How to Use Virtual Copies in Lightroom

Imagine that you have just processed a color image and that you are happy with the result. But you’d also like to experiment with it a little. Perhaps you’re curious to see how it will look if you convert it to black and white. Maybe you’d like to give it a different look using a Develop Preset, or crop to the square format.

working with virtual copies in lightrooom

In Photoshop, you would have to make a copy of the file for every variation you want to try. If you are working with 16 bit TIFF files, the extra copies take up a lot of hard drive space.

For example, 16 bit TIFF files from my Canon EOS 5D Mark II are 120MB in size. Making multiple copies would use up valuable hard drive space fast, plus complicate the task of backing up my photos.

By contrast, in Lightroom you can make a Virtual Copy by using the Cmd + ˜ (PC: Ctrl + ˜) keyboard shortcut. Lightroom creates a copy of the image which is identical in every way to the original and places it in the same Collection. It takes up hardly any space on your hard drive, as each one is saved as a series of text commands stored in the Lightroom Catalog.

You can create as many Virtual Copies as you need, and process each one any way you like without affecting the original.

Virtual Copies also come in useful when you create photo books, prints, slideshows or web galleries using Lightroom’s additional modules.

For example, if you’re creating a photo book, you would start by placing all the images you want to use in the book in their own Collection. Then, you turn that into a Book Collection containing Virtual Copies of those photos.

This gives you the freedom to edit those Virtual Copies any way you like without changing the originals. This is helpful because it lets you make adjustments like cropping or reprocessing images so the look is consistent throughout the book.

Working with Virtual Copies

To create a Virtual Copy, select the image you want to work with and use the Cmd + ˜ (PC: Ctrl + ˜) keyboard shortcut. Alternatively, right-click on the image and select Create Virtual Copy or go to Photo > Create Virtual Copy. You end up with two copies of the same photo that at this stage are identical.

virtual copy

You can go ahead and make as many changes to the Virtual Copy as you like without affecting the original. In this example, I converted the portrait to black and white.

how to use virtual copies

You can make as many Virtual Copies as you wish, trying a different processing technique each time. It’s a great way to learn to do more with Lightroom, without losing any of the previous versions of the photo you have created.

I hope you found this brief tutorial useful. My Mastering Lightroom ebooks will teach you everything you need to know about Lightroom in order to organize your photos and process your images beautifully.

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