Editing Images in External Editors (and naming conventions)

by Michael Clark

Yet another great feature of Lightroom is that you can use a more advanced external image editor to work on your images if Lightroom can't do what you need it to do. Now don't get me wrong, Lightroom is incredibly powerful and there isn't much on the market that can surpass the Develop module that I have found. But there are those rare instances where I need to go in and do some work on an image - and Lightroom isn't up to the task. If an image needs extensive spotting I just find it easier to do this in Photoshop. If I want to see how Nikon Capture NX will render colors on a raw image I can open that image from Lightroom into Nikon Capture NX. Or if an image needs some local adjustments I can go to Photoshop quickly. This topic has been covered by many of my peers on this blog already but I just thought I would revisit it and explain how I work with this option.

First, to set these options up you'll have to adjust your Lightroom preferences - setting the External Editing presets to the software applications that you would like to use (as in the image below). Since I shoot Nikon, my external Editors are Photoshop CS3 and Nikon Capture.


Then when you want to work on an image in an external editor you can go to Photo > Edit in Photoshop CS3 or on the Apple platform just use the keyboard shortcut "Apple E" to export the image to your first choice of editing software as below.


Once you have finished working on your image in the external editor you can then save it and it will be updated in Lightroom. And depending on your choices when you exported it will either appear as a copy in Lightroom or just update the existing image. As in the dialog box below - when I export an image to an external editor I prefer to "Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments" and have it stacked with the original in the Lightroom catalog. I prefer this because I don't want to alter the original raw file in any way and usually I have already worked up the image in Lightroom about as far as it can go. For raw files this is the only choice you get.


For portraits I have found Lightroom to be exceptional in rendering accurate skin tones as long as I used a custom white balance in camera (see my earlier blog post on using a Custom White Balance). But every once in a while I open an image into Nikon's software to see how Nikon Capture will render the colors. Sometimes they are better - sometimes not. The point is that every raw processor renders colors differently. If I prefer the Nikon colors I just save the image in Nikon Capture and then when the image appears in Lightroom I can continue working it up or export it.

One of my pet peeves with the default Lightroom settings is that it uses a "-Edit_1" suffix for every image that is worked up in an external editor. Luckily this is customizable so you can adapt your own naming convention to images that have been worked up elsewhere.

By going into the preferences dialog again - in the External Editing section there is a place at the bottom of the panel where you can customize the naming conventions of your externally edited images. Click on the toggle, than cruise down to "Edit" as in the image below.


Once you are in the edit panel (as below) it is set up to work exactly like the Batch Rename dialog. Instead of the "-Edit_1" suffix I prefer a simpler "v2" or "v3" suffix which just indicates to me that I have version two or three of the original.


The external editing feature is nice because it simplifies the process of working your images up in multiple software applications at the same time. This feature comes in handy especially if I want to use Noise Ninja to work on noise reduction in an image - with Noise Ninja as a plug-in for Photoshop this is really an easy way to deal with high ISO noise, especially since Noise Ninja currently doesn't work as a plug-in with Lightroom.

That's it for this session. See you next week.

Adios, Michael Clark


David Medina
2007-09-24 07:50:20
One of the things I like from LT is that you can choose more than one external editor. I wish there were more, thought.

I got some questions:

(1) Would the stand alone version of Noise Ninja work as an external editor? That way avoiding to go to PS?

(2) When you go to Nikon Capture NX as an external editior, I believe LR convert the RAW file into a tiff. Don't you loose some advantages of Nikon Capture NX by doing that?

I have been thinking about buying Nikon Capture but I have that doubt.

2007-09-24 12:46:36

I have been strugging to get Capture NX and Lightroom working together and was hopeful your instructions would help. Unfortunately if I set up Lightroom as described it doesn't load into Capture NX. The error basically states that the file cannot be loaded into Capture NX.

Any suggestions?

2007-09-24 17:06:40

Are you trying to upload dng into NX from LR? I don't think NX recognize the dng format.

2007-09-25 06:22:39
David, you are correct about losing (single o in lose) NX's advantages - LR does convert the export file to a TIF. However, on the Mac you can just drag the raw file onto NX in the dock - it is appalling that Adobe didn't enable drag and drop on PC.
2007-09-25 11:50:07
Glo - thanks for the tip, must try it with DXO when I get home. I am frustrated with the edit external (DXO) passing a tif, I want to be able to correct lens distortion but that is disabled (or the lens / camera info is not passed) when exporting the tif.


Brian Foraker
2007-09-26 14:41:38
I'm another LR and Capture NX user. I would love to be able to open an image in NX in the RAW format from LR. Then make changes and have them show up in LR.

How do we solve this?
Brian Foraker (bforaker@bellsouth.net)

2007-09-27 07:30:25
Brian, first complain to Adobe via the feature requests forum when it's working again. They do listen and make significant changes (eg introduction of folders). This is not a tough thing to code and a lot of people would like it.

Second, flesh out your needs. For example, one desirable feature would be for LR to optionally display the preview that's embedded in the raw file, as well as the LR rendition of the raw data. This would be handy if you wanted to compare adjustments with in camera settings (eg b&w) as well as NX adjustments. Best to pander to the designers' egos - say it's to demonstrate that the LR rendition is better than NX's. But basically, flesh out any other needs you have for working with external editors.

BTW Another way to access the raws is to Cmd R (Mac) / Ctrl R (Win) which opens Finder / Explorer. Then open the file. Still a bit of a kludge!

2007-10-02 16:10:24
Thanks Michael for sharing your experiences. As a note, you should try to include links when you reference previous blog posts. It increases the likelihood that someone will look at the other posts, which increases overall blog traffic. Win-win
2007-10-06 02:45:01
Michael, I have found that the naming system you show above doesn't work to my expectation.

If I use your example and edit a file in CS3, then edit that psd file again in CS3 I would get the following.

dwb_070915_8643.CR2 (is my standard DAM naming convention)
edit in CS3 returns
dwb_070915_8643v1.psd (so far so good)
now edit that psd file in CS3 again and I get
dwb_070915_8643v1v2.psd not exactly useful.

It works well if you do multiple edits of the ORIGINAL file, then it is sequential.

Why would I want to do the above? Photokit Sharpening for example. Some LR WB and crop work then output for creative sharpening. This is now my master psd file. Then edit THAT master to resize for web and run Web Output Sharpening in CS3, back into lightroom for export etc.

Here's the other bug with your example. Edit image "X" in CS3 and you'll return;
dwb_070915_8643v1.psd (again so far so good)
now go ahead and edit image "Y" in CS3, let's say it's the next shot in the order
dwb_070915_8644.CR2 (note the last four digits). This edit in CS3 will return the following
dwb_070915_8644v2.CR2 and so on.
Your first edit of shot 12 could be called v13 for example!
Again, not so useful for me.

I love lightroom, but this has bugged me somewhat.

Kind regards