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Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic vs. Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based)

Adobe, Inc. first introduced a professional-grade program specifically for photographers called Adobe Lightroom way back in the winter of 2007. A decade later, in the fall of 2017, Adobe chose to break this product up into two very different animals to reflect the growing divide in image storage technology.

Now, after a couple of rebranding efforts, there are two very different products on the market for serious photographers: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic and Adobe Lightroom.

These two products share a common name and a similar purpose. Both types of Lightroom excel at organizing a large volume of digital photographs and both programs utilize Adobe’s cutting-edge raw image processing technologies.

Beneath the surface, though, there is an enormous difference in the way that these two programs operate and that difference comes down to file storage. Those who choose to use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic are choosing to store their digital photographs on their own hardware.

Their own hardware in this context means computers, external hard drives, or Network Attached Storage devices that each individual Lightroom Classic user must purchase and maintain. Those who choose Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic are intentionally choosing to design and implement their own file storage and backup system.

Those who choose Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based), on the other hand, are comfortable letting Adobe, Inc. store their photographs for them on Adobe’s servers. Adobe Lightroom users do not need to purchase any additional hardware as their image library grows because all of their photos are automatically uploaded to Adobe’s servers for safekeeping.

Let’s look closely at two different scenarios to help you grasp what a difference file storage makes with these two programs. First, let’s examine what happens when you return home with a memory card full of new photographs and then we will look at what happens if your computer is destroyed in a catastrophic disaster.

Scenario I: Let’s say that you want to add a bunch of new images from a memory card into your computer and your image library.

With Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic, you must specify a storage location for all of the new images that will be copied off of your camera’s memory card as you import these files into your Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic Catalog. The place where you put your photos, which Adobe Lightroom Classic’s Import Dialog calls the “Destination”, can be either on an external hard drive or your computer’s internal hard drive.

Where you choose to keep your new photos is completely up to you when you are working with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic, but ultimately, each new image that you add into your system uses up some portion of your hardware’s total file storage space. With Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic, you will ultimately run out of file storage space and reach the point where you must purchase a new computer or a bigger external hard drive.

For Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic users, the need for increased hard drive storage space is inevitable as your image library grows larger and larger.

On the other hand, those working with Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based), will not need to buy additional hardware as their image library grows. Adobe Lightroom users will not need to invest in additional storage again and again because almost nothing is stored locally.

When you import new images from a memory card into your Adobe Lightroom Library, all of your new photos are automatically uploaded to Adobe’s servers. This upload might take some time depending upon the speed of your internet connection, but ultimately all of your images will be offloaded from your device to one of Adobe’s cloud-based data centers for long-term file storage.

Scenario II:: Next, let’s examine what happens if your computer hardware completely melts down, is stolen, or destroyed. The difference between these two programs becomes even more clear if we look at a “worst-case scenario.”

If your office burns to the ground, heaven forbid, and you are working with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic then not only have you lost all of your hardware but you have also lost all of your digital photographs. If there is a disaster of this magnitude then everything that was on your computer or external hard drives is gone. In this horrible scenario, the only thing that will survive are whatever backups that you had created and safely stored outside of your office.

There is no recovering from this kind of heartbreaking disaster with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic unless you have up-to-date backups stored safely offsite. Computers and hard drives are replaceable but your images are not. If Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic is your program of choice then it is your responsibility to build your own fail safe backup system!

For the Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) user, on the other hand, an office fire is a setback but not a complete disaster. Following an accident, those working with Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) can breathe a little easier since all of their images are safely stored away on Adobe’s servers.

Post disaster, the Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) user merely needs to login into their account at and then they can immediately get back to work. With cloud storage, a hardware loss is simply a hardware loss since all of your original photographs are still accessible from any computer, or any mobile device with a decent internet connection.

While this office/house fire scenario might seem a little far-fetched, the point that I am trying to make holds true even if you suffer a much smaller setback. Those working with Lightroom Classic gain the freedom to store their files wherever they want. Along with that freedom though comes the need to be prepared for everything from malicious code or ransomware attacks to power surges, and hard drive failures.

Although Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) avoids all of these potential pitfalls, there is a catch. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic is ten years old at this point and dozens of brilliant software engineers have worked on its development over the past decade. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic is a powerful and complex program with tons of features.

Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based), on the other hand, is still very young. This program is only about three years old and it is not yet as feature rich as its older cousin. Although there is almost no difference between the two when it comes to enhancing your images, if you are looking to make multimedia slideshows or fine-art inkjet prints at home then Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic still offers some distinct advantages.

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It is worth mentioning that Adobe is continuing to improve and expand the features of Lightroom (cloud-based) all the time. Likewise, Adobe Lightroom has a modern user interface that is consistent on all of your devices and that is much easier to master than Lightroom Classic.

To conclude this article I’d like to offer a few opinions and a little bit of advice.

First, Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) requires decent internet upload speeds and a willingness to let Adobe store your photos for you. If you lack either of these then Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic is a better choice.

If you currently have an enormous collection of digital images, and if you currently live in a place with very slow upload speeds, then Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) is not for you even if you trust Adobe’s servers. Although Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) does not require you to be online all the time, you will need broadband upload speeds if you are going to send thousands and thousands of images off to Adobe.

Along similar lines, there is one clear advantage to cloud-based photo storage and that is complete access to all of your images from any internet connected device anywhere in the world. If you are someone who would like to work on your photography using your smartphone, your tablet, and your computer then Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) is the clear winner.

Next, mastering Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic requires advanced computer skills. If you are not interested in learning about hard drives, file storage protocols, and how to make your own backups then this is not the right program for you. If maintaining robust backups of your photography does not interest you then Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) is definitely a better choice.

Finally, I must warn you that there is no “middle of the road”: here. Sadly, you must choose one type of Lightroom or the other. What you absolutely cannot do is to safely use both Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic and Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) simultaneously to organize the same image library.

To be clear, you can shift from Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic over to Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) at anytime but this change is a one-way street. If you decide to go with cloud-based image storage then it will be very difficult to go back to Lightroom Classic without losing some of the work that you did to your photographs using Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based).

I urge you to think about your learning curve, and your needs, before you leap in since these two programs cannot be used together easily.

If you don’t mind a steeper learning curve and if you do not need complete access to every image from any internet connected device, then Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic is probably the right choice for you. If, on the other hand, you would like a shorter learning curve and the ability to work on your images from any internet connected device, then Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) is the way to go.

If all of this seems overwhelming please let me remind you that Adobe is not the only fish in the sea. There are very valid alternatives to either type of Lightroom out there. If you have done your research though, and if you are sure that Lightroom is right for you, then the big question really is where would you like to store your files?

If local storage suits your needs then go for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic. If the advantages to cloud-based storage appeal to you then go for the shorter learning curve that Adobe Lightroom (cloud-based) has to offer instead!


  • David Marx specializes in teaching landscape, travel, and night photography for Over the past twenty years, David’s images and time-lapse video clips have been used in dozens of publications, movies, and advertisements. David is an Adobe Certified Expert in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic and Adobe Photoshop and his entertaining teaching style works well for photography students of all skill levels.

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