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Photography

3 Changes to Lightroom Mobile Unlock New Powers

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Photographers rejoiced when Adobe launched Lightroom Mobile in 2014. The ability to keep working with your Lightroom catalog away from your desk was a long-awaited extension of the popular image manager and photo-processing platform.

However, many of the features that photographers loved from Lightroom were absent from the mobile app. Correction tools were basic. The number of devices supported by the app were limited. Connectivity was a bit cumbersome.

Sure, the basic functionality of the app hasn't changed; synced Collections in your Lightroom catalog on your computer are accessible on Lightroom for Mobile. However, nearly everything else has changed or evolved, so it's time for a second look at the app.

Here's what's changed since I first covered Lightroom for Mobile in 2014:

1. Wider Access: Lightroom Goes Free and Adds More Devices

The most dramatic change since the app first launched is the expanded support. Lightroom is now compatible with a wide variety of devices.

In 2014, Lightroom Mobile launched with an iPad app. This made sense at the time, since the app was mostly used for editing and reviewing your shoots. In time, it has become a "capture" app as well (more on that below) so it naturally expanded to Android devices and the iPhone.

Lightroom iPad Guide masonry view
One thing that hasn't changed: Lightroom on a tablet is fantastic for reviewing your images. The mosaic, grid style view of images is great to review, or share with a client during review sessions.

Another key difference is that Lightroom for Mobile is now free. In the past, it was included with a Creative Cloud subscription, but now anyone can use Lightroom, for free, without a Creative Cloud subscription (although your images won't sync back to a catalog.) In short, it's accessible to more people than ever.

2. You Can Use Lightroom for Mobile for Capture and Upload

Adobe is definitely focusing on Lightroom for Mobile as a capture tool, and they've added a full-featured camera inside of the app. The first advantage of this added feature is that you can now directly upload your images to your Lightroom catalog from your device, seamlessly.

Lightroom Mobile as a Capture tool
Adobe has added a camera app for capturing images directly to your Lightroom catalog, including in DNG format.

Even if you aren't using the app to capture images, you can use it to upload images from your device's camera roll. If you are already a Lightroom user on desktop, this app is a great way to add mobile images into your existing workflow.

DNG Capture Support

The DNG (digital negative) format is a RAW image format developed by Adobe. It's similar to the CR2 (Canon) or NEF (Nikon) formats that your DSLR captures.

Earlier this year, Adobe added support for DNG image capture on Android. Apple added RAW capture support with iOS10 and Adobe in turn updated Lightroom to take advantage. 

It's no secret that the cameras on the devices in our pockets have improved dramatically since Lightroom launched several years ago. Capturing images directly in Lightroom for Mobile with DNG support is a natural response to improving hardware. This development unlocks a lot of creative potential, especially when it comes to high-quality mobile imaging workflows. The importance of this feature will only grow in time.

3. Tool Improvements and More Powerful Picture Controls

Local Adjustments

Lightroom for desktop became a top choice for photographers because it gave us the ability to adjust selected areas of an image in a tightly integrated and natural way, right there with the RAW files, without the need to export a raster file and work in finicky old Photoshop.

Local Adjustments in Lightroom Mobile
Lightroom for Mobile added the graduated filter and radial filter tools. These two "local adjustment" tools allow you to adjust a limited area of the photo. The graduated filter shown above is perfect for adjusting the sky of an image.

Two of those same local adjustment tools have made their way to the mobile app. The graduated filter and radial filter are now available for local adjustments to selected parts of an image. 

RAW Upload

Even if you aren't capturing images using the Lightroom for Mobile app, you can upload images from your device, including images from an SD card. With the right combination of adapters and internet connection, you can now easily use Lightroom for Mobile as a mobile bridge to your catalog. Ingestion, quick-review, and transfer are all very possible to do on your mobile device; you can leave the bulky laptop at home.

More Tools on Mobile

Lightroom for Mobile has more tools than ever. Additions like the tone curve, split toning, HSL panel, and lens corrections have continued to bridge the gap between mobile and desktop.

More tools for mobile
Adobe continues to migrate more tools to the Lightroom for Mobile app, including the Tone curve, Split Toning, and lens corrections.

Over time, the sum total of these features have made Lightroom for Mobile a capable field editing tool. Add to that RAW image import from an SD card and Lightroom for Mobile becomes a trusty image-management Swiss Army knife.

The Future of Lightroom for Mobile

While much has changed about Lightroom for Mobile, the core design is the same: the mobile app works with images in Lightroom Collections that you've synced to the cloud. You can't access your entire catalog remotely (unless all of the images are in collections.)

It's important to note that this next section is purely speculative and based on feedback from my experiences and conversations with other photographers. Adobe is steadily updating Lightroom with new features and it seems to be converging with the desktop version.

Future of Lightroom Mobile
It's fun to dream about having the full edition of Lightroom on a tablet or smartphone. However, it's not on Adobe entirely to make this happen. As long as we're living in a world of limited storage smartphones and capped data, working with your entire Lightroom catalog will be a distant dream.

In a perfect world, Lightroom would have the same capabilities on every device you use. Unfortunately, this isn't Adobe's problem to solve. Ultimately, Lightroom for Mobile is subject to the same bottlenecks that all other mobile technologies face: connectivity and storage. 

With capped data plans, it's difficult to constantly send the Smart Preview DNG's back and forth between your mobile device and the cloud. Even if you work from Wi-Fi, your device is still subject to limits on how many Smart Previews it can store locally. Until those problems storage and transmission problems are solved, Lightroom for Mobile will likely continue to rely on synced collections.

It's difficult to know where Adobe will take Lightroom for Mobile next. Here are a few ideas for features based on my experience:

  • One of the killer uses for Lightroom for Mobile is as a tool for reviewing your shoots. I'd like to see a "speed review" mode for images, used specifically for culling a shoot.
  • The addition of the full adjustment brush would be excellent for editing portraits on the go.
  • Ideally, Smart Collections could be synced to the cloud so that images that meet rules are pushed to my iPad automatically.
  • The same presets I use on Lightroom for desktop should be available on my iPad to really make it a capable editor.

Recap & Keep Learning

Adobe Lightroom for Mobile is on a steady path of improvement. If you haven't given it a try in some time, it's worth revisiting. Here are some other tutorials if you are interested in mobile photography:

  • While Daniel Korpai's mobile photography tutorial doesn't utilize Adobe Lightroom for Mobile, it is a great introduction to other mobile photography workflows. If you've been resistant to seeing your mobile as a serious camera, this tutorial is for you.
  • David Bode offers some helpful tips on How to Get the Most Dynamic Range for iPhone users.
  • My 2015 tutorial on How to Add Adobe Lightroom to your workflow has some ideas for using Lightroom effectively.

How are you using your mobile device as an image capture tool? Are you suing Lightroom for Mobile or another tool? I'm always curious to find out how Tuts+ readers are capturing images, so let me know with a comment if you have time.

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