A Lightroom of One’s Own

In How-to, Inspiration, Mobile
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This winter I’ve been shooting more with a digital camera and then processing images on my iPhone, rather than when I get home to my computer. It means I can process and post things as I go along, like I can when shooting using the iPhone camera, but I get the superior image quality of a proper camera. It’s the best of both worlds, in theory. But in practice, there’s a problem: the image-processing apps I use on my phone, like Filmborn and VSCO, have their limits, especially when it comes to skin tones. And doing multiple processes on one image can mean having to use several different apps, which can be a bit tedious.

The obvious solution is to use the Lightroom app on my iPhone. I’ve heard wonderful things about it for several years. But I never really figured out how to use it, and it’s really big, so whenever I need space on my phone, it’s the first thing that gets deleted. I must have deleted and reinstalled it dozens of times! But this winter I decided to give it another go. After all, it’s got all the features I want for processing images from proper cameras, including repairing/healing and selective tools that allow me to manipulate just part of an image. It’s got the automatic straightening feature (so there’s no need for me to text images to my husband for final tweaking when I can’t get something to be completely straight). Best of all, I can now have the presets I use on my computer on my phone as well. Awesome, right? Except it all turned out to be a bit of a fiddle to get that last part to work.

My husband and I spent a Saturday afternoon grappling with the various versions of Lightroom, reading blog posts and comment threads, watching YouTube videos and so on. Eventually we were victorious: all of the images in this post were processed using Lightroom on my iPhone. But it took us a while to work it out, and we couldn’t find the information we needed all in one place. So this is the post I wish I could have read that explains how to get Lightroom presets from your computer to work on your smartphone.

The first thing to explain is that you’ll need an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription that includes Lightroom CC, though you don’t actually need to be using Lightroom CC on your desktop. A big part of the problem here is that there are several different products with the Lightroom name: the “Classic” desktop apps (such as Lightroom 5 or Lightroom 6), the newer Lightroom CC desktop app, and the mobile app, also called Lightroom CC, which runs on smartphones and tablets. Like many people who have used Lightroom Classic for years, I have stayed away from Lightroom CC, which has fewer features, uses different names for many things, and has a whole load of cloud-based features I am not interested in. So I’ve ignored it, until recently, and have instead stuck with Lightroom 5 on my Mac.

Well, it turns out that to get Lightroom presets onto my phone, which is running the Lightroom CC app, I have to install those presets into the Mac version of Lightroom CC, even if I’m not using it. (I spent ages wondering why Lightroom 5 wouldn’t sync with the smartphone app, and this is the reason; they are totally different products.) Fortunately there is no need to import any images into Lightroom CC, or migrate any Catalogs from Lightroom Classic. I am just using Lightroom CC as a conduit to my phone. So the trick is to fire up Lightroom CC on the desktop, install the presets (so they are then installed in Lightroom CC as well as Lightroom 5) and then let Lightroom CC sync with the cloud (by virtue of the fact that my Mac is logged into the Adobe Creative Cloud service). I then quit Lightroom CC, because I don’t use it to do any actual image processing on my Mac. But the presets then show up in the iPhone app.

Simple, right? Almost. In practice the syncing process is a bit flaky. One problem is that not all Lightroom presets will work with Lightroom CC (on either desktop or phone). Helpfully, Lightroom CC (the desktop app, that is, not the iPhone app) can identify which presets are incompatible when you import them (see below for details). Another problem is that sometimes the syncing process produces duplicates of some or all presets on my phone, which means I have to delete them. So whenever I get new presets there’s sometimes a bit of fiddling while I import them into Lightroom CC on my Mac and then sync them over to my phone.

OK, here are the gory details. Hang on in there. It is worth it. To import your presets into Lightroom CC, you fire up the desktop app, and then click “Presets” in the bottom-right corner of the app window to open the Presets panel. At the top are three dots; click those to access a drop-down menu, and choose “Import Presets”. Then navigate to wherever you keep your Lightroom Classic presets and import them. They’ll show up in a list in the Presets panel. To see which, if any, are incompatible with Lightroom CC, go back to that drop-down menu and choose “Hide Partially Compatible Presets”. If any of your presets then vanish, that means they are not going to work on your phone, which is sadly the case for some older presets. Once you’ve got all your presets imported, wait for Lightroom CC to finish syncing. (You can tell by looking at the cloud icon in the top-right corner of the app window; when it just becomes a grey, static cloud, the sync is complete.) Then quit Lightroom CC and fire up the smartphone app, and your presets should be there and ready to use. The power of Lightroom, in the palm of your hand. Hurrah!

Let me know if you find these instructions helpful — or if you find them incomprehensible and need more detail. Getting this to work is fiddly, but believe me, it’s worth the effort!



  1. Yes, yes! This is so good isn’t it? I have been doing this for a few months now. Your instructions are spot on.

  2. Thank you! I’ve recently started shooting digital again after using just my iPhone or 35mm film for about 3 years and have been trying to get my head around the LR stuff. I too still use LR5 on my Mac, but want to be able to use the LR app on my phone and edit as I go. So, this is a huge help!

  3. Setting up/learning this has been on my back burner for a while now. The whole cloud thing just makes my head spin 😉
    Your post is super helpful! Thanks so much for sharing, Kirstin.

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