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Photo Editing with Lightroom Mobile

Lightroom Mobile has been around for many years, with the earliest version dating all the way back to 2014. While it is not as popular as its traditional desktop-based counterpart, Lightroom Mobile has grown into a capable and feature-packed editing tool that can hold its own against many other programs.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile isn’t quite the same as editing on Lightroom Classic. But if you take the time to learn, you’ll find that it is up to almost any task you can throw at it.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile Windmills Sunset
Nikon D750 | 200mm | 1/4000s | f/22 | ISO 100

The first thing to understand when working with Lightroom Mobile is that it’s not just a mobile version of Lightroom Classic. Lightroom Mobile was written from the ground up to work with phones and tablets, and that meant Adobe had to re-imagine the entire user interface.

Design considerations were also made for the types of edits that people are likely to do on a mobile device. Screen size, touch targets, editing, and navigation; no stone was left unturned when Lightroom Mobile was developed.

As such, using Lightroom Mobile involves a jarring transition for people used to the desktop version, though if you have a mobile-first workflow you might be used to it. Even so, understanding a few basic tips and techniques for editing with Lightroom Mobile can improve your workflow a great deal.

Understanding the interface

The first thing you will notice when editing a photo in Lightroom Mobile is that the interface is quite different from Lightroom Classic. Gone are the Library, Develop, and other modules. You will also not find the traditional panels like Basic, Detail, Effects, etc. In their place is a series of buttons and icons along with some words to tap on.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile screenshot
The basic editing interface for Lightroom Mobile. Most of the editing tools are on the right side and can be activated by touching and tapping.

All the icons may be a bit overwhelming at first, but if you start at the top left and work your way around clockwise things start to make sense. Tap the Edit button to switch between the different modes available to you.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile screenshot
Tap the Edit button to switch between modes. This is sort of like moving between the traditional Library, Develop, Print, and other modules in Lightroom Classic. However, these modes in Lightroom Mobile serve very different purposes.

These modes come in handy when you want to cull images, assign keywords, and otherwise speed up your workflow. They are not particularly useful for editing, but I do recommend familiarizing yourself with them by experimenting on your own.

Moving towards the top right you will see more icons. Tap the question mark to get help, the up arrow to share an image, and the cloud to see the sync status of your Lightroom Mobile images. The three dots inside a circle is where things start to get interesting, and where you can start to get an understanding of the depth of Lightroom Mobile.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile screenshot
The three-dots-in-a-circle icon lets you access some advanced features you might recognize from Lightroom Classic.

It’s important to keep your expectations in check; this is not Lightroom Classic. If you are looking for a mobile version of Lightroom that replicates the desktop version, you are in for a big disappointment. But if you want a solid tool that lets you do a lot of editing on your mobile device, this is where things start to get really interesting.

You can use the three-dot menu to copy/paste settings, create an editing preset, and even specify custom gestures by scrolling down and tapping the Settings button. You can also use the View Options button to toggle the histogram and show/hide photo information when editing.

Tablet vs phone

All the screenshots so far have been for Lightroom Mobile on a phone. The interface is similar on a tablet, but the added screen real estate puts a lot more information and options at your fingertips.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile screenshot iPad
Lightroom Mobile on a tablet has all the same tools and options as on a phone. The added screen real estate allows for more information to be displayed, while editing tools are grouped slightly differently.

In terms of photo editing, the main difference between a phone and a tablet is that the global edits are grouped together in a single icon. The icon with three sliders in the top-right corner is where you tap to access global edits like Light, Color, Effects, Detail, Optics, and more. Tap any of these to get a series of sliders that you can adjust with your finger, and watch as your changes are instantly applied to the image.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile screenshot iPad
The extra room on a tablet means you get a lot more information and options on the screen.

The larger size of a tablet means that you can see the entire photo as you apply your edits, with plenty of room to move sliders and adjust parameters. This is my preferred method of editing with Lightroom Mobile, though plenty of people like using a phone. Either way is fine, as long as you find an option that works for you.

Tapping to edit

The true depth of Lightroom Mobile is further revealed with the vertical column of icons on the right side. This is where you can dive deep into the editing tools and perform all manner of intricate adjustments similar to those in Lightroom Classic.

(Note that these same icons appear in a horizontal row at the bottom of your screen if you hold your phone in portrait mode.)

Editing with Lightroom Mobile screenshot

Already you can start to see the sheer volume of editing options available to you in Lightroom Mobile, but that’s not all. Tap and scroll on the vertical row of icons to reveal even more.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile screenshot

If the icons seem confusing, one trick you can use is to simply rotate your mobile device from landscape to portrait mode. This shows brief descriptions beneath each icon which helps if you ever start to feel overwhelmed.

The simplest way to learn more about these tools is to just start tapping them and experimenting. In true Lightroom fashion, none of your edits are permanent; the Undo button will always let you step back to your previous edit. The Reset button will erase all your changes entirely, and you can even step back in time to a specific version of your photo by using the clock icon just above the Reset button.

Selective and global editing

There are two basic types of edits in Lightroom Mobile: selective and global. Selective edits are adjustments applied to specific portions of an image. Global edits are applied to the entire image. If you were to compare it to Lightroom Classic, selective edits are tools such as the Graduated Filter, Radial Filter, and the Adjustment Brush. Global edits include any of the Basic Panel adjustments along with features such as Detail, Color, Effects, the Tone Curve, etc.

To illustrate the touch-based workflow inherent to Lightroom Mobile, my favorite example is the Selective Edit tool. Tap the round dot icon at the very top of the panel on the right side to bring up the Selective Edit interface.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile screenshot
Tap the blue “plus” icon in the top left corner to create a new brush or filter adjustment.

At this point, you might think you can start tapping on the photo. But, if you try it, nothing happens. Tapping on the icons on the right side doesn’t do anything either.

Why? Because before you can start editing, you have to create a new selective edit, which you can do by tapping the blue “plus” icon in the top left corner. This lets you select from three types of brushes: Adjustments, Radial Filter, and Graduated Filter. Tap to select one of these options.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile screenshot
After choosing a specific type of selective edit, tap and drag to apply it to your image.

Now you’re ready to start editing! Tap and drag your finger around the screen to see your brush or filter applied instantly with buttery smoothness. After your adjustment or filter is in place, tap one of the icons on the right side to add a specific edit: white balance, sharpness, etc. You might be surprised at how quickly you can do editing with Lightroom Mobile if you are used to the desktop interface, which can be a bit sluggish at times.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile screenshot
Use the icons on the right to choose what parameters are adjusted in the edit: white balance, exposure, etc.

At this point you might notice one common theme with all the pictures in this article: They are in landscape orientation. Lightroom Mobile lets you edit in either portrait or landscape, and the interface automatically adjusts according to how your phone is positioned.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile screenshot portrait orientation
Editing can be done in horizontal or vertical orientation, and the interface adjusts automatically based on how you hold your device.

After applying a selective edit, you will see a blue diamond appear on your image. Tap on that to bring up the selective edit, and also to see a red overlay which indicates where the edit was applied. As with Lightroom Classic, your selective edits can be altered at any time or removed altogether.

The key thing to remember about editing with Lightroom Mobile is that you can’t permanently mess anything up. Just like the standard desktop version of Lightroom, all your edits are nondestructive, which means you can revert to a previous state of your image at any time.

The Selective Edit tool is a great example of how the basic Lightroom Mobile workflow functions: You tap on an editing tool, and then tap to implement the edit or alter its parameters. Global edits function in the same manner, except they are applied to the whole photo and not just specific portions. It’s not too difficult once you get the hang of it, which for most people is a matter of mere minutes.

Editing with Lightroom Mobile Sunset
Fuji X100F | 23mm | 242s | f/16 | ISO 200

If you have an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription, Lightroom Mobile is included in the price, and I recommend giving it a try. Even if you just use it to speed up your workflow rather than in-depth editing, it’s still a powerful arrow to have in your photography quiver. Editing with Lightroom Mobile is a fun process that, while not quite on par with the in-depth options in Lightroom Classic, is certainly worth a look. Or a second look if it’s been a while since you last checked it out.

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Simon Ringsmuth
Simon Ringsmuth

is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.

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