I’ve had a chance to play around with a pre-release version of Carousel, Adobe’s new platform for viewing, sharing and editing your photos across any number of supported (Mac only at the moment) devices (disclosure, I’m working on a small eBook about Carousel for Adobe Press). I thought it might be helpful to share some of my impressions and how I’ve come to use this platform within my existing photo workflow.

Adobe Carousel

I had the pleasure of attending Photoshop World last week where Carousel was announced, and as a result engaged in a lot of discussions about Carousel with a lot of photographers (and Lightroom users). It was interesting that the flow of the conversation almost always went the same way. At first I was met with eager curiosity about this new offering from Adobe. Understandably people wanted to know how this new product would solve existing problems or provide new opportunities for using in their photography businesses. This was an industry tradeshow after all, and chock full of professional photographers and graphic designers. As we talked about the version 1.0 capabilities of Carousel I could see their eagerness dissipate and curiosity fade to frustration. Some would then go on to list all the ways Carousel wasn’t going to fit for them (lack of Windows/Andriod support, JPG only, and lack of integration with Lightroom were the most common). All of which is understandable and makes perfect sense in that context. I had a similar reaction myself when I first encountered the product.

That said, I would then tell them about my experience so far, how I have found it useful to me personally, and the potential I see for the future, and the conversation would swing from frustration to curiosity again. They would leave with wheels turning in a new direction. Carousel is not for everyone. What is? However, I am finding the more I play with it the more it is growing on me and the more excited I am getting.

Adobe Carousel

Here’s the bottom line. I am completely bought into the Lightroom workflow (in case that wasn’t obvious from my blog), and I am not going to change that. I do make my living from my photography. I do look for products and services that help make that easier, more streamlined, and open new doors. That said, I am also a father, a husband, a son, and uncle, and a brother. I am the staff photographer for team Sylvan. I have tens of thousands of photos sitting in my Lightroom catalog that are strictly family-focused. I am also the photographic bottleneck. “Yes, hon, I’ll have those photos from our Spring Break trip to Florida any day now. I just need to finish this job …” I am the keeper of all photos. At least I was.

What if I could just pump all of these thousands of photos out of my hands and into the cloud and give my family unfettered access? Give them a platform where they can access all of these photos from anywhere they are online on any Mac/iDevice? Um, sign me up!

Does Carousel in its current form do everything I want it to do? No. But there is a huge amount of potential packed in here. The top of my feature list right now is integration with a print service like Mpix or Bay Photo so my family could just select photos from Carousel and send them right to the printer from the app. Yes, they can export copies and do that with an extra step, but that would really remove me from the printing bottleneck.

You see, Carousel in this iteration is directed at the consumer. The family photographer who is shooting in JPG with a point and shoot, entry level DSLR or camera-phone. People who have photos scattered about multiple devices and are looking for a way to get their arms around all of that and still be able to share, view and edit those photos among their family members. Carousel is not (at this time) aimed at professional photographers using Lightroom, but hey we’re people too! 🙂

OK, a word about my computing environment. My master Lightroom catalog and all of my photos are accessed through my Windows 7 desktop machine. I love that beast. It is the gateway to all my stuff. However, my constant companion is a 4 year old MacBookPro which is practically an appendage. Within my immediate family there are a couple of Windows laptops and two iPads (sometimes they even let me use one). My phone is a blackberry (OK, stop laughing all you iPhone/Driod users). I am not by any means an all Mac bubble of light, but we do play nicely together. The reason I say all of this is that when Carousel first hits the streets it will be limited to Macs running Lion and iDevices running iOS 4.2 (you can read all of that stuff here). It sounds like we’ll need to wait until next year for Carousel support to extend to Windows and Android. Bummer? Sure, but it will be here before you know it, and I’ve no doubt it will have even more features and functions by then.

So, my first problem was how was I going to get several thousand photos from Lightroom on my Win 7 machine to Carousel? It turned out to be a snap. I started with just all the family-centric photos from 2011 (just under 3K). I gathered them all up in Lightroom, put them in a collection for easy reference, and exported as sRGB JPG (3,000 px on the longest side) to a folder on my Win desktop. Coffee time while Lightroom churned away on that.

Now there are a couple of ways to get photos into Carousel (somewhat like Lightroom in this aspect, you are populating a database with data while simultaneously having the app place copies of your photos into storage on a puter somewhere in the interweb … the “cloud” as they call it), but the simplest method is to drag and drop a folder onto the Mac Carousel app itself. So once Lightroom completed the export I launched Carousel on my Mac, opened Finder (the Mac version of Windows Explorer 🙂 ), navigated to that folder on my Win 7 machine’s desktop via my local network and just dropped it on Carousel. Boom goes the dynamite. As soon as it dropped my photos started streaming into Carousel and off into the mysterious cloud. That’s all there is to it.

Adobe Carousel

I grabbed an iPad, launched Carousel, and here come those same photos streaming on in. Nice. Oh honey, those vacation photos are ready!

Did I post-process every one of those 3 thousand photos? With few exceptions, no, not any more than the default settings in Lightroom. That was partly why I was the bottleneck. I just never got around to doing that. Yes, I know not every photo is a precious work of art that needs to be graced by sliders and presets, but it is hard to let go. Here’s the beautiful part of Carousel … if a trip through the Carousel discovers a photo that needs a little post-processing TLC the app has Lightroom/Camera Raw’s special sauce under the hood and I don’t have to be the one to do it! A little Auto Levels goes a long way on a vaca snapshot. Auto WB? Check. Need a crop here and a straighten there? Got it. Feeling like an artsy preset? Tap it and go Mom. I don’t have to teach my mom to use Lightroom, but she can still reap the benefits of its image editing ability! I’ve just regained years to my life.

Adobe Carousel

Do you see what I mean? Anything that gives me back time, makes my family happy, and fits in with my life is money in the bank as far as I am concerned.

That said, there is still a lot of room for this platform to grow. I had the chance to speak to a lot of the Adobe folks behind Carousel while at Photoshop World. Every time I expressed a wish for a certain feature or function they would sort of knowingly smile and say something to the effect of, “yeah, we know, it’s on the list”. Everyone at Adobe that I spoke with was well aware of the limitations of the first version of this program, but they were all looking much further down the road, and their excitement about where this was heading was palpable. Lightroom was a paradigm shift for how people managed their digital photo workflow, and I have the feeling we may be catching a glimpse of yet another shift in the making.

If you have any questions about Carousel I’d suggest starting with the results of the Twitter Q&A session they held the other day. There’s a lot of info there and links to more, then follow @AdobeCarousel and stay up to date with the latest news. Hope that helps!

Edit: Another helpful resource: Community-powered support for Carousel