Today’s Question: After completing a lot of adjustments [in Lightroom], where do I find my original?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Because Lightroom employs a non-destructive workflow, your original capture remains unaltered on your local storage. In addition, you can always reset the adjustments (perhaps using a virtual copy as part of this process) to return to Lightroom’s original version of your capture.
More Detail: One of the features of Lightroom that is arguably one of the most important features is a non-destructive workflow for optimizing your photos. Note, by the way, that this same non-destructive workflow is applicable in Adobe Camera Raw.
A non-destructive workflow means that your original capture is not actually altered when you apply adjustments to an image. In the context of Lightroom, what that means is that all of your adjustments are really just metadata updates, preserved in your Lightroom catalog (and possibly in an XMP sidecar for your raw captures if you have chosen to save metadata out to the image files).
As a result, you could always return to your original capture by navigating directly to the applicable image on your hard drive. Of course, in the context of a Lightroom-based workflow, you would not really want to work directly with your image files (unless you’re very careful about how you approach the task).
You can, however, create a virtual copy so you can have a non-adjusted version of the photo in question. Naturally you could simply use the “before and after” view option if you just wanted to see what the original looked like. In the Develop module, for example, you can press the backslash key (\) on the keyboard to switch between the “before” and “after” versions of the current photo.
A virtual copy enables you to have two (or more) versions of a photo in Lightroom. To create a virtual copy, simply right-click on the image and choose “Create Virtual Copy” from the popup menu that appears.
Assuming you’ve already applied adjustments to the image, the new virtual copy will include those adjustments. If so, you can then select the new virtual copy and then click the “Reset” button at the bottom of the right panel in the Develop module to reset the virtual copy (or the original) to the original interpretation of the image with no additional adjustments applied.
In this way you can have an adjusted version as well as an “original” version of the image, switching back and forth as needed. Note, of course, that even with all of the adjustments in Lightroom reset to the defaults, you’re still seeing Lightroom’s default interpretation of the original image, which is certainly not the same result you would achieve if you used, for example, the software from the manufacturer of your camera to interpret the same raw capture.