Raw + JPEG in Lightroom

When people first begin to use Lightroom to organise and process their images, they’ve usually spent some time shooting JPEG images and may have many thousands of photos in this format to import. Often, a new Lightroom catalogue will only contain links to JPEG images and that’s fine since that’s often all there is at the time. However, it’s not normally long before people realise that shooting in raw preserves so much more information and makes editing in Lightroom considerably more flexible. At this stage, they often change the settings on their camera’s picture quality menu to save both raw and JPEG versions of each image.

At first sight, this seems like a good idea. You’ve saved all the data the sensor can capture in the raw file and you have a standard JPEG version to hand that you can quickly upload to social media or transfer to a tablet – but do you really need to store both? and if you do want to store both versions on your computer, how does Lightroom deal with them at import?

The preferred solution

My advice is simply to forget about shooting JPEG images altogether once you start using Lightroom. You can still ‘get it right in camera’ but shooting in raw gives you much more scope to fine tune your final image than any setting in your camera ever can. Furthermore, the capacity and write speed of the latest media cards together with camera buffer memory size makes issues about burst rate and the number of images per card far less an issue than they once were.

If someone asks you for directions to a certain place, they probably won’t expect you to quip “well I wouldn’t start from here” but that’s what I’d say about image editing using the JPEG format. Although just about any graphics device can understand a JPEG image and the information it contains is perfectly adequate to make high quality prints, the fact remains that JPEG is the end of the process – it’s not a good place to start from because so much information has already been thrown away to make it.

When you make the move to Lightroom, you only need to import raw images. This enables you to maintain the maximum quality possible during editing. If you produce a print using the print module or a photo book, Lightroom will make the necessary JPEG images then automatically. If you want to send a specific image to a friend, the export dialogue will give you the option to select the file format such as JPEG together with other options such as image size at that stage so there’s never really a need to store a separate JPEG version. If you want to do some arty stuff with your images using the powerful tools available in Photoshop or Affinity for example, you’d still steer well clear of JPEG.

But I absolutely must have both!

The JPEG image that Lightroom makes at the end of the workflow will invariably be far better than anything you camera throws together (regardless of the picture style settings or other JPEG related parameters you’ve set). However, some people may want the camera’s generated JPEG because either they want to pass on the image immediately and they don’t have access to a computer or maybe they just want to keep a copy of what the camera produced for reference purposes.

If you have a folder containing both raw and JPEG versions of images and you attempt to import that folder to Lightroom, the default behaviour will be to just import the raw files and leave the JPEG images where they were. If you then look at the imported images in the library module, they will be shown as being raw + JPEG even though the JPEG isn’t actually referenced by the catalogue. It’s a bit misleading and confusing but what Lightroom is telling you is that when you imported the images, JPEG versions of them were available but since raw was also available, only the raw images were imported. Normally, as explained above, this makes sense since you’re not needlessly cluttering up your drive with JPEG images that Lightroom can generated when needed. However, if you want Lightroom to treat the raw and JPEG images with equal dignity, you can force it to import both by visiting the preferences page.


This option is not ticked by default so Lightroom will ignore JPEG images if raw versions are available.

On a PC, click File > Preferences or on a Mac, click Lightroom > Preferences. Click the General tab. Now tick the box labelled “Treat JPEG files next to raw files as separate photos”. Now when you import a folder containing both types of images, they will all be added to the catalogue and you will have the option of editing either the JPEG or the raw version of the image.

To learn more, try one of our one-day Lightroom workshops.