Lightroom Mobile features and failings

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Typical mobile editing setup.

In the past year, mobile editing has become an increasingly necessary part of my job. When I am shooting jobs in Victoria, I mostly rely upon my “normal” laptop workflow. That is, I shoot the job, return to my office/laptop and edit the job using Lightroom, with a little help from Photo Mechanic. This workflow also applies, when I am able to take my laptop with me on the road. The one caveat for working with the laptop on the road is that I have the space to carry and use the laptop. Frequently I don’t.

This is where mobile editing fits into my workflow. With an iPad and Lightroom CC Mobile (LRM), I am able to do a fairly comprehensive job of editing and delivering photos. Here is how I use LRM on the road. Apologies in advance, it’s a long read.

With a subscription to Lightroom Classic (LRC), you have the opportunity to sync with LRM on any number of mobile devices. In my case, those are my work iPad and iPhone. Let’s assume that I am on the road and have a multiple events to shoot in a day, but don’t have room to carry my laptop with me (not unusual). That is when I bring my iPad instead.

How it works

The first step is to import the Fujifilm RAF files into LRM. OK, this should be the first step, but Apple isn’t our friend here, as they won’t allow for a direct import into LRM. So before you can import any images into LRM, you have to import into the Photos app.* Using a SD card reader (I want the RAW files, so no JPEGs via WiFi transfer using the Fujifilm Camera Remote app), I import the files into Photos.

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Importing photos into Photos before importing to LRM.

Since Apple (sigh) also doesn’t support viewing or editing X-Trans RAF files, you only opportunity to see the images is during the import phase, when the image still has a JPEG preview associated with it. I typically enlarge the preview image so that it fills the screen, which gives a better idea if I will want to import the image. Once they are imported, the RAF files will only appear as grey rectangles. Nice. Anyway, this first step is analogous to how I use Photo Mechanic on my laptop. That is, to determine which photos will be imported from the SD card. Don’t import an entire shoot unless you absolutely have to. It takes too long.

A note here: I never import an entire shoot into LRC either. I always select only useful images using Photo Mechanic, before adding them to LRC. A lot of photos never get copied from the SD card, which saves me editing time and storage space.

Once I have copied the desired images from the SD card into Photos on the iPad, it’s time to move into LRM. Here I create a new Album for each job and import the RAF files from my Camera Roll into LRM. Fortunately, LRM will display and edit the RAF files, which is the whole point of this exercise.

At this stage, I use the rating part of the app to determine which photos will be delivered by flagging images I want to publish. LRM will start uploading the full-size files to the cloud as soon as they have been imported, unless you choose to have them stored locally. After filtering the album for only the picked photos, I can start editing. (Once you have imported the photos from the Camera Roll into LRM, be sure to delete them from the Photos app, as you will have duplicate copies of each image on the iPad. And that can add up to a lot of GBs when dealing with large RAW files)

Editing in LRM is both powerful (you can do nearly everything you can with LRC) and equally frustrating. The frustration comes from only being able to edit one photo at a time. Yes. One. Photo. At. A. Time! Sigh again. (Adobe, if one your incredibly smart marketing or developing folks are reading, please pay attention!) This is the slowest part of the process, if you have a number of images to deliver.

Need to deliver only 4 photos, then it’s really not a problem. Need to deliver 20 to 30 images, then it starts to slow down considerably. Need to deliver more than that, then it’s time to fire up the laptop, time and space be damned. OK, the mini rant is over now.

At this point, you may be wondering why LRM warrants my (or your) time. Despite, the cumbersome nature of editing lots of files in the app, LRM’s other features do make it very useful.

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Sharing content from LRM is one of the best features of the application.

After editing, I am now ready to use two of LRM’s best features. First, I can share a folder with my client or colleagues with the photos that I want to deliver, by making the folder public and sending them the link. In my case, since I only want to deliver a subset of all of the photos that I imported, I filter what images are shared by whether or not they have a pick flag. Only the picked images will be visible and available to download. The rest of the photos remain hidden, but available to me for the next step.

When I return to my laptop and main LRC catalogue, I sync with the cloud-based images uploaded from LRM and download all of the original RAF files, with whatever edits I have made while on the road.

This completes a typical mobile editing cycle. First I import and edit on the iPad, syncing LRM with the cloud and delivery/sharing final, edited, selected images. When I return to my office, all of those images and edits are integrated into my master LRC catalogue. Finally, when I know that images have been delivered, I remove them from the synced album, keeping the originals on my work hard drives. Removing the synced versions is important to free up space (more space costs more money) for the next job.

Syncing works both ways

I also use the syncing feature of Lightroom for delivering images when I haven’t been working on the road. I am frequently asked to share images that I have shot but don’t intend to publish to any of the government’s social channels. From my LRC catalogue, I create a synced collection/album that I share. These photos, unlike those that were originally imported into LRM but not yet synced with LR Classic, will only be 2048 pixels on the long edge and not full-size. For my purposes, this works really well, as most people don’t need 6000-pixel-long images.

To continue editing a job, I also use this syncing option. I create a synced collection/album in LRC with images that I need to continue editing on the road using the iPad and LRM. Any edits performed while travelling will be available to me when I return to my master LRC catalogue.

What could be better

Adobe, are you reading? First of all, let’s treat LRM like LRC. Assume that the user will want to import and edit a large number of images at once, so make that a priority. At import, allow the user to add keywords and apply presets, just like we can in LR Classic. Currently we can apply… Oh, that’s right, a copyright notice and lens correction. Is that all?!

Next, let the user set a default import state for images imported from any camera, just like LRC. In my case, I have LRC immediately apply a camera-matching colour profile and a certain amount of clarity to each image that I import. Right away, two steps have been taken care of for me without lifting a finger. I want the same flexibility in LRM. Is that too much to ask?

Finally, let the user edit multiple images at once. Setting white balance or auto exposure are common changes that I make to a large selection of images in LRC. I want the same ease of use in LRM!

Final thoughts

Lightroom Mobile has matured as an application, offering some powerful features. However, there is still work to do. When that happens, the laptop can easily stay in the office all of the time. I’ll just need to have my iPad with me.

NB: Here are a couple of links with tips on using LRM. These tips may or may not be helpful. I found them interesting to watch, however they mostly did not apply to my circumstances.

*In this video, you can learn how to somewhat simplify the double import process of photos into LRM on an iPad. It is a small improvement, but does not address the real bottleneck in LRM, which is having to edit each image individually: Shortcuts for LR

Another video that focuses on using LRM for travel photography.

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