Virtual copies in Lightroom

Have you ever needed to test another post processing effect, compare a colored photo to its black & white version, saturate or desaturate, etc. Well, the guys from Adobe have thought about all this and the solution is in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (Lr). The solution is called "Virtual Copy". The virtual copy feature lets you experiment with multiple develop options for any photo in your library without physically duplicating the original file. It all reside in the database (catalog) as instructions. So, for example, if you have a photo that you want to crop differently but you want to compare more than one option of the cope, you will appreciate virtual copies. Both versions are maintained in your Library. You can export each as a different photo and you can develop them independently of each other.

How to make and manage a virtual copy in Lr?

Very easy, just follow these steps to put your virtual copies feature in practice:

  1. Locate the photo you wish to create a virtual copy of either in the Library or in the film strip.
  2. Right click on it and select Create Virtual Copy from the menu.

I told you it is easy, didn't I ?

Once done, you can develop and make global and local adjustments independently of the original version and then compare the results. You can make additional virtual copies as you see fit.

To view both original and virtual copies side by side, return to the Library module, select both copies and click the XY button above the filmstrip. This shows the original and the virtual copies side by side.

To delete a virtual copy, right-click it in the library module and click on Delete Photo. You will be prompted to “Remove the selected virtual copy from Lightroom?” – click Remove to delete it. A warning is worth mentioning here: both copies have the same name. Hit 'i' to see the photo info and you will notice the same, however, if you read on you will know how to identify the original from the virtual copy.  You can not remove Master copies and keep the Virtual copies. 

But your are safe in all cases because if you accidentally selected the original version, you will be prompted differently “Delete the selected master photo from disk, or just remove it from Lightroom?”. This confirms that your selection is the original and not the virtual copy. I hope you are not like the majority of users who don't read application message and click hastily on the default button.

Finding Copies and the Master file

One problem with virtual copies is determining which is the original and which is the copy. You will need to do this, for example, if you want to delete the virtual copies leaving the original in place.

If you use Virtual copies a lot you can configure the Info Overlay to show you which image is a copy. To do this, choose View - View Options - Loupe View and click Show Info Overlay or just hit that "I" key to show the same. Hitting it twice will cycle through the view options from exposure settings to file name. Now back to Loupe View and configure one of the info fields to have not only the File Name but also the Copy Name. The original image will display the file name only and virtual copies will display the file name and Copy 1 (or Copy 2) next to it.


Furthermore, the thumbnail of the copy has a turn-paper-like next to it's lower left corner in the the Library module. In general, copies are located next to their Master and most probably part of the same Stack. However, depending on you sort order,  you might be dislocating the the Master because you have a different sort order specially if you are not within the same folder. To locate the Master, right clicking on the copy and select Go to Folder in Library.  

Working with virtual copies 

For the hot keys lovers pout there, you can hit Ctrl + ‘ to create a virtual copy, quicker than through the menu. To create a second virtual copy, just repeat the action. You can create as many copies as you like. The number of Copies created will be shown at the upper left corner of the Master thumbnail in the Library module or the filmstrip.

If you have reach a place where you want to proceed with further adjustments but you want to preserve the state that you have reach, just create another virtual copy from the existing virtual copy. If you don't use Lr Snapshots, this is useful when you want to be able to go back to an already achieved look. 


If you decide to apply the settings of the virtual copy to the Master, in the Library Module, go to the menu and select Photo - Set Copy as Master.

Creating virtual copies is the most flexible ways of comparing and/or exporting different photos within Lr. They are also highly useful when working with presets. If you can't make up your mind between black & white or color make a virtual copy and compare. Virtual copies could be exported like any other photo in Lr which makes experimenting with different looks and presets much easier.