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Integrate Lightroom with Elements

By Matt Kloskowski  ·  September 16th, 2010

Thanks to its outstanding organization and image-editing tools, many photographers have added Adobe Lightroom to their photography toolbox. The $299 program excels at managing large image libraries, fine-tuning an image’s tones–especially with raw images–applying edits to multiple photos, building slide shows, printing, and more.

I often get asked whether or not you still need a program like Photoshop Elements if you use Lightroom. In fact, there are many reasons to keep Elements nearby. For one, Lightroom doesn’t offer retouching tools for removing unwanted objects such as telephone wires or wrinkles. And if you want to stitch multiple photos into a panorama or collage, you’ll need a program like Elements to get the job done (Lightroom doesn’t offer layers or blend modes). Similarly, you’ll need Elements to have precise control over text and layouts.

If you own Lightroom, you may be wondering how to make the two programs work well together. I’ll show you how to set up the connection so you can seamlessly switch between Lightroom and Elements when editing a photo. In this example, we’ll use Lightroom to do some initial processing on the photo (white balance and exposure), and then use Elements to remove a distraction from the background. [Note: This works with most recent versions with Elements. So even if you don’t have Elements 8, you’ll still be able to connect Elements to Lightroom.]

  1. The first step is to make sure you have Lightroom set up to work with Elements. With an image selected in the Lightroom Library, choose Photo>Edit In. If you see Photoshop Elements listed in the submenu, then you’re all set to go. If not, then choose Edit In Other Application. Lightroom will warn that there’s no external editor selected.

    Click the Preferences button to open Lightroom’s preferences window. Under the External Editing tab, click the Choose button and navigate to the folder where Elements is installed to set it up as an external editor.

  2. Now that everything is set up, go ahead and process one of your photos in Lightroom as you normally would. Typically, I start with the settings in the Basic panel, and then move down to the Detail panel for a little sharpening. In this photo, for example, their skin appeared a little green because of the grass, so I adjusted the Tint slider as well as Exposure and Recovery to tone down the grass a little. (I also plan to darken the edges a little by adding a vignette, but since we have some cloning work to do in Elements first, I’m going to hold off on that one until Step 9.)

  3. Now we’ve come upon a little stumbling point. The gentleman in the photo, Mike, has a shoe coming out of the back of his head. Lightroom doesn’t have any retouching tools to help; but fortunately for Mike, Elements does. Go to Photo>Edit In>Photoshop Elements. If you’re photo is a JPEG, Lightroom will ask you if you want to edit a copy with Lightroom adjustments, edit a copy without adjustments, or edit the original JPEG photo. I recommend editing a copy with your adjustments applied–you want to preserve your original JPEG untouched. If you’re working with a raw image, as I am here, then you’ll only have one choice: Edit A Copy With Lightroom Adjustments. Click Edit when you’re ready.

  4. Elements will now take over; you should see your photo in the Elements workspace. Use the Zoom Tool (Z) to zoom in on Mike’s head and the foot sticking out of it. The easiest way to fix this is with the Clone Stamp tool (S). In the Options Bar, choose a soft edged brush from the Brush picker to help our work blend in better.

  5. First we need to sample a good area of grass to paint over the shoe. Hold down the Alt (Mac: Option) key and sample from an area just above the foot to capture the green grass as a sample point.

  6. Now, start brushing downward and across to remove the foot. Work from left to right, restricting yourself to small movements as you progress. Then move down a little and do it again until you reach his head. Since you chose a soft edged brush, it should fade from grass to hair pretty nicely. You may need to Alt-click (Mac: Option-click) again in a few areas to resample a different section of grass–this will help prevent an obvious pattern from developing.

  7. Now that we’re done retouching, we’ll return to Lightroom, which is where we ultimately want our photo to end up. You don’t have to do much to make this happen. In fact, the less you do here the better–you don’t want to change file locations, file names, or anything like that or you’ll sever the connection to Lightroom’s version of the image. Just go to File>Save. Elements will help Lightroom save the edited file in the correct location.

  8. Switch back to Lightroom. If you look at the bottom in the Filmstrip, you should now see two copies of your photo. One is the original file and the other is an edited Photoshop (.PSD) file with your Elements changes saved to it.

  9. The editing process doesn’t have to end here. Since Lightroom works just fine with .PSD files, you can do some additional editing if you want. For example, I think this photo would benefit from a nice vignette to help darken the edges (and tone down the bright grass). I resisted the urge to do it earlier because I knew I was going to be doing some cloning in Elements and that it would be easier to wait. So now is a perfect time to jump down to the Effects panel and move the Amount slider for Post-Crop Vignetting to the left a little. That darkens the edges and really pulls your attention to the couple in the middle.

16 Replies to Integrate Lightroom with Elements:

  1. Anthony

    September 18, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    Answered a few questions for me. Thanks… really appreciate it.
    PS: I like your work.

  2. Kevin

    September 25, 2010 at 11:08 am

    I have had PSE for a number of years and I am about to install and start using LR3 as well.
    I have been using the PSE Organizer, watched folders and PSE catalogs.
    What happens to these when I install LR3 ? I assume that I stop using them, but how do I do that ?
    I have just purchased the up-grade to PSE9. Should I install this without the Organizer ?
    Should I install the upgrade to PSE9 before installing LR3 ?

    • Rick

      September 25, 2010 at 1:47 pm

      They’ll install independently, Kevin. I’m not sure if you can install just the Editor any more, but the Organizer won’t take up much room.

      Lightroom has an option for importing an Elements catalog, so that part of the process is pretty easy.


  3. Kevin

    September 25, 2010 at 11:57 am

    Oh, and while I’m at it I’ve also been using the Elements Downloader.
    Do I still use it when I install LR3 ?

    • Rick

      September 25, 2010 at 1:41 pm

      I’d just use the Lightroom importer; it’s much more flexible than the Adobe Downloader with Elements.

  4. Les

    October 10, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Sorry to be the one to disagree with your specific example of needing Elements and Lightroom integeration.
    You can use the brush tool in Lightroom to do exactly the same thing you did in Elements. It may take a little more work but it can be done.

  5. Sheri

    November 11, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    While you can do a fair job of cloning out things in Lightroom, Elements 9 is awesome with the Content Aware Spot Healing brush!!! I use both but for a lot of reasons, I really need both. Not to mention the many many effects you can get with layers, brushes, text, and the other tools in PSE. PS – I LOVE LR3 but I have to have PSE as well for additional tasks. If I could only have oneā€¦ PSE9 would have to win.

  6. Edwin

    December 8, 2010 at 12:51 pm

    OK but .. When selecting PSE (using 9) it takes long tme for the window to select edit or organize and then for the opening page of PSE and finally the workspace.

    And then. the selected images in LR are not in the project bin.

    e.g., I’m tring to stitch a pano.

    What am I missing or not understanding? and, how do I eliminate the”option”page since I don’t use the “organizer” in PSE .. Use LR.

    Thanks for any help. ..


  7. Edwin

    February 6, 2011 at 12:18 pm

    Matt, I am a real fan of yours, Lightroom 3 and PSE through both Kelbytraining and Photoshopelementsuser … well, and NAPP, too, for that matter.

    Why does the ‘S’ ample (option click) seem so hard to get to pickup the “color” after using it for a while working on something like taking out a lightpole which requires so many different samples?

    And what is the cross that follows near the pointer?

    Think ALL you guys and gals are terrific, greatly appreciate.


  8. Bill

    October 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm

    Matt, I can’t seem to make this work! Using Lightroom 3, Photoshop Elements 9 and a Mac – when I ask Lightroom to open the photo in Elements, it creates a .psd version of the photo in my lightroom files, Elements opens, but no photo. Any advice?


  9. Bill

    April 19, 2012 at 10:18 am

    One question about the LR3 importing tool. I can never get LR3 to “move” files from a memory card. It will only “copy” the files. So I need to manually delete them from the card later.

    Can LR3 move the files instead of copying?

    Thanks, Bill

    • Rick

      April 19, 2012 at 11:20 am

      Hi Bill,

      If you click the ‘Move’ link at the top of the Import window, it should move the files off your card. I will say that I have seen card types that this won’t work on, but it should work most of the time.

      I never choose this option, because I like to make sure I’ve got everything backed up before I erase my card, but there’s no reason for not doing it beyond that.


  10. John

    November 6, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    I just instsalled lr4 and learning it a little tricky

  11. Elisabeth

    February 18, 2013 at 1:45 pm


    is there a chance that you will have more how – to`s articles / tutorials in the near future for lightroom ? I find it to be a great tool,however there is definitely a learning curve.

    thank you,

  12. Dawn

    December 12, 2013 at 11:49 am

    I’m new to the whole digital darkroom process and am currently using LR 5 and PSE 11. I’m able to successfully perform steps 1 through 6 however, when I go to File>Save in PSE (step 7 above) I get an error that the “file (in LR I presume) doesn’t have write access” so nothing gets saved.

    Any ideas on what’s going on or what I’m missing?


  13. Casey

    January 11, 2016 at 8:10 am

    I just got LR 6 for Christmas and have photoshop elements 12. I set up LR to work with photoshop . I do some things I LR then go to elements. The photo that ends up in LR is no different than the one I sent there but the photo in PSE 12 is the end photo. Can anyone help me?



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