Editing Weddings on an iPad with Lightroom Mobile
I’m an enthusiastic proponent of editing weddings and portraits with Lightroom Mobile on an Apple iPad Pro, and I would estimate that I edit roughly half of my photographs this way. I get asked about it often by other wedding photographers on social media and in-person, so I figured it would be a good idea to put together some comprehensive information on the topic.
What this article is NOT about
Most of the articles and discussion online about LR Mobile revolve around the goal of using the tablet as a laptop replacement, for instance as a completely independent mobile editing solution while traveling, where images are imported directly into the device (connecting the camera or card reader to the Lightning or USB port of the iPad) for editing with no computer involved at all.
Getting images directly into LR Mobile in the past was reported to be a tedious process, involving importing them into the iOS Photos app, and then bringing them into Lightroom from there. But since iPadOS 13, along with updates to LR Mobile, this has changed, giving the ability to directly import into the app. As a result, a purely iPad-based system is perfectly feasible now, and for a photographer who shoots a relatively low number of images and/or really needs to not be tied down to a computer, it can be a usable setup.
Still, because almost all of my weddings, portraits, and events are local, I don’t have a pressing need for that kind of completely mobile and computer-free workflow, and in my view a totally iPad-based editing system would be cumbersome, inefficient, and impractical for the high volume of photographs that most wedding photographers need to import, store, make multiple backups of, edit, and export each week. In other words, I could do it if I really had to, but it would be far from ideal.
So, this series of articles will be a discussion and tutorial about using the iPad in conjunction with a Mac or PC serving as the main workstation and centralized storage point for all the original RAW images, with the tablet functioning strictly as an alternate editing device for those images, synced through Adobe Creative Cloud with Lightroom Classic running on the computer.
This workflow is an efficient, practical, and easy to implement method for wedding photographers to edit images anywhere on an iPad. And once you try it, you'll wonder how you ever lived without it!
Why Edit Wedding Photographs on an iPad?
I was originally prompted to investigate incorporating the tablet into my workflow when I would sometimes find myself with many hours of downtime to kill during activities that my kids were involved in.
For instance, when one of my kids was participating in high school honor band, the rehearsals took place over the course of several days at a college located about an hour away. Rather than drop her off and drive home, returning later to pick her up (which would have meant an extra two hours wasted in the car on each of these days), I would load up my MacBook Pro laptop with a wedding or two to give me something to work on while I camped out there in the back of the auditorium (which also gave the added benefit of me being able to enjoy listening to the ensemble’s rehearsals).
Having to manually move the images and Lightroom catalog files around was a bit cumbersome. And although Apple’s current lineup of laptop computers are more compact and lightweight, my MacBook Pro at the time was quite heavy and bulky in comparison. That’s when I stumbled onto Lightroom Mobile on the iPad, which I was aware of but never really paid much attention to, because I figured it was a ludicrous proposition to edit photographs with what I (wrongly) assumed was a weak, watered down version of Lightroom. It was only after installing it and giving it a trial run that I discovered what a powerful and capable solution Adobe had made this app into over the several years since it had been first introduced. I was expecting only basic, rudimentary editing controls, but found it to be surprisingly complete (and it’s only gotten better since then).
With a few small modifications to my normal workflow to facilitate the inclusion of the iPad by syncing my images to Creative Cloud, I now had an easily portable and fully capable secondary editing station that I could grab and go whenever the need arose.
This has been nothing short of revolutionary for my wedding photography workflow. Because the manual steps necessary before and after mobile editing are so minimal, a significant barrier is removed. While exporting a catalog and RAW files from Lightroom and copying to a laptop (and then re-importing the edits back to the main computer afterward) is not a major hindrance in the context of a scenario where you’ll be away from your desk all day (or a number of days), to me it’s simply not worth bothering with to make use of just an hour or two here or there. The iPad synced with Lightroom Mobile overcomes this barrier.
The only major caveat is that this is only an efficient solution if you don't frequently need to make the trip into Photoshop with your images. The reason is, as will be discussed in more detail later, with this workflow your iPad will only have Smart Previews (which are basically reduced-resolution RAW proxies) available, meaning even if you have Photoshop or another suitable photo retouching app on your iPad, you won't have the high resolution image data to work with. You can, of course, simply mark (with Stars or another method) any images that need additional Photoshop work, and take care of that back on the computer at the end of the Lightroom editing process.
Edit Weddings Anywhere, Really
As long as you follow the workflow suggestions given later (particularly employing the "Store Locally" option), an internet connection is not required while editing on the go. Any edits you make while not connected will simply be synced to Adobe's server when you regain connectivity.
Here are some examples of situations that I’ve found having the ability to edit weddings with Lightroom Mobile to be immensely helpful:
- Kids’ activities. This is obviously a bit of a gray area for parents, one that you should be careful about finding the right balance for you. If I’m taking my kids to the playground or a birthday party, I’m not bringing my iPad, as I enjoy simply watching them play, and by no means do I consider to that to be wasted time that would be better spent working. But for things like music lessons and rehearsals, soccer practice, etc., where the standard procedure for most of the parents is to drop them off and pick them up afterward, I prefer to stay and listen/watch, while also being able to get some work done. Another good example is when one of my kids was heavily involved in competitive dance. These competitions would last for multiple days, often with gaps of several hours in between the dances she would be performing in, giving me a lot of down time.
- Travel. You can edit while traveling by train, bus, car (as a passenger, of course!), or plane, and can make good use of all that extra time you sometimes have as a result of arriving at the airport several hours before your flight. And as long as you enable the "Store Locally" option for each of your weddings and portraits, you don't need WiFi access.
- Time in between meetings or shoots. I’ll sometimes find myself with a gap of a few hours in between client meetings and/or portrait sessions. Though I try to arrange my scheduling to avoid such gaps, in some extreme cases I'll have a meeting in the morning or early afternoon, and then another meeting or an event to photograph in the late afternoon or evening. Rather than wasting time and gas driving all the way home, only to have to hop right back in the car and drive back into the city a short time later, I can instead sit in a coffee shop or a hotel lobby and get some editing done, productively using this time just as I would if I were home.
- Pre-Wedding Buffer Time. I always plan to arrive early at my first location, which often results in me having an extra hour or so of time before I'm scheduled to start my coverage. I don't bring my iPad along in these typical instances, instead opting to use that time to do final preparations of my equipment, scope out the venue, or just relax for a little while before I get started shooting. But there are days when I feel compelled to leave myself a much larger amount of cushion time due to external factors. For example, if particularly horrendous weather is predicted at the time I'd normally be driving in, I might weigh the option of leaving several hours earlier than I ordinarily would, just to avoid traveling in those hazardous conditions. Or if I learn that there is a big event going on in the city that could produce unusually heavy traffic and parking issues, I'd prefer to get in there extra early rather than struggle with these difficulties. Knowing that I can bring my iPad and work from there just as easily as I can from home for those extra several hours makes these kinds of situations easier to deal with, as it removes the anxiety of wasted time from the decision.
- Waiting rooms. Ever lament the fact that you so often lose many hours of your precious time just sitting in waiting rooms with nothing to do but play games on your iPhone, read old magazines, or watch those dreadful daytime TV shows? Whether at the car dealership having your vehicle serviced, spending half the day at the DMV, or waiting in the doctor's office with a dozen other patients who, curiously, all seem to have been given the exact same 10:00am "appointment" time as you, this time can be utilized productively with your iPad and Lightroom Mobile. Similarly, I donate blood regularly (a process which takes an hour or so), and I always bring my iPad along so I can work instead of just laying there watching daytime television or killing time on Facebook on my iPhone.
Now, I’m not suggesting that, just because you can, you should walk around drone-like with an iPad permanently in your hands all day, editing photographs during every waking moment, at the expense of time spent with family, recreational activities, or simply relaxing. We all need to maintain our sanity and not get burned out!
But let’s be realistic. Sometimes the editing backlog can stack up, especially during the busy Spring and Fall portions of the year for weddings in New Orleans. For those of us who do not feel comfortable outsourcing our editing, in order to be fair to our clients and deliver their images in a reasonable amount of time, sometimes we need to put in longer working hours during the week than we normally would. And even during the non-busy periods, I personally hate wasted time – editing on the iPad, to me, is all about productively utilizing chunks of time that would otherwise be lost.
Lightroom Mobile on the iPhone
LR Mobile also can be installed on an iPhone or Android Phone, and is similar to the iPad version in terms of feature set. All of your synced images will appear, and any changes made will be synced back to your other devices as well. This can be handy if you unexpectedly find yourself with some dead time while away from home and you don't have your iPad with you, though if you don't have an unlimited data plan, keep a careful eye on your data usage if you're away from WiFi.
While I can't vouch for other iPhone or Android models. I found the display of my previous phone (an iPhone 8 Plus) to be reasonably color-accurate, a good match with my current iPad Pro and color-calibrated MacBook Pro. But the display of my newer iPhone 12 Pro Max, while still beautiful looking, is noticeably more yellow, a bit too much to feel comfortable using it to judge color. This is possibly due to these latest iPhone models transitioning to OLED technology, rather than LCD, and I don't believe iPhones are factory calibrated as the iPad Pro line is.
However, regardless of color accuracy, the constraints that the relatively small screen imposes on the user interface can make it tedious and potentially frustrating to edit large numbers of images quickly and efficiently on it, so I don't even try. But I do on occasion use it for culling, making blog selections, and perhaps performing some initial rough edits on that small number of selected images.
Not Only for Mobile Use
While the most notable and obvious benefit of editing weddings and portraits with Lightroom Mobile is with enabling photographers to be productive when away from their home or office, I also frequently use it by choice even at home when my computer is available. Though I can edit a bit more efficiently and quickly in Lightroom Classic on the computer, it’s not as big of a difference as you’d think, and I can work almost as fast on the iPad in most situations.
When I first implemented the LR Mobile workflow, I found that if I had been sitting at my desk for several hours editing photographs and just need a change of scenery and a different position for the sake of reducing fatigue, it was nice to just grab the iPad, kick back on the couch, and continue right where I left off without giving it a second thought. Then when I was finished or ready to go back to the desk, those changes will have been automatically synced to the cloud and back down to the computer, where I could continue working or set up the JPEG export and upload to the gallery.
My use of LR Mobile eventually evolved to the point where I would do almost all of my editing on my iPad Pro, only waking up my computer (at that time, a desktop iMac Pro) a few times a week. However, I've since transitioned to a MacBook Pro 16 (because I basically got sick of sitting at a desk!), enabling me to do all of my work from the comfortable couch that I typically sat in when editing on the iPad, so I don't use the iPad at home quite as much as I used to.
But another benefit of this workflow is that it also enables you to keep editing even if approaching thunderstorms prompt you to shut down and unplug your computer out of fear of damage from a lightning strike, or if your home or studio loses power. And I still occasionally just feel like moving to a different part of the house to work, and I'll grab the iPad, and of course it's my device of choice for editing away from home (I virtually never take my laptop out of the house now).
Good Solution for Multiple Editors
For photographers who have multiple people editing in-house, a Lightroom cloud-synced workflow can also serve as a workable option, eliminating the need to manually move gigabytes of images and catalog files around or to have to keep track of where the latest version is. With multiple editors, rather than shuffling jobs back and forth on a flash drive, a LR Mobile workflow is notably simpler. You simply tell them which of the currently synced weddings they should work on next, and they tell you later when it's done. The main computer, running Lightroom Classic, serves as the main workstation that houses the original RAW files, while others can edit these images on their iPads (each Adobe Creative Cloud account can have multiple mobile devices signed in to access it).
While there is a limitation that only one person at a time can access a Lightroom Classic catalog file, that does not apply here, as the cloud-based clients (Lightroom CC and Lightroom Mobile) are not directly accessing that catalog file, but rather are syncing the images and subsequent edits back and forth through the Creative Cloud server, with any changes made to an image getting synced to all other logged-in devices.
It's also worth mentioning that this main computer does not need to be powered on all the time in order for this workflow to function. The other devices are not communicating directly with that computer, but rather are sending their changes to Adobe's server, and do so completely independent of the main computer. If that machine is shut down, the next time you start it up and open Lightroom Classic, edits made on the other devices will be synced to it.
I do personally leave my MacBook Pro on all the time, set to never go to sleep (though I do allow the display to go to sleep), as I have it configured to run automatic backups overnight. Because of this, I usually just leave Lightroom open on that machine so that when I do choose to use it, or when I'm ready to export the edited images, it's all synced up and ready to go.
But Why Not Just Use a Laptop?
If your primary computer is a desktop but you have a laptop and want to do some editing on it, you're probably already aware of the options. If you want to use Lightroom Classic on the laptop, you can manually export a catalog from the desktop computer for working on the laptop, and then import it back to the desktop catalog (or just keep individual catalogs for every wedding and portrait session, which you can move back and forth as needed).
Thanks to the introduction of Smart Previews, this isn't quite as cumbersome as it would have been in the past, when you'd have to also move the original RAW files around too (Smart Previews are lower-resolution proxies that let you edit without the RAW files being available). But even with Smart Previews, that's still some manual work that you have to do, and if you edit for a while on the laptop and then the next day start working on the desktop before realizing that you forgot to copy the catalog file over with the edits from the laptop, you'll have a bit of a mess to undo.
You can also use the "cloud-centric" Lightroom CC app on the laptop, what operates very similar to this iPad workflow, with the convenience of images being sync'd automatically back and forth with the desktop computer.
But I still feel the iPad Pro is a valuable tool to have on hand for editing.
I recently transitioned away from using a desktop iMac Pro as my primary computer, to a MacBook Pro. As a result, my Lightroom catalog file lives permanently on the laptop, which eliminates the concerns over possible confusion and hassle when moving files back and forth. But I still do some of my editing on the iPad, especially culling. Why? Ergonomics, mainly. The simpler form factor of the tablet means you have more freedom of how you sit while you're working, and is more comfortable to work with when, say, reclining back on the couch. Though I find that extensive editing can be done quicker on the computer, culling is just as fast, and basic edits are comparable in speed.
Additionally, the iPad is a superior choice for editing while on the go, as it's lighter and easier to transport. And it's considerably less expensive. I realize that the main point of a laptop computer is for it to be portable, but mine actually rarely leaves the house. I feel much more comfortable toting around my $800 iPad Pro compared to my $3500 MacBook Pro.
The next section gets into the details of how to implement a Lightroom Mobile workflow.