Photo Editing Workflow With Lightroom and Lightroom Mobile
From time to time, I like to take photos. (See Instagram and Flickr.) I have a couple phones and a couple DSLRs. Over the years, I’ve muddled my way through different processes and have struggled to find something that felt easy and effortless—especially when working across multiple devices like I do.
In the past, I’d move all images off a device, into a big ol’ folder, sorted by date, and then eventually moved off to external drives for safe keeping.
That really didn’t take into account the editing of said images. Enter Lightroom.
I had been playing with Lightroom on the desktop for a little while but never quite made a routine of it. With a purchase of a more recent DSLR that lets me transfer images directly to my phone or tablet, however, I found myself wanting to ditch the laptop and do editing directly on my mobile device.
At first, I was transferring over JPGs, editing in VSCO or Instagram, and then posting right away. This had been good enough that I actually became quite lax in managing my photo collection.
Along came iOS 10, with RAW image support, and suddenly I wanted something to take advantage of that. Lightroom once again came to mind. This time, Lightroom Mobile (LRM). Since it supports editing RAW files, I decided to try my hand at using just Lightroom Mobile with my phone or tablet to manage things.
I could add my images to LRM and they could sync across all my devices—including desktop.
This is where it all gets a bit confusing.
First of all, the syncing of photos to desktop is slow as molasses. I had 1500 photos and it took a day to download to my desktop.
The other problem was that it downloaded everything to the desktop. Nothing was stored in the cloud and downloaded when needed. This is when I realized that this mobile workflow wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t store my entire photo collection and have it sitting on my desktop. I’d run out of hard drive space.
After some fiddling with trying to understand the relationship between folders, catalogs, and collections, I realized that Lightroom Mobile is a slightly less effort way of being able to work on a small set of files and move them between desktop and device.
For me, the key is that when Lightroom Mobile syncs my photos to my desktop, I organize them with my usual folder naming convention. (Folder per year and folder per month, with specific folders for specific trips. e.g “/2016/2016-11 Atlanta”.)
Once I’m done with a set of photos, I create a Lightroom catalog for that set and then move the catalog and photos over to the external drive. (And from there, I make additional backups of that drive.)
Lightroom Mobile, then, is relegated to just moving the occasional file across device, to be removed once I’ve done what I want with it, such as upload to Instagram. (Lightroom on the desktop lets me sync to Facebook or Flickr, so Mobile isn’t needed there.)
One of the workflows I had hoped to have with the iPad was quickly move between Adobe apps such as Mix, Fix, or Express, tweaking the images to get them to where I want.
Sadly, if it supported files in Lightroom, files needed to be synced to the cloud and back again. It made editing files slow and cumbersome. If it didn’t support Lightroom, then files were converted to flat JPGs, returned to Lightroom as a completely new image. I didn’t really want multiple copies of essentially the same file.
If I chose to keep the files in the iOS format, I could use Google SnapSeed to do edits and have it save to the original file, allowing me to revert changes if I desired.
Sticking to Lightroom
With my desire to move between iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows, I really felt like Lightroom came the closest to solving my problem. Some things aren’t very intuitive. Some of it felt like institutional knowledge about how Lightroom works. Now that I understand it better, it’s easier for me to move a bunch of files and the catalog file between desktop environments.
I believe Adobe has an opportunity here to solve the image editing and storage lifecycle and do so in an elegant way.
Until then, I’ll make do.