Independence from Lightroom


Today’s Question: I shoot in RAW, use Lightroom to edit my photos, but don’t want to be dependent either on my Lightroom catalog or even on the Lightroom application to access my photos. I import my RAW captures into Lightroom, make my desired edits, and then export both JPEG and DNG files (checking the “Embed Original Raw File” and unchecking the “Use Lossy Compression” options when exporting the DNG file). I then delete the original RAW file.

I can now print from or make additional edits to my image using the DNG file on any computer in any application that supports the DNG file format without needing to access either my Lightroom catalog or even the Lightroom application, and I am dependent neither on my Lightroom catalog nor even on the Lightroom application.

So if I decide tomorrow to never use Lightroom again, or if Adobe decides suddenly to discontinue Lightroom, I can continue to access all my images in any application that supports DNGs.

Should I abandon this process, and act more normally?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I recommend changing your workflow to make the most of all Lightroom has to offer while at the same time ensuring that your workflow is not completely dependent on Lightroom. I also don’t think it is necessarily a good idea to delete the original RAW capture files.

More Detail: I assume you are creating JPEG images to provide a “backup” copy of images that includes the adjustments you’ve applied within Lightroom. I don’t think this is necessary, and including this step in your workflow greatly increases the time and storage space required to accommodate those additional image files. I just see this as unnecessary clutter, in other words. If you get to the point that you can’t (or won’t) use Lightroom in your workflow, you could create copies of all existing images with a single export process at that point.

I’m also not entirely comfortable deleting the original RAW capture files. That is part of the reason I have not adopted the Adobe DNG file format as part of my workflow. But if you prefer to convert to DNG files and delete your originals it is reasonably safe to do so as long as you have confirmed that the DNG files are readable and have been backed up securely.

Frankly, if you’re not going to use Lightroom as the foundation of your full workflow for managing your photos, it might make more sense to find some other software you’re more comfortable with. However, I do think it is smart to avoid becoming too dependent on Lightroom.

Fortunately, with Lightroom it is relatively easy to adopt a workflow where you can leverage what Lightroom has to offer without creating a situation where it is very difficult to transition away from Lightroom at a later date. Photographers who adopted Apple Aperture for their image-management workflow, for example, can greatly appreciate the challenge involved in transitioning away from one software tool to another.

I recommend that you define a workflow that revolves around standard metadata fields, and then saving metadata updates to the image files themselves.

For example, instead of using collections in Lightroom as a key foundation of your organizational workflow, you might want to employ keywords. That way the keywords you add can still be available to any other image-management software you might use at a later date.

To save metadata to the image files on the hard drive, you can select all images in your Lightroom catalog and then choose Metadata > Save Metadata to Files from the menu. You can also have metadata updates saved to your files automatically by turning on the “Automatically write changes into XMP” checkbox in the Catalog Settings dialog (found on the Lightroom menu on Macintosh or the Edit menu on Windows).

My overall strategy involves retaining the original capture format from the camera, using a workflow that focuses on updating standard metadata fields (such as star ratings and keywords) rather than Lightroom-specific features (such as pick/reject flags and collections). I save the metadata to the files automatically, and also try to maintain an awareness of the current state of software so I can anticipate any issues that might require me to alter my workflow.