Click the Lr icon and go to Technology Previews

A new feature has just gone live in Lightroom Web.

Called Collaborative Proofing, and available as a Technology Preview, it is designed to let you share collections of photos with clients so the client can select the pictures they want. People who photograph weddings and other events do this all the time, for example, but there are many cases where we might want to do this.

Proofing workflows are not new, of course. Dedicated professional-oriented features are already available as part of Photoshelter subscriptions and from Format, for instance, and they include other high end options too, such as print size choices, online order processing etc.

But for many people those services are overkill. Apart from the extra cost, they require Lightroom plugins and you have to set up a published service in your catalogue, add photos and republish them if you change anything, then figure out how to get client selections back into Lightroom in an efficient way. Adobe really don’t need to replicate these dedicated tools, just off something much simpler that lets people get more out of their subscriptions.

So what Collaborative Proofing offers is simple and it takes very little effort to set up – you just sync a collection, enable proofing, and share its URL. The client signs in, and later you can see their selections in Lightroom Web. In contrast to the Publish-based methods I mentioned, you don’t need to do anything more whenever you tweak photos after sharing them – those changes are automatically synced. So in terms of the big picture, Adobe seem bang on target.

Adobe should be onto a winner

In fact, a proofing workflow is something I have asked for ever since I first saw Lightroom Web.

But why aren’t Adobe simply knocking it out of the park?

In my view this Collaborative Proofing feature is confused, as if one hand doesn’t know what the other needs it to do. A feature which is only for more demanding users – the friend who does your wedding or takes pictures at the show – has been implemented as a pale imitation of Facebook or Instagram’s likes.

I can see that someone has liked these images, but not that one client wants one of them, someone else wants the others.

Pretend that you shoot a wedding and let the couple choose which photos they want in the album, or you take pictures at a business show and the boss wants to shortlist pictures for the company magazine, or whatever. Lots of Lightroom users do this kind of thing, sharing collections of photos with “clients” so they can make selections, Sync is simple and efficient, so this could be a very popular feature.

Things are fine if one only shares the pictures with a single person – any likes can only be that client’s choices. But let’s say I share wedding pictures with the couple, and also with the wedding planner. Or it’s the boss and the marketing department. Two “clients” for one collection – not hard to imagine is it?

Unfortunately Collaborative Proofing immediately fails as a workflow tool because it only shows you which photos have been selected – not who wants what. “Photos with Activity” is meaningless without a way to filter it by client since you can’t readily distinguish that the couple wants pictures 5, 8, 12…, and the wedding planner wants 5, 7, 18…. You have to go into each picture in turn, make a note of who wants that picture, and compile your own list of each person’s selections.

That’s perhaps acceptable with just two “clients” and only a few selections, but you might share those wedding pictures with the venue, their work friends too, and there may easily be tens or even hundreds of selections. Time adds up, mistakes creep in, and you send someone the wrong pictures – all because you can’t even see who wants what.

Format’s proofing tool lets you filter selections by individual client.

Now, there is an obvious workaround for these situations – you duplicate the collection, creating one for each client.

So in my example, I start with a collection called Jones Wedding – Couple and duplicate it as Jones Wedding – Planner…. Duplicating is easy, just a right click, and then you have to go into the Proofing tab for each collection, and share its URL. This palaver will work, but you’ve got to admit that is pretty unconvincing.

Where they’ve dropped the ball

These obvious problems are not bugs – they’re a design failure:

  • If more than one client views a collection, the photographer can’t see who wants what
  • One client sees what other clients selected, which is confusing and not confidential
  • No password protection option
  • No watermarking option
  • Clients need an Adobe account
  • Client selections don’t sync to Lightroom “Classic”?

I certainly do not suggest that Adobe should try to compete with dedicated proofing tools, but I feel that somewhere in the design process they have lost the point of proofing workflows. It’s not about counting likes, Instagram-style, it’s about Joe wants 5, 8, 12…, Annie needs 5, 7, 18, and so on.

And yet….

If you agree this Collaborative Proofing feature should have potential, do activate it in Lightroom Web by clicking the LR icon and give it a good try.

At the bottom of the Proofing tab is a feedback link. Technology Preview means the feature is unfinished, so take Adobe at their word and make sure you let them know what you need Collaborative Proofing to be.