Ecosystems

I'm sure I'm somewhat of an oddity among photographers. While I enjoy making photographs, i.e. using my camera to capture images, I don't like post processing. I spend way too much time in front of computers at work and the last thing I want to do is to spend hours more at home staring at the glowing screen while pushing pixels around. There has to be an easier way. I've been looking for that way for some time and have been testing the waters with a new workflow. Actually, it's more than a workflow. It's a commitment to ecosystems.

Before venturing into something new, I put a lot of thought into what I wanted in a photography workflow. I came up with a set of wants and desires.

  • Mobile capability - I don't want to have to be seated at my office desk to work on photos. Maybe I want to sit on a couch or a in a comfortable chair. Maybe I want to pop into a coffee shop or pub and work on some photos while enjoying a beverage.
  • Simplicity - I've scaled my post processing work down the past couple of years to where I do minimal work on my images. I don't need powerful bloated editing applications any longer. Dodge, burn, tone curve - I could live with only those capabilities.
  • Cloud based storage - I use a few cloud services for my images, which up until recently were only for hosting and backup. I wanted to be able to edit cloud hosted images as well. Sure, I'll maintain a local backup but I don't want to have to be plugged into a local piece of storage to get to my stuff.
  • Lower hardware requirements - Given my minimal editing, I don't need a powerhouse machine any longer. I was looking at getting a new system and I didn't want to have to spec out an expensive machine since I'm not going to be doing things like editing with dense layers in Photoshop.

After much deliberation and experimentation, I settled on Adobe Lightroom CC with their cloud service as my main image storage and editing platform. The scaled down desktop app provides everything I need for my editing. Over the course of a week or so, I uploaded all of my images into the Adobe cloud. Prior to beaming everything up, I did a good bit of Spring cleaning, ruthlessly deleting a lot of old work. As of this writing, I have 32,000 images in the Adobe cloud. My subscription is for both Lightroom Classic CC and the CC cloud only app. When it comes time for renewal, I expect to move to CC cloud exclusively. That will cost me a mere $10 a month for the cloud storage I need.

I mentioned my decision to a good friend of mine. "You're committing to an ecosystem", he said in a scoffing tone. I was greatly amused by his comment, as he works for Apple - the epitome of a tightly closed ecosystem. Apple is in fact the other ecosystem to which I have aligned myself in my grand experiment. My 27" iMac was gifted to my wife whose aging iMac was dying a slow death. I found a 13" MacBook Pro on sale at a decent discount and that is now my primary system. 

The first few weeks with the MacBook weren't as rosy of an experience as the software. I quickly discovered that the keyboard is really annoying. I'm forced to use the Bluetooth keyboard that went with my old iMac. The thermal performance of the MacBook leaves a lot to be desired as well. The fans kick on loudly if I do much more than use a web browser. It's louder than my iMac by a considerable amount. The only time my iMac every made any noise was during video rendering. The keyboard gets quite warm but since I'm using the external keyboard that isn't much of an issue. Don't get me started on the fact that Apple has gone to only USB-C ports and that my model only has two. Not one fucking USB-A port? Ah well, I knew that going in. Dongles it is.

I had another hardware issue in that my old Wacom table was getting flakey. As I considered the cost to replace it, I decided to instead put my money toward a basic iPad. It was actually my original thought to get an iPad Pro instead of a MacBook but when I looked into that possibility I concluded that would be too much of a limitation, at least today. Local storage is the biggest factor. While I'm embracing cloud storage, for now I still want a local backup. Maybe in a few years I'll change my mind. It will take a while to gain the confidence to let go of that level of control and possession. 

In any event, I've grown to love editing with Lightroom CC on my iPad. I use a simple stylus and I can do everything I need for editing my images. To my surprise, working with raw files is actually faster on my iPad than on my MacBook Pro! The desktop CC app seems to do more rendering work during editing while the iPad works off the Smart Preview it generates. While the fans of MacBook scream like a banshee if I dare open a Fujifilm raw file, the iPad whips right through them. I had gotten away from raw editing almost entirely over the years since I started shooting Fujifilm cameras and now the iPad with Lightroom CC makes it quick and fun again. I love that whether I pick up my MacBook, iPad, or iPhone that all my images are available (assuming I have a WiFi connection, of course.) I've actually used my iPhone a few times now to show images to people and even do a few edits.

My workflow is a bit broken up at the moment. I haven't gotten a card reader for the iPad yet and I'm using my old workflow for ingesting images on the MacBook. I use Photo Mechanic to cull images before pulling them into Lightroom CC. Once the images are in the cloud, I switch to the iPad for editing. While editing is quick, exporting is way too slow and cumbersome. I'm thinking there must be an easier way to do this on the iPad but I haven't had to time to pursue it. For now, once the edits are done I just do the batch export on my MacBook and upload the images to my web gallery. 

My images are in 3 places in the cloud: Adobe, SmugMug, and Backblaze. The original unedited files are on an external drive attached to the MacBook. Adobe keeps that in sync for me when it is connected. On import all of my files are beamed up to Adobe and when the drive is connected they are replicated locally. Backblaze copies that external drive to its cloud. I anticipate using this system through this year before I reevaluate. This gives me 2 cloud copies of original files and edits (Adobe stores the originals along with metadata, SmugMug is edits only, and Backblaze is both.)

To get my wish list, I've aligned myself with 2 ecosystems - Apple and Adobe - for better or worse. We'll see how this goes. I'm excited about the mobile editing on the iPad more than anything. That thing has become a regular companion, not only for photography, but for education and reading as well. I watch a lot of education videos on that thing and it's easier to tote around than the MacBook. Apple seems to be devoting a lot of their efforts to improving the mobile side of their business and by the look of things on my MacBook, perhaps that area is being a bit neglected. If the iPad experience continues to improve, I won't shed a tear over walking away from desktop computers for good.