I started using Lightroom over a year ago to give me a way of editing photos on my mobile phone while couchbound with my newborn son. The more I use this cloud-based editing app, the more integrated into my workflow it has become. But it doesn’t come without problems.

Fortunately, I’ve found it possible to establish an effective workflow for Lightroom and Lightroom Classic which allows me to take advantage of the benefits of both. Over the last few weeks I’ve been writing a series on how to get your Lightroom and Lightroom Classic catalogs set up and playing nicely together. Now I’m going to flesh out the workflow I use to move between these two apps to edit my client work — and explain why it’s useful to do so!

I’ll be referring to Lightroom (the cloud app) as Lr, and Lightroom Classic (the desktop app) as LrC for this rest of this article.

The problem: Both apps have limitations and benefits

As a (very) busy human being, the cloud aspect of Lr allows me to sort, rate and cull photos faster, because I can do it on my mobile device in spare moments here and there, without needing to sit at my computer. I can also use it to perform initial edits on the go: as long as you have the subscription version you can copy and paste edits across photos: A key efficiency tool.

However, as I have complained about before, Lightroom is missing some significant features that I need in my professional workflow, and I have to use LrC for these.

Color calibration

First off, my phone isn’t color calibrated, so I need to confirm the white balance is correct on my computer. I know you can use Lr on desktop for this, but I find it easier to edit white balance in LrC, because I can use my mouse scroll wheel to make fine adjustments.

Fine-grained editing is generally easier in LrC across the board: Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t get Lr to use my mouse wheel to edit settings when I hover and scroll. This is such a time saver!

I miss you, color labels.

Color labels

Secondly, Lr has no color labels. Why, Adobe, why?! Color labels are so useful for marking finished edits (green), black and white virtual copies (yellow), Instagram crops (purple), preview photos for social media (blue) and photos that need Photoshop editing (red). It’s a major pain point for me that Lr doesn’t include this level of custom filtering.

Virtual copies

On a related note, Lr makes virtual copies hard. For starters, you can only create virtual copies on the desktop version: The option doesn’t exist on mobile. Versions is the Lr alternative to virtual copies, but this doesn’t work for me.

Can you imagine editing over 600 wedding photos in black and white and having to manually switch every single one from color to black and white for exporting? No thanks. In LrC I can duplicate the entire color batch, label the copies yellow, filter the set so I can only see yellow-labeled photos and apply the black and white edit across the set, before exporting everything in one fell swoop.

Custom export presets

Speaking of which, being able to save export presets is another essential feature missing in Lr. Custom name codes and saving to designated folder automatically are key parts of the export options for me, as is exporting multiple presets at once.

While we’re talking about presets, I love that LrC can save metadata presets to apply across whole batches of photos. You can select a batch and manually type in the metadata in Lr, but you can’t apply a saved preset with one click.

Batch exporting is such a time saver, not to mention custom naming codes for the exported files.

Storage concerns

Finally, your storage in Lr eventually runs out. In LrC the storage is limited only by my hard drive space (which, I get it: It’s something I have to buy, but it’s a cheaper one-off cost than more cloud storage).

Workflow for Lightroom and Lightroom Classic for your photography business

Once you have your Lr and LrC catalogs syncing (see step 1 in this article), you can use the two together. This is the workflow I use.

  1. Copy photos from your camera to your external storage (I use a network attached storage, or NAS, for my photos), or directly to your phone if on the go.
  2. Import into an album in Lr, and the photos will start uploading to the cloud.
  3. Cull photos in Lr using the Review mode (rather than Edit mode). When you have the final set chosen, filter to show all the rejected or unflagged photos, and then delete them. This will keep your Lr hard drive cache and cloud storage light, and minimize the doubled-up download as the photos sync to LrC.
  4. Perform initial edits on the photos in Lr (using your own presets, straightening and so on). Alternatively move to your computer now, and do your usual edits in LrC: Confirm white balance, do Photoshop edits, etc.
  5. Export and deliver the photos to your client.

Now you need to maintain your catalog to keep it from clogging up your hard drive with duplicate originals, and clear out your cloud storage when it fills up. As I wrote about here, Lr stores a cache of original images on your computer hard drive for quick access when editing.

Now that your Lr catalog is syncing with your LrC catalog, you also have a copy of the originals downloaded to the sync folder location on your hard drive (see step 2 of this article). And if you are like me, then in addition, you have a copy of your originals in whatever folder you copied them into off your camera card!

For those of you playing at home, that’s three copies of the same massive RAW files, just nomming down on your hard drive space. Add whatever backups you have in place as a responsible business owner (right?!) and you may have five or six duplicate copies of the same files hanging about (stay tuned for my backup series).

To keep your catalog light, then, a routine of maintenance when wrapping up a job is in order:

  1. Clear the photos from your Lr cache when you have finished working on a client set. Use this method.
  2. Clear your Lr cloud storage, and then your hard drive duplicates, by migrating your photos out of Lr and into LrC as an archive, using this method (overview and detailed version here).

Using Lightroom and Lightroom Classic together has benefits for professional photographers

Lr is definitely built more for a personal photographer workflow than a professional one. But that doesn’t mean it’s a one-or-other situation. With a good workflow in place, you can get the best of both worlds.

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