As many of you likely know, a couple months ago, I migrated my entire Lightroom Classic library to Lightroom CC for Desktop. For a little over two months, I maintained two separate workflows for my photography, one in the Lightroom CC ecosystem and one in Lightroom Classic, completely cut off from syncing with Lightroom CC. This required a fair bit of double work, and in the process I discovered bugs that resulted in my losing hundreds of edits on photos I’d taken (all JPEGs, I had no problems with my RAW files).
In the past couple weeks, I have been contemplating the switch back to Classic. That has been a hard decision because there were features with the Lightroom CC workflow, which I’d been wanting from Adobe for a long time, that I really appreciated, but there were risks with reliability, recoverability, and portability that I simply could not overlook. And when I lost edits on a couple hundred photos (permanently, irreversibly lost), the decision was made to switch back.
Now before I go too much further, the terminology and ecosystem has gotten confusing here, and even the language that Adobe uses seems to further confuse the issue. So let me start by clarifying what I mean by Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic workflows.
Lightroom Classic Workflow
Lightroom Classic is designed to sync Smart Previews to the cloud in a very simplistic manner. You can sync collections (only collections, no smart collections, no folders, not collection sets) to mobile, and they appear in Lightroom Mobile in a flat album structure (no hierarchy, just listed alphabetically). If you haven’t put the files into a collection and turned on sync for that collection on your laptop or desktop, there is no way to get to the images from your iPad (beyond using remote software to access your desktop).
Lightroom CC Workflow
If you migrate your catalog to Lightroom CC (via the desktop app), now your originals are suddenly being stored in the cloud. Additionally, folder hierarchy created in the Lightroom CC Desktop App and Lightroom Mobile, are synced between those two pieces of software.
What About Using Both?
Adobe does not recommend trying to use both Classic and the Lightroom CC Desktop App. Essentially preventing you from being able to use a Lightroom CC Workflow while using Lightroom Classic with Sync turned on. Now, some people do it, and I started that way, until sync errors started causing me to have to delete an re-import photos, losing all their album associations. So I quickly had to turn sync off.
My Lightroom CC Workflow
So, with Sync turned off in Classic, I was working completely within the Lightroom CC environment. Because I was still testing this workflow, and had reservations already about data portability (I’ll explain more on that later), I also maintained an isolate Lightroom Classic library, exporting originals from Lightroom CC after I’d finished editing them, and importing them into the Classic library. This presented it’s own challenges, and several times I had to go back through day by day, trying to find missing photos in one or the other. But I’m glad I was diligent in that regard.
What I Liked
There were several things I loved about the Lightroom CC Workflow.
1. iPad Workflow
I could finally use my iPad for photo work. In fact, I could do the majority of my photo work there. Literally from import to exporting the final images could all be done on my iPad. Some advanced work (merging panoramas, for instance) still required my computer (probably in part due purely to processing power). But I could easily separate those photos out so that I’d made quick work of them when I got back to my desktop. This was great and allowed me to work on photos in small chunks and in places normally I wouldn’t (instead I’d normally wait to get home or have a space I could clear out and setup my computer for a while to do work on them). It also meant I didn’t have to bring my computer with me on every trailer camping trip. And even on a few backpacking trips, I brought my iPad and had edited many of the photos before I even got back to the trailhead.
2. A Lighter, Faster Workflow
Additionally, I loved that the Lightroom CC Desktop app was lighter, and far easier to use. Classic is slow and cumbersome by comparison. In CC, you could open the edit panel in a snap. Switching from Library to Develop takes somewhere between 1 to 3 seconds on my computer (from click to the first photo rendered). And that’s using Smart Previews instead of Originals. Moving from image to image has a noticeably longer pause in Classic than the CC Desktop App.
What I Disliked
Unfortunately, LR CC has some critical limitations. You can read more about many of the missing features that I found inconvenient with Lightroom CC at the end of my Lightroom CC Photography Workflow article. Here, I want to outline the three mission critical concerns I had with Lightroom CC that ultimately led me to return to Classic.
Unfortunately, it lacked reliability. I had numerous syncing issues that had various consequences, some serious enough that I had to delete photos and re-import them, which retains (most of the time) edits and tags, but not the album associations they had.
JPEGs were also highly problematic. When exporting original JPEGs, the edits inconsistently would not show up back in Lightroom Classic. It turns out, that for those photos, Lightroom CC was adding the AlreadyApplied=true metadata tag to those images, making Lightroom Classic think that all the metadata adjustments had been written to the pixel, even though they had noe. In my efforts to diagnose this, I ended up losing all edits on a couple hundred of my photos when I applied a tiny adjustment to the color noise on an album of 500 photos. The ones that were not properly showing up in Lightroom Desktop, then lost all of the adjustments I made in Lightroom CC when I pasted that adjustment to them.
Lightroom CC (the Desktop App, the Web App, the Mobile App, and the entire ecosystem) has very limited ability to recover errors. It does have a simplified edit history (you can revert to import, original, or last edit). And you can undo certain actions. But there are many actions that are not recoverable (deleting a photo, adding it to, or removing it from an album are a few examples). And it’s fairly easy to make some of these mistakes.
If you delete a photo, for instance, there is no trash, there is no undo. That photo, if you don’t have it backed up anywhere else, is gone forever. There is a Lightroom Downloader tool that will download all your originals from the cloud (and continue to do that, for the most part, if you leave it open), and will not delete what it’s downloaded. Be forewarned though, I have come back to my computer to find that the software has a connection problem and required me to quit and restart the app for it to continue downloading. And remember the sync reliability issues I mentioned above? As I’m writing this, there are two images in my Lightroom CC library that have had a sync issue for the past week and still have not been able to be downloaded by the Lightroom CC Downloader.
This issue has been identified as a high priority for Adobe, but it’s been a high priority for over 9 months, and as of the v2 release of the Lightroom CC Desktop App any sort of recoverability for deleted photos is still missing.
And lastly, I had concerns about the portability of my data. While the first two concerns I think can and eventually will be addressed by Adobe. I’m not confident that Adobe will even try to address this last concern, although I hope they will.
The problem with the Lightroom CC workflow is that my organization of my photos was stuck in a proprietary LR format. Let me explain this. Whenever I look at software for my files, especially my images, I am also thinking about what it would look like if I chose to or was forced to leave that software. I’ve used four digital asset management (DAM) tools over the course of my photography. From iPhoto to Aperture, and eventually to Lightroom Classic and then Lightroom CC. Software is not permanent. It gets discontinued, it gets updated, and sometimes we choose or are forced to switch. So if and when that happens, I want to know how I’m going to do that. In a worst case scenario, I should be able to export my images to folders that will allow me to find them. In Lightroom CC, the default structure is by date, which has no relevance for me. I don’t know what happened on Dec 1, 204. I don’t know what pictures I’ll find there. Nor do I know what date, or even what year, I went to Jade Lake. Even worse, there is not even a way to export images arranged into folders of any kind from Lightroom CC without doing it manually, album by album.
In Classic, all my images are already in folders. From there, I can always select all photos with edits, and export a JPEG or TIFF with the same file name, append something like -lredit to the end, and save them in the folder, right next to the original image. So in a worst case scenario, I can take my photos anywhere, without the need for photo software.
Switching Back to Lightroom Classic
Even though I’d been very diligent over that time of maintaining my Classic library, exporting edited originals, there was still quite a bit of work before I was in a position to fully switch back. For one, the bug that I discovered that lost hundreds of edits, was also showing it’s face in many more photos not bringing their edits into Classic. This required identifying the problematic JPEGS, making a small manipulation to each individual image in Lightroom CC (the desktop app), and exporting them again.
At this point, I’m back in Classic, and now I’m just waiting to see who can get the mobile workflow right first, without sacrificing reliability, recoverability, and portability.