Today’s Question: Do you export photos that you have changed in the Develop module [in Lightroom]?
Tim’s Quick Answer: I do not export copies of my photos from Lightroom unless I specifically need a new image file for some purpose, such as to share the image with others. That said, I do understand the motivation of some photographers to export images in order to preserve their adjusted images beyond the Lightroom catalog.
More Detail: When you apply adjustments in Lightroom, by default the adjustment settings are only saved in the Lightroom catalog, and do not alter the original image file on your hard drive. That is a good thing in terms of providing a non-destructive workflow, but it also means you are dependent upon the Lightroom catalog for the information about the “final” appearance of your optimized photos.
You can save the metadata for your images out to the actual image files, which will include the adjustment data from the Develop module. This can be done by enabling the option to automatically write changes to XMP, found in the Catalog Settings dialog, or by choosing Metadata > Save Metadata to File from the menu (for selected images).
The shortcoming of this approach is that the adjustments that would be preserved in this manner can only be understood by Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw. In other words, if the reason you were preserving this adjustment information was to provide an alternative in case you could no longer use these Adobe applications (such as canceling your Creative Cloud subscription) you would effectively lose your adjustments.
For this reason, some photographers prefer to export a full-resolution TIFF image from Lightroom for the images they optimize (or at least their most important among those images). This provides a high-quality copy of the image with all Lightroom adjustments included, that can be opened with virtually any image-editing software.
While I’m generally paranoid when it comes to protecting my photographs, my feeling is that if I ever decided to discontinue my use of Lightroom I could simply export copies of my photos in bulk at that time, in order to preserve the adjustments from Lightroom for my photos. But I certainly understand those who want to perform this work along the way, rather than taking a risk of potentially losing the adjustments for their images.