Does Lightroom overwrite files?

A word about how Lightroom uses files.

Lightroom is a “database of changes”. It never touches your original file (whatever format it is). We call that “non-destructive editing”.

Here’s how it works:

  1. You have your original file. Lightroom simply knows where it is (that is basically all that “importing into Lightroom” means!).
  2. Every time you make a “change” (like cropping, adjusting exposure, etc), Lightroom stores that instruction n its database (which it calls its “catalog”).
  3. What you see on your screen is that original file plus “what it would look like with that change”. But no new file is actually generated (except perhaps a little internal preview)!

It is only when you use a file that the changes are applied to make a new export file (or a printout, a web site, etc). This export file is made suitable to its particular purpose, and it is temporary: you create your export file, then use it, and then delete it.


  • You always keep your original file intact.
  • You do not fill up your disk with additional files.
  • You can always review and redo any setting (including all the “RAW-settings”.

These are great benefits over the old ways of editing images, and they are why Lightroom and Aperture, which basically does the same, have taken over photographers’ workflow so quickly.


6 thoughts on “Does Lightroom overwrite files?

  1. Also, “backing up the catalog” in Lightroom only backs up those changes, which are useless without the original image files.

  2. Need your opinion on this:
    I’m again looking for a photography software nowadays, switching back and forth between ACDSee Pro and Lightroom which are the best in the business as far as i’m concerned.
    I’m no professional photographer, just your average guy holding a mediocre bridge (Fuji S5800) and taking quite a few pics from time to time. I do like photography a lot, learning and experimenting everyday, but my photos are no pieces of art. I do try to get the best from my crappy camera and even post-process a lot, but the “pixel-altering”, destructive editing is much more convenient for me. After all, after all these years, seldom i come back to look at some pic i took on a summer evening, these are not so important photos and there’s no reason for me to keep track on both versions of pictures: originals and edited. I always (and exclusively) need just one version: the final one that gets on the “backup DVD”. The rest gets deleted.
    Of course, Photoshop is a great “pixel-altering” tool, but for batch editing, even considering creating hundreds of scripts for every adjustement i ever make is a no-no.
    So, ACDSee Pro let’s me do destructive editing in “Edit Mode”, and the 5th version finally has Dodge and Burn, but i always felt that Lightroom was better in terms of speed and confortable photography workflow. But it won’t do destructive editing. And i know i can easily export the edited versions somewhere on the HDD for sharing and backup, but here we go again: edit originals -> export edited -> share edited -> delete originals, it’s just a pain, if you know what i mean.

    SOOO, from your experience, is there a way to force Lightroom 3 to easily overwrite the originals with edited, or is there another piece of software outthere i could use that meets my personal needs? You can reach me on my e-mail when you have spare time for a response.

    Thank you a lot.

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