Why The New Google Server Farm Could Displace Adobe Lightroom?

“Why the new Google server farm could displace Adobe Lightroom?” Not my words… they’re Trey Ratcliff’s. He wrote a really interesting post on the new Google technology that was announced this week over on his blog and you should definitely go take a look at it. Trey’s been a hardcore Lightroom user for a while, so it’s interesting to see his take now that he’s fully moved over to the Google side of things.

Me being a big Lightroom guy, and the attention-grabbing-ness of Trey’s headline, I couldn’t let the post go unanswered. So I thought I’d write about my take on his thoughts… where I agree and where I disagree.

Lightroom is used by more than just pros.
DEFINITELY! My seminars/blog comments/emails/feedback show it, that Lightroom is used more and more by the “casual” photographer as Trey calls it. I totally agree and I think that’s a great thing. As Trey pointed out, that is indeed Adobe’s biggest growth opportunity if they want to get into the hobbyist/casual/pro-sumer space. I was recently a guest on a TV show on the Hallmark Channel called Home ad Family with Mark Steines. I demo’d some things that Lightroom can do and the feedback I got from it was enormous. Not from the pros though – this is a daytime show. It’s targeted toward the hobbyist photographer (mostly moms and families) who take pictures for fun – not pros who do it for a living.

People segment their photos into groups
Pro-like DSLR photos go in one group and “casual” photos go in another. I totally agree here. I think there’s a difference and I think we want to do different things with each group. I think when we pull out our DSLR we want a heave-duty program like Lightroom to process them. But we don’t spend hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on our DSLR camera equipment to just upload the photos to the cloud and let some one else (Google servers) process them for us. So I think Trey is dead on that those pro-like photos (even if you’re not a pro, but are serious about your photos) will still get processed by Lightroom.

Here’s where I disagree
While Trey makes mention about the whole distinction between pro and casual, I disagree that most people upload their iPhone (cell-phone) photos to Lightroom in the first place. When the word “casual” is used, my interpretation from his article was cell phone photos. I think those are basic family/travel documentation “snapshot” photos. Kinda like “I was here and this is who I was with”. Photos that are there simply there to preserve a moment. From the people I’ve talked to, they’re not uploading those photos in Lightroom anyway (some are but not most). In fact, they’re not doing anything with them but leaving them on their phone. But they’re important photos right? Most people have the last 5 years of their kids lives on their phone. It’d be disastrous to lose them. There’s definitely been a hole in the market for these types of photos. I don’t think people have really had a good solution for their casual phone photos, and I think Google’s new technology is a great fit. I just disagree with Trey that people were using Lightroom for this in the first place. Sadly, I don’t think they’ve been using anything, and are at a huge risk to lose them all.

While I do think that Trey is right that this is a great fit for those types of photos, I think the title of his post is more of an attention-grabber than anything – because he’s not talking about Lightroom’s core audience. Don’t get me wrong, he’s got great points and I agree there’s some awesome technology from Google there. Hell, it’s convinced me that I need to use it more. But Google’s server farms aren’t displacing Lightroom from it’s core audience of DSLR shooters (casual or pro) just yet (see the last paragraph for why I wrote “just yet”).

What Trey Wanted to See Next From Google?
Trey wanted to see some handy Snapseed-like controls from Google as well as some other cool effects that came from the Nik suite since Google purchased them last year. He also made mention of the ability to upload Raw files. Do I disagree with that? No way. Look how many followers Trey has on G+ (5+ MILLION followers – yowza!!!). He’s at every Google event and always seems to be at the Google HQ. He’s obviously VERY tight with them, so I read what Trey wants to see next from Google as a bit of foreshadowing of what will come next :-) All good stuff and I’d love to see it. Nik had great products and I think any Nik user out there is ready to know that their beloved plug-ins haven’t died, and will continue to have a future.

As for this all being bad news for Adobe, I agree and disagree. If Trey wrote this two weeks ago I would wholeheartedly disagree. I think there’s millions of DSLR shooters out there that Lightroom is definitely still the program for them to use. Cell-phone photo cloud editing won’t change that. However, Google’s news and Trey’s post comes a week or so after Adobe’s not-so-well received Creative Cloud announcement. After reading comments on my blog and many other websites, let’s just say many photographers aren’t diggin’ Adobe’s move. So much so that many have started thinking about jumping the Adobe ship and looking for other programs to edit photos with. This definitely leaves an opportunity open for other companies to come in and try to capture that market if Adobe doesn’t figure out a way to re-engage photographers with just the programs that they need. All I can say is that I’m not yet sure where it all leads, but it’s going to be one wild ride while we get there :-)

Have a great weekend.

  • Goran

    It’s amazing how much a naming convention can mess things up. The word cloud has always suggested that things are done through the web browser and on the internet. In Adobes case all the great things, the core of their move forward, are being left behind while everyone concentrates on the name of the software package “creative cloud”. For some reason no one seams to register that there is no real cloud service here, just a monthly subscription and a download center.

    On the other hand, at their 2013 conference Google showed true cloud service for photo editing. Photo editing done through the browser, pulling the power of Google server farms (they do the heavy lifting, not your computer), to improve your photos taken by your phone or otherwise. It has to be noted this is just their first step. I am sure Googles abilities with photo editing will get better with time.

    • Matt Kloskowski

      I totally agree. It’s in the infancy stages and its gonna be cool to see where it all goes.

  • http://twitter.com/markpower Mark Power

    I have just 2 words to say about the Google tool …

    “Auto Awesome”

    Erm…no thanks. I’ve no doubt it will prove very successful with the general ‘folks snapping everyday pics and sharing with friends’ but as a Lightroom user that uses it to do more focused and creative work with my images…I’ll be sticking with that.

    Not that I’m rubbishing the Google work – I think it’s absolutely great that people will have more (and better) tools to use.

    But this insistence in the tech sphere that everything has to be the “XX Killer” (remember Google Wave – the email killer? And Diaspora – the Facebook killer?). Tools don’t have to replace another one…and often I don’t think they do at all. Why go from that angle? Like you said, Matt…to grab attention and get hits. Link baiting.

    So anyway. “Auto Awesome”. Urgh.

  • Dennis Zito


    Thanks for this info and discussion! First off I wouldn’t use Google if they were the last company on the planet!! I won’t get into why. I’m also having second thoughts about Adobe’s CC. I’m not sure if you are aware of the last 72 hours and still going mess with the Adobe’s CC. It’s been down for 72 + hours, and nothing on there front page explaining why! If you have time you need to go to the CC forum and you’ll see what I mean. People are pretty upset with CC … and some have lost their photos with the outage! Fortunately, I haven’t used CC since I signed up, but my CC has been greyed out for over 72 … unable to connect to cc server message. So, looks like the FUN begins! I’m sticking with Adobe CS 6 and Lightroom and I’m leaning toward onOne and Topaz for my basic plug-ins. I liked Nik, but now they are part of Google, and I won’t give Google any of my money! I love playing with my own photos … I don’t need someone interpreting what I shot and how it should look. Hope you had a Great trip!


  • Matt Rupp

    I agree that most people not doing anything with their phone pics but leaving them on their phone. I have DropBox installed on my Android phone. When I take a picture using my phone, it is automatically uploaded to DropBox and synced to my computer(s), iPad, etc. The DropBox feature is called “Camera Upload” and it can be turned on/off and set to only use WiFi to transmit image data.

  • Glenn

    Good thoughts Matt, thanks. Personally I’m not a fan of Trey’s, I think he’s more a paid actor writing for Skynet…I mean Google. DSLR users aren’t going to give up processing their own, that’s half the fun and reward.

    • Matt Kloskowski

      Being paid is ok Glenn. Trey’s a good guy. It just means he found something he’s passionate about (which he seems to be google) and found a way to make money with it. Not a bad thing in my book.
      I do agree that people enjoy editing their dslr photos. I don’t care as much about my iPhone snapshots though. Google can have its way with them :)

    • Trey Ratcliff

      Google’s never paid me. Sorry you don’t like Google. I’m sure you must use Bing or something… that’s cool brotha.

      (Uhhhhh….. and did you read the article… did you see somewhere that I said DSLR users are going to give up processing? Maybe you are just seeing what you want to see.)

      • Glenn

        This is why I’m not a fan of yours. You are way to full of yourself. I like Google but Thanks for the reply.

        • Darlene Hildebrandt

          I dunno I just see it being called as it is. Google is not evil (well maybe just a tad big brother-ish) neither is Trey. He’s just opinionated and it’s totally okay to disagree with anyone.

  • Michael Matthews

    An OK idea, not well executed. The automated processing is all over the lot and manual editing is cumbersome and very inexact.

    To me the more irritating thing about Google+ is the unending wave of self-promotion and mutual congratulations exchanged among the formerly respected people who’ve been put on the payroll as shills.

    It’s like creating a cult — or, more appropriately, a vast tribe — of people constantly screaming “Google+ Is Great”.

    Some photographers do manage to make use of it to enhance their experience and find new kindred souls with whom to share their enthusiasm.

    But it’s hardly worth wading through all the garbage to find them.

  • http://twitter.com/algia10 A.G. Photography


    Ok…well, as a professional photographer I seriously doubt I would ever relinquish control over my photos to some Google application! I’ll sell all my equipment and go fishing before Google, or anyone else, will edit my photos! Heck, if I was an amateur I would still not relinquish control, and especially to a company that removes all contact information of my images! If they want to get into Stock photography so bad, maybe they should try a different approach rather than dumb people down like this! What’s next? let me think…Picasa built in 5DMKIV??? (Hmmm). I am all for progress, and innovation, but replacing human brains with some computer code is dis-evolving, and depleting of creativity IMO.

    I am so tired to see how Google is literally making our jobs a commodity when it is so far from it. I don’t care about this guy bragging either…I would not use Google with anything regarding photographs. They were the ones who started Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, 500px, and many others into stealing content “legally” with their: “Ohh you retain copyright”, and then the next phrase goes: “but we retain the right to use your photos however we want without notifying or paying you a dime”! and then “we’ll just strip all your contact info too and turn your work into an orphan work”! No thanks.

    Google needs to stop turning people’s photos into orphan works. Not get into the editing business. What a joke!

    I am sorry Matt, but I can’t call this progress. What would be cool, and I would do anything to see it happen, would be that every single camera manufactured came with Kelby Training learning CDs. And a note that if not watched, the equipment must be returned to the manufacturer! (One can dream can she?). I am so tired of people buying cameras and not even bother to read the manual, and now have Google, of all companies, process their photos too! seriously?

    Have you seen his Matt?
    Google’s little baby? Its all such a double standard…on one hand every application, PS, LR, Corel, has a place to put in metadata, then poof your told to advertise on Facebook, (because apparently that’s where the clients are, wrong,) only to upload to FB and have all your information stripped clean…and your work turned into an orphan you may never find who using how or where!

    The only thing Google should be doing is leave our photos alone, and mind their searching capabilities.

    • http://twitter.com/Photogoofer Scott Stuart

      I refuse to be absorbed by The Borg (Google). I’m with ya.

  • alg1000

    Matt…let’s be practical: what will happen when one of these “farms” gets chopped by a tornado!? …. or a fire, or hacking attack, or a plane crash, or an asteroid? You’re talking about these people’s ability to “back up”? well, I think that goes heavily by demographic: a mom, will buy an external HDD to back up, and one more to keep off site in a safe. A 15 year old will not give $0.2 about backing party pick mangled with with Nik effects! However, just like we did with film, (as I still have miles of film very well preserved that can be scanned, or redeveloped with the same quality), there has to be some sort of back up notion that is in your immediate surrounding. Why would i ever want my stuff on someone Else’s server that I don’t know, nor have a way of knowing personally, or know their intentions? All these clouds are nothing more than an endless supply for orphaned imagery for companies who don’t want to pay for photography to freely use. Look at Facebook.

    How do we know that Adobe, Apple, Google, and I am sure the “Windows Cloud” is either done or the works LOL (I am not a windows person so I don’t keep up with that), but how do we know that they don’t sell our stuff to 3rd parties? a password does not stop Facebook from doing it, nor Target, or Walmart! So why would anyone want to be exposed to that is the question here. There is no ease of use really, If I have to upload somewhere…might as well upload to my own computer where I can open LR and do whatever I want, why bother to go to someone Else’s server? this is like wanting to wash your laundry at the neighbors house cause his machine is bigger than yours! Makes no sense to me.

    I hope the cloud blows in their faces, what Adobe did was asinine, and I hope Kelby Training car wraps become available soon. The emphasis has to be put on education, and not some computer on some pasture processing our stuff.

    Human creativity needs to be promoted here. What should I tell my kids Matt? “hey kids: don’t bother learning anything anymore, or be creative, Google will do it for you shortly”! I think I’ll pass.

  • http://www.facebook.com/peter.nuttycombe Peter Nuttycombe

    Please add me to the list of not happy with cc ph shop. Can’t say I use it that often Even for $10 / $20 also on a fixed budget Lt Room and OnOne works for me.

  • Christopher Helms

    I love this dialog between you and Trey. I hope that someday you can be on his G+ show or he can drop in for an episode of The Grid. Maybe you guys can talk him into doing a Kelby Training course.

    It is really exciting to see two of the top modern photographers weigh in on the huge changes happening with photography and technology.

  • lvthunder

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see tools like this to show up in the Adobe products. It’s not like Google engineers know more about photography than Adobe engineers do. I could very easily see the version of Lightroom that runs in conjunction with the cloud stuff Tom showed off be able to do the same thing.

  • Trey Ratcliff

    Good thoughts Matt – “I Like!” (said in Borat voice)

    Yeah – I think there is a big group of people that maybe I am talking about — it’s a hard group to define — but I’d say entry-level DSLR users that leave their cameras in Auto (which is a HUGE percentage!) and owners of compact cameras. Even Olympus or Panasonic or Sony — man – that’s like 70% of the camera market! Anyway, these people DO need something to organize their photos… before this move by Google, their only real option was Adobe Lightroom — so that is what I used to recommend to people. I’ll continue to recommend Adobe Lightroom to people that want to take more professional photos, post-process, and organize themselves. But, really, this is a very small percentage of the camera market.

    • http://twitter.com/Photogoofer Scott Stuart

      I agree that people need a way to organize their photos, because Lightroom is woefully lacking as an organizational tool. I’ve tried each iteration of Lightroom when the new betas come out and unless you have a rock solid organizational scheme for your image files on your hard drives, you’re stumbling into no man’s land when it comes to keeping your files straight with LR. I prefer Aperture and the many plug-ins that are available for it and have been happy with the resulting organizational structure. And, despite the bad rap iCloud gets, it can be set to automatically import iPhone and iPad images on the fly in both Aperture and iPhoto. So, I don’t have to worry about those snapshots I took of the kids.

      • Darlene Hildebrandt

        Scott what about LR did you not like? I have tried to help 4 of my students that use Aperture and after several hours each, they all decided to scrap it and move to LR.

    • Darlene Hildebrandt

      oops I see you did see it and add your rebuttal!

    • Darlene Hildebrandt

      agreed! In the workshops I lead I have a mix of “serious amateurs” that love to post process as much as I do and eager to use LR and PS. Then I have those with 4/3s cameras, even P&S ones that just want nicer photos and a way to sort and store them. I think that IS a huge percentage of shooters and can’t be ignored. It will be interesting to see how Adobe responds to the backlash from CreativeCloud. I know a pro photographer that wrote a letter to Adobe stating his dissatisfaction and how he was moving over to Aperture (a bad idea IMO) he actually got a reply from Adobe saying they were going to be making some “tweaks” to the program based on recent feedback. Hmmm, interesting hey?

  • http://www.facebook.com/richard.g.smith.jr Richard Smith Jr

    Ditto to what A.G. Photography said. I am not a professional photographer and far from an amature, in the middle somewhere. I never had a problem keeping track of my photos, I love Lightroom, and if a person can’t keep track of their photos so what? That’s their problem. Some people can’t keep track of the car keys, their kids, dogs, spouses or their money… Google gonna take care of that too? But with that said, that is what people want, something or someone to do as much as possible for them. So let Google take care of them and turn them into Googla-tards. After all the poor souls think they’re in heaven because they have a camera in their phones. How many people do I see trying (thats right trying) to take what should be memorable photos with an iphone or Droid. There are people out there tonight at graduations all across the USA taking crappy photos of their children with their mobile phones. And they are happy as hell with that. So there will always be a market for stupid (ill informed) lazy people.

    I have faith in Adobe that they will see the light, regroup and solve their issues with CC.

  • john181818

    It’s a good discussion and I applaud both you and Trey for engaging on it.

    As other posters have said my big issue with Google is the stripped metadata and watermarking can be defeated. So it is the orphan debate. I actually deleted all of my better photos from Facebook because I don’t trust Facebook at all and I already know people have ripped off my photos and made them their avatar or Timeline header. (And yes, I am positive it was my photo.)

    So my basic plan is to load what I would have previously loaded to Facebook to 500px.com, place it in a Facebook folder, and then post the links on Facebook so that the photos never actually appear in Facebook. I haven’t gone quite that far on Google, but am thinking about it.

    Honestly, at this point, I still don’t have a real portfolio of great work. I have been really shooting for under a year, using the Nikon D3200 and D5100, am comfortable in LR and learning Photoshop CS6, and both the NIK and OnOne suites that integrate into LR & PS. But I don’t like the idea of anyone being able to rip off my work, even if it is my crappy work.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stan-Burman/100001469278861 Stan Burman

    Matt…I certainly agree with one thing you said: Adobe is going to figure out how to re-engage photographers. The move that they’ve made is lame at best with respect to digital photography. Maybe Google should just buy Photoshop and Lightroom from Adobe.

    • john181818

      As much as I would like to see Google purchase Lightroom and Photoshop, that won’t happen. Otherwise the Creative Cloud is essentially eviscerated. Now if Google bought Adobe, or the entire creative line of products, we would then have potential for this working.

  • Helene Kobelnyk

    Really excellent post, Matt, with a lot of sense. I like Trey’s work and follow him; however, he doesn’t always have a good pulse on the photography community. To many of us, he comes across as a young “whipper-snapper.” Thank you for presenting a more realistic view.

  • Roger Madsen

    Totally agree. I have never used Lightroom for my casual photos. I will use Google for those now which is great but it doesn’t change anything to my Lightroom setup. Basically jpg files goes to Google and raw files goes to Lightroom.

  • Tomislav

    As I understood Trey. This Google farm is for those people (I believe that number is in millions if not even hundreds of millions) that take snapshots and just put them online. I’ve seen thousands pictures on Facebook where pictures where fuzzy, horribly lit etc. But people don’t care. They don’t have to pay Facebook for space for the images and they don’t even go through the pictures they took to at least remove those obvious failures, they simply upload them. For them this is a perfect thing. They don’t worry nor care for copyrights.
    And for people that do care about their photography… They won’t use Google or Facebook as their portfolio. For them there are more then enough good on-line portfolio choices and off course Lightroom and maybe Photoshop.

    At least I understood Trey article in that sense….
    And if Adobe want’s to get piece of that cake they should probably make some kind of Lightroom Elements. Maybe just library module with basic correction functions and some kind of integration with most popular social sites.
    But for everyone else that is at least a bit serious about photography they’ll stick with Lightroom and maybe Photoshop.
    I personally enjoy as much in postproduction as in the process of taking pictures. I like this process in which my photo start to show up in all it’s beauty… For me all that is part of creative process in which I enjoy and for me definitely Google farm is not the way but for many it really is the perfect thing. And maybe, just maybe we’ll be spared from running into horrible pictures. :-)
    Just my 2c…

  • http://twitter.com/DaveKinnear David Kinnear

    I think that this discussion is missing two products: Revel and iPhoto. A great many people organize and show their family snapshots in iPhoto. The Apple iCloud gives them a pretty good way to move the shots from iPhone to Mac to iPad. Of course, the user has to be fully committed to the Apple ecosystem and a lot of young families that I know are committed. Meanwhile, Adobe is building out their Revel product. It started out not offering much value and now has become a viable way to easily share photos across Lightroom and various mobile devices. Of course, one does need Lightroom to make this work. Adobe seems to be hinting (see the recent discussion with Tom Hogarty of Adobe on Episode 94 of the The Grid: http://kelbytv.com/thegrid/2013/05/02/the-grid-episode-94-tom-hogarty-from-adobe/ ) at integrating Lightroom, Photoshop and something like Revel in a big new system that will work across computers and mobile devices. Ultimately, something like this could become a supercharged version of the Apple iCloud system. Meanwhile, I am organizing my serious shots and family photos in Lightroom and struggling with how to share them.

    • Darlene Hildebrandt

      except that iPhone and aperture are far inferior products IMO, in so much as iPhone has been banned from my MacBookPro forever. It hides your files inside it’s own structure and makes them hard to find. It makes random dupe images, it over corrects and is not really a proper photo editor capable of calibrated adjustments. For people using P&S and smart phones it may be fine – not for any more IMO

    • smcilree

      I have received two mailings from Adobe in the past week pushing Revel; so yesterday I took a look. Somehow I can’t think they are really very serious about it given the vast majority of folks using Windows and Android. The answer concerning Revel on those platforms seems to be, “Oh yeah, maybe we’ll get around to that, someday.”

  • Balbo

    Hi Matt,

    100% agreed with you that those photos were not going to Lightroom anyway… On the other hand “some” of these photos were going to Facebook, so in my opinion the new Google+ photo feature is not taking anything from Adobe but it is going to give a big hit to Facebook. They just made it easy for you to select the best picture on your phone by removing duplicates and blurry pictures… And most of all they can soften your skin to make you and your friends look good when you take drunk pictures after a few mojitos! In just one click those selected and enhanced pictures just get to Google+, so if someone should be worried it’s Facebook! As an example I was 99% using Facebook, and because of those new features I just got back into Google+…

  • Joshua Boldt

    Thanks Matt.
    Not kidding when I say this though… I’d literally never heard of Trey Ratcliff before today. And I watch photography videos and read photo blogs all the time. Weird. How does that happen? His website is fantastic.

  • http://www.georgekeeling.com/ George Keeling

    There is a simple way to slash energy consumption on server farms. It is explained at http://www.georgekeeling.com/2014/02/how-to-save-up-01b-us-per-year-and-be.html

    Here is the beginning:

    How to Save up to 0.1B$ US per Year and be Eco-Heroes

    Open letter to Google, Facebook, Tencent, Yahoo, Baidu, smart2020, Greenpeace, Microsoft, Apple

    This very short article shows you guys and all other companies that run server farms how you could could reduce your electricity consumption to NOTHING thus saving about 0.1B$ US (or 2 if you are the mighty Google). This would reduce the carbon foot print of server farms to effectively zero, thus making a valuable contribution (3% of world Carbon emissions) to slow global warming.

    So as well as being quite a bit richer, you would all be Eco-Heros!

    The Solution

    One year after they were last accessed, move all photo, film and other large files to slow, very low energy, very low cost servers. If they have still not been accessed after another ten years, downgrade the servers even further. The servers should be off and only get switched on if the data is asked for. I call these cold server farms the conventional type are hot server farms.

    When the user wishes to access a cold file, display a message like this:

    “Your data is being retrieved. This will take a few more seconds / five minutes of your precious time. Sorry for the inconvenience but only three people asked for it in the last ten years, so it’s obviously not urgent. “