Ondrej Zaoral
Sep 16 · 8 min read

When Adobe unveiled the new Lightroom CC, I was sceptical. The “cloud” version lacked many features I love and use with Lightroom Classic. All my editing presets, import settings, export presets and mainly export plugins were not supported by the new version. I decided to stick with Classic for “some time”. However, I kept following the releases and kept my eye on one thing. One single feature that was THE feature for me — RAW files in the cloud.

My workflow has always been desktop-centric. I would import Canon RAW into LR Classic, convert into DNG upon import, apply keywords from predefined sets, automatically activate lens corrections etc. A pretty well automated process that saves time. As soon as LR Classic imports the files, their smart previews get uploaded into the Creative Cloud and I can use my iPad and iPhone to access the photos. But — the first step of this workflow is bound to my iMac. Where is the iMac? In the office. The first step of my workflow was impossible without my Lightroom master catalogue. Do I want to carry the master files on an external SSD with me to be able to import on my MacBook? No — not for the sake of carrying the SSD (it's not that heavy), but the idea of carrying master RAW files on me around the world is really not the smartest one.

Apart from this, it became quite clear by the end of 2018 that the new iPad Pro makes the tablet form factor a go-to platform for many of my editing tasks, as well as photo selection and rating. Lightroom Mobile on the iPad got gradually better with every Creative Cloud release. By the end of Spring 2019, the decision was clear: let's try it and find a setup characterized by a combination of Lightroom Classic (for heavy desktop-based editing), Lightroom Mobile (for sorting and editing on the go) and Lightroom CC (for my MacBook, mostly for the sake of having my photos available). Such a setup would move my RAW files into the Creative Cloud and enable the feature I wanted the most — the ability to import anywhere, using any device with Lightroom app.

I reviewed the migration documentation and read many articles. None seemed to describe the setup I wanted to have. Some of my crucial questions remained unanswered. Everyone seemed to focus on editing (and differences between Classic and CC), while I was afraid of losing data, not being able to synchronize edits etc. So I took the risk (after backing up everything like a thousand times) and took notes about the “peculiarities” I stumbled upon.

I hope the following observations, tricks and sometimes hack will help you when deciding how to set-up your own Lightroom ecosystem. Many of the issues are bound to my workflows and the context of my Lightroom use. There is a quite high probability you will find something helpful if your context is similar to mine:

  • I am not a pro photographer, DSLR is my hobby and I use it mainly when travelling and for family stuff
  • Mobility is important for me — I want to have my images available on iPad and iPhone as well as to be able to import on iMac, MacBook, iPhone and iPad
  • I use the camera feature of Lightroom Mobile to shoot DNG with my iPhone, want to handle such images in the same way as DSLR RAW
  • Lightroom Catalogue is my primary photo storage, I want to have it backed up in the cloud, as well as synchronized with at least one physical machine. Everything is organized into collections (which — as you will see — helps the migration process).

Sounds familiar? Ok, let's have look at some of the tricks and my overall experience.


Migration was the easy part. It's ok to follow the Adobe tutorial, just make sure you clean up everything before starting the process (no missing originals etc.). Then take the time to let it finish — because your RAW files will be moved to the LR CC catalogue and uploaded to the Creative Cloud. I moved some 400GB and it took one night and I made sure all other clients were offline, so there was really just the one machine with running Lightroom CC, touching Lightroom Catalogue in the cloud.

Lightroom CC after the Migration

When your catalogue is synced with the Creative Cloud, everything will end up in one folder in Lightroom CC. This folder is labelled “Lightroom Classic” and will contain albums, corresponding with your collections in LR Classic. Now you can move the albums into your desired structure, getting rid of the “Lightroom Classic” folder. It's possible to achieve the same structure as in LR Classic with just a few drag and drops.

Getting Classic and Mobile Clients up-to-date

The result of the migration is critical for the future of your master file management in Lightroom: All RAW files (and in general “originals”) are now stored in Creative Cloud. Your smart previews have been replaced by originals. Therefore, it is now necessary to re-sync all clients (including LR Classic). So, have another coffee and let your “old” Lightroom Classic sync. In my case, it re-synced some 70% of all files. It took another night. Mobile clients were significantly faster.

Cleanup — Dealing with Duplicates

Few days after the migration, I noticed that some images doubled during the migration. These were mainly virtual copies … If you find yourself facing the same problem ,it's easy to find the duplicates:

  • filter “sync status” as “Synced from LR Classic” in LR CC
  • make sure these are really duplicates
  • delete duplicates them from LR CC
  • some of the duplicates were in LR Classic as well — if you want to clean up in LR Classic, locate the virtual copy, go to the folder in library and delete it (cumbersome!)

Collections vs. Albums — Migration

I haven't had any major issued migrating my collections. Just a few observations:

  • collections from LR Classic will be migrated as albums to LR CC
  • folder hierarchy is preserved
  • smart collections are not migrated (and can not be created in LR CC)

Collections vs. Albums — Going Forward

I quickly found out that collection created in LR Classic and marked “sync with LR CC” will appear in LR CC as an album. BUT a new album created in LR CC will NOT sync to LR Classic! This is where I panicked a little at first.

I bypassed this limitation using rather a simple trick: I created a few collections named “empty” (plus a number, because albums must have a unique name) in LR Classic and turned on sync with LR CC. When I want to use the collection (e.g. when importing photos on the iPad Pro while travelling), I rename it in LR CC or LR Mobile and fill with pictures. Renaming will sync from LR CC/Mobile back to LR Classic.

Further observations:

  • renaming collections and albums will sync in both directions
  • new collections created in LR Classic will not stack properly into folders in LR CC and will be listed as an album on the top level of the hierarchy (you will need to maintain the folder hierarchy manually in both LR Classic and LR CC if you want consistency)
  • be careful that unchecking sync in LR Classic will cause the corresponding album in LR CC to disappear

Virtual Copies

I use virtual copies a lot, mainly when I edit square images for Instagram. And it works pretty well in the new “dual” setup:

  • you can further create virtual copies in LR Classic — these will sync to LR CC
  • but LR CC does not know them, they are simply handled as single images
  • if you want to edit a copy in LR CC, it is possible to “make a copy” in LR CC
  • I have encountered a situation (only a few times) when the copy created in LR CC synced to LR Classic without any adjustments (seems like a bug, I could not find a way how to fix it)

Import Workflow & File Handling

As I already mentioned, one of my top motivations for the migration was the ability to import on the go. Using the new setup over the summer of 2019, I found out the following peculiarities of the combined mobile and desktop workflow. Some of them may sound horrible at first sight, but I have always found a simple solution.

  • It is not possible to import into Classic and have originals in the Creative Cloud. The solution is simple: install LR CC on your desktop machine and run LR Classic in parallel with LR CC. Use CC for imports.
  • LR Mobile uploads and stores imported originals in the Cloud. So no problems at all with the iPhone and the iPad — just be careful about killing your data plan with all the RAW uploads :)
  • LR CC / Mobile can not convert to DNG when importing. Solution: use Adobe DNG Converter on the desktop. Unfortunately, there is no solution for Mobile.
  • There is no direct import into LR Mobile on your iPhone or iPad. To import using Mobile on iPad / iPhone, it is necessary to first connect the camera and copy the RAW into Apple Photos app, only then import to LR Mobile. It's not a big deal, there is just more step. Maybe iOS13 will change this with the upcoming USB storage support.
  • When importing using Mobile, the RAW original is kept on the mobile device (despite the setting to sync and store only smart previews to the mobile device).
  • LR Classic will download originals (imported to CC or Mobile) from the Cloud.
  • Local data storages for LR Classic and LR CC on the Mac have no overlaps whatsoever, these are simply two separate apps.
  • If you delete an original from CC or Mobile (after import and sync with Classic), this original will remain in LR Classic catalogue.
  • Edits made on any device, using any Lightroom version, will sync across all devices.

People and face recognition

LR CC is significantly better in terms of face recognition that happens through the AI in the Creative Cloud. The only downside is the missing possibility to mark face manually (hopefully only as of now). When migrating from Classic, be ready for a few hours of cleanup work:

  • faces from LR CC will be migrated as keywords (not as faces, LR CC will start with face recognition from scratch and unfortunately it will not take into account the keywords imported from Classic)
  • go and manually merge duplicates in the people view (I did it on desktop, it is possible on any LR CC device) — this step will significantly help the face recognition algorithms and the recognition precision for people like family members is stunning
  • then go through the pictures, delete the migrated keywords if you don’t want them, name unrecognised people (takes time, but it's worth it)

And the most important “feature” — nothing will be synced back to LR Classic. Faces are stuck in LR CC and Mobile.

Overall Experience

TL;DR: Great!

The migration took me almost a week of uploading, syncing all the clients and setting up new structures. Always a few hours a day as some of the manual cleanup tasks are pretty mindnumbing. I have not lost anything :) I got all I wanted …

  • I have originals in the Cloud — available full-res from any device
  • I am able to import and immediately edit on the iPad
  • I have all the power of LR Classic still available on my iMac
  • All edits sync seamlessly across all devices

The minor downsides (such as collections vs. albums syncing described above) can be easily solved. All in all, I can recommend this setup to everyone who wants/needs a mobile workflow and does not want to lose all the features available only with Lightroom Classic.


19. September 2019 — fixed some typos

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