The Ultimate Guide to Export in Lightroom - Digital Darkroom Academy

The Ultimate Guide to Export in Lightroom

You’ve done all the work on your photos, they look amazing. Now what? We’ve seen in other posts, that Lightroom is a non-destructive editor, which means that any of the changes we apply in Lightroom are never really getting applied to the original photos. So, how do we see those changes onto our photographs? How do you get your photos outside of Lightroom to be able to share them online or print them?

This is where Export comes in. The Export in Lightroom function is kind of like the “Save As” function on other softwares.

The Export dialog has a lot of different settings. These settings become different if you’re exporting your images for the web and they become different when you’re exporting them for print. So, it can get a little confusing if you’re just starting out. In the video below, we’re going to take a look at each one of the settings of export in Lightroom and what the best practices are about each of them. If you prefer to read, continue below the video:

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How to go about Export in Lightroom

To export your photos, what you would need to do first is to select all the photos you want to export. If you already have your photos filtered out, by pressing Ctrl+A on a PC, and Cmd+A on a Mac, you can select all the photos that are displayed in the filmstrip. In the bar right above the filmstrip, it’ll show how many photos are selected that are going to get exported.

Export in Lightroom

Then, with these selected, you can either click on the Export button at the bottom of the left panel, or you can press it’s shortcut, which is Ctrl+Shift+E on a PC, and Cmd+Shift+E on a Mac. Once you do that, it’ll open up the Export dialog. There are a bunch of settings inside the Export dialog, so, let’s go over each one of them individually.

export dialog

Export Location

Right at the top, we have Export Location – This is where you would choose where you want to save the photographs.

First, we have a drop down menu where we can select if we want to export to a Specific Folder, the Same folder as original photo or Choose folder later; and then we have some recently used folders listed down under that. The last option of Choose Folder Later, is particularly helpful if you’re saving an export preset, because that way a specific location doesn’t get saved with the preset; it’ll ask you every time as to what location the files should go to. We’ll talk about export presets later in the post.

export dialog

Normally, I choose the Specific Folder option and then select the folder. You can click on the Choose button to select a folder where you want to export your photographs. Then you can even decide to put your photos into a subfolder within that selected folder; so you’ll check this Put in Subfolder checkbox on and type in a name.

export location in lightroom

Then, you can choose if you want to add the exported files back to the catalog with the Add to This Catalog checkbox. I, personally, don’t think there’s any need for that. Because you already have all of those photos as RAW files in your catalog. There’s no point in having another copy of them in the catalog as JPEGs or whatever you’re exporting them as.

Below that, there’s the Existing Files dropdown where you can select what to do if there are files already with the same names in the location you have specified. I have it set to Ask What to Do. So then it’ll prompt me every time there’s a file of the same name and I can then tell it what to do.

File Naming

Next we have the File Naming tab – If you want to rename your photos as you export them, this is where to do it. You can choose a filename template from the drop down. You can even create your own too. But, I won’t be going into the detail of that in, I talk about creating filename templates in another post. I already have the files named according to The History Book Technique, so I do not rename them when I am exporting. If you don’t want to rename them, you can simply keep the checkbox off.

file renaming in lightroom

Video

The next tab we have is Video – if you imported video to Lightroom, and you want to save it out again, you can adjust the compression settings over here in this tab. I usually use Lightroom for photographs only; but if you do use video too, then this is where you would choose the settings when you want to use export in Lightroom for your video.

video export in lightroom

File Settings

File Settings is an important section. In this tab, you would choose the file format you want to export your photographs as. Whether you want to save a JPEG, PSD, TIFF, DNG, or save it as the original RAW file, or whatever the format of the original was.

file settings

Each of the different file formats have different settings related to them. So, let’s take a look at them one by one as they appear when we use export in Lightroom.

JPEG

This is usually the file format you would choose for emailing photographs or uploading them online; and this is probably going to be the most commonly used option for you. When you select JPEG, you get a few other settings to choose from.

I have a drop down for Color Space over here where I can choose the color profile that I want for my exported photos. I talk about different color profiles in a lot of detail in another blog post and you can check that out here: Why do my colors look different in Photoshop than in Lightroom?

Export in Lightroom

But just as a quick summary of that, if you’re going to be displaying your photographs on screen or printing them from a non-pro lab, you can select sRGB. If you’re exporting to print from a pro lab that supports it then you can choose Adobe RGB.

The ProPhoto RGB would not be a very good option to choose at this point, unless you are going to work some more on the photos in probably another software like Photoshop or something else. If you’re not going to work on them any more, i.e. if this is the final version of your photograph, then ProPhoto RGB would not work too well. Because in software that is not color managed, like your file browser or your internet browser, the colors of your photographs will look very pale.

There’s also a new Display P3 space, and that would be used if you want to display your photographs on the latest Apple devices like the iPhone and the iPad.

On the right, you can select the Quality you’ll be exporting with. You can move the slider to increase or decrease the quality. If you’re exporting to put your photos online, you can reduce the quality a little bit, somewhere around 60, to get smaller file sizes. But, if you’re going to print your photos, higher quality, around 90-100 would be the way to go.

Export in Lightroom

There’s also an option Limit File Size to. This would again come into play if you’re uploading your photographs online. You would want smaller file sizes so that the images load quickly online. That’s why you would want a smaller file size and you can specify the file size you want your photograph to be limited to.

PSD

Next in the dropdown after JPEG is PSD. PSD is Photoshop’s native file format. When you select PSD, the Quality slider goes away, but you have a dropdown now for Bit Depth. Bit depth refers to the color information stored in an image. The higher the bit depth the more colors it can store. But, higher bit depth would also mean bigger file sizes.

Export in Lightroom

TIFF

After PSD, we have TIFF in the drop down. This format is great for storing working files, something that you may want to work on some more. It’s also great for high-value edited photographs so that you preserve their editing and their quality. TIFFs can hold Photoshop layers and they can also hold transparency.

When you select TIFF, you have one new drop down for Compression. From this menu, you can decide if you want to apply any compression to your photographs or not. Compression, basically, reduces the file size a little bit. In some cases though, it may reduce quality as well, but in other cases, it would be a lossless compression, so you can choose if you want to do compression or not.

Export in Lightroom

DNG

DNG stands for Digital Negative. It’s a format devised by Adobe to standardize different RAW formats. This will save all your RAW data along with any Lightroom adjustments and along with any metadata into the DNG file. So, any sliders you may have moved inside of Lightroom, they all get saved at their positions inside of the DNG file. You would choose this if you want to send files with the RAW settings saved in it, to another Lightroom or Photoshop user. So, when they open the file, they will have access to all of the settings that you have altered.

Export in Lightroom

We have an option here are for Compatibility. If you’re sending it to someone who has an older version of the Adobe Camera RAW plugin, you would select that version from the Compatibility dropdown.

Below that, is a dropdown where you can select what size the JPEG preview of the DNG file should be. There’s a preview embedded into the DNG file, so it just needs to know if that should be medium sized or large or, there shouldn’t be any at all.

Embed Fast Load Data, this would allow programs like Lightroom to show you the previews more quickly. Then Use Lossy Compression should preferably be off, because it’ll reduce the file’s quality and potentially introduce artefacts or spots or pixelation on the photograph. For the last checkbox, Embed Original RAW file, I would recommend keeping it off, because if you do embed the original RAW into the DNG, it would actually double the file size. What exactly would be the point of saving it as a DNG if the RAW file is already going to be in there. You may just as well export it as the RAW, if you’re switching this on.

Original

Coming back to the Image Format dropdown, the last option there is Original. This will create a duplicate of the original file, whether that was a RAW, DNG, JPEG or anything else. But it’ll do it with the updated metadata. Any edits you applied inside of Lightroom, they do not get applied. They would be visible in a software that can read the updated metadata, like Lightroom or Photoshop. They won’t be visible at other places.

Export in Lightroom

Image Size

After the File Settings tab, we have Image Size. This is another important setting to consider. It’s a really detailed topic in and of itself and I have a separate blog post to explain it in a lot of detail and you should definitely check that out to get a better understanding. Over here, we’ll see the options Lightroom gives us to resize our photos. If you leave the Resize to Fit checkbox off, the photo will remain on it’s original size, unless you cropped something. When you check that on then you have some options in the dropdown.

image sizing in lightroom

Width & Height

So, the first option we have is Width & Height; and in that you add both the width and the height in these text boxes. Let’s say I add 800 in width and 1200 in height. But width and height would mean different things for horizontal and vertical photos, right?

image size during Export in Lightroom

In a horizontal photo, width is longer, in a vertical photo, the height is longer. But, we can only add one width and one height. So, how will that play out? Let me explain this with the help of an illustration.

width and height

In the illustration above, the purple outline is the dimensions we have added in the text boxes. 800px is the width, 1200px is the height. On the left side, it’s a vertical photo and it fits perfectly in our given dimensions, because our dimensions were vertical. For a horizontal photo, on the other hand, it will fit the width into the specified 800px, but the height will then be calculated according to the proportions of the photograph, so in this case, 534px.

So, if you choose Width and Height during export, that would mean your vertical and horizontal photographs will have different dimensions during export in Lightroom.

Dimensions

If we select Dimensions from our dropdown, this is bit smarter than Width and Height. It’s not sensitive to the width and height.

Export in Lightroom

It will fit your photo into the bounding box even if it has to rotate the bounding box to do it. So, if you add 800 x 1200 as the dimensions, it would be 800 x 1200 for vertical photos and 1200 x 800 for horizontal photos. It will automatically detect the longer and shorter edges of the photograph and adjust the bounding box accordingly.

Export in Lightroom

Long Edge

Next in the dropdown, we have Long Edge. This will set the length of the longer side of the photo. So, if I add 1200 px in that, the longer side of the photo will be 1200 and the other side will be calculated automatically.

Export in Lightroom

So, in vertical photos, the longer side will be height, and in horizontal photos, that will be the width. If you have different proportions happening in different photos, the longer edge will always be 1200px but the shorter edge will vary depending on the ratio of the photograph.

Export in Lightroom

Short Edge

The next option is Short Edge which is very similar to Long Edge, but you’re just defining the length of the shorter edge instead of the longer one.

Export in Lightroom

So, for vertical photos, you’re defining width and for horizontal, you’re defining height.

Export in Lightroom

Megapixels

The Megapixels option will set the dimensions automatically based on what you type in the text box.

Export in Lightroom

For example, if you set it to 24 Megapixel, then on regular proportions, it will create a file which has the dimensions of 4000 x 6000 pixels. If the proportions or ratio is different, then it’ll automatically calculate what the width and height should be, so that it results in 24 million pixels in the photo.

Percentage

Last in this menu is Percentage, which is pretty straightforward. If you add 75%, then the dimensions of the photo will be 75% of the original photo imported into Lightroom.

Export in Lightroom

Don’t Enlarge

In the Image Sizing tab, there’s also a checkbox called Don’t Enlarge. This will prevent smaller photos from being upsized to the dimensions you’ve added. Upsizing the photos can result in pixelation and softer/blurrier photos. It will still downsize the photos that are larger than your given dimensions, but it won’t enlarge any smaller ones during export in Lightroom.

Resolution

Resolution is something you’ll need when you’re printing your photographs. If you’re exporting your photos to display on a screen, then the resolution doesn’t matter. You can put any number in there and it wouldn’t make a difference. But if you’re printing your photos, usually the print lab would want it to be at least 300 pixels per inch. That’s usually the standard. But you should check with your print lab if they have a different requirement. I talk in great depth about Resolution in my blog post about Image Size, so be sure to check that out.

Output Sharpening

Next in the Export Dialog, we have Output Sharpening tab. In this, you can add a little bit of sharpening to your exported photos. From the first dropdown you select where your photos are to be used. So, if they are going to be used only on screens, I’ll choose the Screen option; and if they’re going to be printed, I’ll select either of the two other options depending on what paper they’re going to be printed on. Then from the next dropdown, we select how much Sharpening we want. I’ve found that usually, Standard works the best.

Export in Lightroom

Metadata

If you want to remove or include any specific metadata during export in Lightroom, like camera info, f-stop, shutter speed, ISO, or location info, you can add or remove it here from these options. The options in the drop down are pretty self-explanatory. You can simply select the metadata you would like to embed in your files; or select the options to remove certain metadata if you don’t want to include it.

Export in Lightroom

Below the drop down are three checkboxes. Remove Person Info would remove any people’s names that have been assigned in the People view in the Library module. These names are assigned as keywords to the photo. You may want to remove these names for privacy reasons. Because you don’t know where the photo will end up and if it isn’t removed, it can give away the names of the people inside the photograph.

Remove Location Info would remove any GPS coordinates that your camera may have captured or you may have added in the Map module. You may also want to check this on, if you want the location to stay private.

Export in Lightroom

There’s the option for Write Keywords as Lightroom Hierarchy, if it’s checked then the photo’s file will embed information about which keyword was the parent keyword and which was the child keyword. You may have created this hierarchy when keywording your photos inside of Lightroom and it would be helpful if you are going to re-import these photos into Lightroom or using them in a software that does understand keywords. If this is checked off, it just saves both parent and child keywords as separate keywords without the hierarchy.

Watermarking

You can check the checkbox on and then choose a Watermark that you may have already created from the drop down. Or you can create a new one. I have another post where I talk in quite a bit of detail about how you can create a new watermark, so I won’t be going into the details over here, you can check out the post: How to Add a Watermark to Your Photos

using watermark in lightroom

 

Post-Processing

The last section of Post-Processing deals with what happens to the photos after the Export process is done. By default, you have these few options.

  1. Do nothing: This will do nothing after the export in Lightroom is complete.
  2. Show in Explorer: You can decide to see those photos in their folder, in the Explorer on PC; or the Finder on Mac.
  3. Open in Photoshop: This will open the exported files in Photoshop, if you want to further edit them. It will automatically launch Photoshop for you if it isn’t already open.
  4. Open in Other Application: You can decide to open them in any other application, and you will have to specify which application that is under the dropdown.

Export in Lightroom

Unless I have to do something to my photos in Photoshop after export, which is rarely the case, I keep this at Show in Explorer. That way, once its done exporting, it opens up that folder and I can see those files in my folder. There’s no particular reason for it, but it just keeps my mind at ease that these files are done and this is the folder they are in.

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That was an overview of the Export settings. At this point, you can click on the Export button and it’ll start the Export process. But there’s just one more thing I would like to talk about that can save you a whole bunch of time, and that is Export Presets.

Export Presets

Once you’ve dialed in all of your settings, you can save those as a preset. For example, if I am exporting images to be used on the web, I can save those settings as one preset. If I am printing on 5×7, that could be another preset. A few export presets are already there created by Lightroom, you can see them here under Lightroom Presets, but it’s a good idea to create your own, depending on how you use your exported images.

export presets

Whenever you’re creating an export preset though, just make sure of one thing. Whenever you’re saving a preset, then from the Export Location tab, make sure you select Choose Folder Later. If you don’t, it’ll also save the location with the preset. That way every time you export, all the photos will just get saved in the one folder you had chosen.

using presets in Export in Lightroom

Creating a preset is fairly simple. Just dial in all your settings here in the Export panel and then press the Add button under the left panel. Automatically, it’ll get stored under this User Presets folder, but I can right-click on one of these folder’s names and create a new folder if I want. I have two presets created, Facebook Upload and Full Size.

making export presets

How exactly do these presets save time? If you close the export dialog and right-click on any photograph, it’ll show you a menu. In that menu, under Export, it will list down all the Export presets. That way, I don’t have to go into the Export dialog and dial in the settings every time. Once I click on my desired preset from this sub-menu, it’ll just ask me where I want to save them, and it already knows all of the other settings. The image size, image quality, image format and all the other details, those are already dialed in. This way my photos get exported in just a single-click.

Export in Lightroom

Conclusion

Alright, so that’s the process when using Export in Lightroom, where you can decide how your photos come outside of Lightroom. Now, once these photographs are out, you can do whatever you like with them. You can upload them, email them, print them; you can anything with them.

Shajee Aijazi

Shajee Aijazi is the founder of Digital Darkroom Academy. He helps people speed up their post-processing workflow and organize their photos in a way that they don't have to waste time managing it and they can focus on creating great looking images.

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