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How to Use Lightroom Edits Outside of Lightroom

For many photographers, Adobe's Lightroom software is a one stop shop for editing images. Sometimes, however, you will need to work with your edits outside of Lightroom. In this case, photographers are sometimes stuck between worlds, wanting to preserve the Lightroom edit and yet also work in other programs. In this article, you'll learn how to make a quick change to ensure your Lightroom edits can be used with other software, such as Adobe Photoshop and Bridge.

The Background on Lightroom Catalogs

Adobe Lightroom is a non-destructive editing suite. This means that while moving the sliders and applying edits, your original image files are untouched and safe. Instead of writing changes to the original file, Lightroom stores data about the file in a database, which Adobe calls a "catalog." As you're applying edits to your images within Lightroom, those edits are being saved in the catalog. Because of this, you can make an unlimited amount of changes and never lose the quality of the original images.

image file displayed in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop looks different in each programimage file displayed in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop looks different in each programimage file displayed in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop looks different in each program
At left is an image edit I've made progress on in Lightroom. However, when opening the original image in Photoshop, it appears unchanged. This is because the edit is stored within the Lightroom catalog, and no changes are applied until the export of the image. In this tutorial, you'll learn how to add metadata to your images so that the edits can be used outside of Lightroom as well.

Although your adjustments are shown as previews in Lightroom, an export must be performed to create a finished file. When starting an export, Lightroom ensures that the original image can be found. Edit information is pulled from the catalog and is combined with the original image file to produce a finished product. Throughout this process, the original image file remains untouched and all edits are stored in the catalog.

The strength of this system is also its shortcoming. Because catalogs are specific to Lightroom, your work can only be viewed in Lightroom by default. Catalogs are also succeptible to corruption and data loss. If you want to use your edits with other software or backup your work, you'll need to tell Lightroom to save copies of its metadata outside the catalog.

Enable External Metadata

The good news is that using your Lightroom edits with other software is easy. Saving the metadata for the edit will allow other pieces of software, such as Bridge, to seamlessly access information like keywords, descriptions, and image corrections.

Lightroom writes external metadata differently depending on file type. If the original image file is a RAW image, the metadata will be written as an XMP "sidecar" file. This tiny text file sits on your storage disk next to your original image. For JPEG and other standardized image formats, the metadata is saved to the original file, meaning that a limited set of the metadata is embedded (although not the edit itself) in the file.

XMP sidecar files sit next to RAW imagesXMP sidecar files sit next to RAW imagesXMP sidecar files sit next to RAW images
After enabling XMP sidecar files, they'll show next to the RAW images in the image's folder. These are the files that allow other pieces of Adobe software to use the edit data.

Create XMP Sidecar Files Manually 

To save the metadata for an image you've already edited, enter the Library module and select the image or images you want to save the metadata for. Choose "metadata" on the application menu and "Save metadata to file." Remember that you can select a single image from the filmstrip, or a range of images by holding shift on the keyboard and selecting the first and last image in a series.

dialogue to manually save metadata filedialogue to manually save metadata filedialogue to manually save metadata file
If you've already edited a photo and need to save the metadata manually later, you can find the option in the Library module. On the "metadata" menu at the top of the application, choose "Save metadata to file."

Create XMP Sidecar Files Automatically

If you want to save metadata for all images, you'll have to change the Catalog Settings. On Windows, you'll find this under Edit > Catalog Settings, while the same option can be found on Lightroom > Catalog Settings on Mac. On either platform, choose the "metadata" tab and ensure that "Automatically Write changes to XMP" is selected. When this is turned on, Lightroom will automatically create and save the metadata for your edits.

switch on automatic XMP sidecar filesswitch on automatic XMP sidecar filesswitch on automatic XMP sidecar files
To enable metadata to be autosaved in the future, choose the Catalog Settings and tick the "automatically write changes into XMP" box.
After enabling the saving of metadata, the edit that I applied to the image in Lightroom is available in Adobe Camera RAW when opening in Photoshop.

In addition to compatibility with other Adobe apps, enabling metadata saving is a good backup step beyond the catalog system. Having the metadata stored separately from your catalog is an additional form of backing up your edit information.

Managing XMP Edits

If you make changes to an image outside of Lightroom, applications such as Photoshop will write the changes made to the metadata. Therefore, the next time you work with it in Lightroom, you'll want to adopt those changes applied by the other software.

After returning to that same image in Lightroom, you'll notice a small icon over the thumbnail on the filmstrip. Upon clicking it, Lightroom presents two options: "Import Settings from Disk" and "Overwrite Settings." Choosing "Import Settings from Disk" will adopt the edits applied in another application, while "Overwrite Settings" will revert to the earlier metadata edit that's stored in the Lightroom catalog.

Import Setting from Disk to apply external changesImport Setting from Disk to apply external changesImport Setting from Disk to apply external changes
When metadata is edited with other applications, Lightroom will conflict on versions of the edit. In this case, I've applied additional edits to the image in Photoshop. After clicking the icon in the upper right hand corner of the image preview, Lightroom will ask if I want to import settings from disk and use the Photoshop changes, or "overwrite settings" and revert to the earlier edit.

Wrapping Up

Enabling XMP is a quick and easy step to ensure that your edits are available outside of Adobe Lightroom. Adding external metadata to your image files is a quick and easy step for increasing the flexibility of your workflow and the dependability of your catalog.

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