Q&A – Is Lightroom Destructive to JPEGs?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Q&A and I’ve been getting this question a lot lately. So here goes:Question Is Lightroom destructive to JPEG photos?
Answer You probably know that you can import JPEG, Raw, TIFF, and other image formats into Lightroom just fine. We know that nothing we do to a Raw photo is ever destructive but does the same hold true for JPEG photos? Are the changes we make to a JPG in Lightroom actually changing the photo permanently? The answer… nope. It’s basically the same deal as when developing a Raw photo. Lightroom is storing each change, every slider move and preset click in some little database on your computer somewhere. It’s only changing a preview of the image on screen which is why it looks like you’re changing the photo permanently but you’re not. Just like a raw file, if you ever want to get back to the original JPEG just click the Reset button in the Develop module and it’s like nothing happened at all.

Now, the next logical question is how do I permanently change the JPG file? Say you want to email a processed photo to some one or post it on a website. No sweat. Just go to File > Export and export the modified photo as a JPG. Lightroom will apply the changes you’ve made and save a new JPG to where ever you point it to. Your original will still be stored in Lightroom safe and sound without any destructive changes made to it. The JPG you exported is essentially a copy of it with changes applied and it doesn’t change anything about the original that you’re working with in Lightroom.

Well my questioning (and answering) friends, there you have another edition of Lightroom Q&A. I’ll see you back tomorrow to finish up another week.

Author: Matt K

Matt is a full time Education Director for the NAPP and Kelby Training. He's a best-selling author of various books on Photoshop and Photography co-hosts the live weekly photography talk show "The Grid" and is co-host of "Photoshop User TV". In his spare time he practices as a 1st degree black belt in Taekwondo and enjoys spending time with his family in Tampa, FL.

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30 Comments

  1. Thank you for that great tip!
    How do we get rid of all the original jpeg files we no longer require… that are burning up valuable HD real estate?

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  2. Mike,
    Just select the photo in Lightroom and press the Delete key. Lightroom will ask if you want to remove it from your Library only or from your computer all together. I remove it from my computer since I always have a backup.

    Matt K

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  3. Heheheheeee… Yeah I know that. What I meant was that in your tip you said that Lightroom stores every change in a database… I’m talking about keeping the final image but getting rid of the original.
    I often make a virtual copy, work on that and delete the original when I’m satisfied with the result.

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  4. One thing that bugs me about Lightroom’s JPEG handling is this:

    Even though I don’t change any sliders at all, Lightroom gives my JPEGs a slightly different look compared to what the originals look like.

    For raw images this is a given thing… no raw converter knows exactly what the photo should look like. But with JPEGs this shouldn’t be an issue…

    ps. You should make the text in the comments forms go black for :focus too (as well as :hover).

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  5. Hey Matt,

    As always, some great stuff here in the blog :o)
    Congratulations on the new book … looks awesome!!! I dunno how you guys continue to deliver as you do, but whatever the secret, keep it up :o)

    Best wishes to you and yours,
    Glyn

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  6. Yes, I love the nondestructive JPG editing. Here is a related question that came up in my workflow recently; I use smugmug and like the fact that I can export directly to smugmug. Every picture I take gets uploaded as a “not to be touched negative” to a private smugmug gallery.

    I know how to export via plugin to upload to smugmug, but how can I specify that I want the file itself to upload, and not a high quality export? Currently, I separately upload to smugmug outside of Lightroom, but if Lightroom can suck pictures in and also upload the original unedited/unmodfied (with IPTC data) JPGs when I shoot JPG, straight from the camera, that would be great. Thanks! –Dilip

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  7. Matt, thanks for the post on this topic. I have a couple of comments regarding how .jpg’s are handled by Lightroom that I feel needs discussing.

    Back in Lightroom Beta, we had an option to have Lightroom write all of the edits we made to our .jpg files to .XMP side car files, just like is done with RAW files. The original .jpg files were left untouched. This allowed us to open a .jpg file that had been edited in Lightroom, in Photoshop’s Camera Raw and retain all of the edits we made in Lightroom. I thought this was a great idea as it allowed me to move between Lightroom and Camera Raw without having to export a new file. Now that .XMP capability for .jpgs is no longer available, there is a way to include edit meta data inside of a .jpg file. If you go to File | Catalog Settings | Metadata tab There is a check box to “Include Develop settings in metadata inside JPEG, TIFF, and PSD files.” This is a great option, but I’d really rather not have my original .jpg files modified, which leads to my next comment.

    Lightroom DOES actually make changes to your original .jpg file, but those changes Do Not effect the actual image. When you edit a .jpg file in Lightroom, EXIF and IPTC data is written to the .jpg file. (As well as edit meta data if you have that option enabled.) This can be a good thing as key words, copyright data, etc are added, but as a side effect, the file is re-saved and the date & time on the actual .jpg file is changed. This date & time change is annoying to me as I prefer that my original .jpg files not be changed from the date & time the image was captured. The date & time on a RAW file is not changed when I open it in Lightroom, why should Lightroom change this on my .jpg files? I found a workaround, which is to mark all of my original .jpg files as Read Only in the operating system before ever opening them in Lightroom. This works, but I do not feel that this is a very elegant solution, and I now have no way to open an edited .jpg in Camera Raw and retain the edits I made in Lightroom.

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  8. I just found about your website from a friend! You’ve got allot of gold mine info here!

    You said that Lightroom does not permanently save the changes you’ve on the photo and instead save this changes on a database. Where can I find that database in the computer? Also, if I export a catalog of photos, does Lightroom save all those changes i’ve made and can it still be reverted back when i press the reset button? I’m quite new in using Lightroom. Hope you can help me. Thanks in advance!

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  9. Just to reiterate on Jeff Henderson’s comment – Lightroom does change the JPG files, even if it does not change the actual image data. This causes lots of headache for backups. It would be great to have an option to save metadata into sidecar files.

    Thank you for this great blog.

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  10. Hmmm…I need to investigate this further…I have a scenario where LR seemed to change my .jpg, and I CAN’T hit reset to get to the original.

    I was searching this very question out, and was happy to see this post. Thanks for all the great information!

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  11. Some of my JPEGs were “altered” by Lightroom. I had some photos taken with an old Kodak DSLR. These JPEGs do not have date and time imbedded as EXIF info for the simple reason that EXIF did not exist back then. Lightroom imported these photos and wrote its own XMP metadata into the JPEG file. Because the file was updated, the date-timestamp of the files was changed before I could ask Lightroom to use the files’ date-timestamp. I effectively lost the dates and times the photographs were taken.

    Fortunately I had backups. I deleted these files from Lightroom, restore the originals, made them read-only in the operating system, and then re-imported them into Lightroom.

    Lesson learnt: Lightroom CAN alter your JPEG files. Not the photo itself, but the ‘extra’ data.

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  12. Skedonk pointed out another issue with Lightroom’s insistence on modifying the date/time stamp on .jpg files. That is with back ups and data syncing. Any time you do anything to a .jpg file in Lightroom the date/time stamp on the file changes. Then when I run backup or syncing software I end up with huge volumes of fairly large .jpg files that need to be copied across my network. This is very inefficient and unnecessary. With RAW files, the changes are in the very small xmp files which are much more efficient from a backup stand point.

    I have also experienced the same issue that nsc pointed out where old .jpg files with limited or no EXIF data are altered, and I am left with no record of when the image was captured.

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  13. I have a quick question that maybe someone can answer.. I have a Canon S9000 printer and I have the profile in”Windows/system32/spool/drivers/color”
    but the profiles don’t show up in Lightroom, any ideas

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  14. I try this and it works but every time I do, it also opens up my disc drive for me to insert a disc to burn. I am working with Photoshop CS3 and Lightroom 1.3…anyhelp out hter would be greatly appreciated. Right now I am running the trial for Photshop to see if I want to use it for editing mass production photography. I like most of the features but this one thing is driving me nuts. Please help

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  15. Hi,
    I use Lightroom to manage my photos on my notebook, but i’d love for the changes to actually be saved to the original JPG’s as i share my library with with wife’s PC along with my Media Center… is there a way that this can be done?
    Thanks

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  16. Sweet! Just found this site today (just downloaded a trial of Lightroom today!) and I love it! So helpful, thank you!

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  17. DITTO this, I would like to save the new edit as the original
    Hi,
    I use Lightroom to manage my photos on my notebook, but i’d love for the changes to actually be saved to the original JPG’s as i share my library with with wife’s PC along with my Media Center… is there a way that this can be done?
    Thanks

    Post a Reply
  18. Hi!, exist any possibility of keep the original JPG file + XMP of the changes in the same folder like RAWs? I know that can make this with RAWs but this don´t happen with JPGs. I like keep in the backup the original JPG + XMP. Any idea or tip? Thanks!!!

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  19. A feature were Lightroom wouldn’t alter JPEGs that have not been editted during the export process. For example:
    1. I take 100 Photos
    2. I apply edits to 50 of the photos, the other 50 look fine as is.
    3. I want to export all the photos to a new folder with new names based on the event.
    4. Of course my altered JPEGs will need to be reprocessed and resaved with varying degrees of JPEG compression. But the photos that were not altered I’d simply like copied to the new folder with in sequence filenames and any altered metadata.

    Maybe an option in the export to “Copy unaltered photos to new file without recompressing”

    Or maybe there is a way to do this already that I don’t know about.

    Post a Reply
    • I agree with Ken: A must-have feature in Export screen is to export the data unchanged. Currently I cannot use the same resolution (pixels per inch) as the original picture. I always have to change the resolution to a specific value.
      Thanks,
      Tipu Delacablu

      Post a Reply
  20. I’ve also noticed that Lightroom modifies the date taken time on my original jpg. I upload to a service that extracts that date and displays my photos in the order I took them (a bit of a shameless plug: that service is http://www.twango.com, which became share.ovi.com after we were acquired by Nokia). I will take Jeff’s suggestion above and make the pictures read-only from now on.

    Has anyone found out a way to save the edits I make in Lightroom to the original jpg, while retaining the metadata? (of course, this is a bit paradoxical with my statement above about making my pictures read-only…)

    Or is there a way to copy the metadata from the original jpg into a jpg I export with the changes applied?

    Thanks!

    Post a Reply
  21. Good to know. What do you recommend for image quality and size for the processed JPEG for the best results?

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  22. Help ! Hope someone has a n answer, Processing raw files in LR2 after sorting , editing I batch process to convert to jpg without deleting the raw files. I store the raw & jpg in separate locations. Here’s the problem. After exporting to jpg the files are not being sorted in the correct order that I have put them It sorts the photographs by file number. I shoot weddings with two cameras and use LR to put the wedding in chronological order . Very frustrating after hours of work to be undone when converting..Any suggestions?
    Thanks!

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  23. I second Ken’s question from June 6th, 2008.

    Is there a way to export a batch of unedited photos without re encoding them? If I haven’t made any adjustments (other than the embedded IPTC info), I’d like the originals exported.

    To repeat his scenario:
    I have 100 photos and made adjustments to 50.
    Export the 50 photos with their changes and the original files for the un-retouched 50.

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  24. Excellent advice. I have been using this method to clean up my wife’s jpg’s (no small operation). As an added refinement, I work on Pro Photo colour space and 16 bit. When I export I set srgb jpg 60%. As a consequence, even major chances do not cause any banding – the histogram for the jpg shows no gaps!
    Any comments?

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  25. I export my photos from LR 1.3 as jpgs and they always look different from the way they look in lightroom. The images turn flat and look under exposed or muddy looking. This sucks since the enhancements in LR make them look great. It’s like LR isn’t applying the changes before it exports them. How can I get the exported images to look the way they do in LR? Any help in this matter would be greatly appreciated, thanks.

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  26. RAW+JPG. how to purge the JPGs?
    I shoot mostly RAW. On some occasions I shoot also RAW+JPG. In some instances the JPG looks better and I can use it as a reference for the RAW processing.
    I like to import the files not separately so I can rename/rate delete the JPG and the RAW at the same time.
    The issue is if I want to delete the JPGs to save space and I do it manually then I get a “?” symbol that indicates the sidecar JPG is missing. I can’t see a menu option about purging the JPGs not needed and keeping the RAW file… Is there a way that does not mean to delete the files from the catalog and reimport then [I would lose the history etc]?

    stefano

    Post a Reply
  27. HI!
    I’ve recently discovered your site and it’s WONDERFULL! I’m such a newbie with LR and photography in general, I’d really appreciate your help in this.

    I cannot shoot in RAW with my camera at this point. It’s a new Canon SX10, CHDK’s not available for my firmware version and Canon won’t release a firmware update. So for the moment, I’ll just have to shoot in JPG.

    So, my question is…how can we work a jpg file in LR? What’s the best we can do?
    I’d really appreciate your help, and I think others stranded in jpg would too.
    Thank you very much in advance!

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  28. I have usually been shooting RAW shots and working on them in Photoshop and sending them out for large prints, 16 x 24 , & 20 x 30. I have gotten great results. I just recently started using Lightroom. I just noticed that the file sizes of the jpegs coming out of Lightroom are tiny compared to the printing files I was getting out of PS. Am I doing something wrong, and is there enough resolution for a large print ?

    Thanks, Roger

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  29. I just upgraded to Lightroom 3.3. I love editing with this program. I shoot all my pics in raw plus j-peg format directly into lightroom. I have a pc that has been upgraded to windows 7. I edit my raw pics in lightroom and convert them to j-peg when exporting. My issue is lightroom is compressing my photos to more then 3/4 the size. I expect j-peg to be smaller (b/c raw is a big file), but they are coming out tiny. I talked to Adobe tonight and they are going to research this for me. Can you help? Is there a plug in or something in my settings?

    Post a Reply

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