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I have a large collection of photos that are contained in sub-folders, for a project.

My question is if there is a way in Lightroom to edit files directly to disk, without having to re-export again, from the Lightroom library.

For example, the way Lightroom seems to work now is that it is creating some kind of an internal library, then Lightroom copies files into this library, from the disk and sub-folders, and when you are done making adjustments, you have to export from the library.

I am wondering if there is a way to edit files ala perhaps Bridge, where you can navigate sub-folders.

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3 Answers 3

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You can't. Lightroom use a bit different workflow:

  • import images
  • store in library kind of previews (to speedup visualization)
  • "make" changes and store the recipe (in library, in the files itself or in XMP files)
  • export the resulting image(s) (apply recipe to source image)

The end idea is Lightroom do not change the original image. And this is true about most of RAW processing software like ACDsee, CaptureOne, etc. This is the reason those editors are named nondestructive.

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When you are importing pictures into LR, you can select to "Copy", "Move", or "Add" them. When you choose "Add", they are left at their original places and only references to them are added to the library. You'll see your original folder structure in LR.

What you can't do is "save" the edits back to the original images, for that, you'd need to export and replace them (manually).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Upvoted, but you CAN save the edits along with raw files in an xmp sidecar file; which most any other raw editor will read/apply when opening the raw file. You can do this individually by file (Menu > Photo > Save Metadata to file); or you can create a catalog with the drive/folders, and set the catalog defaults to always "Automatically write changes into XMP." \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 12, 2022 at 13:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ What other raw editors read Lightroom XMP files and apply the instructions in them in a way that produces the same result as applying those same instructions using LR? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 1:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelC none that I am aware of, but this is in fact maybe a bit closer \$\endgroup\$
    – dmanexe
    Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 11:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ All other Adobe programs that can open a raw file will apply the associated xmp file, as long as they are co-located (Photoshop, Lightroom Classic, Lightroom, Photoshop Elements, After Effects, and Bridge). Lightroom will add the xmp edits into its' database for the raw file when the raw file is initially imported. It doesn't actually matter if the xmp file was created by Lightroom; it could have been created by any of the other programs, such as the ACR plugin in PS. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 13:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @StevenKersting Those aren't other raw editors, those are other applications that all use the same ACR to convert raw files to usable images. Other raw editors would be those that do not use ACR under the hood: CaptureOne, DxO, On1, GIMP, Darktable, etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 13, 2022 at 15:37
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My question is if there is a way in Lightroom to edit files directly to disk, without having to re-export again, from the Lightroom library.

For example, the way Lightroom seems to work now is that it is creating some kind of an internal library, then Lightroom copies files into this library, from the disk and sub-folders, and when you are done making adjustments, you have to export from the library.

I think you have a basic misunderstanding of how Lightroom works. Original files can live on the drive wherever you choose.

Adding a file to the Lightroom library, simply registers that file's path in Lightroom's catalog (which is actually a SQLite database) as an entry. Whenever you edit a file in the Lightroom interface, you're essentially just editing a list of instructions to be run on the file at export. The original file is always left intact, and is never modified after import. Instead, after you've made and saved your changes, those instructions are then run on an exported copy.

This is why Lightroom can create "virtual" copies. It can just create another database record and save a different set of instructions for the same original file, at the same path as if it were a different image in the library. The other big advantage for Lightroom doing things this way is that all edits are non-destructive and undoable, even between sessions. You can quit out of Lightroom, go back, and undo from where you left off.

But because of how Lightroom works, until you export the image you haven't created an edited version of the file.

I am wondering if there is a way to edit files ala perhaps Bridge, where you can navigate sub-folders.

Lightroom's Library module performs many of the same functions of Bridge, including being able to show the tree-structure of folders and which level you're at, as well as subfolders. How the files are organized is completely up to you and how you import files. You can manually rearrange things all you want in the Library module, and you will actually be manipulating where files live on the hard drive. The main difference between dragging in the Library module, and dragging using your operating system's file organizing windows is that whatever change you make in the Library module will also be updated in the Lightroom catalog (SQLite database). If you move files outside of Lightroom, the database records will have outdated file paths, and will notify you that they need to be corrected the next time you try to access the file.

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