How to work with Adobe Lightroom’s cloud

Adobe MAX 2017 saw the launch of a whole lot of new features, but most of all, a completely brand new Lightroom CC. Rebranding the non-destructive photo editing app we all know and .. mostly love, to Lightroom Classic, it’s Adobe’s way of bringing photo-editing technology to a 2017 crowd. Basically it’s the Lightroom Mobile app from the iPad applied to the desktop, but better.

If you remember, this summer I wrote a long opinion piece on what I as a photographer needed in Lightroom. Underneath my ‘Far Fetched Requests’, I wrote: “Sync files between desktop apps”. I thought it was never going to happen, but Adobe proved me wrong. With the new Lightroom CC, you can store your files and edits in the cloud, and have it accessible on all your devices! With the photography pack you get 1TB of storage, with additional TB’s available for $9.99/month.

But, that’s where for me, the problem starts. My current archive is just over 8 TB, meaning that at least, it will cost me the 10TB plan at $100 per month for the option of having all my photos accessible in Lightroom on all my devices. That’s just under a grand for a year. A cost I am not yet willing to make, since in just over a year I’ll be reaching the limit of those 10TB, which already is the largest plan Adobe offers for now.

However. The idea of working on-the-go, on my iPad Pro especially, is quite appealing. If you ever used Lightroom on an iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, you’ll never want to go back. So, how do we make that work? Well:

Syncing to the cloud

I’m not sure if it’s done by design, or a happy coincidence, but there is a way of using both pieces of software that makes things very easy for those with a massive library, who want to work in the cloud as well.

So, as soon as I installed Lightroom CC on my MacBook Pro, all of the Smart Previews that were synced across Lightroom Mobile were already there, still syncing back to Lightroom Classic. So edits that I made on Lightroom CC and Lightroom Mobile would show up in Lightroom Classic. Collections that are set to sync to Lightroom Mobile will automatically be added in Lightroom CC.

Even better, this behaviour is also backwards compatible. Images added in Lightroom CC or Lightroom CC also get added in Lightroom Classic, and not just smart previews, but the original RAW files. Meaning that you can keep a full offline archive, and yet also have the images you desire available on all our devices.

There is a downside to all of this. As soon as you have imported an image, there is an intricate link between them. If you unsync the collection, the individual images will still be up in Adobe’s cloud services, and a small Sync symbol will appear in the top right of the grid view. There is no way to unsync these, except delete them from Lightroom CC. Wait? Delete?

As far as my testing goes, deleting images from the cloud won’t affect local images in Lightroom Classic. Now, beware, this is the current situation, and we don’t know what will happen in the future. So always keep current backups, and monitor the situation!

Working with Lightroom CC

For 90% of shooters, you will be able to do anything. You can do nearly all edits, import your custom presets (though not delete the standard presets), export images.  But there are some missing features. It’s also important to note that Adobe strives only strives for a feature parity for the editing and developing of your photo.

First of all, Presets like Develop presets won’t sync across devices just yet, but Adobe is aware this is a much requested feature and told us to “stay tuned”.  Sharing to Facebook is standard in Lightroom CC, but “Other publishing services are yet to be decided”. So if you use Lightroom for your portfolio through Photoshelter, or update to 500px, you’ll have to wait for now.

Specific things like hardware support and Camera Calibration Profiles are also still missing. So, if you invested in lets say the DVLOP dual Illuminant profiles, you’ll have to wait for now, until Adobe decides to add that feature.

Lightroom CC in action

In Lightroom Mobile, there still are some weird things missing. For example, there is an eraser tool for the Linear Gradient Adjustment, but not a brush, meaning you can delete parts, but not add. A feature that is present in both Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic. There are some other annoyances as well. For example, the edit toolbar is slightly different on Lightroom CC, than it is in Lightroom Mobile on the iPad Pro. On the iPad you can’t have multiple panels open at the same time, and the Preset button looks way too similar to the Local Adjustment tool.

Lightroom Mobile editing panel (Left) vs Lightroom CC editing panel (right)

The future

You can compare Lightroom CC to Final Cut Pro X. When the fundamentally different way editing with a magnetic timeline in Final Cut was announced in 2011, many video editors shouted in disbelief of how “Apple could abandon the Pro users” and vowing to switch to other software like Premiere and Avid. The debacle became so big that even Conan did a skit on it on his late night show.  But Apple listened patiently to concerns of their users, and kept improving, adding much-requested features. Something that Adobe has been doing since the launch of the original Lightroom Beta in 2006.

For now, Lightroom Classic isn’t going anywhere, and even got some new features and a much-appreciated speed boost. But know that the Cloud is the future, and one day that will be the only way of doing things. But I’m confident that after Adobe has updated their software and plans for those final 10%, and we made the jump, we’ll look back and laugh at how we ever could live without it.

The Lightroom CC plan with 1TB is available for €12,09 per month, the Creative Cloud Photography (including Photoshop) with 1TB is available for €24,19 per month. For those just using Lightroom Mobile, you can now subscribe for €4,99 for 100GB per month.

What I’m looking for in Lightroom. 

Lightroom is my bread & butter. Every image with whatever camera I shoot gets imported, be it a Nikon D5, an iPhone 7 Plus, or even a UAV, a GoPro or a Hasselblad. I have amassed over a quarter of a million images now, with most of them containing their individual information like GPS coordinates, tags and edits. It’s great, but it’s not very mobile. All of them reside on a 16 TB Promise Pegasus 2 R6, driven by my Mac Pro.

When I’m shooting at an event or festival, I have to start a new library on my MacBook Pro, edit on the go, and import that library later on into my main library.

Through Symlinks and Dropbox I have managed to keep my import, develop and export presets in sync between my desktop devices. But those don’t sync back to mobile or whatever. Especially with the updated Lightroom Mobile app, I can do a lot of work on my iPad Pro, faster than my Mac Pro can follow!

So, what’s new?

After apps like Affinity Photo have shown that you can have desktop class applications on iOS, Lightroom Mobile has been updated with a much more effective way of editing, with a persistent sidebar with sliders. The only thing that frustrated me to no end, is that you can have only one pane open, a behaviour that is completely opposing the way we work on desktop. In fact, I wouldn’t mind some of the app logic syncing back to the desktop Lightroom. The design is simple and clear, and the white lines in the sliders show you exactly how far you are from the base values, something that is very valuable in values like White Balance.

At the moment, some missing features include the Spot Removal, the Red Eye Correction (not that I ever used that one), Upright and color labels. But with Adobe updating their suite of applications constantly, I’m sure we can expect those. Just like we saw the addition of Sharpening and Noise Reduction in this update.

So, what’s my workflow? 

First of all, I create Collection for each projects that need to be culled and edited, and sync those with Lightroom Mobile. I have a lot of Smart Collections as well for reoccurring clients and projects, but those don’t sync over unfortunately. I open Lightroom Mobile on my iPad Pro, and there I can Enable Offline Editing. This means I can edit all the smart previews wherever I am, and do full RAW edits just as I can on desktop. With my Apple Pencil, I can work very quickly, and even can do local adjustment brushes.

Another missing thing is the syncing and saving of presets on Mobile. Especially with the Preset button being one of the most prominent buttons in the app. The workaround I use is to apply my custom made presets to every image in the collection on my desktop. This means that every of those edits sync to Lightroom Mobile, making further adjustments a breeze.

To cull a selection, it’s the exact same as I would do on desktop, but faster. I move the arrows on my Smart Keyboard (a whole lot of Smart going on, don’t you agree?), and press P/U/X and 1-5 to select a flag and star rating. You can easily filter items as well. The only difference is that on my iPad Pro doesn’t ever stutter or needs loading: all that data is just there. Very impressive! (I do miss the Speed Flagging option of just swiping up or down, but with a Magic Keyboard, it’s every bit as fast)

It has even come so far in the past days that I prefer to cull and edit on my iPad Pro, even if I’m at home. This is a total game changer. 

But there is one thing that makes it all difficult and hard for me:

File Management

In my pocket is my second most used camera of the moment. And I’m jealous of my girlfriend and friends. Everything they create gets imported in iCloud Photo Library. Pictures and edits show up on all their devices, and for €9.99 they get 2TB storage in the cloud. I however have to create a bandwidth eating contraption with exports, imports, uploads and downloads to get iPhone images in my Lightroom (with Hazel filtering out any files without the word iPhone in its meta), and exported JPG versions in my iCloud Photo Library (minus anything with the word iPhone in its meta).

But, that is just a jerryrigged semi-automated way of working. Also, it seems that many iOS applications have issues with an image library of over 250.000 pictures. Go figure.

It would be much more interesting to have a robust Lightroom Cloud platform. Imagine having all your presets and data synced over Lightroom Creative Cloud.

Ideally, it would have the option of hosting all your files on local storage, a Master Library. When on the go, you can import images on local drives on a Notebook, having them sync over external or internal network. Just like all of your edits.

Pictures shot on either signed in device would be added to your master library (renamed and sorted to your preference). It would generate smart previews (DNG) for all pictures taken, making those available on request on all devices. Like iCloud and Google Photos. At the moment, you can only sync one desktop library to the Creative Cloud.

You could shoot an event, import on your notebook, edit and instantly share those images to Instagram on your phone, and make final edits later at home on your master library, without having to move files and drives all over the place. Laptop stolen? All your RAW files are already in the cloud. Or perhaps you haven’t transferred all your RAW files, but at least you still have your Smart Previews, which are still good enough for most uses.

But Kris, why not just use Photos for all your photos? 

Well, first of all, all of my photos in their original format occupy around 10 TB, way over the largest 2 TB iCloud storage plan. Also, despite Photos.app getting a significant update for High Sierra, it still can’t soar to the level of Lightroom. Heck, not even to the level of Aperture 3. It’s still not a ‘real’ editing app like Lightroom has become. In fact, 99% of my images never even touch Photoshop.

So, what would need to happen for me to be a happy camper:

Feasible requests: 

Sync settings between desktop apps

With Adobe’s Creative Cloud, you can already host smart previews to mobile. Extend this syncing between desktop en notebooks, first of all with presets and settings. There already is a robust cloud storage platform active. It would just need an update of the desktop app.

Sync settings & presets to mobile apps

If you already have your own workflow on point with your own presets, it’s rather frustrating not to be able to access them. Especially when you’re working on a series of photos. There is a workaround applying your preset to all, and sync that to mobile.

‘Not very likely to happen’ requests:

Create a Publish / Sync with Photos.app

It would be quite amazing to have all edited pictures show up in Photos.app. Sync photos (as in: import new pictures from Photos.app, and send new pictures from Lightroom to Photos.app).

Far Fetched requests:

Sync files between desktop apps

A very interesting part of this that there are no limits of storing pictures in Creative Cloud!

“Despite including at least 20GB of storage in the Photography plan, syncing images to LR Mobile does not consume online storage. In other words, there is no storage limitation associated with LR mobile. The actual 20GB storage is used for other CC services like syncing settings, sharing files through CC, etc. So there would not be a need to increase this storage when working with LR Mobile.”

So, in theory, you could upload every smart preview your massive Lightroom library, and just access all that information wherever you have WiFi. The only thing left to do is access that information among other catalogs and have a way to transfer RAWs to your Master Library.

Become a core service

What would solve a lot of issues is that all mobile photos would be saved in Lightroom instead of the standard camera roll. This would mean other apps would also be able to tap into Lightroom, offering loads of potential to smart albums, tags and ratings. Something that is very different in Photos, which only offers Favourites. Also importing directly to Lightroom from an SD card would be quite handy.

But this would be a decision that both Apple and Google have to make to include on their mobile OS-es, and Adobe has to jump on as well.

Then again, Affinity is working on a “Digital Asset Manager” .. so we’ll see how that goes. And you can’t underestimate how Lightroom is amazing at handling RAW files. Because that was the reason I switched from Aperture 3 to Lightroom 5: image quality. But whatever comes next for me, it has to work hard, work on mobile and make my images look pretty damn good.

iPhone and RAW

With RAW capabilities coming to iOS 10, I tested this out with my iPhone 6 S during a South African sunset, in the town of Graskop.

Impressive!

This is the RAW file, straight out of camera DNG. And remember, this isn’t cheating: RAW images are by nature flat and without details. It’s so they capture many more details than a regular JPG file. Just like a film negative has to be developed, burned and dodged until the artist is satisfied with the result.