It’s spring here in Oregon, so it’s time for some spring cleaning. And who doesn’t need to do a little cleaning in the photo library on their device? So today I’m going to kick off the first in a series of Mobile Tutorials on Image File Management, starting with transferring image files between devices.
If you are like me, you might find the iPhone screen is a bit small for editing. I remember a specific moment in my early days of mobile photography… I had posted an image online which looked good to me on the small screen (an iPod Touch at the time), but when I saw it later on a large computer screen, I was horrified. It looked awful! I had missed some subtleties in the edit since I was looking at a small screen. Within days of that experience, I went out and purchased an iPad, knowing it would make a huge difference in my photo editing to have a larger screen. The larger screen means I can better see what’s happening with the whole image, as well as the details, as I make changes. I also have more workspace for edits which require fine control, like masking.
But more than a big screen, more than one device means big complexities with file management. When you have more than one device in your workflow, how do you quickly and easily get my photos from one device to the other? How do you keep from duplicating files on multiple devices, to the point you can’t even find the ones you want to edit?
Over time, I’ve developed a few requirements for my file transfer:
- I only want to transfer the files I intend to edit. If you take multiple photos of subject with your iPhone, exploring small adjustments in composition, exposure or focus, then it’s nearly impossible to tell from looking at the Camera Roll thumbnails which image is the best. In the past, I’ve resorted to counting the tiny thumbnails from a reference photo in order to find the one I want, which is a method fraught with potential errors. I want to take the “noise” of having many images on the iPhone and simplify things on the iPad by selecting the photos I want to edit before transfer.
- I want to view the image on the larger iPad screen before I transfer the files. Since the iPhone screen is small, even with my wonderful reading glasses I can’t see as much detail as I can on the iPad. That means that if there are subtle differences in focus between one image and the next I might miss them on the iPhone. Viewing the image on the iPad before transfer allows me to look at several image options and then transfer the best one.
- I need a solution that works with and without WiFi. My iPad is WiFi only, so I don’t have the option of a cellular data connection. I might want to transfer files between iPhone and iPad when a WiFi connection isn’t available, so I’d better have a solution for that situation.
I tried all sorts of things in my early days learning iPhone photography, from iCloud to Photo Transfer Apps. After a while, I settled on two procedures for transfer, one for when a Cloud connection is available, and one for when it’s not. I’ll walk you through both and then tell you why I don’t like the other options I’ve tried.
Transfer with a Cloud Connection
When I have Cloud connection, I use Dropbox as my means of transfer. With a Dropbox account and the app on both devices, I can upload all of the images from my iPhone to Dropbox and then review and download only the best ones from my iPad. Here’s how to do it…
1. You will need the Dropbox app on both devices and a Dropbox account. (If you don’t have a Dropbox account, sign up here. Using this link will give us both more storage!) Install the app and log in to your account on each device.
2. On your iPhone, set Dropbox to Auto Camera Upload. You do this by tapping the Settings icon, and then tapping Camera Upload to access the Menu.
Once you are in the Camera Upload menu, turn the Camera Upload switch to “ON”, switch Use Cellular Data to “OFF” (unless you want to use your cell data for photo uploading – not recommended if you have a limited data plan), and switch Background Uploading to “ON.”
Now, everytime you connect to WiFi, your most recent photos will transfer from your iPhone into Dropbox. Handy, huh?
3. On your iPad, you DO NOT want Auto Camera Upload. Be sure Camera Upload is turned “OFF” in the Dropbox app on the iPad. Dropbox will prompt you to turn it on, but don’t enable this feature on the iPad.
4. When you are ready to review your photos, open Dropbox on the iPad. Tap the Photos icon at the bottom of the sidebar to see the most recent photos by date. You can scroll through to see any image larger on the right side of the screen. Note: You are not seeing the full image in this view, because the top and bottom menu bar overlap part of the image.
To see the full image as large as you can, tap the preview on the right and the rest of the Dropbox window will disappear and the image will enlarge. You can swipe left or right to scroll through the images in full screen mode, where you can see all of the details. When you identify an image you want to edit, tap the image again. This will take you back to the Dropbox window.
From here, tap the Export icon on the top menu bar and then select Save Image to save to Camera Roll. Voila! You are done. You have reviewed the images full screen, and then transferred only the specific image you want to edit to the iPad. Now you can proceed with the editing process on the iPad.
Whenever I’ve taken new photos on my iPhone, I spend a few minutes when I am next on my iPad to review and download images through Dropbox. Then, whenever I pick up my iPad to edit, I start with the photos I’ve already selected on the Camera Roll. It saves me a lot of time and hassle since I don’t have to revisit a bunch of photos on my Camera Roll to find the best one every time.
- If it doesn’t seem to be auto uploading from the iPhone, open the Dropbox app and check your settings to make sure Camera Upload is turned on.
- If you have a lot of photos to upload, you might need to occasionally open Dropbox and tap on the app while it’s uploading since it will time out.
- If you have a lot of images on your Camera Roll, you might want to pare down the number of images on your device before you turn on Auto Camera Upload or you could fill up the free space included with the Dropbox account. (The next mobile tutorial will cover transferring files to the computer and deleting from your device, so hang tight.)
- If your Dropbox account runs out of space, you can either purchase more space or delete the files in Dropbox you no longer need. Since this is only temporary storage for me, I never purchase space.
You can use this method for transferring files as long as you have a connection to the Cloud, either through WiFi or a cellular data connection, and between any type of device. Dropbox makes apps for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Blackberry, both Windows and Mac computers, and can be accessed from a web browser. With all of those options, it should work for whatever devices you operate!
Transfer without Cloud Connection
When I don’t have a cloud connection, I use Apple’s AirDrop feature, which will work between most iOS devices.
1. Make sure WiFi, Bluetooth and AirDrop are turned on for all devices. You can do this quickly and easily by swiping up from the bottom of the screen to get to the Quick Access menu, and then tapping the icons. For AirDrop, when you tap you will get a popup menu with options. I always set AirDrop to “Everyone” to make things easy.
2. On the iPhone, go to the Camera Roll. Tap an image to view, and then swipe left and right to scroll through your image options. When you find one you want to transfer, tap the Export icon to bring up the Export menu. You can select multiple images to transfer as well.
3. When you are ready to transfer, make sure your other device is turned on and unlocked, or AirDrop won’t find the device. Tap the AirDrop icon to search for nearby devices.
4. When your device shows up in the AirDrop options, tap the icon to transfer the selected file(s). Watch the screen of the receiving device, and you’ll see a window with the status of the transfer.
The upside with this method is that you can quickly and easily transfer files between devices, in either direction. The downside with this method is that you can’t view on the large iPad screen before transferring, but at least you can view it full screen on the iPhone. If I’m not sure which of a few images is the best on the iPhone, I’ll transfer them all to the iPad and then delete the ones that don’t work out.
Since most of the time I have WiFi, I don’t use this method often, but I like to have it available.
Why not iCloud or a Photo Transfer App?
As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, when I first added the iPad to my workflow I tried many different options for file transfer between devices before settling on these methods. I’ll share what I didn’t like about the other options I tried. I last used these options ~two years ago and the features may have changed since then, so take my comments here with a grain of salt.
Apple’s iCloud/Photo Stream
There were a few issues I ran into with this service that led me to give it up entirely:
- When Photo Stream is turned “On” for a device, it automatically uploads and downloads the images in the Photo Stream to your device. All new images from all devices are mixed up into one “Photo Stream,” essentially a combined folder in the Cloud. Each file gets a new sequential image name and date/time, based on when it was added to the Photo Stream, so I lose traceability to the real date/time an image was created. As a linear thinker, that matters to me. I like to keep my image sources (iPhone or iPad) separate and sequential within themselves, not all jumbled together in one place.
- Photo Stream was limited to 1000 photos. As you get beyond 1000, and remember that is total across all devices, you just lose the older ones out of the Photo Stream and you are back to transferring manually if you want an older image. You can probably pay for more storage, but since I just want to transfer not to archive, I have no interest in paying.
- Images were resized, without your knowledge or ability to change the settings, depending on the device you were viewing the image on. So if I took a square image on my iPhone, which would be 2448×2448 pixels, it would be available on my iPad with only 2048×2048 pixels. I have no idea why they would do this, but after finding this out, it was a deal breaker for me. I work really hard to manage my file size and resolution as I edit files, I don’t want my file transfer service to change things without my knowledge!
Even if these settings changed since I last use it, the fact that there was so little control or notification about the settings makes me nervous. This service is not made for the serious photographer who is worried about file management and resolution, but for the average iPhone user who doesn’t have the same needs as I do. Apple can change how it operates in the next update and I could have a new issue I need to resolve, without even knowing. No thanks.
Photo Transfer Apps
I tried multiple apps and they all work pretty much the same: Download and open the app on both devices, select the image(s) to transfer from an iPhone thumbnail, select the device to send it to, and then wait. There are some problems with this method:
- Choosing images to transfer based on thumbnails doesn’t work well. As we’ve already established, if the iPhone screen is too small to see fine detail and subtle differences in focus, a thumbnail is not going to work either. You end up needing to transfer more images to the iPad in order to review and decide the best ones there.
- The apps limit you on the number of images you can transfer at one time. They must assume you are only transferring one or two, because they all limit the number you can transfer at a time and require you to select them one-by-one. I can’t remember exactly how many the apps limited me to, but I was finding this an issue for me. I had to do a repetitive batch transfer process to get the images over the iPad for review, which took a while.
- Once I selected a group of photos, depending on the app they would actually transfer over in reverse order. And since I had to transfer in batches, that was a double-whammy to my desire to keep things in chronological order.
- The apps would say they worked with WiFi or Bluetooth, but connection was spotty with one or both depending on the app. Pairing devices was a challenge in all of the apps I tried. When it did finally work, transfer was slooooowwww and you had to make sure your device didn’t go into sleep mode, or you needed to start the transfer process again.
Once I worked out the Dropbox transfer method, and later the AirDrop method, my life got much, much easier. I haven’t even explored this topic in a couple of years, everything has worked so well.
I hope this helps you manage your files between devices! Let me know your thoughts in the comments. The next File Management tutorial will cover quickly and easily transferring image files from your devices to your computer. Stay tuned!