Hi Folks: This post also started life as a response to a question asked by a friend, and when it got to a couple of thousand characters I thought I should add some images and post it here. This topic has been covered before by others and to some extent by us. As a prerequisite to this, if you don’t understand what parametric editing is I encourage you to read this first: Lightroom History, Snapshots and Virtual Copies. The basic Lightroom workflow is to import images (associate the image file locations with Lightroom), change the images (by adding metadata, raw conversion, post processing, etc.) and then export the images. Exporting can be done via prints (either to paper or to print as jpg), books, slideshows, web galleries, uploading to publish services (Flickr, Smugmug and the like) or by saving the image(s) as new files. Each of those is worth a blog post in itself; this one is focused on exporting images from Lightroom as files using the Export window. One of the advantages of Lightroom is that multiple images can be exported in one batch, although if one is exporting a lot of images it’s best to break the export process into two halves; this uses Lightroom’s memory allocation more efficiently.
One begins by selecting an image or group of images in Lightroom’s Library module grid. As can be seen from the above (composite) image, one can access Lightroom’s Export window in two different ways, either by clicking on File/Export or by right-clicking on an image and choosing Export. We’ll get to Export Presets in a bit (or you can read more on presets in the various Lightroom modules here: The Many Faces of Lightroom Presets: Export Module), and Export with Previous allows you to export an image or group of images using the same parameters as your previous export. One can also export an image, group of images, a Collection, etc. as a new Lightroom catalogue, but for this post we’ll stick with image files themselves. Once you’ve opened the Export window you have a long list of choices available to you. We’ll go through these one group at a time. Because this post is also rather long, if you’d like you can skip to a specific section:
1) Export To:
The first choice to make is to where you wish to export the image(s). There are several choices, including Email, Hard Drive, CD/DVD, some plugins that work with Lightroom, or a Publish Service like 500px or Flickr. Email requires setting up a link between Lightroom and your e-mail service; publish services require similar connections to be made. Hard Drive is a bit of a misnomer because exporting to Hard Drive allows you to export to any drive to which your computer has access. This can be an internal hard drive, an external hard drive, a USB flash drive, or a cloud service like Google Drive, Copy, Dropbox and the like. For this example we’ll select Hard Drive as our export option.
2) Export Location
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When you choose to export to hard drive, the next step is to tell Lightroom where you want these images stored. You can choose to export to a specific folder, to the same folder as the original image, or you can have Lightroom ask you for the location(s) for each image at the time of export If you select to export to a specific folder, by clicking on where it says ‘Choose’ you can choose the drive and folder for the export location. Again, this can be any drive that Lightroom can see and connect with. If you wish you can export to a specific subfolder of the selected location; if this folder does not exist Lightroom will create it for you. If you desire, Lightroom will also add the exported image to an existing catalogue of your choice.
For existing files there are several choices. One can choose to add a unique name (filename-1 for example), one can have Lightroom ask in each case, one can skip the image or one can overwrite the existing image. Be very careful with this last option as Lightroom will overwrite the existing image without further confirmation. For example, if you began with a full frame .tif image, chose to export a Lightroom-edited version to the same folder at say 500pixels by 750 pixels and chose the overwrite option, your existing (very large) image would be replaced by the exported version. Did someone say ‘backups?’ (Update: Out of curiosity I’ve discovered – intentionally – that Lightroom won’t allow you to overwrite source files, but it will allow you to overwrite images you’ve already exported.)
3) File Naming
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One can rename images at the time of import, at any time from the Lightroom Library module (Library/ Rename Photo), and also upon export. Since the exported image is distinct from the original image, one may choose to rename it if it’s being used for a specific purpose. Lightroom offers many choices on file naming, but that’s a topic unto itself.
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Lightroom offers DAM (digital asset management) for both still images and videos, and offers some basic editing for videos. When exporting images from Lightroom one can choose whether or not to export videos as well. What options you choose here depends on what destination you have in mind.
5) File Settings
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This section and the next one are among the most important in terms of the choices you have to make when exporting images as they will impact the quality and the size of the images that result. The first choice is the file type, and the options are what might be expected – JPG, TIF, DNG, PSD or Original (for raw files). The second is the colour space, and this can be very important depending on the destination of your images. Colour space refers to the colour boundaries of the gamut of the images, and gamut, very basically refers to the range of colours used for that image. To explain this in any detail goes far beyond this post; the analogy I often use is to compare colour gamut to different-sized boxes of crayons. For more on this I’d suggest our Photography and Colour Management post as a beginning place. Since almost all digital images end up online these days, I’ll only add here that the internet is basically an sRGB, non-colour-managed environment. If you upload images that have been exported in an Adobe RGB or ProPhoto RGB colour space, when viewed through a web browser they’ll look terrible. Here’s an example of a printer evaluation image (with thanks to Outback Photo):
These two images were both exported from Lightroom with exactly the same settings, with one exception. The image on the left was exported as sRGB, and the image on the right was exported as ProPhoto RGB. You can clearly see the differences.
Quality in the Export window only applies to JPG exports and is a bit of a nebulous term. It denotes a trade-off between image quality and file size. The values are set into groups, however, and for more information on this I recommend this excellent post by Jeffrey Friedl: An Analysis of Lightroom JPEG Export Quality Settings. Again, it depends on what use you have for the exported images; if they’re going to a printer you may wish to choose a different quality setting than if you’re uploading them to your Facebook page for example.
6) Image Sizing
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As I mentioned above, File Settings and Image Sizing are paramount in terms of the quality and file size of the images you’re exporting from Lightroom, and to some extent they go hand in hand. To truly understand pixel dimensions and resolution you need to understand the question, “How big is a pixel?” The answer begins with, “It depends”. Andrew Rodney has an excellent paper on image resolution and how this applies to output devices (both a computer monitor and a printer can be considered output devices, as opposed to a camera or a scanner, which are considered input devices). It’s called, “An In-The-Trenches Guide To Resolution Basics“. Rather than duplicating that information here, I advise you to read Andrew’s paper.
Now, aside from resolution one needs to determine the output size of the exported image(s), and having read Andrew’s article, you’ll have a much better understanding of what this means. The options for resizing include Width and Height, Dimensions, Long Edge, Short Edge, and Megapixels. It should be noted that these are maximum dimensions. Let’s assume we have two images that are 6000 x 9000 pixels (landscape orientation) and 9000 x 6000 pixels (portrait orientation). Using the settings in the image above, our landscape-oriented image would be limited to 768 pixels high, and using the same 2:3 aspect ratio would be 1152 pixels wide. A portrait-oriented image would also be limited to 768 pixels high, and using the same 2:3 aspect ratio would be 512 pixels wide. If we had a panoramic landscape image that was say 3000 pixels x 9000 pixels, then the width would be limited to 1366 pixels and the height would be set to 455 pixels.
The Width and Height settings obviously refer to the width and height of an image depending on orientation, but the Dimensions settings set the maximum dimensions of the image regardless of orientation. Using the above image examples, if our Dimensions were bound to 768 x 1366 pixels then both images would be exported as 768 x 1024 pixels and 1024 x 768 pixels respectively. The shorter dimension would be the boundary here, and the longer edge would be limited by aspect ratio. If we set our Dimensions to 1366 x 1366 pixels, then the images would be 911 x 1366 pixels and 1366 x 911 pixels respectively. Long Edge allows you to set the maximum dimension for only the longest edge of the image (no matter the aspect ratio or orientation) and Short Edge allows you to set the maximum dimension for only the short edge of the image (no matter the aspect ratio or orientation). Finally, Megapixels allows you to set a maximum file size.
Depending on the size of the original image and the desired export size you can choose not to ‘enlarge’ the image. Enlarging in this case refers to what’s known as uprezzing an image – whereby the software invents pixels to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the image beyond it’s initial size. For example, if we have a 6000 x 9000 pixel image, at 300 dpi that would provide an image print of 20×30 inches. If we wanted an image print that was 24×36 inches we could either lower the resolution to 250 dpi (still acceptable for printing), or we could uprez the image to provide the requested image size (which in image terms would be 7200 x 10800 pixels) and the software would fill in the blanks.
7) Output Sharpening
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Sharpening is also a topic unto itself, but to cover this very quickly there are three kinds of sharpening: capture sharpening, creative sharpening and output sharpening. Capture sharpening is generally required because almost all digital cameras today have a filter over top of the sensor (called an antialiasing filter) that reduces light patterns like moiré. The end result is that the image as imported is not as defined along the edges of objects as it could otherwise be, and sharpening is primarily a method of increasing contrast along edges. Capture sharpening then is designed to regain what is lost by the camera’s antialiasing filter. Creative sharpening is a process of selectively sharpening certain aspects of an image – for an image of a person for example, one might want to add some creative sharpening around the eyes to draw attention there. Output sharpening is variable depending on the destination/ use of the image, and pre-Lightroom output sharpening was often a complicated affair. Without trying to explain the process that goes on ‘under the hood’ (there are resources online for those who are interested – Jeff Schewe is excellent), with Lightroom the folks at Adobe incorporated some software that greatly simplifies this process. As to whether you use Low, Standard or High sharpening, it depends in part on how you applied sharpening in the Develop module.
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As explained in our Lightroom, File Management and Metadata post (among others), metadata is information about the image, both at the time of capture and information added later. When you export an image or images from Lightroom you decide how much of this metadata information goes with the image; that answer depends on the destination for the image(s). You can choose to add only the copyright information, the photographer’s contact information, everything except the camera information or all of the metadata for the image. There are also two check-boxes. The first allows you to remove GPS location information from the image. This may be important if the image location is personal – your home for example, or a favourite fishing hole. The second may be important because Lightroom allows nesting of keywords and checking this box will maintain the keyword hierarchy.
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Watermarking is important for some people, and is most often used to add copyright information to an image that will be uploaded to the web. One can maintain any number of watermarks, and their size, location and attributes are again a topic unto themselves. However, because of Lightroom’s batch export feature, if one is exporting a number of images simultaneously, the same watermark can be added to each image in the batch rather than having to do them one at a time.
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The final option is what you want Lightroom to do after it finishes exporting your image(s). Options include opening the image(s) in Windows Explorer/Mac Finder, opening the image(s) in Photoshop or other external editor, running a Photoshop script or other action, or simply nothing.
That leaves us with one final step – Export Presets. After having set up the various parameters the way you want them for a given export, it would be a shame to have to repeat all of those settings the next time you want to create an image or group of images for the same purpose. By clicking the Add button at the bottom left of the Export window, you can create a preset that will incorporate all of the current settings into an Export preset. People who use Lightroom sometimes feel cheated that in Photoshop one can export various sizes/ settings of an image simultaneously, while Lightroom offers no such feature. However, by creating a series of Export presets, one can select an image or group of images, use the Export with Preset option and select a preset, and while Lightroom is doing that, choose Export with Preset option again and choose a different preset. Setting up a wedding with 1000 images and you need low-resolution images for e-mail, larger images for the web (complete with copyright watermarks) and a set of images that can be sent to a printer? Easily done in Lightroom with only a few clicks, and 3000 images will be created.
Okay, that’s it. Now go out and make some photographs!
P.S. For information on importing images into Lightroom, please check out our Import/ Export Tips for Lightroom post.