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Posted by James Maynard – January 29, 2013 browse all

Why You Should Destroy Exports in Adobe Lightroom

What is the best thing you can do with Lightroom Exports? Delete Them!

Lightroom from Adobe can be counter-intuitive to the new user in a few ways. With use, however, you will find that the aspects of the software that make Lightroom different also make it superior to nearly any other photo editing software package out there for several purposes. We’ve explained why there is no “Save” button within the Lightroom interface, and now we’ll tell you what is different about exporting files from Lightroom than almost any other program.

Most photo editing programs change the actual file which you have open, making and saving the work you have done. This is either done on the original, or you can create a separate file using the “Save As” function. The problem with this is that it creates extra files on your disk, taking up space, with each copy creating additional work for you when transferring or selecting files for whatever reason.

Lightroom does things differently – the editing is non-destructive. Because of this, no matter what you do to a photo, you will not ruin your original file. (And those originals should be shot in .RAW format and converted to DNG for highest quality and greatest flexibility in editing). What Lightroom alters and saves is not the photo itself, nor a copy of the original image. It saves changes to the metadata information related to the file. This takes up far less space then changing the photo itself. However, in order for your changes to be seen, you will need to export the changes you made to a more mainstream format such as .TIFF or .JPG.

On the surface, Lightoom’s export capability seems to be much in line with several other photo editing programs. Most programs perform work within a proprietary software format which can not be read by most other systems from different manufacturers. So, after you make whatever changes you desire, you then export the image to its final format, creating the additional file. With Lightroom, however, it exports a copy of the picture with the modified metadata containing your edits, into a final form.

To export the file, select the image(s) you would like to export. Then click the export button within the Library Module (or select File → Export). The export dialog box will give you a chance to select your desired preset from a box on the left-hand side of your screen. If you want to re-use settings from a previous export session, it’s a breeze. Just select the photos to which you mean to apply the settings, and select “Export with Previous” from the File menu.

Using other programs, you want to save the final export, since there is no way to easily re-create your changes. However, with Lightroom, you can easily re-create the export, since your changes were the recorded in the first place and the original remains untouched. Digital Asset Management (DAM) is all keeping everything organized….Lightroom helps with this. Don’t fight it.

What should you do with the exports you create from Lightroom? Delete them, of course! There’s little reason to save the exports which can be so easily re-created.

Deleting your exports has another big advantage – it will prevent having to keep several different files on your drive with slightly different names. Having to remember which picture was Mount Washington Gold.TIF and which one was Mount Washington Summer Day.TIF is a challenge to say the least. There’s no need to try to remember all that if you don’t need to create the additional files in the first place.

I export my files to a special desktop folder called (creatively) “Lightroom Exports.” I periodically delete everything in this folder.

If you want to save different versions of the same photo, you can always create virtual copies, which take up little extra space.

The only good reason to keep a Lightroom export is to access when you may not have the original handy (say if it is on an external drive that you don’t have while traveling.) Even then you would be able to access JPGs of your images from Mosaic View on your tablet or smart phone. :)

So after you take a stunning photo, and work hard to bring our every ounce of feeling and emotion that photography can convey, you will reach your moment of truth when you export your edits into a highly-sharable format, creating your masterpiece. And the best thing you can do with your pièce de résistance when your edits were performed in Lightroom? Hit delete.

  • Bob


    Nice article but there are some points that could probably use some clarification.  Heck, maybe I am just not getting what the article is about…

    1. You keep saying “Delete your exports”.  Do you mean “Delete your exported photos”?  Deleting your exports makes me think of export presets.

    2. On the point above, don’t most people who use software such as LightRoom and Aperture, export to say “photo.jpg”, upload that to their photo sharing site of choice, and the delete it from their disk anyway?  Is this a big problem?

    3. Help clarify the following quote below.

    “So, after you make whatever changes you desire, you then export the image to its final format, creating the additional file. With Lightroom, however, it exports a copy of the picture with the modified metadata containing your edits, into a final form.”

    It seems you are saying that Lightroom does something special, that Aperture doesn’t.  Could you tell me where the “..modified metadata containing your edits” is along with your exported photo?  Embedded into the .jpg? If so, then deleting your .jpg would also delete that metadata, right?

    4. I think the following is just confusing.

    “Deleting your exports has another big advantage – it will prevent having to keep several different files on your drive with slightly different names. Having to remember which picture was Mount Washington Gold.TIF and which one was Mount Washington Summer Day.TIF is a challenge to say the least. There’s no need to try to remember all that if you don’t need to create the additional files in the first place.”

    If you have 2 different photos (lets say RAW), you will certainly keep those (on disk and accessible in Lightroom) with 2 different names on the hard drive, right?  So I don’t really get how you no longer have to remember part.


    • MosaicArchive

      Hi Bob, 

      Thanks for the comments and for reading! Let me try to clarify. 

      1) We are not talking about deleting your export presets. We are talking about deleting your exported Lightroom photos. 

      2) From our experience a lot of users try to keep all of their exported photos from Lightroom and Aperture. This is due to confusion on how these programs work. A lot of users even try to export them to the same folders as the originals to “keep their photos organized”. This (Obviously) isn’t the right approach. So, this is a bigger problem than you might expect. 

      3) Lightroom (and Aperture) holds the edits in the catalog (Aperture calls this the “Library”). What you see on the screen is a JPG preview of the edits. In Lightroom these are held in the LRPREV folder. The information about the edits is certainly not held within the preview file. It is held in the catalog (or library). The catalog database is one of the very unique parts of Lightroom and Aperture. This is why it is vital to backup these files. This article should help explain:

      When you export (as opposed to drag and drop out of the screen) you are applying the edits held in the database and whatever the exports presets are. 

      4) If there are two separate RAW photos, then yes keep them! We are talking about two different interpretations of the same RAW photo. Exporting them and keeping them both with slightly different names can be confusing. We are talking about keep them both in LR as virtual copies.

      Hope those answers helped! 

  • Jdventer

    People who don’t understand Lightroom export to “Save Their Work”.

  • JB

    This makes sense I guess if you are a one trick pony.  I have to export my shot after lightroom if I want to make any adjustment with Elements 10.  The two programs don’t share or draw from a common organizer.  Unless someone knows better and can show me a better way.  JB

    • MosaicArchive

      You don’t have to export to edit your work in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements! 

      In Lightroom select > Photo > Edit In > Edit In Adobe Photoshop or Edit In Adobe Photoshop Elements. Edit the photo. Press Save. (not “save as”) Then the edited image will automatically appear in Lightroom next to the original. 

      Hope that helps!

      • Dean

        I see I’m late to this post, but perhaps you may see my newbie question anyway.

        You said “the best way to apply your edits is to export them.” I’m brand new to Lightroom, and other than downloading and installing LR5, I have done nothing with the program yet. Since your comment implies that there are other ways to “apply your edits”, then what are the other ways to apply edits? I would think it would be an advantage to apply edits within Lightroom rather than exporting something that is just going to be erased anyway only for the purpose of applying edits. Please pardon my ignorance.


        • gerardmurphy

          Hi Dean, Thanks for the question. I can remember being confused by the same thing when I first started using Lightroom!

          Lightroom is by default a non-destructive editing platform. Which means you are making edits that by default are not applied to the original file. You will notice that Lightroom doesn’t have a “save” button. This is because when you make an edit they just show up. No need to save. This post might help:

          However, because the edits are not made to the original file (by default) and because you most likely want to share a JPG and not a raw file, exporting is your best option to create a new file with the edits applied. Hope that helps!

          • Dean

            Thanks greatly Gerard! The light bulb of understanding finally went on after reading the link you supplied (Where is the Save Button In Lightroom?). I read through all of the links that you included in your replies to the comments for this article, but I did not read the “…Save Button…” article, and that’s the one I should have read! I may learn this program yet.

          • gerardmurphy

            Awesome! So glad it helped! Happy to answer any other questions.

    • Jayemmxxx

      In Lightroom Preferences, set Elements as an external editor. (The editor app is hidden in the Elements Package). Lightroom will create a PSD (preferred by Elements) and pass it on.

      Edit in Elements, then save (and replace). The image is stacked with the original.

      PSDs are quite big. You could flatten before saving or pass a jpg to Elements and be thoughtful when saving to get names and folders to match.

  • Brad

    I wasn’t confused until I read this. I have switched from Aperture to LR 3 months ago. I never really though about where the edited version lives, where does it live? Also, with LR how can you share your photos or view them if you don’t have LR in front of you. Aperture was  really good with that, I could use photo stream and share or view my photos on any IOS device. While I like LR editing better than Aperture I never get to enjoy my photos. I have tried to download Mosaic 3x’s and while Mosaic is really nice about it, they say there was an error and for me to try again because there was a problem.
    So, where are my edited photos, should I back up a copy on a different drive? How can I view my photos from my iPad or iPhone? Any help would be appreciated!

    • MosaicArchive

      Hi Brad, Sorry about the troubles with our software. I hope we can get them resolved very soon. 

      Lightroom doesn’t create your “edited versions”. All of the edits are held in the Lightroom catalog until they are exported. This is what makes Lightroom very efficient and yet a little confusing all at once. 

      Lightroom does create “Preview” files. These are kept in a Lightroom format and are difficult to reach. 

      This is explained in this post:

      Aperture actually works very similarly, except the Aperture previews are created as JPGs. Because Aperture is integrated so well with the Mac, Aperture let’s you select the preview files right from the finder making it seem like you are selecting your master photographs. 

      The major downfall of the Aperture approach is that it ends up creating JPGs of each photo in Aperture. This can lead to a very large Aperture library. It is not easy to get Aperture to create smaller preview files for you. Lightroom gives you more choice on how it handles these preview files. 

      Hope that helps. 

  • Antonio M. Rosario

    This is great. I always tell my students this because at some point they end up reimporting these throw-away images. And that’s the beginning of the end of proper organization.

  • ASpencerSchwartz

     ” “Export with Previous” from the File menu.” Why doesn’t this appear in the left side of the export dialog box shown above?

    • MosaicArchive

      You need to be in the Library module for it to show up in the lower left. I would assume that is what happened. Hope that helps! 

  • Pencil

    Hi Lightroom is brilliant for editing images. The problem im having though is, exporting my images with the editing changes in tact.

    For example i have an image, on which i edited down the ‘Noise’ on it, however when i export this to a folder it appears without the editing :(

    This is a big problem I’m facing with using this software, I’d be happy if anyone can help. As I have clients waiting for photos which i can’t send until i resolve this.

    Thanks would appreciate any help.

    • gerard_murphy3

      Hi Pencil,

      I am assuming that you when you export the files from Lightroom you are choosing the file settings > image format > original?

      If you choose Metadata > Save Metadata to File and/or check the option to “Automatically write changes into XMP” in the Catalog Settings Metadata tab the edits will be included in the RAW exported file (as well as the files on your machine).

      I would suggest that if you are trying to deliver work to someone that you not send them the originals. A JPG or Tiff might be more appropriate as a image format when exporting.

      Let me know if that helps!

      • Pencil

        Hi Gerard, thanks for your reply appreciate it.

        Sorry I’ve tried all the steps you’ve suggested: Export photo as ‘original’, & save metadata to file. However still after exporting the photo it appears without the editing that i applied to it :(

        I realizing sending JPEGs to clients is more appropriate, however i can’t do that if my editing isn’t saved on the image.

        I’m really desperate to resolve this. As I’m dying to get some great images out & if i don’t no one can see them…

        Please email me your number (if u r in UK) directly on: & i will ring you to resolve this.


  • Angela collier

    Hi I’m new Lightroom , I’m having a problem when exporting to Dropbox , if I delete the photo in Dropbox it then makes all the photos in that file in Lightroom unrecognised and unusable ?! Pls advise ?
    Thanks Angela

    • gerardmurphy

      Hi Angela, Happy to help! Are you exporting your Lightroom files to Dropbox? Or are you putting your photos original photos in Lightroom?

      When you export a photo from LR, LR basically forgets about it. So this would not effect your LR catalog. You could delete any photos from Dropbox and it would be fine

      If you move files that are stored in LR behind LRs back, Lightroom will break. You can fix that using this:

      Of course if you are using Dropbox to have mobile access to your files, then the Mosaic App is a good choice :)

      • angela collier

        Hi I’m exporting my files from Lightroom to Dropbox , but if I delete one of these files files in Dropbox , in Lightroom the file is unknown with a ? and then consequently all the files from the that date are also unreadable in Lightroom ?
        Hope this makes sense ?!
        Thanks Angela

        • MosaicArchive

          Hi Angela, Are you re-importing the photos you exported in to Dropbox into Lightroom? Files that are exported from Lightroom, are no longer monitored by Lightroom. So you would never get the “missing files” question mark. If you import photos that are in your Dropbox folder into Lightroom and then delete them from the folder… then yes, Lightroom will say they are missing because they are in fact missing. If you would like to remove them from your catalog, you can hit the delete button and they will be removed from your Lightroom catalog. Hope that helps!

          • angela collier

            Hi I’m importing raw files into Lightroom from my camera and then exporting these to Dropbox – the prob is when I delete from Dropbox it then makes the photo in Lightroom ” missing ” . Any solutions ?

          • MosaicArchive

            I would assume you are exporting to the same dropbox folder your are importing from. The only way the “missing” warning happens is if you delete or move the photo from where Lightroom thinks it is.

  • Myss_CAM

    I am VERY new to this… when I go to export there are some files that cannot export because the original file is missing. ( I am assuming I deleted the originals at some point) How do I export these images to deliver to my client?

  • FRED

    In the days of 35mm film, someone would pass down photographs and if a family member wanted a print, they would take the photo into the LCS and develop a new print.

    Today, in the days of digital…. ?

    Curious what someone, say your Grandson, will do in say, 2075, when they want to print a digital image. “Look, a picture of grandad in some format I CAN’T read! I think we need LR version″ And…. I have to go up to the CLOUD to get it.

    Riiiiight. Save the jpg. Then all you have to do is contend with what ever new format they have for reading jpgs in 2075.

    Lucky for me… I don’t do Adobe Cloud. CS6 was my last stop. Thanks, but NO Thanks, ADOBE.

    Nikon NX2 is just as good and it still has the SAVE button. I do, in fact, understand the work flow in LR very well. I have a version I no longer use. Like many, I have opted out of ADOBE.

    Think carefully of who will try to read your META data when you are long gone. My guess…. no one. Save your jpgs.

    • MosaicArchive

      Hi Fred, Thank you for your perspective.

      I use DNG for this forward compatibility reason. All files will become obsolete over time, so I would rather saves my “negatives” than the “prints” to borrow from the film days. The DNG is your negative… so you can always make more JPGs.

      I write the changes I make in Lightroom to the DNG so that I am not overly reliant on Lightroom / Adobe going forward. This way I can hand my DNGs to my grandchildren and all the metadata and changes will be there along with my original raw sensor data.

      The cloud is another place beyond your own hard drive to save your images. If something happens to the images at home, you can restore from a good cloud storage solution. I wouldn’t confuse using the cloud as a backup solution versus what Adobe is doing. (With Adobe you are also never made to move your files solely to the cloud.)

      I hope the clarifies why I think destroying JPG exports in Lightroom is the best solution. Best, Gerard

  • Imu

    Sorry if this seems stupid but i am new with Lightroom, isn’t export the same as save? So I edit my photos and save them just to delete them? I don’t understand

    • MosaicArchive

      No stupid questions!

      You do not need to “save” in Lightroom. Your catalog automatically saves as you make an edit…. so you can get your JPGs whenever you need them. Just make sure to backup your catalog!

      This article hopefully will help:

      • Imu

        It took me some time to get it but I think I understand now, thanks

      • Oahu Mike

        I think I understand what this article is getting at but in order to clarify (the article’s points and contrasting with my needs):

        After editing RAW in the form of DNG file Metadata in LR, you want to delete the exported JPEG files so as to not have those files taking up space on your computer, as you can always export any necessary JPEG file as the information on edits is stored within LR.

        This seems a little counterintuitive for my uses for these reasons:

        1. RAW files eat up more space on a computer than JPEG files do

        2. After editing and exporting, the final result (JPEG) is what I’m after, as I am a hobbyist of a photographer and will no longer want to edit the original file further than what I have already edited.

        Therefore, it makes ‘sense’ to me to export the files and then delete the RAW format instead, as I will no longer have use for those excessively large files, as JPEG files are more ‘shareable’. I think this may be the confusion with most people.

        Am I just in the wrong league for my photography?

        • MosaicArchive

          Hi Oahu,

          Great points and no you are not out of your league :)

          Your workflow is very viable but for me I always like to save my originals so I have the ability to post process them again later. I have found that with new versions of software I an get more out of some of my older raw photos.

          JPGS will also degrade over time, so I like to keep my DNGs for the long term.

          I also think space is very cheap at the moment, so I am not too concerned with taking up too much space on my computer. I move some of my “not-so-good’ files to an external hard drive and call it a day.

          Thanks for the comment and for sharing your workflow.

          Best, Gerard

          • Oahu Mike

            Thanks for your insight and prompt response! I think I’ll start considering this workflow as the quality of my compositions and camera bag improve, I now see the benefit. As I had mentioned, I didn’t see the benefit (to me) in post-processing a raw file again, but I could definitely see the advantage. Thanks again :)


        • Natalie Ah-Chee

          I kinda get where you’re coming from Oahu, I have a similar process although I don’t permanently delete my RAWs, I save the originals on large external harddrive and also save my jpg exports on this harddrive (easy access should any client wish to purchase prints or additional digital files later on).

          Because I’m running a smaller solid state HDD on my computer, I don’t have room for every RAW (or even just every edited RAW) to sit in LR so everything gets shuffled out once I’m done exporting. Essentially I only have 2 or 3 shoots sitting in LR at a time.

          I like the idea of always having access to the RAW edit versions however I’m not too sure how to accomplish this without a bigger HDD. MosaicArchive, is it possible to save the LR catalog on a different HDD to where the LR program sits? Also, I have a folder of LR backups, plus a folder of my RAW images (which have been edited but no longer in the catalog), plus a folder of the exports – will the backups (if restored) contain my RAW edits? Or would the files still need to be in the catalog to see the edits? if so, would re importing the original RAWs and restoring a backup then replace the edits? I’m just wondering if there is a better way around doing this :)

  • commphoto

    So I just finished editing 300 portrait images in Photoshop and then did final (but somewhat extensive) editing in Lightroom. Then went to the print module to create and save print packages.
    So now, I want to ‘save’ all the edited images for possible future printing, and then move all the images off my laptop drive to an external backup to free space on my drive.
    Do I have to export all the finished images to ‘save’ the edits?
    If I just move the files to a back-up drive, can they be re-imported later back into Lightroom and still have Lightroom recognize the initial edits done?

    • MosaicArchive

      Hello! Great question!

      The Lightroom catalog holds all of your edits and settings (such as those made in the print module), so you want keep track of this file.

      You shouldn’t get in the practice of exporting files out of Lr and then reimporting later.

      I would recommend that you move the files off your internal drive to your external drive while maintaining their location in the Lightroom catalog. You can do this by moving your files in Lr –

      This way if you want to work on the files again, you do not need to reimport them.

      Hope that helps! Best, Gerard

  • Hrunga Zmuda

    Yeah, well, my biggest problem with Lightroom is that it exports TIF files that don’t contain all the metadata they should. Look for the RAW filename so you can trace the exported photo back to the original (without using Lightroom). No dice. This is ridiculous. Lightroom should export with ALL metadata.

  • John

    I have Lightroom 4 and my hard drive is getting too full wiht pictures i have in lightroom. I want to move many to a thumbdrive and delete them from lightroom. what are the steps to perform this please ?

  • Todd

    I have photos and copies of photos on many different drives unfortunately, I did not realize that if you moved a file outside of LR 5 that it would mess everything up. I did that multiple times trying to organize outside of LR. Now I’m fed up with trying to find all the missing files and want to know if I can re import all the files on all the drives back into LR? I read in your post that the LR catalog keeps all the edits does that mean if I re import the edits would still be there? Or am I sunk, were talking about over 500,000 missing photos. I’m going to be reformatting my main HD due to virus and thought this would be the perfect time to get reorganized. Any help would be helpful. Thanks Todd

  • Mamarazzi

    I am trying to export an edited photo from LR to desktop or dropbox. The original file is huge but when exported to Jpeg, it reduces to 1.3MB. I am new to LR and wondering if I imported the photo into LR incorrectly bringing the file size down.

  • KG

    Question: I have a set of photos that I edit in LR, I then export them to use them for whatever purpose. When I am done, you are saying to delete the exported jpgs. If I do this, will the edited files still be in LR?

    I think I understand this, but its very counterintuitive. I am all about letting the systems do some of the work, though! After I delete the exported files, if I needed to use those edits at a later date for another purpose, would I just repeat the process and export/delete again?


  • CC

    Hi! I’m new to Lightroom 5 and yesterday exported edited pics to a desktop folder for a blog post. I assumed that it was exporting copies to the folder? When I deleted the photos afterward and went back into Lightroom, the previews showed that little “!” indicating the links to the originals were broken. I didn’t do anything to the original files, just deleted the exported photos once I was done with them. I ended up having to go to the trash and restore them to the export folder; and the “!” went away. Can you help?