Video – Importing the Exports

Happy video day. This one comes directly from a question I got earlier this week and a question that I get every single time I teach Lightroom. It has to do with what you do with the photos you export from Lightroom (using File > Export). Lightroom 2 beta actually has a new feature that deals with this but let’s face it – it’s not ready for prime-time production work and I strictly use it for “Play” purposes as I know most of you do too. So what about Lightroom 1? How do you manage the photos that you’ve exported for a client if, say, you need to keep track of them? Well I’ve got a solution in this video.

Click here to watch the video. (16Mb)

Oh yeah, make sure you listen to the end where I pose a question about if/how/why you do this and post a comment here on the blog. Thanks!


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  1. Hi Matt,
    Great article about re importing exported files. I also do not really see the advanced of this actions. Your ideer collour it blue or red is nice BUT I,m still looking for a way to make my own label and the possibility to rename it. The tip to create a new collections and sub collections (tip form Scott) is however also very good

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  3. This is a pretty old post, so I’m not sure if comments are still being monitored, but here goes…

    While I like Matt’s idea, it doesn’t always work for me.

    For starters, a single RAW/DNG can result in *multiple* exports (e.g. a low quality JPG for email and a high quality JPG for SmugMug). Also, I may put want to put copies of an exported JPG into “special” directories (screen saver, school projects, for syncing to a photo frame memory card, etc.) So I don’t just have a single export of an image, I have multiple exports that reside in multiple directories.

    So what I’ve had happen is I realized in Lightroom (my “master” collection) that I used the wrong keyword on an image or decided to tweak develop settings or whatever. After I make the change in Lightroom, the question becomes how to keep *all* the derivative images in sync?

    Ideally, Lightroom would keep track of every export you did – what were the settings, where was it exported to, etc. – and have a “Sync Exports” button that would re-export your current image to all your derivatives using the original export settings.

    But it can’t (at least not in my 1.3 version).

    My solution is to use LR to store my master images, but use Picasa to watch my exported folder and its subfolders.

    Picasa will automatically watch for updated images, and update its catalog immediately.

    If you tell LR to monitor/watch a directory, it will, but will only import when it finds a file. Not what I need.

    I could create a catalog pointed to my export directory, and manually do a “Sync”… that works but a) it’s manual, and b) it’s SLLOOOOOWWWWWW……

    I hate that my freebie Google Picasa can do things my fancy, expensive Lightroom can’t, but I can’t find any workable solution in LR.

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  4. You can also set up an auto-import watch folder, and use it as the export folder. Then the photos are automatically re-imported, and you have the option when setting up the watch folder of assigning metadata to the imported photos. In this case, “delivered”, “exports”, “processed” etc..
    I don’t do this though, I use a parallel derivative folder structure.

    As to why.. I do this when I take a shooting job at a lower rate, in exchange for not doing editing work. I use the auto-imports + LRG FSS select web module to create a simple web based client selection system. The #1 reason is because clients are ALWAYS losing the original shots, and asking me to resend them. The shots that I re-import frequently have some post, spotting, skin-shine, panos, skin softening, not even mentioning set problems like scrapes on walls, seams in floor panels, etc.. that I really don’t want to do again.
    Other uses:
    I manage the photos on some peoples sites, and use the exports as my pool of photos to upload, to keep fresh content, without waiting for processing.
    I might bulk export a variety of “styles”, and review them to see what I like best.
    etc.. etc..

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  5. Hi Matt. Great video. Since you were wanting import/export feedback, here is mine. From the viewpoint of weddings, I dump all the raw images into a folder for the event. The filenames are whatever they are from the camera (IMG_xxxx.yyy). Pass #1 I use Lightroom to delete all the blinks and bad whatevers. Pass #2 I delete any duplicate images, fix white balance, and select the top images with star ratings. Next I export everything much like what you described except to a new catalog (on a different hard drive) and rename all the images to the event name/sequence #. I then use this new catalog/file names to load on the web for print orders etc. The reason I don’t create the event name/sequence set of images at the beginning is that I don’t want sequence number gaps (from the deletes) in the final set of images the client would order from. The first set of images (with the native camera names) then becomes my backup set which is kept for 60 days or so and then deleted. So, I do re-import the same images, but in a different catalog.

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  6. The reason I would want to import back into lightroom would be to keep track of photos already cropped and ready to print. (I also add a small copyright logo to them).

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  7. hey matt, another great vid!! collections/virtual copies work for me. no waste, no space.

    ps, thanks for signing your extremely cool layers book!!!

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  8. I use Lightroom exclusively (I don’t think I have opened a photo in Photoshop in 6 months). My method for keeping track of effects and sizes of photos that I have sent to clients is to use virtual copies. Each Client gets a collection and a folder under their collection is ‘Ordered’. That folder contains all the photos (with correct sizes and effects). Let’s say the client wanted 1 4×6 and 1 5×7 of image 12, then there are 2 #12 virtual copies in the ordered folder one is 4×6 and one is 5×7. After I have exported and printed the photos, I delete the exported folder.
    I hope this makes sense. I just don’t like extra file clutter, especially since I keep the Client folder on my laptop for 6 months before I archive it to an external drive.

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  9. I watched the video and found that I do both the colour labeling and the importing of the exports … the reason being is that I have had too many corrupted Lightroom libraries and this way I know that I have them seperated out if I have to build, yet again, another lightroom library.

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  10. Hi,

    The first thing that comes to mind is Collections. I would simply select the photos I want to export for a client and create a Collections folder and give it a relevant name i.e., “(Client Name) Exports” I think this is a very straightforward method.

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  11. Hi Matt,

    I watched your Video and also asked Why would you want to re-import the jpgs? Like you and others I either colour code or use Collections to choose those files to be exported into jpg’s. I also keep all files created in a sub folder within the clients folder, so eventually when I come to burn the DVD back-up I have everything in one place.

    You mentioned LR2 which I’m playing with in 64bit mode and recently exported jpg’s in my normal way BUT miss understood the tick box about including in the Library:(. So they all reappeared! What a mess!!

    Nope, for me having the jpgs so created back in Lightroom is a non benefit!

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  12. hi this is really great site with very useful tips

    about the video is great and i want to ask is there is a way if i have 1000 photos and i edit 200 of them is there is a filter show the edited photos or should i flag or rate any thing i edit ?

    thx a lot for u again

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  13. Steve:

    When you do a command E from LR to edit a PSD in Photoshop. Just save in Photoshop (not save as) and that is the file that will show up in LR. Can’t remember if it renders the PSD or not, I think it shows a JPEG thumbnail that Photoshop saves with the PSD if you have maximize compatibility on in PS.

    For your second question on synching catalogs, use File: Import from Catalog. Mattk did a tip on this back on 7/9/07, might have done something more recen.

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  14. The most obvious reason for a subfolder with exported, or rather edited, pictures would be if you have versions finished in PS or any other program. Simple exports directly from LR are as many states easily redone. Or am I missing something here?

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  15. Matt, you don’t seem to be countering the arguments against your approach, other than in the video itself. I’m interested in your (and others’) views as to how you deal with the issues raised (mainly in Nik’s comment) with the way you do it.

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  16. I must admit I was getting more and more confused as the video went along. When you got to the end and said why would you do this, I completely agreed. The only difference between the conclusion you came to and the one I came to last year is that I use RED not BLUE.

    My Real Estate Client want specific medium res jpgs for inclusion in the local MLS listing. I have an export preset to create them. I select all the red photos, create the crappy JPGs, send them to my clients then delete them. If they need them again, I just select red and export again.

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  17. I do a variation of your color label approach. I just add a few extra keywords when I export for the client. I have the keywords “Client Reject” “Client Accept” “Client Final” I also keep all of my files in Adobe’s .dng format so keywords stay with the file even outside of Lightroom.

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  18. Also! Any recco for synchronizing workflow?

    I am often traveling and will dupe files from my HD at home to a portable drive. I would like to be able to work off the dupes and update the master catalog so the dupes replace the masters.

    Does this make sense or is it possible?


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  19. Hello Hello!

    I have a question that is related but not specific to the tutorial. How do I get the PSD that is created when pressing command E to reflect the changes that are made in PS?

    For example, when I go back into my catalog the image will have two references – one that is the original and the second is the PSD WITHOUT any of the PS adjustments.

    Thank you sincerely for any help anyone can offer.


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  20. Well said Nik! That was the point I was trying (and failing) to make. Also, what’s to stop you accidentally bumping the blue color off, or on. No matter whether you use collections or colors or flags, it’s still a separate operation and subject to later manipulation – intentional or otherwise. Yes, going the other way you might accidentally delete the imported copy, but there are protections and warnings about that sort of action.

    And to those who keep a copy in their email – I can see your point about the email being an audit trail but you’re still keeping copies of the files – just not anywhere handy. Depending on what email client you use, you may well be taking even more space up that way if they are (as in the actual email) uuencoded as 7-bit data.

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  21. Hi Matt,

    I usually bring already exported files back into Lightroom so I can use the web presentation export templates that come with Lightroom. I usually tag the photos in Photoshop first with a link to my site or my copyright info, then bring it back into lightroom and use the “Autoviewer” preset in the web module to make a flash slideshow gallery.

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  22. One important difference between the approaches is this:

    Labelling marks the photos you sent to the client, but (a) it does not tell you what format or size you sent them in, and (b) if you do any further processing after you sent them then you’ll have lost exactly the look and feel of the photos the client received. If they subsequently ask for the photos to be sent again you risk sending them something slightly different.

    Exporting (and re-synchronising) records exactly what you sent the client, exactly as you sent it. If they ask for the photos to be resent, or if you want to check exactly what you sent, then you have a totally reliable record.

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  23. Matt,
    Great way to get people to respond and post comments.

    Color tag = client sent files.
    This works great. I have been using this method for 2 years.

    Why catalog(re-import) your exported files?
    Cons: Yes, this does cause duplicate files in your catalog. It requires some type of file name or folder separation. I wish LR could be set to ignore some sub folders.

    You might be in a hurry the next time a client calls when they need a second set of copies. If the exports are still around, you won’t have to re-export. Saves computer processing time. This is a huge issue with large files and/or if your dealing with several hundred images.

    Jay W

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  24. How about using keywords such as exported as a category within keywords then using a subcategory for the project or name of who they were exported for. I do a lot of floral photography and have a keyword of flowers which I have made into a higher level keyword folder that then contains my sub level keywords for specific types of flowers such as roses, lilys, etc. I would think using this for exports would work so that when you do an export, just add a keyword of export, then the project name as an additional keyword, ie., you could name it after in your case Dave Korman Band or similar.

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  25. I often have to have different versions of my images – one for web use, one for the press, one to be printed etc. I’ve tried to follow the recommendations in The DAM Book, in that I have set up file names, labels and keywords that all identify originals and edited versions. I have red for original RAWs, yellow for web versions, blue for print versions etc. File names (prior to the exension) end in _web, or _print etc and keywords are JB-Label: Print Version etc.

    I do re-import the various edited versions as through a season I’ll have requests for all sorts of images and having them in LR makes it easy for me to know what I already have available. I’ve always just put them in the same folder as the originals, though I think having an Edits folder might be a good idea as originals eventually end up going on separate DVDs to edited files. I also like the collections idea, that’s a way I could avoid duplication.

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  26. Mostly my exported files are a collection if I feel the need to keep track of them. Though as Allister mentioned above.

    If LR kept track of what was exported and the settings that were used that would ease keeping track of it with color coding or collections or some combination.

    Of course I’d like to be able to delete this information or opt out of saving it as many times I export a batch of files for some one off reason and have no need to keep track of all that extra exporting.

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  27. I use collections as well, if I know I want to keep specific settings I’ll create virtual copies. As a second step, if I know that I would need to reprint the series exactly as I had it, I’ll burn to a CD/DVD after the export before I delete them from my computer.

    That way, I should be able to recreate what was done previously.

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  28. I do exactly what you show in the video. Why? to add a watermark and then make my web page. The LR ‘add copyright watermark’ is not adequate for my needs.


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  29. I like the video and it makes me think of a better way of managing my library. My work flow is that I actually use Bridge to load the majority of the info using the templetes. Then I import the “xyzjob client NEF” folder into Lightroom. Do my color…adjustments but I then drag the saved file into Photoshop and make the non availible adjustments (mostly perspective control for my architectural photographs) I then save them into a new “xyz client Edit TIFF “folder. Then I make a contact sheet in bridge of all those images. Add the two lines of text in photoshop, ( my biggest grip with the print module is they only offer one line of text. I put the job on the top/header of the contact sheet and my contact info. on the bottom/footer) Now I have a deliver-able folder of final edited images to provide to my client.

    What I like about this is if I called the original NEF folder just the job and had the NEF folder inside of it. Plus this new Edit TIFF folder I could like in the video sync the folder and then have both folder show in lightroom.

    This would have been a great help when I updated my web site and did not have all of the original edit TIFF files in Lightroom.

    By the way I did use Lightroom and Turning Gate’s web galleries for most of my new site, Everyone so far loves it. Check it out.

    Thanks for your blog, training and videos

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  30. Collections and/or Keywords by name and date sent would allow you to specify what client received what photos.

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  31. Great vid.

    I totally see your point that these are duplicates Matt, and I also think that Lightroom wasn’t designed to work that way.

    What I do, I add the little white flag to the photos the paper wants. I usually use blue for their preselection, and once they’ve decided for an actual picture I add the flag and start developing it.

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  32. Thanks for the tip. I am still using LR 1 and I believe that there is a fix for this in the Beta version, but here is my reason to re-import the exported images, Vignetting. I like to add a small vignette to all of my photos, and I can do this on the majority of my pictures except for some that I decide to crop at weird or totally different crops from the original. With LR 1, after a crop the vignette doesnt affect the “new” crop but instead vignettes the original asect ratio, and so when I extremely crop a photo, the vignette comes out more on one side than the other. This is cool because I can actually use this as a spotlight in some situations, but in others I just need to re-import just so that I can vignette the picture. I always found myself re-importing photos now i can just right-click and update. I cant wait for LR2 to be released. Thanks again Matt.

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  33. Matt,

    Are you suppossed to be in Philadelphia, PA next week?

    June 3rd, I believe?? Where? Times??



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  34. *Usually* if I need to resend something or check what I’ve sent out, it’s done via email and kept neatly in my email’s sent items folders, so I can’t think of any other reason to keep them in LR. And, as pointed out, I find using collections is the best way to retain a set of photos.

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  35. Thanks for adding to the discussion everybody. I think JasonP is closest to the way that I do it. Here’s why.

    First, all of my “best of the best” are already in a collection. If those are the ones I export to give to the client then I’m done. I already know that my collection is the files I send off to the client.

    If not, then I make a sub-collection (maybe named “Exported”) as a child of the original collection. In that sub-collection I pair down the ones from the parent collection folder to the ones I’m exporting. That way I always know what I sent to the client and can easily re-export if I need to. I’m with Jason. HD space is cheap but clutter is also still clutter. If I don’t need those extra files I’d rather get rid of them and always know I can go back to my collection (or child collection) to see the photos that went to the client.

    Matt K

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  36. I like the color selection option. I think this would work fine for my needs. And I agree that having duplicates in Lightroom is not really necessary. Great video by the way. I JUST ran into this problem this morning and was wondering how I could have handled it better. This is exactly the way I SHOULD have handled the client files!

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  37. I always keep exported files with originals just in the new folder, I have no need to import them to LR. What I do what’s been already mentioned I just use collections to keep track of what’ been shown to the client. I have got collection called Customer, than follows different shoots and within the shoot named with client’s name is another collection with exported, usually 5 stars photos. In my opinion that’s the easiest way to manage files with LR when we speak about photography. Deleting files after sending to a client is a good solution to keep HD space.

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  38. Once I’ve exported and sent them where they need to go (email, upload to flickr, uploaded to my webspace), I add them to their own collection which is a subfolder of where they went, which is a subfolder of “Exported”. After that’s done, they’re deleted off my computer. Why keep them there when I have the jpegs wherever I sent them (if email, they usually stay in the Sent folder) and I have the originals in Lightroom? Disk space is cheap, but it isn’t infinite, and if I absolutely have to, I’ll accept the minute or so it takes to re-export.

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  39. This is a great tip. I frequently use collections to manage my exported photos simply because it keeps me from having to use the disk space to store redundant copies of the same image. I also, however, make virtual copies for crops, so that I don’t have to go back and ask again what size the image I sent to the client was.


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  40. I should add that the only proper solution to really knowing what your exports are is for LR to keep the export data in the same way it stores the edits and other history states.

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  41. If you’re going to keep the exports for any reason, why wouldn’t you manage them? One reason to keep them is so you know exactly what you sent and can resend some or all easily without worrying what settings you used last time. Regarding the comment about database normalization, having the files with the client but only tags or colors in LR gives rise to the synchronization issue as well!

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  42. I am still working on my work flow mostly because I am a graphic designer so there’s a lot more to worry about than just photos going out. As a designer I may want to keep the exports in Lightroom because I may have to do pixel editing in Photoshop for the design. It helps me to know where they are and what image they came from in case I need to go back to the original of a particular file to re edit in Photoshop a different way. I would like to be able to keep any exports including .psd’s and CMYK files in a stack with the original so if I need the edited version later I don’t have to try to figure out where they are and I don’t have to wonder if I have a particular version of an edited .psd somewhere.
    To me it’s the same as asking someone why do you want to put all your photos in a folder called Pictures. I would use color labels to tell which are .psd etc… I say would because as I said I am still trying to figure out my workflow and I have also been bouncing back and forth between Lightroom and Aperture. I like some features of both.

    If I only did photography then maybe I would want to keep the Exports somewhere else but I have so many other files. I am trying to come up with a system where I am disciplined and stick to some kind of organization. I do use Bridge and Version Cue and it has helped.

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  43. Minimising duplication is good practice generally, I think. Your tutorial demonstrates the functionality and adaptability of LR though and it is good to have that demonstrated. Personally, I think your “Blue” tip is a practical and elegant methodology. 🙂


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  44. …ahhh…did you guys ever hear about “collections”?…

    …after having selected and post-processed the photos that are meant to be sent to a client, i simply gather them into a collection…no redundancy, no need for “synchronizing”…after all, isn’t this what “collections” are meant for?…imho, that is the best way to “manage” them…

    …i can only see one reason to keep exported files in a separate “exported” folder within the original folder, and that is if you need to keep track of what format, size, quality, etc, you exported the files in…


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  45. Add me to the list of those that see no purpose of reimporting duplicates. LR offers numerous ways already of keeping track of images exported to clients etc.

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  46. (oops – I left out an important detail) In my post, I forgot to mention that I’ll import pictures by copying them into the Originals subfolder. For example, I may end up with a folder named “Matt’s Race Day” which may have files 20080529 Image 1 of 2 (0012, 349p) and 20080529 Image 2 of 2 (0019, 355p), and subfolder Originals, which may have files IMG_0011, IMG_0012, IMG_0015, IMG_0018, IMG_0019, and IMG_0020.

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  47. Thanks for the tip, Matt. I am with you and wary of “managing” exported files in LR. It reminds me of database normalization; you don’t want to keep around redundant data as it is begging to result in synchronization problems at some point.

    I use a variant of your color approach. I use color to tag pictures for specific crops – e.g., blue is a 4×5. If I come back from a large shoot, I’ll create a folder for that shoot with a subfolder called “Originals”. When I’m ready to deliver to my client, I’ll export to the main folder.

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  48. Nice tip. In my case I don’t usually want them back in LR. I usually just export my final session render to a customer folder once I’ve corrected, applied presets, ran actions in PS etc.

    I find once I;m to this point it’s time to give images to clients, and I really don’t need them in LR. It would be good if it was built in however because I can see where it would come in handy in some instances

    That said I do use labels often to separate various parts of a session so that I can quickly fins the part I need.


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  49. My solution is a variation of your approach. All my exports go to a master folder on my desktop (so I can access it quickly after the export), with subfolders inside for categories, i.e. email, stock, .mac slideshow, to Aperture (to publish a book), etc. Then I import the “Lightroom Export” folder back into Lightroom’s library at a top level, and can keep it up to date with the same synchronize technique. Some of the exports are temporary and will get thrown away later, some I may need in the future, for example upsized files for stock. At least in Lightroom I can see them all at once and make those decisions more easily than shuffling through the file folder system on my computer. However if it’s just a matter of tracking the fact they were exported and to whom, maybe Collections is the solution.

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  50. Hi Matt-

    I agree with you. I don’t import those converted files because I always know that they will be in the subfolder if I need them. Why duplicate all those files?

    Eric Wessman

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  51. I’ve always wondered if you could get the export dialog to automatically write a keyword back to the library to keep track of which ones were exported. Say keyword “printed” “8×10” when I choose a particular export preset.


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  52. Hi matt, I keep all my “exported to client” files ( versions inc. Tiff, Jpeg, email, slideshow) in a separate folder. I use colour flagging to identify work in progress ie. red= working copy, Green= sent to client folder, yellow= final etc. I only keep the original Raw+xmp files in Lightroom, it doesn’t seem to make much sense to keep anything else there. When it comes time to archive to DVD I just pull out the final Client folders.
    thanks again.
    CS in tropical Australia where it’s cold and overcast today.

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