Lightroom Mobile First Impressions

I’ve been dreaming of Lightroom Mobile since it was first previewed on The Grid almost a year ago. The idea of importing my photos to my computer, editing them on my iPad, then having them automatically sync back to my computer is very appealing. Adobe finally released this product earlier this week. These are my initial thoughts on using it after a day of shooting.

The Good

What it does, it does well… Really well. Lightroom Mobile does not feel like a 1.0 application. All the major sliders are there (exposure, highlights/shadows, blacks/whites, vibrance, the beloved clarity, etc.) and function extremely well. And, since you’re working with Smart Previews (lossy DNGs) you get all the flexibility you’d expect from RAW editing, as well as the juicy dynamic range captured by your camera. You also get access to all the pre-installed Lightroom Presets. The syncing is very fast once you’re past that initial batch of uploads from your computer.

The Bad

Unfortunately, this probably won’t make it into my daily workflow. As of right now, it’s as much a novelty as a useful tool. I say that because you’re limited to little more than the sliders and presets. While these are executed perfectly, the missing features are the ones that keep Lightroom Mobile from being the app I’ve been lusting after.

The tone curve is not present. I never touch the contrast slider because I prefer the fine control of the tone curve.

Camera and lens calibration aren’t there, which are a fairly regular part of my workflow.

The biggest disappointment is that there is no brush tool. In my opinion, the bush tool is the #1 reason to use a touch-based interface. The ability to draw on the picture, rather than by proxy via a cursor would really put this app over the top.

Using this app also made me realize how much I rely on Photoshop for compositing and erasing things. I can’t hold that against Adobe while writing this review, as Lightroom doesn’t do those things either. Still, I found myself going back and forth between the iPad and the computer, which kinda kicks the convenience factor to the curb.

My list of disappointments is long, but don’t let that fool you. It really is a fantastic app. My workflow is probably a little more specialized than yours. I can think of several photographers who could get by in Lightroom Mobile without a hitch. I’m really looking forward to seeing where Adobe takes this product. I’m confident I’ll see a tone curve and a brush within the next year or so.

Below are a few shots I got today and edited in Lightroom Mobile. The barn went through Photoshop for some erasing and the sunken home was a combination of multiple exposures.

See Your Photos On a Map

Every picture you take with your smart phone is automatically tagged with information about where the picture was taken. Wouldn’t it be great if your camera did that too?

The photo above is a map from Lightroom that shows where all my photos were taken, yet very few of them were taken with a smart phone. None of them were taken with a camera that automatically tags them. The vast majority were taken with a DSLR, then paired up with geographic data from my smart phone using an app.

How they work:

  1. Make sure your camera and smart phone are set to the exact same date and time.
    Start the app.
  2. Walk around and take pictures while your phone is in your pocket, recording where you wander.
  3. Merge the data later.
  4. There are dozens of apps that will allow you to do this fairly easily. I’ve experimented with a handful of them, and they’ve all done a great job. They all vary a bit. They all have different in-app options available, and most handle the merging in several different ways. The app I’ve chosen isn’t necessarily the best, by any means. It’s just the one that clicked for me. The app is called Geotagr.
    Once I’m done recording and back at my computer, I put my photos in a shared folder on my computer, then use the app to connect to that folder and tag them. Once that’s done I import them into Lightroom and my photos will show up on the Map feature in Lightroom, as well as on the Places selections on my iPhone and iPad.

Are Vintage Filters the Devil?

Since the introduction of Instagram, the Web has been flooded with millions of photos, taken with good cameras, only to have effects applied to them to make them look old and weathered. The fad was popularized by Instagram, and there are now dozens (if not hundreds) of apps designed to apply these types of filters to your photos. Is this a good thing, or a bad thing? Most people seem very opinionated on the subject. Everyone seems to either love or hate it. My personal opinion falls somewhere in the middle. First and foremost, let me address the opinion I hear too often from accomplished photographers: That of “why would you take a good photo and intentionally turn it into a bad one?” This, in my opinion, simply doesn’t happen as often as they would have you believe. A good shot (one that’s balanced, well-composed, properly exposed, has a clearly-defined subject, etc.) typically isn’t going to be turned into a “bad photo” when a filter is applied to it, as those underlying elements will still exist. I say “typically” because some people do go way too far with them.
On the flip side, a bad photo with a filter applied to it won’t be magically transformed into a good one either. There was a brief moment in time when these looks were unique enough that they distracted the user from noticing the photo was bad, but that moment passed a long time ago.

So do these effects have a place in good photography or not? In my opinion, they absolutely do, and it comes down to context.

Think about the things you see in homes. Have you ever seen new furniture or hardwood floors that are treated to look old and weathered? Of course! They even come from the factory that way. And how did it look? It may or may not be your personal preference, but it’s hard to dismiss it as a completely invalid design style. It has it’s place, even if you think that place should be restricted to a mountain cabin. Now think about that fancy new space age washer and dryer you just bought. How would those look if you scraped and dinged them up to look old? I don’t even need to answer that one.

When you think about applying that vintage filter to a photo you just took, think about the home decorating scenarios above. A shot of an old stage coach at a historical site out west is probably a better subject for a vintage photo filter than the architectural shot you took of the newest uber-modern building downtown.

Then again, art is art. It’s 100% subjective, and you should do what makes you happy. Just do it intentionally, and not blindly. Sort of like the old saying that says “you should know the rules before you break them”.

Dramatic Black and White

This week’s post comes in the form of a fun, inexpensive app that you can use to create insanely dramatic black and white photos. The app is called Dramatic Black and White (available for Mac, iPad and iPhone). It allows you to do some creative black & white conversions, while controlling the grain type and intensity, as well flexible vignetting. The first of the three images posted below is using all the app default settings without any tweaking. The second two I played with a little.

Making Magic With the Golden Hour

Generally considered the best times of the day to take outdoor photographs, the Golden Hour refers to the first and last hour of daylight. The quality of the light is just fantastic. Very few hard shadows, and the light has a wonderful, warm glow to it. It’s particularly good for shooting landscapes and architecture. I got this shot at the very beginning of the evening Golden Hour in Athens.

So, how do you know when what time the Golden Hour starts? Well, there’s an app for that! As usual, I’m sure there are several apps for that. The one I use is called Magic Hour (iPhone / Android). Simply open the app and it will tell you when the next Golden Hour begins and ends based on your current location. It also includes the sunset or sunrise time (depending on which is coming up next).

I frequently use this app to time my visit to key spots I want to shoot from. Here’s another Golden Hour shot I got of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Using an app like Magic Hour is a lot easier and more reliable than trying to time your visit by guessing what time the sun will go down.