A Day at Adobe

As you can imagine I have lots of friends and business associates in Silicon Valley, but I haven’t been there for some time. So, realizing that the Worldcon of Science Fiction would be in San Jose, California I arranged to arrive a couple of days early to see folks.* Last Wednesday (the day before Worldcon), I walked the single block from my hotel to Adobe’s headquarters, where I had a series of interesting, enjoyable meetings and lunch with four different development teams.

I have been following, teaching, using, writing and consulting about Adobe products since Photoshop 1.0. It’s been fun watching how the whole category of software has blossomed and expanded, and how the culture has changed.  The advantages of longevity as a journalist and artist is that I know more about the evolution of Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Typekit and other related programs than many of Adobe’s own employees. Of course, I spin them into stories that they apparently enjoy hearing.

For this visit, I had meetings with product managers and PR reps for Adobe Lightroom, Typekit, Iilustrator, Spark, and XD. Here are a few of the highlights. (Please note that I haven’t yet tested the new features or tools. When I do, I will report on how well they work.)


Ever since Adobe Lightroom (LR) was introduced over a decade ago, it quickly became my primary program for photo editing. Generally speaking, I depend on Lightroom for the type of adjustments and preparations that I used to do in my old basement chemical darkroom, such as exposure, lighting, zooming, dodging and burning, color adjustments, cropping, etc. I reserve Photoshop for compositing, adding text and other creative endeavors.

Key to my preference for Lightroom over Photoshop for the tasks that define the structure of my pictures is the fact that, in LR, I work on RAW files – the original data captured by my camera. In Photoshop, I work on the data after it has been interpreted into an actual visual image. In other words, when you work on RAW, there is no destruction of the pixels of my final images; you can have image quality degradation in Photoshop.

A loose baking metaphor might compare chopping up butter and other ingredients for a cake (Lightroom) versus taking a knife to the finished cake  — or adding decorative icing (Photoshop).

In the past year, Adobe has confused many Lightroom users by introducing another flavor of the program, which is now called Lightroom CC (for Creative Cloud) – even though that was once the designation of the traditional desktop application which is now called Classic Lightroom.

Josh Haftel

As Josh Haftel (Principal Product Manager, Digital Imaging) explained, the essential difference between the two is that Classic LR is a desktop (or laptop) application that provides a “huge amount of local control” over precise image editing, and LR CC has similar tools to Classic for editing any of your photos from a huge personal cloud library.

Josh and Tom Hogarty (Senior Director of Product Management, Digital Imaging) further explained that Classic LR was designed for bits on a desktop screen. As a generational program, it has grown in sophistication and complexity, which means it can be intimidating to new users. LR CC was redesigned from the ground up for the cloud. “We know so much more now than we did when Lightroom was created,” Josh said.  So Lightroom CC represents “the reality of what would be the best tool needed for the job(s) if we created Lightroom today.”

Tom Hogarty

Tom and Josh told me that Adobe is committed to keeping Classic Lightroom alive, healthy and updated. I believe them (or you could say I need to believe them) for the simple reason that their core audience — established serious and professional photographers like me — would never forgive Adobe if they abandoned it (and us). Tom told me that one artist said that she would have to give up photography if they took away her Classic Lightroom. I don’t know what I would do, but it would definitely throw me for a loop, forcing me to waste time learning and incorporating new tools into my workflow (probably Phase One Capture One software). And that would definitely impact on my creativity until I got used to the new methodology.

True to the promise Adobe made when they moved to the Creative Cloud subscription model, Lightroom is updated with new features and fixes frequently. The newest was rolled out today.

That latest update includes the following for Classic LR:

  • Recognizing that users don’t always have access to an Internet connection, we will be able select certain cloud images or folders and store the full original files locally. Yes, we could always download our images from the cloud, but they said that this will be easier access with fewer steps. Then, when your internet connection is re-established, all the work you’ve done will sync back to the cloud (unless you disable syncing).
  • The info panel related to any particular image will now indicate in which folders and albums the picture is saved.
  • In a previous update, we were given more control over and easier access to profiles (such as those that emulate certain types of film emulsions). With this update, Adobe introduces new profiles that change the look and feel of the colors, exposure, focus and depth of field; these are categorized into Artistic, B&W, Modern and Vintage styling.

Changes in LR CC in this new update includes:

  • The entire stack of edit tools from Classic is now in LR CC
  • Control within the app over what images and folders can be shared, including the ability to turn sharing on/off or selectively share metadata, editing, and so forth.
  • When looking for images, we’ll be able to filter our view of our libraries by camera, media, location, keyword, etc.
  • New tutorials will guide you step by step to do various edit tasks on your images. For instance, if you want to turn a picture into a sepia image, click on that tutorial, and you’ll be guided through the process of actually moving your picture through the various tools and windows, until you end up with a sepia image. (This is similar to Photoshop Elements Guided Tasks.)
  • My favorite of all that they showed me is a new depth of field selection tool. It takes advantage of the iPhone camera’s depth of field capability, allowing you to mask the background or other aspects of your image based on how close to the camera lens it is. It’s one of the easiest ways I’ve ever seen to select a complex area (though I haven’t had the chance to test it yet).


Adobe color fonts

Adobe’s very first products were Postscript digital fonts. Despite a couple of historical blips that I’m glad to say are buried so deeply in the past that many current employees know nothing about them, Adobe continues to support innovation in quality type.

Adobe Typekit is the app that provides Creative Cloud subscribers access to 1,000s of fonts from a variety of partner foundries (owners of the fonts). When you download a font from Typekit, it automatically syncs to all your Adobe apps, with licensing to use those fonts guaranteed by Adobe.

We can search this enormous library of fonts by classification (such as serif, non-serif, handwriting, etc.) and foundry. A recent update added the ability to do a machine-learning-optimized visual search. In other words, if you have a font you like and want something similar to it, just drag and drop it into the Typekit visual search box.

Adobe has also introduced variable fonts. These are a handful of Open Type fonts that expose defining characteristics to user control. Depending on the font, the aspects we can edit varies, but it can include having control over width, weight, height, slant, etc. Unfortunately, we can’t currently save these settings to use again with a single click (or tap). Another innovation are multi-color fonts, which I expect will be growing to represent a much wider variety of creative font options.

One nice improvement that has been announced in a blog post (with no release date yet) is that we’ll soon be able to access Typekit’s full library of over 9,000 fonts from within Illustrator and InDesign.

Other Stuff

The Adobe briefings included lots of other interesting information and product-related news, such as the addition of a handful of new or improved features in Illustrator, and the continued evolution of the XD design communication and collaboration software. 

You can be assured that I will continue to cover Adobe and other company’s similar products, as I always have, and will share news and my views on them here on my website, at my lectures and workshops, and in reviews for various publications. 


* Note: My apologies to my many friends in Silicon Valley whom I didn’t see on this trip. With the distances and traffic involved, I could fit in only so many visits around this area into 1 ½ days.

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