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Travelling light: how a near-disaster revolutionised Jon Nicholson’s photo kit

An accident with his old iPad led to a switch to Affinity Photo and—as this globetrotting photographer explains—he couldn’t be happier.

As a photographer who travels most of the time, I became very good at doing the bare minimum to my images, thinking that once I gave them to a client or printer they would straighten them out and all would be well.

But in my luggage would still be all the extra gear needed to set up the laptop—the spare drives, cables, plugs, bags to put it all in.

Even though I use Leica M cameras which are small, I’m taking a lighting set up as well, Elinchrom ELB400, two pro heads, stands, soft boxes etc.

The time had come when I really had to take a hard look at my set up. That moment was summer 2017, when I dropped my old iPad and destroyed it. Without knowing it at the time, this was about to open the doors to a whole new world of workflow.

I spoke to my photographer friends, many of whom were starting to use the iPad Pro to send images and do a minimum amount of post-production.

I’d used Photoshop since I bought my first Apple computer in 1990 but I struggled with getting to really work with it to its full potential. I became a little obsessed with searching—thinking there must be a program out there that offers an alternative to PS, but for iPad Pro so I wouldn’t need my laptop.

“I came across Affinity Photo for iPad and immediately downloaded it. What a revelation, to learn a program that has full tutorials, is easy to navigate with Apple Pencil and—most importantly—that I feel in control of, is game-changing for me.”

Now I can travel with the iPad Pro, one cable, an SD card reader and a few cards, and my lights.

Long flights have enabled me to put the headphones on and get stuck in to exploring the wonders of Affinity Photo on the iPad.

I am involved in a very long-term project that is taking me into remote parts of Asia, a region I know very well. It’s about the rural working people and communities in Asia and has been commission by a client in Singapore for an exhibition and book.

I’ll also be involving some old printing processes by converting my digital files into negatives, making traditional prints and bleaching back, it’s called bromoil printing and dates back to the 1800s.

The images are being collected by the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California and this for me is the most humbling of opportunities.

Things happen by chance—I bumped into the CEO of the museum while on assignment in Nagaland, northeast India. He spent some time going through the images I had already shot, which were mainly portraits in various situations. We talked through the process of my work and the thoughts on the project in a bigger context.

In preparation for this chat I was able to put Affinity through its paces. For both colour images and black and white or grayscale from the Leica Monochrom dng files, the app had no problem.

In fact the first images I sent to Bowers were worked up on the plane back home, nothing more needed to be done and I sent directly from the iPad two large files of over 100MB once I landed, metro printed and shipped.

For both the colour and B/W images that are all flashed, I wanted to have a rich image that was not overly or obviously flashed, so I was able to burn down the highlights of the flash on the dark-skinned faces with ease, correct any white balance and colour correct quickly.

I like the fact that the program works in layers and everything is easy to see and follow and if I got stuck I would just click the little question mark at the bottom and it would show me where and what commands are.

If I wanted to select an area and not sure how to do this in the most effective way I would pop into a tutorial and the friendly chap would just talk me through it in a language I would understand, a basic and simple to the point explanation.

Saving and exporting images back to Photos and beyond is also pretty straightforward (see video below).

Video: Exporting in Affinity Photo for iPad

So for putting an image up on Instagram it all can be done within minutes of returning to the hotel—or in this case my tent…

Raw files stay on the card to file and edit if necessary on my return (the obvious thing was to get Affinity Photo on the desktop too!)

The iPad version of Affinity Photo really is simple to use and delivers images through a workflow that has made me feel a lot more confident in understanding what is and isn’t possible with my images.

I’m enjoying working at a slower pace, getting things right first time around and loving what the results are looking like—and, more importantly, other people are too.

Who would have thought that taking a few pictures and running them through a program on an iPad would work them up to a level that a CEO of a major museum wants to take them and exhibit them? It’s a real hats-off to where we are technologically.

As more people get into photography professionally or as keen enthusiasts I really believe Affinity Photo could so easily become the go-to program. I lecture students at Gray’s School of Art at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, and the one comment I get from them is that they won’t be able to afford Adobe products when they leave. Well here is the answer!

See more of Jon Nicholson’s work on his website.

PR manager

John heads up our public relations and is co-editor of Affinity Spotlight, as well as being responsible for a lot of what we post on our Facebook page and Twitter feed. When he’s not trying to charm journalists into giving us more great media coverage, or serving as butler to an elderly cat, his interests include music, Cuban cigars and American whiskey. Get in touch with John if you would like to contribute to Affinity Spotlight or have any press enquiries.

Credits & Footnotes

All photographs by Jon Nicholson: used with permission.