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Exporting in Lightroom: When to Export and When Not to Export

Lightroom what is ExportThis is my first article in what will be a several part series on Lightroom’s Export function. This article will focus on what exporting is for and when you should export. Future ones will go into the settings.

Background: Lightroom’s Non-Destructive Approach to Image Editing

Lightroom works non-destructively, meaning that it never touches your original raw or JPEG files. Instead, your editing work is saved separately behind the scenes as a set of instructions.  In Lightroom you’re essentially seeing the instructions hovering over your original photos, but the instructions are not baked in to your originals. 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!


What Exporting Is For

Because of this non-destructive approach, if you go outside of Lightroom to Mac Finder or Windows Explorer/My Computer and preview files that you have edited, you’ll see that your editing work isn’t there – so you can’t share your edited photos with people by sending them these files. Of course sending people the originals plus sets of Lightroom instructions also isn’t an option. Instead, when you want to share your photos you’ll create copies of them with the editing work applied. These copies are made through the Export dialog.

Should I Export to Save My Work?

Many users believe they need to export copies of all their edited photos in order to save their work – this is not the case, and will simply clutter up your hard drive with unnecessary copies. Your work is being saved automatically in Lightroom’s catalog. (Read more about this in, “How Do I Save My Lightroom Work?“)  Instead, exporting copies is only necessary when you want to share your photos with the outside world.

Should I Keep All My Exported Copies?

I almost always delete the exported copies once I send them out since I can always export new copies if I need them again.  Each export shows up as an entry in the History panel in the Develop module, so if I have done additional editing since I exported, I can always get back to how it looked when I last exported, if I need to.  Some pros, however, do retain the copies that they send to clients so that they have readily-accessible  documentation of exactly what was sent out. (Note that while Lightroom will record editing settings when you perform an export, it will not record export settings such as size, so if you need to keep track of these you’ll need to keep your files.)

Whether or Note You’ll Need to Use Lightroom’s Export Dialog

Generally speaking, you’ll export copies by clicking on the Export button in the bottom right in the Library Module, or by going to File>Export…, and then working through the settings.

Lightroom Export

However, there are other ways to share photos, depending on the circumstance. In these Lightroom does the under-the-cover exporting:

  • You can email photos directly from Lightroom. This will save you from the time of exporting JPEGs and attaching them to emails.
  • You can upload photos directly to Facebook, Flickr and some other online services using Publish Services, in the bottom left in the Library module.
  • Creative Cloud subscribers can “sync” collections of photos to the cloud, at which time they are available on mobile devices and on Lightroom web. You can send clients and friends links to these collections on the web and people can like and comment on them.
  • You can create slideshows, web galleries, prints and electronic print layouts, and photo books using Lightroom’s output modules, and then export / upload / print  from there.

These are outside the scope of my current Export series, but I thought I’d mention them.

Related Post: Exporting Lightroom: Location Settings

2017-08-02T11:30:26+00:00March 3rd, 2017|12 Comments


  1. Sherwood Botsford March 3, 2017 at 11:56 am - Reply

    How do you track what versions you sold who?

    E.g. You have a master M.
    Now you produce a cropped version, and sell a copy to a person A.
    The local newspaper asks for it, so you make a lower resolution copy in black and white B.
    You use it on your web site, so have 6 different low to medium resolution, custom sharpened C1-6
    The newspaper calls back. They want permission to crop down to just one person. BA

    Now the shoot that produce M produced one like it, M2, with slight differences that occur with two shots 3 seconds apart. IT has it’s own history.

    And so it goes.

    Two years later someone calls back and wants a higher res version of the one they bought.

    • Laura Shoe March 3, 2017 at 1:26 pm - Reply

      This is one of those professional examples where it can make sense to keep them, Sherwood, particularly since there’s no way to record sizes exported or other export settings. You can keep notes on the side with the details, or you can add these exported files to the catalog and put notes in the metadata. That said, I personally wouldn’t keep C1-6 – once they’re on my website, they are stored there (and that should be backed up.)

      • Laura Shoe March 3, 2017 at 1:50 pm - Reply

        Btw, if you do decide to add them to the catalog, it can be handy to stack them with the original. I’ll cover this in my next article. Thanks btw, Sherwood, for your example!

    • Sam Cox March 5, 2017 at 10:13 am - Reply

      My preferred way of keeping track of delivered photos whether to customers or just to social media is to create for each image delivery an annotated Snapshot. Each Snapshot takes very little room in the catalog and I label each with the date and important particulars about what I delivered (e.g., B&W, Aspect Ratio (2:3), Long Edge (LE=640), and so on). I also create regular collections for customers and other delivery targets (e.g., Flickr) and add each image to the appropriate collection. With such collections, I can always see what deliveries were produced for each each customer by right clicking the image and hovering over “Go to Collection”, and with the Snapshots I can recreate any delivered image. In this way, I don’t clutter my HD with extra copies that also need organizing.

      • Laura Shoe March 5, 2017 at 10:31 am - Reply

        I like your solution a lot, Sam – thank you for sharing it. Snapshots, as you say, allow you to label what the export was for, whereas the line automatically created in the History panel just shows the date exported. Collections are a good idea as well. Neither of these allows for identification of whether the export was a low resolution or high resolution one, for example, but I suspect that most users don’t need this (as Sherwood does). (One could keep a record of this info in the metadata for the image – the caption field, for example.)

        • Matt O'Brien March 7, 2017 at 6:44 pm - Reply

          I simply put the name of the client in the Export sub folder and add to the catalog.

    • Laura Shoe April 18, 2017 at 12:52 pm - Reply

      Hi Sherwood, I understand that you wrote to us stating that you were trying to unsubscribe to my newsletter but were unable to. My assistant sent you an email indicating that the email address you wrote to us from is not in our database, but he did not hear back from you. Please write to us again letting us know what email address you receive the newsletter at or forward us a newsletter, and we will unsubscribe that address. I take requirements surrounding subscriptions seriously.

  2. John Steadman March 7, 2017 at 11:20 am - Reply

    Dear Laura.

    Thank you for your email, and for the Adobe updates, your newsletter makes very interesting reading.

    Best Wishes.

    • Laura Shoe March 7, 2017 at 12:48 pm - Reply

      You’re welcome, John – and thank you for your note!

  3. Ron Thill March 11, 2017 at 11:47 am - Reply

    I’d like to be save by RAW files along with their Lightroom adjustments using my Amazon Prime photo storage as part of my online backup strategy. Is there a way to do this?

    • Laura Shoe March 14, 2017 at 11:23 am - Reply

      I’m not familiar with Amazon’s service, Ron. Ideally you’d upload your photo files and the Lightroom catalog. If you can’t do this, then second best would be to write your work out to XMP files (though this wouldn’t include collections, virtual copies, step-by-step edit history, or pick/reject flags) and upload these along with the photo files. If it won’t do this, then I’d look for another cloud service. I use BackBlaze, which backs up all my user files on my computer and external drives, regardless of file type.

  4. Larry Kurfis September 17, 2018 at 6:49 pm - Reply

    Note that Facebook has removed the ability to use Lightroom publish to post to FB and instagram which is the owner of.

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