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The RGB Shuffle

In the article "The RAW File Shuffle" (DPP, September/October 2011), we took a look at the process of taking a RAW file to Photoshop for editing and then completing the round trip, bringing the file back to the Lightroom catalog again. This time, we look at that same process for RGB files, which is just a little bit different.

Fig. 1

The ability to have your cataloging tool manage your entire RAW library, together with all the derivative files that you create, is a godsend. On top of that, Lightroom takes care of the back and forth to Photoshop for editing, and in Adobe parlance, this is referred to as Lightroom’s integration with Photoshop. I admit that it sounds a bit complicated, but it’s not really. So what does "integration" mean? At the bottom line, all integration really means is that Lightroom will automate some of the asset management details, keeping track of the RGB files that you create and send back and forth to Photoshop.

Let’s start with the basics. First, it’s important to understand that for the most part, Lightroom treats RGB files very much the same way that it treats RAW files, meaning, it treats them nondestructively. There are subtle differences, such as the fact that by default, XMP settings are written into RGB files, rather than into a sidecar file in the case of read-only RAW files. But that’s about it. And the beauty of having the same nondestructive editing for all of your files is the flexibility that it gives you.

The downside of that flexibility is that your workflow choices become a bit more complicated. With power comes responsibility. When should you apply nondestructive changes to your RGB files in Lightroom, and when is it better to take them over to Photoshop and actually start pushing pixels around? And while the answer to this is a frustrating "it depends," understanding your options is the place to start.

When you select an RGB file in Lightroom and choose the Photo > Edit in Photoshop command, you get three options shown in the dialog box (Figure 1). Choosing any of the three options will send the file over to Photoshop, but each with very different results. The nice thing is that the fine print you see under each option actually tells the entire story.

Option 1: Edit A Copy With Lightroom Adjustments

Option 1: This option has two parts, and Lightroom does just what it says it will do. It makes an entirely new version of your RGB file on disk, baking in your Lightroom adjustments as it creates it. "Baking in" means those infinitely adjustable, nondestructive tweaks you’ve been making to the source file in Lightroom become sort of frozen in time and are locked into the new RGB pixels at the moment the new file is created. Once it’s opened in Photoshop, you can continue to modify and edit it, but then you’re in a completely different world, using different tools. When you save the file and return to Lightroom, the new copy comes in just as if it were a new import, having no Lightroom adjustment settings at all.

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