How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

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Are you running out of space on your hard drive? If you’re both a prolific photographer and a Lightroom user the answer may be yes. A hard drive that’s close to being full is bad news because it slows down Lightroom and just about every other application that you use on your computer. So how can you boost your Lightroom performance and make your computer run faster?

Luckily, there are ways to both minimize the amount of hard drive space Lightroom uses and to free up some space that is being used unproductively. As a result, Lightroom will run faster, as well as your entire computer usually.

So, how much spare hard drive space is required for Lightroom?

Ideally, you need at least 20% of your hard drive space to be free. If you have a 1TB drive, that means you should aim to keep at least 200GB free. If you have a smaller drive, such as the 256GB solid state drive I have on my iMac, then you need less. In my case, I need to keep at least 50GB free to keep Lightroom happy.

So, here are some tips to help improve Lightroom performance:

1. Store all your photos on an external hard drive

This has nothing to do with Lightroom per se, but it’s important because your photos are likely to take up a lot of hard drive space (especially if you shoot in Raw). The best approach is to use a separate hard drive for your photos, either an external drive or another internal drive added to your computer (if this is possible on your machine).

For example, my Raw photos take up 1.96TB of hard drive space. I keep them on a 3TB external hard drive like the one shown below.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

It’s important that the hard drive on which your photos are saved also has at least 20% of its space free. Otherwise, it might slow Lightroom down as well.

It’s good practice to use the external drive for photos and Lightroom catalog backups and nothing else. That means it won’t get cluttered up with other files. It’s easier to backup to other hard drives.

2. Save fewer LR catalog backups

It’s important to backup your Lightroom catalog regularly in case it becomes corrupted or the hard drive it is saved on fails.

Many photographers recommend that you set up Lightroom to backup the catalog every time you exit the program. The only problem is that the hard drive space occupied by those catalog backups can soon add up to a considerable amount.

It’s less of an issue in Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC, which compress the backup catalogs than it is with older versions of Lightroom. But even compressed backups take up a lot of hard drive space. For example, my backup folder currently has six backups in it and is 2.94GB in size.

There are two steps to take to minimize this problem:

1. Save catalog backups on an external hard drive. The same one you use to store your photos is ideal.

Each time you quit Lightroom the Back Up Catalog window appears. Click the Choose button to select the folder where you want it to save the Catalog backups. NOTE: this is the only time this option appears!

Also worth noting is that you want to save your backups on an external drive anyway because if your main hard drive crashes, both your main catalog and all the backups are gone. That is not good and defeats the purpose of having backups.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

2. Delete old backups. You don’t need to keep anything older than the two most recent catalog backups.

I deleted my four oldest backups and freed up nearly 2GB of hard drive space. It may not sound like much if you have a 1TB or larger hard drive, but it does make a difference on a 250 GB solid state drive.

It may be tempting to move your catalog to an external drive, but this will slow Lightroom down. It’s best to keep the working catalog on your internal hard drive.

3. Keep an eye on the Preview Cache

If you go to Lightroom > Catalog Settings (Mac) Edit > Catalog Settings (PC) and click on File Handling you will see something like this.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

Lightroom gives you a lot of useful information about how it uses hard drive space here. First, it tells you the size of your Preview Cache. This is where Lightroom stores all the previews it builds which enable you to view your photos in the Library module.

As you can see, my Preview Cache is currently 36GB, which is a large chunk of a 250GB hard drive. It’s less of an issue if you have a bigger hard drive.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

If your Preview Cache is too large, there are some tips for reducing its size in the next two sections.

4. Regularly delete 1:1 Previews

Of all the Library module previews Lightroom uses the 1:1 Previews take up the most space. But they are essential for zooming into your photos at 100%, which is why many photographers build them.

You can manage 1:1 Previews by setting Automatically Discard 1:1 previews to After 30 Days. You can also set it to After One Week or After One Day. Just pick the one that works best for you. Avoid the Never option, otherwise, your Preview Cache will grow out of control.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

Set your File Handling Preferences in the Catalog Settings to automatically delete 1:1 Previews after 30 days.

There’s another way to delete 1:1 previews:

1. Go to the Catalog panel in the Library module and click on All Photographs.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

2. Go to Edit > Select All (or click CMD/CTRL+A for the keyboard shortcut).

3. Go to Library > Previews > Discard 1:1 Previews (click the Discard option in the next window).

There are a couple of things you should be aware of, though:

  • Lightroom doesn’t delete the 1:1 previews from the Preview Cache right away. There is a delay, so in case you change your mind you can use the Undo function. You may have to wait a day or so to see the benefit.
  • Lightroom only deletes 1:1 previews that are at least double the size of your Standard previews.

5. Build Standard Previews that aren’t too large

You can set the Standard preview size in your Catalog Settings as well. If you select Auto Lightroom sets the smallest size required for your monitor resolution. You can also set Preview Quality to Medium or Low to reduce the space the previews take up.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

6. Build fewer or dump Smart Previews

The Catalog Settings also show you the amount of space occupied by Smart Previews. If that is too large, you can delete them.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

  1. Go to the Catalog panel in the Library module and click on All Photographs.
  2. Go to Edit > Select All.
  3. Go to Library > Previews > Discard Smart Previews (click the Discard option in the next window).

7. Regularly dump the Camera Raw Cache

Lightroom creates more previews to use in the Develop module when you process your photos. These previews are saved in the Camera Raw Cache.

You can set the maximum size of that cache by going to File Handling in Preferences. The larger the number you set the more hard drive Lightroom’s Develop module previews will potentially take up. But, Lightroom may run slower if you set it too low – so you need to find a balance between too big and too slow. Try around 20GB to start with and see how you go.

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

You can delete the Develop module previews by clicking the Purge Cache button. It’s probably a good idea to do this every now and then to free up hard drive space. The last time I did it I gained over 20GB of space (see below).

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

If you edit or view video files in Lightroom you can also gain space by purging the Video Cache (below).

How to Boost your Lightroom Performance and Improve Speed

Conclusion

Lightroom is essential for most photographers but it can use up a lot of hard drive space. The tips in this article let you take back control of your hard drive. Any questions? Let me know in the comments below.


If you’d like to learn more about Lightroom, then please check out my popular Mastering Lightroom e-books.

Read more from our Post Production category

Andrew S. Gibson is a writer, photographer and traveler. He's written over twenty photography ebooks and is the founder of The Creative Photographer, where you can subscribe to the Mastering Photography newsletter and receive three free ebooks!

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