Aug 072014
Save your Lightroom photo work

For those new to Lightroom, naturally you want to understand how to save your work. You’ll notice that the File menu in the menu bar suspiciously does not have “File Save” and “File Save As …” options. The short answer is that as you work in Lightroom – adding keywords, stars, flags and other metadata; developing your photos; creating collections and more, your work is being saved automatically, so there is no need to do a “save” before you wrap up your session.

More on Saving and the Lightroom Catalog

It’s worth understanding this in more detail though. First, Lightroom works non-destructively – meaning that it never touches your master photo files. Instead, your Develop work is saved automatically behind the scenes as a set of instructions.  In Lightroom you are essentially seeing the instructions hovering over your master photos, but the instructions are not baked in to your  masters. This is great, as it means that you can undo all or part of your work at any time – you can’t ruin your photo as you work on it!


This work or instructions are automatically saved into Lightroom’s catalog. The catalog is simply a file on your computer where your work on each of your photos in Lightroom is stored, along with other information about your photos. The catalog doesn’t contain the photos themselves, just information about them. (Read more about the Lightroom catalog and how it relates to your photos in this article.)

Is Exporting Another Way to Save My Work?

When you want to share your edited photos with the outside world, of course you can’t send people the originals plus a set of Lightroom instructions. This is when you need to create copies of your photos, with the work “baked in”. We do this through the Export dialog – usually we create JPEG copies to share online, through email, to send out to print, etc.

Note that many users believe they need to export all their worked files in order to save their work – this is not the case, and will simply clutter up your hard drive with unnecessary copies. Furthermore, on these copies you can’t undo your work – it has been baked in. For most people, export only when you want to share photos, and once you do, delete the exported copies, since you can always create new ones to share.

The Importance of Catalog Backups

You can imagine, since the Lightroom catalog contains all the work you have ever done on any of your photos, that it is important to back it up – to protect you against two potential crises: (1) the catalog file could become corrupt and be impossible to open, and (2) your hard drive could crash or be stolen or damaged. To protect against the first, back up your catalog using the prompt when Lightroom closes – this creates a series of backups over time that you can revert to, should your main catalog become corrupt. To protect against the second, use backup software outside of Lightroom (Mac Time Machine, Windows Backup, other third party software) to back up the hard drives your catalog and photos are stored on. Read more about backing up your Lightroom catalog and photos in this article. To see where your catalog is stored, in the menu bar in the top left, go to Lightroom (Mac) or Edit (PC) , Catalog Settings. It is listed on the General tab:


What I have explained so far is all that I believe beginners absolutely must know. For those who want an additional layer of protection and don’t mind delving into the topic more, there is also the option to “save to XMP“, which also puts the instruction data in the folders along with your master photos. I will cover this topic in another post soon, but for now understand that this is not a substitute for saving into the catalog. Be sure to sign up for my newsletter below to hear about new articles and tutorials!


  54 Responses to ““How Do I Save My Lightroom Work?””

  1. I organize and edit my photos in Lightroom, export them to Photoshop Elements to make scrapbook pages. When I am finished and close the photo, Lightroom has an edited file added to the catalog. I am deleting that edited copy. Is that the best practice? Am I missing anything important. Thanks for all the great info on your blog.

    • Jeri, that edited copy (which is a PSD or TIFF file) is what contains your Photoshop Elements work, so I would not delete it.

      • Thank you for your response. Most of the time I am not changing the photo in PSE. I am only adding it to a page which I create in PSE. If I make any changes to the photo outside of LR (that I want to keep) I would definitely keep the TIFF copy. I appreciate your help.

  2. Interesting graphic that shows “RAW File” and “Instructions.” How did you do that? The reason I ask is that in the Develop module, the “History” of a “synced” image shows only “Synchronize Settings.” (Well, in addition to non-relevant data to this issue – like Import and such.) That in itself is not very useful/helpful. Yes, you can go to the synced-from image (if you can remember which image that was) and get the settings). However, what if you change something in the original image? Is the “History” of the synced image then useless?

    The question then is there some method (other than in the left-column History panel) that data is available?

    • Hi Ron,

      My intent was not to show step-by-step history in this graphic, but rather to show conceptually how Lightroom stores Develop work behind the scenes as instructions, rather than baking your work into the photo itself. While it is true that when you sync (copy) your work from one photo to another you do not see individual components of that work in the History panel, you can always undo any component by using the sliders and tools on the right. In fact the History panel is still showing you step by step work – your only step was to sync.

  3. Aw shucks. Sometimes I overthink things

    But, TBH, I was surprised that the “History” would be truncated a “Yep, you did it” type of entry in a synced-to image.

  4. When I backup LR, I end up with a long list of backups in my LR folder. Do I need to save old backups or will the latest one save all the LR work from previous backups (assuming I haven’t made a change to those files) ?

    • Yes, you can delete old ones, Scott, but I would keep at least a handful around – I’m not sure if my thinking holds water, but I do so just in case some corruption issue took a while to develop.

      • Thanks, Laura. The reason I ask it that I’ve gone back to some LR work from previous years and my edits are no longer there in LR, just the RAW file. Could this be because of updating to new LR versions? If so, How can I find my original edits in LR?
        Thanks so much for your help.

  5. Thank you for all your postings like this one. I really find them helpful.

    Unfortunately I still cannot save (export) the revised image back into the same folder the original came from. I change it’s name but after it is exported I cannot find the revised image anywhere. Wish I know what I am doing wrong.

    • Hi Ken,

      You’re welcome, Ken. You won’t see your exported copy in Lightroom unless you check the “Add to this Catalog” box towards the top of the Export dialog. This default is by design, as for most purposes we can export our copy, send it off, and then delete it from our computers.

      • Laura.
        Thank you for your quick and informative response. I will give that a try right away.
        Your loyal and appreciative student.

  6. Laura: I am putting edited images together from my LR5 collections folder. I want to burn a dvd of my selected images to play as a slide show, as I have done in Picasa. When I burned the dvd I simply got a dvd of many individual images and now have to click on each very small jpg to open and view. I then need to close that image out and click on the next one to see it full screen. Is there any way to burn and view as a slide show without going through this time consuming process?
    Thank you, Herb Schneiderman

    • Hi Herb,

      You can export an MP4 video or a PDF from the Slideshow module. An MP4 video will include the soundtrack if you added one, while a PDF won’t. I don’t know though that either would launch on a television.

  7. HI

    I have have just exported a whole lot of edited photo’s from lightroom to an external hard drive and noticed none of the edits have been saved, all the original shots. Also I noted that when making edits in Lightroom none of the changes were saved on the same pictures on the internal hard drive.

    I’m new to lightroom and desperate not to lose all my hard work on the images that I edited.

    Any help on this would be most appreciated.

    Many thanks in advance

    • Hi Graham,

      When you export, don’t choose the Original file type – this will export copies without your edits.

      Your edits are saved in the Lightroom catalog, not baked into your master files – so when you go out to your hard drive, you won’t see the edits. This is why you export copies, which bake in your editing work, when you want to share with the outside world. Here’s an article on saving your work in Lightroom.

  8. I want to export my edited work to drop box. How???

  9. Hi Laura,
    I have been imbedding metadata to images in Lightroom and exporting the files for upload onto a website using Photoshelter for a while. I now have a new project that requires saving keywords and metadata to pdfs (each one containing a number of pages) which will then be uploaded onto website to be searchable by the public. Is this possible using Lightroom? Is it possible to keyword individual tifs as normal (i.e a single page of the final pdf), then export the files with the imbedded metadata to the hardrive, then put those into Bridge to turn them into pdfs to upload onto a website?

    Hope I made this enquiry clear enough!

  10. Laura,

    I’ve got a whole list of backups on my computer hard drive under the Pictures heading. I’ve got a Lightroom 2 catalog.lrcat dated Dec. 29, 2012 and then I have Lightroom 4 Catalog-5.lrcat dated Jan 1, 2013. I am afraid to erase them because I don’t know if these files are in my current catalog which is called MasterCatalog-2 lrcat, backed up today. How can I tell if these files should be erased? and, If I can delete these old backups, what do I do with the MasterCatalog Previews.lrdata.

    Thanks for any help you can provide.

    • Phyllis, to see where your backups are going, next time you get the backup prompt when you close Lightroom, look at the dialog – it shows you what folder they are going into (normally a Backups folder). Old catalogs other than recent backups can be deleted.

  11. Laura, It looks like a lot of folks have the same question as I do. I do understand that LR does not change originals. I download all my images to a “raw” file (that’s the name). I then synch with my LR catalog. I then pick and choose from the LR catalog which images to edit. Usually when I edit, the image in the catalog reflects that with the “new” picture and those little edit indicators down the in the corner. I have thousands of individual product pieces to shoot and use the LR catalog as a “library” to see which ones are finished.

    Here’s the issue: Sometimes (though I haven’t determined a cause and effect) images that I have edited do not change in the catalog – they remain as they were – raw.
    However, I can go to the export files and see that indeed they were edited. What’s up with that?

    Question two (easier?): When cleaning up my LR “library,” and REMOVE items – why do they keep coming back?

    • Hi Patrick,

      Regarding your second question, Remove just removes photos from the catalog, it doesn’t delete them from the drive. It sounds like you are synchronizing, in which Lightroom checks the hard drive for photos not in the catalog, and adds them – so you are removing, and then having Lightroom add them back. If your intent is to get rid of the photos, choose Delete from Disk, not Remove, so that they are deleted from your hard drive.

      Regarding your first question, it is hard for me to understand your workflow fully, but in any case, images you edit will indeed stay as raw files. Edits are just instructions that are stored in the catalog, they do not change the underlying raw file. Only when you export copies will you see the edits in other programs.

  12. Can you recommend a good program or website that I can share edited raw pictures from lightroom 6 exported as jpegs with my family that will not perform any “enhancements” and allow them to download my pictures at original size?
    I am the unofficial “photographer” for my family

    Thank you, David Bayne

  13. Hi Laura,
    A few days ago I exported a large number of photos from LR6 to an email. It now seems the recipient has not received them.
    Qu: I want to re-send, but cannot find the ‘last export’ done. There is a last export which says 7 were exported, but this is not the same group of photos.
    How to find these pictures without re-selecting (a long process!).

    • I don’t have any ideas, Michele, other than looking in the History panel in the Develop module on each one to see if there is an export step.

  14. Hi Laura.
    I think I have a new question or problem. I used to work Lightroom 5 on a Windows computer where lokating the Lightroom Catalog. Pictures Folder on an external drive.
    Now I changed to Mac and downloaded Lightroom CC15 to its Hard Drive. I can connect the external Drive and ask LR CC to use the same folder as Lightroom 5, but how do I get my new Lightroom to se, accept and use my former Edits?
    Thank you for any help!

    • Hi Emil,

      You’ll need to copy your catalog over from your old computer. If you have my Fundamentals & Beyond series, watch the video on moving your photo library (and jus follow the instructions for the catalog portion of the video).

  15. Thoroughly confusing.
    This lightroom thing is a total waste of money for me. It comes with no instructions, and refuses to let me make any changes to my photo ! 🙁

  16. Hello Miss Shoe :-),
    I am a student in a Trends in Software and Social Media for photographers. I’m struggling with an assignment I have. At home I have Adobe Lightroom 5.4, and I use Adobe Lightroom CC 2015 at school. I’ve never had to worry about saving my work at home. Whenever I turned on my program, my photos were available for me to pick up where I left off. I completed an assignment on school computers, my Professor told me to show her next class. She asked someone to show me how to save my work in Lightroom. I found out that I was unsuccessful at doing so. I need to be able to move from computer to computer, open up Lightroom and view or work on saved work. I have read your information on saving your work, but my question wasn’t answered. Thank you for your time.

    • Hi Brandyce,

      This is a great question, but unfortunately it’s too large of one for me to address here. I would suggest posting on, where you can have a discussion. The moderators there are excellent!

  17. Hello Laura,
    I would like to know if I can safely remove the jpegs that I have exported out of Lightroom to my hard drive to send to clients without losing the raw files that are in the lightroom. I am running out of space and believe that I have the photos in two places on my computer in the LR catalog and in folders on my hard drive. Is this likely the case? Thank You for your clarification.

    • Yes, you can, Josh. This will not affect the raw files. After I export JPEGs and send them off to whoever needs them, I usually do delete them since I can always export new ones if I need them again.

      Note that if in the Export dialog you are checking “Add to this Catalog” so that the JPEGs are also in Lightroom, you’ll want to delete these from within Lightroom. (“Add to this Catalog” is not the default, so you probably are not using it (and I usually don’t recommend it.)

  18. Need to export full TIF pictures to Photos (in iMac) or Dropbox for another person to access.

    I use Lightroom

  19. Hi Laura
    I would be very grateful if you could help me with a query about Collections. I had source on my hard drive linked to Lightroom which contained multiple folders and photos (let’s call it source A) and many of these photos also appeared in multiple Collections.
    I then copied all photos in A to an external drive and imported it to Lightroom (source B). I then removed source A from Lightroom and all the Collection folders are now empty….is there any way to restore the Collections please?
    All the photos have the same names they were just moved from A to B and they have still got their star ratings in the Catalog, although no Smart Collections were used.
    Many thanks for your time.

    • Hi Claire,

      When you remove photos from Lightroom, Lightroom no longer remembers anything about them, including membership in collections. You could go back to a catalog backup that was made before you did this (copy it out of the backups folder and rename it to be your new main catalog, then double-click on it to open it. If you do this though, you’ll lose any editing work you have done since the backup.

      Next time you want to move photos that are in Lightroom to a different drive, drag and drop using the Folders panel. No need to remove and reimport.

      I’d highly recommend my Lightroom CC/6 and 5: The Fundamentals & Beyond video series – it will help you to avoid these common mistakes!

      • Many thanks for the information Laura, all sorted. I restored the backup Catalog, moved the folders back to where they were originally and then moved them correctly through Lightroom – I will definitely look at more of your tutorials as I have found them really helpful. Best wishes Claire

  20. Laura, you are so helpful.
    I have been asked to photograph the construction of a racing car. I would like to know how I differentiate these photos from my regular everyday work, a ‘file/catalog’ that I can pass on to the builder of the car. These car photos come mixed with regular ones to lightroom from my camera. I would handle, develop for the builder but I have to be able to give him a flash drive of his history in jpeg form. Normally I am tiff.

  21. I would like to make a slide show using photos that are not in the LR catalog. They are intermediate versions that I have edited in Photoshop and stored in a separate folder on my hard drive. Is there any way to do this? When I try to import them in Library, LR won’t do it, probably because it sees these as duplicates of photos that are in the catalog. Thanks for your help.

    • Hi Gretchen, if these Photoshop files are grayed out in the Import dialog, then they are in fact already in Lightroom (not just the originals). (If you use the Lightroom “Edit in Photoshop” command to work in Photoshop and then save the file, it is automatically imported into LR.) You can do a search using the filter bar above the grid to find these files (a text search for the file names, or a Metadata>File Type search.

      • Hello Laura –

        Thanks for your prompt reply. Your website is just great – so helpful!

        I’m still baffled. I have been keeping a separate folder of full sized and 8×10 versions of all of the images for this particular project. In LR I do Edit in Photoshop. In Photoshop I resize the image and sharpen it using Photokit Sharpener. I then do Save As to route both versions of the image to the separate folder, giving them new names there. So the LR version should not include any of the changes I have made in Photoshop. I then go to LR Library and try to import the folder version with the sharpening changes and LR shows the image grayed out, as though the changes WERE included.

        If this is some sort of glitch, perhaps I need to come up with a work around. I would greatly appreciate any suggestions.

      • I think I’ve figured this out. If I do a second Save As and save the Photoshop-edited files to the LR catalog itself Library now recognizes them as new entities that can be imported. I haven’t tried to make a slideshow yet but presumably it will work.

        • This is unnecessary, Gretchen – you’re ending up with two copies of each Photoshop file on your hard drive and in Lightroom (in addition to your original raw or JPEG). Better to find the first one. After doing your initial Save As, there is no need to import into LR – LR does that automatically. The fact that the PSD file is grayed out in the Import dialog is telling you that. In LR, do a search on filename for one of your PSD files, and you will see this.

          If you have my Lightroom CC/6 and 5: The Fundamentals & Beyond video series, watch the video on Editing in Photoshop for a lesson in this workflow.

  22. My lightroom 6 won’t export! all of my photos have an exclamation mark on the top right corner. I can’t seem to find where to re-link them too. I think they are still pulling directly off my memory card. Every time I try to export my Mac just shows the swirly symbol for hours. even for one picture. Please help! I have your lightroom 6 DVDs and downloads, so if there is a specific video to watch, I can go do that too. Thank you!

    • Hi Amisha,

      Thank you for your purchase of Laura’s “Lightroom CC/6 and 5: The Fundamentals & Beyond” series. Please watch the video on Missing Files and Folders (#22) for an explanation of why this happens and for instructions on how to resolve it. (It’s not possible to export files that Lightroom can’t find.)

      For further support, Laura has a private Facebook group where purchasers of her series can ask questions and participate in discussions. To receive an invitation to join, use the Contact tab at the top of this site to send me the email address that you use with Facebook.

      Best regards,

      Customer Support
      Laura Shoe Digital Training

  23. Hi Laura, I read your comments and didn’t find my answers.
    I have LR (same version) on two separate computers. I want to remove one folder and its editing work to the second computer. But the catalog keeps data of all the work from all pictures I ever worked on in the first one, so how can I move only the relevant data?

    Note that the destination location may by in another path on the second computer, so I want to ensure LR will be able to recognize the changes I made the transferred photos. In my understanding, I have to keep paths when moving pictures to another computer.

    Best regards,

    • Hi Illi, select the photos you want, then go to File>Export as Catalog. Include the negative files. Move this folder to your other computer, then if you already have a LR catalog there, open LR and choose Import from Another Catalog. There is a video in my Lightroom CC/6 and 5: The Fundamentals & Beyond video series that covers this process – I think it’s called something like “Transferring Work from One Computer to Another”.

  24. I have a question about saving my work. Does Adobe Bridge save just as LR. I’ve set up my Adobe Bridge recently & all of my files seem to be in there, that are on my hard drive. Since I have the CC subscription, I thought I would take advantage of using this program. Isn’t the Adobe Bridge the same as a filing system ? & can be exported over into PS ?

    • I would suggest that most Lightroom users don’t need Bridge, Janice. In Lightroom you can right-click on a file and choose Edit in Photoshop, and then after doing your Photoshop work do a File>Save, and the PSD or TIFF will automatically show up in Lightroom. If you do work in Bridge and you do work in Lightroom, you’ll end up with metadata conflicts.

  25. I read through all replies above and did not find an answer to perhaps the most basic question of saving the work. When I edit a set of 200 pictures and have to stop to import another, higher priority set, I am unable to get back to the previous set with all edits saved. I always have to start all work from scratch with all 200. I have been doing this for years.
    You say that there is no need to save sets as folders because all work is saved automatically. What good it is for if I cannot access them again as a separate set?
    How do I save the set (folder) of pictures with edits so that I can get back to it later after working on another imports? Once I export my work and start importing another set, the previous editing work in LR is gone for good, as far as I know. When I am trying to re-import the previous set, all pics are grayed out with comment that they are already imported. After some fumbling which I never remember they come back, but without “automatically saved” edits.
    My current way around this problem is not to start another set until I am finished with current set.

    • Hi Vlado,

      You will see after import that your imported photos show up in one or more folders in the Folders panel. Select the folder of photos you want to edit, edit them, and then that’s it – there’s no need to export or to reimport – just go do whatever unrelated tasks you need to do, such as importing more photos. Next time you want to work on that first set of photos, select that folder again – you will see that your edits are there.

      The only time you’ll export is if and when you need a separate set of copies of your photos – JPEGs usually – with your work baked in, that you’ll send off to the outside world.

      I would highly recommend my Lightroom CC/6 and 5: The Fundamentals & Beyond video series – you’ll learn all of this and a ton more about how Lightroom works, and about organizing, managing and editing your photos.

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