An essential skill for any photographer to know is how to export photos from Lightroom. As you may have already discovered, Adobe Lightroom does not work like a regular photo editor such as Photoshop, Photoshop Elements or Affinity Photo. One of the main differences with Lightroom is the lack of a Save function. In all other software packages, you will find a Save and Save As option under the File menu. However, this Save option is conspicuously absent in Lightroom.

Rather than saving your photos, you export them. You can export your photos in a variety of different file formats and dimensions. Exporting provides the opportunity to create different versions of the same photo. So, you can have a high-resolution version for printing and a low-resolution version for sharing by email or uploading to the internet. The main advantages of exporting versus saving are:

  1. Being able to “save” new versions of many edited images at once. Exporting automates the process of saving images, allowing you to save any number of images in one go. You no longer need to save one image at a time;
  2. The exporting dialogue provides you with far more options than a Save As dialogue. During an export process, you can change filenames, sequentially number images, alter metadata, add watermarking, change file dimensions and quality as well as several other parameters;
  3. Exporting ensures that you can never overwrite the original image. Exporting can only create copies of the edited images.

There are many options for exporting your photos from Adobe Lightroom Classic and in this article, I’ll walk you through the process for:

  1. Exporting a high-resolution image, suitable for printing;
  2. Exporting a low-resolution image, ideal for sharing via email or the internet.

When you export photos from Adobe Lightroom Classic, you create new files that include all the adjustments you made in the Develop module as well as any changes you made to the metadata in the Library module.

First, let’s take a look at the Export dialogue box.

Export Dialogue Box

The Export dialogue box in Adobe Lightroom contains all the panels and options available for exporting photos. The vast choice of export options can make this dialogue box overwhelming, but I will step you through the two export options. The two export scenarios I have chosen are the most common export options.Export Photos from Lightroom dialogue box

  1. The location photos will be exported to;
  2. The folder on the hard drive that the images will be exported to;
  3. Option to create a subfolder of the one selected in option 2 above;
  4. Here you can rename the files as they export;
  5. This section allows you to pick the file type;
  6. You set the photo dimensions and quality in this tab;
  7. You can add output sharpening here;
  8. This section will enable you to select an action to perform after the photos have been exported;
  9. Finally, the Export button.

Each of these panels will be explained in the sections below. In the last section, I will encourage you to explore some of the other panels in more detail.

Export Photos from Lightroom Suitable for Printing

When you export photos from Lightroom intended for printing, you want them to be very high quality. High quality and high-resolution files will yield better prints. The majority of the time, you will export in the JPEG format. Let me show you.

To export high-quality print images:

Select the photos you want to export by clicking once on each thumbnail. You will find it easier to select your images if you view them in the grid view. You can easily switch to the grid view by pressing G on the keyboard.

With your images selected, choose File > Export, or click on the Export button at the bottom left of the Library module. Ensure that Hard Drive is selected in the pop-up menu at the top of the Export dialogue box. The dialogue box will also display the number of files you have chosen for export.Export Photos from Lightroom dialogue box showing number of images to be exported

In the Export Location panel, click on the drop-down box to select from one of the location options.Export Photos from Lightroom export location options

The first two options (Specific folder and Same folder as original photo) are the most useful and the most used.

  • Clicking on the Specific folder option will open your computer’s file browser where you can select any folder on any connected drive;
  • If you choose Same folder as original photo, the exported image will be saved alongside the original(s). Selecting this option can result in a disorganised folder structure on your computer, but it is the option I often prefer, with one addition;
  • Choose Same folder as original photo and select the Put in subfolder option.

Type a name for your new subfolder. Creating subfolders is my preferred option because it keeps the Raw files and the edited photos in the same location but separated. However, you are free to create your own filing system.Export Location Options

To rename all of the selected images as you export them, open the File Naming panel, and select Rename To. Now from the drop-down list, select Custom Name – Sequence.Export Photos from Lightroom renaming options

With Custom Name – Sequence chosen, you can now type in the Custom Text field and change the Start Number to any number you wish.

Export Photos from Lightroom File Naming options

As the selected image files are exported, they will be renamed to match your custom text, and each will have a sequential number added to the end of their file name. At the bottom of the File Naming panel, Lightroom shows you a sample of how the files will be named after export.

We will skip the Video panel and open the File Settings panel. The File Settings panel is where you will choose the file type and adjust the settings associated with your selected file type. Each file type has different settings. We will select JPEG as the Image Format and 100 for the Quality. Export Photos from Lightroom selecting JPEG option

The Color Space will be set to sRGB, and the Limit File Size To box will be left unchecked. These JPEG settings will give us the highest quality file for printing.Export Photos from Lightroom JPEG quality settings

The next step is to ensure we are not resizing the image. Keeping the image at its full resolution will also ensure we get the best possible print. In the Image Sizing panel, ensure Resize To Fit is unchecked and the Resolution is set to 300 and pixels per inch is selected from the drop-down box.Export Photos from Lightroom image sizing options

In the Output Sharpening panel, check the Sharpen For box and select the appropriate output media. In this example, we are exporting for printing. Choose either Matte Paper or Glossy Paper.Export Photos from Lightroom Output Sharpening options

Do not confuse Output Sharpening with the sharpening you may have applied during the developing process. Output Sharpening will determine how much sharpening should be applied to an image after it has been resized and converted to a specific file format. For our example, Lightroom will apply the appropriate sharpening for our JPEG image at 100% quality with 300 pixels per inch. Had we chosen different settings, Lightroom would apply a different amount of sharpening. In short, Lightroom calculates the correct amount of Output Sharpening based on all the export settings.

We will skip Metadata and Watermarking and move directly to Post-Processing. In the Post-Processing panel, select Show in Explorer (Windows) or Show in Finder (MacOS).Export Photos from Lightroom Post-processing options

Click on Export. Your selected images will export with all the settings we chose. When the export task completes, your computer’s operating system will open Explorer (Windows) or Finder (MacOS) at the selected export location.

The JPEG images can now be printed or uploaded to a lab for printing. However, the file sizes will be too big for sharing. So let’s have a look at the different export settings for creating images that are good for sharing.

Export Photos for Social Sharing

The process for exporting images for social sharing is similar to the export process used for printing. The only differences are in the Export Location, File Settings, Image Sizing and Output Sharpening panels.

It is advisable to place the images you intend to use for sharing in a separate folder to prevent confusion. I create a subfolder called Web or Sharing.

Export Photos from Lightroom Export Location options

Change the setting in the File Naming panel in the same way as you did in the last example. Skip the Video panel.

In the File Settings panel, change the Quality slider to somewhere between 60 and 70. The lower the number, the smaller the file size will be. But, smaller values produce an image with a reduced quality. Therefore, choosing a value of between 60 and 70 is a good compromise of file size versus image quality.

In the Image Sizing panel, we will reduce the dimensions of the image. This reduction in dimension will also contribute to a reduction in file size. Each social media platform has information on its ideal dimensions for images – you can click here for full details.

But, let’s not overcomplicate the process. I find that resizing the Long Edge of the image to 1024 pixels is always sufficient.

    1. Check the Resize to Fit box;
    2. Select Long Edge from the drop-down box;
    3. Type 1024 in the dialogue box and select pixels from the adjacent drop-down list;
    4. Change Resolution to 72 pixels per inch. Technically the resolution setting has no effect when the image is uploaded or viewed on a screen, but it may help to keep the file size down.

Export Photos from Lightroom Image sizing options

The final difference is to change the Output Sharpening to Screen and leave the Amount at Standard. The settings are unchanged for the remaining panels. Click on Export, and you now have images that can be easily shared by email or uploaded to social media sites.

Lightroom Mobile App

If you are syncing between Lightroom Classic CC and the Lightroom mobile app, it may not be necessary to export images for social sharing. You only need to add the images to a Collection in Lightroom Classic CC and sync the Collection. Once syncronised, you can now use the mobile app to share the images directly to social media or email.

Next Steps

Exporting photos from Lightroom Classic CC gives you a lot of automation options and possibilities. The two examples described in this article are just that – examples. I would encourage you to experiment and try some of the panels that I did not explain. Here are three tasks for you to experiment with:

  1. In the File Settings panel, export one image for each of the file types found in the Image Format drop-down: JPEG; PSD; TIFF; and DNG. Once exported, note the difference between the file sizes of each format;
  2. In the File Sizing panel, export several versions of the same file using different Resize to Fit options. Again, note the final file sizes;
  3. Add a text watermark to a selection of images.

Once you have created the additional images from the three tasks, use Lightroom’s Library module to import the newly exported images. Once imported, use the Library module to delete the freshly exported images from your computer disk.

Conclusion

The dialogue box for exporting photos from Lightroom Classic CC can be overwhelming at first. But, with time and a lot of experimentation, it becomes intuitive and extremely versatile.

This article has only introduced the Export dialogue, and I would encourage you to experiment by trying as many of its options as you can. 

Please comment and let us know your thoughts on this article.