If you’ve been around the Lightroom community over the last week, you’ve probably heard a lot of chatter and even more confusion about Lightroom’s new Local mode. It was all started by an email from Matt K entitled “Goodbye Lightroom Classic” (which was actually about selling his new Lightroom course… don’t worry, Lightroom Classic isn’t going anywhere).
Every photographer has different needs, workflows, and opinions, so in this post, we will give a comprehensive overview of the pros and cons of Lightroom’s new Local mode as it stands today to help you make the right decision for your personal Lightroom workflow. We’ll update this post as new features are added, so even if it’s not the right choice for you today, it may be in the future.
(TL;DR – I believe it’s too soon for most Classic users, but read on to learn why.)
What’s the difference between Lightroom and Lightroom Classic?
I’m sure you know that there are two different desktop versions of Lightroom, and yes, the naming is confusing. The traditional folder-based version of Lightroom has been around since 2006, first as a public beta, then just called Lightroom, and then renamed to Lightroom Classic in 2017. And there’s also the version that was first released in 2017, initially called Lightroom CC, and now just known as Lightroom (or more accurately, Lightroom Desktop, because it’s actually just one element of the cloud-based Lightroom ecosystem which has apps for Desktop, Mobile, and Web).
Until a couple of months ago, Lightroom Desktop was entirely cloud-based… your photos were stored in the cloud and could be accessed from any of your devices. When it was first released in 2017, it didn’t have all of the editing features, so some people considered it dumbed-down. It’s grown up since then, and almost all of Lightroom Classic’s editing controls are now available.
In the October release of Lightroom Desktop, a new Local feature was introduced, which allows you to work on files stored on your local hard drive rather than uploading them all to the cloud. We wrote about it here on release date, and at the same time, we released our Adobe Lightroom – Edit on the Go book, which has been completely rewritten to incorporate this new feature.
Lightroom Desktop’s Local mode is a bit of a mouthful, so let’s call it Lightroom Local for simplicity…
What’s the advantage of Lightroom Local?
It’s a lightweight file browser that allows you to browse and edit the photos stored in folders on your hard drive. That means there’s no import process (if the photos have already been copied to your hard drive) and no catalog, so there are no more “missing files.” It’s also much newer software, so it has fewer bugs, and it’s much simpler to learn. It has the same sliders as Lightroom Classic. They’re arranged into slightly different groupings, but personally, I prefer Lightroom Desktop’s interface with its collapsible sub-panels for more advanced features.
It sounds great, so what’s the downside?
Remember back in 2005, before Lightroom was around, you had to hunt through all your folders to find a specific photo, and if it fell into multiple categories, you had to duplicate the file? Lightroom Local is currently at that stage. It has all the desired editing features, but the Local mode lacks important organizational tools. It’s just early days! You can rate your photos and add keywords, but you can’t currently search across multiple folders, so to find a photo, you have to know exactly where you stored it. When that changes, I will wholeheartedly recommend Lightroom Local to anyone who wants to store their photos locally and doesn’t need Classic’s other features. But, as of today, it’s just too soon for me to recommend it to Classic users who need to search their photos.
There are also some other features that some people will miss more than others. You might not need any of these features in your workflow, but these are the main ones that have come up in discussions over the last few days:
- File Management
- You can’t rename files, except when exporting. That doesn’t really matter in the cloud ecosystem, but it is more important in local storage. And if you rename raw files using the operating system, you must rename the sidecar XMP file at the same time, or you’ll lose your edits.
- There’s no way of creating collections/albums or grouping photos from different folders without actually moving them on the hard drive. (Albums and stacks are available for Cloud photos.)
- If you sync photo to the cloud, it syncs the originals rather than smart previews. That may be a good thing for your workflow, but it requires extra cloud storage, so you’ll probably either need to switch to the LR 1TB plan (which doesn’t include Photoshop) or buy extra storage (doubling the cost).
- No tethered capture (although that’s not an issue for most people).
- You can’t browse offline photos (e.g., if your main photo archive is on a hard drive at home).
- Metadata options are limited to stars, flags, title, caption, copyright, capture date, location fields, and non-hierarchical keywords. (Cloud also has AI-search and People tagging)
- There are no color labels.
- There’s no Map module to assign GPS data (although a small thumbnail map shows on photos that already have GPS).
- There’s no saved search or smart collections.
- You can only search the current folder. (Cloud can search all cloud photos.)
- There are no local adjustment presets at the top of the Masking sliders (often known as Brush Presets).
- There’s no Previous or Sync button, but there is Copy/Paste.
- There’s no History of edits (although Auto Versions are available for Cloud photos).
- There are no snapshots or virtual copies (Versions are only available for Cloud photos).
- There are no external editors apart from Photoshop. You can send photos to Photoshop (if you have Photoshop) and use your third-party editors in there, or you can right-click > Show in Explorer/Finder and open into the external app from there.
- There’s no secondary display.
- While you can Edit in Photoshop, it doesn’t have the advanced options such as Open as Layers or Open as Smart Object.
- You can’t create export presets.
- There are no plug-ins for metadata, export, or devices like LoupeDeck.
- There are no Publish Services (Some third-party connections such as Blurb and SmugMug are available for Cloud photos.)
- There are no Book, Slideshow, Print or Web modules. (Although Print is the only one that people use regularly.)
So, who is Lightroom Local good for today?
Even at this early stage, I would suggest that Lightroom Local is a great choice for:
- Lightroom Classic users who purely use folders to organize their photos and just want to use Lightroom for editing.
- Bridge/Camera Raw users who would prefer to edit their photos without having to open into a separate window.
- Lightroom Cloud Ecosystem users who want to keep some of their photos in the cloud and others offline. Cloud users have been asking for selective sync for years! For example, you might only keep the best and current working photos in cloud storage and the rest on your desktop hard drive.
- Lightroom Cloud Ecosystem users who want to browse and cull their latest photos before adding the keepers to the cloud rather than uploading everything.
Should Lightroom Classic users switch to Lightroom Local?
For some Lightroom Classic users who have just been importing their files, editing them, exporting them, then deleting them from the catalog, Lightroom Local is perfect! It’s also great for those who have another way of organizing their files, for example, working photographers who organize by job and never want to search any other way.
Once some kind of multi-folder search becomes available, it’ll become a good option for many more Lightroom Classic users who don’t want the complexity of catalogs. But right now, it’s just too soon for me to recommend it to people who use Lightroom Classic for organizing their photos (although you might still consider Lightroom Cloud, which does have more organizing features).
If I want to move from Classic to Lightroom Local, what do I need to know?
If, having read all that, you still want to try it out, try it with a fresh shoot… you can always import that shoot into Classic later if there are some features you can’t live without.
Obviously the interface is a little different, and some features are hidden by default to keep the interface simple. Don’t worry, it’s covered in detail in our Adobe Lightroom – Edit on the Go book. If you just want to get a quick overview, feel free to register as a free member (if you’re not already) and download our free Quick Start eBook.
You also need to understand that Lightroom Local stores the edits in XMP. That’s a section of the file header for most file types (so watch out, your backup software may want to back up the entire file every time you edit it) or a sidecar file for proprietary raw files. If you move or rename a proprietary raw file using the operating system, always move or rename the XMP file at the same time, or you’ll lose your edits.
Lightroom Local doesn’t read your Lightroom Classic catalog, so if you want Lightroom Local to be able to see your edits for existing photos, you’ll need to write the edits to XMP. To do so, select all the photos in Lightroom Classic’s Grid view and go to Metadata menu > Write Metadata to Files. Remember, not everything gets transferred, so don’t throw away your Lightroom Classic catalog. Most notably, Lightroom Classic doesn’t write flags into XMP at the moment. Also, don’t move files or folders using Lightroom Local because then Lightroom Classic will consider them missing, so you could create a mess. If you need to move or rename photos, do it in Lightroom Classic until you’re absolutely sure that Lightroom Local will do everything you need.
To help you decide which system suits you best, check out our fully updated comparison of Lightroom Classic and Lightroom Ecosystem (cloud) Lightroom cloud ecosystem vs. Lightroom Classic – which do I need?