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Lightroom to Photoshop and back


When to edit in Photoshop and the best way to do it

For many photographers, using Photoshop is a daunting experience. They use Lightroom, make their adjustments and they are good to go. But what about those times when Lightroom just doesn’t cut it? Photoshop to the rescue. I want to outline the various methods of workflow between Lightroom and Photoshop and what the benefits and drawbacks are of each method.

Method 1 – Export

I typically save this as my last step in my editing workflow and it is solely for exporting my JPEG images for clients/web/etc. However many photographers export from Lightroom and never go back into the catalog. While this method does work, you lose some functionality that I find useful.

Pros: Exporting is easy and you can build a preset for it.

Cons: You are now managing additional files outside of Lightroom. Any Pick Flags used in Lightroom are lost.

dave doeppel shows Lightroom 5 external editor preferencesPIN

Lightroom 5 External Editing preferences

Method 2: Edit in Photoshop

This is the method I use most often. This method sends the image from Lightroom directly to Photoshop. It creates a new file based on settings in Preferences→External Editing. Like everything in Lightroom, you can create multiple settings for editing in external programs, not just Photoshop. In the example you see in the screenshot I have External Editing templates for not only my default editor, Photoshop CC 2014, but for the Nik software modules as well. The image is exported to whatever format you selected and sent to Photoshop as a Background Layer.


Pros: Seamless round trip to Photoshop or another application and back into Lightroom, image is stacked with the original. Flags and ratings are maintained.

Cons: Any adjustments you made in Lightroom are permanently baked into this image once you send it to Photoshop. So if you decide later you don’t like something you did, you would need to go back to Lightroom, make your changes and then send it back to Photoshop.

Method 3: Edit in Photoshop as Smart Object

Dave doeppel lightroom adjusmtments adobe camera rawPIN

Lightroom Adjustments shown in Adobe Camera Raw

I should probably use this method more often than I do. This is the ultimate in Non-Destructive Workflow. Using this method, the image gets sent to Photoshop as a Smart Object. It makes a connection to the original RAW file. You can now double click on the Smart Object layer and it will launch Adobe Camera Raw. You will see any develop settings you had originally applied in Lightroom. You can now adjust them to make any changes. You can do this as often as you want.


Pros: Same Pros as Method 2. Additional benefit in Photoshop is the ability to double click the Smart Object and get back to Adobe Camera Raw to make adjustments. Brings the initial adjustments over from Lightroom. You can make unlimited adjustments.

Cons: The adjustments you make in the Smart Object are only held in the new TIFF/PSD and not back in your original RAW file in Lightroom


When should you use Photoshop?

This is a very subjective question. The key factor in deciding when to go to Photoshop is whether you need to do pixel level manipulation. Lightroom is very global even with its Local Adjustment Tools, it can still not get in to the level you can in Photoshop.

If you need to use a specific filter like Liquify or Plug-ins like Portraiture, then you need to go to Photoshop.

If you have certain Actions you use, you may not necessarily have to go into Photoshop. There is a way to build an Action into a Photoshop Droplet and use that from Lightroom. Is a bit complex to get it setup correctly. I’ll have a future article on exactly how to make that work. So just going to Photoshop to run them is quick and painless.

So bottom line is if you don’t need to do major skin retouching or use one of the built in filters like Liquify, you can probably tackle 90% of your editing and retouching right in Lightroom.

Dave Doeppel

Dave is the owner of LA Pinups, specializing in Pinup and Boudoir Portraits in Los Angeles. He has always been a fan of Pinup and Burlesque. He is also an Adobe Certified Expert in Lightroom 4/5 and Photoshop CC and loves teaching photographers how to manage their images efficiently from ingesting through export.

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