How is Lightroom CC managing my images on Adobe's cloud ?

I have been using Lightroom Classic (LrC) for a while and I am interested in the innovations and improvements enabled by the cloud architecture of Lightroom CC (LR CC) and by a new platform – the flaws and the technical debt of Lightroom Classic are too much (in)famous.

Maybe it is just me, but I have been a little bit struggling to understand what LR CC was doing with my physical files. This post is trying to explain it to avoid to other people the pain it has been for me.

Overview

Long story short, when you import images, LR CC is creating a physical copy of your original file (RAW, JPG, whatever you shoot) on Adobe Cloud. So, you can archive your file, delete it locally,  your choice, but a copy is stored not on your machine, but on Adobe’s cloud dedicated to Lightroom CC (don’t be confused, there are several, and Adobe’s documents is another one).

However, you can configure LR CC to have a copy of some or all files and previews on your local machine.

You can delete an image but you are going to remove the physical copy of this image on Adobe’s cloud and on your local machine (unless of course if you have kept the original file before uploading it to LR CC as LR CC is creating a copy. It is this copy which is deleted by your action in LR CC).

How it works

You can find where to store a local copy of your files in Edit -> Preferences:

The path is available here :

What happens when you delete some images?

As you can see in the video above, deleting images in LR CC means… it won’t be there any longer (no more visible in your gallery nor in your albums) but Adobe will not delete the physical copy of your image before 60 days.

Remarks and conclusion

I think the overall process is poorly explained and documented by Adobe but the way it is implemented does make sense to me. It is somewhat disturbing not to have access in the cloud to your physical images (but I understand why), even more confusing by the Adobe cloud documents which have nothing to do with  images used by Lightroom CC but when you understand the rationale behind, it seems quite a nice way to use LR CC. There is a catch: you can’t use other cloud providers. This means more costs to you as some users can benefit from cloud storage already available thanks to different services (e.g. Amazon Prime or Microsoft Office 365 will both offer you plenty of storage at no additional costs when you are already subscribing to these services).

Of course, you can just store in LR CC (Adobe’s cloud) what you need for working on your files before and during the post-process and archive the original files and the published ones after post-process done thanks to LR CC elsewhere (with your usual cloud provider for instance or on your NAS / Hard drive if you are not a cloud user) but you are going to miss some added value of LR CC designed for working this way, with all your assets stored on Adobe’s cloud.

Commercially relevant for them, not cost effective for the user… unless of course you have no access to “free” (already subscribed but embedded in other services subscriptions) cloud storage.

The need for streamlining the pre-process of a photo session

This is not the most glamorous title one can expect as image processing after a photo session is often a pain at its worst, a necessity at least. It is something photographers don’t like much to talk about. They prefer to discuss how to enhance their images. Fair enough. But execution is key, and it is not because it is boring that it is not important !

So, even before going to the processing itself, meaning classifying
images in categories (Best, to be archived, to be deleted, …), enhancing the
best with ad-hoc software (photoshop, lightroom, Capture One, whatever, …),
there are some steps which are all uninteresting, time consuming. In
particular:

  • If you shoot RAW +
    JPG, you need to find out what to do with either the RAW or the JPG,
  • If you shoot time
    lapse and manually compose them (with software like LR Time Lapse),
  • If you shoot Panoramas
    that you want to also manually compose,
  • If you don’t like,
    like me, storing dozens of similar images, you must delete first duplicates,
  • If you don’t accept
    some images because of their exposure, grain, or other technical issue,
  • If you shoot both
    Videos and still images (both will require usually dedicated workflows),
  • … and much more.

I am still surprised to see these steps have not been automated, or very
partially and certainly not in an integrated way to let photographers with
different need improve their productivity, but also be supported by modern
technologies to help them choosing maybe not the best image, but at least to
automate the files move/deletion or just to fasten these different steps whilst
making them more efficient. For example, I am not aware of a tool which would help
to detect which images are part of a panorama. Many software exists to let you assemble
a panorama but when you shoot thousands of images, it is not so trivial to
detect panorama members, from below average images.

Another example will be for the time lapses. Hundred or thousands of
images with some of them part of time lapse, other not, can be tricky to detect
and at least, it will take some time to sort out the whole set of images.

Last and not least, I understand the “one stop shop approach”. That’s
the holy grail in software and what Lightroom (or its direct competitors) tries
to achieve for most of photographers. But I am not convinced as needs can be
antagonistic and one stop shop means “compromise”. This means I would rather,
maybe naively, believe in long-term trends to have software working together
and not just one doing everything. My point? There is still room in 2019 for
new software when it comes to the image’s workflow.

What Google Drive now means to photography and Picasa’s users

Yes I know, it is no more “Picasa”, nowadays man must write “Google+ photos”.Yes, but it is still “Picasa” as you need to download it first. Thank you Google, I love you, but your engineering inconsistency is typical of the geeks I know so well! So I will try to clarify the mess due to a somewhat clumsy if not incomplete integration of the 3 services

Basically, Picasa used to be:
– A way to store pictures on line,
– A way to share pictures on line,
– A catalog software with some easy to use features for improving your pictures.

Google implemented Google+ but created a confusion as some services of Picasa are still available. More important, Google Drive has been released later than Google+, which added to the confusion as some services of the former Picasa (like storing on the cloud your pictures) was not feasible but thanks to the older Picasa services. Even more confusing, you can still do the same thing thanks to both services, but you don’t get the same result! (tip: you can still use Picasa the old way) and you don’t do it the same way!

Drive is much better than the former storing services of Picasa, as your files structure looks like the same way than on your desktop/laptop (at last!) and not the stupid flat way of Picasa’s storing services. For some people, sharing with Google+ is not exactly better than with Picasa as long as your contacts don’t belong too to Google+, and frankly can be confusing. But at the end of the day, that’s the future and I think people can share much more easily thanks to social network compare with the old fashioned way (emails!). So yes, you need to learn how to do it and your contact should join Google+. I believe that’s a great photosharing service for private pictures, much better than Facebook thanks to Google privacy options and policy.

As a photos catalog software (Edit/Organize/Publish), Picasa is still Picasa and compare with others, I like it even if far from being perfect. I think the main advantage is the speed display of the (big) thumbnails which is, as far as I know, so far unchallenged by, for instance Lightroom. However, this software looks of course much better in many ways, but as a pure catalog software, I just prefer Picasa. The trade off with Lightroom is not easy, for many users, as improving pictures is much better with Lightroom. But that’s something else. Let’s come back to Google+ and Picasa!

Google has let some Picasa’s feature alive which are actually very disturbing and should not be used: you can still “Sync” your albums, so you might use this feature for storing. Bad idea, as explained before, do it with Drive. “Sync” is only useful when you want to share an album. So that’s how you should work with Google+ Photos/Picasa:

– Use Picasa as a catalog software to delete, classify, and organize your pictures, enhancing them (the crop feature is a must, others are not as good, but can do the job very often) simultaneously,
– Store then online thanks to Drive (or competitors like Dropbox),
– Create files for albums of the best photos you want to share,
– Sync them online, and share them thanks to Google+

And my final word: enhance the pictures thanks to Lightroom, after having deleted and organize them thanks to Picasa. Share them with Google+ for private picture, or with the other photosharing services (Facebook, Flickr) for those you want to make public. Yes that’s a lot of software but in software, there is often no holly grail. So you need several of them to do the job efficiently.

Open Source and photo sharing

I am a big fan of open source and of photo sharing. Both together can bring something quite unique on the table but you should ask yourself whether every open source projects works really or not as an open source initiative – useless to write as a useful project by itself.

Most of the time, however one should carefully understand the limitations of an open source project, and the motivations of its main mentors and contributors.

For instance, I like the idea to have some open source code available for catalogue, or sharing pictures, or both. Whereas it is now a commodity (E.g. Picasa – oops I mean Google + photos! – is free), it is far from being often an open source code commodity. And you need the code if you want to build something. That’s not important for end users, but that’s critical for developer working at a new photosharing site for instance.

Therefore, the licensing of the code, something very technical if not boring that you should really look at, however, should be very permissive to let users build easily on top (E.g. of some permissive licences: LGPL, BSD, Apache). GPL will not allow you to monetize your work efficiently, and in many cases, it could be a show stopper for your project.

Whereas I am not so much a fan of Openphoto, I like very much their Apache licensing. Conversely, I like the Pixi.me, free image hosting and photo sharing, based on an open source photo gallery which is, unfortunately, licensed through a GPL. Both projects seems to be commercially-driven, I am fine with that, but I just want to mention their are not community driven (those used to be working with open source project will understand the nuance between both).

Actually, I would split projects in different kind, that’s not specific to open source, but just to clarify things. So I would like to list the services related to the photo workflow:

  1. Post-processing (E.g. Photoshop for the high-end, Aviary for the common mortal),
  2. Cataloguing (Picasa, Lightroom),
  3. Digital Asset Management (Actually for photography “Picture Management”: Lightroom but also Razuna for an open source player),
  4. Publishing services (usually embedded into DAM/cataloguing software but not always and must be customizable),
  5. Photosharing (Flickr),
  6. Analytics (sometimes embedded with Photosharing, sometimes not),
  7. Curation services (Pictarine)

My list is neither exhaustive nor static, but that’s a start.

And whereas projects are done for end-users – non technical people, I am in favour of developers-oriented open source projects where the technical frameworks are getting commoditized and free from the grasp of commercially-driven teams. Open source projects, modular, consistent with this approach, and based on very permissive licensing, would be very useful for everyone. People involved into the projects would get rewarded by reusing the code of the commodities and by influencing standards and trends. That’s basically what people are calling “community driven open source projects”.

Right now, photo sharing is indeed too much a proprietary thing. I hope open source will influence it the right way, so basically the community way. Commercial vendors are here, o.m.h.o., to propose some unique and seamless experience well integrated of the services listed in this blog, but mixing open source projects with end-users commercial ones may be confusing for both developers and end users.

So yes, Flickr and other Smugmug should be based on more open source frameworks and should open more their API. But I am still wondering the added value of trying to replace them by a project like Openphoto!

Sorry but we are not living in a brave new world, that’s good, and obviously photo sharing is going to evolve a lot!

Open Photo: a good idea but may be just a missed opportunity

Photo sharing is hype, we know it. Open source is cool. So a match between both should be fantastic. Open Photo would like to be this great player, able to put together some freedom to what has been so far a proprietary thing.

I like very much the idea to split where you are storing your pictures from the presentation itself, where you publish them, and done through an open source code, that’s just great. But actually many people are already doing it sometimes, not in an open source way. For instance, I am using Google to store my pictures, and I publish them through many channels (FB, Flickr, Tumblr, Google+, …).I don’t publish one picture through many channels because I must, but because I like. Don’t mix up “to store” with “to share”. You don’t do the same things with these different photo sharing websites. There are overlaps, fair enough, but I need all of them. So to make a long story short, you can store images on photo sharing websites, but you are not obliged to and, personally, I don’t recommend doing so!

My first point: the very unique idea of Open Photo seems to make not proprietary all tags & comments of your pictures and to let you store them where you want. If my understanding is correct, I don’t find the story not so much appealing.

Conversely,  tools like Pictarine can be much more helpful, acting like a “Pictures hub”, storing nothing but curating your published images.

I think there is a confusion somewhere, and we should get back to the basics of “Digital Asset Management“, something not as hype and recent than photo sharing. You must make a difference between:

  1. How I am taking digital pictures
  2. How I am doing the post-processing
  3. How I am managing the versionning of each picture
  4. Where and how I am storing them
  5. Indeed, I will publish them through many channels and with different formats, so publishing channels processes are the next thing to take care of
  6. Last and not least, how I am managing the social experience with my pictures

I have the feelings that Open Photo is going to be “one more photo sharing experience”. Of course they will pretend the opposite! But frankly with have already rather too many photo sharing options than too few. And I know the Open Photo’s team knows it. On a side note, flaming Smugmug and Flickr, like the are doing, looks weird to me. They have their defaults, limitations and weaknesses but, I mean, they are quite good at doing what they are supposed to do! And they are actually quite unique. Photobucket and the other Instagram are not evil per se, they are proposing a social experience of their own. Yes, photo sharing is broken and must be fixed, but that’s more because of its immaturity, not because of its lack of open-sourceness.

Open source is more for improving interoperability and standards, as every vendor try to lock-in its customers, and open source must act against this evil. But again, open source is for technology, not for end users experience – even if some open source teams will often try to pretend the contrary.

So yes, you should not store your pictures with the same provider than where you are publishing them. And you certainly don’t need Open Photo to do it. But do you really need to own the comments and tags of your pictures? That’s arguable.

Maybe Open photo could be a kind of competitor of Pictarine, they are both dealing with curation limits of photo sharing services, even with a very different philosophy, or maybe even work closer if not together, but so far Open Photo looks more like again reinventing the wheel, like too many open source projects, instead of focusing at real innovation, like some do, with so much success. As far as I know, one should remember open source is mainly if not only attractive for geeks, developpers and techies. End users, the mainstream, don’t care or/and don’t understand what it means to be LGPL / Apache licenced and don’t want to belong to the great Github community! I don’t think Apple can be known as an open source company – no kidding! – but they are very much liked by end-users. So do many Flickr and Smugmug users, even if they can criticize these services.

So, what do we need?

I need one and only one tool which will let me storing my pictures “anywhere” (I could switch from Dropbox to let’s say Google drive! – or the opposite if you think Google is evil), manage the versions of my pictures, and will let me publish them every where, and which will let me enjoying and handling well the social experience I am developping with them. And I need it by picture (the asset is “one picture, several versions, many published items, its comments and tags”).

Simple, but not easy at all.

For the record, Lightroom could make it, but so far does not really. It is indeed the Swiss tool of pictures’ management, not the real “pictures hub” I need. It does not manage at all  the social experience, that’s more for Pictarine which, conversely, does not handle the assets themselves. They provide a time-display, but no per asset display like Lightroom, which is still unable to show what-the-hell you are doing with you assets. Something Pictarine is very capable of.

Should this software be open source, that would rock. Should it not be, too bad but I may use it nevertheless. That’s how open source works: it is better with them but it works without.