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iOS Wizardry: Automating Your Daily Photo Project

6748759375_64ea47b3e2_bAt the start of each new year, lots of folks embark on a personal mission to take at least one photo per day. Maybe it’s a selfie.[1] Perhaps it’s a picture of a garden or a moose or whatever. The subject of the photo doesn’t really matter: just know that some people do this (maybe you do).

By combining a few of my favorite tools, I’ve managed to create an extremely efficient way to capture, organize, and store such photos. The process looks like this:

  1. Each day at a time you specify, your phone will display an alert that prompts you to take your photo.
  2. Tap the alert and your iPhone’s camera activates.
  3. Take the photo of whatever it is you plan on photographing each day.
  4. Watch in awe as the photo is automatically given a meaningful name—the date—and filed gingerly in a folder in your Dropbox account.

Then, fix yourself a mimosa because that’s it all there is to it (unless your project is a daily photo of mimosas, in which case you’ll need to have already made the mimosa).

Sound good? Thought so.

For this snazzy little recipe, you’re going to need a few things:

  • An iPhone[2] (sorry, Andrew)
  • Launch Center Pro for iPhone
  • Workflow for iOS
  • A Dropbox account; you’ll also need to authorize Workflow to interact with your Dropbox account. If you haven’t already done this, you’ll be prompted to do it during the inaugural run of the workflow that powers this whole mess.

Once you’ve got all that stuff taken care of, we’re ready to get all the bits and hook them together.

Step 1: Install the workflow

The majority of the heavy lifting is done using a workflow that runs in the Workflow app. To install the workflow, open this page on whatever device you’ll be using, then tap “Get Workflow.” That will launch the Workflow app and ask you if you’re sure you want to install it. You’re sure, trust me.

Step 2: Customize the workflow

This workflow makes a couple of assumptions:

  1. You want to take a photo using the front-facing camera.
  2. You want to save your photo to a Dropbox folder called “/Photos/Daily”.

You can configure both of these options by editing the workflow before you run it. If you want to change either of these, tap the workflow within Workflow and look for the following actions:

If you want to use the rear camera instead of the front camera, look for this action in the workflow and tap the “Back” option:

rear camera option in Workflow

To change the Dropbox folder where your pictures will be saved, scroll to the very end of the workflow and type whatever directory you want to use in the Destination Path field. Note that Workflow will create a directory if it doesn’t exist:

Dropbox folder

It’s a good idea here to run the workflow once—do this by tapping the play button at the top—to make sure everything works as advertised.

Step 3: Set up the daily alert

For this part, we’re going to need our good pal Launch Center Pro. Reason being, LCP allows you to schedule notifications for actions. Since we don’t want to forget to do this photo thing every day, this part is rather essential (especially for dumbheads like yours truly who could teach classes on forgetting things).

In Workflow, with our workflow already loaded, tap the gear icon at the top right, then choose “Add to Launch Center:”

add workflow to launch center

This will open Launch Center Pro and ask you if you want to add the action (hint: you do). Tap “Add Action” then click on one of the available action slots to place it in your grid of actions.[3]

Next, we need to schedule our daily notification. Tap the little pencil icon at the top right of LCP’s action grid—this puts you in edit mode—then tap the Daily Photo action.

When the Action editor appears, tap Schedule near the bottom of the screen (it will be set to “Off” by default). Tap the Scheduled Alert toggle to turn it on, select the date and time you’d like to be notified, and set Repeat to “Every Day.” When you’re done, it should look something like this:

LCP scheduler config

Tap “Action” at the top left, then “Done” because that’s exactly what we are: frickin’ done.

Note: LCP needs to be allowed to send you notifications. Go to Settings > Notifications > Launch Center Pro to confirm this and customize how the notifications are displayed (as banners, alerts, etc.).

Now, every day at whatever time you decided, you’ll get a system notification called “Daily Photo.” When you tap the notification, Launch Center Pro will fire up for a second before sending you to the Workflow app, where the Daily Photo workflow will run automatically. Your camera will appear, you snap your photo, and it’s saved to Dropbox. Once it’s done, you’ll be whisked back to Launch Center Pro.

I’m not sure if you’re keeping track, but running this thing each day requires exactly two taps. I love this stuff.

That’s all there is to it. If you want to know a bit more of the technical details of this thing, keep reading. Otherwise, have a good day!

Technical mumbo jumbo

Just a couple of quick things here.

Several steps of the workflow used do some fancy text manipulation stuff to properly format the date (which is used as the filename when the photo is stored).[4] One of my requirements is that the files this thing creates sort correctly. For that, I needed the date format to be YYYY-MM-DD, which isn’t how Workflow spits out the date by default. Long story short, don’t go messing with the Replace Text actions unless you know what you’re doing as far as regular expressions and whatnot.

The final step of this business sends you back to Launch Center Pro. That’s defined in x-success parameter of the x-callback-url for the LCP action:

x-success={{launch://}}

If you want to launch a different app when the action completes, you’ll need to find out whatever URL scheme it registers with the OS (and some apps don’t have one) and replace launch with whatever the app uses for it’s URL magic. If you want to stay in Workflow, just remove the whole x-success parameter from the action URL.

Oh, and if it’s not obvious, you need to be connected to the Internet in order to save the photo to Dropbox. The workflow will probably fail loudly if you try to run this doohickey from your airplane seat halfway across the Atlantic.

(Photo courtesy of Cubmundo)


  1. For the record, I really can’t stand the word “selfie.” But, that’s the designation we as a society have chosen for smartphone self-portraits and I reluctantly use it here.  ↩
  2. Any iOS device will work, really (except the Apple TV for obvious reasons). The iPhone’s relative “pocket ubiquity” and almost-constant Internet connectivity make it the ideal tool for this use case. If you want to use an iPad or an iPod Touch, go for it — I’m not your dad.  ↩
  3. The default icon for actions sent from Workflow is the Workflow app icon. You can customize this if you want to.  ↩
  4. Big ups to Stephen Millard (@sylumer) for putting together the date formatting actions in Workflow. Dude saved me from several aspirin with that one.  ↩
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Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 3 comments
Josh Medeski

Hey Brett, great stuff!

I love these workflow/automating guides, keep it up!

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JeremyGilpin

Have you checked out IFTTT? A bit more simplistic but at least us poor saps using Android can have a go!

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DougLee

Hi Brett…..

I just reinstalled Evernote after putting it aside for about a year. Does your 4th edition address some of the enhancements currently offered in Version 6.0.5?

Many thanks for your help. The book is a great resource.

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