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By Derrick Story |

Field Test: Lightroom Mobile in Maui


Lightroom Mobile is an app that lets me bring bits of my Lightroom library with me on the road. But after using it in Hawaii for a week, the tool felt more like a one-way ticket than a roundtrip.

It does a decent job of providing mobile access to an established library on a Windows or Mac computer back home. Using Creative Cloud as the conduit, I can sync Collections within my Lightroom catalog, and view them practically anywhere on an iPad or iPhone. That’s handy.

But I also wanted to upload and manage pictures that I captured in Maui using Lightroom Mobile on my iPad. Going this direction—let’s call it the return trip—was bumpier. The biggest roadblock was that I couldn’t add IPTC metadata, such as copyright, caption, and author name.

Here’s a closer look at how this journey unfolded:

On the road to Hana

I left for Maui with just my iPad and a couple of cameras. My plan was to use LR exclusively for organizing and editing my shoots.

I had a blast capturing these images in the field and working with them in Lightroom Mobile.

I had a blast capturing these images in the field and working with them in Lightroom Mobile.

I liked the idea of working on my images in the field, then having all that content automatically sync with my master Lightroom library on my Mac back at the studio (running Lightroom 5.5). But like the road to Hana itself, there were lots of twists and turns

Using Lightroom Mobile in the field

The process began with copying the images from my memory cards to the Camera Roll on the iPad. Lightroom Mobile can’t import images directly off the card, but it can access pictures I’ve added to the Camera Roll.

Once I created a collection and filled it with photos, I did my normal “two pass”star rating. On the first pass, I added two stars to any image that I considered useable. Then I filtered all the two-star shots and went through them again, upgrading the best photos to three stars. Those are the only images I work on. So far, so good.

The Road to Hana

I had a lot of fun using Lightroom Mobile’s editing tools. Many of the usual suspects were there including shadows, highlights, clarity, and vibrance. A handful of presets were useful too, especially the vignette options.

Once I finished editing a photo, I could save it back to my Camera Roll, publish on socials, or open it in another app.

Lack of metadata management

All of this seems reasonable, unless you’re a regular Lightroom user and are accustomed to being able to add data to your pictures. The first thing I missed was the ability to add any descriptive text, such as my name or copyright. Fortunately, my Olympus OM-D E-M10 can write copyright and creator directly to the image. Lightroom Mobile did retain that information. But I couldn’t add anything else, not even a keyword. And my underwater camera, the Olympus TG-1, doesn’t provide any metadata writing at all.

Lightroom Mobile does let you see basic EXIF data already associated with the photo. To see what’s available, two-finger tap on a photo, and basic camera settings are displayed in the upper left corner. Single tap on that data, and it will cycle through a few different views providing a bit more information. That’s great, but it’s viewing only.

I talked to the Adobe Lightroom team about this one-way ticket approach, and essentially they said that Lightroom Mobile is more about taking your pictures with you, rather than adding them to your library from a remote location. If it’s ever going to serve as a true mobile app, that needs to change.

This conversation with the Adobe team stemmed from some fact-checking questions I had submitted. But it also gave me the opportunity to advocate for access to a few IPTC fields, such as creator, headline, description, keywords, website, and copyright. My position was, if I’m going to share my images online from the road, even ones that I brought with me, I need to be able to edit this information.

The same goes for the star ratings. If I tag an image with a flag or star rating on the iPad, I want that information to travel back with the photo to my master Lightroom library. Thanks to a bug we discovered in LRM 1.1 and desktop 5.5, that didn’t happen. But Adobe quickly identified the source of the problem, and star ratings should work correctly in both directions with the next update to both apps.

So where does that leave us?


Lightroom Mobile is for photographers who want to bring a little bit of home with them when they travel. And during the trip, they can edit those pictures, add stars and flags, and show them off to those they visit.

But that’s pretty much where the road ends.

Remember, though: This is version 1 of new software. As Lightroom Mobile continues to evolve and add features, it should become more of a complete travel companion. I don’t expect it to process 30 MB RAW files on an iPad. But I would like to upload and manage my Jpegs, so I can share edited pictures on the road, and leave the laptop at home.

For more on this subject, watch my course Managing Your Mobile Photos on lynda.com, including the free video Uploading pictures directly to Lightroom and the members-only video Using Lightroom Mobile on the iPad.


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