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I am a newbie to Lightroom, so keep this in mind. I understand how to transfer my edited photos and collections from Lightroom to my external hard drive, BUT when I do so, the photos revert back to the original state, and all the editing I did disappears (I only have the new file on my hard drive). Am I missing a step to enable my photos to 'carry over' the info to my hard drive?(maybe I need to convert my files somehow before transferring the files? I have been dragging and dropping onto my external hard drive).

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    Did you use the export function? If you did, were you using the 'original' setting in file settings? – damned truths Jun 23 '15 at 12:41
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Lightroom uses non-destructive editing. That is, all the edits are stored in a separate files that is then read by the program. This means that to get a standalone file has all of the edits included you need to use the "export" function. This can be accessed by selecting the image/s that you wish to export and then:

  • right clicking on them and clicking the 'export' option OR
  • selecting the 'esport' option in the 'file' menu at the top of the window OR
  • clicking the large 'export' button that can be found in the bottom right of the window
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You have a few options:

  1. Use Lightroom's export option to export the files to your external drive. This allows you to export compressed files like JPG, loss-less files like TIFF or if you want to keep the raw files you could export DNG files. DNG files are different from camera proprietary RAW as they store the raw data and the edits applied.

  2. If it's really important to you, you can convert all imported files to DNG files during the import process. Ensuring all the files in the original catalog keep RAW data and edits in one file. This would allow you to do a simple copy and paste later using your OS and would also allow you to keep your edits when transferring to other photo editing software with RAW capabilities.

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All the editing and adjustments you make to an image in Lightroom aren't stored in the file. They're stored in Lightroom's database, aka the catalog file. This is the .lrdata file that Lightroom creates whenever you create a new catalog. The catalog also tracks where all your files are on the hard drive. Lightroom only applies all the edits and adjustments you've made to your original image file when you perform an export, and saves it all as a new file, leaving your original alone.

This may seem weird and roundabout, but it's how Lightroom can do "non-destructive" editing, so you can always go back to the original; virtual copies--so you can try out any number of adjustments as if you were working on separate files, but still not take up additional space on the hard drive with new image files; and keep the editing History of the image from session to session (something Photoshop can't do, because it doesn't use a database).

Dragging and dropping to copy a file, whether you're doing it inside Lightroom, or through the OS is merely moving your original image file somewhere else on the hard drive. And if you look at the file directly through the OS, you're only going to see your original file. You have to export the image to get Lightroom to apply the instructions it has stored in its database to your image file and create a new image file with all your changes in it. You can export by right-clicking on an image and selecting Export from the context menu, the File -> Export menu command, or the Export button.

Once at the Export window, you can specify all kinds of things for the new file, including the resolution, watermarking, and file format. As long as you don't choose Original, all your processing commands should be applied to the final image.

If you're worried about database corruption suddenly isolating your images from your edits, there are two other ways the processing instructions can be stored: either inside DNG files, if you've converted your original images to DNG on import, or with XMP sidecar files. This tends to be a personal preference. Some folks have faith in Lightroom's database cleanup utilities, or their own ability to find open source tools for SQLite databases to repair any issues (the .lrdata file is just a SQLite database). Others prefer having a different-format backup that they know they can completely rebuild the database from if they have to. It's up to you how or if you want to spend the additional hard drive space/file management.

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