Review: Adobe Lightroom & what’s included in a subscription

I didn’t bother a lot using Adobe photo apps on iPhone and iPad when I turned to iPhone photography in 2012. I briefly used Adobe Photoshop Touch for iOS before it was discontinued a few years ago. Instead, I use a number of other apps that allowed me to edit photos the way I wanted. Here’s the photo I’m talking about. I originally used Adobe Photoshop Touch to create the moving clouds effect.

Moving Clouds Effect created using Photoshop Touch sometime back in 2012

Moving Clouds Effect created using Photoshop Touch sometime back in 2012

But once Apple announced support for saving RAW photos from third party camera apps, I first tried Adobe Lightroom Mobile to develop RAW files and later, to edit and adjust JPGs, too.

During the past years Adobe demonstrated quite some love for Lightroom Mobile and updated it with major new features several times a year. Today, Adobe Lightroom Mobile CC ist my main photo editing app on iPhone and iPad.

What you get when you subscribe to Adobe Lightroom

Generally, the Adobe Lightroom Mobile CC app is free to download and you can use quite a number of features for free. But when it comes to premium features, a Creative Cloud subscription is required.

But in addition to the premium features, Adobe has packed some additional goodies into the subscription. So, here’s what you get when you subscribe:

  • Adobe Lightroom CC premium features for iPhone, iPad and a license for Lightroom Desktop including all the premium features
  • Several GB up to 1 TB of Creative Cloud Storage for syncing photos and edits between iPhone, iPad and Desktop.
  • A free portfolio web-site that seamlessly works together with Adobe Lightroom. Typically, such a portfolio web-site costs anywhere from USD 50,- and up per year alone!
  • A license to use Adobe Spark (Spark Post, Spark Page, Spark Video).
  • Integration with other Adobe Apps like Photoshop Express, Photoshop Mix and Photoshop Fix.
  • Apple TV app to browse and view your Creative Cloud and Lightroom photo library on the big screen.

Adobe likes to fiddle around with their Creative Clouds plans. There is a dedicated Adobe Lightroom Plan that includes one TB of Creative Cloud space. As an alternative, you may want to look at the cheapest photography plan, that also includes Adobe Photoshop but only has 20 GB of Creative Cloud space.

Since I started to use Adobe Lightroom Mobile, it made my life as an iPhone photographer easier in a number of ways.

  • It supports non destructive editing. You can revert each or all edits no matter on which device and at any time.
  • It has selective adjustments, allowing you to apply certain edits to only a part of your photo. I need and use that a lot and those work great with Apple Pencil on iPad.
  • It properly handles metadata and allows you to add keywords and copyright info to the metadata of photos
  • You can create, use and sync presets.
  • Create web albums that can be shared with friends, clients or cooperation partners.
  • A web version of Lightroom CC that can be used from any computer anywhere in the world.
  • Syncing photos and edits between all of my devices. So I can start editing a photo on e.g. iPhone and continue where I stopped on iPad.
  • Syncing albums from Lightroom with my portfolio web-site.

Now, let’s have a look at the detailed feature list.

Full Feature List for Adobe Lightroom Mobile CC

Many features of Adobe Lightroom Mobile CC can be used freely without a subscription and that’s a good way to get started with Lightroom Mobile. More advanced and premium features require a subscription. Without a subscription, you can use the following features of Lightroom Mobile:

  • Exposure
  • Contrast
  • Highlights
  • Shadows
  • Black Point
  • Color Temperature
  • Color Tone
  • Color Dynamic
  • Saturation
  • Texture
  • Clarity
  • Remove haze
  • Add a Vignette
  • Denoising (excellent results!)
  • Sharpen your image and adjust various aspects of how your images is sharpened
  • Add Grain
  • Convert to Black and white with fine tuning
  • Cropping

And with a paid Creative Cloud Subscription, you get the following premium features:

  • Develop RAW files from your DSLR or any iPhone camera app like ProCamera.
  • Using selective adjustments to edit only a part of a photo. That alone is worth the money of the Creative Cloud subscription. I use that a lot.
  • Create and Sync profiles (aka “presets”)
  • Use the repair tool
  • Apply geometric corrections
  • Sync photos between Lightroom on iPhone/iPad, Lightroom Web Edition and Lightroom on the Desktop (which is included in the premium plan)
  • Create Web Galleries from Lightroom Mobile. See a sample Adobe Web gallery I’ve created.
  • Ability to access photos from Lightroom in other Adobe apps via Creative Cloud like Photoshop Mix, Photoshop Fix, and Adobe Spark (which is included for free in the Creative Cloud subscription)
  • Sensei search that automatically detects what’ in your photos and allows you to search for it.
  • People view

What does none destructive editing mean?

In Adobe Lightroom Mobile CC you can apply and undo each single edit you applied to a photo even after you close the app and reopen it or even after you switched devices. So you can start editing on your iPhone and finish it on your iPad and undo changes made on your iPhone on iPad and vice versa.

The Adobe Lightroom user interface

When you open Lightroom Mobile for the first time, you’ll see the home screen. In the top left corner are three buttons:

  • Home Screen. Displays the most recent photos and a list of tutorials you can watch.
  • Library view. This is where all your photos are
  • People. To find and group people in your photos.
Adobe Lightroom Mobile home screen

Adobe Lightroom Mobile home screen

The library view is what we’re looking for. It’s the place where all your imported photos are stored. It contains all folders and albums you have created. At the top of the list are four albums that Lightroom already created for you. Most important is the All Photos album, where you’ll find all your imported photos.

Lightroom Mobile offers two ways to import photos: Either use the built in Lightroom Camera to take a photo or import a photo from the camera roll. To import multiple photos in one batch, just swipe over each to select it.

Both options are in the blue toolbar in the bottom right corner of the screen

Add photos to Adobe Lightroom

Add photos to Adobe Lightroom

Once you’ve imported a photo it will be added All Photos album. To begin editing a photo, simply tap on it.

Note the mode selector in the upper left corner after you’ve tapped a photo to edit it. Here you chose want to to:

Editing mode in Adobe Lightroom

Editing mode in Adobe Lightroom

  • Edit puts you into editing / developing mode. Now you can adjust and edit your photo.
  • Rate & Review allows you to assign a star rating as well as setting the accepted or rejected flag.
  • Activity will display all comments from a shared web-album for this photo.
  • Under Keywords you can manually assign multiple keywords to a photo.
  • In Info you’re able to enter a title and description as well as copyright info; plus you’ll see some important metadata about your photo.

Editing Mode in Adobe Lightroom Mobile

Editing Mode is what we’re looking for. Now we can adjust and tune our photos. Once you’ve switched to editing mode, note the toolbar at the bottom of the screen. Here are all the different editing sliders grouped by topic. Adobe calls those adjustment groups. To open one of the groups and adjust the corresponding settings, tap one of the groups.

Then a drawer will pop up which contains all the adjustment sliders. Swipe up inside the drawer to see all the sliders available for that group.

Sliders inside an adjustment group

Adjustment groups in Adobe Lightroom

Adjustment groups in Adobe Lightroom

The available adjustment groups in Adobe Lightroom Mobile are:

  • Selective Adjustments
  • Crop
  • Profiles
  • Light
  • Color
  • Effect
  • Detail
  • Geometry
  • Optics
  • Presets

Organize Photos in Lightroom Mobile

Adobe Lightroom has a number of ways to organize your photos. First, there are folders. You can create folders and sub folders and add your photos into those albums and folders.

I still see that many people organize their photos into albums by events. There’s nothing wrong with that. But with Sensei search (a premium feature), you can search for photos of e.g. “Budapest”, and I get all photos taken there. If I’d like to see photos of Budapest from a specific year, I’d just search for “Budapest” and “2019” or, more specific, for “Budapest” and “April” and “2019”.

Then, there are albums that can be created in either a folder or the top level. And last, there are tags that you can apply to each photo and use search to locate them.

You’ll also find an option to add a one-to-five star rating to your photos and a flag to accept or reject a photo.

I don’t use the star rating at all. Personally, I’d rather delete a 1 star photo than keeping it and give it a 1 star rating.

What I use frequently is the flag for accepting a photo. I use this to mark photos that I’ve published.

Sharing Photos from Adobe Lightroom

Once you’re done editing your masterpiece, Adobe Lightroom let’s you share your photos to all apps that support it (e.g. Instagram or Flickr) or you can save it back to your camera roll. When sharing a photo, Adobe Lightroom asks you about the resolution in which you want to share your photo. Currently it supports:

  • 2048px
  • Full Size

If you need other resolutions than that, I’ve a little tip: Create an iOS Shortcut that resizes the photo to the dimensions needed. I’ve made such a workflow that I use for resizing images for the blog. It’s available for free on my iOS shortcuts page.

Sometimes you may not want to share each and every photo on Social Media. Adobe Lightroom offers you to create and share a web gallery. When creating such a gallery you can choose if you want to allow downloads of your photos and want to display metadata.

If you’ve entered a caption for your photo, that’ll automatically show up, too. Go ahead and check out my sample web gallery and leave a comment if you see a photo you like. Comments will show up in right in Lightroom Mobile.

To remove and unpublished the web allery, simple flip a switch in the gallery settings and the gallery is gone.

Adobe Lightroom settings

By tapping on the lightroom logo in the upper left corner, you access the settings screen. I'll only describe a few really useful settings here:

  • In sharing you can add a text as a watermark and define the position, color and size of the watermark. If enabled, this watermark is automatically added to each photo.
  • Also in sharing you can chose if you want to remove metadata like GPS coordinates and camera information.
  • Under general you can define to automatically add copyright information to the metadata of your photos when you import them either from the Lightroom Camera or the camera roll.

Adobe Lightroom Mobile Tips and Tricks

And finally, here are some useful tips and tricks for working with Lightroom Mobile that I discovered. I guess I should RTFM more often.

  • When using any slider, tap on the left (label) of the slider to decrease the slider by -5. Tap the value on the right of the slider to increase the value by +5
  • Double tap on any slider to reset it to its default value.
  • Adobe Lightroom can mark clipping areas! In the lights editing group tap and hold either the exposure, shadows, highlights, blacks or whites slider and use a second finger to tap the image itself. Lightroom will display white clipping in red and black clipping in blue. While keeping the slider and photo tapped, adjust the slider for better results.
  • To avoid over sharpening your images, Lightroom Mobile can display a sharpening mask. In the detail editing group, tap and hold the sharpening, radius, detail or masking slider and use a second finger to tap the image itself. There’s your sharpening mask.

Which Creative Cloud plan?

I’m currently subscribed to the Adobe Lightroom plan, that includes:

  • 1 TB of Creative Cloud space
  • Adobe Lightroom CC on iPhone, iPad and Desktop (but not Lightroom Classic!)
  • Adobe Spark including Premium Features
  • A portfolio web-site

I want to give you a personal view on the subscription model of Adobe. Before I turned to Lightroom, I used another photo editing app. But the developers also switched to a subscription model. But as I didn’t use half of the features they offered, I chose not to subscribe.

Originally Adobe Lightroom costed $179 if you bought the full license. New releases, called “Updates”, came out about every 18 months and were priced at $49. So over a three year period (buying the license plus two upgrades) the total cost would have been $277.

But with a Creative Cloud subscription, you’ll also get a portfolio website plus online storage to sync photos between devices. I did a market research and found that simple portfolio web-sites cost something around $48 per year. 1 TB of cloud storage is around $10. So over a three year period, the cost for a Lightroom license including 2 upgrades, a portfolio web-site and 1 TB of online storage would sum up to $781.

Now, the Lightroom Creative Cloud Plan is $9.99, which includes the free portfolio web-site and 1 TB of cloud storage to sync photos. For three years, that’s a total of $360 (rounded) compared to $781 as mentioned above.

Okay, that calculation worked for me as I need a portfolio web-site and needed syncing of photos. Your mileage may vary.

Conclusion

As I’ve mentioned in the beginning, Adobe Lightroom has become my main app for editing photos on the go. Some of the most important features for me are:

  • Non destructive workflow
  • Selective adjustments
  • Fine granular adjustments and a great denoise feature
  • Ability to see highlight and shadow clipping in my photos.

Adobe Lightroom is well designed and quite self explanatory. There is a thing here and there in the user interface that is not so intuitive, but you’ll get the hang of it after a few attempts.

In terms of functionality, I have one point of criticism and two feature suggestion:

  • My point of critisism is the geometry feature. Though well thought the feature reduces the resolution of photos in some cases. There are other apps, that do way better in this disciplin like SKRWT, so I’ll use that for fixing perspective distortion.
  • My feature suggestion is to add a feature that allows me to edit the file name. That would be handy when I export pics for my blog or I need to send them to someone.
  • Please allow me to set a shared web album to “private” and “invite only” right in the Lightroom Mobile app.

Other then the above, I’m quite enthusiastic about Lightroom Mobile. It works well and fast on my iPhone XS and iPad Pro. With all the new features getting added during the year and all the other services included, it’s a must have for me.

Currently, the cheapest plan that includes Adobe Lightroom CC on all devices including premium features, a free portfolio web-site plus 1 TB of creative cloud space is $9.99 per month.

Check price of Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plans at adobe.com

Note, that the "Lightroom Plan" I subscribed to can be found in the "Individuals" tab under "photography" in the dropdown that says "photography plan"