I recently visited Costa Rica. On our trip we had a couple of small local airline flights with very restrictive weight limits. My camera gear already had me up against (really over) the limit. I decided to make an attempt at a Lightroom CC mobile workflow with only my Android phone and a Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro.
My main goals were to have a backup of my photos beyond the memory cards in my camera and also to be able to post edited highlights to Instagram while still on the trip. First I’m going to talk about each component of the system (Lightroom CC and the WD My Passport Wireless Pro) and then walk through the mobile workflow that I ended up using.
The WD My Passport Wireless Pro
A member of photo club turned me on to this device. He had problems with his, but the potential is huge so I took the risk. I bought a 2TB version, but the size you choose doesn’t matter much.
Superficially this is a bit of a dream device. It is a self powered portable hard drive with a network server built in. I.e. it is a NAS that you can use on the road.
Beyond that it includes:
- a SD card slot that will automatically download images and video,
- a host USB 3.0 port that you can plug in other USB devices like cameras, card readers, and even other hard drives,
- a device USB 3.0 port that you can use to connect it directly to a computer (like any other portable hard drive) and to charge and power it,
- a WIFI bridge (a WIFI access point that also connects to other WIFI networks),
- a large build in battery that can be used as a power bank for other devices,
- linux under the hood with SSH access available – there is hacking potential down the road.
That is quite a list of features in a small device that costs less than $200. It looks like a dream.
Unfortunately, like so many great pieces of hardware, it is crippled by the app required to access it: My Cloud. I don’t think Western Digital actually tested this with real world users before releasing it. There are so many common tasks that are difficult or confusing. There are also a ton of bugs.
WD seemed to concentrate on a flashy feature list rather than efficient functionality so there are multiple not quite equivalent ways of doing various things. This point of this blog post isn’t a review, but just to give you an idea here are a few of the hiccups I ran into:
- The device would freeze and need a hard reboot (it was fully updated on the latest software). This seemed to resolve itself after the first couple of days of use. My photo club friend had the same issue that never resolved itself.
- Trying to make configuration changes or kicking off a backup of the SD card requires a password and the app would prompt for it over and over in a loop sometimes.
- There are no less than 4 ways to download files from the drive to your phone, and only one of them is useful at all for interacting with other apps (i.e. Lightroom CC).
- Browsing images (particularly RAW files) is TERRIBLY slow (Lightroom CC has the same problem). This is confusing since the built in Google Photos app previews RAWs instantly (presumably using the JPG preview that RAW files include internally).
- Trying to copy files from SD cards on your own into your own directory structure through the app is hopeless and frustrating.
I’ll detail the methods I used to make this work below in the My Mobile Workflow section.
Lightroom CC Mobile
Full disclosure: I’m not a Lightroom fan. I moved to Capture One after LR4 for lots of still relevant reasons including many poor design choices that persist in LR today. I’m predisposed to feel badly about and Lightroom version. Since Capture One doesn’t have a mobile editing solution yet (come on Phase One, Let’s go mobile), Lightroom CC was the likely choice.
Surprise surprise, I found the editing process easy and the results good, at least if I ignore some of the poor workflow it requires and bugs. Again, my point isn’t a review, but here are a few of the things that really made using Lightroom CC painful:
- Frequent crashes: About one out of 10 times the edit module would crash loosing what I was doing and dump me back to the image browser.
- Freezing during import: I learned early on that you can not use Lightroom CC while an import is going on, even though it is happening in the background. You will get frequent freezes and crashes. This is unfortunate since the phone otherwise behaved normally at normal speed.
- Imports are GLACIAL: It takes minutes (like 15) per photo for the images to come in.
- Imports silently fail on some files: I’d import 15 files and it would finish saying “Success” but only 12 files would be in the library from the import leaving me to have to figure out what it skipped.
- Importing images is TERRIBLE: RAW thumbnail take minutes to show up. Again, I have no idea why this is slow since the RAW file includes a JPG preview and the built in Google Photos app loads them instantly. This is an application problem, not a phone problem.
- Finding new images is nearly impossible: The import system limits you to “Device Folders” and “Time”. You can’t just navigate the android file system. What’s worse, Lightroom CC doesn’t see new folders quickly or ever without a phone reboot. And if you download the images to the wrong place, it might never see them. See below for what works.
- Importing shows only the thumbnails for images: No other information is shown… There is no way to see the file name, or anything else. So, you just have to wait for the thumbnails to load if you don’t want to import everything from a date or folder.
- Lightroom isn’t available as a share destination: So, I can’t find the RAW files I want in a sane app like Google Photos and just “Share” them to Lightroom for import like I would to email, or google drive or ANY other app. This is a HUGE design flaw in Lightroom CC.
Again, the point here isn’t a review of Lightroom CC on Android, but design flaws like this are exactly why I don’t use Lightroom in general. This is about par for the course for Adobe Lightroom.
My Mobile Workflow
Before I detail my mobile workflow, it is important to understand the problems it solves. This mobile workflow is designed for editing and sharing a few select highlights. I haven’t found a mobile workflow to edit more than a few 10s or 100s of images on mobile. The more targeted you are with what you try to edit, the happier you will be.
For my trip, I was using my Motorola Nexus 6 running Android 7.0 with tons of open space (cleared out for the trip) and shooting on a Nikon D810. I bought the 2TB version of the WD My Passport Wireless Pro.
Step 1: Shoot
This is the fun part of course. I was shooting on a Nikon D810. I shot mirrored to the SD and CF cards. Since weight and space were an issue, I didn’t bother with a CF reader and just used the SD card as the transfer media.
Step 2: Backup
One of my main purposes for the WD My Passport Wireless Pro was to have a mobile backup of my photos on the trip independent of the 2 cards in the camera. After some experimentation with manually copying images and video over to the drive using the App, I realized I was making my life hard and fell back to their built in automatic copy.
In theory, you can configure the Passport drive to automatically backup any SD card inserted but it never worked for me. I had to log in (possibly tripping the password bug above) and kick off and later eject the card manually.
Once I settled on using the built in system, life got easier… Their system includes duplicate filtration so each time you insert the card, only the new items are copied. It just worked so why fight it on a one user device?
Step 3: Select Files to Edit
This is where things get a little tedious. Initially I tried using the image browser built into the My Cloud app, but it is terribly slow on D810 RAW files. I tried switching to shoot JPG+RAW in the hopes that the JPGs would be quicker to browse. They were, but only marginally. It was still painfully slow.
In the end, my solution was to shoot just RAW and use the camera to browse the images for highlights. Most cameras do a good job of flipping through images quickly. The only real drawback is that I couldn’t take only the phone and My Password along to dinner for example. I had to drag the camera along too. In the end it worked, but isn’t as convenient as it should be.
Finding your images to edit is simple if a little tedious.
- Use your camera to find the image(s) you want and get their file names.
- Use the WD My Cloud app to find the images by file name. They are located under /SD Card Imports/ and subfolders for the date and times of each backup. You have to remember which day (and maybe time) the images in question get imported to find them.
- Long press on the first image you want to select. Tap each additional image to select multiple images.
- Touch the button on the upper right and select Save to SD card.
- Select the Download folder and tap the check icon on the upper right.
The “Save to SD card” menu option was the only way I found to get images onto my phone where Lightroom CC would ever see them. There are several other ways to download and save things to the phone, but none of them work to get the images to Lightroom CC.
Step 4: Importing into Lightroom CC
Here is where things get a little idiotic and I’m not 100% sure who is at fault. It seems like Android might bare some of the blame because you can’t see the images in Google Photos right away either. Or maybe My Cloud is putting them on Android in a non-supported fashion. Having the ability to select one or more images in My Cloud and just share to Lightroom would make this whole process MUCH saner.
In any case, I never found a 100% consistent solution, but here is what I ended up doing:
- Open the Google Photos app. Using the icon to select “Device Folders” and then select “Download” from the available folders.
- Make sure the images are visible to Android:
Using the built in Google Photos app was necessary because without this, sometimes Lightroom CC would never see the images and because Photos has a MUCH faster UI than Lightroom CC.
- If you see the new images you just copied to your phone(sorted by image date usually), you should be good. Lightroom CC should see them.
- If you do NOT see the new images you download there are two of options that seemed to work for me: wait, sometimes over night or reboot the phone. Rebooting usually works.
- Once the images are showing, open Lightroom CC, tap the +Add Photos button and navigate to the day the photos were taken on (or to the device folder if you want to do it that way).
- Wait (a long time) for the thumbnails to load.
- Select the images you want and tap “add”.
- Wait (a long time) for the images to import.
For me, I found this worked best if I limited myself to one import per day. You can check the entire day in LR CC and click import even before the thumbnails are loaded. Things get painful when you want to select only a couple of images from a given day (or folder) since the thumbnails load so slowly.
Step 5: Editing Images & Share
This part actually works pretty well and is enjoyable as long as you obey a couple of rules:
- Do not try to edit while an import is running.
- Wait until the loading spinner finished before you touch anything or rotate the phone.
Failing to obey these rules resulted in freezes and crashes for me. Not that it never froze or crashed otherwise, but the frequency is much lower if you avoid these two actions.
Once you are happy with an image, you can share it directly to another app (e.g. Instagram) using the share button on the upper right.
In the end, I achieved what I wanted: I had a backup of my images and I was able to edit and share highlights. Once I had worked out the procedure above it wasn’t even that annoying. I just had to be willing to set my phone down and walk away when a wait is required. Since I was on vacation, that wasn’t a big deal. I will likely use this same workflow on future personal trips. I’m not sure I would trust this process yet for anything real requiring near real time updates without a laptop.
Here are a few of the images I edited using Lightroom CC during the trip.