A Brief History of Adobe Lightroom

Let’s take a closer look at the development of Adobe’s specialist app for photographers, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Ever since digital cameras first became popular in the early 1990s, photographers have sought ways to adjust and improve digital images and replicate the darkroom tricks and techniques that film photographers have used for decades to get the most out of their pictures.

There are dozens of digital image editing programs available and almost everyone who’s ever taken a digital photo, whether they use a top-end digital SLR or just the camera on their mobile phone, has used some sort of editing software to adjust and enhance the image. Most smartphones come with some sort of image editing app as a standard feature.

Adobe Photoshop

For more than two decades the industry standard for image editing software has been Adobe Photoshop and ever since it was first introduced in 1990 it has been the go-to program for professional photographers. The editing tools that you take for granted in your smartphone app were all inspired by tools first introduced in Photoshop.

Photoshop is an amazing piece of software and in skilled hands it is capable of making almost any adjustment or alteration imaginable to a digital image. However, in recent years Adobe has expanded Photoshop’s capabilities to include elements such as video editing, 3D texturing and text editing, making what was already a very complex program even more difficult to master.

Of course, these expanded capabilities have been reflected in the ever-increasing price, making Photoshop a very expensive piece of software indeed. Nobody likes to pay for something they’re not using and photographers found that most of Photoshop’s expanded features were surplus to their requirements; so it was clear that a new app was needed, that catered more specifically to the needs of photographers. This was the remit under which Adobe Photoshop Lightroom was developed.


Mark Hamburg is a veteran software engineer who has been working at Adobe since 1990 and, along with Thomas Knoll, was part of the original team behind the development of Photoshop. In 1999 Hamburg started working on a new project codenamed Shadowland (a reference to a k.d. lang album, of all things). He brought on board Andrei Herasimchuk, the interface designer responsible for the distinctive look of Adobe Creative Suite, and development was started later that year.

Some people are under the impression that since it’s officially named Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, it is essentially just a repackaged version Photoshop with some of the features removed, but this is not true. Hamburg, Herasimchuk and their team wrote the new program virtually from scratch, even writing a large portion of it in a completely different coding language. Initial development took three years and in 2002 Hamburg was able to demonstrate an early version of the program.

An interface was added the following year and in 2004 full scale development started at Adobe’s development facility in Minnesota. In early January 2006, Adobe took the unusual step of releasing a beta version of their new program for public evaluation, initially on Apple Macintosh computers only, and used customer feedback to continue development of the program. Further beta versions followed later that year, adding new features, including support for Microsoft Windows in July, and integration with Adobe Photoshop in September.

Finally, the full retail version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.0 was announced in January 2007 and released to the general public the following month.

Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC

Over the years since its initial release as a stand-alone product, there has been major stand-alone versions released and multiple minor sub-version updates. Then Adobe launched its subscription based Creative Cloud service. You were able to choose from the entire suite of Adobe Products either singly, or in various packages.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC (2015) as it was initially called, has received various updates over the years of its release and at the time of writing is in the stable release version 8.4.1 as of mid-September 2019. It is now known as Photoshop Lightroom Classic CC and is the powerful desktop-focused version of the app. Regarded as the go-to app for serious photographers, the majority of tutorials in this title are based on these versions.

Photoshop Lightroom CC

Photoshop Lightroom CC is new from Adobe, launched mid September 2017 and at the time of writing is in its stable release version 2.4.1 as of mid-September 2019. Photoshop Lightroom CC is a cloud-based photo service which caused a bit of a stir at its release. Not only was it an unexpected new product, it was a much pared down version of its much more fully-featured cousin Lightroom Classic.

You can only work on images that are stored in the cloud and if you need extra storage space, then further storage has to be purchased. There is no doubt it is a faster and more streamlined product for enthusiasts to use across multiple mobile platforms, but if you are a professional photographer, then Lightroom Classic might be your better option.

Russ Ware

Russ has been testing, reviewing and writing guides for tech since the heady days of Windows 95 and the Sega Saturn. A self-confessed (and proud) geek about all things tech, if it has LED's, a screen, beeps or has source code, Russ will want to master it (and very likely take it apart to see how it works...)

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