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Drag and Drop from Lightroom

I was asked recently whether you could drag and drop files from Lightroom onto a memory stick and this raised a few points that I thought were worthy of mentioning here.

Drag and Drop


To understand the question better, we need to have a better understanding of how Lightroom operates. So lets start with something that often confuses people new to Lightroom.. Where/How/When do I save my changes? (In short, changes stay in Lightroom until exported, so there is no need to ‘save’)

Lets have a quick example..

Before and After Jpeg

Before and After Jpeg

Here is a Jpeg image that I took back in 2005 in Peru. I have edited the image in Lightroom 4  and now I will drag the image from the Library module onto a USB Memory Stick (NB! this could be any drive).

Drag and drop image

Drag and drop image

Seems simple doesn’t it, but lets have a look at what got copied across to the Memory Stick..

Image dragged from Lightroom

Image dragged from Lightroom

As you can see from the image above, my Lightroom edits have not been applied to the photo of Machu Picchu. This is because my edit in Lightroom does not change the original Jpeg file, changes are stored in the Lightroom catalog and are only applied when you export the image from Lightroom.

So as it stands, yes you can drag and drop and image from Lightroom to the desktop or memory stick, BUT the Lightroom edit will not be applied to the image.

It should also be noted that when you drag and drop from Lightroom you are creating a copy of the image file rather than moving the original.

This is not the end of the story though..

If you are dragging and dropping a RAW file things get a little different, but only for DNG files. Many know that I prefer the DNG Raw file format over the native Canon/Nikon/Sony etc and one of the reasons is that the DNG files contain the Lightroom changes within the DNG file. All other RAW formats have a partner .xml file that holds all the Lightroom (or Adobe Camera Raw) Changes.

What this means in practice is that when dragging and dropping a .cr2 Raw file from Canon or a .nef file from Nikon within Lightroom.. only the original RAW data is copied to the new location. This means that like the Jpeg example above, none of the Lightroom changes will be applied to the copy.

DNG on the other hand, contains the xml data (Lightroom or ACR processing) within the same file.. so dragging and dropping a DNG file from Lightroom on to a Memory Stick actually does contain all those changes from Lightroom.

Before and After Lightroom Edit of DNG

Before and After Lightroom Edit of DNG

Above is a Lightroom edit of A DNG Image shot in Amsterdam.

Drag and Drop a DNG with Lightroom Edits

Drag and Drop a DNG with Lightroom Edits

Opening the copied DNG file in any RAW editor will show that the Lightroom edits have been applied to the copy.

DNG file in Adobe Camera Raw with applied Lightroom Changes

DNG file in Adobe Camera Raw with applied Lightroom Changes

So in summary, changes in Lightroom stay in Lightroom until you export the image, unless you are using the DNG file format.

it is important to understand that Lightroom never changes the underlying original image, it only layers instructions over the top of the original. ie Exposure -1, contrast +5. This means that your original image data is left intact and can always be recovered

I hope you have found this example useful and as always please add comments and questions below and spread the word via your favourite social media sites


NB! as kindly pointed out, the ‘Automatically write changes into XMP’ box needs to be ticked in the catalog settings for DNG files to copy with their edits






About Scot Baston (31 Articles)
Scot Baston is a Commercial & Wedding Photographer that lives on the south coast of Devon, that inspires much of his work. Whether it the technical or emotive sides, Photography is a passion that continues to challenge and inspire.

7 Comments on Drag and Drop from Lightroom

  1. Just to be clear, wouldn’t DNG files only bring the editing commands, captions, etc., if you’d selected the option to save metadata to files automatically or done so manually? Lightroom won’t fetch the data from its catalog and transfer it on its own, I suspect. Drag and drop just gets whatever is in the file, I believe, as with your examples of CR2 and JPEG files.

  2. Thanks Stephen, I have updated the post accordingly

  3. Useful tip Scot, but I can’t get it to work. All I get is a circle with a line through it when I try to drag an image onto a memory stick or anywhere for that matter. I had PS CS5 open and tried to drag the image from LR4 to there. I have a PC rather than a Mac, surely that doesn’t make a difference? There are comments about not being able to drag and drop on LR forums.

  4. Hi David,

    I have just tried dragging as TIFF and JPG file from LR4 into PS CS6 and it opened Adobe Camera Raw with both files.

    If this is not working for you then I would suggest it is either an issue with the Windows operating system or file permissions somewhere.

    I’m sorry, but I do not have a PC any more so I can’t investigate further.

  5. Hi Scot

    Thanks for your reply. I’ve opened LR as Administrator with no joy. I think it is a Windows issue judging by some of the comments I’ve found on forums.

  6. Not a problem David.. I could recommend switching to Mac to solve the problem 😉 but that would be too silly even for me

  7. It is my understanding that the PC does not support drag and drop in this case. Perhaps in any case. Its a Windows thing, not a LR thing.

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