This blog has been archived.
Visit my home page at

iPhone photography frustration

TL; DR: Jump to the paragraph “In the end…”

I'm not a photo-savvy guy. I've never taken a single selfie in my life, and my iPhone Photos app witnesses about twenty photos a year — fifteen of which are accidental screenshots. Okay, a little bit of exaggeration. The iPhone, aka iCamera, especially the 6 Plus model, is sort of a waste in my possession. However, my grandparents came to visit me on campus yesterday, and my grandma loves photos. So I took one with them, using my phone (which is obviously better than my grandma’s digital camera). The lighting was wrong, but I was able to fix that in five seconds — clicked “Edit”, clicked on the little sun icon (whatever it is called), clicked on “Light”, slided the slidebar all the way to the right, and all of a sudden it looked perfect. (This is the first time I ever clicked those, but I got it nicely done in five seconds — very intuitive, deeply impressed.) From a layman’s perspective, the builtin edit feature of the Photos app is really smart. Later I tried to reproduce the same edit with iPhoto, but I had to manually wrestle with exposure, highlights, shadows, brightness, contrast, etc., and I just never got it right. Call me a moron if you feel like it, but I’ve already given you the context at the beginning of this article, so you can’t blame me. (For your reference, I do ’shop some images for fun and profit from time to time, but I never deal with actual unedited photos, so I never have to worry about exposure and stuff.)

So far so good. The frustation began when I try to import the photo to my Mac. I’m certainly not a mobile guy who keeps everything on his phone or the cloud. I have the photo import feature of Dropbox turned on, so as I plugged in my phone the photo already appearred in the Camera Upload folder. Wait what, two copies? Two copies that looked exactly the same, albeit one is about 0.1 MB larger than the other? Not cool. Pulled up Image Capture; Apple’s own software should do the trick, I guess. Nope, same thing. Googled, found this article on iOS: Edited photos show original photo after import or in other apps. Okay sure, they know this. Let's listen to what they have to say.

Apple uses Extensible Metadata Platform (XMP), a standard created by Adobe, for nondestructive photo editing. XMP allows you to undo edits and to revert back to an original photo without the loss of quality. Displaying the edited photo requires OS X v10.9 or later and software that can read XMP. The following applications support XMP:

Other photo-management applications and some iOS apps may also display XMP.

Adobe Lightroom, oh well. I don’t yet have Adobe CC installed — Photoshop is certainly a powerhouse (plus Illustrator, InDesign, etc. are nice to have at times), but Pixelmator works fine for me most of the time, and I’m happy to go to a library iMac or Mac Pro when I do need the power; $29.99/$19.99 is just too much if I use it twice a month. I theorize that I can indefinitely extend the free trial by running CC in a VM, reverting to a clean snapshot and regenerating the MAC address from time to time, but that’s only a theory — I haven’t got the incentive to test it out. As for iPhoto, I know it’s pretty lame from past experience, and I was very much baffled by the ugly and unintuitive UI, so normally I don’t even want to waste disk space on it; but since it’s only official solution other than expensive Adobe products and Aperture, I decided to install it. 1.7 GB gone. So does the wasted 1.7 GB do the trick? Sadly, no. Still the same thing in iPhoto 9.6, which is clearly “iPhoto 9.5 or later”. Totally baffled.

In the end, I came up with an ugly solution. Just email or iMessage the photo to yourself from the phone. If you use email though, be sure to use the builtin Mail, or you would likely lose Exif data (I sent from Mailbox and lost Exif; I then sent from Mail and didn’t). This is really annoying since setting up accounts in the builtin Mail app is not fun — Google 2FA is not supported, and I have to generate an app-specific password. Compare to Mailbox, where I signed into Dropbox on the new phone and within five seconds all of my ten email accounts are ready to use. The loss of Exif data is probably related to this thread on SO, but I didn’t delve into it since I’m not a Cocoa Touch dev. What’s more confusing, sending the photo via different applications result in different filesizes. The one sent from Mail (I chose original size when I sent it) was a 2 MB JPEG; the one sent from Mailbox was a 4.5 MB JPEG (without the right Exif); and the one sent via iMessage and later opened from the Messages app on Yosemite could be saved as a 10 MB lossless PNG (Exif was there). I went with the 2 MB one in the end.

I don’t know if iCloud Photo Library will solve the problem in the end. From my perspective, Apple should train Preview and QuickLook to recognize their XMP technology. Seriously, they talk about continuity, and I expect to enjoy my enhanced photos on my Mac without going through all the hessle and confusion. Photo enhancing is already such a breeze, thank you; now make sharing and archiving easy, at least within the Apple ecosystem. (Although I’m not familiar with photography and image editing in general, considering how tech-savvy I am, I bet most users can’t even figure out one annoying solution.)

By the way, Continuity and Handoff only work intermittently for me, and AirDrop between my iPhone (6 Plus) and MacBook Pro (mid-2012, model 9,2) doesn’t work at all. Continuity and Handoff sometimes turn up when they are unexpected (and serve as kinda nice surprises), but when I try to nail them, they remain elusive. Not a big deal for me, but certainly not the most pleasant thing ever. I bet these have to do with the fact that my Mac is connected to Ethernet and sharing the Ethernet connection to my iPhone; these days they expect everyone to be on Wi-Fi (and ironically they messed up big in Yosemite), but Wi-Fi simply can’t beat the speed and stability of Ethernet. I didn’t bother to test whether the features work when my devices are connected to the same Wi-Fi network; even if they do, that’s not my production setup, so they’re still useless to me.