Connecting WordPress, Lightroom and Apple Photos

 27th May, 2019

While any serious photographer will use several cameras and lenses, the dramatic improvement in the quality of Apple’s iPhone cameras has led many people, me included, to take the majority of their photographs on their phones 1. A lot of these pictures may end up on an Instagram or Facebook profile—easily done directly from an iPhone—rather than a WordPress site. But if, like me, you wish to keep your photographs in some semblance of order and also display them on your site, the iPhone will have introduced additional complexity into your workflow.

The complexity grows further if, like me, you want to display your photographs in your WordPress website without using a resource-draining plugin, and retain consistency between the images on your website and those in your Apple Photos Library.

The workflow I’m going to describe in this article involves two successive stages:

  1. Automatically pushing all your photographs (whether taken with your iPhone or with an external camera) from Apple Photos to Lightroom.
  2. Managing all the photographs, post illustrations and images you display on WordPress, together with all the associated metadata, out of Lightroom.

For the first component of this workflow, we’ll be using Adobe Creative Cloud; for the second component, our tool will be a plugin called WP/LR Sync.

Before I begin describing those two processes, however, I should provide some context to explain the reason why I chose to use this particular workflow.

The workflow described in this article: …
The workflow described in this article: once a photo is taken either with my iPhone or an external camera, it is successively (1) integrated into my Apple Photos Library, either automatically, or by being imported via the Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader, or using Photomyne; (2) imported into Adobe Cloud via the Lightroom CC iOS app; (3) synced with Lightroom Classic CC on my Mac and (4) synced with my WordPress Media Library via WP/LR Sync.

Switching from Lightroom to Apple Photos, then (partly) back to Lightroom

Historically, before the iPhone became the camera I used for most of my photos, including most of the serious ones, I organized my photos in Adobe Lightroom, which in those days was, essentially, a closed, desktop app.

But as I started taking most of my photos on my iPhone, I found constantly transferring photos from the Apple ecosystem to the Adobe one inconvenient. So when Apple launched its own new, dramatically-improved photos management system, Photos, I decided to switch from the Adobe photo management ecosystem to the Apple Photos one. This was for two primary reasons.

The first was, quite simply, the convenience of using a photo-management ecosystem that was tightly integrated with all my Apple devices. Using Apple Photos as your primary Photo Management system means all your photos are immediately available on all your devices, ready to share using all the apps you’ve installed on them. The sharing options available if you store your photos in Adobe Cloud as I did previously, while they exist, are just not quite as extensive. I found the convenience of this impossible to resist, and converted my photo library from Lightroom to Apple Photos.

Around the same time, using Photomyne, I scanned all my old family photos, some of them going back to the first half of the twentieth century, meaning all my photos were available in a single place.

I assigned a location and title to all the scanned photographs, which you can do in Photomyne itself, but is actually also very easy to do in Apple Photos.

The second reason that prompted me to switch to the Apple Photos ecosystem was that a great deal of the photo editing work that I used to carry out in Lightroom can now be done directly in Apple Photos. This can be done in two ways:

The Apple Photos ecosystem, however, is a relatively closed one, which results in a large number of constraints when you want to display or move your photographs outside of it. Your shots are not individually identifiable, as files, in the way they are in Lightroom, within Apple’s Photos Library 3. You can share photos from Apple Photos, but there is no easy way of exporting your photos, individually or collectively, let alone synchronizing them with anything else. From this point of view, the switch to Photos from Lightroom was a step backwards.

For some time I’d been looking for a workflow that gave me the best of both worlds: the ability to store and edit all my photographs on my iPhone, but also for them to be available in the Classic desktop iteration of Lightroom, should I need the more powerful features that system offers, chief among them (as we shall see) the ability to sync with photos published on my WordPress site. New features that became available in the Adobe ecosystem convinced me to partly switch back to using Lightroom to manage my photos, including those I display on my WordPress site.

Using Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC to automatically push photos from Apple Photos to the Adobe Cloud ecosystem

Adobe reacted to Apple’s new Photos ecosystem, in 2017, by splitting its own Lightroom app into two:

Confusingly, the photo libraries used by Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC are not identical:

The way in which you organize your work is also different:

The key difference, however, is plugins: Lightroom Classic CC supports plug-ins like the Nik Collection, Luminar, ON1 Photo RAW and more; so far, there’s no sign of plug-in support in Lightroom CC.

There is one last crucial difference between Lightroom Classic CC and Lightroom CC:

Lightroom CC can be set to automatically …
Lightroom CC can be set to automatically import everything from your iOS device. This effectively injects all your new photos into the Adobe Cloud ecosystem.

The last point to understand, for our purposes, is that the two versions of Lightroom can be made to work together, allowing us to combine the respective advantages we have just described for each of them. This is because Lightroom Classic CC can sync with Lightroom CC; and since the latter can automatically import images from Apple Photos, we have a way of pushing photos we take with our iPhone all the way to Adobe Lightroom Classic CC on our Mac desktop 6.

Photos shot on cameras other than my iPhone can easily be incorporated into this workflow. There are several ways if doing this but I find the easiest and most logical to be importing them into Apple Photos by using a Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader. This ensures all my photographs, regardless of what device they were taken on, will be available on both the Apple Photos ecosystem and, once imported via Lightroom CC, on Adobe Cloud and, eventually, on Lightroom Classic CC.

This means I now have a complete archive of all my photographs, spanning almost a hundred years, originally contained in Apple Photos and now included, with all their metadata, in my Lightroom Classic CC library.

We now have a workflow whereby all the photographs we take, once they are on one of our iOS devices, are pushed automatically to Lightroom Classic CC on our Mac. The one drawback of this approach is that it is a one-way push, meaning there will be no two-way sync, and any edits we make to these pictures in Lightroom Classic CC will never show up on Apple Photos. But that doesn’t matter for my purposes, since I actually do the editing for my pictures on my iPhone or iPad, and use Lightroom primarily for storing and dispatching them to Flickr and to my WordPress site.

Sync photos between the Mac and WordPress

We now move to the second part of this workflow, which brings the photos I wish to display online to my WordPress site, with all the edits and metadata I wish to include from the originals my photo library, as part of a two-way sync. Once photos from my iOS devices are available on the Mac, I can continue processing them within the Lightroom interface.

In my case, this primarily involves sorting, adding metadata (especially titles, captions, Creative Commons settings, and, occasionally deleting duplicates). Lightroom, with its rich plugin ecosystem, provides an environment to do this that Apple Photos does not.

In a few cases, I might want to edit a picture using editing tools the equivalent of which is not available for mobile devices, such as Portraiture or Silver Efex.

The tool I will be using for this second stage of the workflow, to get the photos I want to share on my site all the way to my WordPress Media Library, is Jordy Meow’s WP/LR Sync plugin, which makes use of Lightroom’s very useful Publish Service functionality. Its key feature is that it allows you to synchronize the version of a photo in Lightroom with the version in WordPress. That can be infinitely useful for managing metadata like titles and captions, if you decide to manage these from within Lightroom. It consists of two components:

The two plugins will communicate and keep everything synchronized, as soon as you hit the Publish button in the WP/LR Sync section of your Lightroom Classic CC library. The settings for the sync allow you to customize the way in which the content of your Lightroom photo library is connected with that of your WordPress Media Library in an almost infinite way. If you decide to change anything in Lightroom subsequently (whether it be metadata, or edits to the image itself), you will be offered the option to republish the modified photo to the WordPress Media Library so that everything stays in sync.

Meow has a very good tutorial detailing all the options available.

I use a set of Lightroom smart collections to determine which photographs I want to display in WordPress:

The WP/LR Sync smart collections in …
The WP/LR Sync smart collections in Lightroom Classic CC that I want to sync with my WordPress Media Library.

In my WordPress Media Library, each of these smart collections will correspond to a WordPress gallery: unlike other plugins, WP/LR Sync, and the Meow system of WordPress plugins generally, does not create its own parallel galleries, hooking on instead to the standard WordPress gallery format.

The collections I chose to sync from my …
The collections I chose to sync from my Lightroom Classic CC Library using WP/LR Sync are now incorporated in my WordPress Media Library, with an optional navigation tool on the left to switch between them.

At this point, in addition to being grouped in galleries mirroring the collections in your Lightroom Library, the images are in your WordPress Media Library: you can use them in any way you like. The collections you create in Lightroom will be directly usable in the WordPress Gallery shortcode, like this:

[ gallery wplr-collection="1" ]
[ gallery wplr-keywords="10, 20" ]

There is a Collections & Keywords screen in WP/LR Sync in WordPress that helps the users to create those shortcodes.

The settings panel for the WP/LR Sync …
The settings panel for the WP/LR Sync plugin for WordPress displays a list of galleries that match the smart collections created in Lightroom Classic CC. Unlike other gallery plugins, WP/LR Sync doesn’t create proprietary galleries: instead, it allows you to use attributes (collections=’…’, keywords=’…’) in the standard WP Gallery shortcode to link your galleries to your collections and keywords in Lightoom dynamically.

As you can see from the illustrations in this article, I chose to create additional Lightroom collections to store content that went beyond photographs authored by me: I set up smart collections for featured images, post illustrations, and system images. The advantage of this is that you can set a large number of metadata (such as those relating to copyright and Creative Commons licenses 7. The only limitation on the latter point is due not to WP/LR Sync, but to Lightroom’s policy of converting all PNG files to JPG on export, meaning any PNG or SVG files must be uploaded to your WordPress Media Library separately.

While the open standards scrupulously adhered to by WP/LR Sync’s developer (he rightly stresses that every image in your WordPress must be in the Media Library) mean you are not in any way constrained within his extensive plugin ecosystem when it comes to displaying your photos in WordPress once they have made it there, it actually makes a lot sense to use his Gallery and Lightbox plugins: they are relatively lightweight (though an option to disable any unused javascript would be welcome in a future version), elegantly designed with photographers in mind, and obviously tightly integrated with WP/LR Sync.

The Meow Lightbox plugin, designed by …
The Meow Lightbox plugin, designed by photographers for photographers, integrates tightly with the rest of the Meow ecosystem. In this example, it displays the metadata from the photograph’s original Lightroom file (if WP/LR Sync is set not to remove the). Optionally, if location data is preserved on sync, the toggle at the top of the window will open a customizable Google Map displaying the photo location.

There is almost no limit to the combinations that you can display using this powerful system: you can either use the standard WordPress gallery shortcodes or, for adepts of Gutenberg blocks, Meow galleries can be inserted easily within Gutenberg as a block, as the following example demonstrates:

Meow WordPress gallery example
Meow WordPress gallery example

The Meow plugin ecosystem provides several useful (but obviously completely optional) additions that can be usefully integrated into this setup:

Gallery Custom Links, allows you to link images from galleries to a specified URL; you can use it, for instance, to point your gallery images towards the equivalent entry in Flickr or Instagram; WP Retina 2x, as its name indicates, automatically generates the image files required by Retina (or any high-DPI) devices and displays them to site visitors 8; Media File Renamer renames media files, either automatically or manually; I inevitably end up with a relatively untidy jumble of file names in Lightroom, which the latter makes it difficult to tidy up—this makes it possible to have a clean file-name structure in WordPress, where this actually helps with SEO.

If you install the Pro version of Meow’s …
If you install the Pro version of Meow’s Retina 2x plugin, it will automatically generate Retina images for each of the images in your WordPress Media Library, providing the size of the image you originally uploaded allows it. With WordPress supporting the srcset attribute, this ensures the right-sized images will be displayed even to users with Retina screens
The Retina 2x Pro plugin will give you …
The Retina 2x Pro plugin will give you detailed information of which Retina images it has generated and the reason why some sizes may be missing.

An enormous amount of thought was put into developing WP/LR Sync, and because of its adoption of open standards and of the number of options it offers, it is an extremely flexible instrument. Getting it to work in a way that matches your requirements is going to require a lot of work. You should also bear in mind that the sync process is relatively resource-intensive. This is especially true if you have an image optimization procedure set to kick in as soon a new images are uploaded to your site. Sometimes, especially if you’re uploading a large number of images, or if the file sizes involved are large, the sync process may fail and need to be repeated.

But once you have ironed out all the potential pitfalls, the satisfaction of enjoying flawless synchronization between your Media Library and your Lightroom photographs, with any new content you create in the Apple Photos ecosystem automatically being made available for you to use within those platforms, will make the effort of setting it up worthwhile.

  1. You can now use a custom app, such as Halide, for instance, to take your iPhone photographs in raw mode, giving you almost unlimited scope to edit your shots in whatever platform you choose later. ↩︎

  2. Snapseed is a Google acquisition originally developed by Nik Software, company that offers a wide range of photo filters and plug-in products, specializing in high dynamic range (HDR) filters. Google has continued to add tools to the app to increase its capabilities. ↩︎

  3. Photos app for the Mac imports images and manages pictures by automatically moving the files into organized folders within the apps dedicated package file. While this file container is not intended to be user facing, many advanced Mac OS users like to have access to the original master files rather than solely relying on the Photos app for image management. This can be done, but it’s a relatively convoluted process. ↩︎

  4. On the Mac it’s in a package file, which is a folder that looks and acts like a file (within your Pictures folder). ↩︎

  5. Not sync: any changes you make to your Lightroom photos will not be reflected in your camera roll: but this, in fact is a good thing, as we will see below. ↩︎

  6. While this feature is mainly touted by Adobe as a means to access your Lightroom Classic collections Ludicrously, only ordinary collections can be synced. The feature isn’t available for smart collections, which are the most powerful feature in Lightroom Classic and the one I use to automatically update my WordPress photographs and illustrations. A way out of this has been found by Lightroom plugin guru Jeffrey Friedl, I use it to automatically import my photographs from Apple Photos to Lightroom. ↩︎

  7. Creative Commons licensing details for each photograph can be set using another plugin by Jeffrey Friedl, the Creative Commons Lightroom Plugin↩︎

  8. If you take the sample of the picture of children in Madagascar on this page, WP Retina 2x will detect the size of the visitor’s screen and generate the appropriate Retina image on-the-fly, in this example village-children-in-madagascar–[email protected]. The details of how this is done are rather well explained in Alex Wright’s very good article on the subject. ↩︎