Laura Shoe's Lightroom (and Occasionally Photoshop) Blog for Digital Photographers

Why do I see my images change after they are imported into Lightroom?

In Uncategorized on January 4, 2010 at 7:24 pm

This is one of the most common questions asked by Lightroom users.  You import your images, see the thumbnails appear, but if you wait a few seconds you notice that the thumbnails change.  The changes can be to tone, contrast, or color.  What gives?

When we photograph with a digital camera, even if we shoot raw files, our camera creates a small jpeg file — this is what we see on the camera LCD screen.  Unlike a raw file, this file is interpreted — it has our camera manufacturer’s interpretation of color applied, as well as any jpeg settings set on your camera — color space, contrast, saturation, noise reduction, sharpening, etc.  None of these settings are applied to your raw files, but they are to the preview jpegs.

Because we prefer instant gratification, when Lightroom is importing images it first shows us these  jpeg thumbnails that our cameras generated.  Then it goes on to render its own jpeg thumbnails, based on the raw file, with Adobe’s interpretation of color, and minus all the settings mentioned above.

To most people I advise:  just don’t look until it is done!  Then you won’t worry about the difference.  I don’t — I accept the Adobe rendering of the raw file as I see it and work from there to make the image look great.

To those that really like the look of their camera’s jpegs and want to replicate the look with their raw files, or work their raw files in a camera manufacturer proprietary raw converter because of this issue, Adobe has provided camera-specific profiles that attempt to match what your various camera settings produce.  In the Develop module, under the Camera Calibration panel, click on the drop-down next to Profile, and choose one of the Camera profiles.  If there is one you want to apply often, consider creating a preset.  If there is one you always want applied to your  images, set it as the new default — change the profile (and nothing else!), then go to Develop> Set Default Settings.  (UPDATE:  In the camera calibration tab you will only see camera profiles for raw files.  Jpegs will only list one “embedded” profile — jpegs have already been “cooked”, so it is too late to change your mind on color rendering.)

  1. Interesting… What about the diff between the JPGs exported from Lightroom & the JPGs exported by Bridge/PS3? I have this weird issue that is sort of stopping me want to transfer over to LR. In theory they should be the same, Raw+XMP in ACR in PS or LR right? But when LR renders & exports the JPG it seems dull and lacklustre compared with the same Raw+XMP opened in PS3. Is this a colour space issue?

    • Suzy, this is indeed a color space mismatch issue. If you take a photo from LR to PS, the color space is determined by your LR External Editing preferences under Edit>Preferences (Lightroom>Pref on a Mac). and then what your color settings are set to in Photoshop — it will either use the embedded profile you specified in LR, or convert to the working color space set in Edit>Color Settings (LR>Color Settings), depending on what you have checked in that dialog for profile mismatches.

      Bottom line, set your Photoshop working color space to be the same as the one you specify in LR preferences, so you won’t have mismatches (most people use Adobe RGB or ProPhoto). Then if you are trying to export jpegs in sRGB for web, email or most printing services: you should get the same result using the Export function in LR specifying sRGB under color space, or doing Edit>Convert to Profile>SRGB…. in Photoshop (or saying Convert to sRGB in the Bridge Image Processor.)

  2. this is helpful advice, thank you so much!
    i tried that for my d700; however in my lr2.6 copy, the drop-down menu only reads ’embedded’, and no other options are in there. what am i missing, you think?

    • Hi murat, good question — you will only see profile options for raw files — jpegs have already been “cooked”, so it is too late — the embedded profile is your only option.

  3. Thanks v much Laura 🙂 I’ve fixed the prefs now so hopefully I wont have any more of these issues.

  4. ah, that’s what i missed! it does work on the raw files indeed.thank you very much 🙂

  5. Btw, beautiful underwater work, Suzie — Shrimp on a Sea Cucumber and Nudibranch particularly caught my eye!

  6. Hi Laura,

    I have been trying to follow your instructions about applying the jpeg development setting in LR3 to newly imported raw files. When I pull down the profile menu, I do not see an option for jpeg, just Adobe, standard, camera faithful, camera landscape, camera standard, camera portrait. What am I doing wrong? (Or is one of these settings equivalent to a jpeg?)

    Many thanks.


    PS I shoot with a Canon Rebel T1i, in case that is useful information.

    • Jane, these settings mimic the jpeg settings of your camera (for example, the Landscape setting on your camera probably adds contrast and pumps up the saturation).

      • Laura, I am still a little confused. I use AV mode when I am shooting jpegs, not the modes for portraits, landscapes etc. So which of the settings I mentioned, if any, would be equivalent to a jpeg that is produced in AV mode? Or is there another way to get at what I am looking for?



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