Photo Editing On The Go: A First Look at Lightroom Mobile for iPad


Mobile apps for photographers have come a long way since the the release of the original iPhone and iPad. Perhaps a real marker for this progress has been the release of Lightroom Mobile from Adobe. Whist there are a plethora of both image management and image process apps available for smartphones and tablets, Lightroom Mobile combines both with a seamless connection to you main Lightroom catalogue.

In order to use Lightroom Mobile, you are going to need both the main Lightroom software, available as a direct purchase from Adobe or as part of their Creative Cloud Photographers Package and a Creative Cloud account. The Mobile app itself is free to use but for the moment only available to users of Apple’s iPhone and iPad. We are going to take a look at the iPad version.

How Does it Work? Syncing Lightroom With Lightroom Mobile

Lightroom Mobile uses Adobe’s Creative Cloud as an online folder with which to sync your main computer with your iPad. It should be said that you do not synchronize your entire catalogue with the app, only the collections that you have specified. Syncing a collection is simplicity itself, you right click on the collection of choice and select Sync with Lightroom Mobile. The synchronization occurs in the background and shortly later will appear on the mobile app.

Syncing your collection

Getting Started: Viewing Your Synced Collections

On opening the Lightroom Mobile app for the first time, you will be prompted to enter your Adobe Creative Cloud login and password. Once opened, you are presented with all the collections that you have chosen to sync along with the number of images in that collection. Touching the thumbnail of any collection will open it up, showing a thumbnail presentation of all the images in that collection. You can touch scroll down if there are more images than there is screen real estate.

Adobe Mobile
The Collections screen on iPad

Adobe Mobile
Collection thumbnails on iPad

Image Viewing Options

Clicking on an individual image will open the main window. Top right is the basic Exif data such as exposure and lens details. At the very top is the file name. Top right of the screen is the sharing options. Bottom left allow you to flag or un-flag the image whilst the bottom center of the screen is occupied by four main icons. The first opens the filmstrip viewer allowing you to scroll through the images. You can also scroll just by swiping the main image left or right. At the top right of the display is the all important histogram although only in RGB form, not individual color channels.

Adobe Mobile
An individual image selected

Editing an Image: the Develop Module

The second icon reveals the Lightroom Mobile’s equivalent of the Develop Module. Here you can adjust white balance from the normal presets. You can set a specific color temperature by moving a slider left or right. Tint works in the same way. Next up is Auto Tone which will make an attempt to correct the image to within the histogram. Beyond this you will find all the exposure, contrast, clarity and other controls that you have in the Lightroom Basic section of the Develop Module.

Each works in a similar way, by swiping a slider left and right. One thing I have noticed is on my iPad 3 retina, there is some lag between the actual swipe and the action taking place. The last menu item is reset which will return your image to it’s original values. The great thing about these adjustments is that they will be synchronised with the image on the main app. For example if you make a color temperature adjustment on the iPad, a few seconds later, that adjustment will appear on the same image on the main Lightroom app. Of course this is a non destructible edit, so it it easy to return your image to it’s original state.

Adobe Mobile
Temperature slider in the develop window

Using Presets

The third of the icons at the bottom is, perhaps the equivalent of Lightroom’s presets. There are a range of options to change color, create black and white images add vignettes and much more. Again at the end, there is a reset button. One neat feature of the presets is that beside each one, is a thumbnail showing how the image will look with that preset.

Adobe Mobile
Black and white presets

Cropping and Formatting Options

The last of the icons reveals a range of cropping and formatting tools. You can crop the image in a similar fashion to the main Lightroom app, change the aspect ration and choose from a selection of preset crop sizes. The crop tool also shows a handy rule of third grid to aid your composition.

Adobe Mobile
Cropping tools

In Conclusion: Few Limitations of an Otherwise Powerful App

In terms of its photo editing tools, Lightroom Mobile is a very powerful app, allowing the traveling photographer to make changes to images out in the field and share via email, iMessage and Facebook. The elephant in the room, however, is the complete lack keyword and captioning capabilities. Whilst Mobile displays relevant Exif data on screen, there is currently no way to add metadata to an image. This, to my mind severely hampers the productivity of the app as many photographers when not shooting may well want to prepare images for clients or stock libraries. Whether Adobe will choose to introduce this in subsequent versions, remains to be seen.

Overall then Lightroom Mobile is more an app for editing on the go and much less an app for image management on the go. I am not sure, as a traveling photographer that that is the right balance, personally I would prefer to be adding metadata in the field and post production back in the office.

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

I suspect there are two main reasons for this. Firstly Adobe wanted to capitalise on the gap in the market created by discontinued Aperture. Secondly because the app relies on communicating between the mobile device, Creative Cloud and the main computer, I suspect that Apple’s wall garden approach to security would seem more attractive. Android, being more open has certain security issues.

I’ with you on the photo management side of things. I would prefer to manage my photos more on the iPad than editing photos. Managing large numbers of images is time consuming and sometimes you have the opportunity to spend some time sorting and selecting but as I can only work on collections there is no point.

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