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Red Giant Color Suite, with Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 and Colorista II

  • Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

What I’d like to see in a Lightroom iPad Companion App

I get the sense that Adobe is thinking a lot about tablets and Photography. They’ve released Photoshop Touch for iPad, as well as Carousel Revel, which is like a cloud-based Lightroom-light that syncs across mobile and desktop platforms.

Third-party Lightroom users have also tried to bolster their own photo management experience by creating companion mobile apps. LRPAD turns your iPad into a touch-based control surface for Lightroom’s Develop module, and Photosmith acts as an in-the-field pre-processing companion to Lightroom, allowing you to begin sorting, tagging, and rating photos even before adding them to your Catalog back home.

I’ve tried most of these apps, and while each of them seems logical and desirable on the surface, in actual use, none of them turn out to be what I actually want from a tablet-based augmentation of my already awesome Lightroom experience.

Housekeeping at the DMV

The work I do with Lightroom on my 27” display, at my comfortable desk, a cup of something delicious at my side, leaves little to be desired. I don’t feel a huge need to tweak develop settings on an iPhone screen, or do a bunch of metadata work in a cafe somewhere as a prelude to proper importing. How many 5D Mark III shots can I really import into my 64GB iPad? How fast will that process be? Whatever the efficiencies of organizing on-the-go might be, they seem more than obviated by the exponential increase in speed and efficiency I’ll have at home on my optimized system.

What I want from a mobile Lightroom companion is a way to utilize whatever idle time I might have here and there for productive work on my main Lightroom Catalog. I don’t want to send new photos to it. I don’t want to adjust exposure and color temperature. I just want to do what I never seem to have enough time to do at home: housekeeping.

Imagine standing in line at the DMV and using that time to add keywords to your photos from yesterday’s shoot, rather than playing Angry Birds.

Imagine you find yourself standing at a spot where you’d once taken a great shot. You whip out your phone, search for that photo in your Lightroom Catalog, and add your current GPS coordinates to the metadata with one tap.

Imagine having your entire Lightroom Catalog available for browsing and search wherever you are. You’re at brunch with your Mother-in-law and she asks you about that great photo of her and her grandson you made recently. You show her your phone and say “This one?” When she identifies it, you add it to a new Collection called “To Print For Mom” right then and there.

When I’m sitting in front of my big, beautiful iMac screen, I’m inclined to spend my time developing my photos, making them look their best. Not sorting, deleting bad shots, adding keywords, and organizing them into albums. But when I’m stuck somewhere with my phone or iPad and little to do, that’s exactly the kind of busy work I’d love to be able to pick away at.

But That’s Crazy

No, it’s not.

If there’s anything Adobe’s pushing harder than tablets these days, it’s their Creative Cloud thingy. Haven’t heard of it? That’s because it’s not all that useful. Yet.

My Lightroom Catalog, which manages 11 years of active digital photography and over 130,000 shots, is 1.6 GB. That’s just the Catalog—not the photos. 1.6 GB of thumbnails and metadata. Every night this file gets backed up to a local hard drive and to Backblaze (which is unquestionably the best cloud backup solution for photographers—seriously, do it). Some people even keep their Lightroom Catalog file on Dropbox. Even my gargantuan file would fit with the 2GB that Dropbox offers for free.

Although a Lightroom Catalog appears to be one megalithic file, it is actually a package containing many smaller sub-files, few of which are likely to be changed in a typical editing session. This means that it can be synced or backed-up incrementally, for much smaller data transfer rates.

What I imagine Adobe could do to facilitate my dream of accessing my Lightroom Catalog everywhere, is implement a Backblaze-like trickle-up syncing system. It would take a while to complete at first, working in the background whenever Lightroom was open. But after that initial sync, further updates would be relatively painless. Lightroom could warn me on quit if it wasn’t done syncing my changes, giving me the option to let it finish silently in the background before terminating.

Of course, Lightroom is only syncing my Catalog file itself, not the huge camera-original files. But along with the folders, filenames and metadata, it would also upload a small thumbnail file, to facilitate my mobile browsing.

The uploading would not be the hard part. As with any such system, the tricky aspect might be the syncing. Lightroom would have to be able to combine my local changes with those made via the mobile companion app, and possibly provide a UI for resolving sync conflicts.

Not so fun, but totally worth it. Lightroom would not only be providing its users with an excellent off-site backup plan for their valuable Catalog files, it would be giving them a truly useful mobile workflow that could transform spare moments into better photo organization.

People pay money for those kinds of things.

Busy Work is Welcome When You’re Not Busy

At The Orphanage, there was a brief period when we used a node-based compositing system that wasn’t Nuke. This application did not seem to separate its rendering threads from its UI processes, so compositors could not move or organize their nodes while waiting for their images to update. The result was that their node trees were a spaghetti-like mess.

This wasn’t because the app was slow (it wasn’t), it was simply due to human nature. When the app is done processing a frame, the artist sees the result of their last adjustment, and what they want most to do right then is respond to that by making another creative tweak. There nevrer seemed to be a good time to pause and clean house.

Nuke, on the other hand, allows the artist to freely move nodes around while the image is rendering. Again, Nuke is fast, so we’re not talking about a huge amount of time here—just hundreds of brief little windows of opportunity during a day when tidying up a node tree is so easy to do that, well, why not? There’s not much else to do while waiting those few seconds for the frame to update. Even our messiest compositors became compulsive neatniks in Nuke.

This is how I feel when sitting at Lightroom. Why should be I tagging when I can be brushing in local exposure adjustments? But catch me at the dentist’s office and heck yeah, I’d rather spend that time tidying up my Catalog than aiming enraged avifauna.

The slogan of Adobe’s Creative Cloud initiative is “Everything you need, everywhere you work.” Sounds great Adobe. Let’s have it.

Reader Comments (7)

I'd love to have something like this too. It would be great if besides the catalog of thumbanils, there's a setting to tell which albums/star rating also sends a 2048x1536 downsample of that image. So you now have a walking album of your favorite photos.

I understad the number of users for this could be much smaller than say PSD touch, but I'd be happy to pay $50 for this. Even $100 with a rant. And $200 with 'Adobe you suck, but thanks! '

March 31, 2012 | Registered CommenterGustavo Fontana

Great post Stu!
I'd like something like this too.
Now, with Lightroom 4 and the Book module, it would be cool to be able to select the pics and do the layout of the book on the iPad. And then, at home, I could tweak and fix them in the develop module.
I want to do a book with Lightroom so badly, but I never have the time at night at home. I could do it on the train while going to work.

I would be happy to pay for the app, rather than paying for a subscription fee though

April 1, 2012 | Registered Commenterandrea rusky

I'll be happy with just metadata and collection management.

But you could do a lot of prep for a book layout using just metadata and collections.

April 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterStu

Hear that? That's the sound of my head exploding with one of those obvious "of course!, that just makes sense!" moments. The kind where I think I should have thought of that...but I didn't…you did.

The concept of reclaiming lost "little windows" of time for busy work - extended across platforms and devices - is so huge, it applies to all sorts of uses in the software design realm. You're right about the syncing. Every time my non-coding brain tries to go down the path of the complex world of multi-access project syncing it hurts so I stick to design. But there are smart people for that. Some of them even work for Adobe!

April 2, 2012 | Registered CommenterCarey Dissmore

That's really a great point.
I've been reading your blog for five+ years, and I have to tell you, your writing only gets better.

Thank you so much for giving into this community. You're one of my favorite opinions and I'd love to buy you a coffee someday. =)

April 10, 2012 | Registered CommenterJosiah Burdick

Just a little nitpick... Not Nuke does run the UI on a separate thread and you can move nodes around while it renders both interactively and for full renders. To your point though, most of the artists here do use the bits of time waiting for renders to line up their tools, organize their bins, color code their tools, edit macros, etc.. It's something to do that fills the time and helps you resist the temptation to tab over to check email or something else.

April 13, 2012 | Registered CommenterChad Capeland

That may well be the case now Chad. This was many years ago that we were using Fusion at The Orphanage.

April 13, 2012 | Registered CommenterStu
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Sorry, comments are disabled temporarily while I tweak some stuff.
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