Original image shows Color Efex Pro applied as Smart Filter

Lightroom and Photoshop Compatibility Problems

David Salahi Lightroom, Photoshop 2 Comments

Kayakers on Cape Cod - original image with Smart Filter

A year and a half ago I evaluated Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to determine whether I wanted to incorporate it into my workflow. Back then I decided to stick with Bridge and Photoshop but time has passed and Lightroom has advanced from V3 to V5 (in beta at the time of this writing) so I decided to have another look.

One of the things that made me want to take a second look is the fact that I’m taking more photos now so an efficient workflow is becoming more important to me. Speed and efficiency are areas where Lightroom excels.  Also, Lightroom gets more features with every new release so it’s likely that I’ll be able to do more of my work in Lightroom today than I could have with V3.

That doesn’t mean I’m thinking about ditching Photoshop. There are too many things that can’t be done in Lightroom and situations where you can’t get the precise control that Photoshop offers. So, Photoshop will be an essential part of my workflow for years to come. So, as I’m evaluating Lightroom V5 I’m trying to figure out a workflow which will support both tools and allow me to take the best that each has to offer.

Unfortunately, my initial foray with Lightroom V5 has raised some hurdles that are difficult to get over. The main problem is my 1300 Photoshop PSD format files that Lightroom cannot display. I can import all my RAW files into Lightroom along with the thousands of TIFF files scanned from my 35 mm slides. But many of my PSD files just show the message “Preview unavailable.”

In an attempt to work around this problem I tried using the Image Processor (from Photoshop: File -> Scripts -> Image Processor or from Bridge: Tools -> Photoshop -> Image Processor) to automatically generate TIFF files for all of my PSD files. That process ran in about 20 minutes and left a series of TIFF subfolders in each folder that has PSD files. These TIFF files contain the embedded image preview that Lightroom needs to show thumbnails and full-size renditions of the images.

Kayakers on Cape Cod - after conversion with Photoshop's image processor
Note the reduced color saturation in this image after processing with Photoshop’s Image Processor

But these previews are often incorrect and the converted files don’t include the original layers. I’m told that TIFF files are able to store all the same info that PSD files can store and my testing seems to confirm that. But the Image Processor flattens the layers and it doesn’t always render accurate previews.

Here’s an example. I have a PSD file containing a single layer which is a Smart Object. That layer has a Nik Software Color Efex Pro filter applied so it’s a Smart Filter. Not only did the Image Processor flatten the image but it rendered the filter incorrectly (even though Color Efex Pro is running fine in Photoshop and in Lightroom at this time). So, it’s clear that I can’t rely on the Image Processor to generate Lightroom-compatible versions of my PSDs.

My next test was to try opening that PSD file in Photoshop and resaving it with the Maximize Compatibility option set to Always. But that didn’t generate a Lightroom-compatible thumbnail. So, I tried toggling the Smart Filter off and back on hoping to make Photoshop think that something had changed so that it would need to rewrite the file. Still no luck. Next, I tried modifying the image so that there was a change that Photoshop would definitely need to write to the disk. No go. OK, how about File -> Save As. Finally, a version of the PSD file with the Smart Object & Smart Filter intact which could also be previewed in Lightroom.

I also tried using the Batch command which runs an action on multiple files. I created a Save-as-TIFF action and tried it out but Batch has the same problem as Image Processor.

I’m currently contemplating the process of manually opening hundreds of PSDs and resaving them as copies. It’s a tedious prospect to consider and I’m not sure I want to go there. Yet, it’s frustrating to think about not being able to see these images in Lightroom because they include some of my best work. You might think that a product called Adobe Photoshop Lightroom would have better compatibility with Photoshop.

At this point, I haven’t given up on Lightroom. It’s an awesome tool that I really want to take advantage of. To do so I’ll need to develop a workflow that provides the ability to do basic edits in Lightroom while still also offering the possibility of doing other work in Photoshop. I already know that there are other limitations in using the two programs together. For example, once you send a file to Photoshop and make changes there, your Lightroom edits are applied destructively and those settings can no longer be changed back in Lightroom. Fortunately, there are workarounds but there are also limitations to the workarounds. I’ll continue to explore these issues in a series of posts over the coming weeks. Check back from time to time or subscribe to this blog by email to get all the Photoshop and Lightroom news (Subscribe by email in the right column above).

5/25/13 Update: For more on using Photoshop and Lightroom together see Part 2 in this series of posts

Comments 2

  1. Pingback: Lightroom vs. Photoshop, Part 2 | The Photo Performance

  2. Pingback: A Few Nice Things About Lightroom | The Photo Performance

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