Sometimes you want to be able to process and manage your photos while you are on the go and not have to worry about hauling your laptop around. Sometimes you want to be able to process your photos and have them backed up and off your memory cards while you’re out in the field.
This concept is not for everyone and not for every situation. There are benefits and drawbacks to this type of workflow. It can be both limiting and liberating at the same time.
The workflow I will outline is one utilizing the Adobe ecosystem. That is, primarily a combination of Lightroom Mobile, Lightroom CC/Classic. There are multiple approaches to a mobile workflow, and if you’re doing something different than what I’ve outlined here, I’d sure like to hear from you!
The All-New Lightroom CC
So, this topic can be a bit of a tinderbox it seems. Not everyone is happy with the recent updates to Adobe’s Lightroom product. Some of us are pleased and excited for the future we envision. What the future actually holds remains to be seen.
Adobe seems to have embraced the mobile approach with this new software release. The all-new Lightroom CC is more or less (at this point a little less) the exact same thing as the existing Lightroom Mobile product. The integration of Artificial Intelligence (Adobe Sensei) is one of the most exciting parts of this new approach. The ability to search using this tool is probably the most instantly useable feature. The future prospect of AI taking the helm to take care of basic editing is REALLY exciting. Anything that has the ability to help us spend less time on basic, rudimentary edits and gets us out shooting more is a good thing.
Adobe, for now at least, has afforded us the opportunity to slowly switch to the new environment (Lightroom CC) with the offering of “Lightroom Classic CC”. I, like many others, believe that this will be a limited time offering and will eventually stop being supported and the expectation will be that anyone wishing to remain in Adobe software will be utilizing the new Lightroom.
There are obviously many concerns surrounding the new Lightroom CC. The main concern I hear is around the prospect of storing RAW files in the Cloud. This is an issue that is at the center of the mobile workflow which I am going to discuss. I am confident that a solution to this issue will be offered by Adobe in upcoming versions of Lightroom CC perhaps allowing us the flexibility to choose what gets stored in the cloud if anything. We’ll have to wait and see on that last point.
Like it or not, the changes are real and something we will all have to learn to deal with. If one decides to jump off the Adobe train, there are many alternatives out there that are real possibilities for you. Either way, you need to adjust/rebuild your workflow.
At the time of writing, Macphun (changing their name to “Skylum” in the near future) just announced their Luminar 2018 product which looks to be an exciting offering and now features Digital Asset Management to keep track of and organize all of your files.
Affinity Photo (by Serif) is another that would support a solid mobile workflow as the iPad app is full featured and very powerful. I pulled the trigger on the iPad app myself a while back and spent some time messing around with the app and I need to spend more time to get to know it well but it is an extremely capable program for processing RAW files on the move.
I think these will both be very attractive solutions for those of you who have no interest in a subscription model. The people over at Macphun and Serif both seem to be working hard to capitalize on this newly opened corner of the market full of photographers who want a perpetual license. During the writing of this article, I have received numerous marketing communications from both companies pointing out the benefits of their system and the perpetual license models they offer.
When You Need a Mobile Workflow Solution
There are countless situations in which a mobile photo editing workflow solution can be a real lifesaver. Perhaps you feel the need to satisfy your many followers on Instagram or Facebook, etc. with a preview of your current project. Maybe the images you capture are going to have the most impact if they are published sooner rather than later. It could be that you’re like me and you just really need some form of instant gratification and confirmation that you’re on the right track with your shoot.
My own recent use case for a solid mobile workflow solution came when I had the chance to photograph the PGA Championship Golf Tournament at Quail Hollow outside of Charlotte, NC. I was tasked with following a couple of key players who were known locally. Because these players weren't named Tiger Woods (not playing), Jordan Spieth, etc. it was unlikely that many images of them would come from other sources.
A very similar use case has been mentioned by Jeff Harmon on the Photo Taco and other podcasts where he talked about shooting basketball games and posting photos to Facebook as he was shooting. Providing this type of instant gratification can and does lead to higher levels of engagement and interaction with your work. Simply put, people love it!
When You May Not Want a Mobile Workflow Solution
In any case listed above, a limited number of select photos are processed and published. This highlights the current limitations of such a workflow. The current state of technology makes such a workflow significantly slower than we are accustomed to. The idea of uploading large numbers of RAW files to a tablet, for example, then pushing all of those massive files to the cloud over anything less than the fastest of internet connections is prohibitive to say the least.
If you have just finished shooting a time-lapse on your new Nikon D850 and your time-lapse is 450 shots in length (not unreasonable at all) you could be looking at nearly 40GB worth of files! Or, twice that many shots with twice the data if you just finished shooting a modest wedding. Obviously, these are not the types of situations where you would use a mobile workflow to handle the entire job.
Perhaps, however, you do want to choose a few select images to work on right away and post as a value-added service within the overall service you are providing. I have never shot a wedding (and I’m not sure I ever will) but I’d bet that the ability to instantly share a professional quality shot from the ceremony and/or the reception is something that clients would love.
For this sample workflow I will outline the basic requirements in terms of hardware/software as well as what I have used specifically.
Mobile phone/tablet (iPad, etc.)
In my case, I utilize Apple devices including the iPhone 7 Plus in 128GB and the iPad Pro 9.7” also in 128GB. The same type of workflow is possible for Android based devices but your experience may vary from mine depending on which device you are running.
I try to utilize devices that have fairly high storage capacities to help me manage files that I want to work on but obviously, for a lot of reasons, permanent storage on the device is not recommended. Many Android based devices allow for the expansion of storage (a sticking point with Apple) but one should still be careful not to rely on the device as the lone or even primary storage location of their images.
A bonus that comes with the iPad Pro is the ability to leverage the power of the Apple Pencil. This handy (though pricey) little tool really adds a lot of value to the mobile photo editing experience. Plus, it can be used in other ways… For example, I pair it with an app called Duet Pro and turn my iPad/Apple Pencil combo into a graphics tablet (as a second monitor supporting touch). It may not be a Wacom tablet, but it's still cool!
Memory card reader (if you want to employ a RAW workflow/do not have wifi in camera)
The DSLR Camera systems that I employ all have WiFi built in (70D, 6D Mk I, 5D Mk IV), so this offers me one possible solution for transferring images from my camera to my device. It is important to note that the files that come over via a WiFi connection from the camera are generally not RAW files. In many cases, however, they are good enough for a quick edit and posting to social media to generate buzz.
The workflow that supports RAW utilizes a card reader that plugs directly into your device. I use the Apple USB 3 Lightning to SD Card Reader which plugs directly into either device I use and upon inserting a card, it launches the photos app with an “import” dialog. Unfortunately, the iPad Pro 9.7” model I use does not support USB 3.0 speeds and I am relegated to 2.0 speeds (slower) for transferring the files to my device.
It should be noted that it is also possible to attach your camera directly to your device using USB adapters. I have not employed this method, but the experience should be similar to using an attached card reader.
Software/apps for cataloging/editing your photos
There are countless apps that work for mobile photo editing and many of them even support RAW workflows. There are a couple that I turn to. The list of apps mentioned in this article are by no means all-inclusive and there are tons of them out there. If there are apps I missed that you find extremely useful, let me know!
Lightroom Mobile App: One, which is the center of this workflow example is the Lightroom Mobile App. This app has improved by leaps and bounds over the past year or so and is really powerful. With the release of the new Lightroom CC this app integrates seamlessly with the desktop version of the software and edits made on one device automatically (assuming you have an active internet connection on both devices) transfers to the other. Also produced by Adobe and useful on your device is; Photoshop Express, Photoshop Mix (supports a layer based Workflow) and Photoshop Fix (not sure why these last two are separate apps).
Snapseed: Another app, which I commonly use is called Snapseed. Snapseed is maintained by Google and is another very powerful mobile photo editing app. This particular app supports a RAW based workflow and is full of tools, some of which are very useful and other that are less useful in my opinion. I frequently find myself just opening a photo in Snapseed, making my edits and posting right to social media. It is important to note that when you go to save your edits made in Snapseed you have three distinct options. You may save the changes directly to the photo, in a non-destructive way in which the photo may be reopened in the app and edits changed or undone. You may also export to a separate file where the changes can be edited later on or undone completely. Finally, you may export to a separate jpeg where the changes are “baked in”.
Affinity Photo for iPad: One last editing app I use (and need to spend more time with) is Affinity Photo for the iPad. This is an extremely powerful image editing platform that approaches the functionality of any desktop program, complete with layers and everything. A completely viable Photoshop replacement for many people.
The Workflow (an example)
I start by outlining the RAW mobile workflow. I will show the same example utilizing both the new Lightroom CC as well as Lightroom Classic CC.
Step 1. Attach Card reader to device and insert card.
An import screen will appear allowing you to import all, select photos to import or delete photos (I suggest never deleting any photos through this functionality).
Step 2. Select photos you wish to import to device.
As stated in Step 1, there are a couple of options here. You may select specific images or just import all. When choosing, keep the goals of this editing session in mind. Do you want to edit the entire wedding now, on your iPad? No? Perhaps just select a few then. Also remember that storage on your device may be limited. Storage limitations are a critical component of any photo editing workflow. After import, you may be prompted to choose between keeping and deleting the photos you just imported. I always just keep and clear my cards by reformatting in camera.
Step 3. Open your editing app and edit your photos!
Not mentioned in the apps section above, is the option to just edit directly within the iOS photos app. Since iOS 10 this has been possible with RAW photos! Or, use Snapseed as mentioned above and edit photos individually.
Or, open Lightroom Mobile and import there. From the main screen in Lightroom Mobile (showing all albums) on the far-right side of the word “albums” you will see a “+” sign. Tapping this will allow you to create a new album of your choosing as a way of organizing your photos. Be sure to check out Christoper Mower’s recent article on organizing Lightroom!) You will see two small icons in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. The one on the left is for importing images and the other takes you to the Lightroom Camera App (more on that later). Tap the import icon and simply swipe over the photos you wish to import, click “add photos” and you’re in!
If you are running Lightroom Mobile, your photos will upload to the cloud (full RAW files) but you don’t need to wait for this to happen to begin the editing process. Once you’re in the presence of a decent Wi-Fi signal, you should be able to finish the upload fairly easily, depending on the number of files and see/edit your photos on all your devices running Lightroom (Mobile, New CC, or Classic).
Step 4. Export and Share!
From Lightroom Mobile, after you have completed your edits and you’re ready to share, with the photo open, simply tap the icon at the top that looks like a box with an arrow jumping out of it and choose from the options that come up: “Share” (prepares the file and jumps to a dialog allowing you to text, etc.), “Save to Camera Roll” (simply exports your image to your camera roll-this I what I usually use), “Save to Files” (allows the utilization of the iOS 11 ‘files’ organization feature allowing you to write straight to Dropbox, etc.), “Open in” (allows you to transfer the file to any number of other installed apps for further use), and “Edit in” (exports to other Adobe apps for photo editing i.e. Photoshop Fix). “Export Original” simply exports an unedited version of your RAW file to your photos.
Where do my files go?
The answer to this question really depends on the exact workflow you select and a lot of it depends on your own personal preference for how you manage your files.
Working in Lightroom Mobile: If you are particularly interested in this type of workflow and you want to work off a device like an iPad frequently, you'll want to pay close attention to the storage of your files. At the time of writing, the iPad Pro is available with up to 512 GB of storage space. While that is pretty large for a mobile device, it is not unlimited and my guess is that many of you are like myself and you'll be working off a much smaller amount of local storage (128GB in my case).
As you import to your device, you are storing the photos under the normal photos app. They are then imported to Lightroom Mobile and upon connecting to the internet they are stored in the cloud. Once this movement to the cloud is completed, you are free to delete the photos from their normal location on your device. I know this is extremely scary, but you will be able to download the originals by asking the app to do so at any time. If you are just not the type of person to trust the cloud storage, my suggestion (and what I will likely do myself) is to make sure the photos appear in Lightroom CC on your desktop and with the option to keep local copies of all files selected, you will also have your on site storage taken care of. At this point you can free up that space on your device.
Lightroom Mobile will keep some of the recently utilized photos in a cache on your device and utilize smart previews the rest of the time. With a photo open in the app, simply tap on the cloud icon in the top right and you will see where the open photo is stored. If the local storage is “smart preview”, you may tap on “get this original” and the full RAW file will be downloaded to your device.
Working in Lightroom CC: If you decide to be an early adopter and jump right into the new Lightroom CC, you’re giving up quite a bit of this control. For many that will be too scary a prospect but it also comes with some interesting benefits. Within this workflow option, your files live in the “cloud” (a.k.a. on some server/servers somewhere in the world, who really knows) and at your option you can keep a separate copy of all of your files stored off-line locally (I would recommend this). As you import photos, they are stored automatically in your cloud account. As you need to work on them, they are downloaded to a cache on your computer and this cache can be limited in size based on your own preferences.
This has the distinct advantage of freeing up hard drive space on your machine while allowing you to have access to your images. The disadvantage being that if you need access to your full RAW files (the ones not currently in the cache) and you do not have access to the internet, you are hosed. The other major drawback to this is that Adobe does not have an unlimited storage plan (as of this writing) and if you have terabytes of data to store, it can get pricey. On the other hand, it serves as a true perpetual cloud backup making the recommended 3-2-1 backup strategy a cinch.
Working in Lightroom Classic CC: If you stick with Classic (which I plan on doing myself…for now) the file storage should be fairly familiar. It works like this…Once your device where you’ve done your mobile import has had a chance to sync with the cloud, your images will appear in Lightroom Classic CC. In the Collections panel, you will see a collection set titled: “From Lr mobile”. Within this set you will see all of the collections which you created via your device and the photos will be accessible through those collections. But!?, I know, this doesn’t tell you exactly where the file resides (besides in the cloud, which is one location it will be in). The file also is stored in a temp folder on your computer. You could right click on any file and have Lr show you the file in its folder on the computer but the easiest way to find these is to look in the Files panel and you will see “drives” for each of your devices. These “drives” also have the icon indicating they are synced, which they are.
If you feel the need to move these files (to an external HD for example) simply move them as you have moved any file within Lightroom in the past. As I did this last bit myself, I thought of something interesting. It is possible to have your RAW file stored in three unique locations, automatically with the same edits flowing to each one without any additional input on your part. If you run Classic and the new Lightroom CC on your computer and you upload via the new Lightroom, your file will automatically be placed in the cloud, remain on your computer attached to your Lightroom CC AND be stored wherever you keep you copies for Lightroom Classic CC. If you have the option in Lightroom CC to keep local copies of ALL Files enabled you could have a true 3-2-1 workable backup with minimal effort on your part. I kind of like this…Until I hit that storage limit attached to my CC account.
The Effect of Culling for Mobile Editing
As noted in the next section on speed and also related to the aforementioned storage limit issue, you may want to do some serious culling of your images prior to the import/upload process in Lightroom Mobile or the new Lightroom CC. When importing your RAW files into your device, you are given the option to keep the photos on the card. I recommend doing this and only reformat in camera when you are ready to work from a fresh card. If you upload select images and you plan to upload the balance of the images in Lightroom Classic CC later on, you will notice (assuming you have the ignore duplicates option checked in Classic) that you are only set to import the files not previously uploaded. This is rather handy, I think.
The drawback to this that you will want to keep in mind is that the new images you import via Lightroom Classic CC will not be backed up in the cloud and will not be available across your devices unless you place them in a synced collection (more on that later). So just be aware of this.
Some notes on speed
I did a test on the speed of the various elements of this workflow. The actual speed of Lightroom (all versions) aside, I was interested in how fast my files hit the cloud and were available on my other devices. I utilized a recent shoot I did for work. I came away from the relatively small shoot with 75 photos on the card in my Canon 5D Mark IV (Full size RAW only). Wait times on the various steps were as follows:
Time to import all 75 photos from the card to my iPad Pro via the Lightning to SD card reader- 3 minutes and 17 seconds. Your time may differ depending on which card reader you have and which device you have. My reader supports USB 3.0 speed but my understanding is that to take full advantage of the reader’s speed I would need the larger iPad Pro.
Time to import 30 select photos to Lightroom Mobile: (I did this in two parts to test on my home network connection provided by CenturyLink and on the Wi-Fi in a public location that I have used and found to be reliable and quick) 1 minute 33 seconds on home connection got me to 5%. Extrapolating that out equates to about 1 RAW file per minute or 30 minutes for my tiny batch. I finished the other 95% in the public space in 7 minutes and 50 seconds or just over 3.6 RAW files per minute. This is a main sticking point for a lot of people with the idea of uploading all of your RAW files to the cloud. Most of us do not have very fast/reliable/unlimited internet in our homes and even the faster options we can seek out still aren't that fast when you're talking Terabytes of data. This could be an entire topic/article by itself.
Because I had my computer connected and running Lr Classic and the new Lr CC, it was downloading the images from the cloud as I was still uploading from the device, so the files were available on my MacBook immediately. If my MacBook were sleeping, it is safe to assume that the files would need to be pulled from the cloud to be worked on but I might be working on some while the rest are downloaded, so I might not notice the delay.
The time taken by each device to notice and apply changes made by another device was nearly instant.
A “Reverse” Mobile Editing Workflow
There is another interesting usability to everything that this workflow has to offer as well. This usability is something that you may have already discovered prior to the addition of the recent Lightroom update. Actually, nearly everything I’ve mentioned so far was possible prior to the new Lightroom CC. The new Lightroom simply added a desktop version of the mobile platform which will add simplicity for some and the ability to import to your computer and have RAW files also go to the cloud (whether you like it or not).
What I mean by a “reverse” mobile editing workflow in this case is the ability to import your photos on your computer and then take them mobile for culling, editing, etc. With the new update, there are a couple of different approaches to this now.
Import/Upload via Lightroom Classic CC
This process remains unchanged from before the release of the new Lightroom CC. Basically, what you do is import as you normally would and then create a collection and sync that collection by clicking the “sync” icon to the left of the collection name. Syncing the collection stores Smart Previews in the cloud which can be worked on via any device running Lightroom Mobile and connected to your CC account.
A recent use case I had for this type of workflow happened after a family shoot (my kids at a local park). I did my culling on my computer in Lightroom 2015 utilizing the popular 1,2,3 star culling system and then I placed all of the 3 star images into a collection and clicked the icon to sync the collection to Lr Mobile. I wanted to work on the images during lunch but I did not want to bring my computer with me.
Syncing 62 images from old Lightroom only took a couple of minutes (smart previews syncing is the only option from old Lightroom and Lightroom Classic CC at this point). When it was time to go to lunch I was able to just grab my iPad and go (iPad not even necessary as I could have also worked from my iPhone).
I edited several images while eating my lunch, had them ready for export from my computer with no additional work necessary and even exported a couple from my device and sent them out to my family before I even left the restaurant. Note that the images exported from my device based on the smart preview may not be on par with the quality offered by a proper export based on the RAW file, but they worked for quick sharing.
Import/Upload via the new Lightroom CC
If you are working from the new Lightroom CC, things will be a little different. You will insert your card into your computer and follow the normal, and honestly much easier than Classic, import process selecting or creating an “album” in which to place your photos. There will be no need to select an option or click an icon to sync your album since the very nature of the new Lr is built around automatic cloud storage of your files. The real major difference with this part of the process is that your original RAW file will be stored rather than just a smart preview as in Classic. Once the upload of your RAW file is completed you should see the photo appear on any internet connected device you have running your account in Lr.
For more on the technical details around uploading and keeping your new Lightroom CC catalog organized, I will once again send you over to Christopher Mowers’ article on the matter.
A 100% Mobile RAW Workflow
“The best camera is the one you have with you.” This quote, attributed to award winning photographer, Chase Jarvis, has become cliché in photography. But in a time where our phones are becoming more and more capable cameras (I use my iPhone more for photography than for making calls) it rings true for a lot of us. Chase's first book was titled: The Best Camera Is the One That's With You (2009) and it celebrates mobile phone photography, specifically the iPhone. I have six framed photos hanging in my office. Four of them were taken with various iPhones. I would be remiss if I did not take the time to include mobile phone photography in this article.
The iPhone, by a wide margin, is the most popular camera on planet earth. With the release of iOS 10 in 2016, Apple unlocked the power of RAW photos in an iPhone. Other manufacturers made this possible prior to Apple, but this release brought it into the mainstream. What Apple has not done, as of yet, is build the RAW capabilities into their native camera app. There are tons of 3rd party camera apps that can leverage the RAW file in the iPhone though. I use two in particular. One is called “Camera+” and has a lot of great RAW and manual functionality and the other is the camera built into Lightroom Mobile. Both of these apps generate RAW files (with the appropriate settings) and that goes a long way in expanding the functionality of the camera in your iPhone.
The Camera+ app saves each photo (as a HEIF, JPEG or TIFF or any plus a DNG file) in its own directory within the app rather than in the “photos” app on your phone. From there you can select photos to export to your “photos” app. There is a decent set of editing tools within the app where you can work on your photo prior to exporting it to your regular photo location on your phone.
The camera app built into Lightroom Mobile also creates a “DNG” file and automatically imports it to your Lightroom Catalog where it can be edited the same as any other imported photo. The editing can continue on ANY device you have connected to your Creative Cloud account, which is handy as well.
The ability to utilize the power of RAW files in mobile photography is really exciting and interesting as the cameras get better and better. My question for all of you is; When will photography on a mobile device render our larger “professional” cameras more or less obsolete, if ever? I’d love to hear your opinions/predictions in the comments section!
There are various ways you can utilize the power of the cloud and your various devices for a solid mobile photo editing workflow. what I have outlined here is really just the beginning of the possibilities. The capabilities of our hardware, software and supporting technologies are always evolving and will support us into the future in ways we would be hard pressed to predict at this time.
The method in which you choose to implement a mobile workflow is up to you and with all of the possibilities it will become very individualized. The entire point of this article is to begin to expose you to some of those possibilities and ease any concerns you have in implementing a mobile workflow to help you to accomplish whatever mission you are on in your photography.