Viewing All Your Photos Via iPad

Some time ago I noticed 2 things:-

  1. iPads (and iPhones) have really good screens and photos look great on them
  2. There was no really easy and satisfactory way to see all my photos on them (assuming that I have more photos on my computer than will fit on my iOS device)

In this post I will summarise the current situation regarding accessing all your photos from iPhone and iPad.

Ideal Situation

Ideally I would like to be able to:-

  1. View all photos on all devices (desktop, laptop, iPad, iPhone)
  2. ... anywhere
  3. ... and in full detail (full image resolution)
  4. Rate, flag and reject them from any device
  5. Send them in various ways to other people from any device
  6. Edit them from any device
  7. Organise them from any device
  8. Have any changes (including rating) in sync across devices
  9. See all the metadata everywhere
  10. Always work from RAW files
  11. Not lose any photos (this is important!)

It turns out not to be particularly straightforward to achieve all of these things, which is something I am trying to fix (see later for blatant plug!).

One of the main limitations is with the amount of storage space available on my iPad and iPhone - my main Aperture library is about 237 GB so far, so it clearly won't fit in its entirety. Keeping an Aperture library in sync across multiple computers is feasible - you can, for example, use various file synchronisation programs to update things as long as you're careful (I tend to use rsync most of the time).

Number 11 is really the subject of another post. It's really important to have good backups of all data, especially photos (which people tend to care about a lot). Personally I really want my backups on ZFS. FreeNAS can make it very easy to set this up with Time Machine (see here: AFP Shares in FreeNAS and other places)

So, let's look at some options which can help us towards these goals.

1. Synchronise Albums via iTunes

If I had the space on my iPad or iPhone I would probably do this just to have all my photos with me at all times. It's an extra step beyond importing, but it can happen over WiFi and iTunes can be set to just put all photo albums onto the iOS device. The main problem is that I don't have the space. Also:-

  • Doesn't put full resolution photos onto the device
  • No RAW support
  • Doesn't show all metadata
  • No way to send edits back to Aperture to be done from the RAW masters.
  • No rating, flagging etc
  • Does allow me to send and upload photos

Regarding the last point: JPEG images have relatively little information to be able to adjust things like exposure whereas RAW images record everything the camera does. I can make much greater exposure adjustments using the RAW than I could from the JPEG. There is an overview of the reason for using RAW images here: 10 Reasons Why You Should be Shooting RAW and I'm sure there are plenty of others on the internet. I always shoot RAW.

2. PhotoStream

Photo Stream stores your most recent 1000 photos or 30 days worth of photos. On your Mac it can keep all the photos which appear via Photo Stream, whereas on an iPhone or iPad it will delete the photos older than 30 days or if you have more than 1000. It definitely doesn't give you a way to access all your photos from your iPhone or iPad.

  • Only most recent photos
  • No RAW or full resolution
  • No metadata

3. Adobe Revel

Revel provides you with a 'photo library in the cloud'. It has (at least limited) non destructive photo editing BUT, crucially, it doesn't work with RAW files. You can export to Revel from LightRoom, Aperture or iPhoto but there is no way to synchronise your Revel library back to those things. This seems like a significant missing feature with respect to Adobe's Lightroom. If Revel just moved your Lightroom library to the cloud and let you make changes on your iPad which were then reflected in your Lightroom library on your computer that would seem to be great, but it doesn't. I would seriously consider switching from Aperture to Lightroom if it did this, although I have qualms about uploading all my photos to Adobe!

  • Free plan limited to 50 photos uploaded per month (after the first 30 days, which is unlimited)
  • Paid plan is £3.99 / $5.99 per month
  • No limit to the number of photos stored
  • Stores JPG files - not RAW
  • Photos stored by Adobe (who were recently hacked leading to 38 million account details being stolen!)
  • Doesn't work with iPhoto or Aperture directly, though you can export from them
  • Allows you to edit anywhere and syncs changes

4. Flickr

Again, lack of RAW makes this somewhat limited. They give you a lot of space for free though, which is nice. You could arrange to have your entire photo library uploaded to flickr (which would take some time initially).

  • Doesn't store RAW files
  • 1TB free storage (which is pretty good)

5. PhotoScope with Aperture or iPhoto

Unfortunately none of the options above really allow me to do many of the things I would like to do. It is for this reason I set about writing PhotoScope - a program to access my Aperture or iPhoto library from an iPad or an iPhone.

This is now available on the App Store and relies on a helper program (a server) which runs on your computer to provide access to your photo libraries over WiFi.

I will go into more detail about the motivation, and features, of this in a future blog article, but for now:-

  • Lets you view all photos stored on your own computer in Aperture and iPhoto
  • Works fine with RAW images by talking to Aperture or iPhoto
  • Shows images at full resolution (subject to Aperture preview settings)
  • Allows rating, flagging from the iPad or iPhone
  • Doesn't work over the internet (yet)
  • Lets you save individual images or albums to the iPad or iPhone
  • Shows all image metadata (aperture, date, camera model &c)

So, from the list above of things I would like to achieve this gives us numbers 1 and 3 (view all photos in full detail - and is the only thing which does); 4 and 5 (rate and send) and 8, 9 and 10 (sync changes, view metadata and RAW workflow).

6. Plex

I haven't looked into this yet. Apparently it can stream your Aperture library to your iPad too.

7. AirPics

This is similar in principle to PhotoScope in that it streams your Aperture and/or iPhoto library via WiFi to your iPad (no iPhone support). So, as above:-

  • Lets you view all photos in your Aperture and iPhoto library
  • Doesn't work over the internet
  • Lets you save individual images

On the whole its interface doesn't seem as 'slick' as that of PhotoScope (I may be slightly biased here!) and it also has a few missing features:-

  • Doesn't show images at full resolution (it took me some time to get this to work well in PhotoScope)
  • Doesn't handle rating or flagging
  • Doesn't show image metadata
  • Doesn't let you easily save multiple images or whole albums

For me the lack of ability to see every image pixel, lack of metadata (exposure settings etc) and lack of flagging and rating makes this less useful than PhotoScope. PhotoScope can let you easily zoom in to see individual pixels of 70+ megapixel images (I tried this) and probably more. Of course, I wrote it to do the things I wanted to do!

8. Photosmith with Lightroom

  • Doesn't allow you to access all your photos since it stores them directly on the iPad
  • Allows tagging and rating from the iPad even without internet access
  • Synchronises changes back to Lightroom

Aside from working with Lightroom rather than Aperture and iPhoto this provides a slightly different approach than that of PhotoScope. It stores a copy of some of your photos on the iOS device so that you can view them and rate and tag them away from your main computer. It definitely doesn't give you access to all your photos from that device, so it is limited in that respect. It looks like a rather useful program if you use Lightroom though.

If you use Aperture and would like something a bit like Photosmith then you should definitely check our PhotoScope (sorry for the blatant plug).


With limited power and limited storage space, but a great screen and very nice user interface an iPad can be a really handy device for viewing photos. You can sit on the sofa and show wedding photos to guests, browse through photos of your children with your wife or review the latest photos you have taken.

In order to do this there are a few options. You can either just work with a small(ish) number of photos of limited resolution on the iPad and have them stored on the device itself. This is ok, but it leaves you shuffling things back and forth which is time consuming and means you can't just browse whatever you want whenever you want to.

The alternative is to have the iPad act as a front end to something else which stores your photos. In this case there is no reason, in principle, not to be able to see all your photos in full detail from it. It would be great to be able to apply adjustments too and have the results appear immediately on the iPad. It's clear that we can see huge images if it is implemented cleverly - this is essentially what the maps apps and Google Earth do.

iTunes Home Sharing lets you do a similar thing for your music and films, and it's really really useful.

Now that I have something which does this for photos I notice that I have spent a lot more time looking at the photos I have taken over the years than I ever did on the computer!

This can, of course, either be done via 'the cloud' (upload all your photos to Adobe or someone else) OR from your own computer. Uploading to the cloud does have issues: it can take some time for all your photos to upload (especially if you were to upload RAWs), there are sometimes recurring fees (companies have to make money on this somehow) and you're really trusting the company in question to look after, and not abuse your data (there have been issues with this).

On the other hand, uploading to the cloud gives you at least some measure of protection against data loss, and does give you better ability to access photos from anywhere. At the moment there doesn't seem to be any cloud service that will give you a RAW workflow though (that I know of).

For the time being, I prefer to keep control of my photographs on my computer.

If anyone know of anything major I've missed in this brief summary I'd love to hear about it.

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