5 Smart Ways To Use Virtual Copies in Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
5 Smart Ways To Use Virtual Copies in Lightroom Classic

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Virtual Copies are a fantastic tool in Lightroom Classic that let you make copies of photos. Their biggest benefit is that they take up very little hard drive space. That’s because each Virtual Copy needs only a new thumbnail and a few lines of text commands in the Lightroom Classic database.

Compare this to the old fashioned way of making copies of large TIFF files in Photoshop. You can immediately see that one of Lightroom Classic’s advantages is that you need far less hard drive space to develop your photos.

This is the smart way of handling photo files. Imagine that you’ve developed a photo and that you’re happy with the result. But you’d like to experiment a little and see if you can take things further. Maybe you’d like to convert it to black and white. Perhaps you’d like to apply some Develop Presets or crop to another aspect ratio.

It’s easy in Lightroom Classic with Virtual Copies.

What are Virtual Copies?

A Virtual Copy is an exact reproduction of a photo that includes any developing work done in Lightroom Classic. Once you’ve made a Virtual Copy you can do anything you like to it without affecting the original.

In Lightroom Classic terminology the original photo is called the Master Photo and any copies are called Virtual Copies.

How to make Virtual Copies in Lightroom Classic

There are four ways to create a Virtual Copy.

Before you start, go to Grid View in the Library module (press the G key to go there from any part of Lightroom Classic). Select the photo (or photos) that you want to make Virtual Copies of.

1: Go to Photo > Create Virtual Copy. Lightroom creates the Virtual Copies and places them in the same Collection as the original images.

2: Alternatively, use the keyboard shortcut Cmd plus apostrophe (Cmd + ‘) on a Mac or Ctrl plus apostrophe (Ctrl + ‘) on a PC

3: Or right-click on one of the selected photos and choose Create Virtual Copy.

When you create a Virtual Copy using one of these methods it appears next to the Master photo in Grid view. Lightroom displays a folded up paper icon in the bottom left corner (marked below) so you know it’s a copy.

Virtual Copies Lightroom Classic

4: Another option is to turn the selected photo/s into a new Collection containing Virtual Copies.

a. Go to Library > New Collection.

b. Under Options, check the Include selected photos and Make new Virtual Copies boxes. Lightroom Classic creates a new Collection containing Virtual Copies of the selected images.

New Collection Lightroom Classic

How to use Virtual Copies

Now that you know how to make Virtual Copies, the question is are you making the most of them? Let me give you five smart ways you can use them in your Lightroom Classic workflow.

1. Create more versions of the same photo

The main reason that most photographers create Virtual Copies is so you can develop the same photo several ways. This is a great way to experiment and learn.

The photos in the screenshot below are a great example. I made a color version first, then Virtual Copies to experiment with different ways of developing the photo in both color and black and white. I used a mix of different Develop Presets and color grading settings and ended up with 22 different versions of the same photo.

Virtual Copies Lightroom Classic

2. Stacking Virtual Copies

You can use Stacks to simplify the thumbnails displayed in Grid View. For example, with the photos shown above you could create two Stacks – one containing color photos, and the other black and white. Here’s how you do it.

a. Select the photos you want to place in the same stack. Click and drag thumbnails to rearrange them in Grid View if you need to. Here, I grouped all the color photos together.

Stacks in Lightroom Classic

b. Go to Photo > Stacking > Group into Stack. You can also find this option by right-clicking a thumbnail. Or use the keyboard shortcuts Cmd+G (Mac) or Ctrl+G (Windows).

Lightroom Classic puts the selected photos into a Stack. It uses the first photo in the selection as the cover image and displays the Stack icon in the top left corner of the thumbnail (marked below). The number inside tells you how many photos are in the Stack. Click on the number to open the Stack and see all the photos inside it, and click it again to close the Stack.

Stacks in Lightroom Classic

Repeat if you want to group other Virtual Copies into another stack.

3. For working with plugins or Photoshop

If you want to send a photo to a plugin or Photoshop, then start by developing it in Lightroom Classic first. Apply at least basic settings such as Profile, White Balance and any necessary tonal adjustments in the Basic panel.

Then make a Virtual Copy and send the Virtual Copy to the plugin (or Photoshop). Then, when you return to Lightroom Classic it’s easy to compare the two versions.

4. Set up View Options to show which images are Virtual Copies

In the screenshot below, you can see that the image on the right is a Virtual Copy as it is labelled Copy 1. The image on the left is the Master Photo.

Virtual Copies Lightroom Classic

You can set this up in View Options (View > View Options or Ctrl+J/Cmd+J).

a. Check the Show Grid Extras and Top Label boxes.

b. Set Show Grid Extras to Expanded Cells and set Top Label to Copy Name and File Name (there are other options that do a similar thing).

Virtual Copies Lightroom Classic

5. Use the Excessor plugin to create a Collection of photos developed with different Develop Presets

The Excessor plugin creates Virtual Copies and applies a different Develop Preset to each one. This is how to use it.

a. Go to the Capture Monkey website and download the Excessor plugin.

It’s licensed on a shareware model. If you find it useful you’re encouraged to pay a one time registration fee of $10.

My tutorial How To Find Useful Lightroom Classic Plugins explains how to add it using the Plugins Manager. Scroll to the bottom for instructions.

b. Select the photo you want to work with. Go to Library > Plug-in Extras > Excessor. The Excessor window opens (see below).

Excessor plugin

c. Use the top menu to select a Develop Presets folder. Select Preset name from the bottom menu to give each Virtual Copy the name of the Develop Preset used. Press OK. Lightroom Classic creates a Virtual Copy for each Develop Preset in the selected folder.

Virtual Copies Lightroom Classic

Virtual Copies versus Snapshots

Note that you can also use Snapshots to create different versions of the same photo. So why would you choose one method over the other?

The answer is that you use Virtual Copies when you want to compare photos. Snapshots are better when you want to make sure that you never lose a version of your photo.

Here, for example, you can see two versions of the same photo compared side by side. You can do that with Virtual Copies, but not Snapshots.

Virtual Copies Lightroom Classic

And here you can see all the Snapshots for a photo listed in the Snapshots panel. The disadvantage of Virtual Copies is that they can end up scattered over several Collections and Folders. That makes it hard to locate all the Virtual Copies that belong to a specific Master Photo. With Snapshots you don’t have that problem as they’re all listed in the Snapshots panel.

Snapshots in Lightroom Classic

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Joan September 8, 2021 - 10:09 pm

Not sure how I missed this Virtual Copy/Snapshot feature in LR but it’s the answer to my prayers. Thanks for a succinct explanation.

PRVNZ December 23, 2022 - 10:38 pm

(Ctrl + ‘) only brings up the library for shortcuts for me

Andrew S. Gibson December 27, 2022 - 9:55 am

Make sure you’re using Ctrl + ‘ where ‘ is the apostrophe key on your keyboard. Ctrl + / brings up the shortcuts list, so you may just have pressed the wrong key.


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