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It’s no exaggeration to say that my 5K Retina iMac is the hub of my business, and to a large extent my creative life as well. But the applications I use are equally important in getting quality work done, so I choose them very carefully.

In a recent workshop I was asked what some of those applications are, so I wanted to share my top five and why I like them so much.

But first a little personal history.

I started using computers around 1982 when I was 15, so that tells you how long they’ve been a part of my life in some way or another. I’ve probably owned or used every generation of Apple computers going back to the original Mac Plus, which I regret selling to pay part of college tuition.

Fast forward 30+ years, and I’ve integrated computers into almost everything I do professionally. That’s encouraged me to use computers as efficiently as I can so that I can spend as much time as possible away from computers, out in nature, or with my family.

So with that said, these are the applications that have remained on my computer(s) while others have come and gone. They play important roles in my ability to run a successful business, teach workshops, write articles and books, and manage my digital photography.

For me the measure of a great application is one that manages to be both powerful and flexible, yet doesn’t get in the way of what I want to do. It needs to be intuitive and feel like a natural extension of my mind and how I think. These are high ideals for sure, and no application that I know of yet achieves this completely. But the closer they come the more I commit to using them over the long term.

A big part of success with any tool is the commitment to mastering it’s power. Going deep with an application requires an investment of time and patience, but the rewards can’t be measured if you value the creative side of your brain. It helps you move forward instead of getting in the way.

So here are my favorite five applications on my Mac.

Adobe Lightroom

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As the central hub of my photography, I spend a lot of time in Lightroom, yet it always feels like time well spent. I rely on LR to catalog and manage all of my photography (DSLRs, aerial, iPhone), and also edit and develop my images, print them, share them online, and even make books. I also use it to manage all of the images I create for my website and promotional materials. When I get commercial requests for my images, I can find the images I need with a few key strokes, and that means I keep current and potential customers happy.

No software is perfect and LR has several shortcomings. But as an overall photography platform, I think its workflow and increasingly powerful toolset is hard to beat.

Evernote

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The power and flexibility of Evernote continues to impress me even after using it regularly for over five years. It’s my digital filing cabinet where I store all sorts of information that I rely on daily. Workshop itineraries and logistical information, favorite quotes, field notes for specific images, blog post ideas, reference photos, print sales, receipts, and the list goes on.

Because it’s available for every platform (web, iOS, OS X, Windows, Android) and stays in sync across all of them, I can capture things on my iPhone and find them waiting for me when I return to my laptop or iPad. I’m working on a separate article on how to use Evernote specifically for photography and printing, so stay tuned for that.

Ulysses

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I write a lot, and have used many different writing apps over the years. I prefer a writing environment that offers “distraction-free” writing yet has powerful features to edit and export what I write.

Ulysses is great because it has all of this, plus it’s like a “writing studio” where every document I work on is always accessible without having to open and close separate documents. If you do any kind or writing, long or short form, give Ulysses a try.

Omnifocus

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Task and project management is critical for me in order to stay on top of all of the various projects I have going on at one time. GTD is a very popular system for managing tasks and projects, and Omnifocus is a great app that implements the GTD system.

I rely on Omnifocus to make sure I’m working on what I need to work on, and keep things from falling through the cracks. It’s available for the desktop and all iOS devices, so it’s always with you when you need to capture tasks or ideas, or act on them in the future. The iPhone version is great since it’s always with you ready to capture ideas or tasks. The less you have in your head, the better you can focus on what needs your undivided attention, like making photographs or spending time with family and friends.

While I also like to use a notebook and pen to capture ideas and tasks, it all winds up in Omnifocus if it’s important.

Airmail

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Email is part of our daily lives, like it or not. While Apple’s default Mail app works great for many, I prefer Airmail’s interface and advanced features. It supports Markdown which I use regularly, works better with Gmail accounts (and uses Gmail keyboard shortcuts), and integrates with other apps like Evernote.

Email can easily get out of control if not managed carefully, and for me that’s extra important given how much I communicate with customers, students, and friends online. (Here’s a great review of Airmail.)

Final Thoughts

I hope these apps and my thoughts on them inspire you to think about what apps you use and why. What are your top applications? Let me know in the comments below, as well as your questions or feedback. Thanks for reading!

RR Jr

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This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. Robert, tx for sharing!
    I was thinking of getting a 5K iMac as well, but heard that Lightroom had issues with the huge screen resolution… comments?

    1. Hi Michael – yes the 5k iMac does have some minor issues with Lightroom – mostly when using the Option key to see the various overlays that LR generates to indicate clipping, details, etc. It’s not a major problem because it goes away after a few seconds, and the benefits of the high resolution FAR outweighs those minor things. Once you see your images in 5k resolution, there’s no going back for me…

  2. Hi Robert, I just found your Blog and have been reading back over your older posts. Thanks for taking the time to put so many thought-provoking pieces out into the public domain.

    I haven’t heard of most of the apps you mention (but I will check them out now). There’s one app that you didn’t mention that I find utterly essential: Carbon Copy Disk Cloner. It’s a brilliant backup and disk management tool, especially now that I’m using multiple external drives as I guess many photographers are in these days of primary drives being SSDs of relatively limited capacity. For those who haven’t encountered this situation yet and may be thinking “Why not just use Time Machine?” – TM doesn’t allow backup of one external drive to another.

    A utility like Carbon Copy is not going to revolutionise the way you work as a photographer but it will take a lot of stress and effort out of ensuring that you keep on top of data backups.

    1. Hi Ian, thanks for the feedback – yes I have used Carbon Copy Cloner many times to make “clones” of my hard drives, but for me CrashPlan offers what CCC offers and more, namely being able to create simultaneous true backups both to local drives and to the cloud. I like having my data in several places, both inside my studio and offsite – without having to remember to do anything.

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