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Keeping layers from being flattened by Lightroom

This is a question I see asked all the time by folks sending files back and forth between Lightroom and Photoshop. The typical scenario involves a basic misunderstanding about how Lightroom works with layered files.

It all boils down to the simple fact that Lightroom doesn't do layers. This is why you need to make sure that Photoshop's File Handling preferences are set to Maximize PSD and PSB File Compatibility, because this tells Photoshop to embed a new layer that is a composite of all the other layers in the file. It is this composite layer that Lightroom sees and works with while ignoring all the rest. TIFF files will create this composite layer by default.

So, if you send a photo from Lightroom to Photoshop for additional editing you will see three options:

  • Edit a Copy with Lightroom Adjustments
  • Edit a Copy
  • Edit Original

The only way to include your Lightroom adjustments in the photo that is sent to Photoshop is to choose the first option. This is the only option you have when working with raw files. In order to apply its adjustments to the copy that is created, Lightroom has to flatten the file (if it happens to be a layered file that is). There just isn't any way around that.

The only way to send a layered file to Photoshop and keep the layeres from being flattened is to choose either Edit a Copy or Edit Original. With Edit a Copy, Lightroom creates an exact copy of the source file and sends the copy to Photoshop. With Edit Original, Lightroom just opens the original as-is in Photoshop. In both cases no Lightroom adjustments are applied.

So, the place people get understandably confused is when they want to send a layered file to Photoshop, keep the layers intact and apply Lightroom adjustments at the same time. That just isn't possible. Sorry, but I hope that clears up some confusion out there!