How To Export Photos From Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
How To Export Photos From Lightroom Classic

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Are you confused about exporting photos from Lightroom Classic? Some photographers get mixed up about saving and exporting because they don’t understand how Lightroom Classic works. So let’s start by looking at how Lightroom Classic differs from more traditional programs like Photoshop.

When you use a program like Photoshop to edit a JPEG or TIFF file, for example, it opens your photo, lets you edit it, then re-saves the files by overwriting the original.

But there are two drawbacks to this:

a) It overwrites your original file so you no longer have it.

b) Image quality may suffer when using certain file formats like JPEG.

If you open a Raw file in Photoshop the process is slightly different. When you use Adobe Camera Raw, the program saves the edits in a sidecar file in the same folder as the original photo. If that original photo happens to be a DNG file, then it saves the information in the DNG file itself.

But if you want to work on the photo in Photoshop, it has to convert it to a JPEG, TIFF or PSD file first. So you end up with two photo files – the original Raw file and a copy.

This is the “old way” of doing things. As you can imagine, if like most photographers you use Raw then it’s easy to get confused when you have two or more versions of the same photo (a Raw file and a JPEG/TIFF) saved on your hard drive.

How Lightroom Classic does it

Lightroom Classic (and other similar apps like Capture One) do it differently.

Unlike Photoshop Lightroom Classic doesn’t open and re-save your photos. Instead, it saves any edits made in the Develop module as text commands in the Catalog.

This applies to JPEG and TIFF files as well as Raw files.

Here’s a sample of what the text commands look like. As you can see, for this particular photo, the Temperature setting is 6500 and the Tint setting is +10. Sharpness is set to 25 and Color Noise Reduction to 25.


This way of working gives you several benefits:

a) Your original photo file is never overwritten.

b) There’s no loss of image quality in JPEG files.

c) You can make as many versions of the same photo as you like without creating extra JPEG/TIFF files using Virtual Copies and Snapshots.

For example, here you can see a Collection containing a Raw file and eight Virtual Copies. That might seem a lot, but I was experimenting with different ways of developing the same photo. It’s much easier to do this in Lightroom Classic than it is in Photoshop.

Lightroom Classic Virtual Copies

What the Export function is for in Lightroom Classic

But it does mean that when you develop a photo in Lightroom Classic, you haven’t created an actual photo file that you can send to somebody else, open in other applications or upload to Facebook or Instagram.

Your edits exist in the Lightroom Classic Catalog, but nowhere else.

That’s what Export is for. It lets you make new files from your original photos, with all the edits you’ve made in Lightroom Classic.

Better still, you can tailor the new files specifically to your needs.

For example:

  • If you’re going to upload your photo to Instagram, you can resize it to 1080 pixels, the recommended width for Instagram photos.
  • If you want to send somebody a photo by email, you can reduce the size and quality so that it’s quicker to send and download.
  • You can create a high quality photo file for getting prints made.
  • If you have a website (like this one) you can make optimize photos for both size and quality. For this website most of the photos are 900 pixels wide and I use the quality setting to make sure they’re less than 200kb in size so that they don’t take too long to appear on your screen.

How to export photos in Lightroom Classic

Get started by selecting the photo (or photos) you want to export (you’ll find this easiest in Grid View). Go to File > Export. The Export window opens.

Lightroom Classic Export window

If this is the first time you’ve opened the Export window it probably looks a little confusing. Here’s a list of which each part of the Export window is for.

1. Tells you how many photos you’re exporting.

2. Tells you where you’re exporting your photos to. The default is Hard Drive, but you can also choose to attach them to an email, burn them to a CD/DVD or send them straight to a plugin. But most of the time you’ll save them in a file on your hard drive.

3. Export settings. Nine panels you can open to adjust the settings of your exported photos. This is where you set parameters such as file format, image size, compression and sharpening. You can even rename your photos or add a watermark.

4. Presets. You can save your export settings as a preset so you can use them again. Lightroom Classic saves these in the User Presets folder. You’ll also find some built-in presets (under Lightroom Presets) and presets created by plugins.

5. Post-Process Actions. These are added by plugins not the user. For example, I use a plugin called Snapshot on Export that gives me the option of creating a new Snapshot whenever I export photos. It appears here.

More about Export Presets

Export Presets are a fantastic idea and can save you a great deal of time and hassle.

You can save your export settings as a new preset at any time by clicking the Add button. Then give the preset a name and decide which folder to save it in.

Lightroom Classic New Preset window

The way Export Presets work is a little confusing, so let’s take a look at this in more detail.

Note: Adobe has changed the way Export Presets work in Lightroom Classic. Older versions of Lightroom have no checkboxes for presets.

There are three ways to activate an Export Preset in Lightroom Classic.

1. Click on the preset name, but don’t check the box

When you do this Lightroom Classic copies the settings within the preset. For example, I have a preset for the photos I use on this website which sets the file size to 900 pixels along the longest edge.

When I click on the preset Lightroom Classic applies the settings to the photo. But – and this is the crucial point – you can change those settings if you want to. Those settings are not locked in.

Image sizing export

2. Check the Export Preset box

Lightroom Classic applies the preset to your photo, and doesn’t let you change any of the settings. The settings are grayed out to indicate that you can’t change them.

Image sizing export

The Export button changes to a Batch Export button.

Batch Export button Lightroom Classic

When you click Batch Export, Lightroom Classic gives you the option to change the destination folder.

Batch Export window Lightroom Classic

3. Check two or more Export Presets

Lightroom Classic exports photos to two or more different locations, using the settings in each preset.

For example, you might have an Export Preset that creates a full-size photo for a client, and another that exports a smaller version at lower quality for uploading to Instagram or Facebook.

Now you can export both at the same time, instead of waiting for one to finish before starting the other. It’s a big time saver if you have lots of photos to export. Pros will love this feature.

This is available only in Lightroom Classic 9.3 onwards (July 2020 update). It uses the same Batch Export process as the previous method, and lets you change the destination folder of each preset if you want to.


One of the reasons Lightroom Classic was created is to address the weaknesses in the workflow of programs like Photoshop. Saving and Exporting are different in Lightroom Classic because it’s a more streamlined and flexible way of working. Once you get used to it you’ll find it’s a much better way of turning your Raw files into usable photo files.

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Bruce Wilson July 28, 2020 - 8:28 pm

Hi, Andrew.

Suppose I have a collection of photos, and I want to export their names and maybe some metadata or folder location. Here and there I’ve seen online comments that a LR catalog is “just” a SQLLite database and that it’s easy (for the commenter) to run queries on the database. It did not seem easy, and I sure do not want to destroy my catalog. Do you have any suggestions for how one can export selected file names and selected metadata?

Thanks, Bruce

Andrew S. Gibson July 30, 2020 - 10:18 am

Hi Bruce, you can try the ListView or LR/Transporter plugins. I haven’t tested either one but both appear to do what you need.


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