Moving Images Between Lightroom & Photoshop


If you are taking advantage of your Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and have both Photoshop and Lightroom installed, understanding how the two programs interact is essential. Whether you’re a Lightroom user that occasionally needs to move an image into Photoshop for some additional editing, or if you are looking to do some more advanced compositing such as replacing a sky or combining multiple images to create digital art, knowing how to move images between the two programs will save you time and disk space. 

Setting up Lightroom Preferences

I begin and end all of my photography post processing in Lightroom. I use the Lightroom Library module to organise all of my photos in a single catalogue that allows me to reference and search images with ease. This means I need to set up Lightroom preferences to determine the image format that will be used to send the image to Photoshop (and other external editing programs).

Go to the Lightroom main menu and select Lightroom/Preferences (Mac) or Edit/Preferences (PC). When the Preferences dialog box opens, select the External Editing tab. We will be changing the preferences for the Edit in Adobe Photoshop section. Here are my recommended settings: 

  • File Format: PSD – I choose PSD over TIFF simply because the file size is smaller, but without any loss of quality. 
  • Color Space: ProPhotoRGB
  • Bit Depth: 8 bits – you can leave it at 16 bits to get max quality, but some Photoshop filters will only work on 8bit images, and the file size of a 16bit image is almost double the size of an 8bit image. 
  • Resolution: 240
  • Stack with Original – this places the final image edited in Photoshop right beside the original file in Lightroom. Making it so much easier to manage your images. 
  • Edit External File Naming – Allows you to choose the naming structure of the files as they are imported back into Lightroom.

I’m sure there would be as many different recommendations for these settings as there are photography blogs, but I prefer these settings as they assist me in keeping the finished images at a manageable size, as some file sizes can exceed 200mbps and beyond! Of course it is also important to remember that because you are migrating from Lightroom to Photoshop, you never use the original RAW file. Lightroom creates a new image based on these settings to send to Photoshop. 

Sending the Image to Photoshop 

Once the Lightroom preferences are set, we are ready to begin Exporting images to Photoshop. To open the Edit In dialog you can go to the Lightroom main menu and select Photo/Edit In, or you can simply right click on the image and select Edit In. Once the Edit In menu opens you will have up to 5 options to send the image(s) to Photoshop:

  • Edit in Adobe Photoshop – This is the most straightforward option which simply exports the image to photoshop based on the settings you configured in the preferences. 
  • Open as a Smart Object in Photoshop – This also exports the image to photoshop based on the settings configured in the preferences, but also adds the photo’s RAW information and Lightroom adjustments along with the image so you can perform further RAW edits to the image in Photoshop. 
  • Open as Layers in Photoshop. This will be greyed out unless more than one image is selected. The multiple images will be exported as multiple layers in the single photoshop document. This is a good option when you have multiple photos you wish to composite together. 
  • Merge to Panorama in Photoshop – This is also greyed out unless multiple images are selected. This selection is used to stitch multiple images together in a panorama image.
  • Merge to HDR in Photoshop – This option will also be greyed out unless multiple images are selected. This selection is used to combine images of multiple exposure values to create a High Dynamic Range (HDR) Image. 

If you have selected images that are in a RAW format, then the images will automatically be exported to Photoshop once you make your selection. Photoshop will be opened and the image will be displayed as a document ready to be edited. 

If you have selected images that are in a format other than a RAW format, such as JPEG, TIFF or PSD, an additional dialog box will be opened prior to exporting the image to Lightroom.


In this dialog box we will need to determine what version of the image we wish to send to Photoshop. 

  • Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments – This is the option we will select on most occasions. This option gives the instruction to apply the Lightroom adjustments to a copy of the file before exporting it to Photoshop. This choice flattens layers. Do not use If you wish to continue working on a the layers in a Photoshop (.psd) or Tiff (.tif )document. Use this option if you want to apply your Lightroom adjustments to a copy and send that copy over to Photoshop.(More on this shortly)
  • Edit a Copy – This choice makes a copy of your Original file and sends this over to Photoshop.  This does not apply any Lightroom adjustments to the selected image before sending it to Photoshop. Use this option when wanting to create a copy of your image.
  • Edit original – This choice sends the selected image to Photoshop as is. The word Original here refers to the image that you have selected not the original Raw file that it came from. Use this option when choosing an image that has been worked on in Photoshop and has returned to Light- room. This option keeps your Photoshop adjustment Layers intact.


Edit the Photo in Photoshop & Return it to Lightroom

Now that you have successfully exported your image to Photoshop for some additional editing, you can work on the image until have made all of the required edits, then you simply go to Photoshop’s main menu and select File/Save. Photoshop will save the image in the current file format and Import it back into Lightroom. If you selected the Stack with Original option in the Lightroom Preferences then the newly imported image will be placed next to the original. 

It is really important to understand that Lightroom is not capable of reading Photoshop Layers, so when the image is imported back into Lightroom, Photoshop embeds a ‘flattened preview’  of the image in the Photoshop document file so Lightroom is able to display the image. If you proceed to edit the image after it has been imported back into Lightroom, you will only be editing the ‘flattened preview’ file and not the actual original PSD file that was created.

Do not choose the File/Save As option as this will create a new image that is disconnected from Lightroom. You will be required to manually Import the image back into Lightroom.  

Performing Additional Edits Between Lightroom & Photoshop

There will be occasions where you may wish to resend the image back to Photoshop for further editing. If you right click on the image in Lightroom and select the Edit Copy With Lightroom Adjustments, then only the edited ‘Flattened preview‘ will be exported to Photoshop for further editing. 

If you would like to make some additional changes to the Photoshop file containing all of the layers you must select the Edit Original option. This will allow Photoshop to open the PSD or TIFF file in Photoshop will all of the layers intact. You will not however, see any of the Lightroom adjustments that may have been made to the preview file. Once you are done with the additional edits, select File/Save and the image in Lightroom will be updated with the additional Photoshop edits and also maintain the Lightroom edits you previously made. 

Following this process of moving images back and forth between Lightroom & Photoshop will help you to cut down on wasted hard drive space by eliminating the need to maintain multiple copies of the same image while making it easier to manage your image library. 


Still confused about the best way to Import your images into Lightroom? You might find our blog 9 Basic Steps for Importing into Lightroom useful. 

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Brian Bird
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