Are You Making These Lightroom and Photoshop Mistakes?

Are You Making These Lightroom and Photoshop Mistakes?

If you're like me and primarily use Lightroom Classic for your photo editing, you probably occasionally edit a photo in Photoshop. If you do, you might be making the same Photoshop file mistakes I made.

The typical workflow, in this case, is that you right-click on a photo in Lightroom, select "Edit In," and then choose one of the following from the context menu:

  • Edit in Adobe Photoshop CC 2019
  • Open as Smart Object in Photoshop
  • Merge to Panorama in Photoshop
  • Merge to HDR Pro in Photoshop

Selecting one of these opens the photo(s) in Photoshop. You then do whatever it is that you need to do and then either close the image or exit Photoshop. Photoshop asks you if you want to save the image, which you confirm, and you're back in Lightroom with your Photoshop edited photo next to your previous photo(s). The file format Photoshop uses to save the image is determined by your Lightroom settings (more on that below).

If you make the same mistakes I did, you end up with a giant TIFF file — a gigabyte TIFF file.

Mistake 1: Not Merging Layers

I've done this several times. If your settings in Lightroom are to save Photoshop edits as TIFF files, before you exit Photoshop, you should flatten your image by going to the Layer menu and selecting Flatten Image. This step is especially important when you have sent multiple photos to Photoshop as layers, such as when doing a focus stack, panorama, or HDR merge. The TIFF file format supports layers, so if you don't flatten the image, you'll end up with a huge file.

This step can be a personal preference depending upon whether or not you intend to edit this file again later in Photoshop.

Original pano stitch TIFF file (1.29 GB) versus flattened layers TIFF file with zip compression (335 MB), shown in the Photoshop Layers panel.

Mistake 2: TIFF Compression

I'm not sure what the default compression setting is for TIFF files in the "Edit in Adobe Photoshop CC 2019" preference in Lightroom, but I often choose "Save As" in Photoshop and specify the filename manually, such as "20191010_029_Pano.tif," "20191010_029_Stack.tif," or "20191010_029_Edit.tif." This technique also allows me to choose the compression for the TIFF file, but this is where I previously made the mistake of choosing LZW compression.

When using Save As during the save process, Photoshop allows you to choose one of the following compression options: None, LZW, Zip, and JPEG. My mistake was selecting LZW. The LZW compression algorithm was designed for 8-bit images and results in 16-bit images having a larger file size (yes, like 20-30% larger), which explains why the setting in Lightroom only allows for the specification of None or Zip compression. The larger size for LZW isn't a bug, it's just the way the LZW algorithm works.

I would not suggest using JPEG compression, because it is a lossy form of compression and will result in the loss of detail in the image, which is primarily why you're using TIFF to begin with, to preserve image quality.

The use of 8-bit would decrease the number of colors in the image, so you would only want to use that if your final image requires it. If you're not sure, stick with 16-bit, or you're likely to see artifacts and banding in your image.

It's worthy to note that LZW and Zip compression is lossless, so there's no need to worry about image quality. Zip compression results in the smallest file size, but can take longer to save.

A comparison of a Canon 5D Mark IV 30 MP photo saved at the various bit level and compression types.

Mistake 3: Crop Extra Layer Image Area

If you're doing a sky replacement or working with multiple images as layers, you may have additional image data outside of the image canvas that can contribute to a larger file size. Unless you want to save this image information for later, select all of the layer and then crop it.

Again, this will only be applicable if you're not worried about preserving the layers for future changes.

Mistake 4: Assuming You Have to Use the Default File Format

The "Edit in Adobe Photoshop CC 2019" preferences in Lightroom under the "External Editing" tab are just the default settings that Photoshop uses if you close the image and choose to save it. Photoshop doesn't prompt you to select a file format or options; Photoshop saves it with those options and returns the image to Lightroom.

Here's a tip: You can override that setting from Photoshop. You can save to whatever format Lightroom supports (JPG, TIFF, PNG, PSD) by simply choosing Save As from the File menu and then exiting Photoshop or closing the image. You can even use the Save As command in Photoshop to save the image multiple times in different formats (like PSD, PNG, or TIFF) and/or with different file names, and each time you do, the image is automatically imported back into Lightroom alongside the original photo (If you have the "Stack With Original" option checked).

Lightroom Preferences dialog, External Editing tab, and the Photoshop settings.

Maybe you have an image that you want to try multiple sky replacements on. You could choose to save the image as a PSD file and then edit a copy later for a different sky. There are quite a few different scenarios where you might want to use a different file format than the original.


If you're trying to save disk space, you may want to use these tips when editing your photos in Photoshop from Lightroom. Personally, most of my Photoshop edits from Lightroom are what I consider permanent. What I mean by that is that I don't intend to go back and change anything. Most of the time, my changes are so small that if I wanted to redo something, I would just redo it from the original raw file(s).

Have you made this mistake with TIFF files? Do you have any space-saving tips? Let me know in the comments!

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David Schwartz's picture

I’ve definitely done most of these things! Here’s something else that happens to me all the time when editing in Photoshop:

Sometimes I use Calculations for converting color photos to B&W. Now you’d think that this would automatically set the image to grayscale, but it does not. You have to manually do this, otherwise the image reverts to color when you save it. I’ve driven myself crazy trying to find the B&W photo I just saved seconds before!

Gion-Andri Derungs's picture

Nope I don't. I do not use any of these tools...

Alan Klughammer's picture

I would suggest saving your photoshop files as layered PSD's. If you need a TIF or JPG, you can export one from Lightroom. By flattening your photoshop files, you lose any ability to go back and tweak. Yes a layered PSD is bigger than a flattened image. by that logic, just shoot jpg's.
Storage is cheap. I built my 12TB NAS for under $2000, and I can use it for much more than backing up my photos.

Alexander Grotepass's picture

Thank you. I just wanted to say that. The article seems a bit "clickbaity" to me because this is IMHO not a "mistake you make" but instead a personal preference if you struggle with performance and / or storage capacity.

I for myself don't merge down Layers in Photoshop if I want to edit them later.
For example: My Lightroom Library does not delete my edits because I recently went back to old pictures to edit them better. That would not be possible if I would have flattened and killed my history of my edit.
Yes, it takes up space. But again: Storage is cheap and a 2TB HDD costs 50-60 bucks. No big deal.

I just edited a 15 picture Panorama which basically kills my Photoshop because it fills up my RAM and sometimes Photoshop crashes. Lightroom can't use the "Large file format" PSB-File so I exported it as 100% Jpeg (130MB) and 50%. Saved the 2.5GB PSB-File aswell because I might want to edit the uncompressed file later.

Robert Molan's picture

I agree if you want to go back and tweak you need to keep the layers, I would stay with TIFF format over PSD for larger images and more layers (depending on the layer type) due to the larger file size supported.

Ryan Bruce's picture

I wish a had Photoshop and the rest. Unfortunately I do not so I have to make the best of each picture.

Mike Ditz's picture


Jasper Hof's picture

Woops.. interesting stuff, thanks for sharing

Ryan Luna's picture

I started to skim through and got to "Mistake 1: Not Merging Layers" and decided this article is not for me. Storage is so cheap these days, I don't see why you'd suggest a "destructive" workflow.

Mike Dixon's picture

I did mention that it would be a personal preference. Most of the time I only use Photoshop for stitching a pano, and do all my editing in Lightroom.

Alexander DiMauro's picture

When working in high volume, storage is not as cheap as you might think. I was saving layered PSD files, at 1.5 - 2.5 GB per file and was filling up 4TB drives very quickly and the cost was getting unsustainable because I work in high volume. Over the past 3 years, I've gone back to re-edit a file maybe 3-4 times? Is that worth spending thousands of dollars on external hard drives and/or cloud storage? Not to mention the HUGE amount of time it takes to upload all those files to a cloud service? No, it's not. I started merging down all my PSDs and very rarely encounter a situation where I actually wished I had the layered file. My costs were cut significantly.

Alexander Grotepass's picture

If you have a businnes that is striving and filling up 4TB drive after 4TB drive you should be in the position to have a NAS by now. And they can be upgraded easily. Buy big with 12 - 16 slots once and upgrade the drives as needed. Buy a slot in a datacenter for offsite storage and backup so you can sync everything up.
If that is not the case - I don't see any issue with it. I'm a hobby photographer but I usually keep all my RAW files and PSDs if I edit them in Photoshop. And my 12TB NAS is fine for now - and it's mostly used for shared media - so it's not exclusive to photography.

And then again: If you're not that big of a player in the business you don't have to have everthing stored for eternity. But store it for say - 6 month. If a client is not happy by then, he would have told you. If everything is fine, flatten the image and save that PSD for another 6 month. After that: Save it as TIFF and down with the storage.
Keep the customer informed of that upfront and you don't have an issue. Space is freeing up on a rolling basis and if you need more space: Expand your disks in the NAS and slap the price on top of your margin or whatever and claim it back from taxes as working equipment.

Edit: The main issue with the article is that is says you MAKE MISTAKES. Not that these are tips if you struggle with editing times / performance and storage.

Nikhil Mace Mishra's picture

Seriously that feels small mistake but sometime situation makes it a big Mistake ...and same saving in JPEG for later on final edit ...later I feel I'm loosing details by re-editing JPEG and saving , by repeating same process multi-pal time.

Eric Robinson's picture

I fail to see why not merging layers is a mistake! I would take the counter view that merging layers is a mistake. I often go back and tweak and modify edits, which is not possible if you’ve flattened the image.

Daniel Medley's picture

Number one is not a mistake. I always save layered TIFFs. It's my edited master that I can always go back and tweak on if needed/wanted. Of course depending on what exactly it is you're doing, storage is cheap. I'm very selective with what I keep and cull ruthlessly.

Eric Robinson's picture

I would have done the same if not for my need for Photoshop. It’s that that keeps me with Adobe.

Brian Peixinho's picture

Just yesterday I created this YouTube video explaining a flaw with TIFF files in a Lr to Ps workflow.

Luke Adams's picture

Hi Brian, when you compress your tiff file back into Lightroom, does the file still retain the same amount of flexibility for editing - highlight recovery, etc? Is it still like working on the RAW file?