Xavier Portela: to Iceland and Rear with Affinity Photo for iPad

Using Affinity Photo for the first time, Xavier Portela embarked on his latest trip to Iceland armed with only his photography equipment and an iPad, leaving his usual laptop set up behind. He explains how travelling light turned out to be the perfect decision…

About the photographer

Meet Xavier Portela, a Belgo-Portuguese creative director currently based in Brussels. He is entirely self-taught and originally started his career as a web developer. In 2012, he made the bold decision to leave his career as a developer working for Bose Europe to go it alone and follow his passion for imagery and photography.

His work first caught our eye early last year when we came across his Glow series, a neon-lit personal project in which Xavier travelled the world capturing the glow of various cities at night. So when he approached us wanting to try out Affinity Photo for iPad for his latest trip to Iceland, we were keen for him to document his experience. Here Xavier reveals more about his trip, which took place earlier this year, and how he got on editing on the road using Affinity Photo for the first time on an iPad.

The objective

At the end of February, I spent 12 days around Iceland in order to create a new series of photographs representing those dramatic winter landscapes you can only get in that part of the world. As a freelance photographer, I think it is important to get a healthy balance between both commissioned and personal projects to better develop your own work without any client constraints. That’s why those kind of photography trips are so very important to me. Those images will be part of a new fine art collection that I hope to exhibit soon. I was looking for an extremely minimalist landscape, that is out of this world.

“As a freelance photographer, I think it is important to get a healthy balance between both commissioned and personal projects to better develop your own work without any client constraints. That’s why these kind of photography trips are so very important to me.”

The trip

As it was not my first time in Iceland during the winter, I had a pretty good idea of the places I wanted to see—I knew South was a ‘no-go’ because that’s where you have most of the tourists and I was looking for something more deserted and wild. So I drove North-West from Reykjavik to Snæfellsnes which is like a little Iceland by itself as you have a lot of different sceneries within that single Peninsula.

I did my first stop in Borgarnes and that’s where I start to shoot and explore. On the second day I planned to reach the extreme West of the Peninsula, but The Icelandic Weather Office: ‘Vedur’ sent out an alert that a snowstorm was coming, so I decided to drive to my next stop which was around Grundarfjörður to be ahead of the storm to return the day after when the weather would allow.

“Iceland is the kind of country where you better check the weather forecast three times a day. The morning after it was all white, the landscape was monochromatic. It was as close as you could get to the appearance of the moon I guess.”

Iceland is the kind of country where you better check the weather forecast three times a day. The morning after it was all white, the landscape was monochromatic. It was as close as you could get to the appearance of the moon I guess. I drove back west to visit a lighthouse but the snow was so heavy and deep that even with a four-wheel-drive it was not safe to continue. Another car was already completely stuck in the snow, so being literally in the middle of nowhere we lent them a hand before getting on our way.

The people responsible for cleaning the roads in Iceland are doing an amazing job of keeping almost all accesses open. But unfortunately taking the road early in the morning to get the sunrise—because we all know how important the light is and you want to shoot at sunrise or sunset—meant it had its challenges. What’s very special in terms of light in Iceland is that it doesn’t matter if the sky is blue or cloudy or even if there is a storm, your pictures will always show something interesting. It’s like having a different atmosphere with the same amazing landscape.

“What’s very special in terms of light in Iceland is that it doesn’t matter if the sky is blue or cloudy or even if there is a storm, your pictures will always show something interesting. It’s like having a different atmosphere with the same amazing landscape.”

After the Peninsula, I drove six hours through Iceland to reach Myvatn, a wonderfully peaceful place in Northern Iceland where I spent four days. That’s where I was lucky enough to see and shoot some northern lights.

Editing with Affinity Photo for iPad

I knew how rough the conditions are when shooting during winter, so while preparing my gear for this trip, I was looking to be mobile and lightweight in any circumstances.

One of the big problems I face when I travel to create new visuals is how long it takes me to get that content out once it’s captured. It’s frustrating, and I still have images from two years ago that need to be edited and published. So, being able to work on location and already start the post-production is a must, especially if you want to be able to show your work on social media and create more engagement with your audience.

“Being able to work on location and already start the post-production is a must, especially if you want to be able to show your work on social media and create more engagement with your audience.”

That’s why I started to look for an alternative to my laptop that would allow me to be more mobile or at least get more things done on the road. For this trip, I decided to challenge myself by working with a tablet. Something I could use everywhere, in a coffee shop or the lounge of a hotel. Easy to transport and powerful enough for retouching RAW files.

I didn’t expect how easy it would be to get the RAW files from the Canon 5D Mark IV to the iPad Pro. I used the app Canon Camera Connect and it created a direct connection between the camera and the tablet via WiFi, so it’s an entirely wireless process. Then I could review all the photos directly from the camera on the iPad screen without copying them. It saved me a lot of time and space to skip the initial copy and only transfer the files I was going to work on. After that Affinity Photo can open them directly.

I usually work with Adobe Lightroom and/or Photoshop on my Macbook Pro, but I found it quite easy to get from the Adobe ecosystem to Affinity Photo on iPad. I had to watch a few basic video tutorials at first but then I became really fast using the Pencil and Affinity on the iPad. The pencil was really a nice surprise, honestly, I didn’t miss my Wacom tablet once. It’s way more accurate than I was expecting and I like the pressure sensitivity. I think it’s a must if you want to really explore photo retouching on a tablet.

The pencil was way more precise and easy to use than your fingers. I spent my days producing content and my evening sorting and retouching photographs, especially as it was so easy to quickly experiment.

“I was impressed with the way Affinity Photo handles selection and correction. It’s very precise and it doesn’t require a lot of input from the user, it’s like it knows what you want to select, hide, replace. Great when you need to work fast.”

At first, I thought the Develop Persona was a bit light in comparison with Camera RAW from Adobe, but once you develop the file you can find almost all the same settings in the Photo Persona. Besides that, I was impressed with the way Affinity Photo handles selection and correction. It’s very precise and it doesn’t require a lot of input from the user, it’s like it knows what you want to select, hide, replace. Great when you need to work fast.

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Xavier’s workflow on iPad

I specifically used the colour corrections and the selection tools. The way the layers/masks work is also way easier than Photoshop in my opinion. It’s really made to be used quickly on the iPad with just a few interactions.

I also really like the fact that you can share the photo directly without saving. Sometimes I crop one of my photographs just for Instagram stories but I don’t care about keeping it. So, using Airdrop, I sent it directly to my phone for use on Instagram instead of saving it on my iPad and then transferring, saving both time and space.

“This experience definitely changed the way I will handle my workflow in the future. It showed me how comfortable it is to work on a tablet and Affinity Photo.”

This experience definitely changed the way I will handle my workflow in the future. It showed me how comfortable it is to work on a tablet and Affinity Photo. I must admit that sometimes the processing on the iPad was a bit slow in comparison with my main computer but that’s still ok, especially on the road in the middle of Iceland.

I didn’t have the chance to test Affinity Photo on my Macbook Pro, but after seeing what it can do on an iPad, I’m pretty sure the performances must be even greater.

Whilst I don’t think I’ll replace my existing workflow after testing it for just a week, it will become the first layer in my post-production process for the ability to select and try a lot of things on the fly, before ending up on my desktop computer for more advanced fine-tuning if needed.

I think the combination of Affinity Photo and the iPad with Apple Pencil is perfect for in-between production and post-production.

This is a sweet spot for experimentations in which photographers need a fast and lightweight solution.

To explore more of Xavier’s work you can check out his website, Instagram account or Behance.


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