JPEG for External Editing?

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Today’s Question: Having added a folder of RAW images to my new Lightroom catalog, I sent a photo to Photoshop to do some edits, then returned to Lightroom. In the process, Lightroom made my picture into a TIFF file, but I would prefer to have it in the more compact form of a JPEG. I don’t see how I can stop Lightroom from converting to TIFF. It seems to offer no option in Preferences for JPEGs. Is there a way?

Tim’s Quick Answer: No, it is not possible to send a photo directly from Lightroom to Photoshop and have it created as a JPEG image in the process. The only options within Lightroom are to create a TIFF or PSD (Photoshop Document) when using the External Editing Feature.

More Detail: In theory you could create a workaround here, though it would not be as smooth. Also, I don’t recommend using JPEG images for this purpose, because doing so would create a situation where you are likely going to be re-saving the JPEG image with updates, resulting in a compounded loss of quality due to the JPEG compression.

You could export the RAW capture as a JPEG, adding the JPEG image back to your catalog as part of that process. To do so, turn on the “Add to This Catalog” checkbox in the “Export Location” section at the top of the Export dialog. You can then send the resulting JPEG image to Photoshop using the Photo > Edit In command on the menu. When prompted, you can choose the “Edit Original” option.

It is important to keep in mind that in addition to the issue of compounded loss of image quality when re-saving an updated JPEG image, there are a variety of other benefits you are giving up by using the JPEG file format as an editing format. With a JPEG image you can only work in 8-bit per channel mode (rather than 16-bit per channel mode), increasing the risk of posterization in your images. In addition, with a JPEG image you aren’t able to include multiple image layers, adjustment layers, saved selections, and other features that require the use of a TIFF or PSD image in Photoshop.

In other words, I highly recommend using either the TIFF or PSD file format for the RAW captures you send from Lightroom to Photoshop. I also recommend making use of layers while you are working in Photoshop. Those layers will then be preserved in the TIFF or PSD image, and you can retain access to those layers if you re-send the image to Photoshop using the “Edit Original” option when you use the Edit In command in Lightroom.