Adobe's Lightroom is the go-to digital photo workflow and editing application for many of today's professional photographers. But there are times when you might prefer to edit photos sitting on a sofa or a train seat rather than at a desk. The Lightroom iPad app lets you do just this, and a major update adds the ability to work directly with raw camera files, perform local adjustments, and use lens-profile corrections. In fact, Adobe has addressed all of my previous complaints about the app. Lightroom has evolved into a powerhouse among mobile photo-editing apps.
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Setting Up Adobe Lightroom Mobile
You get the Lightroom iPad app, which requires iOS 8.1 or later, from the iTunes App Store. On my test iPad Pro it took up 76MB with no photos loaded. You can start editing and shooting photos from within the app right away, but several capabilities require you to sign in with an Adobe account.
Specificcally, you can use Lightroom on the iPad on its own for some of its editing options, but you'll need a Creative Cloud account to such capabilities as raw support and local adjustments. And, of course, you'll need an account to sync it with images on the desktop version of Lightroom. There is a free 30-day trial account that anyone can use, but you'll need either a full Adobe Creative Cloud subscription ($49.99 per month) or a Photoshop CC subscription ($9.99 per month) for all features to work after that.
A small + at top right of the interface lets you create a new collection, to which you can add any photos stored on your iPad. You can also load photos onto the iPad via Apple's camera connection kit, and then load them into the Lightroom app if you want. It's not instant—it takes a a few seconds to process photo before it's visible. You can also enable auto import to have everything you shoot with the iPad added to the Lightroom app.
The iPad app's interface makes a lot of use of multi-finger gestures. A two-finger tap on the photo toggles between photo metadata and a histogram. A three-finger tap-and-hold gesture shows the original image. Yes, editing is nondestructive. A side-swipeable bar across the bottom of the screen offers many of Lightroom's old standby adjustments—white balance, temperature, tint, auto tone (I like that this one is prominently in the center), exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks, clarity, vibrance, and saturation.
A new icon that looks like a camera aperture opens a menu that adds several more important editing tools, including Tone Curves, Vignetting, Split Toning, Color/B&W, Dehaze, and Lens Correction. The last two only work if you're signed into a Creative Cloud account.
For organizing photos, you can use the Pick flag; a swipe up or down on a photo can pick or unpick it. That's a nice touch. You now also get the star ratings found in Lightroom for desktop and other iPad apps. One thing still missing is the ability to apply keyword tags to photos. One of the most important things the full Lightroom desktop apps allows you to do is organize and manage big collections, and keywording is basic to this function. You can, however use the mobile app to move photos among collections or simply remove them.
Shooting From the App
I'm not a big fan of shooting photos with a tablet, but the latest iPads do finally have decent build-in rear-facing cameras. When shooting from within the Lightroom app, you can see live filters at work, change the white balance, see a level indicator or grid overlay, and adjust the exposure value. Those are definite plusses over what you get with the stock iOS Camera app, though you do lose that app's HDR, time-lapse, and panorama options.
Editing Digital Photos
Lightroom on the iPad offers a generous selection of photo adjusters, including exposure, shadows, clarity, and vibrance. It also shows a histogram for the photo, and you can use the Tone Curve tool to reshape that histogram. When you select one of the convenient controls, a the app pops up full-screen-width ruler on which you slide a marker. Also helpful are Undo and Redo buttons in the lower-right corner, but when you view the photo later in desktop Lightroom, its History panel of actions performed only says "From Lr mobile."
If you're of the Instagram school of photo editing, you can use the app's preset choices, which include color and black-and-white effects. A General section in this group also offers sharpening, punch, and medium contrast curves. Here's also where you'll find Noise Reduction and Clarity tools, though you can do more with Clarity if you access it via the full editing tools instead of the presets.
More advanced editing tools have made their way into the app. Along with tone curves, the app now includes (for paid accounts) lens-profile-based geometry corrections, noise reduction, dehaze, and defringing. These are things you simply won't find in other iPad photo editors such as Aviary, PicsArt, and Snapseed.
The lens-profile corrections in the app fall quite short of what Lightroom on the desktop offers. Here the feature is just an On/Off button, and it only affects geometry—pincushion and barrel distortion. The desktop profile corrections let you do a lot more with perspective correction, and also fix chromatic aberration automatically. The app's local adjustments offer de-fringing, but that isn't as effective as what the desktop version of Lightroom offers.
Local adjustments are new for this version of Lightroom for iPad. This capability lets you select a linear or oval area with gradient at the edges. A red overlay shows you where your edits will appear. You can apply any of 17 adjustments to this area, including a couple that aren't available in the app's basic editing set—Noise and Defringe. (There are three levels of noise reduction in the preset filters, however.) One thing I would like to see added to these options is blur, which would enable for a tilt-shift or selective focus effects, such as you can create in Aviary and PicsArt.
A Bright Light
When I first reviewed the mobile version of Lightroom for the iPad, it was a severely truncated sidekick to its desktop sibling. Adobe has since built it up into a full-featured photo-editing powerhouse. With the ability to use star ratings, local adjustments, noise reduction, and lens-profile-based corrections, Lightroom has become a killer app for photographers. Lightroom is now a PCMag Editors' Choice for iPad photo editing apps.