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10 Tips to Improve the Speed and Performance of Lightroom 3

By Pye Jirsa on July 19th 2011

The working files for this Lightroom video tutorial on how to Improve Lightroom Performance can be found just above the video. Learn to speed up Lightroom to edit 1,500 images per hour using our Lightroom Workflow System and our Lightroom presets DVD.

Lightroom is an extremely resource intensive piece of software. Once you are familiar with the program, and are editing images at a fairly quick rate (100 – 200) images per hour, then you will start to see that Lightroom can actually become the bottleneck to editing images quicker.

In Part I of the Lightroom Performance Guide tutorials, we will teach you 10 tips to improve Lightroom performancewithout having to purchase any additional hardware. Part II of this tutorial series will in fact be a hardware guide taking you one step further in helping you understand which upgrades can most greatly improve Lightroom’s performance and speed up lightroom.

After recording this video, I realized with all the explanations it was quite long (nearly 16 minutes). So I have written out the 10 tips below the video as well. For those of you that are familiar with Lightroom, I would start by reading the tips, then skip to that part of the video that explains areas that you are unfamiliar with. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Lightroom, I would recommend watching the entire video.

Improve Lightroom Performance

1. Import Settings (Video location 1:20) – Make sure under your File Handling Panel in the Import Dialogue Box you set Render Previews to “Minimal.” Rendering previews is important, but doing it at import will greatly slow down your import process. Also, under the Apply During Import Panel, apply as much Develop Settings, Metadata and Keywords as possible right on import. Doing so will allow you to do less batch syncing which will require Lightroom to slow down to re-process images for changes made to these settings (in particular, Develop Settings)

2. Camera Raw Cache Size (Video location 3:40) – In the File Handling Tab of your Preferences, increase the Raw Cache Folder Size to at least the average size of your typical event. If you have a lot of extra storage space, then set the cache folder to a size that equals 2-3 of your average events. Increasing the Raw Cache Folder’s size will allow Lightroom to store all of the Develop Module previews for a single event within that folder. This will allow you to move from image to image throughout an entire job without having to wait for previews to be rendered.

To determine the minimum size, take the average number of photos you shoot at your particular type of event, and multiply it by the average size of the files from your camera. For example, if I shoot approximately 2,000 images at a wedding and the average file size from my camera is 10MB than I would get 2,000 x 10 = 20,000MB or 20GB in size. I would then typically add a little buffer, like 5GB extra just to be safe at 25GB of total size for my Camera Raw Cache Folder. Like I mentioned though, this is a minimum, if you are working on a 1-3TB drive, you can afford to increase the size of your Camera Raw Cache Folder greatly.

3. Working Drive Location (Video location 5:45) – If you have an internal hard drive that is as fast as your OS hard drive, use that hard drive for the Camera Raw Cache Folder Location as well as for your work in process. So, the catalog with the images, and the cache folder would be located on that internal non-OS hard drive. However, never use an external hard drive (regardless of the connection type) as your Camera Raw Cache Folder Location, or your working location for your files. Doing so will greatly decrease Lightroom’s overall speed coming right out of the gate. If you don’t have a secondary internal drive, then simply use the OS drive to speed up Lightroom.

4. Set the Preview Size (Video location 6:59) – Under the File Handling Tab of your Catalog Settings is the Preview Cache settings. You will want to set a Standard Preview Size and Preview Quality to a setting that is appropriate for your system and LCD screen resolution. For those running on large monitors (22″+) at high resolutions (1920×1200) you will probably want the Standard Preview Size and Quality to be set at their highest settings at 2048 pixels and High. For those of you running on less powerful machines with smaller screens, setting the standard preview size will allow Lightroom to use less resources in generating these previews when necessary to improve Lightroom performance.

5. Turn Off XMP (Video location 8:04) – 99% of you should have absolutely no need for XMP files. Therefore, under the Metadata Tab of your Catalog Settings ensure that “Automatically Write Changes into XMP” is left unchecked. Writing files to XMP doubles the amount of work Lightroom has to perform with every image processed. If you are simply editing in Lightroom, and then taking files into Photoshop, then there is absolutely no reason to be using XMPs. Please see the tutorial on XMP files back in Chapter 8 of the Lightroom Guide for additional details on what XMP is meant for, and when it should be used.

6. Optimize Your Catalog (Video location 9:30) – If your catalogs become extremely large, which is something that in and of itself will slow down Lightroom, then it is important to make sure you frequently Optimize the catalog from the File Menu. Lightroom will take a few minutes to optimize the catalog (depending on the size) to ensure the catalog is running at peak efficiency. However, this is typically only needed when catalogs hit the tens of thousands of images size. If you are like us, and keep each event in its own catalog, then you will typically never need to Optimize the catalog.

7. Render Previews Prior to Working (Video location 10:20) – It is absolutely vital that prior to developing your photos, you Render 1:1 Previews from the Library Menu under Previews. If you have hundreds or thousands of images in your catalog, this process will take a while. So, I recommend you run the previews overnight prior to when you want to begin working on the files to improve Lightroom performance. If you are on a faster machine, you can get away with running it during your lunch hour. However, once 1:1 Previews have been rendered, you will no longer have any wait time when going from image to image in the Develop Module, or when zooming into image detail.

8. Keep Catalogs Small (Video location 12:40) – The larger your catalogs get, the more they will slow down. In addition, if your catalogs get too large, you won’t be able to store all the rendered previews within your allotted Raw Cache Folder size. We recommend less than 10,000 images per catalog. Which should be pretty easy to do if you simply break off each job into it’s own catalog. If you feel it important to keep large catalogs, be sure to Optimize your catalogs frequently to improve Lightroom performance.

9. Free Up Hard Disk Space (Video location 13:30) – You should always have at least 25% of your hard drive space free, and optimally over 50% free on both your operating system drive, and your working drive. Hard drives will operate less and less efficiently as more space is used.

10. Disk Defragment Regularly on Standard Hard Drives(Video location 14:30) – To keep Windows and OSX running smoothly (which also will keep Lightroom running smoothly) run Disk Defragment at least once a month. It is best to run this process overnight as it can take quite a bit of time. In Windows 7, simply type Disk Defrag into the search box to bring up the utility. Note, for those running on Macs, Apple claims that disk defrag is no longer necessary as OSX has built in safeguards to prevent natural defragmentation. They mention that it could possibly help if you run with your hard drive 90% full, or have tons of large sized files such as videos. In which case, you will most likely need to look into a 3rd party application to improve Lightroom performance and speed up lightroom.

WARNING – Do not defrag SSD drives. Since SSD drives don’t use platters like traditional hard drives, there is no difference in access times regardless of where the files are located. In fact, some SSD makers even state that running disk defrag on SSD drives actually reduces the life of the drive.

If you need any additional clarification or step by step procedures on the above topics, please watch the video to improve Lightroom performance. Thanks!


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This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Great tips

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  2. Janna Slaback

    Oooh I’m glad I kept reading to the end … I just got a SSD and it’s good to know I don’t need to defrag.

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  3. Rafael Steffen

    It is great to see such an amazing tips to speed up lightroom. I will start putting it to practice.

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  14. Marian Badea

    Do you have a link for part two, ’cause I can’t find it!
    Thanks! and… great stuff! ;)

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  15. Onoskerio

    You should be aware that you should never ever ever defrag a SSD drive it will shorten the lifetime of your SSD significantly and it’s not needed as there are no mecanical parts on a SSD that need moving around to retreive the information. What defrag does is that it puts information that is relevant to eachother close together so that the arm on a mechanical drive don’t have to travel all over the disk to get the info..

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  16. Jeff

    Pye – Where’s part two? Been all over and can’t find the aforementioned hardware guide. Thanks for the great stuff!

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  17. Fotograf Profesionist Nunta

    Very useful information. This is good as a checklist to do before a major project.

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  18. StevelImages

    How interesting that you create a separate catalog for each job. Of course that eliminates all the problems caused by large catalogs. But that’s the exact opposite of the way Adobe intends for LR to be used! Adobe specifically intends for you to put all your photos into one catalog. Of course that idea fails miserably as soon as you start taking photos. LR is an application targeted at the pro and advanced amateur market — photographers who go out and shoot 1000+ images at a time, several times per week. At that rate, your Catalog quickly becomes unwieldy and optimizing takes forever.

    But if you put every job or every upload into a separate catalog, you then lose the ability to search across all your photos — all your shots of the moon or all your portrait sessions or whatever.

    Adobe needs to work on solving the large catalog problem. Sure you are correct that you won’t have the problem if you create hundreds of separate catalogs, but that defeats the entire purpose of having a database-driven, keyword-searchable photo app.

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  19. David Ortiz

    Guess no one has an answer for this here.

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  20. Dave Ortiz

    This site is a Godsend my friends.  I’m going section by section and can’t say how incredibly valuable the tutorials are and how well Postproduction Pie articulates.  Very well, and most useful.

    My only concern is I use an Apple iMac, and you mention NOT to use an external drive for LR Cache or speed will be jeopardized.  Although I currently have an external USB older drive, I’ve been thinking about investing in a 2TB Western Digital external notebook drive.

    Can I use this drive as my LR Cache drive?  Otherwise, since I have an iMac, I’m struck with the ONE drive I have. 

    The unit can be seen here: 416i6TEQTbL._AA300_.jpg

    Also, here are the specs:

    Western Digital My Book Studio II – 2 TB (2 x 1 TB) USB 2.0/FireWire 800/400/eSATA Desktop External Hard DriveDave

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    • Payam Jirsa

      Dave, any external drive will be slower than an internal drive and will thus slow down the speed in Lightroom when compared to a standard 7200rpm internal hard drive. The one exception is if you use a 7200rpm external drive connected through a high speed port such as e-sata. 

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  21. Genesis Jim

    Please be careful about defragging your disc. In the good old days of 1.2 GB HDDs, it was no problem to do so, but a 1 TB HDD will get so hot throwing 750 GB of data around on it that it may well burn up – one of my Western Digital My Book drives did. Has anyone else had this problem and traced it back to defragging?

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  22. forkboy1965

    Ok…. I have a question regarding number seven: rendering previews.  I took the advice and let my computer render previews for all 5,000+ images in my catalogue.  But what do I do when I load new images?

    Do I need to re-render for my entire catalogue and Lr will only render those which haven’t been previously rendered; in essence only the new images.  Or do I select only the new images and render them?

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    • Pye

      When you render previews and select “build all” Lightroom will search for any and all files that don’t have previews built already. Then, for every file that doesn’t have a preview, it will render one. However, it will not re-render previews for files that already have previews built, even if they are included in the “build all” preview selection.

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  23. forkboy1965

    Isn’t one of the problems with multiple catalogues that you cannot search for an image/images across catalogues?  And I thought I had read Adobe had done some big work for Lr 3 optimization to avoid this too large a catalogue problem.

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  24. Kenton Jacobsen

    Good tips, I made several of the changes immediately. As a side note, the steps you list for Mac, while correct, are not for a defrag. Correcting permissions is an important procedure that can have performance implications. Most experts agree that defraging HFS+ drives (Mac OS X default drive format) is unnecessary.

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  25. Siva

    Mac OS X doesn’t have a native of defragmenting the disk. You will need a third party tool –

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