Layers Lost After Lightroom Edit


Today’s Question: If you send a photo from Lightroom [cloud-focused version] to Photoshop and create layers, then do a Lightroom adjustment on the Photoshop file, all the layers are gone! This is terrible! Is there any way around this? This issue alone would prevent me from ever using Lightroom.

Tim’s Quick Answer: In this scenario the original layers aren’t actually lost, but rather a new flattened copy of the image is created. You could go back to the prior version of the image to get back to the layers, but that version won’t reflect the Lightroom adjustments. I would agree that this is an issue that can cause confusion and frustration.

More Detail: Both Lightroom and Lightroom Classic support the option to send an image to Photoshop for editing. However, they operate differently, and it is important to understand what to expect when including Photoshop in a workflow that revolves around Lightroom or Lightroom Classic.

In both cases, if you send a raw capture to Photoshop the result will be a new image, saved as either a Photoshop PSD or TIFF file. You can use layers and all other features within Photoshop before saving and closing the file. The resulting derivative image will be saved alongside the original and reflected in Lightroom or Lightroom Classic.

If you send the derivative image back to Photoshop without making any changes in Lightroom, then you’ll be right back to your layered image, just as you left it. However, if you had adjusted the derivative image in Lightroom, when you send that image back to Photoshop it will be a flattened copy of the original derivative image. That can be a bit alarming and can certainly be frustrating.

However, that flattened version is actually an additional copy of the original image. In fact, with Lightroom every time you send an image to Photoshop a new copy is created. If there were no Lightroom adjustments applied, the copy will retain the layers. If there were adjustments applied the copy will be flattened so it can reflect the adjustments from Lightroom.

In Lightroom Classic you have the option to choose “Edit Original” when you send a derivative image back to Photoshop. If you use this option the layers will remain intact, but any adjustments you applied in the Develop module on the derivative image will not be visible while you’re working in Photoshop.

With Lightroom the only way to continue working with the layered image is to be sure not to apply any adjustments in Lightroom. That obviously isn’t really an ideal workaround, but it does help avoid the potential confusion that exists in Lightroom Classic where you need to choose between three options when sending a derivative image to Photoshop.

So, in Lightroom the layers aren’t really lost, they’re just preserved in an earlier copy of the image. That may or may not be a problem depending on your workflow needs and personal preferences. But I do agree it would be much better if Lightroom behaved the same way as Lightroom Classic in this regard, so you could choose how to deal with derivative images in this context.