There are many different styles when it comes to photo editing. Some people use dark and moody imagery. Others use light, bright and airy. And some use super saturated HDR quality images. The Lightroom virtual copy tool is super useful when it comes to post-processing experiments.
Lightroom is a very powerful software for photo editing for a variety of reasons. The ability to create a virtual copy of an image to experiment with different styles is a great way to explore your creativity.
What Is a Lightroom Virtual Copy?
A Lightroom virtual copy, like the name suggests, is an exact replica of your original photo. It includes all edits that you may or may not have made.
If you create a virtual copy of the image before any edits, then the copy will have no edits on it. If you make any changes and then make a virtual copy, the copy will have all those edits as well. Edits can include increasing exposure, changing the temperature or contrast, etc.
This is useful when you have import presets that get applied to your image when you bring them into your Lightroom Library. Once you have a virtual copy, you can process it without affecting the original.
There is no limit to the number of copies you can make. They use very little hard drive space. Lightroom only makes a new thumbnail of your image. It doesn’t duplicate your image file.
Remember that Lightroom is a photo catalog system and one that is non-destructive to your original image. Lightroom only stores the editing information of each image within its catalog. It will store your image as a thumbnail and keep all original data about your image in the catalog.
Each virtual copy exists as a series of instructions in the catalog. These instructions are generally only a few kilobytes instead of several megapixels.
You can even compare virtual copies side by side or export them to create a series of images. This is particularly useful for photographers who are starting out. As a beginner, you might not have a set style or way of editing that they can call their own.
It is useful to experiment and try as many styles as possible before choosing one. Often times you might like some features from different styles.
By using virtual copies, you can nail down the steps you need to take to get that particular look. Once you come up with a distinct look, you can create a preset so editing becomes easy.
Creating Virtual Copies In Lightroom
As is the case with most things in Lightroom, there are several ways to create virtual copies. This is what makes Lightroom so user-friendly and easy. You can use whichever method is easiest for you.
Start in Grid View in the Library module and select the image (or images) that you want to make virtual copies of:
- Go to Main Menu Photo > Create Virtual Copy. By default, Lightroom places the copy in the same location as the original image, often right next to it. The numbers are in chronological order.
- You can also use a keyboard shortcut (Ctrl+’ on Windows and Cmd+’ on Mac). The virtual copy will be right next to the original image.
- You can also right-click on one of the selected photos and choose ‘Create Virtual Copy’.
You might want to store your virtual copies in a separate location than the original image. You can create a new collection in the Library. This is a great way to keep all virtual copies together or if you have a large folder of originals to work with.
Open the Create Collection window. Under Options, select the ‘Include Selected Photos’ and ‘Make New Virtual Copies’ boxes. Lightroom will create a new collection. It will add the virtual copies of the selected images into that collection.
I like to keep my virtual copies along with my original images. This makes it easy to compare the changes made to the copies. I like to do this when I am deciding what look to give my final image.
You can export each as a different image and you can work with them independent of each other.
If you want to view the copies side by side you can select the images in the Library module. Click on XY button above the filmstrip. This will show the two images side by side.
A thing to note is that this will only work for two images at a time. This is one instance where having a collection for your virtual copies might work better. You can see all the different versions in one place side by side in the Library.
Sometimes when working with virtual copies it is hard to figure out which is the original and which is the copy. This matters if you want to delete the virtual copies after you have narrowed down on a look and feel for your image.
To delete a virtual copy, right-click on it and choose ‘Delete Photo’. Lightroom is good at knowing which one is the virtual copy and which one is the original. If it is the virtual copy, you will see the dialog prompt that will ask you for confirmation.
The box will say ‘Remove the selected virtual copy from Lightroom?’. Clicking it will essentially delete it.
Another way to tell an original from a copy is that the original photograph is always the first one. It’s marked “1 of #” where # is the total number of virtual copies of that particular image. You can find this in the upper left corner of the thumbnail image.
You can remove or delete virtual copies in any order you like. You cannot remove the original photo and just keep the copies. The original photograph is your original imported image or the raw file, if you photograph in raw.
Of course, Lightroom, being the robust editing tool that it is, has a way to get around this. You can tell Lightroom which virtual copy should take the place of the original image i.e. the master image.
To change which Virtual Copy acts as master photograph:
- Go to your Library module,
- Select the Virtual Copy you want to set as Master,
- Choose “Set Copy as Master” from the “Photo” drop-down menu.
When you remove the original image, Lightroom will ask whether you want to also remove the image from your hard drive.
I almost always use the remove from catalog option. I never want to delete images from my hard drive via Lightroom. Sometimes the catalog gets all messed up the next time I restart Lightroom.
3 Ways to Use Lightroom Virtual Copies
1. To Edit the Same Image in Different Styles
One of the main reasons to create virtual copies is to have the ability to edit the same photo in different ways. Often times I will buy a new preset pack or even want to edit the same photo using all the presets that I own.
I could use each preset on the same image then backtrack to apply another preset. But that alters the image and is time-consuming. Instead, I can create virtual copies and apply each preset to each image.
This way I can compare different presets side by side and see which one I want to use or adjust further.
2. To Create Stacks of Virtual Copies
The Stacks feature is great if you typically work with many copies of almost every image in your folder or catalog.
- Select all the photos you want to place in one stack in the grid view or even in the film strip below the grid view.
- Go to Photo > Stacking > Group into Stack. You can also find right-click an image thumbnail for this option. Or use Ctrl+G onWindows or Cmd+G on Mac.
Lightroom will place all the selected photos into a stack, with the first photo as the cover image. The Stack icon is displayed in the top left corner of the thumbnail.
As you can see, the number 3 indicates that there are 3 images within this stack. To view all the photos in a Stack, click on the icon in the thumbnail image. Click it again to hide the stacked photos.
3. To Work With Third-Party Plugins or Photoshop
Many photographers will use several editing software for fine-tuning and editing their images. You might even use Photoshop and Lightroom in tandem.
Having a way to send an image from one software to another without ruining the original is useful.
If you want to send a photo to Photoshop or even a third-party plugin, make a virtual copy. Edit the copy in Photoshop or third-party plugins.
Then, return the image to Lightroom. You can now compare the edited image with the original, and choose the one you like best.
You can also make more virtual copies from the original to send to other plugins. Or you can use them to continue working in Lightroom.
Creating a Lightroom virtual copy is one of the easiest ways to compare different image editing styles.
Virtual copies are also very useful when working on new presets. You can use them to tweak your presets until they’re exactly as you want them. All without having to cancel settings or backtracking editing steps.
In the long run, this speeds up your editing flow.