Intense x-ray free-electron laser (XFEL) pulses hold great promise for imaging function in nanoscale and biological systems with atomic resolution. So far, however, the spatial resolution obtained from single shot experiments lags averaging static experiments. Here we report on a combined computational and experimental study about ultrafast diffractive imaging of sucrose clusters which are benchmark organic samples. Our theoretical model matches the experimental data from the water window to the keV x-ray regime. The large-scale dynamic scattering calculations reveal that transient phenomena driven by non-linear x-ray interaction are decisive for ultrafast imaging applications. Our study illuminates the complex interplay of the imaging process with the rapidly changing transient electronic structures in XFEL experiments and shows how computational models allow optimization of the parameters for ultrafast imaging experiments.