Limits of Non-Destructive Workflow


Today’s Question: Can you inadvertently destroy your raw image file in Lightroom Classic or Bridge? I heard you can never destroy your original.

Tim’s Quick Answer: While both Lightroom Classic and Adobe Bridge have an overall non-destructive workflow, it is still possible to destroy the original raw capture, such as if the file gets corrupted or if you delete the original image.

More Detail: Lightroom Classic is relatively well known as having a non-destructive workflow, and Adobe Bridge and Photoshop can also be generally regarded as non-destructive in the context of a raw capture (though Photoshop can absolutely be “destructive” with other image file types).

Non-destructive in this context simply means that the source file is not altered in any way by the software. When you apply adjustments to a raw capture the source file is not updated. That file is simply used as the basis for generating pixels, such as when you open the image in Photoshop or export the image from Lightroom Classic.

However, there are ways that a raw capture can be damaged or lost. File corruption can occur in a variety of ways, generally caused by hardware or software errors when the raw capture is written. It is possible for raw captures to be corrupted at the time of capture when written to the media card, when copied from that media card to your hard drive, or when moved from one location to another.

In addition, there are certain cases where a raw capture file might actually be damaged even with software that is generally “non-destructive”. For example, in Lightroom Classic it is possible to enable the option to write capture time changes back to the original raw capture, as opposed to only having that update reflected in the Lightroom Classic catalog or to an XMP “sidecar” file.

In addition, with both Adobe Bridge and Lightroom Classic (among other software tools or even with your operating system) it is possible to delete a raw capture, which of course represents the ultimate destruction of a raw capture. While it isn’t likely that a file would be deleted accidentally, it is certainly possible, which helps underscore the importance of a consistent and effective backup workflow.