I prefer to travel light. After a frustrating trip to Morocco a few years back, where our checked-in luggage was “lost” for five days at the beginning of our trip, I have vowed to not check my luggage going forward (when possible). So, for my trip to Southeast Asia last month, I decided to travel only with carry-on luggage, and also to also travel as light as possible. This includes choosing smaller lenses to carry with my camera, as well as the other hardware I bring with me. And ultimately I decided that my laptop was going to stay home.

I’ve always found laptops to be ridiculously cumbersome when traveling. They’re heavy, even the smaller 13″ MacBook Pro that I currently own. And, when I bring it along, it is mostly used as an “import into Lightroom and check my email” device, so it doesn’t get that much use. Sometimes my laptop is required, however, such as if I’m going to a conference or photo workshop where I will be giving a photo-editing presentation using software or features that are not available on the iPad. But when traveling on my own with the sole purpose of creating photos, writing, or just relaxing, it’s overkill.

I don’t do a lot of heavy photo or video processing when I’m traveling, so I decided that the new iPad Pro would be a good replacement for these trips. I upgraded my old iPad (a four-year-old iPad Air 2) with a brand-new 12.9″ iPad Pro, and also got the keyboard case and pencil. This is my new laptop replacement when my travels don’t require a full-fledged laptop.

Disclaimers:

  • Adobe has provided 10 TB of free storage space to use on my devices.
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Here's what's covered in this article

  • Setting up Lightroom CC and Lightroom CC Classic to seamlessly sync files together
  • Using Lightroom CC Classic as the primary photo catalog, while also using Lightroom CC while traveling

Please note: This workflow could easily be adapted to work using Lightroom CC on a laptop, Android tablet, or any other device that uses Lightroom CC.

Using Lightroom CC with the iPad Pro

One hurdle that I needed to jump was figuring out how to make iPad-only travel work with my current Lightroom workflow. I currently use Lightroom Classic CC, but have not yet migrated over to the “cloud” version, Lightroom CC, which is the app I will use on my iPad.

Here is my goal:

  • While traveling: To travel with and only use my iPad (and Lightroom CC) to import, sort, and edit my photos.
  • Upon returning home: To have my photos move seamlessly from my iPad (Lightroom CC) to my iMac (Lightroom Classic CC), without losing my edits, metadata, or organization structure.

Fortunately, with only a few adjustments, Lightroom CC has made it possible to do this.

Recommended Software and Hardware

To make this work, at the very least this setup requires an iPad, an Adobe CC subscription, and an SD card reader for the iPad. Here’s the full list of the gear and software I’m using to make this happen:

  • Apple iPad: It must have enough internal storage for your photos while traveling. For my trip, I’m using the latest iPad with 1 TB of data. That might seem excessive, but I tend to update my iPad only once in a while (my last iPad lasted me 4+ years and it was still working perfectly when I sold it).

  • Adobe CC subscription: I have the full suite, but you only need the photography plan to make this work (Lightroom and Photoshop). You may also need to update the cloud storage with your plan. By default the Photography plan includes 20GB of storage, but if you know you will be syncing more than that, then you’ll want to upgrade your storage plan.

  • SD card reader for the iPad: I’m using a USB-C to SD card reader (Apple brand).

  • Computer at home with Internet access and both Lightroom CC and CC Classic installed: I use an Apple iMac.

  • A separate hard-drive for additional photo backup: I’m using the WD My Passport Wireless Pro 4 TB (Amazon — $189.00 US). This device allows me to plug SD cards directly into the drive and automatically import my files. This is purely for secondary backup and is not required to make the Lightroom CC/CC Classic sync work properly.

Before the trip starts

Before I travel I needed to make a few edits to the preferences on my iMac. Because I primarily use Lightroom Classic, I wanted to make sure that the photos I import will be added to my main external hard-drive automatically upon returning home (for me, that’s my Drobo 5D).

By default the Lightroom CC files are automatically synced to a folder within my main HD:

iMac > Macintosh HD > Users > [username] > Pictures > Lightroom

However, I wanted to change the default to an external folder:

iMac > [external HD] > [folder name]

Here’s how change the default Lightroom sync import folder:

  1. Go to Lightroom > Preferences > Lightroom Sync
  2. Change the location of the default folder to wherever you want the photos stored. In my case, I created a new folder called “RAW – Lightroom CC” on my Drobo.

Note: You can also do this quickly by locating a folder within your Folders panel, right-click it, and then select “Set as Lightroom CC Downloads location”

Once I get home, I will still need to move the photos into a different folder to organize my files properly. However, doing this ensures that the synced files from my iPad are imported into the proper volume from the beginning, where I know I have enough hard-drive space to hold them.

Turn off iCloud Photo Sync

Another thing you may want to do is make sure that the iCloud photo sync is turned off on your iPad. I made this mistake and all of my images synced over to my iPhone once I returned home and had decent WiFi! (If you use other photo backup services, such as Google Photos or Amazon Photos, you may also want to turn those off on the iPad as well.)

To turn off iCloud photo sync, first go here:

Settings > Username (top level in the settings) > iCloud > Photos

Then make sure that the toggle for iCloud Photos is turned off.

While traveling

Before you import your photos into the iPad, it’s a good idea to first go into the Lightroom CC app and set up a folder that auto-imports your images. This will save you a LOT of hassle in trying to add your photos to Lightroom when you will be importing photos from a multi-day trip (especially if you don’t format your SD cards regularly).

STEP 1 — Set up an “Import Album”:

  1. First, open Lightroom CC on your tablet.
  2. Create a main Folder for your event. My folder for this trip was titled “SE Asia 2018”.
  3. Create an Album within this folder and give it a title. I simply titled mine as “0 – Imports” to make it easy to locate the files.
  4. Click on the  to the right of this album name (to open up the options) and turn on the “Auto Import from Camera Roll” option. Now when you follow the steps below, the photos will automatically import into this folder from your camera roll.

STEP 2 — Import the files to your iPad:

Now, after you’ve created some photos with your camera, use the steps below to import the files into your tablet. I did this about once per day.

  1. Connect the SD card to the iPad.
  2. Import the photos directly to the Photos album.
  3. When finished importing, you may want to select the “Keep” option to retain the photos on the SD card. I do this because I prefer to format the card directly on my camera (always the best choice). And I also want to keep those photos on the SD card so that I can import them to my backup hard drive.

STEP 3 — Open Lightroom CC on your iPad:

  1. The photos will automatically import into the “Import folder” you set up in Step 1.
  2. Create new Album where you want to add the photos you just imported.
  3. Open your Import (auto-add) album and select all of the images that were just imported.
  4. The photo(s) will be imported into Lightroom CC on your iPad, and it will also sync with Lightroom CC on whichever device you have Lightroom installed (phone, laptop, desktop, etc.)

Not only will the photos be imported into the iPad, but I can also flag, rate, and edit the files and all of these changes will sync with the cloud and those changes will also be synced with the final images imported to Lightroom Classic CC on my iMac.

Optional Step

Import a backup of your files to a separate travel hard-drive. I use the WD My Passport Wireless Pro 4 TB.

Additional Method

In a recent Lightroom CC mobile update for iOS (version 4.1.1) Adobe added the ability to use the Shortcuts app to create a shortcut that runs a script to do everything above, including the deletion of the photos from the iPad (but not from Lightroom CC) which you’ll find in the steps below.

To learn more about how this works I suggest you watch Brian Matiash’s tutorial on how to set this up, and you can also read Matthew Cassinelli’s article about it here.

Speed Up Your Lightroom Workflow

How to use the Shortcuts iOS app to import photos to Lightroom CC and delete them from the Camera Roll.

After returning home

Once I get home to my iMac, the photos first need to fully sync to the cloud before going any further.

Getting files from the iPad to the iMac:

  1. First, the files need to fully sync from Lightroom CC on the iPad to Lightroom Classic on the iMac. This may take very little time, or quite a while, depending on what the wifi speeds were while traveling, how many photos need to sync, as well as how fast your Internet speeds are at home.
  2. Next, create a new folder structure within Lightroom. I used the same folder structure that I have my albums/collections set to, and then moved all of the files over to those folders. This removes the files from the default sync folder and to my main raw file storage folder:

And that’s it! Now all of my files are added into my Lightroom Classic catalog with all edits and rating synced.

Optional: Delete the Lightroom CC library

WARNING: If you use Lightroom CC as your main Lightroom catalog then DO NOT DO THIS or you will delete all of your photos in your Lightroom catalog.

WARNING: If you use Lightroom CC as your main Lightroom catalog then DO NOT DO THIS or you will delete all of your photos in your Lightroom catalog.

The last thing that was left to do was to clean up my Lightroom CC library, as well as delete all of the photos from my iPad. Because I do not use Lightroom CC as my main Lightroom application, and instead use Lightroom Classic CC, this is a good way to keep my files nice and tidy. When a collection is synced to Lightroom CC, the photos are synced to Lightroom CC until you remove them. Even if you remove the collection or stop syncing the collection, those files will forever remain in the cloud. In order to clear out this data, you’ll need to delete the Lightroom CC library.

Here’s how to delete the Lightroom CC library:

  1. First, I made sure that all of the photos that were synced in Lightroom were transferred to my main hard drive, including all of the Lightroom camera photos from my iPhone.
  2. Next, in Lightroom Classic CC, I went to: Preferences > Lightroom Sync
  3. Then I clicked on Delete All Synced Data. This prompted me to visit my Lightroom account in my browser.
  4. I clicked on the Delete Lightroom Library button.
  5. A new “are you sure??” window pops up and makes you type out how many photos you’re deleting from the cloud.
  6. Afterwards my Lightroom CC library was completely empty, and my locally stored images and edits remained intact.

I’ll admit that I was very hesitant to do this at first; all the reading I did about deleting the Lightroom CC catalog informed me that the local files on my hard drive would not be touched, but because each photo had a little sync icon in the corner of it, I wasn’t sure what would happen. Because my files are backed up to a separate hard drive, I thought I’d go ahead and see what happens. Thankfully it did what I was expecting: it kept my local files in place, retained all metadata/edits/picks, and wiped the Lightroom CC library clean from all devices.

Deleting the photos from the iPad

The very last—and most tedious—step was to remove the photos from my iPad. Because they are already added to Lightroom CC, there’s no reason to keep them in the Camera Roll.

If you prefer to have your photos automatically deleted after importing, you may want to consider using the iOS Shortcuts app to automatically move the photos to the Lightroom CC app and delete them from the camera roll. Watch Brian Matiash’s video tutorial to learn how to do this.

Some final thoughts

Overall, this whole process worked like a charm. I am very happy with using this and will very likely do so for all of my future photography travels when a laptop is not required. However, there are a few things that didn’t work perfectly—or as I would have preferred—so it’s a good idea to keep these items in mind when using Lightroom CC on a tablet.

  • It’s a good thing I opted for the 1TB iPad. After my three week trip I ended up with nearly 8,000 images and 414.24 GB of photos added to my iPad. Anything smaller and I would have been stretched for space (especially since I like to load up my iPad with movies and videos on long trips).
  • The album and folder structure within Lightroom CC will not sync over to Lightroom Classic.
  • If you shoot RAW+JPEG, please note that the JPEG files will not transfer using Lightroom CC mobile. I sometimes use the “Advanced” filter on my FUJIFILM cameras to add a special filter effect to some images, which saves the file as a RAW and a JPEG (the JPEG applies the effect while the RAW is the standard raw file). Lightroom reads these images as the same and will only transfer over the RAW file. The only way I was able to transfer the JPEG was to access it from my backup hard drive and copy it over independently.