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3 Ways to Use Virtual Copies in Lightroom 4

By Pye Jirsa on February 25th 2013


Virtual copies are needed for many different reasons when post-producing images in Lightroom. We use them on almost every project to give our clients a different version of the same image, each adding something new to the overall finished selection of images. As long as they work and look great, we often keep all Virtual Copies and deliver them with the originally produced image. In this article, I will discuss a few of my favorite ways to use Virtual Copies and how they can be useful during post-production to improve your workflow.

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The following video is from the SLR Lounge Lightroom 4 A to Z Workshop on DVD, a 14-hour workshop covering everything in Lightroom from file management to advanced artistic processing techniques.

Three Ways to Use Virtual Copies

1. Storage Space

One great thing about Virtual Copies is the fact that they don’t take up much hard drive space at all. This is because each Virtual Copy is not actually a copy of the original raw file; it is simply a copy of the develop settings applied to the image. Virtual Copies don’t effect the original image or any other copy you create.

To create a Virtual Copy, use the shortcut [ Ctrl + ‘ ] or right click on the image and click “Create a Virtual Copy”.


At this point a Virtual copy is created and you will be able to view both the image and the Virtual Copy in the Library Module.


The reason why Virtual Copies don’t take up much space is because they are simply a record of the develop settings for a particular image that is stored within the Lightroom Catalog. Each copy only contains the develop information from the develop settings on the new image. Only when Virtual Copies are exported do they become their own image. At that point, they will take up more space on the hard drive.

2. A New Look

Get creative and give your images a new spin. It is amazing how different a photo can feel with different production techniques. Many of our color images are also developed and delivered as black and white images when we want to enhance the timeless emotion of a scene. Pop a high-contrast “crushed” look onto a dancing scene for a little extra excitement. Use deep blacks and warm tones to create a “moody” look for more romantic scenes. Virtual Copies allow to create these additional looks, without doubling up on image space or altering the original color image.


3. Filter by Virtual Copies

You can also filter by Virtual Copies. To bring up the Filter Menu, hit [ \ ], selecting “Attribute” and then choosing the Virtual Copies icon as shown below.


On the right side, you can see the “Virtual Copies” icon.


One reason why you might want to only view your Virtual Copies is to check for processing consistency. If you did a certain look on multiple images, you can easily compare them or even synchronize the same look across multiple Virtual Copies. Also, if you need to delete Virtual Copies, use the filter to quickly pull them up together.

To delete, select the Virtual Copies you would like to delete then Right-Click, select Delete Photos and then click “Remove” to confirm. Remember that deleting Virtual Copies will not affect the original image.


If you are interested in owning the Lightroom 4 A to Z DVD, it can be purchased in the SLR Lounge Store. Stay tuned for the next article.

Purchase the Lightroom 4 A-Z DVD Guide

The Lightroom 4 A-Z training DVD will turn any Lightroom novice into a complete master of Lightroom 4 in no time! The DVD which can be played on a Mac or Windows PC includes the following:
– 130 Video Tutorials and nearly 14 hours of content!
– Over 6 hours of tutorials dedicated to developing techniques
– Full Menu System for easy navigation through the tutorials
– Bonus DVD Content that includes Advanced Lightroom 4 Techniques
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– Exercise Files + Final Catalog so you can follow along during the tutorials
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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Thanks for sharing

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  2. Rafael Steffen

    Virtual copies are one of my favorite lighroom functions since it allows us to reedit some images in a different way and then compare them with the others.

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  3. Chris Alleyne-Chin

    This article was a waste of my time.  
    It was supposed to be about reasons for using VCs, but it was really just an explanation of what they do (and a shallow one at that).  Is filtering really a reason?  No.  It’s an interesting use but not a reason per se.  This should have just been titled “Gee whiz, virtual copies are neato!”

    ‘Reasons’ sounds like you’re trying to persuade, like you would be giving reasons for using them as opposed to other methods like keeping multiple snapshots in Photoshop, or other methods that I’m sure are out there.  

    Or maybe compare Lightroom’s VC’s to that of other raw processors. But this post was hardly newsworthy.

    You guys do good work.  I don’t think this article is up to your standards.

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    • Pye

      Thanks Chris. We will take the feedback and ask you be patient with us. I am focusing on creating content via videos, so the article forms of each video are written by staff writers who are being trained. Unfortunately, I can’t write these articles myself as we are constantly creating new content. Hopefully the video was useful. 

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  4. Harjeev Chadha

     One thing that can also be mention this the above article is that thought (as you already mentioned that deleting VC’s doesn’t delete the original Image), Please consider adding that Deleting an Original Image or Master Copy(MC) will delete all the VC’s associated with that MC.

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