mobile photography technology, culture and community

Photosmith can keep photographers organized on the go

Photosmith lets you rate, tag and sort photos on an iPad, and synchronizes with Adobe Lightroom.

One secret being a great photographer is to take lots of photos and only show people the best ones. It’s standard practice for professional photographers, and it pays off for casual snaps too. Whittling down hundreds of photos to only the best is quite a chore though.

Photosmith is an iPad app that lets photographers catalogue and filter their photos on the move. There are no editing facilities, but users can add ratings, labels, keywords and other metadata, and group photos into collections. It handles exports to Facebook, Flickr, Dropbox and iPad Albums, but its party trick is the ability to sync tags and ratings with Lightroom. The app promises to help with some pretty heavy duty tasks, at a price tag to match: Photosmith is $19.99 in the App Store.

For professional photographers, it makes perfect sense to start cataloguing on the way back from a photo shoot – or even during a shoot – so you’re ready to start processing your top shots as soon as you’re back at your Mac or PC. For holidaymakers, cataloguing photos at the hotel or on the plane home is much more productive than turning to the mini-bar or in-flight magazine to fill the hours.

The iPad is an excellent choice of hardware for this task, too. It’s lightweight and robust, and its Retina Display screen is ideal for inspecting photos.

Key Features:

  • Apply and filter by star ratings, colour labels and Select/Reject tags
  • Add captions, keywords and IPTC metadata
  • Group into user collections
  • Sync all of the above with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
  • Uploads to Dropbox, Facebook and Flickr

Operating Requirements:

  • Apple iPad (all versions)
  • iOS 5.1 or later
  • Supports JPEG and some RAW formats (click for details


The first task is get photos into the app. However, with no card slots on the iPad, this is easier said than done.

One option is to use Apple’s iPad Camera Connection Kit (fourth-generation iPad owners should go for the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter). At $29/£25/€29, this is a bit steep for such a basic product but it’s a useful gadget to keep in your camera bag. Frustratingly, the iPad doesn’t allow apps to have direct access to memory cards. Import must be to the Photos app first, and then to Photosmith.

Photosmith’s Import module can’t access memory cards directly – you’ll need to go via the Photos app.

Photosmith offers a choice to either copy photos into the app’s own storage, or to link to them in the iPad album. In both instances, it generates proxy files at various resolutions to speed up navigation, so you’ll need plenty of free storage space on the iPad to shuttle files around. It makes sense to choose Copy and then to delete the photos in the Photos app. However, be warned that the Photos app doesn’t include a batch delete function – you’ll have to tap to select each photo in turn before hitting delete.

Both the native Photos app and Photosmith support a wide range of RAW formats – click here for the full lowdown. Neither app reads the actual RAW data, though. Instead, they read the JPEG data that’s embedded into most RAW files. These aren’t always at the full resolution, so previews will be limited to the resolution of the embedded JPEG. A workaround is to shoot in RAW + JPEG mode. Both files are imported together, and the JPEG is used for previews.

Raw support is reasonably comprehensive but you might not be able to view images at full resolution – this 24-megapixel raw file from a Sony A99 only provides a 1.7-megapixel preview.

If you’re using an SLR with dual card slots, saving RAW files and JPEGs to separate cards allows you to import only the JPEGs to conserve space on the iPad. Later, you can reunite the RAW and tagged JPEG files in Lightroom – we’ll cover this below.

Wireless import

Another option for import is to use an Eye-Fi card. These SDHC cards incorporate a Wi-Fi radio for wireless transfers from a wide range of cameras. Both the Pro X2 and the new Mobi versions (but not some discontinued models) support direct transfers to an iPad without the help of a router, with the Eye-Fi card creating a hotspot for the iPad to join.

Wireless import from Eye-Fi cards is fiddly to set up but brings significant advantages.

The great thing about using Photosmith with an Eye-Fi card is that the app talks to the card directly, bypassing the Photos app. That means no messing around with a two-stage import process, and no fiddly delete routine (deleting from Photosmith once you’re done with a set of photos is much more straightforward).

Another big advantage is that photos can be imported automatically within seconds of being captured. You can think of it as a basic form of tethered shooting. It’s extremely useful for location shoots where a shot must be nailed before proceeding to the next one.

The disadvantage is that initial configuration to make Photosmith work with Eye-Fi cards is convoluted and counter-intuitive. Full details are provided here and it’s vital to follow these instructions to the letter.

Wireless transfers are slow compared to the Camera Connection Kit, especially if you’re shooting RAW. There’s a smart workaround, though. The Eye-Fi card can be configured to transfer JPEGs but not RAW files (in fact, that’s the only option for the cheaper Eye-Fi Mobi cards). The JPEGs are used in Photosmith for inspection and tagging, and later on can be reunited with the RAW files in Lightroom.

Wireless import is also possible with the many cameras that have Wi-Fi built in. These aren’t supported natively by Photosmith, though, so you’ll need to use the camera’s own app to handle transfers to the iPad, and then import into Photosmith. The workflow is essentially the same as using the Camera Connection Kit. Direct import is possible for Wi-Fi grips that use FTP, but we haven’t had the opportunity to test this.


Photosmith uses the same five-star rating and five-color labeling system as Lightroom, as well as tags for Pick and Rejected. Most tags are compatible with Lightroom 3.5 onwards, but Pick and Rejected will only synchronize with Lightroom 4.1 and later.

Grid view shows 20 thumbnails at a time. Double-tapping a photo opens it in the Loupe view, which also shows a histogram and various useful information. Fullscreen view gets rid of most of the interface furniture to give more space for the image, but still includes buttons for adding ratings, labels and Pick and Rejected tags.

Adding ratings and other tags in Loupe view couldn’t be easier.

A double-tap in Loupe and Fullscreen modes toggles between shrink-to-fit and 100% magnification. This is one area where performance was a little sluggish in our tests. Zooming to 100% initially shows a slightly soft (lower resolution) preview, which slowly updates over the space of a few seconds to reveal the full-resolution image. This doesn’t pose much of a problem in most cases, but it can be frustrating when checking shots for focus. That’s one job we’d rather do in Lightroom, where it’s also possible to view photos side by side to compare focus.

100% magnification views can be slow to appear – in this screenshot the top half of the preview has yet to be drawn at the full resolution.

Photos are organized into User Collections simply by dragging them onto the New Collection button and typing a name. However, the iPad’s touchscreen interface doesn’t lend itself to selecting a large group of photos. Fortunately, help is at hand from the Smart Groups control.

With photos sorted by Creation Date, Smart Groups collates photos by date. A slider lets these groupings vary from per-minute to per-year. With the slider set appropriately, it’s easy to select a set of photos before dragging them to a Collection.

There are lots of ways to sort and select photos, but typically it involves going through a set and marking all the better photos with a single star. Photosmith can filter by ratings, color labels and Pick and Rejected tags, so after filtering to show only the one-star photos, the best of these can be promoted to two stars. Continuing as necessary up to five stars is an effective way to narrow down a large set of photos to only the very best. 

Filtering by rating makes it easy to hone in on the best shots in a collection.

The Tagging module handles captions and keywords. Lightroom’s database of used keywords is shared with Photosmith when the two are synchronized, so regularly used keywords auto-complete as you type, or can be selected from the list. It also maintains the keyword hierarchy, so if you’ve arranged them into folders such as People, Places and so on in Lightroom, you’ll see the same structure here.

Any keywords used in Lightroom will auto-complete as you type them in Photosmith.

Photos can also be tagged by a range of other criteria including Location, Creator name and contact details, Job Title and so on. Selecting multiple photos, either individually or using Smart Groups, tags them en masse. It’s worth keeping an eye out for this, though. Selecting a photo in Grid view doesn’t deselect the previous one, so it’s easy to tag multiple photos by accident.

Creating a Preset makes it easy to add photographer information to all your photos.

Export and Lightroom sync

If you don’t use Lightroom, you can simply export your favorite photos to Flickr, Facebook, Dropbox, back to an iPad album or as an email attachment. There’s control over the export size to avoid excessive upload times, plus direct access to Flickr Sets and Facebook Albums. Facebook exports behaved a little strangely in our tests, requiring us to locate and approve them on the Facebook website before our friends could see them.

Flickr exports are at a choice of resolutions, with options to create and contribute to Flickr Sets.

Photosmith really shines when used in conjunction with Lightroom. There’s a Lightroom plug-in that handles communication between the app and software over a network, with transfers in both directions. We found it to be slightly temperamental, sometimes requiring a restart of the app or the iPad to get it working, but these problems were never insurmountable.

The Photosmith plug-in for Lightroom handles metadata synchronization and two-way transfers.

For transfers from Photosmith to Lightroom, the destination folder is defined in the Lightroom Publishing Manager page. This can be a little fiddly to manage, though, and big transfers over Wi-Fi are slow. Both problems can be solved by importing the photos from the camera’s memory card into Lightroom in the normal way. When Photosmith and Lightroom are subsequently synced, the plug-in cross references the two libraries against each other. Where it finds that a photo already exists in Lightroom, it synchronizes the metadata but doesn’t copy the file. This means that metadata that has been applied to JPEGs in Photosmith is synchronized with RAW (or RAW + JPEG) files in Lightroom.


We’ve been using Photosmith on and off since version 1, and while previous versions suffered from a few bugs and workflow issues, the developers’ hard work has really paid off in version 3. It’s still not 100 percent reliable, with very occasional crashes and more frequent glitches in the synchronization process. However, this is an app that we now feel is up to the demands of serious use.

Rating and tagging photos on the move is a smart idea that addresses a genuine need, and this implementation shows a keen eye for detail and some creative problem solving. The best way of using it might not always be the most obvious one, but with a little effort learning its capabilities, Photosmith can become a vital cog in an extremely efficient photography workflow.

$20 is relatively expensive for an iPad app, but it’s still an impulse purchase for professional and keen amateur photographers. It’s also good value for anyone who takes lots of photos but never finds time to sort through them. A bigger consideration is the storage space required on the iPad. A memory card may contain many gigabytes of photos, so a 64GB iPad may be required to avoid running out of space. Still, if you can justify the hardware, buying this app is a no-brainer. 

What we like: Makes journeys home more productive, sophisticated wireless workflow, comprehensive rating and tagging facilities, integrates neatly with Lightroom

What we don’t like: Import can be convoluted, full-resolution previews are slow to appear, Lightroom sync could be more robust 



Total comments: 25

I hope they morph this pile of amateur app-junk to a Windows only platform: full of bugs and "convoluted" work-arounds, where it should feel right at home. Still waiting for Apple and Adobe to work out their differences (read: mutual juvenile peeing contest) and come out with something professional photographers and their clients would actually want to use.


Put out a windows app for this and I'd be all over it :-)


Syncing with Aperture?


I agree the import process is a pain using the camera connector kit, linking to the files does start to blow up the storage and takes forever.

But - removing them is not quite as bad as you make it out:

"It makes sense to choose Copy and then to delete the photos in the Photos app. However, be warned that the Photos app doesn’t include a batch delete function – you’ll have to tap to select each photo in turn before hitting delete."

In the edit mode of an Album use a two finger press/hold/drag over multiple photos and you can "batch" select them, even scrolling as you reach the end of the page and then delete. Not as simple as deleting an album all at once, but doable.

I've found that I'm using the cameral connector kit to import to the cameral role, use it to make the very first keep/delete choice, then importing to PhotoSmith to rate, flag, etc... the linked versions, not copies. Then importing directly from the iPad over USB and syncing the LR/PhotoSmith ratings.


I remember the other serious missing feature -- no support for LR virtual copies.


Will there be an android version?


Also of note: Jeffrey Friedl's Collection Publisher is fantastic for synching smart LR collections to folders, which are a snap to synch with the iPad. The only problem with that is that then you are stuck on the iPad with Apple's Photos app, which is completely useless for anything but looking (or emailing). No sorting, rating, or even knowing exactly what file you are looking at.


I think $20 would be a bargain for a solid solution to connect Lightroom to the iPad.

I've tried Photosmith 1 and 2, which really were a huge waste of time due to instability and all out failure. Photosmith 3 is solid. Yay! Good work!

But I still find that it's not really worth the time for my workflow because of a few missing features:

* No smart collections in the LR publish service. So if I wanted to have a synched collection that was "last 30 days," which would automagically synch between mac and Photosmith, that would be fantastic. But it's not there yet.

* Can't actually filter a view in Photosmith by keyword. This is a huge shortfall.

There was one other huge missing feature I can't remember at the moment.

Personally, I don't/wouldn't use Photosmith to do the first import in the field. I always go to the Mac first. But I really like to flip through photos on the iPad (with Retina screen), more than at desk.

Photosmith really does sync ratings between iPad and LR. Nice!

Mel Snyder

I wonder if Photosmith might work on files residing on a hard drive wi-fi connected to a Kingston MobileLite. Photogene does, and that way, you clutter your iPad with nothing.


We're looking at adding support for Seagate Wireless Plus line of hard drives, but first are concentrating on making sync with Lightroom bulletproof. In the meantime, you'd be surprised how many retina-sized photos you can sync from Lightroom. Also, we advocate avoiding importing camera raw files into Photosmith, both because of storage space requirements and the extended transfer times. Proxy JPG workflow can be an attractive option:


I have used the version 3 and I am not satisfied at all.

The sync is all but reliable and tends to run problems so often so I just gave up. I re-installed the plugin and app many times without success. First it seemed to work OK, but then it start to run in to problems with sync - could not figure out which way to sync or got stuck completely to certain images.

I hope they can manage to fix the issues so my money would not be completely wasted.


Please email me at - We're completely revamping how Lightroom syncs are performed in the next version of Photosmith and want to make sure every scenario is accounted for. There are a few lingering situations where sync isn't as robust as we'd like; the remaining cases will be fixed.


One point I would make about Photosmith. Photosmith 1 and 2 were very buggy and relied on Apple's camera roll. Photosmith 3 has sorted out the bugs and bypassed the camera roll. It really works now and it really works well.

I import my jpegs via eye-fi card sort rate and then sync the metdata back with my RAWs in LR. It is far quicker to sort and rate your jpegs than sorting your RAWs in LR.

1 upvote

You may import your photos directly from your camera via Eye-Fi or FTP directly into Photosmith, completely bypassing the annoyances and workflow slowdowns of Apple's Many users find that it's far easier to check focus while star rating on a 9.7" screen than the 3" LCD on the cameraback.

Photosmith isn't the best solution for everyone, but for those who want to cull and tag photos on their iPad while still in the field, then easily sync this metadata to their master Lightroom catalog when returning to the studio, Photosmith is still the *only* automatic option.

Full disclosure: I'm on the Photosmith development team; we will be keeping an eye on the comments here and will answer any questions folks may have about features of the iPad app, Lightroom plugin, future development direction, etc. Or we can continue the discussion over on our user forums:


Mike, I was just over at the forum and it doesn't seem very actively supported. Questions were unanswered for a couple of weeks.


Catching up over the next few days; our entire team was at Photoshop World last week, our first time exhibiting. Between that, validating the app against iOS7, native camera raw rendering and making sync more robust, we've had our hands full.


Mike I have been trying to make Photosmith link to my eye fi card for a month now and cannot mark it work. I have tried emailing , I entered on your foram once then it locked me out and won't let me back in. I have tried resetting the password and the reset link you sent doesn't work. Tried making a new account but it wouldn't let me. How can one get some help with this app? I like what it is supposed to do but so far it's worthless. This app is why I got an iPad. Beginning to feel like I wasted my money on the iPad . It would be nice if someone would at least respond to my emails even if it's only to say it will never work so know it's time to except my losses and move on


Or you could bring your laptop and work in .... drum roll... lightroom?


How could you dare to mention the obvious?
You are probably not an Appelolic!

Edited 50 seconds after posting
The Squire

True. Don't forget that the LR license terms allow you to have an extra copy of the software on your laptop as well as your main PC/MAC. This is why I love 11-inch ultrabooks as an easy-to-carry way of doing initial photo work away from home. If only LR was a bit more touch-screen-friendly: It would be awesome to have it on a proper Win8 tablet....

Edited 2 times; latest 35 seconds since posting

I can see the benefits of working directly in LR on a laptop if it suits your circumstances, but doesn't work so well for me.

I find, the size, weight, user interface and relative robustness of the iPad are a better travel companion, and Photosmith 3 is providing me with most of the capability I need while traveling.

Stability is much improved if still not rock-solid and the dev team seem committed to ironing out the kinks. Overall, happy-punter here...
(With no affiliation)

Edited 2 times; latest 3 minutes since posting

I'd rather leave a useless device like iPad at home. It's a PITA to upload pictures to it due to Apple's proprietary non-sense-to-get-more-sales adapters etc. Right from the camera's LCD, it is much easier to view and delete trash pictures right away. I'd rather buy a backup battery or card for the cam than spend 20 bucks for an app that does nothing special. There are tons of freeware photo viewer that you can use.


Actually it is absurdly easy to transfer your photos onto an ipad. All you have to do is switch on an 'eye-fi' card and open the app and all your photos will be automatically download.

I agree that US$20 is an absurd amount to pay for a 'photo viewer' but you are failing to understand the core functionality of this app. What it does is sync all your metadata (tags, colors, stars) that you have created on jpegs on your ipad over wifi to your RAWs in LR.

Mel Snyder

His venom has nothing to do with Photosmith; he hates Apple.

For 3 years, I've taken 3-week vacations where I run my business from an iPad remotely. There are tons of great business and photo apps. Between Dropbox and my Carbonite cloud backup, and a Zagg keyboard, it's like I never left home

And now that I have a small MobileLite, I can back up SD cards to a hard drive, edit them and store them off the iPad.

It's all easy if you start without hate.

1 upvote

Or you could use LR Publish Service to your hard drive and point to that for your photos when you update your iPad in iTunes.

Total comments: 25
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