The Adobe Creative Cloud (“CC” for short) subscription model has been out for some time now, but it seems that there is still some confusion on how the Creative Cloud actually works. Because of this, I thought I would write up a post to try and squash the misunderstandings about “the cloud” when it refers to Adobe.

Here’s a break-down of how the Adobe Creative Cloud works:

The Creative Cloud is a subscription plan

I think that most people are aware of this already. Basically, you pay monthly to have access to Lightroom and Photoshop through the Photography Plan (currently $10/month USD), or you can get the entire Complete Creative Suite for $50/month. You pay monthly, Adobe checks in from time to time (using the Internet) to verify your subscription, and then you download your applications exactly like you would with the standalone versions.

The Creative Cloud does NOT need Internet all the time

I have seen comments from photographers who think that in order to use Lightroom, Photoshop, or whichever Adobe program they use, that they would need to be connected to the Internet 100% of the time. That is entirely untrue. When you subscribe to the Creative Cloud, you download an app which will then allow you to download the software which you are subscribed to. For me, I subscribe to the entire “Complete” collection, which gives me access to every app they offer. So here’s how it works:

  1. First, I make sure that I have the Creative Cloud application downloaded to my desktop. This puts an icon in my dock that I can use to access the other apps I subscribe to.
  2. When I am ready to download an app, I click on the icon and select “Apps” from the drop-down. As you can see, I have several apps that I currently have installed on my computer. There are also some that need to be updated.
  3. If I scroll down even further, you can see the apps that I don’t have installed. Let’s say I want to install Adobe Premiere Pro to my computer. I click on “Install” and it begins installation.
  4. Once the application is installed, it is on my computer like any other application downloaded from the Internet (or elsewhere). I can disable WiFi, or, if this were my laptop, use the application in a location without WiFi (such as an airplane or a remote destination).

Your photos are NOT stored in the cloud

Let’s use Lightroom for this example. When Lightroom is installed on my computer through the CC, it is a normal application on my computer. This means that my photographs are also located on my computer or external hard-drive (in my case, a Drobo 5D), and they are NOT located “in the cloud”. Basically, you store your photos wherever you like, just like you have been doing with Lightroom before the Creative Cloud came alone.

Also, if you stopped using the Creative Cloud and uninstalled Lightroom, you would still have full access to your photos. Lightroom is not a photo-storage service, and they don’t “hide” your photos in some strange impossible-to-understand hierarchy of folders. In fact, you choose exactly how you want your images to be stored on your computer. So, if you uninstalled Lightroom, your photos would go nowhere. They stay put on your computer or hard-drive and are not “held hostage” by Adobe.

Then, why is it called the Creative Cloud?

The Creative Cloud does have cloud-based functionality. First of all, your applications (before they are downloaded) are waiting for you to download them from “the cloud” (a.k.a. “the Internet”). It also has other added benefits, such as the ability to sync collections through Lightroom Mobile and use Adobe’s other creative apps, sync your Adobe files and work on, share, or collaborate with other creatives, and so much more. You can also find tools, stock images, fonts, and more and sync them with your applications. You can save and sync desktop settings for many of the apps. There are a lot of powerful features in the Creative Cloud that you just cannot get using the standalone apps.

Think of the Creative Cloud as a magazine subscription

Here’s a scenario that might help things make even more sense. If you purchase a digital magazine subscription, you pay monthly for a new magazine each month. And, each month you download a brand-new magazine issue. If you want to read the magazine you already downloaded, do you need to be connected to the Internet? Nope. You already downloaded it! But, if you want to read the most recent issue, you will need to log in and download the latest version.

Think of the applications with the Creative Cloud like a magazine. Each month, you need to verify your subscription with Adobe so that they know that you are paying for the applications you are using. You don’t need to re-download the software each month, but you can download any available updates (which are oftentimes only available to CC subscribers). Then, once everything is downloaded, you no longer need to be connected to the Internet to use the software.

Who should use the Creative Cloud?

I completely understand that the CC is not going to be the best fit for everyone. For photographers who only use Lightroom (and not Photoshop), then it might be best for you to stick with the standalone version alone. Also, if you don’t plan on upgrading every time there is an update (which is roughly every one to two years), then you might be okay with the standalone version. Do keep in mind that once Lightroom is updated to the next big version (such as, from Lightroom 5 to Lightroom 6), if you don’t update the software but do get a new camera, then you will have to find another way to process you photos (or use the Adobe DNG converter for Mac or Windows). Older versions of Lightroom do not support cameras unless that camera was released during that software version’s lifecycle.

However, there are some definite advantages to using the Creative Cloud Photography plan:

  • You get both Lightroom and Photoshop for $10/month. Photoshop is no longer a standalone item, so if you use Photoshop at all, then this is really the only way to go.
  • Regular updates and upgrades to the applications which you subscribe to.
  • Ability to use the Adobe Mobile apps, including my personal favorite, Lightroom Mobile (click here to learn more)

For me, using the Creative Cloud is a no-brainer. I have some reasons why I need to use it (access to Photoshop and Indesign, for example), but I also really enjoy using Lightroom mobile to sync collections of images from my desktop. And, as a professional photographer and educator, it’s important to me to stay up-to-date on the latest technology.

If you would like to learn more about some of the other features of the Creative Cloud, please visit