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Re-editing RAW images in Lightroom

Community Beginner ,
Mar 06, 2019

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I would love to know if it is possible to re-edit a RAW image in Lightroom?

I understand that Lightroom does not alter the original image and you can re-set at any time but I am struggling to understand the export process. I have watched many tutorials where photographers say they export their files as JPEGs to external hard drives and keep nothing on their computer hard drive to keep it clean and fast.

I would presume that a professional photographer would be keen to have the ability to pull the image back into Lightroom for a re-edit should they choose and would want to keep a hold of the RAW file for a while at least. Why would they then export as a JPEG and not a DNG? To keep their computer hard drive clean they would have to erase all catalogues and files and you cannot re-edit a JPEG. From what I gather it is best to import images from an external hard drive as a 'copy' which I will do from now on but currently have thousands of RAW's sitting on my computer that are taking up too much space but some of which I would like to save.

Any help would be gratefully appreciated. Thanks

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Re-editing RAW images in Lightroom

Community Beginner ,
Mar 06, 2019

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I would love to know if it is possible to re-edit a RAW image in Lightroom?

I understand that Lightroom does not alter the original image and you can re-set at any time but I am struggling to understand the export process. I have watched many tutorials where photographers say they export their files as JPEGs to external hard drives and keep nothing on their computer hard drive to keep it clean and fast.

I would presume that a professional photographer would be keen to have the ability to pull the image back into Lightroom for a re-edit should they choose and would want to keep a hold of the RAW file for a while at least. Why would they then export as a JPEG and not a DNG? To keep their computer hard drive clean they would have to erase all catalogues and files and you cannot re-edit a JPEG. From what I gather it is best to import images from an external hard drive as a 'copy' which I will do from now on but currently have thousands of RAW's sitting on my computer that are taking up too much space but some of which I would like to save.

Any help would be gratefully appreciated. Thanks

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 06, 2019

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Professional photographers shoot so many RAW files they would quickly fill a computers internal hard drive. For this reason they will frequently keep all of their RAW files on external hard drives within nicely arranged Folder structures.

When they import these RAW files into Lightroom (using Add, not Copy), Lightroom will reference these external images. Any edits that are made to these RAW files are stored within Lightroom along with a good quality preview image. It is possible to push this editing information to the individual RAW files (technically a sidecar file) but typically this is not done. The purpose of a good quality and locally stored preview image is so that Lightroom has something to display even when the external images are unavailable (eg external drive not connected).

JPEG images can be exported out at any time and are made by applying the locally stored editing information to the externally stored RAW files.

With all this in mind we can see that a RAW file can be "re-edited" as many times as desired without altering or damaging the original RAW file.

Personally I like to process single RAW images in multiple styles. When I do this I don't want to mess up a previous look that I am happy with. This is why I use Virtual Copies which allow you to copy and individually process a single RAW file as many times as you like. These Virtual Copies only exist within Lightroom and all reference a single and unaltered RAW file.

Hope this helps.

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Community Beginner ,
Mar 07, 2019

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Thank you so much Michael for your quick response to my query! Very helpful advice

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 07, 2019

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Thank you. I appreciate that.

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Advocate ,
Mar 06, 2019

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Hi @lumasmith,

There really is no one answer to this. Some keep their raw files exactly for the reason you state, though they store them typically on external drives. In this case they export JPEGs for clients (some keep these JPEGs indefinitely as exact documentation on what was sent to the client, others delete them after sending them out, knowing that new ones can be exported as needed.)

On the other hand, some pros process a job - say a wedding or portrait shoot - and after the job is delivered and the  client is satisfied, they NEVER go back to revisit the images or re-edit. In this case, there's no need to keep the raw files - the JPEGs are sufficient as they are what the client received and they can be posted online and printed as needed.

If you're keeping the raw files and you want to continue to have them in LR, there's no need to export raw copies of them (exporting always creates copies) - just continue to use the originals. You can use LR's Folders panel to move them from your internal drive, if that's where you imported them to, to an external drive. (You first have to import one image on the external drive so that it shows up in the Folders panel.)  On the other hand, if you don't want them in LR any more, I could see exporting and keeping DNG files so that the editing is contained within the DNG file. (Afterwards you can remove the originals from LR and delete them from disk.)

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Community Beginner ,
Mar 07, 2019

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Thank you so much Laura, your help is very much appreciated

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 07, 2019

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I keep my raw files on an external HDD and are added to the catalogue.

I export the ones I need to JPEG, but the original raw files are kept - so I can always go back and alter them if I want to - say there is a new Process Version in Lightroom, or added features that I want to use on older files that were edited in older versions of Lightroom.

All my raw files are kept in the Lightroom catalogue.

Raw files DNG - Digital Negative is really just that. A digital negative. Have you ever used film? Have you ever thrown out your negatives? If you keep the negative, you can always get a reprint, right! It's the same idea with raw/DNG files.

So in Lightroom, you can 're-print'/re-edit (export) your negative/file to a JPEG/TIFF etc, but keep the 'negative'/raw/DNG file.

The catalogue is just where you store your 'negatives', and you can always 're-print'/ re-edit them in Lightroom.

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LEGEND ,
Mar 07, 2019

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ricky336  wrote

Raw files DNG - Digital Negative is really just that. A digital negative. Have you ever used film? Have you ever thrown out your negatives? If you keep the negative, you can always get a reprint, right! It's the same idea with raw/DNG files.

The analogy gets lost over time. Some users of Lightroom and digital photography have never used film, and don't understand references to film. And they don't understand what a negative is, or what its importance is, or why the word 'negative' is used. I don't know if this applies to the original poster or not.

The catalogue is just where you store your 'negatives', and you can always 're-print'/ re-edit them in Lightroom.

The original files (which is what you mean by 'negatives') are not stored in Lightroom, they are stored on your hard disk. The edits you make (and user-provided metadata, and all work performed on a photo) are stored in Lightroom.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 07, 2019

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dj_paige  wrote

The original files (which is what you mean by 'negatives') are not stored in Lightroom, they are stored on your hard disk. The edits you make (and user-provided metadata, and all work performed on a photo) are stored in Lightroom.

Obviously...

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Community Beginner ,
Mar 07, 2019

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Thank you dj_paige! Appreciate the help!

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LEGEND ,
Mar 07, 2019

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lumasmith  wrote

I would love to know if it is possible to re-edit a RAW image in Lightroom?

I understand that Lightroom does not alter the original image and you can re-set at any time but I am struggling to understand the export process. I have watched many tutorials where photographers say they export their files as JPEGs to external hard drives and keep nothing on their computer hard drive to keep it clean and fast.

I would presume that a professional photographer would be keen to have the ability to pull the image back into Lightroom for a re-edit should they choose and would want to keep a hold of the RAW file for a while at least. Why would they then export as a JPEG and not a DNG? To keep their computer hard drive clean they would have to erase all catalogues and files and you cannot re-edit a JPEG. From what I gather it is best to import images from an external hard drive as a 'copy' which I will do from now on but currently have thousands of RAW's sitting on my computer that are taking up too much space but some of which I would like to save.

Any help would be gratefully appreciated. Thanks

Exports are not the same as doing a SAVE in Photoshop or similar programs. In Photoshop or similar programs, doing a SAVE is the only way to save your work, but your work in Lightroom is saved in the Lightroom database (also called the catalog) without you doing anything. It happens automatically, and you can't turn this off. So the purpose of exports is to make a version of your edited image available for other purposes, such as e-mail or posting to a web site or printing.

JPG exports are fine for most uses, such as uploading to web sites, or e-mail to clients. No need for a DNG here. You will not use the exported copy for further editing, you use the original (which, because you don't remove it from Lightroom, is still shown in Lightroom).

Don't remove the photo from Lightroom. Don't delete your original RAW images from the hard disk. Removing the photo from Lightroom deletes your edits. If you don't remove the photo from LR, and you haven't deleted the original from the hard disk, then you can edit it as many times as you want.

To create multiple styles, use Virtual Copies. So, if you have edited the photo, and want to try a different style, click on the Reset button (which means the photo now has no edits), create a virtual copy (which now has no edits), then go back to the first edit and in the History panel of the Develop Module click on the line below the Reset, which restores your edits to that copy.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 07, 2019

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lumasmith  wrote

I would love to know if it is possible to re-edit a RAW image in Lightroom?

I understand that Lightroom does not alter the original image and you can re-set at any time but I am struggling to understand the export process. I have watched many tutorials where photographers say they export their files as JPEGs to external hard drives and keep nothing on their computer hard drive to keep it clean and fast.

Despite what everyone is saying, "You can have your cake (raw file) and eat it to (edit it) after the original raw file has been removed from LR!

Hidden in the Lightroom Export module is an option to Export edited raw files to lossy DNG file format. The lossy DNG file has all of the editing attributes of the original raw file, but in a lossy compressed file format. It also contains the original raw file's editing data inside the DNG file providing a secondary backup of the LR Catalog. Use the below Export module settings to create lossy DNG file copies.

The lossy DNG file format can also be used to reduce the size of Lightroom Photo Merge DNG files, which can be very large! More here:

Reduce size of TOO large panorama .DNG's

We all know there's no such thing as a "free lunch" so what do you lose? From my testing on both raw files and large Photo Merge DNG files there was no visible difference between the lossy DNG and the original raw file with normal edits applied.  It is possible that some images with fine gradients (sky areas) and heavy edits may exhibit artifacts, but then you can also simply "back-off the edits to remove any visible artifacts. This isn't possible with JPEG Export File Format because the Develop settings have been destructively applied to the file's image data and cannot be removed. Because of this the lossy DNG Export File Format is far superior to the lossy JPEG file format at any Quality setting.

Caveat: There is no file format substitute that can 100% guarantee the same results as the original raw file. For irreplaceable images that you love dearly or will potentially earn you lots of money save these raw files to a backup external hard drive. Only remove the raw files from inside LR AFTER you've created the lossy DNG copy and verified it's inside the LR catalog.

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LEGEND ,
Mar 07, 2019

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https://forums.adobe.com/people/Todd+Shaner  wrote

lumasmith   wrote

I would love to know if it is possible to re-edit a RAW image in Lightroom?

I understand that Lightroom does not alter the original image and you can re-set at any time but I am struggling to understand the export process. I have watched many tutorials where photographers say they export their files as JPEGs to external hard drives and keep nothing on their computer hard drive to keep it clean and fast.

Despite what everyone is saying, "You can have your cake (raw file) and eat it to (edit it) after the original raw file has been removed from LR!

Caveat #2: this is more work than actually leaving the photos in Lightroom.

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 07, 2019

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dj_paige  wrote

Caveat #2: this is more work than actually leaving the photos in Lightroom.

Agreed, but then it's also more work to use an external drive for the raw image files you have imported into LR. If using a laptop you've also got to transport that external drive when traveling, which is an inconvenient and prone to damage. There's no question an external drive should be used to backup up the image files and LR Catalog(s), but that can wait until you have access to the backup drive. Also when in the field your camera memory card serves as a backup as long as you don't over-write the images. Memory cards are dirt-cheap and very easily transported–Buy as many as you need for a field shoot!

You could use Smart Previews to reduce the required system disk space, which allows editing when the raw files aren't accessible. However, they are reduced size images (2560 px long edge), which limits what can you do. Lossy DNG file copies are full-size images that have the same editing capability as the original raw files. They are considerably smaller file size than the original raw file (typically 1/4 the size) and not much larger than an 80 Quality JPEG file.

Sounds pretty good to me if you're a professional photographer who deletes the client raw files and only keeps JPEG export copies. Ditto for someone who doesn't want the inconvenience of lugging around an external drive or is on a limited budget. Personally I keep ALL of my camera raw files in LR and only use lossy DNG file format with LR Panorama and HDR DNG files. But, I'm not a professional photographer who shoots thousands of client files or on a limited equipment budget!

IMHO these "lossy" file formats get a bad-rap for no good reason. JPEG files AND lossy DNG files are very useful file formats.

Jeffrey Friedl's Blog » An Analysis of Lightroom JPEG Export Quality Settings

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Community Beginner ,
Mar 07, 2019

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Thank you so much Todd for your in-depth explanation. I found this extremely helpful!

Amanda

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 08, 2019

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Glad to help. One thing I didn't mention are camera specific features such as Canon's Dual-Pixel raw files. These proprietary features currently can only be accessed using the original camera raw file with the camera manufacturers software . When shooting with one of these unsupported features I suggest keeping the original camera raw files for future editing. If your camera has one of these unsupported features you're probably already aware of this limitation so just a reminder. Enjoy!

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Adobe Community Professional ,
Mar 08, 2019

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Jeffrey Friedl has created a LR plugin named 'Folder Publisher,' which can automate the process of storing your raw files on an external drive while using lossy DNG working file copies on your primary LR drive (i.e. internal drive). Jeffrey Friedl designed the plugin to allow his wife to work on JPEG copies of his LR catalog, but the below workflow discusses using lossy DNG files.

Folder Publisher to the rescue – Lightroom Blog

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