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!