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.

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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.

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