Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic does not alter the actual pixels inside of your original digital image no matter what you do inside of this powerful program. When you make a change to one of your images in Lightroom Classic’s Develop Module, for example, you are not actually changing any pixels in your original capture.
Every time you move a slider in Lightroom and make a change to the appearance of a photo, Lightroom is simply assigning a new set of instructions to that file behind the scenes. These instructions tell Lightroom to show the photo brighter or the colors more saturated (as examples), and this data is stored in the Lightroom Catalog file. These instructions can also be written into your image files themselves as Metadata. (More on this shortly.)
Needless to say, the Develop Module instructions (Metadata) are very important because they represent all of the changes that you have made to your image’s appearance within Lightroom Classic. But the importance of Metadata goes way beyond just the Develop Module. Almost all of the descriptive information that you can add to your images in Lightroom’s Library and Map Modules are also types of Metadata. Essential organizational features like your copyright info, keywords, star ratings, and colored labels are all Metadata annotations.
Telling Lightroom to save your changes
Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic lets you decide when to save your work. Unlike most other programs, with Lightroom you have three choices determining when and where your work is saved.
- You can choose to save your work only at the Lightroom Catalog level (not recommended).
- You can choose to save your work within your actual images when you manually trigger the Save Metadata to File Command while still keeping a copy of your work within your Lightroom Catalog (.lrcat) file.
- You can set Adobe Photoshop Lightroom so that all of your work is automatically, and continuously, saved for you into your image files and also stored within your Lightroom Catalog (.lrcat) file by turning on the Automatically Write Changes Into XMP Catalog Settings preference switch.
If you are new to this program, then I strongly recommend turning on the Automatically Write Changes Into XMP option. This option in Adobe’s menu should have been called “Auto-Save.” If you turn this option ON then all of your metadata, including your Develop Module changes, will be automatically written into your images. Think of this as if it were a constant “save my work right now” option!
If you do not turn this switch on, then your Metadata, including your Develop Module improvements, will not be written into your image files until you manually invoke Lightroom to “Save Metadata to File”. Failure to save your changes down to the file level will cause you enormous problems if your Lightroom Catalog ever gets corrupted or destroyed and you do not have a robust backup system.
This is why I strongly recommend that you choose to Automatically Write Changes Into XMP. Note that by doing this, you are still not changing any pixels in your original image, you are simply writing the changes you’ve made as Metadata attached to the image file behind the scenes.
Important Warning: Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic is a great program but it is not a backup plan! Nothing in this program will help you if your hard drive fails. For more advice on this important topic please read our complete tutorial on Professional-Grade Backup Plans.
Note: There are a few features of Lightroom that cannot be saved anywhere but within the Lightroom Catalog file. Features like Pick / Reject Flags, Virtual Copies, and Collections cannot be saved outside of your Lightroom Catalog. These features cannot be saved down to the image’s XMP data block because these items are Lightroom specific features and they are not types of Metadata.