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Preserving edits and history without storing original files locally

Community Beginner ,
Oct 16, 2023 Oct 16, 2023

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Hi there,

 

I'm relatively new to RAW photography and Lightroom Classic editing, so bear with me. 

 

Up to this point I've been storing my original RAW files on my computer, importing them to LC, editing from there and then exporting as JPEGs for use. However, I recently needed to temporarily free up space on my computer, so I thought I would move these original RAW files to a hard drive and move them back once I was done. I realised I may need to manually locate certain files in the catalog again, but did it anyway. However, during this process something crashed (can't remember whether it was my computer, LC or something else) and the current catalog disappeared, meaning I lost all my edits. Sadly, I didn't have a backup of this catalog, so there is not much hope for restoring these.

 

Going forward I want to do things more efficiently, as I know I won't have space on my computer to endlessly store all these RAW files. I'm self-taught so I don't know how professional photographers normally do this, but I assume I'm not the only one who wants to be able to maintain the ability to edit a photo and 'edit the edits' later on without having to store the files locally. I tried to look into a few options for how to preserve editability and edit history as if the files were stored locally, but could not come to a clear understanding of my best option, mainly because of my limited understanding of some of the terminology. Some of the things I read about were exporting as DNG files, building smart previews and exporting as catalogs...

 

Can someone give me a simple explanation of what would be the best approach and what the aforementioned options entail?

 

Thank you in advance!

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LEGEND ,
Oct 16, 2023 Oct 16, 2023

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Edit history is stored in the catalog itself, and nowhere else. Thus, exporting photos to JPG or DNG or any other format will not preserve edit history, it will only preserve the final edited positions of the sliders.

 

This is just one of many many many reasons why regular and automated backups of the catalog file are mandatory (not optional) and these backup catalogs MUST (again, not optional) be on a different physical disk than the working catalog.

 

To save yourself some disk space, do not put photos on the internal drive of your computer. When new photos are taken, import them into LrC directly to the external drive (not to the internal drive) and leave them there.

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Community Beginner ,
Oct 16, 2023 Oct 16, 2023

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Thank you!

 

So if I understand correctly, you're saying that catalog back-ups are the only way to maintain access to edit history and such. Does saving and reopening as a DNG allow me to reset the edits to the original state of the image or is that also lost along with the ability to access the history?

 

I'm not sure what you mean by mandatory, because when I close LrC I get a pop-up asking whether I want to save a back-up or skip this time. It also doesn't force me to save it on a different drive. Since I wasn't entirely aware of all the implications before, I only did one back-up a long time ago (hence having lost all my previous edits). And what is the difference between saving a back-up or exporting as a catalog?

 

And you suggest to work with imported images directly on an external drive, but does that mean I have to have the external drive connected whenever I want to edit a photo or access the edits? Is this were smart previews are used?

 

Thank you again for answering my (probably very basic) questions! As I said, I'm still learning, so very grateful! 

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LEGEND ,
Oct 16, 2023 Oct 16, 2023

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Does saving and reopening as a DNG allow me to reset the edits to the original state of the image or is that also lost along with the ability to access the history?

 

Yes, exporting (not "saving") as a DNG allows future edits to be made, including resetting the image to its un-edited state. However, not exporting a photo as DNG and just leaving it in LrC also allows this. Typically, you would not export an image unless you need it for some reason outside of Lightroom Classic (print, e-mail, web); you would not export images with the idea that this allows you to retain edits in case you want to do additional editing or in case you want to reset the image back to un-edited in the future.

 

I'm not sure what you mean by mandatory, because when I close LrC I get a pop-up asking whether I want to save a back-up or skip this time. It also doesn't force me to save it on a different drive. Since I wasn't entirely aware of all the implications before, I only did one back-up a long time ago (hence having lost all my previous edits). And what is the difference between saving a back-up or exporting as a catalog?

 

Just because the software doesn't force you to do things, it is still a very good idea (in my opinion MANDATORY) to do those things. Regular and automated backups are (in my opinion) MANDATORY. Putting the catalog backups on a different disk than the working catalog is also (in my opinion) MANDATORY. Not doing these things puts you at risk of losing your entire catalog if your hard disk malfunctions. 

 

And you suggest to work with imported images directly on an external drive, but does that mean I have to have the external drive connected whenever I want to edit a photo or access the edits? Is this were smart previews are used?

 

This is really up to you. If you have space problems, using a 2nd (usually external) drive to store the photos is a very good option. Of course, if you are travelling light, just a laptop and no external drive, then you have no choice but to put photos on the internal drive, and move them off of that drive onto the 2nd drive afterwards. Smart previews are also a solution in this case where you don't want to (or can't) plug in an external drive where the photos are stored; but they do take up disk space.

 

There is no "saving" a backup. You make a backup. Exporting as a catalog is similar, but making a backup has additional features to protect the integrity of your catalog, and compression to keep the catalog running faster. So making backups is good, exporting as catalogs not as good.

 

 

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Community Beginner ,
Oct 18, 2023 Oct 18, 2023

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Okay, I understand your use of the word mandatory now, thank you for clarifying. And also I clearly misused some terms, thanks for the corrections. As mentioned, I'm still new to the process. 🙂

 

I have one last question about the catalogs; is it wise to work with separate catalogs for separate sets of photos (e.g. per shoot or per client)? If so, would these be backups of the catalog or exported catalogs?

Or should/would you have one large catalog into which you always import new photos and just keep making backups of that one catalog? 

 

Thank you for taking the time to help me out! I appreciate it. 🙂

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LEGEND ,
Oct 18, 2023 Oct 18, 2023

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I am not a professional photographer; it seems like you are. I use one catalog for everything, but there are some professional photographers who do use one catalog per shoot (or per client). There are advantages and disadvantages of each approach. One disadvantage of multiple catalogs is that if you want to put together a portfolio of your best shots, or a portfolio of brides at weddings, or similar, this is hard to do with multiple catalogs, and requires workarounds that to me seem tedious and unpleasant and have additional drawbacks. This is easy to do with one catalog.

 

If so, would these be backups of the catalog or exported catalogs?

 

Not sure what you mean. The catalogs you are talking about (at least as I understand what you are talking about) are neither backups nor are they exported catalogs. They are catalogs. Each one must be (MANDATORY) backed up to a different disk.

 

So I (and many others, including many professional photographers) use one catalog, and so that is the only catalog that needs to be backed up on a regular basis.

 

Some people claim that smaller catalogs will run faster during editing than one large catalog. I don't believe it for a second, when LrC is running slowly, there are probably 25 different causes that need to be investigated before we get down the list of causes far enough to find catalog size. And there is no mechanism in modern data bases that I can think of why a large catalog would run slower during editing. Catalog size is almost never the cause of slowness during editing.

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Community Beginner ,
Oct 23, 2023 Oct 23, 2023

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Alright, thank you for your elaborate responses! Yes, my intention is to approach photography professionally. I'm not sure if I understand the entire system fully and could probably keep asking follow-up questions forever, but I think for now I have enough information to keep going. I'm sure I'll make a few (hopefully not too catastrophic) mistakes along the way, but oh well, that's part of learning. 🙂

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LEGEND ,
Oct 23, 2023 Oct 23, 2023

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LATEST

No one here minds if you ask a lot of questions!

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Enthusiast ,
Oct 16, 2023 Oct 16, 2023

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Personally, I do the opposite. I treat my JPGs as disposable since I need to create them with different dimensions and/or watermarks. I also print from LrC.  Also, by keeping the RAW, I can revisit them and try something different that didn't occur to me in editing the first time. Sometimes this is applying a new control not available the first time. 

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Community Beginner ,
Oct 16, 2023 Oct 16, 2023

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Thanks! I can totally see the benefit of your approach too, but at the moment I like to be able to revisit edits since I don't always finish them in one sitting. I also haven't fully figured out my editing style yet, meaning I'm still learning from the process and sometimes benefit from going back to old edits to copy settings or convert to a preset or so.

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Enthusiast ,
Oct 16, 2023 Oct 16, 2023

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"I like to be able to revisit edits since I don't always finish them in one sitting"


If you export to JPG and delete the RAW, you will loose all your edits since they will simply be backed into the JPG. This is even if you import your exported JPG.

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Community Beginner ,
Oct 18, 2023 Oct 18, 2023

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Yes, I understand! I don't ever get rid of my original RAW files and I only export the final result to JPEG when I want to use the image for something. However, my question was more geared at understanding the available options to access the edits later on from exactly where I left off. Thank you for your response!

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