The iPad Portfolio – How to Look Your Best

Apple iPad as a PortfolioI’m not going to get into the debate between using a more traditional print portfolio or using a device like the iPad as your portfolio. Frankly, I believe the handwriting is on the wall and after a week with my new iPad, I can’t imagine going back a printed portfolio. However, getting your images to look their very best on the iPad is not as simple as it first seems.

Like many photographers, I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 to manage my raw files and prepare them to be output fas JPEGs. Over the past few years I’ve developed several different “Export Presets” that I use depending upon how the final image will to be used, whether in print or on the web. After exporting several images using my presets and importing them into the iPad using iTunes, I found that not all my images looked as “crisp” on the iPad as they had in Lightroom on my MacBook.

Part of the problem is physical. The iPad is not a MacBook and the iPad’s 9.7″ (diagonal) screen is considerably smaller than the smallest MacBook Pro at 13.3″ (diagonal). The resolution of the iPad is a fixed 1024 x 768 at 132 pixels per inch which is considerably less than the MacBook Pro’s at 1280 x 800 at 101 pixels per inch. Given this physical limitation, your images will always look better on your MacBook than your iPad. However, there are a few things that you can do in Lightroom to even the playing field a bit.

Collection Sets & Virtual Copies
The first thing is to create a separate Lightroom “Collection Set” to hold your iPad images as shown below. I generally create a “Virtual Copy” of each image to go into my iPad portfolio and move these into a “Landscape” or “Portrait” (horizontal or vertical orientation) collection. I separate my images this way so that clients looking at my portfolios are not constantly rotating the iPad from horizontal to vertical and back when swiping though the images. Using virtual copies is also very important since you’ll need to process these images a bit differently than you would a print or web image.

iPad Collection Set

iPad Collection Set: Landscape & Portrait Collections

Cropping for the iPad
The next thing you’ll want to do is crop each image using the iPad’s native 4:3 (1024 x 768) aspect ratio as shown below. If you’ve ever created images to be used in a “projected” PowerPoint or Keynote presentation, you’ll understand why this is so important. For presentations, you generally want your images displayed as large as possible on the projected screen. The iPad is no different, except you carry the screen with you.

Cropping for the iPad

Cropping for the iPad's 4:3 Aspect Ratio

Once your image is cropped correctly there are two Lightroom settings that I’ve found to make a huge difference in how sharp and vivid your image looks when displayed on the iPad.

Noise Reduction & Sharpness
To obtain the sharpest image possible I use Lightroom 3’s “Sharpening – Narrow Edges (Scenic)” preset and set the Luminance slider in the “Noise Reduction” panel to zero (0). Since I’ll never display this image larger than 1024 x 768 I really don’t care if there is a little noise in the shadows. At this resolution it’s almost impossible to see the noise on screen.

I rarely touch the Saturation slider in Lightroom’s “Basic” panel and much prefer the affect that the “Vibrance” slider provides. For images meant to be displayed on the iPad however, I’ve found that setting the Saturation slider to 10% seems to work best. I have no quantitative data to back this up but adding 10% saturation seems to make the images on my iPad more closely match those on my MacBook.

Exporting for the iPad
The final key I’ve found after hours of experimentation is to export your images sized to exactly fit the iPad’s native resolution as shown below. This prevents the iPad’s “Photos” application from resizing (and resampling) the images on the fly.

iPad Export Preset

The difference in image sharpness as displayed on the iPad is significant and to confirm this I exported several “full-size” JPEGs taken with my 21 MP Canon 5D Mark II. Those 15 MB files looked softer and less vibrant than the 780KB files did exported using the settings below.

The Apple iPad is an incredible device and may change the way we think about personal computing. For a photographer that still meets with clients face-to-face (and if you think face-to-face is passe, you couldn’t be more wrong) it’s a very cost effective tool for presenting your ever changing portfolio, whether still or video. It’s also a whole lot of fun to play with (but don’t tell the kids).

iPad Portfolio

20 thoughts on “The iPad Portfolio – How to Look Your Best

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Great article and thanks for the resolution info.

    Since you are using Lightroom, do you assign your keywords there and if so, have you tried the app, Sort Shots? I saw it at MacWorld and it is great for photographers showing off their portfolio.


    • Stephen,

      Thanks for reading. yes, I do use LR3 to assign keywords to all my “keepers” and “selects”. It works fine for what I do but I’ll check out “Sort Shots”.


  2. Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for the helpful hints! I import photos the ‘normal’ way via iPhoto/ iTunes and noticed that when viewing a photo if I zoom in and then back out the picture gets sharper than when it is first displayed. To me this almost seem like a bug because if the Photo app can display the photo properly, why doesn’t it do it the first time around without the zoom in/out? Anyway, I came upon your blog to find a fix or workaround for this and I have a few questions: 1) When you say that you import your photos by setting up a folder and syncing to it, are you doing this through the iTunes ‘Photos’ area or the ‘Apps’ File Sharing area (and using another app such as GoodReader to do this)? It seems the later would guarantee that the images are untouched. 2) How do you preserve the order of the photos? The main reason why I am using iPhoto to sync photos is it seems to be the easiest way to keep my photos in the order I want them. Thanks ahead of time!

    • Michael,

      Let’s see if I can answer your questions here.

      Q: When you say that you import your photos by setting up a folder and syncing to it, are you doing this through the iTunes ‘Photos’ area or the ‘Apps’ File Sharing area (and using another app such as GoodReader to do this)? It seems the later would guarantee that the images are untouched.

      A: I use the iTunes “Photos” tab to browse to the folder containing subfolders which contain the actual image files.

      Q: How do you preserve the order of the photos?

      A: You don’t. I think they are displayed in the order in which they were created.


  3. Hi Jeff,

    Just curious, I understand the logic behind the two different folders in the collection set, but I am curious how you upload that into iPhoto? For example do you have Portraits Landscape, then Portraits Portrait then on your iPad you can choose which one to show your perspective clients? Or do you do it by file name so the iPad shows all the landscape first then portraits, sorry for the confusion on my end I probably missed something.


    • Thomas,

      I don’t use iPhoto to add images to my iPad. I setup a collection set in LR3 to hold my iPad keepers and selects and export the raw files as high res JPEGs into individual folders for each scene or shoot. I sync my iPad to those folders and any new images are transferred into themiPad.


      • Thanks Jeff for some reason I thought I had to upload images in iPhoto only, good to know though since I only use LR3. Sorry just got the iPad last week.

        • Thomas,

          You can setup a folder structure on your MacBook or iMac with subfolders and iTunes will create a different album on the iPad for each subfolder. It’s very cool and works great for my work.

          BTW – Nice blog and portrait work Thomas.


  4. Jeff,

    The primary reason I bought and iPad was for the portfolio capabilities. I’ve become even more of a fan after I started using it for web access and other useful apps, so much so that my laptop now only gets about 10-15% of my attention.

    Handing it to someone to let them explore my work has been a great, and I’ve gotten some very good reactions to my work and the presentation medium on the iPad.

    I’ll be putting a link in my blog to your article in the next couple of days. It is well written, concise and very useful.


  5. Jeff,
    Excellent information, thanks so much for the ‘leg up’. This will be a real help since I just got my ipad.

    Great work again.


  6. Hey, that’s about what I do. Congratulations by the way. Love mine.

    I also have smart folders that pick up my portfolio tag and use the metadata to sort into portrait/landscape. I export to no larger than 1024×1024 and it seems to work fine. Didn’t think they looked soft without being exactly 1024×768. I think some of my images have small black bars.

    I am still undecided on the separate folders for portrait/landscape. People don’t seem to care and don’t turn the iPad in a mixed gallery. I try to hand it to them in landscape mode. I think that works better. On the other hand, they can be confused by two albums per category, and STIL not turn the device for the different orrientation.

    Mayby as more people get used to them it will be better. I have actually had to hold it for someone because they were afraid of breaking it. It seems weird that I have to force some people to take it.

    “Hey, is that one of them Apple pads? Do you have the car racing game?” Sigh. In fairness, they weren’t a prospective client.

  7. Great post. Thank you for the especially on outputting to the exact iPad resolution. I was having similar lousy look of my images even though I cropped to 4:3 correctly and I couldn’t figure out why. I am going to go back and redo my output to see how they look.

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