How the Syrian Refugee Crisis Inspired the Photo Editing App Darkroom

Earlier this week, Apple announced the winners of its annual ‘Design Awards,’ and as usual, one of the honorees was a photo editing app. This year, that app was Darkroom, and while the photo and video editor for iOS is impressive in its own right, the most interesting thing about Darkroom might be the story behind how it came to be.

Darkroom was created by Syrian-born indie developer Majd Taby, who’s goal was to build a desktop class photo editor for iOS that was still easy enough for casual photographers to make use of. The app was originally launched in early 2015, but it didn’t come into its own until later that year, when Taby joined friend and photographer Sara Kerens on a 10-week trip to document the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

“We spent 10 weeks documenting the crisis at its peak across all of Europe, and upon returning, I had tens of thousands of RAW files that needed to be culled down into 250 of the best ones, for placement in [a] book,” Taby tells PetaPixel. “That experience gave me a really deep and personal understanding of the workflows of professional photographers and editors, and provided the insight that allowed Darkroom to grow into mobile photo editing powerhouse it is today.”

This was 2015, when the primary photo editing options out there were destructive, lossy, and often filter-based. When he couldn’t find something that would work for his needs, he invented it.

“With the iPhone 5S, camera hardware was advancing at a very fast pace, and the iPhone was quickly being recognized as a serious photography tool. However, software was lagging behind, focused on simplistic feature sets and capabilities,” recalls Taby. “That simplicity presented two problems: Workflow inefficiencies and creative constraints.”

This was a particular problem for serious mobile photographers, who spent more time importing, exporting, and picking photos, than actually sharing their work. To make matters worse, they often had to use multiple apps for each photo.

“Darkroom solved both aforementioned issues by integrating deeply with iOS and building directly on top of the iCloud Photo Library,” says Taby. “We were able to eliminate the import process altogether, and by obsessing about the usability and interaction design of pro tools like Curves and Selective Color editing, we were able to design filters right in the app, making them editable and allowing photographers to create their own unique aesthetic.

“Over the years, we’ve maintained our position on the cutting edge of Apple’s platforms, adopting the latest features and technologies in order to provide a photo editing experience that is as appealing to professionals, as it is to casual photographers,” he continues. “Now, we support Portrait photo editing, 4K realtime video editing, RAW photo editing, and deeply integrate into all the iOS and iPadOS features. This allows our photographers to curate their workflows and design them in ways that are not possible in any other app.”

Given the constant “simplification” of photography and the photo editing process–particularly for mobile photographers–it’s refreshing to hear from a developer whose choices were based on a professional workflow.

Of course, several other apps have come along in the past few years to compete in this high-end space, and Adobe has also stepped up its mobile game, but the 5-year head start that Taby had in developing Darkroom with serious photographers in mind helps explain why Apple dubbed it “a shining example of a high-end mobile editing tool.” Then again, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one of the best photo editing apps out there was designed by someone with documentary photography experience.

To learn more about Darkroom or if you want to check out the app for yourself, head over to the Darkroom website or download the app from the iOS App Store.

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