightweight and robust, and its Retina Display screen is ideal for inspecting photos.
- Apply and filter by star ratings, colour labels and Select/Reject tags
- Add captions, keywords and IPTC metadata
- Group into user collections
- Sync all of the above with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
- Uploads to Dropbox, Facebook and Flickr
- Apple iPad (all versions)
- iOS 5.1 or later
- Supports JPEG and some RAW formats (click for details)
The first task is get photos into the app. However, with no card slots on the iPad, this is easier said than done.
One option is to use Apple’s iPad Camera Connection Kit (fourth-generation iPad owners should go for the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter). At $29/£25/€29, this is a bit steep for such a basic product but it’s a useful gadget to keep in your camera bag. Frustratingly, the iPad doesn’t allow apps to have direct access to memory cards. Import must be to the Photos app first, and then to Photosmith.
Photosmith offers a choice to either copy photos into the app’s own storage, or to link to them in the iPad album. In both instances, it generates proxy files at various resolutions to speed up navigation, so you’ll need plenty of free storage space on the iPad to shuttle files around. It makes sense to choose Copy and then to delete the photos in the Photos app. However, be warned that the Photos app doesn’t include a batch delete function – you’ll have to tap to select each photo in turn before hitting delete.
Both the native Photos app and Photosmith support a wide range of RAW formats – click here for the full lowdown. Neither app reads the actual RAW data, though. Instead, they read the JPEG data that’s embedded into most RAW files. These aren’t always at the full resolution, so previews will be limited to the resolution of the embedded JPEG. A workaround is to shoot in RAW + JPEG mode. Both files are imported together, and the JPEG is used for previews.
If you’re using an SLR with dual card slots, saving RAW files and JPEGs to separate cards allows you to import only the JPEGs to conserve space on the iPad. Later, you can reunite the RAW and tagged JPEG files in Lightroom – we’ll cover this below.
Another option for import is to use an Eye-Fi card. These SDHC cards incorporate a Wi-Fi radio for wireless transfers from a wide range of cameras. Both the Pro X2 and the new Mobi versions (but not some discontinued models) support direct transfers to an iPad without the help of a router, with the Eye-Fi card creating a hotspot for the iPad to join.
The great thing about using Photosmith with an Eye-Fi card is that the app talks to the card directly, bypassing the Photos app. That means no messing around with a two-stage import process, and no fiddly delete routine (deleting from Photosmith once you’re done with a set of photos is much more straightforward).
Another big advantage is that photos can be imported automatically within seconds of being captured. You can think of it as a basic form of tethered shooting. It’s extremely useful for location shoots where a shot must be nailed before proceeding to the next one.
The disadvantage is that initial configuration to make Photosmith work with Eye-Fi cards is convoluted and counter-intuitive. Full details are provided here and it’s vital to follow these instructions to the letter.
Wireless transfers are slow compared to the Camera Connection Kit, especially if you’re shooting RAW. There’s a smart workaround, though. The Eye-Fi card can be configured to transfer JPEGs but not RAW files (in fact, that’s the only option for the cheaper Eye-Fi Mobi cards). The JPEGs are used in Photosmith for inspection and tagging, and later on can be reunited with the RAW files in Lightroom.
Wireless import is also possible with the many cameras that have Wi-Fi built in. These aren’t supported natively by Photosmith, though, so you’ll need to use the camera’s own app to handle transfers to the iPad, and then import into Photosmith. The workflow is essentially the same as using the Camera Connection Kit. Direct import is possible for Wi-Fi grips that use FTP, but we haven’t had the opportunity to test this.
Photosmith uses the same five-star rating and five-color labeling system as Lightroom, as well as tags for Pick and Rejected. Most tags are compatible with Lightroom 3.5 onwards, but Pick and Rejected will only synchronize with Lightroom 4.1 and later.
Grid view shows 20 thumbnails at a time. Double-tapping a photo opens it in the Loupe view, which also shows a histogram and various useful information. Fullscreen view gets rid of most of the interface furniture to give more space for the image, but still includes buttons for adding ratings, labels and Pick and Rejected tags.
A double-tap in Loupe and Fullscreen modes toggles between shrink-to-fit and 100% magnification. This is one area where performance was a little sluggish in our tests. Zooming to 100% initially shows a slightly soft (lower resolution) preview, which slowly updates over the space of a few seconds to reveal the full-resolution image. This doesn’t pose much of a problem in most cases, but it can be frustrating when checking shots for focus. That’s one job we’d rather do in Lightroom, where it’s also possible to view photos side by side to compare focus.
Photos are organized into User Collections simply by dragging them onto the New Collection button and typing a name. However, the iPad’s touchscreen interface doesn’t lend itself to selecting a large group of photos. Fortunately, help is at hand from the Smart Groups control.
With photos sorted by Creation Date, Smart Groups collates photos by date. A slider lets these groupings vary from per-minute to per-year. With the slider set appropriately, it’s easy to select a set of photos before dragging them to a Collection.
There are lots of ways to sort and select photos, but typically it involves going through a set and marking all the better photos with a single star. Photosmith can filter by ratings, color labels and Pick and Rejected tags, so after filtering to show only the one-star photos, the best of these can be promoted to two stars. Continuing as necessary up to five stars is an effective way to narrow down a large set of photos to only the very best.
The Tagging module handles captions and keywords. Lightroom’s database of used keywords is shared with Photosmith when the two are synchronized, so regularly used keywords auto-complete as you type, or can be selected from the list. It also maintains the keyword hierarchy, so if you’ve arranged them into folders such as People, Places and so on in Lightroom, you’ll see the same structure here.
Photos can also be tagged by a range of other criteria including Location, Creator name and contact details, Job Title and so on. Selecting multiple photos, either individually or using Smart Groups, tags them en masse. It’s worth keeping an eye out for this, though. Selecting a photo in Grid view doesn’t deselect the previous one, so it’s easy to tag multiple photos by accident.
Export and Lightroom sync
If you don’t use Lightroom, you can simply export your favorite photos to Flickr, Facebook, Dropbox, back to an iPad album or as an email attachment. There’s control over the export size to avoid excessive upload times, plus direct access to Flickr Sets and Facebook Albums. Facebook exports behaved a little strangely in our tests, requiring us to locate and approve them on the Facebook website before our friends could see them.
Photosmith really shines when used in conjunction with Lightroom. There’s a Lightroom plug-in that handles communication between the app and software over a network, with transfers in both directions. We found it to be slightly temperamental, sometimes requiring a restart of the app or the iPad to get it working, but these problems were never insurmountable.
For transfers from Photosmith to Lightroom, the destination folder is defined in the Lightroom Publishing Manager page. This can be a little fiddly to manage, though, and big transfers over Wi-Fi are slow. Both problems can be solved by importing the photos from the camera’s memory card into Lightroom in the normal way. When Photosmith and Lightroom are subsequently synced, the plug-in cross references the two libraries against each other. Where it finds that a photo already exists in Lightroom, it synchronizes the metadata but doesn’t copy the file. This means that metadata that has been applied to JPEGs in Photosmith is synchronized with RAW (or RAW + JPEG) files in Lightroom.
We’ve been using Photosmith on and off since version 1, and while previous versions suffered from a few bugs and workflow issues, the developers’ hard work has really paid off in version 3. It’s still not 100 percent reliable, with very occasional crashes and more frequent glitches in the synchronization process. However, this is an app that we now feel is up to the demands of serious use.
Rating and tagging photos on the move is a smart idea that addresses a genuine need, and this implementation shows a keen eye for detail and some creative problem solving. The best way of using it might not always be the most obvious one, but with a little effort learning its capabilities, Photosmith can become a vital cog in an extremely efficient photography workflow.
$20 is relatively expensive for an iPad app, but it’s still an impulse purchase for professional and keen amateur photographers. It’s also good value for anyone who takes lots of photos but never finds time to sort through them. A bigger consideration is the storage space required on the iPad. A memory card may contain many gigabytes of photos, so a 64GB iPad may be required to avoid running out of space. Still, if you can justify the hardware, buying this app is a no-brainer.
What we like: Makes journeys home more productive, sophisticated wireless workflow, comprehensive rating and tagging facilities, integrates neatly with Lightroom
What we don’t like: Import can be convoluted, full-resolution previews are slow to appear, Lightroom sync could be more robust