Sunday, April 10th, 2022

Editing images on the iPad version of Affinity Photo

Photograph of a deer looking over its left shoulder into the camera

Nara is home to deer famous throughout Japan. I wouldn’t call them tame, but if you approach one with a rice cracker, you might get lucky and it will bow before taking it. Of course, if you get to approach one is luck in its own right. The moment you buy a packet from one of the street vendors you’ll be surrounded.

My recent visit to see the sakura involved taking a lot of photos of the animals. They’re fun images for me, but I doubt anyone else would be interested in another picture of Deer. However, they did offer an opportunity to revisit a much-loved tool on my reinvigorated iPad Pro.

Firing up Affinity Photo

It’s been a while since I used Affinity Photo on my iPad. For almost a year, my “edit-on-the-go” rig was a Fujitsu LifeBook. A fully functional touch-screen laptop, I was using the equally fully featured version of the Photoshop competitor. Unfortunately, Windows 11 ended that when it decided to reset everything to Japanese and I lost some of the touchscreen features.

An important point to note with Affinity Photo: you only pay for it once. Unlike some other apps, it’s not subscription based, nor do you have to pay for each new major release. If you are opening it for the first time in a few months just remember it might need to update, and it could look a little different.

Editing with Affinity Photo

First thing to say is it is a lot easier to edit photos if you get it right in the camera first. I’ve taken to using manual mode in my Fujifilm X-T20, setting the aperture and shutter speed with on-camera controls. In recent weeks, I’ve limited my editing to resizing, a bit of cropping and adding one of my home-brew filters.

Affinity Photo isn’t like Google Photos or Apple’s Photo app. It doesn’t have presets and filters, so you have to work harder to get results. That said, when you get it right, the results are superior. Editing is also “non-destructive”, which means the underlying image isn’t changed irreversibly. Each effect is added as a layer, so you can turn them on and off, or fine tune as you move forwards. It also means you can create your own filters to copy and paste into later images if you create a look you like.

Affinity Photo on the iPad vs the desktop

Most of the features of the desktop version are on the iPad, and I have yet to find something I couldn’t live without. It’s designed to work with the iPad’s touch interface, so there’s lots of tapping and sliding and dialing with your finger or Apple approved stylus. 

This is where I think Photo falls behind on the iPad compared to its desktop cousin. Keyboard support isn’t as intuitive, not helped by how the onscreen keyboard works. I find editing is easier with a keyboard as it often comes down to single digit changes in a pixel or percentage. Trying to achieve that with a slider isn’t as precise or quick.

Screenshot of editing an image on the iPad Pro using Affinity Photo
Editing an image in Affinity Photo

The second issue is how it manages files. When you edit a file it creates a new version on the iPad’s storage, regardless of where you store the original, or what format it is. Once you’ve finished creating your masterpiece, remember to save a copy back to your cloud storage option of choice. If you don’t, you’ll lose it as soon as you delete it from Photo. Also, the more images you have in Photo, the more physical storage you’re using on your iPad. It also backs up to iCloud, so you’re eating into the paltry “free” allowance, if you’ve decided not to extend it.

My solution is to only have images in Photo that I’m working on. Once I’ve finished with it, I save to cloud and close the file. This removes it from my iPad and frees up storage. Perhaps controversially, I also don’t sync Affinity Photo to iCloud, as I’ll usually edit an image in a single sitting. Again, it saves space on iCloud, which I haven’t paid to extend.

It’s also worth noting there’s a long running problem where, if you’re moving between apps, Photo will sometimes crash and wipe out your edits. While it’s supposed to autosave every now and then, I’ve taken to closing the file before switching, which forces it to save to the iPad’s storage.

Finally, copy/paste support isn’t great. Even though they’re apps from the same developer, you can’t copy layers from Designer into Photo, or vice versa. This is problematic if you’re trying to blend graphic and photo elements, like watermarks, or doing photo montages. Fortunately you can “force” Photo files to open in Designer. It’s better to go this way as Photo doesn’t support artboards.

That said, it does produce superior results to both Apple and Google’s photo apps, and that non-destructive element is a bonus. Pixel level control over cropping, rotating and editing, and working from camera RAW files adds to this flexibility.

Bottom line: it’s worth it for on-the-go blogging

If you want to go beyond basic editing and applying overdone filters, Affinity Photo on the iPad is a good option. It’s far easier to achieve pixel perfect edits, add watermarks and stamp your unique style onto images. 

That said, I find the desktop version is easier to use. A decent lightweight 2-in-1 Windows laptop with desktop is probably the best combination for a “serious” photographer on the go. 

If you’re determined to remain in the Apple ecosystem, or don’t want to shell out for a new touchscreen laptop, I think you’ll find Affinity Photo a solid app to create stunning images.

My name is Ross Hori

I'm a freelance writer, designer and photographer. By day I create articles, features and reports. At night I take photos and write fiction. Find out more.