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Learn Lightroom in a Week - Day 7: Export and Publishing

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Read Time: 19 min

In today’s tutorial, we will finish our journey in Lightroom. We will bring everything we've learned together and tackle exporting and publishing.

Step 1: Export Overview

Unlike other programs, Lightroom doesn't have a regular saving command such as "Save As" like Photoshop. So whether you're distributing finished photos or need to get working image files into other software, you will need to export those files from Lightroom.

Lightroom exports options provide you with more extended, automated workflows such as using plug-ins and post-processing actions.

Exporting photos from Lightroom always generates new image files. But depending on the purpose of the export, the new files are not always saved to your hard disk following the completion of the export. For example, if you're uploading a web gallery the files can be exported to your site server with no files will be saved on your hard disk.

In cases where you do save the newly exported files to your hard disk, you will have the option to also add those images into the current Lightroom catalog.

Step 2: Export to Hard Drive

Start the export process by clicking the Export button at the bottom of the left panel area in the Library module. This will open the Export window where you have to specify a set of options. We will explore each one of them now.

The first thing you have to do is to choose a method for exporting from the Export To menu. There are two options - Hard Drive and CD/DVD. The second is available only in 32-bit versions of Lightroom. This selection determines the options available in the rest of the dialog box. Now pay attention to the Settings section of the window. The options are grouped in several panels. Click a panel header to expand/collapse the panel. When closed, a panel's header shows its current settings. Let's examine now the Export Location panel. First choose where exactly you want to export the files - you have the following options:

  • Specific folder - you can choose whatever folder you want for the exported files. Just click the Choose button and navigate to the target folder on your hard drive. During this step, you can also create a new folder for the exported files. When you make new folders during an export and you add the exported files to the catalog (which is explained below), the new folders are added too. To select a recently used folder,  click the small black triangle to the left of the Choose button.
  • Choose folder later - choose this when you create an export preset (which we'll cover later)
  • User folder - this refers to your User folder in your operating system.
  • My Pictures folder - save the files to you user pictures folder
  • My Documents folder - save the files to your user documents folder
  • Desktop - save the files to your desktop
  • Same folder as original photo - the newly exported photos will be placed within the same folder as the original photo on your hard drive.

If you want create another folder inside the one specified above then enable the Put in Subfolder option and type the name for the subfolder in the text field. If you want to automatically import the newly exported files into the current Lightroom catalog enable the Add to Catalog option.

If your destination folder location is Same as Original Photo, and you enable Add to This Catalog, you can stack the exported files with the originals. Use the popup menu to choose where in the stack the exported files will be inserted. The chosen option for the Existing Files determines what will happens if files with the same names are already in the destination folder. In most cases I leave this on "Ask what to do" but if you want you can specify one of the following:

  • Choose a new name for the exported file - assigns a different name for the exported file by adding a hyphen and a numeric suffix.
  • Overwrite files WITHOUT WARNING - the existing files will be replaced with the exported files without warning you about the conflict.
  • Skip - the photos with conflicting names won't be exported.

Exported files can use the same or different filenames as their originals. In the File Naming panel you can specify how the photos are named as they're exported. We've already seen what the options here mean and how to work with them, so I will skip the repeating explanations for this.

If you don't enable this panel by checking the Rename To option, the exported files will use the same base file names as the originals. Keep in mind that you can have two files with the same name only if their file extensions are different. For example, sunset.dng and sunset.jpg.

In the Preferences dialog box under the File Handling panel, you will find a section named File Name Generation. The purpose of the settings here is to make the files more Internet-friendly. The preferences give you options for how to handle "illegal" characters and spaces in the name. They can be replaced with dashes or underscores, or left as is. During an export, if you create a file name that breaks the rules you've set, Lightroom will automatically change the name to reflect your preference settings.

In the next panel, File Settings, you have to select a file format for the exported images. You have the following options:

  • JPEG - ideal for Web and E-mail. Higher quality will produce better looking files and vise versa. Usually something between 70 and 85 is good enough for the Quality setting. If you want your files to be set at specific file size then check the Limit File Size To option and type the desired size in the text field.
  • PSD - here you can set the bit depth. Usually the 16-bit is better especially if you intend to work on the file in other software, because that way the maximum amount of data from the raw capture will be preserved in the rendered file.
  • TIFF - use this instead of PSD. TIFF can be used for almost any purpose except for the Web. Compression on TIFF files is lossless. So if you decide to use compression no data will be discarded.
  • DNG - using the default settings here is usually the best choice.
  • Original - this will produce exported files in the same format as the originals. If virtual copies are being exported, the resulting files will be in the same formats as the originals from which they were made. This can be very handy way to produce real files from virtual copies.

When you export a photo from Lightroom in JPEG, PSD or TIFF format, you must choose a color space for the new file, even if the original photo already has a profile embedded. During the export, Lightroom will convert the photo's colors to the selected color space and embed the ICC profile for it. If you want to use your own custom color space then choose Other from the pop-up menu. This is especially useful when preparing files for printing by an outside vendor.

Lightroom exports use the Perceptual rendering intent and Black Point Compensation to perform color space conversions; you can't change this setting. Sometimes this produces color conversions with less than optimal results. If you're exporting to JPEG, you can use the Print module instead, which allows you to choose Relative rendering intent.

Include Video Files - if you have video files selected for export, Lightroom will include them in the export, but the only processing Lightroom will do on the exported video files is renaming. All other export settings will be ignored for video files.

It's important to know that even though Lightroom preserve layers in PSD and TIFF files when they are imported, when you export them the result will be a flattened file.

During an export, you have the option to resize the exported file changing its native resolution. To do it enable the Resize to Fit option in the Image Sizing panel and choose an option from the pop-up menu.

  • Width & Height - this resizes the photo to fit within the specified width and height, retaining the original aspect ratio.
  • Dimensions - this applies the higher value to the longer edge of the photo and the lower value to the shorter edge regardless of the photo's original aspect ratio.
  • Long Edge - this set the size for the long side of the photo and scale the short edge proportionately.
  • Short Edge - this set the size for the short side of the photo and scale the long edge proportionately.
  • Megapixels - this will proportionally scale the photo to fit within the target file size.

By checking the Don't Enlarge option, Lightroom will respect the resolution you specify and disregards width or height settings that would enlarge the photo.

If the export is intended to produce print-ready files, set the sizes for the exported files to the final dimensions and resolution for the type of printing being used.

For screen-based media, such as a monitor, projector etc., the actual pixel dimensions are all that matters, and typically one image pixel will be displayed as one screen pixel. If you're exporting files for any kind of screen output, don't worry at all about the Resolution setting - it will have absolutely no effect on the final output of screen-based media.

To specify a resolution for the exported files, enter a value in the text field and choose pixels per inch or pixels per cm from the menu.

In the next panel you can apply output sharpening to the exported images. Just enable the Sharpen For option and choose from the pop-up menus the type and the amount of sharpening.

In the following panel you can specify how Lightroom will handle metadata and keywords associated with the exported photo.

  • Minimize Embedded Metadata - this includes only copyright metadata fields in the exported photo and as a result produce a smaller file.
  • Write Keywords as Lightroom Hierarchy - if you use keyword hierarchies in Lightroom (such as "Nature|River"), checking this box will preserve these parent/child relationships when the keywords are written into the exported files. This option is useful only when you're going to import the files into another Lightroom catalog, because this keyword structure may not be available in other types of image manipulation software. So for most cases, it's better to leave this option off.

To add watermark in the exported images, use the Watermarking panel.

In the Post-Processing panel, you can specify certain actions to be performed as the last step when exporting photos to a disk from Lightroom. To apply an action choose an option from the After Export pop-up menu.

  • Show in Explorer will displays the files in the new Explorer window after the export.
  • Open in Photoshop will opens the files in Photoshop after the export.
  • Open in [Additional External Editor] will opens the files in the application specified as an additional external editor in Lightroom preferences.
  • Open in Another Application will opens the files in the application you specify in the Application pop-up menu.

If you don't want to apply any post-processing actions then choose Do nothing from the menu.

Step 3: Using Export Actions

You can add Photoshop droplets, scripts and shortcuts to other software programs to the After Export menu. Any item that can be executed by opening a photo (or batch of photos) can be added as an Export Action.

To do this, select Go to Export Actions Folder Now from the After Export pop-up menu. Place your droplets or shortcuts in the Export Actions folder and they will be added to the After Export menu. In some cases, you'll need to restart Lightroom to see the new actions listed.

Step 4: Exporting Using Presets

You have three built-in presets in Lightroom at the left side of the Export window.

  • Burn Full-Sized JPEGs - this is not available on 64-bit Windows. Photos are exported as JPEGs with sRGB color space and maximum quality, with no resizing and a resolution of 240 pixels per inch. By default, this preset saves the exported files to the Files On CD/DVD destination specified at the top of the Export dialog box, in a subfolder named Lightroom Burned Exports.
  • Export To DNG - saves your photos as DNG files.
  • For E-mail - exports photos as JPEGs converted to and tagged as sRGB. Exported photos have a maximum size of 640 pixels (width or height), medium quality, and a resolution of 72 pixels per inch. By default, this preset specifies the post-processing action Show In Explorer.

The most important thing is that you can create your own export presets which will streamline your workflow significantly. After specifying the export settings you want to save, click Add button at the bottom of the Preset panel on the left side of the Export dialog box. Type a name and click Create.

To update a preset with new settings right-click a preset and choose Update with Current Settings from the contextual menu. To delete a preset, select it and press the Remove button

For quick access to Lightroom presets use the File > Export with Preset submenu.

Also when you right-click on a photo anywhere in Lightroom, the popup menu provides the same export commands using presets. These options bypass the Export dialog box altogether, and thus require you to have your settings worked out ahead of time.

Step 5: Exporting Using Publishing Services

In Lightroom you have a handy and easy way to get your images from Lightroom directly to online photo sharing sites like, to other hard drives, or even to your iPhone. This feature is called "Publish Services," and if you take just a few minutes to set this up now, it will save you a lot of time whenever you want to post images online, or save images to your hard drive.

Publish Services keeps track of versions of photos, when they were published, and what's been modified since the last publication. They function similarly to collections and smart collections with additional export capabilities. You can drag and drop photos to your saved services, or set them up to use dynamic criteria such as keywords, attributes or any other metadata. A published source can also be designated as the Target Collection.

By default, Lightroom 3.0 comes with publish services for Hard Drive and Flickr, listed in the Publish Services panel. In the latest version of Lightroom they are two more options added - plug-ins for SmugMug and Facebook. You can also add publish services for other export plug-ins which you can find at the Adobe Exchange site.

Now let's see what is the difference with Publish Services compared to the Export options and why to use them instead of a regular export:

  • Publish services track all changes made to your photos such as publishing, re-publishing, adding new photos, etc. Published photos are automatically separated out in the preview area so you know what's been changed.
  • In contrast to a regular export, where if there are file conflicts, you'll need to specifically allow Lightroom to overwrite those files, in Publish Services when you re-publish, the files are automatically rewritten to update to the current version.
  • Publish services combine the advantages of collections and export presets.

You can set up any number of publish services to handle groups of images you're using for any specific purpose.

Publish services need to be configured before they can be used. When initially configuring a publish service, it doesn't matter if you have any photos selected. You can add them to the service later.

Step 6: Configuring Publish Services

Publish to Hard Drive

Start by clicking the Set Up button on the Hard Drive publish service. This will open the Lightroom Publishing Manager, which contains similar controls and panels as the Export window. In the first panel, you specify the name for the service. In the Export Location panel specify where the files to be exported and whether to put them in a subfolder. The options in the rest of the panels are the same. Here you don't have ability to perform any post-processing actions. When you are ready with the settings just click Save.

Publish to Flickr

After giving a description to this service you'll need to log into your account. This will take you to the Flickr site for authorization. When you're done there, come back to the Lightroom Publishing Manager. Work your way throughthe other panels, which are relatively self-explanatory. When you are done click Save. Below, you can see the panels that are specific to this service.

Step 7: Publish Services Management

A publish connection is a set of export options for a specific destination or service. Publish connections are listed in the Publish Services panel. You can create a new publish connection by clicking the Add button at the bottom left of the Publishing Manager. A publish collection is a folder that contains photos waiting to be exported in a publish connection. You create public collections in the Publish Services panel.

When you right-click Publish Connection, you get the following options:

  • Edit Settings - opens the Lightroom Publishing Manager with the current service loaded so you can make changes.
  • Rename Publish Service - opens a dialog box to rename the service.
  • Delete Publish Service - will remove the service.
  • Create Published Folder - allows you to make a new published folder using the same settings as the main service.
  • Create Published Smart Folder - provides controls like smart collections to add a smart folder to the publish service.
  • Create Published Folder Set - allows you to group publish folders into sets.
  • Create another Publish Service via [publish service name] - makes a new service with initial settings copied from an existing service.

And when you right-click Publish Folder, the following options are available:

  • Set as Target Collection - sets that folder as the Target Collection.
  • Rename - changes the name of the published folder.
  • Delete - remove the published folder from the service.
  • Publish Now - updates all items in the folder according to the settings saved in the publish service.
  • Mark to Republish - indicates that all items in the published folder need to be republished; this could be done manually or when initiating a publish update from the parent service.
  • Go to Published Folder - in the case of Hard Drive services, this will show the folder in the Finder or Explorer.
  • Import Smart Collection Settings - allows you to import settings from a smart collection as the criteria for a smart publish folder.

In the next screenshot you can see how Lightroom tracks the changes you've made to your photos by showing which images are published, which are modified, and the new photos for publishing.

Step 8: Using Export Plug-ins

There are many specialized export plug-ins available for Lightroom. These add-on extensions provide enhanced integration and functionality with other applications and Web services. Depending on what third-party plug-ins you have installed, different options may be available in the Export dialog box.

To find plug-ins, click the Plug-in Manager button at the bottom left of the Export window. The Lightroom Plug-In Manager dialog box lists installed plug-ins in the left panel. Select a plug-in from the left panel to view information about it in the main panel.

To add a plug-in to Lightroom, click the Add button. Navigate to the plug-in, select it, and then click Add Plug-In. To remove a plug-in from Lightroom, select it from the left panel and then click Remove. Click Plug-In Exchange to go to the Adobe website and search for plug-ins. Click Done to close the Lightroom Plug-In Manager and return to the Export dialog box.

Step 9: Useful Tips for Exporting

Unlike the Import process which can only execute one import at a time, you can start a new export while a previous one is running. In other words, you can process multiple exports that will run simultaneously.

Exporting many JPEG files from high resolution originals can be quite time consuming. If you have a large number of files to export as JPEG, rather than queuing them up all at once, break them into smaller batches. For example, exporting several sets of thirty photos is much faster than exporting the all photos at once. This is due to Lightroom's multithreaded processing capabilities.

Be aware of that a virtual copy does not exist anywhere on your hard disk. It's only an instance of the original file within the catalog. And if you delete this original, the virtual copies created from it will also be deleted along with all the settings applied to them. So it's a good idea to export new DNG or TIFF files from those virtual copies.

Be careful when you export from Lightroom that you don't unintentionally overwrite your original images. Lightroom will prompt you if it encounters files with an identical name and you are set this option, but it doesn't hurt to check this twice.

When you open the Export dialog box and set your options, you don't necessarily have to complete an export at this point. You can view and change settings, create and modify presets and so on, and when you're done just click Cancel to close the box without performing an export. All the work you did in the dialog box will be retained and you can continue working the next time you launch Lightroom.

Keep in mind that in Lightroom JPEG files are processed non-destructively. You can edit and develop them in Lightroom with no loss of quality, because the original files on disk are never directly altered.

But in Photoshop and other programs, you should never work on a JPEG and then save it as a JPEG again, because you will lose significant amounts of quality with each save. If you have original JPEGs in your Lightroom catalog that you want to edit in other software, you better first export them from Lightroom as TIFF, and then use those TIFF as your new working masters.

And one last but very important tip. When you generates new files during export, publishing, etc., it may produce files that serve no further purpose and only waste space on your hard disk. It's easy to come in situation when you have unneeded image files all over your hard drives. So it's good idea to perform cleanups regularly and delete any temporary files or files you don't need anymore.


We've now completed this seven part series. I hope you enjoy it and have learned some useful things. I realize that in only seven tutorials it's impossible to uncover all nuts and bolts in Lightroom, but I believe that after reading and following this series you have some very strong fundamentals from which you can keep growing up.

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