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Four Ways to Use Snapshots in Lightroom

What’s Lightroom’s most underrated feature? If you ask five different photographers you’ll probably get at least six answers. But for me, it’s Snapshots.

Lightroom snapshots

Unused and unloved – that was the fate of Snapshots in my Lightroom workflow for many years. It’s taken me a long time to appreciate how useful they are. For most of that time, I used Virtual Copies when I needed to create different versions of the same photo. But now I use Snapshots, and it’s made life a lot easier.

Why use Snapshots in Lightroom?

Let’s look at why you would use Snapshots or Virtual Copies.

One of the benefits of a Raw file is that you can interpret the file in many different ways in Lightroom. The most obvious example is that you could create both a color version of an image and a black and white one.

How to use Snapshots in Lightroom

Two versions of the same photo created in Lightroom from the same Raw file.

There are so many different ways of developing a photo in Lightroom that’s easy to make multiple versions of the same image. Sometimes it’s difficult to know when to stop! Especially if you have a large collection of Develop Presets.

Snapshots are the easiest way to keep track of all the different versions you make of a photo.

What is a Snapshot?

A Snapshot captures all the work you have done on a photo at a particular point in a time.

Snapshots are related to the entries in the History panel. You can turn any entry in the History panel into a Snapshot by right-clicking and choosing, Create Snapshot. Snapshots save you time because you don’t have to go searching through the History panel for the point you’d like to revert to.

Lightroom Snapshots

Some of the History panel entries for a photo I developed in Lightroom. It’s nearly impossible to pick the correct entry if you want you to go back to an earlier version of the photo.

How to create a Snapshot

There are two ways to create a Snapshot.

1. Go to Develop > New Snapshot (or use the Cmd-N [Mac] / Ctrl-N [PC] keyboard shortcut.)

Lightroom creates a Snapshot from the current Develop module settings. You can give it a name or use the default (current date and time).

Lightroom Snapshots

2. Right-click on an entry in the History panel and choose, Create Snapshot. Lightroom creates a Snapshot from the settings applied to the photo at that point in the development history.

Lightroom Snapshots

Reasons to use Snapshots

Now you know how to create a Snapshot, let’s look at some ways you can use them.

1. To record where you are in the Develop module

When you’re developing photos in Lightroom you may find yourself arriving a point where you are about to go off in a different direction. For example, let’s say you want to make both a color and a black and white version of the same image. You might start off by developing it in color. When you are finished, you make a Snapshot.

Then, you can convert it to black and white. When you’re done, make another Snapshot. You can then switch between the two versions by clicking on the appropriate Snapshot. See what that might look like below.

Lightroom Snapshots

2. To test out Develop Presets

Let’s say you would like to apply some Develop Presets to your photo, but you are not sure which ones are best. For example, I often develop my portraits using my Vintage Portrait Presets for Lightroom. There are 30 presets in the pack, and I don’t know in advance which ones will work best.

Using Snapshots, you can go through the entire set. When you find a preset that you like, you can create a Snapshot quickly using the keyboard shortcut Cmd-N [Mac] / Ctrl-N [PC].

At the end, you will have several Snapshots. You can then click on them one by one to see which preset you prefer. For example, I applied five different Vintage Portrait Presets to this portrait and saved each as a Snapshot. In the end, I decided the Vintage 19 preset was my favorite.

Lightroom Snapshots

Tip: Rename the Snapshot you decide is the one you like best to something like “Preset name [final]” so you can remember which one it is. You can also delete the other Snapshots by right-clicking and choosing, Delete.

3. To make comparisons

There’s an easy way to compare two Snapshots to see which version you like best.

Start by right-clicking on the first Snapshot and selecting Copy Snapshot Settings to Before. Then click on the second Snapshot to apply it to the photo you are developing. Use the backslash () keyboard shortcut to switch between the before and current settings to make the comparison.

You can also cycle between the Before/After views by clicking the icon marked below in the Toolbar (use the T keyboard shortcut to display the Toolbar if you can’t see it).

Using the Before/After comparison to compare two Snapshots.

4. To take the place of Virtual Copies

At the beginning of the article, I mentioned that I use Snapshots instead of Virtual Copies. The main reason is that Virtual Copies are difficult to keep track of.

For example, let’s say you create four Virtual Copies of a photo, each one developed a different way. To start with, they are probably all in the same Collection. As time goes by you may create more Virtual Copies of the same photo. This is quite common – many photographers change the way they develop photos as their style evolves and Adobe adds new tools to Lightroom.

A problem arises when those new Virtual Copies are in different Collections to the originals. Suddenly you have a situation where Virtual Copies are scattered across your Catalog. That makes it nearly impossible to see how many Virtual Copies of a photo you have created.

Snapshots solve that problem. With Snapshots, there is only ever one version of your photo in the Catalog. You never have to go hunting for missing Virtual Copies. All you need to do to see the different versions of your photo is click on the Snapshot name.

Lightroom Snapshots

This photo has 9 Snapshots. If they were Virtual Copies instead it would be much harder to keep track of them.

Tip: What happens if you make a Snapshot and then update the settings? The Snapshot doesn’t change as it’s intended to record the state of a photo at the point in time you made it. But it’s easy to update the Snapshot. Just right-click on the Snapshot’s name and choose, Update with Current Settings.


Hopefully, now you can see why Snapshots are both useful and under-appreciated. If you have a problem with too many Virtual Copies in your Catalog then try using Snapshots instead to see if they solve your problem.

And of course, if you have any questions about using Snapshots in Lightroom then please let me know in the comments below.

If you’d like to learn more about Lightroom, including great tips like the one in this article, then please check out my popular Mastering Lightroom ebooks. You’ll be making the most of Lightroom in no time.

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Andrew S. Gibson
Andrew S. Gibson

is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He’s an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Join his free Introducing Lightroom course or download his free Composition PhotoTips Cards!

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