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Exclusive: The state of Lightroom, and what’s next

At this week’s Adobe MAX Conference, Adobe again announced updates for its line of photo management and editing tools — Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic. And while the two tools continue to live somewhat separated from each other, there’s a question as to what’s in store for these products in the future, especially given the increasing level of competition on the market today.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Tom Hogarty, Senior Director of Product Management for Lightroom, at Adobe MAX to discuss the current state of both Lightroom apps, and what the future might hold. We also discussed the future that artificial intelligence (AI) would play in both programs, and whether or not we’d ever see a more closely knit relationship between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic.

“[CC and Classic] are on their own paths. The core tenant is that they always share identical image editing stacks. Any edits you can make in one, you can make in the other,” said Hogarty.

“I would’ve loved if they could have stayed together, but there’s an unfortunate reality that a product that was developed well before it was released as a public beta in 2006 was never designed to work as a cloud-native solution. We tried with Classic for a couple years as we made the connection between Classic and Lightroom Mobile, but we could see the path was not going to be good, which is why we created two versions.

“I think of it as another extension. Across the file management capabilities of our photography solutions, you have Bridge and the Camera Raw plugin, Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC, where we’ve completely obfuscated its relationship to the file system. I think there are people in each of these that need these different workflows, and we’re happy to provide the solutions.”

The cloud

When Creative Cloud was first introduced, many Lightroom users were concerned that the standalone Lightroom would go away, forcing them into buying subscriptions. A standalone version of Lightroom lived on for a couple years, before recently going fully to the Creative Cloud subscription model, which Adobe offers in two packages — a Photography Plan or the full Creative Cloud plan.

And while some users may have thought this was Adobe’s way of being greedy and forcing them into a new plan, that’s hardly the case.

“It’s the path forward. Change is difficult but this is where the industry is headed, and we’ve placed a pretty big bet on it. With a subscription, we can deliver innovations more rapidly. We don’t have to wait 18-24 months to charge a perpetual upgrade fee based on what we’re going to market to them.

“With [a] subscription, we’re perfectly aligned to keep existing customers happy and focus on the things that will keep them giving us a monthly fee as well as attracting new customers. For the long-term health of the product, I think it’s much better, and that Adobe and photographers are in a better place.”

Adobe’s Bryan O’Neil Hughes shows off the latest updates for Lightroom during the Adobe MAX keynote.

Another concern from users is the shift to the full cloud model with the new Lightroom CC program, which currently works with cloud libraries. This brings about a number of concerns to photographers — things like upload speed and a large number of files (which can add up in terms of costs) to name a few.

“It’s another reason why both solutions continue to be viable paths forward. Bandwidth is not something Adobe can solve for a customer.

“With the volume of images, it’s expensive if you have 10 terabytes of images, but we’ve seen the price of storage come down over time. I think by the time that people with 10 terabytes of images managed in Classic feel comfortable moving to Lightroom CC, hopefully, prices will decrease.

“There are also things in the product we can do to mitigate, like how Dropbox offers selective sync. There’s lots of avenues we can discuss; right now we’re focused on the robustness of the all-cloud approach.”

Evolution and competition of Lightroom

When Lightroom first came to market, there was one main competitor — Apple Aperture. Since then, a growing number of companies have taken over for the now-discontinued Aperture program, from the likes of such companies as ON1, ACDSee and Skylum.

“I love competition; I think it keeps companies honest. A lot of people were disappointed when Apple stopped developing Aperture. I was too because it kept us on our toes, helped us moving in the right direction. I think it’s good for the industry, always.”

Some of these competitors have brought in features like layers, an often-requested feature by Lightroom users. And while Hogarty understands the desire for features like these, there’s a specific reasoning why they aren’t included in the app.

“We tend not to want to do direct cut and paste features from other products. The layers concept in Photoshop is incredibly complex, and it’s one of the barriers to entry for people using that product. When we added local adjustments with brushes in Lightroom 2, we looked at a lot of user experience models, and [layers] was one of them. But we decided to move away from that, to just have the opportunity to reinvent. [If layers are a request,] we want to know what goal the customer is trying to solve.”

The future of Sensei and AI

Adobe’s AI tool — Adobe Sensei — has already worked its way into both Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic. Everything from the Auto adjustment options in both apps to the new People view in Lightroom CC are powered by Adobe Sensei technology.

Lightroom CC’s new People view automatically tags your photos using Adobe Sensei, making it quick and easy to find the photos of someone specific you’re looking for.

Hogarty notes that the current integration of Sensei has just brushed the surface, and sees ways that AI can be brought into both programs to not only improve a photographer’s workflow but to also act as somewhat of an educational tool.

“We’re still learning to crawl — we haven’t even gotten to walking yet in this area. I break Sensei down into three categories — helping you manage your images, helping make your images look better and how to use Sensei to create almost like a personal assistant for photographers.

“How can we use Sensei to create an assistant that says, ‘I’ve seen this image before. If you add a little bit of contrast, it might get a little more attention on Instagram.'”

While Lightroom CC currently has more AI tools built-in as compared to Lightroom Classic, there are some barriers that have to be overcome. For instance, the search in Lightroom CC is a powerful tool that can recognize subjects and types of photographs you have in your library, without you having to manually keyword or tag each individual image file. And while this may be a cool feature, it’s one that would be difficult to integrate into a local storage program like Lightroom Classic.

“We can start to investigate that. The challenge is search is server-based, so we need the images in the cloud to do that. If you look at Photoshop Elements, they have done a local implementation, but I’m not sure if that’s the priority for the Classic customer right now. The priority for the Classic customer is performance, stability and image quality, and we hear that over and over again.”

Regardless, there’s definitely plenty of room and desire to continue to integrate Adobe Sensei technologies — as well as other features — into both versions of Lightroom.

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