I’ve long been intrigued by the Adobe Lightroom product. While it’s often seen as the younger brother to its sibling, Lightroom Classic, “new” Lightroom does a great job of editing photos. Couple that with its online sync capabilities and mobile camera capture functions, and you really have a product that can be a great solution for a lot of photographers.
Despite this, over the years it’s gotten a bad rap. There are some things that, especially for pros, provide challenges. Having all your photos in the cloud seems like a great idea, until you have terabytes upon terabytes of data, as many pros have.
I had the privilege of sitting down with Sharad Mangalick, senior product manager on Adobe’s Digital Imaging team. We talked about the state of Lightroom and some techniques that pros can utilize in the app.
The state of Lightroom and photography
The latest major version of Adobe Lightroom was released at Adobe MAX in November 2019. It brought such features as guided tutorials and interactive edits, advanced export options and more. Since then Adobe has added a few other features and improvements, including direct import on iOS devices and sharing improvements.
With Adobe MAX moved online this year, many have been wondering how Adobe will handle the next major version of Lightroom and its other Creative Cloud products. While Mangalick couldn’t give any specifics of what to expect, he was very excited in terms of what’s coming down the pipeline.
“From a product perspective in terms of what we’ve built, what we’ve shipped or what we’ve got in the pipeline, it’s looking very positive,” he said. “So that keeps me really excited because I’m always focused on, you know, what are we building? How can we improve photographers’ lives through photography, through the software we build?”
Mangalick said that it was hard for him to speculate on how COVID-19 was impacting Adobe as a whole, but did mention that he’s seen a lot of positivity around photography in general during the crisis.
“One of the things that really caught me off guard in a positive way is just the kind of outpouring of how some photographers help other photographers. How can people use their photography to raise money for causes or to help other people in need? In this time of crisis, what are the opportunities? What are the positive things out there? It’s been really nice to see.
“I think there’s a lot of things for photographers and creative people to really latch on to personally in this time period. In these times, you can’t control what’s going on in the world. But you can control. how creative you are.”
Can Lightroom work for pros?
As I mentioned above, one of the biggest complaints about the “new” Lightroom is its lack of local storage options. But if you really dive into the program and see the advantages of cloud storage, you can make it work.
“It’s something that we hear quite a bit, and there’s a couple aspects of it,” said Mangalick. “One, there are more plans that people can purchase to have more storage. The other option is that we offer Lightroom Classic, which is primarily local.
“One of the reasons that we have Classic versus Lightroom is because of these distinctions between use cases and needs. We have options in Lightroom, if you go to Local Storage [in Preferences], we have options. These are in addition to syncing to the cloud. The fundamental kind of truth of your imagery with Lightroom is, in the cloud vs. locally.”
While Lightroom might be a perfect option for those traveling or away from their desks often, it’s obviously not perfect for everyone. That said, if you’re creative with using it, you might find yourself being able to work with the system.
For instance, Lightroom offers an option to store original versions of photos on an external drive, which is in addition to syncing to the cloud. You can also store individual albums locally.
“It doesn’t necessarily solve the problem of, ‘I’ve got too much storage locally that I can’t fit into my account.’ It’s more of a, ‘I want to have a copy locally, maybe I’ve got my own local backup in addition to what I’m doing.'”
And when you do get close to hitting your storage cap, you’ll receive warnings at both 80% and 90% of your storage being filled. But even if you run out of space, edits to existing photos will continue to be synced.
“When you hit your limit, we’ll continue to sync the edits between images that you’ve already put into the cloud. Sync is not closed at that point. It’s just closed for new images coming into the system,” said Mangalick. “We want to have the images that are already there [continue to sync]. We want them to be fully always in sync, so that I can leave and I can go in my phone and, everything that I did here is automatically reflected on my phone. That’s always going to be the case.”
When you finally do run out of space, you’re still able to add images to the app — they just are only locally viewable.
“The risk there is you don’t have a copy of it in the cloud. It’s kind of on you. There’s a risk with this, and that’s why we don’t necessarily recommend it as a long-term solution. But in the short term, as long as you’re tidy and understand the risk, it’s totally fine.”
Other pro-centric features
Adobe added printing through White House Custom Color at Adobe MAX, but the program still lacks the ability to print locally.
“We look at it as, that’s a way that we can satisfy the need to print in one way. There is still the need to print locally. And it’s one of those areas we’re looking at in our time frame,” said Mangalick.
He did mention that for now, opening the image in Photoshop and printing that way is probably the best workflow.
“It’s not the most ideal, but Photoshop is an awesome pretension. [Printing] was kind of its heritage, kind of its foundation, was for creating digital prints at home. And I would certainly like to think that that’s a totally viable option at least until we have printing in Lightroom itself.”
Lightroom doesn’t have support for third-party plugins, meaning that desktop customers have to first open the image in Photoshop and then run the plugin through there. But there’s a reason behind this limitation.
“When we talk about Lightroom, we’re not necessarily thinking about it as just a desktop product or just a phone product. It’s really this connected service,” said Mangalick. “So building an SDK that really just focuses on the desktop or on the phone, it’s really expensive to build and maintain. It also kind of negates from the fact that, once you do something on one platform, you’re gonna do it on all the platforms. We really want third parties to interact with the cloud, because that’s the source of truth for life for a minute.”
Should you switch?
Depending on your needs, you might find that switching completely to Lightroom will work great for you. You might also find that using a combination of Lightroom or Lightroom Classic is in your best interest. Or if you’re local-centric, Lightroom Classic probably fits the bill fine for your needs.
“I don’t see it as an either or, honestly. It really depends on the features that the customers intend to use. There are a couple of editing features that aren’t in Lightroom [but are in Classic]. That’s a gap that we do need to address, like Color Range and Luminance Masking. Those are things on our to do list,” said Mangalick.
“Then it comes down to, are the features that the customer is using in Classic — are the organizational features, the print module, the web module — are those the things that are holding someone back from moving? Or is it more editing focused? And if it’s editing focused, I would ask the customer to kind of go on the journey with us and help us figure out what’s important and what’s not important from an editing standpoint.
“On the organizational side, I feel like the metaphors that we use and the way we think about organization inside of Lightroom vs. Classic is fundamentally different. And it’s designed to be different because of the cloud-connected nature. So if the customer from Classic is really focused on how they’ve been able to control where their images live and how they organize them, then Classic is still probably the best product for them.”