10 Tips to Improve Lightroom's Speed and Performance Without Additional Hardware

10 Tips to Improve Lightroom’s Speed and Performance Without Additional Hardware


This article is part one of a two part series on how to improve the performance of Lightroom. Lightroom is a very resource intensive application and you’ll find that as you get quicker and more efficient in Lightroom, the actual software itself will be what’s slowing you down. This tutorial is going to give you 10 tips on how to improve the performance of Lightroom on your machine without purchasing or upgrading your existing hardware.

In this article, we are going to talk about Lightroom preferences and system settings. While in the second part of this two part series we will create a hardware guide where we will teach you which components to upgrade first for the biggest performance boost.

So, let’s get on to discussing 10 Tips on Improving Lightroom’s Performance. If you would like to see this tutorial in its video format, please visit this tutorial at SLR Lounge or on the SLR Lounge YouTube Channel.

1. Use Optimal Settings During the Import Process

To improve the overall speed of Lightroom during the import process, we need to modify a few settings. Go to the Import Dialogue Box by selecting ‘Import’ in the Library module as shown below.

Under ‘File Handling,’ set ‘Render Previews’ to ‘Minimal’ as shown below.

Setting Render Previews to Minimal will ensure that as Lightroom is importing new images, it’s not spending any extra time rendering previews for our images. If you’re importing hundreds or thousands of images from several memory cards or if you’re importing off a hard drive, you’re going to save tons of time as each preview takes a several seconds to render (depending on your computer’s speed and the preview size). We do want to make sure that before we begin working on editing our images, we have rendered full 1:1 previews, however we will discuss that shortly.

Next, go down to ‘Apply During Import’ panel as shown below.

In this ‘Apply During Import’ panel it’s best to apply general Develop Settings, metadata, and keywords whenever possible during import. Doing so will allow Lightroom to render previews that already include these basic settings. If you’re shooting weddings, applying general Develop Settings may be rather minimal since each scene is so dramatically different. However, if you’re shooting something like products, headshots, portraits, etc, you’re probably setting up an entire scene and shooting it all the same way. This makes it easy to set your Develop Settings based on your typical settings for that scene so that you can actually import them and have all your images batch processed during import.

If you aren’t able to create Develop Settings that will batch process your images, than I would at least highly recommend that you create a basic Develop Setting that sets general settings that are used for most of your images. For example, we import our images with minor boosts to Recovery, Clarity, Vibrance and Sharpness as all of our images typically will need those adjustments.

2. Use an Adequately Sized Cache Folder

Go to the ‘Edit’ menu and hit ‘Preferences’ (you can also hit Ctrl + , to get there). Under ‘File Handling,’ change the size of your Camera Raw Cache settings as shown below.

You typically want to set your Camera Raw Cache settings to a size that is equivalent to what your average job would be, maybe making it a little bit larger if possible. The Camera Raw Cache folder allows Lightroom to store all the previews for the images that you’re working on inside of a folder on your hard drive. This folder allows Lightroom to quickly access preview information in order to display your image previews without lag. The larger this cache is, the more image previews it can store. For us, the typical job (we shoot weddings) is about an 8 hour day and we’ll have say 2,000 images from one photographer. Each wedding is stored in its own Lightroom Catalog. So, take your average number of images that you store in a typical catalog (2000 for us), and multiply it by your average file size. We’re shooting SRAW1 (Small Raw 1) on the Canon 5D Mark II so let’s say our average file size is roughly 10 megabytes each. So multiplying 2,000 x 10 gives us 20 gigabytes. I will typically add 25% extra or 5 gigabytes just to be safe. Therefore, our Camera Raw Cache is set to 25 gigabytes.

Now if you have tons of extra space on your hard drives, then by all means, set it even higher. But, because I’m using SSD drives on my machine and they’re fairly limited in size, my working drive is only 256 gigabytes. So, I set this to 25 gigabytes so that I can work on one entire job at a time as shown below.

3. Cache Folder Location

If you have an internal drive, other than your operating system drive, then choose a different drive to store your Camera Raw Cache, but do not choose an external USB drive. If you choose an external USB drive to save your camera raw cache settings, you’re severely hindering Lightroom’s performance. External USB drives themselves are typically very slow and the USB connection is even slower. So always use an internal drive or a zippy eSATA drive if you have one, but your best option is to use a drive that’s not your operating system drive so Lightroom can have a dedicated hard drive for the Camera Raw Cache.

If you have no choice, then use your operating system drive. To change the Camera Raw Cache location select ‘Choose,’ and select a drive and folder. My working drive is my 256 gigabyte SSD drive, which I use just for editing images (see img-005). So I have my raw cache folder set to D:0_LR3 CACHE as shown below.

4. Choose an Appropriate Standard Preview Size

Lightroom uses Standard Previews in the Filmstrip, Grid thumbnails, as well as in preview content areas of the Slideshow, Print and Web Modules. Having Standard Previews set too high will unnecessarily slow down your system without any benefit. To adjust your Standard Previews go to the catalog settings by pressing Ctrl + Alt + , or select it in the ‘Edit’ menu. Remember that Catalog Settings are specific to each catalog, so you do want to set it with each catalog.

I’m typically editing on two 24 inch monitors that run at high resolutions (1920 x 1200). I am using the two screen functionality of Lightroom to display a full preview on my second monitor. Because of this, I’m going to choose the Standard Preview size at 2048 at a High Preview Quality. But, this may be far too high for many of you.

For example, if you’re on a 17 inch monitor, you’re probably running 1280 x 1080 or smaller resolutions, so you can afford to get away with 1440 pixels or even 1024 pixels as your Standard Preview size. Choose a preview size based on your number of displays and resolution. For most of you, 1024 Pixels at Medium Preview Quality is sufficient.

5. Turn Off XMP Unless Needed

Go into your Catalog Settings by pressing Ctrl + Alt + , and then go to the ‘Metadata’ tab of Catalog Settings and uncheck ‘automatically write changes into XMP’ as shown below.

Unless you absolutely need to have your changes in XMP format, do not select this feature. When this feature is selected, every time you make a change to one of your files, it is writing that information to a side card file and duplicating the amount of processing work. If you’re going image by image making these changes, it’s not going to slow down too much. However, if you’re sitting there and batch editing, and you select 100 images and you have it do a batch synch across those 100 images, it’s also going to have to take twice the amount of time to write those settings into XMP. Probably 99% of you have absolutely no reason to be using XMP files.

6. Optimize the Lightroom Catalog

When your catalog file gets very large (10,000+ images), that’s when it’s probably good to optimize your catalogs. Go to the ‘File’ menu and select ‘Optimize Catalog.’ That’s going to bring up a little dialogue box and you click ‘Optimize,’ which might take a few minutes to complete.

Typically for us, each job is its own catalog, so we don’t typically need to use the Optimize Catalog feature because catalogs aren’t getting any larger than 3,000-5,000 images. But if you do have large catalogs, then it is good to optimize your catalog from time to time.

7. Render 1:1 Previews Prior to Editing

That brings us to our editing workflow. You may have noticed that when you are editing in the Lightroom Develop module it will frequently say ‘Loading’ when moving from image to image. In particular, when you zoom into a specific image to see fine detail as shown below.

This is because Lightroom is having to render 1:1 Previews on the fly. To fix this issue you need to render previews prior to working. To do so, go back to the ‘Library’ module, and make sure that all photos are available for view. The easiest way to do this is simply to select All Photographs in the Catalog Panel as shown below.

The images don’t all have to be selected, but there can’t be any filters on.

Now click the ‘Library’ menu, then ‘Previews’ and select ‘Render 1:1 Previews.’ Then select ‘Build All’ in the dialogue box.

So long as no filters are selected when you select ‘Build All,’ it’s going to scan all existing previews that are in the catalog file and it’s going to build every single preview. This process will take a bit of time. If your catalog sizes are around 100 images, it’ll probably take 5-10 minutes, depending on your computer speed and your hard drive speed. But if you are, say, shooting weddings where you have 3,000-5,000 images in a single catalog, this might take hours, depending on your system speed. What I would recommend is to start this process the day before you’re going to start working on your images. If you have a fast machine, you can probably do this during your lunch hour. But, it’s absolutely crucial to have those images rendered prior to editing them so that you are not waiting for Lightroom to render each image preview as you try to edit.

8. Keep Catalog Sizes Small < 10k Images if Possible

The catalog size is the number of images that are in your catalog. There’s really no reason to have a catalog size with tens of thousands of images or hundreds of thousands of images unless it is absolutely necessary for archival and search purposes. There are many people that have 100,000+ images in each catalog file. That’s when the Optimize Catalog feature becomes crucial because the catalog files become so large. Let me be clear, Lightroom will slow down as your catalog sizes get larger. So, if it isn’t just imperative that all of your images exist within a single catalog, then it’s good to have independent catalogs for every event that you’re working on. That way, each catalog file and each event is always running at its optimal speed.

9. Free Up Your Hard Drives!

Make sure that your hard drive space, especially the drives that you are working on, has at least 25% or more free at all times. With your operating system drive, you never want your operating system drive to have less than 25% free because it will slow down your entire operating system. It is typically recommended that you have at least 50% available on your OS drive as well as on your work in process drive. The larger and the more filled up these hard drives get, the closer they get to capacity, and the slower they’re going to be.

10. Frequently Run Disk Defrag

Make sure that you run disk defrag on your hard drive on a monthly basis. For Windows, go to ‘Search’ and type in ‘Defrag’ and it will automatically show up. Select ‘Disk Defragmenter,’ choose the hard drive if you’re running multiple hard drives and internal hard drives. Make sure you defrag your operating system as well as on your work in process drive. For those running on a Mac, Apple claims that defrag isn’t necessary as OSX has safeguards to avoid fragmentation. However, it is still important to keep plenty of available space on your drive.

Warning, if you use SSD drives do not defrag them! Since SSD drives don’t use a platter system, there is no difference in read/write access times depending on where information is stored on the drive. So, not only is it unnecessary to defrag an SSD drive, it will also reduce the life of your SSD drive.

Hope you all enjoyed this article, be sure to check out SLR Lounge for hundreds of great videos and articles on everything photography. Also subscribe to the SLR Lounge Facebook and YouTube Channel to stay up on everything in the community.

Read more from our Post Production category

Post Production Pye I hate speaking of myself in the third person, haha. I am a Partner and professional photographer with Lin and Jirsa Los Angeles Wedding Photography, and the Senior Editor for SLR Lounge Photography Tutorials. I am passionate about photography as an art as well as my part as an educator in the industry. Subscribe to our YouTube Channel and feel free to hit me up with questions anytime on Facebook.

Some Older Comments

  • Arnel Gonce June 21, 2013 09:54 am

    That was very helpful advice asking why I can't afford another 600-700 dollar item. I've already spent so much on gear, and lenses. As much as I'd like money to be unlimited, it isn't. I didn't think things would take off quite like they have. Regardless, I figured out the problem was a LR update I was missing, so I'm having no more issues. But thanks again for that great helpful advice.

  • Passerby June 19, 2013 06:14 pm

    U shoot sports. Starting to get paid for your work. You used a canon ff 5d3. Probably with some good ff L lenses too. And you can't afford a thunderbolt device. What's wrong with you?

  • Arnel June 1, 2013 05:17 am

    I have a question. I'm a photographer who recently started being paid to do sports photography. Before that, Photography was just for fun. Because I frequently come back from sporting events with 1500-2000 photos, I realized I couldn't get by with 2.0 USB. I changed everything to 3.0, and got a lexar Pro 1000X card. I shoot my pictures on M JPEG which are about 10MB. I tried the small setting, but for some reasons they looked horrible. I have a Canon 5DMarkIII. I also purchased a 3.0 MyBook external drive, and have OSX 10.8.3, processor 3.2 GHz Intel Core i%, with 8GB MHz DDR3. My monitor is a 24" monitor. So my question is, after I plugged in the card, plugged in the myBook (and the card reader by the way is also the Lexar 3.0) and tried to download photos, the speed is no different than my 2.0. Please can you tell me what I'm doing wrong? I import through lightroom, but directly to the MyBook. If everything is 3.0, then why has nothing changed? I'm almost in hysterics over this. I can't afford a Thunderbolt at the moment, even though I'd really like one.

  • Teri April 15, 2013 04:18 pm

    My lightroom catalogue is starting to get ridiculous (40,000 or so photos stretched across my laptops hard drive and an external hard drive). At the same time, as people will sometimes order without telling what event it's from (equine event/sports photographer) so I need to consolidate the photos into one catalogue, if I worked on each event in smaller lots (usually about 1000 photos for smaller events and 3000 or so for larger, 2 day events). While I know you can export to catalogue for a collection, is there any better way to do this with collection sets?

    (Workflow is import to lightroom, sort into classes/rings/phases in collection set and then edit.)

    Any other ideas? (Need to still have Lightroom editing ability to recrop for prints etc.)

  • Osman Eralp February 12, 2013 06:25 am

    If I use multiple catalogs, what is the best way to search through all the catalogs for images that match some search criteria?

  • Jan R Olsen January 12, 2013 07:59 am

    Extremely usefull article! I have one big catalog. Is it possible to split it up, say one a year? Now i have 10 years in one catalog.

  • Barney Walters October 28, 2012 06:21 pm

    Best thing I have read all week. Very detailed - even learnt a thing or two. Thanks for the information and I for one can hold and hands up and say I didn't know as much about Lightroom until reading this. Thankyou and happy shooting.

  • Daniel D. Sedinte foto October 10, 2012 01:20 am

    The article is extremely detailed and I'm sure many photographers will find here the info they are looking for. Waiting for more posts like this :)

  • jastereo May 25, 2012 02:00 pm

    @DebScally - Re: softer images in Library mode. You probably have your standard size preview "size" set too low for the monitor size you're using (see #4 above). The Library (when in loupe view) uses the standard size previews and generally is scaling them to "fit" the space you have to show them (depending on what panels you have open/closed, etc). So if you have them set to a small size (like 1024) and it's stretching that out to fill your large screen it can look slightly soft. Increase it to a larger size preview (see the instructions above) re-render them and you will be good to go.

    Not to confuse the issue more but just as an FYI and so people know whats going on, this should only be an issue if you're a) using a large pixel dense screen b) have a your std preview size set too low for it & c) have rendered standard size previews but NOT rendered 1-1 previews. If lightroom has the full sized (1-1) preview it will not be "soft" since it knows enough to use the largest preview it has (the 1-1) to fill the screen. You can see this in action (and check to see if that's what's going on) but zooming in at 1-1 in the Library module - like if you were going in to check focus. To do that lightroom will have to fully render the 1-1 preview - so when you pull back out to full screen it should be sharp.

    For more LR speed optimization tips (and a deeper dive on some of these) see adobe's similar list: http://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/kb/optimize-performance-lightroom.html

  • George January 28, 2012 05:51 am

    Thanks!! What a difference after applying these settings! THANKS!!!

  • Scott December 7, 2011 08:05 am

    I'm working on a 7 year old XP machine (which is soon to be replaced) and don't see where you have a link to the second article on optimizing the hardware. I'm building a new box and "fast and lots" in the previous posts are too generic of words.

  • Post Production Pye September 20, 2011 07:57 am

    Megan, you are barely meeting Lightroom's minimum hardware requirements. In your situation, regardless of what you do with the software and your system, it is still going to act sluggish. If you want more speed in Lightroom, your only option is to upgrade your system. Focus on a fast CPU, hard drive, and lots of RAM (at least 4GB+, we run each LR system with 12GB).

  • Megan September 20, 2011 07:26 am

    I have tried all the tips in this article, including recently replacing my hard drive so that it is <half full, and Lightroom still continues to run painfully slow for me. It was faster for a little while after replacing the hard drive, but it is now back to being so slow that it is almost unusable at times (for example, I'll drag an adjustment bar and then sit and wait 10 seconds for the effect to show up). It usually works alright for the first 5 minutes or so after I open the program, and the speed goes down from there.

    Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated! I am working on a Mac OSX 10.5 with 2gb of ram.

  • Deb Scally September 18, 2011 10:49 pm

    Anyone else have the experience of your images rendering looking "softer" in the Library mode compared to the develop mode? I have actually made the mistake of trashing a couple of images in Library mode because I thought the focus was "off"... only to realize they looked crisp and clear in Develop mode. What gives?

  • KAG September 16, 2011 10:38 pm

    Well written and useful post. Thank you!


  • Davis Varner September 16, 2011 10:52 am

    Very practical and useful article. Never would have figure this all out. If it speeds up processing at all, it's worth it. Thanks very much.

  • Matt September 16, 2011 05:44 am

    This is possibly the most useful article I've ever read on here! Thanks very much!

  • Don Mcphee September 14, 2011 11:04 am

    Great article. I do all my processing on my MacBook Pro 2.8 i7 w 8 gig memory. I am looking to upgrade to an
    iMac with thunderbolt with a 2tb hard drive and a second internal ssd256. Would it be a good idea to store camera cache on a external Thunderbolt drive as it's 5 times faster than esata 3?


  • Albert erickson September 10, 2011 09:42 am

    Great post I followed everything and my lr is working much better.

  • Mark September 10, 2011 06:21 am

    If you have a tower Mac, put as many drives in as possible and strip them together in Disk Utiltiy.

    A Mac Pro takes four drives, so one drive for OS and Apps, stripe three together for speed and you get 300-400MB/sec read and write for catalogues and images. AWESOME SPEED!

    It does mean you are putting everything at risk, any one of the three drives fails and you lose everything, so you need proper backup. A simple RSYNC/SCP thing to an external Drobo and you're covered for 24 hours.

  • Post Production Pye September 10, 2011 04:42 am

    -S, if you are importing from a single source (one card or HD) and intend to work on your images right after importing, then yes, it makes sense rendering on import. However, we most often import files, and work on the catalog file later. If you are importing from multiple cards, and having render 1:1 on, then it will slow down the import process. We want to get our files into Lightroom, and get back to working on our current jobs as fast as possible. To do that, turn off the 1:1 preview until you are ready to work, then run the previews.

    - Ben, changes made to images in Lightroom are stored in the .lrcat file naturally. When you take an image directly from Lightroom to Photoshop, these changes are automatically transferred. If you want to backup your changes, backup the catalog itself. XMPs are only needed when transferring to machines or individuals that don't use Lightroom. The XMP files allow you to make changes in Lightroom, then be able to transfer those changes to a non-adobe application while being able to view the Lightroom changes. To see more on the actual uses and practical uses for XMP, check out Chapter 8 of the Lightroom Guide on slrlounge.com

  • Post Production Pye September 10, 2011 04:29 am

    Erik, changes are stored in the .lrcat (Lightroom Catalog) file, this is where all your work is stored. The .lrdata folder is simply where previews are located.

    As a professional, we work with 400+ LR catalog a year. We have never lost or had any LR catalog file damaged. That is also what the catalog backup function is for. We don't use XMPs to keep Lightroom running optimally. In fact, this performance recommendation is one from Adobe themselves. Of course, you choose what you want to do, however the vast majority of people that are using this function have absolutely no need for it and are just unnecessarily slowing down Lightroom's performance. If you need a back up solution, run the catalog back up, or simply make a copy of your catalog file. This is just as safe, and it won't slow down Lightroom.

  • Erik Unger September 10, 2011 03:51 am

    If you don't have the changes saved to xmp, then the the changes are stored i believe in the .lrdata file. This is a very bad idea because if you lose your LR catalog files, all changes are gone. If xmp is enabled, the changes will always be there next to the actual image and allows you to see the changes in other programs that can read the xmp files.

    Not saving to xmp just seems like a really bad idea.

  • Ben September 10, 2011 02:36 am

    RE: #5: if not being stored to XMP, where are the changes being stored? Will Photoshop know the changes exist if I turn this off and edit in CS5? I could see this working if you used DNG files since there is no side car.

  • -S September 10, 2011 02:35 am

    Nice, though I don't see why you wouldn't want to render the 1:1 preview at import time, since you need them anyway before editing. Doing so at import time just lets you go grab a coffee and have everything ready when you get back. No need to wait and pay attention until the import to finish so that you can finally start the 1:1 rendering... and wait again. Sure, you could cull some photos without the 1:1 but I have to peep closer often enough that rendering 1:1 at import makes more sense. Your mileage may vary.

  • Clive Moss September 10, 2011 02:31 am

    You said:
    "For Mac, go to ‘Applications’ to ‘Utilities’ to ‘Disk Utility’ and run defrag from there as well. It should be under the ‘Repair Disk Permissions’ button."

    Mac OS X does not have this function. Never had it. Third party apps exist, but are not needed.

  • Yacko September 10, 2011 02:05 am

    "For Mac, go to ‘Applications’ to ‘Utilities’ to ‘Disk Utility’ and run defrag from there as well. It should be under the ‘Repair Disk Permissions’ button."

    Huh? What version of OSX are you speaking of? AFAIK, it doesn't exist under 10.6 and earlier and doesn't need to exist. The only result of frequently defragging a hard disk under Mac OSX will be to frag your computer.