Darkroom Is the Photos App Apple Should Have Made

Edit your iPhone Photo Library without importing

  • Darkroom is a photo app that integrates directly with iCloud Photo Library.
  • Editing and browsing are the same thing, so there’s way less tap-tap-tapping.
  • iCloud Photo Library support is essential for Mac and iOS photo apps.
Darkroom on Mac, iPhone, and iPad

Darkroom

The first time you use Darkroom on your iPhone, iPad, or Mac, you’ll wonder why Apple didn’t make the Photos app this good.

Darkroom feels instantly familiar, because it closely mimics the layout of the built-in Photos app. But when you actually start to use it, you realize that it was designed to be used, and not just to be looked at. Darkroom is so clearly just a better, easier, more powerful version of Photos that it seems like it must have been the plan all along. I asked CEO and founder Majd Taby if that was the case. 

“This was actually the explicit intent. Our motivating mission statement from the earliest stages of prototyping was ‘editing workflows are inefficient, and tools are creatively limiting,’” says Taby.

Your Photo Library

To edit an image in the Photos app, you tap on it, tap the Edit button to enter a special mode, then tap on one of the editing tools to get started. 

In Darkroom, you are always in edit mode. Whenever an image is shown full-size, you’ll see the editing tools on the right, and the thumbnails of your other photos in a column on the left (this is the iPad layout—other devices vary the arrangement). This completely removes the boundary between browsing and editing. The power of this simple change is startling.

Darkroom on iPad

Darkroom

“The iPhone photo library is most people’s primary photo collection, and Darkroom is the app to manage it,” says Taby. “Our principle was that managing your library is a core part of photo editing, not just sliders and tools. That’s why we invest so much in library management, navigation speed, and lightweight interactions.”

For instance, if you open the curves tool in the panel on the right, you can adjust it, but you also can swipe between images, and the curves tool stays active, updating for each image. This is just about the quickest way to bulk edit images, short of actually batch-editing them (which Darkroom also does, even integrating batches with Shortcuts). Even videos can be edited.

The Whole Package

“I always love it when a system comes as a complete solution (i.e. desktop app, mobile app, cloud, etc) rather than in separate pieces,” professional photo organizer Caroline Guntur told Lifewire via email, “because a good photo system should offer a holistic approach. To be honest, there are more than enough cloud solutions out there, but few of them treat photos the way they should be treated.”

Darkroom on Mac

Darkroom

It’s hard to overstate how much this integration improves photo editing, and speeds up the process enough that it feels like fun instead of being a chore. And yet, it remains an app design for what Taby calls “serious mobile photographers.”

“We’re not trying to convert every DSLR photographer using the latest 100+MP cameras,” says Taby. “We’re trying to build pro tools exclusively for the mobile photographer who captures a high volume, and wants the efficiency and control over their photography.”

Your Library

Because it uses your existing built-in photo library, Darkroom and Photos are always in sync. If you took a bunch of pictures with your iPhone, when you fire up your Mac or iPad to edit them, they’re already there (as long as iCloud Photo Library has done its stuff). 

“Whenever I use any other photo editing app, beyond a doubt my favorite feature in Darkroom is the lack of imports,” says Taby. “Every other app forces you into a multi step import/confirmation process, which slows you down and prevents you from getting to any kind of flow state, which is where creativity comes from.”

"Whenever I use any other photo editing app, beyond a doubt my favorite feature in Darkroom is the lack of imports."

There are integrated alternatives, like Google Photos, or Adobe's Lightroom. In fact, Lightroom is an excellent “ecosystem” for users of both Apple and Windows machines. It has apps for desktop and mobile, and they all sync. But what Lightroom doesn’t do is integrate with your existing library. You can sync your iCloud library and Adobe’s Creative Cloud, but that means you already have at least two copies of every image.

The good news is that you can use Darkroom for free, and then upgrade via in-app purchases. Try it out. Even Apple loves the app: Last year Darkroom won an Apple Design Award.

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