Wireless, Cross-device, photo syncing in 2014

For the last two years I have used Aperture for storing, organizing and sharing our photos. It wasn't the perfect photo solution, which I've blogged about more than once, when it came to wirelessly getting photos from several devices in to the Aperture library. I did however like how much flexibility it provided me for organization. I know that Lightroom had really good organizational features, but it didn't play well with my iOS devices and Photostream wasn't supported, which made wirelessly uploading my photo's impossible at the time.

The stars have since aligned, with Aperture being discontinued and Adobe releasing Lightroom for iOS, I now have the opportunity to move over to Lightroom and actually end up with a much better solution. After getting all settled in with Lightroom, I am now able to take a picture on my iPhone, open Lightroom on my iPad and make edits, then open up Lightroom on my Mac or Windows PC and have the original photo and it's edits already ready for me to add keywords to and organize. Even better yet, is that my wife's iPhone has Lightroom on it, and every picture she takes, shows up on both of my iOS devices and on our two computers, without any issues. Well worth the $10 a month it's costing, plus I get Photoshop for my machines and iOS devices, so it's a great value for the price.

The setup

I downloaded and installed Lightroom mobile on my iPhone and my two iPads. Then I downloaded and installed Lightroom mobile on my wife's iPhone and her iPad. Finally, I downloaded Lightroom for my Windows machine and my Mac (technically the same machine, just dual booted). Next, I created a collection on my iOS devices, one collection per device. When you create a new collection on a device, you can tell it to auto-import your camera roll. It will automatically upload your photo's to the Lightroom cloud, and sync them to all of your devices, in the background.

Once each of our devices has a collection created, and has the auto-import enabled, we see all of the collections on all of our devices. This allows us to take a picture on any device, and not have to deal with sending to photostream or AirDropping a large number of files. Our photo's just show up on all our devices. If you want, you could create a single collection, and assign it to auto-import on all devices, so all of your photo's go into 1 collection from all devices. We chose to create one collection per device though so we could make finding a photo easier. I know my wife snapped a photo of my daughter on her iPad, so I just go to her iPad collection from my phone and find it.

Here, you can see all of our collections easily accessible on my iPad.

Now that all of our mobile devices were set up with Lightroom, I launched Lightroom on my Mac and discovered that the collections were available there without any set up. Now I can easily select the photo's and import them in to my library, add keywords, edit them and back them up.

One of the other cool features of Lightroom is that I can select any photo from my library, add them to a collection and enable mobile sync on the collection. Now any photo I add to the custom collection will sync to all of our mobile devices. Extremely easy.


You can technically sync photo's to iOS from Aperture and iPhoto as well, using Photostream. The difference between Photostream and Lightroom Collections is that Photostream still syncs down the photo to your device (albeit a small version), while Lightroom only syncs a thumbnail. Since majority of the time, users won't actually open all 500 photo's to view on their device, you only need 500 thumbnails. As you can see from my photo above, I have 142 photo's from my wife's iPhone, but it's only using 31mb of storage. When you open a photo to view the full photo, Lightroom downloads the full-resolution for you to see. Much better!

With Aperture/iOS, I could share photo's with my wife through Photostream as well, but my wife would end up saving the photo to her camera roll and a duplicate ultimately ended up in my Aperture library. I would spend a lot of time removing duplicates. Luckily, it seems that Lightroom is smart enough to not import duplicates. Another benefit is that I don't have to manually upload 20 photo's that I just took of my daughter to Photostream for her to see. They just show up in our Lightroom.

If I wanted to have a photostream per device, it made things even more complex. Take a picture on my iPhone, and upload to photostream, then take a picture on my iPad 5 minutes later and manually upload to photostream again. With Lightroom, we can take pictures on any device at any time and not deal with uploading. Lightroom handles it all for us with less effort.

Tags & Keywords

Lightroom calls their version of Tags, Keywords. I downloaded an app on my iPad called Photosmith, that lets you create a collection of photos on your Mac (or Windows) and sync the collection of photo's to your iPad. You can then add keywords, edit the photo's, name them and then sync the changes back to Lightroom. It's a great way to 'tag' photo's while on the go. Until the Lightroom Mobile apps support keywording, I'll use Photosmith to do all my keywording while on the go. It's a bit difficult to set up initially, but in the end it works pretty well.

This process is by far the best photo syncing solution I've found, after several years of messing with trying to take care of syncing to the computers wirelessly and sharing across all devices.