iPhoneography 101: Basic Workflow Tips

Well, it's a new year. I truly hope you've enjoyed the Holidays and had many opportunities to take loads of photos.

The iPhone has made it so easy to snap a shot. Cool foam design in your latte? Snap! Great portrait of your friend Hal? Snap! A foggy morning at the beach? Snap! Before you know it you've got hundreds of photos taking up room on your iPhone, and if you leave them there then they reduce the number of other shots you can take. If you use apps like PureShot or Camera+, that can save your pix in TIFF format, then even more memory gets devoured because a single TIFF shot can be over 50MB versus 1-3MB JPEGs photos typically use.

So, you've got some killer shots taking up serious room on your phone. You want to save them, maybe archive them to DVD or online storage, and you want to be able to find them again quickly. You need a workflow. You may be thinking, “Oh man! This is gonna be hard and tedious.” Well, it isn't hard and the tedium can be managed by how much info you want to include with each photo, but you'll be glad you did it when you need to find the shots again.

There are 2 major task to any workflow; tagging and storing. There are many options in each and I'll go over a bunch, but there's no way for me to include them all. The key is to find a set of options that work best for you.


By default your iPhone does a nice job at automatically tagging your shots. If you allow your camera to be location aware then geographic data is included with normal stuff like time and date, but often even that isn't enough to find a set of shots and it definitely won't help if you are looking for all of you sunrise landscape shots regardless of date or location. This is were tagging comes in handy and, of course, there are app for your iPhone to make this task simple. One such app is PixSort [5.9MB, all iDevices capable of running iOS 6 or above, free (in-app purchase)].

PixSort accesses your albums on you iDevice and let's you create all sorts of custom tags then attach them to your photos. Select one or a group of shots then go through the tagging options. The app saves every tag you create for later use and the tags you associate with a photo become part of the photo’s metadata (metadata is information about the photo, like shutter speed, location, etc, that is part of the photo’s file, but is not readily viewed). That means your tags can be searched by any app that can read the metadata of a photo file no matter where the photo winds up.

So, you’ve just shot some landscapes. How should you tag them? This is where it can be a bit tedious because the more descriptive tags you use the easier it will be to find your photo later. Don't just tag it with “landscape”, if there are mountains in the shot add a “mountain” tag. Describe color, time of day, if clouds or bodies of water are present include tags for them as well. I like to have about 7-10 tags, but you can use as many as you deem necessary. Just don't use 1 or 2.

The problem is deciding when you should tag. When I shoot any group of shots I know I want to keep I will tag them the first chance I get, that way I'm sure to remember more details which I can include in the tags. I also tag before I move my shots off my iPhone. If you get a good app then tagging doesn't take long to do.


Again, Apple does a good job in storing you photos. Photos in your camera roll on your phone do not, by default, get stored in other places, you have to turn these options on. When you signed up for an iTunes account you automagically got 5GB of iCloud storage, and you have PhotoStream available too. Think of PhotoStream as your temporary cloud storage and iCloud as something a bit more permanent. PhotoStream will hold onto the last 1000 photos and they remain available for 30 days, so if you need to clear off space on your phone you can do so easily by making sure the shots are in PhotoStream, then removing them from your device to make more room.

The only restriction iCloud has is space, once you run out of the 5GBs of storage you can either buy more from Apple, or archive what you have stored. Archiving is easy, but it takes the photos out of active storage and puts them on some physical medium for storage. I use DVDs for this, but I also have several TBs of space hanging off my Mac just for photo storage.

You can use apps like Toast Titanium which help you catalog your files, or you can just put your photos in a folder and use your computer's ability to create data DVDs. If you want to go a bit further you can compress the files into a ZIP file. TMO has a great article here which talks about how to do this.

Back to cloud storage for a moment; another option is DropBox which gives you 2GBs of default storage. I like DropBox because it's been around forever and it works with a boatload of apps. As with iCloud, when you run out of space you can either buy more or clean it out by archiving.

So there you have it. Shoot, tag, store. That's the workflow. You can add to it as well. For instance, I do my post-processing work after I've stored my files, and I work on copies of the originals. It's a little paranoid, I know, but after you lose a few photos you start to understand the paranoia.

That's it for this week. Next week, portraits!