If Photoshop is installed, it should automatically be available under the Photo menu > Edit In or in the right-click menu. But what about other external editors? How can you automatically send photos from Lightroom to On1, Topaz, Luminar, Nik Collection and other photo editing software?
Plug-ins and Presets
As Lightroom is so popular, many editing tools come with plug-ins or external editor presets that automatically installed for you. If they’ve been automatically installed, they can usually be found under the File menu > Plug-in Extras, Photo menu > Edit in or File menu > Export as Preset.
But what if your software didn’t come with an automated solution? Don’t worry, Lightroom can automatically prepare a TIFF, PSD or JPG and pass it to the alternative software.
How do I create my own external editor preset?
To create your own external editor, go to Lightroom’s Preferences dialog, under the Edit menu (Windows) / Lightroom menu (Mac) and select the External Editing tab.
- The top half of the dialog sets Photoshop’s file settings. In the bottom half of the dialog, click Choose and navigate to the program’s exe file (Windows) / app (Mac).
- Select other preferences below. We’ll go into more detail below, but TIFF is a good choice for file format, and 8-bit vs. 16-bit depends on your specific editor. If your software is fully color-managed, select ProPhoto RGB. Otherwise select sRGB.
- In the Preset pop-up, select Save Settings as New Preset and give your editor a name. (You’ll find Update and Delete in the same pop-up, if you want to clean up old external editor presets.)
Which file format should I use?
The first pop-up, File Format, determines the file type that’s passed to the external editor.
TIFF is publicly documented, more efficient when updating metadata, compatible with a wide range of software, and can contain almost everything that PSD’s do. It’s generally considered the best choice for external edits. ZIP compression is a good choice for most current external editors.
PSD is Adobe’s proprietary format. It’s well supported by other applications, as long as you check Maximize Compatibility. However, it’s generally considered an older format now, so even Adobe are recommending TIFFs instead of PSD files now. Some plug-ins, such as On1 software, prefer PSD format.
JPEG is only available for secondary external editors, as some (rare!) editing programs are unable to work with TIFF or PSD files. It’s a lossy format, so it’s not a great choice for external edits.
Which color space should I select?
Files are automatically color managed in Lightroom. When you pass them to another editor, you’ll need to choose a working space using the Color Space pop-up. Here’s a list of the options and the differences:
ProPhoto RGB is the best choice if your external editor is color managed, as it preserves the widest range of color information. ProPhoto RGB doesn’t play well with 8-bit though. This is because you’d be trying to squeeze a large gamut into a small bit depth. This can lead to banding, so stick with 16-bit while using ProPhoto RGB.
Adobe RGB is a smaller color space, but it’s a good choice if your external editor can only handle 8-bit files (or you’re saving as JPEG).
sRGB is the smallest color space available, so it’s not ideal for external editors.
Display P3 is a wide gamut color space used on the latest Apple devices. It’s a similar size to Adobe RGB, but it’s shifted slightly towards reds/oranges and loses some of the greens/blues. It’s primarily useful when exporting photos for display on the latest Apple devices.
8-bit or 16-bit?
The next pop-up is Bit Depth. To the right, you’ll notice a note that says 16-bit ProPhoto RGB is the officially recommended choice for best preserving color details from Lightroom. But what does that actually mean?
Every photo is made up of pixels. In an RGB photo, each pixel has a Red, a Green and a Blue channel. In an 8-bit photo, each of those channels has a value from 0-255.
If you need to make any significant tonal changes, you only have a maximum of 256 levels per channel to play with. For example, if you’ve significantly underexposed the photo, all the detail may be in the first 128 levels. As you correct the exposure, you stretch the detail out to fill the full 0-255 range, but you can’t create new data. The missing data display as gaps in the histogram.
The gaps may not be visible on an average photo, but they display as banding (or steps) on photos with smooth gradients. An example of this would be a sky at sunset (see photo below). A 16-bit photo, on the other hand, has 65,536 levels per channel, so you can manipulate and stretch it without worrying about losing too much data.
The downside to 16-bit is that all that extra data takes up more space on your hard drive, so in the real world, it’s not always quite so clear cut. 16-bit files can only be saved as TIFF or PSD, not JPEG, and the file sizes are much bigger than an 8-bit high quality JPEG. Often there’s very little, if any, visible difference to the untrained eye on a small print. A Canon 5D Mk2 file is around 126 MB (16-bit TIFF), 63 MB (8-bit TIFF), but less than 15 MB for a maximum quality 8-bit JPEG. That’s a big difference on a large volume of files!
So the reality is you may want to weigh it up on a case-by-case basis. Everything’s a trade-off. If you’re producing a fine art print, 16-bit would be an excellent choice to preserve as much detail as possible. Or if you’re going to take a file into Photoshop and make massive tonal changes, 16-bit would be an excellent choice, giving greater latitude for adjustments. If you’re just doing light retouching on a large volume of files, 8-bit JPEG could be a far more efficient choice. You can always re-export from Lightroom as a 16-bit file if you find a photo which would benefit, such as a photo exhibiting banding in the sky, or similar.
Which resolution should I select?
When editing the photos in external editors, your choice of resolution doesn’t really matter. All of the pixels (less any cropped pixels) are passed to the external editor. There are a few cases where you might want to select a specific resolution, for example, when you’re running a Photoshop action that uses specific measurements.
How do I change the file name and location?
By default, Lightroom saves the edited file in the same folder as the original. It simply adds -Edit to the end of the filename to show that it’s a derivative file. You can change -Edit to another file naming template of your choice at the bottom of the Preferences dialog > External Editing tab.
How do I use the extra editor?
To send a photo to the external editor, select the photo, go to Photo menu > Edit In or right-click > Edit In and select the editor of your choice.
When you’ve finished editing, save and close the file. As long as Lightroom has remained open in the background, the edited file is updated in your Lightroom catalog, alongside the original. Beware though, if you choose to Save As a different filename, file type or location, you’ll need to import the edited photo as Lightroom will have only added the copy it created.
Setting up and using an external editor is as simple as that! But what if you want to change the file name to identify each editor? Or perhaps you wanted the edited photos to be stored in a different folder? Or what if you need to pass a video to some video editing software? We’ll cover that next time…
For extensive information on Lightroom Classic, see Adobe Lightroom Classic – The Missing FAQ.
If you have the Photography Plan, then as well as Classic you have access to the Lightroom cloud ecosystem including the mobile apps and web interface. For more information on these apps, see Adobe Lightroom – Edit Like a Pro.
Note: purchase of these books includes the first year’s Classic or cloud-based Premium Membership (depending on the book purchased), giving access to download the latest eBook (each time Adobe updates the software), email assistance for the applicable Lightroom version if you hit a problem, and other bonuses.
We also have a special bundle offer for the two books. This includes Premium Membership for the first year as described above for the whole Lightroom family!