Today’s Question: Your recent advice about setting Lightroom to automatically write changes into XMP got me thinking. This is the way my computers are set up [with the “Automatically write changes into XMP” option turned on]. However, many years ago with my travel laptop I got in the habit of selecting all files after a trip and then choosing File > Save metadata to file [from the menu]. As I recall I included this step to make sure that any editing, captioning, and keywording would be retained when I exported the files as a catalog.
Is this an unnecessary step if I automatically write changes into XMP?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Correct. It is not necessary to use the “Save metadata to file” command if you have already enabled the “Automatically write changes into XMP” option in the Catalog Settings dialog for your catalog(s). Furthermore, if you’ll be using the “Export as Catalog” option, neither approach is needed because all of the information about your photos will be included in the exported catalog.
More Detail: The “Save metadata to file” command and the “Automatically write changes into XMP” option are performing the same task in terms of saving most metadata to your actual image files (or to an XMP sidecar file in the case of RAW captures). The only difference is that the former option is a manual approach and the latter option is an automated approach.
Therefore, if you have enabled the “Automatically write changes into XMP” option there is no need to use the “Save metadata to file” command. This is true even if you have only recently enabled the “Automatically write changes into XMP” option for a catalog that has been in use for an extended period of time.
When you turn on the “Automatically write changes into XMP” checkbox on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog in Lightroom, Lightroom will immediately get to work updating the metadata for all of the photos managed by the current catalog. The only issue here is that you don’t actually see an indication of progress for this task. Therefore, you may prefer to issue the “Save metadata to file” option one time after enabling the “Automatically write changes into XMP” option and selecting all images in your catalog. Doing so will provide the peace of mind of seeing an indication of the progress of this task on the top panel, so that you’ll know when it is actually finished.
Regardless of whether you prefer the “automatic” versus “manual” approach here, it is important to keep in mind that not all updates you apply in Lightroom will be reflected with these changes. Features that are specific to Lightroom, such as pick and reject flags, collections, and virtual copies, will not be included in these updates. However, as noted above, if you use the “Export as Catalog” command when it is time to merge your “traveling” catalog with your “master” catalog, all information within the Lightroom catalog will be included with the copy of the catalog created through the “Export as Catalog” command.