Combining Lightroom Online with Lightroom Desktop

I wish Adobe would call in a Communications Specialist to help them rename their products.  It’s Marketing 101.   Product names should reflect what the company expects users to do with the product and what users expect of the product – to provide an easy way to recognize and develop brand loyalty to that product.

Instead, we have Lightroom “Classic” and Lightroom “CC”, which gives absolutely no help in understanding the difference in the products and how they can be used separately or together for an amazing workflow.  This post is about what I’ve discovered ON MY OWN around how these products can be used together.  I’ve also given them new names.

Lightroom ClassicLightroom Classic is the well-established destop version of Lightroom that requires download and installation of a large program on a computer, the local storage of image files and the creation and management of catalogues.  It also provides a wonderful suite of image adjustments, and functions such as printing.

Lightroom CCLightroom CC is what used to be Lightroom Mobile, but has now been expanded to provide organizing and editing options both on the web and on the desktop.  Say whaaaat?  There’s a desktop version?  Talk about confusing.  Despite the desktop option, Lightroom CC is really Lightroom Mobile, providing portability and a consistent experience across all devices that you might use in your day.  With Lightroom CC, each device must be capable of internet access as the images and their edits are stored online and available to all devices with the app.

When I listen to various Adobe experts try to explain the differences between Classic and CC, they stumble and bumble worse than I just did.  But eventually they get to the point.  Here’s one of the better explanations from Julieanne Kost.  It’s from 2017, when Lightroom CC was launched.


Lightroom Classic, which I will call Lightroom Desktop, targets photography involving a dedicated camera and potentially multiple levels of editing – from basic colour and tone adjustments to sending images to other programs for complex composites and fine art effects.  It is also intended to help manage large libraries of photographs, where right now, the only practical option is onsite storage.

Lightroom CC, which I will call Lightroom Online, targets the ever-growing world of mobile device photography, primarily cellphone photography.  Here, images tend to be smaller in base resolution, are typically stored online, and often shared.  Editing is typically confined to colour and tone adjustments, primarily because devices don’t have the screen real-estate, screen resolution or controls for pixel-level edits and because device image makers tend to want quick and easy edits.

Part of the confusion in the Adobe branding is the overall computer industry move away from “programs” to “apps”.  Mobile devices such as tablets or cellphones have long had apps that rely on a combination of installed functions and functions called over the internet.  All are managed from the app.  That philosophy is also now prevalent in standard computers (towers or laptops), where apps that are smaller than full-scale programs are installed and call for functions over the internet as needed.   So, Lightroom Classic is a “program” whereas Lightroom CC is an “app”, even if it installed on your computer.  Clear as mud, right?

Adobe made one decision about Lightroom Online which both attracts and confuses potential users.  You initially must upload your images to the cloud to be able to work on them using the app, but you can also now store a local copy of those images and adjustments on your computer, tablet or phone.  This allows for working offline using the app when you don’t have a connection and gives comfort to some who balk at having everything in the cloud.

Business PlanIt’s not clear to me whether Adobe intends to eventually abandon Lightroom Desktop once bandwidth and online storage are practical in time and cost for the average user.  But the exponential decline in digital camera sales over the last decade, coupled with the explosion of cellphone photography, suggests that this could happen.  And there is nothing to stop a digital camera user from using Lightroom Online today for their full resolution images.  Adobe is right to be prepared with the next generation of software.

For now, I am using both products, exactly as I think they were intended:  Lightroom Desktop for digital camera work and Lightroom Online for portable device photography.  I take more images with my digital camera than with my cellphone, so cloud storage is not an issue right now.

And as one last nod to the transition, I recently discovered that I can sync mobile device images stored using Lightroom Online to Lightroom Desktop and have all my images visible in the desktop program.  I can also send images edited in Lightroom Desktop to Lightroom Online using the same sync functionality.  Not entirely sure why Adobe included this feature in Lightroom Desktop, but it’s a nice comfort and convenience element.  Maybe a little phychological push to get us curious about the app?

So if you are confused, hope this post helps.  Wonder if Adobe has an opening for a Communications Specialist…

One thought on “Combining Lightroom Online with Lightroom Desktop

  1. Nice write up. One feature that I love that is unique to LR cc is it’s AI capabilities. For example you can do basic image searches without tagging because your images synced to the cloud can be analyzed by adobe cloud AI computer vision models to detect objects in images. For example if you search on mountains, or trees etc it’s pretty accurate at quickly filtering to all images with those subjects. Over time this will get more sophisticated, making searching large catalogs of images more efficient.


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