Today’s Question: When exporting some photos I was going to share online I noticed an option I hadn’t seen before, which enables you to add the exported photos back to the catalog. Since the original photos are in the catalog, why would I want to add the exported copies to the catalog?
Tim’s Quick Answer: In general, I recommend that you not add photos that are exported from Lightroom Classic back to your catalog. The only situations where I recommend adding exported photos to the catalog is when you want to be able to manage derivative images, such as copies of source photos used to produce prints at varying sizes.
More Detail: When you export a photo from Lightroom Classic you are making a copy based on the source photo. That exported copy will include, for example, any adjustments you applied in the Develop module. You can also resize the image to specific dimensions during export, such as when you want to create a lower-resolution copy of an image to share online, or when you want to resize for a specific printed output size.
There is also an option to add the exported copy of the image to the catalog by turning on the “Add to This Catalog” checkbox in the Export Location section of the Export dialog. Keep in mind that enabling this option will add the image to the catalog based on the location where the exported image is created, which is often a folder location other than where the source image is stored.
For example, if you export an image to a folder on the desktop within your operating system so it is convenient to locate the file and put it to use. If the image had been added back to the catalog as part of the export process, this folder on the desktop would be reflected within your catalog.
Of course, that also means that if you delete the image or folder from the desktop, it will appear as a missing photo within your Lightroom Classic catalog. And having a derivative copy of a photo in the catalog along with the source image can create a bit of clutter that can lead to confusion about which image you should be using for a given purpose.
So, my general preference and recommendation is to not add photos back to the catalog when exporting a copy of the source photo. Instead, I prefer to return to the source image whenever I need to create a derivative copy. But again, in some cases it may be helpful to manage derivative images within your catalog in addition to the source image. Just be careful not to let that approach lead to confusion due to having more than one copy of the same image in your catalog.