Understanding how Lightroom works with your images.

November 23, 2009


The most difficult thing for most new Lightroom users is an understanding of the way your actual image files are handled. Where do they go when you import them? What happens if you move them?

When you launch Lightroom, you are opening a Lightroom Catalog. A catalog is a database which stores all of the information about your photos – metadata, develop settings, collections and more. When you import files into Lightroom, you are actually putting all of the information ABOUT those files into the Lightroom catalog. The files themselves are still stored on your computer, just like they were before when you copied them off the card by hand. When you import using Lightroom’s importer, Lightroom first copies those files off the card onto your hard drive, then puts all of the information about those files into the database.

import dialog

The difference is that these files are treated like true negatives. You would never (normally at least!) draw with a black marker on your negative to darken a part of the image – you’d darken the print during the printing process. Well, when Lightroom manages your digital negatives, the same concept applies. All of your changes are stored in the database and sidecar files so that the original file is *never* changed. You can always go back and redo everything for a different look, change your metadata and more.

For a more in depth explanation of HOW to import, check out Adobe’s official Help & Support site

Important tip about the catalog structure! When you change anything including Develop Module information, those changes are not saved back into the original file or the sidecar files by default. You will want to go into the Catalog Settings and make sure you check off “Automatically write changes into XMP” and when you do the little warning will go away.

catalog settings

Next time we’ll talk about how you get your pictures OUT of Lightroom.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 20 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Jeremy is a photographer who lives in Connecticut. Jeremy is an expert on Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and his goal is to share a piece of our reality in a way that perhaps the viewer had not considered. You can follow Jeremy on twitter at http://twitter.com/jeremypollack

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