Can the iPad Pro Alone Be Everything You Need for Photo Editing in Lightroom?

Can the iPad Pro Alone Be Everything You Need for Photo Editing in Lightroom?

It’s a simple question with a (not so) simple answer: can Adobe Lightroom on the iPad give you everything you need to edit your photos? 

Before I dive in, trying to answer this question for you, I’ll share what my experience has been like so far. For the first time since COVID-19 hit, I was planning to travel out of the area where I live, and I wanted to be able to back up my photos from my memory card while also being able to cull through them and, if the opportunity arose in my travels, edit some of the photos as well. I considered bringing my 16” Macbook Pro since I didn’t already have an iPad, and I worried that learning an entirely new Lightroom setup would mean that I could not lean on my established and (what I would consider) efficient workflow. At the end of the day, however, I decided against lugging around the heaviest laptop Apple makes in favor of a much lighter and much more portable substitute. Before diving into the specifics, I am very happy with my purchase, and even though I’ve been home for a couple of weeks, I have not once used my laptop to edit photos – opting instead for my 11" iPad Pro

Apple iPad Pro and Adobe Lightroom

The answer to the standing question, is quite simply: "it depends." For every photo I took on my trip, editing on the iPad met every need I had. Sure, there are things that Lightroom on the iPad cannot do that can be done on a laptop or desktop. Those limitations just did not affect any of my photos on this particular occasion. So, let’s start with what the iPad version of Lightroom (i.e., mobile version of Lightroom) can do. To start, let me just say that almost everything you can do with Lightroom Classic can be done with the mobile version of Lightroom. There are a few things that Lightroom Mobile cannot do, though those few things can be quite important for many photographers. 

Editing Tools in Both

  • White balance (temperature and tint)
  • Light (exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks)
  • Tone curve (overall and red, green, and blue channels)
  • Color (vibrance, saturation)
  • Texture and clarity
  • Hue, saturation, and color
  • Color grading
  • Texture, clarity, dehaze, and vignette
  • Sharpening and noise reduction
  • Healing brush
  • Selective editing (radial filter, linear filters, and selective brush)

Editing Tools Not Available in Lightroom Mobile

  • Luminosity masks
  • HDR photo merging
  • Panoramic photo merging

Will Lightroom on the iPad Be All You Need?

If you are the kind of photographer who very regularly needs or wants to use luminosity masks, then using only an iPad just will not work for you. The same thing goes if you regularly merge photographs. I suspect that this shortcoming disproportionally affects landscape photographers, where these techniques are quite common. Should these techniques not be a make-it or break-it for you, I would suspect that you would find a lot of enjoyment in editing with the iPad. Before I picked up the iPad, I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy the editing process as much as I do on the computer because I was worried that the raw files from my Sony a7R II would be too much for the iPad and I would experience some lag in the editing process or that Lightroom mobile would be too different from what I know. I also worried that I would dislike drawing on the photo itself when using the selective brush. 

Long story short, I had nothing to worry about. Lightroom reacts very fast to all edits, perhaps even faster than my MacBook Pro. Being able to engage with the photo more via the touchscreen was great and helped to make me feel more connected to the process. Further, though Lightroom Mobile is a good bit different from Lightroom Classic, it is much more alike than it is different, so it was not at all difficult to switch between the two. Lastly, one thing that made the experience better was the fact that the Lightroom profiles I so regularly use on my computer were also available to use on Lightroom mobile. 

With all of this talk about Lightroom, one might think that it is the only reason that you may like and appreciate getting an iPad, but that is not true. If you find yourself on planes often enough, being able to download movies and shows for offline viewing can come in clutch. Just about every streaming service (if not all of them) allow you to do this with most or all of their content. When you travel enough, you’re bound to have frustratingly long delays here or there, and being able to have viewing content to stave off the frustration and boredom is quite nice. 

In addition, should you have a subscription to Adobe Photography subscription, you also may have Adobe Fresco, which is a blast. If you’re more talented at drawing and painting than I am, you may be able to make some wonderfully creative work. If you’re more like me and prefer to “draw” on tracing paper rather than from scratch, you can load in a photo and draw over the photo, turning the layers on and off like you would in Photoshop. The result is a great, creative way to spend time that gives you another outlet to appreciate some of your photographs.


I can highly recommend an iPad equipped with Adobe Lightroom for your photo editing needs. That said, it would likely be better to supplement a laptop or desktop as there are a few limitations that may hold you back in select instances – this is particularly true if you are a landscape photographer and regularly merge photographs or utilize luminosity masks. For me, it is much better option for traveling option compared with my 16” Macbook Pro because of the size and weight. In the future, once I try other apps for editing photos, I suspect that I may like it even more. 

What about you? Have you used an iPad for photo editing? How do you think it compares with using a laptop or desktop?

If you'd like to learn how to use Adobe Lightroom more efficiently on any device, make sure to check out our Mastering Adobe Lightroom course with Pye Jirsa. The content Pye covers will appeal to every level of photographer and will save you an incredible amount of time on your image editing. Save 15% by using "ARTICLE" at checkout. 

James Madison's picture

Madison is a mathematician turned statistician based out of Columbus, OH. He fell back in love with film years ago while living in Charleston, SC and hasn't looked back since. In early 2019 he started a website about film photography.

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I love my iPad for editing. Except when I travel. I would love to know how you uploaded your photos while on the road? My typical work flow is to load the photos to the iPad each day, maybe 1,000? But I can’t make any changes to the sync album until all the photos have uploaded. And with the connections I typically get, that can take until I get home. So next trip, I’ll be taking the laptop (sigh) and simply exporting the images as a catalog and merge it with my Lightroom Classic on the desktop when I get home.

I really wish I could selectively upload photos on the iPad.

Not sure I follow what you can't do? Maybe some tips here to think about and apply to your workflow

I just got back from a 33 day cruise and here’s my problem. I turned off sync on the iPad since the Wi-Fi was too limited to handle photo uploads. I took 30,000 images with my camera and loaded them onto the iPad. I culled all but 6,000 of them. Those I edited, sorted, and key worded. When I got home, I turned on sync. It took 3 days of leaving the iPad turned on with Lightroom in the foreground, plugged in, to upload all 6,000 photos with edits. Even then when I went to my desktop PC and synced Lightroom Classic, the wouldn’t sync unless the iPad was turned on, Lightroom in the foreground, plugged in, as every once in a while it would have to access the iPad or it would cause a sync error on the PC.

If I had brought a laptop and used Lightroom Classic, I would have export the catalog and merged it with the one on my PC. That only takes a few minutes.

Do you see what I mean now?

The link you sent illustrates my problem, sort of. But there doesn’t appear to be a solution. What I really need is the ability to selectively sync photos while traveling and a way to get them into my Lightroom Classic catalogue without going through the cloud as an intermediary step.

Does that make sense? I’ve read posts about this issue going back to 2016 and there doesn’t seem to be a way to do what I need.

L B, How come you do not answer Larry?

I love using the iPad Pro. I decided to go exclusive with it and endure the shortcomings until they were ironed out just for the sake of mobility and speed (Lightroom on iPad Pro is lightning quick). Affinity Photo can merge HDR and panorama photos for those who need to stay on iPad. Editing with Apple Pencil is excellent. The screen is excellent too. I’m on my third iPad Pro (original, last year’s 11”, and this years 12”.. had to have it for that screen. They double as great little portable TV’s throughout the house too.

Lack of color managed printing is the deal breaker for me. Best workaround is to keep an inexpensive Mac (mini or air) exclusively as a printing station.

Not even close.

I just want to point out that LR Mobile has been updated to include the new masking features, and even on an iPhone SE (2020) they work damn well.

That was my first thought. Maybe this article was submitted before the update, but it should be edited to reflect the new masking features. For many people, it is a game changing addition.

If Adobe could implement a mapping module, I'd even consider dropping Classic.

Anyone else find they need to log in to this site again almost every time they want to leave a comment? It's the only website I've ever had this issue with.

As far as using an iPad exclusively, screen isn't big enough and I still can't connect multiple hard drives to iOS as far as I'm aware.

No log in issues for me on Firefox and Chrome. You could try to clear the cookies for this site only. On the address bar, click on the padlock.

Edit: Actually, on Safari on my iPhone does log me out often. It has this issue in multiple sites so I switched to DuckDuckGo browser a while back.

Every time I open Fstoppers, it wants to log in, despite the box "keep me logged in" is ticked. Every. Single. Time. The only site that does it.

If it is just this site, have a look at the extensions or setting which might clear the cookie storage each time you close a tab or quit the browser. It does not happen here with FF, Chrome, Epiphany browsers.


What kind of kickstand and/or keyboard to you use with it? I like the idea of an M1 iPad Pro, but wouldn't want to use it lying flat all the time, or holding it up with one hand. I've done some research about all the different options, but it's hard to figure out what would work best.

I've been using Lightroom on my iPad as my sole image editing software for about 4 years now. It was great when it first launched and has gotten exponentially better as time goes on. One standout feature for me, that was not mentioned in the above article, is the fact that all your images sync through Creative Cloud. Like the author, I too have used Lightroom and my iPad Pro when traveling, and being able to import a full days shooting, then cull and edit on my iPad with all edits for my photos already waiting for me on my desktop at home was the ultimate game changer.

not for me. Travel with Gnarbox and back up on the move. Edit at home. Different horses for different courses

I went fully mobile with an iPad Pro and Lightroom Mobile. I don't use a desktop anymore. No regrets. Works like a charm and does everything I need. A recent trip to the Lake District also proved no issues, wifi is practically non-existent there. I loaded my photos from a day's shoot (200-300) from card to iPad, edited to my hearts content locally. When I was back in the 21st century (ie home with decent wifi) the iPad uploaded them to the cloud all seamlessly and flawlessly.

Love it.

Of course, your needs prolly differ.

No. I'm used to processing on a 27 inch monitor. If this one goes bad, I'll probably move up to a 32".

Yep, I do all my editing on iPad whether traveling or not. However, I still do all my file management stuff with Classic. Thank goodness they sync, albeit excruciating slowly.

Luminosity masks were just added :)

Most screens are too small. Who wants to review 1000’s of thumbnails on a tiny screen? What about details one might miss? I am shooting 102 mp images and there are details not apparent on a 27” screen without careful review. For fast onsite editing and deletion, yes.

I have no trouble uploading from any of my memory cards to Lightroom on iPad or to Apple Photo app via a card adapter. I have a iMac and rarely edit on it.
A new item added to latest Lightroom mobile update is the masks section all new and Luminosity masks is added.

ipad pro, macbook pro m1 pro... penis enlargement

You obviously haven't got one.

yes, stupid people waste money unnecessarily

Why get your panties in a wad about how OTHER people spent THEIR money? I will never understand this notion. It's not your money, so why do you care?

because the world is dying around you. Consumer society..idiot

You're quite bitter there, skippy.

And you're a silly American :D

We all have our bears to cross.

Some people are pricks, and Ms Gábor is one of them.

Human nature is something that will never, ever be figured out. That is for certain!

Too true. As they say in the North of England "there's nowt as queer as folk".

Is that your Christmas wish list from Santa?

m1 pro is unnecessary for image editing.
Christmas is not about Santa. Jesus Christus?

I’m mainly keeping my MacBook pro for Lightroom classic. Quite often I import via a classic to sync to my iPad to continue my editing.

I would love to do it all via iPad but wouldn’t that require a lot of space on my iPad (as every raw is +30mb) + a lot space in my cloud to host it all?

I do it in the opposite direction to avoid storage problems both on iPad and Adobe cloud. After a shoot, I import everything to LR on iPad and start syncing it via Adobe cloud back to my desktop running Classic. I can then start my editing on the iPad immediately. When I get back to my desk, I delete everything in the cloud (remember, the originals with all the edits intact have synced to my hard drive and are now visible in the LR Classic catalog.). If I want to continue to have access to those files on the iPad, I just create a new collection and sync that back to the cloud. Those files are only smart previews (still easy to edit on iPad) and do not count against the Adobe storage quota. Sounds kinda roundabout, but it’s a simple process that lets me do all my editing on iPad while avoiding all the storage limits of iPad and cloud.

I will think about it when the next pro gets the M1 max cpu

What do you think about the new iPad Air 5 VS the Pro for photo editing? Wondering what to buy.

I am using my 2nd gen 10.5in iPad Pro to edit 24mp raw files in LR mobile. Does the job really well. Sometimes I throw at it the 50mp files from my 5D SR, only struggles with complex masking, but otherwise the performance is quite OK.

If I had the choice between the 11in M1 powered iPad Pro and the new iPad Air, I would go for the Pro as the price for 256Gb is roughly the same. Basically, not much in it. Ideally, the 12.9in Pro would be super.

Perhaps more importantly 😃 the iPad Air is made in those pretty colours.