Working with Virtual Copies in Lightroom

Working with Virtual Copies in Lightroom



The Virtual copy feature of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom lets you experiment with multiple editing options for an image without duplicating the original image. So, for example, if you have an image that you think would look good either with its color enhanced or rendered in black and white you can apply both fixes to the same image to see which you like best using virtual copies. No only will you see both versions in Lightroom, you can export each as a different image and you can work with them independently of each other.

Follow these steps to see virtual copies at work:

Step 1

Virtual Copies in Lightroom_2.jpg

Inside Lightroom locate the photo to adjust in the film strip, right click it and choose Create Virtual Copy. In the film strip you will see both images and, when you select them, you will see they have the same file name. If you have the Info Overlay displayed it too shows the same data for both images.

Step 2

Virtual Copies in Lightroom_3.jpg

Once you have created the virtual copy you can edit it independently of the original and compare the results. You can also make additional virtual copies and each behaves independently of the original but is, in reality, the same image.

Step 3

Virtual Copies in Lightroom-4.jpg

To view the two images side by side, return to Library view, select both the image and the Virtual copy and click the XY button above the filmstrip. This shows the two images side by side.


One problem with virtual copies is determining which is the original and which is the copy. You will need to do this, for example, if you want to delete the virtual copy leaving the original in place.

Virtual Copies in Lightroom_delete1.jpg

To delete a virtual copy, right-click the version of the image that you think is the virtual copy and choose Delete Photo. If it is the virtual copy you will see the dialog prompt “Remove the selected virtual copy from Lightroom?” – click Remove to delete it.

Virtual Copies in Lightroom-delete2.jpg

If the selected version was not the virtual copy you will see the prompt “Delete the selected master photo from disk, or just remove it from Lightroom?”. This tells you that the selected image is not the virtual copy but the original. Click Cancel if you do not intend removing both the original and the Virtual copy(ies) from Lightroom or from your disk.

Virtual Copies in Lightroom_5.jpg

If you use Virtual copies a lot you can configure the Info Overlay to show you which image is a copy. To do this, choose View > View Options and click Show Info Overlay. Reconfigure one of the info sets to include not only the File Name but also the Copy Name. The original image will display the filename only and virtual copies will display the filename and Copy 1 (or Copy 2).

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • barbara January 7, 2012 03:51 am

    Kendra, the first option that comes to my mind is to tag your copies with any of the available filters, color, stars, numbers. And then filter by that, and select all.

    For example, once I've created my VC's and put them in a collection, I then go through and tag the very best as red (keystroke 6), and the second best as yellow (keystroke) 7. Then I can filter the collection for just reds and select all to export those.

    You could do the same with your 2nd copies, or 3rd copies.

    Just a thought.

  • Kendra January 6, 2012 01:41 am

    If I make several copies of each image to edit in a different style, is there a way to select every 2nd copy or 3rd copy, etc. of each image?

  • barbara March 13, 2011 12:21 am

    My personal preference is to always move my VCs into a collection to do edits and create slideshows and export and such. And as I mentioned in a previous post, because I have set the View Options to label the image with the copy number, I always know that I am working on a copy.

    In terms of filters, I have found that in LR3 the Library filters default to off, which annoys me and I haven't yet found a way to change the default to on. Can anybody help with that?

  • Christopher March 6, 2011 03:47 am

    Barbara - having upgraded to LR3 some time ago I have been struggling all afternoon to try and find out why when working with a collection the VCs are not visible, which is really annoying. I then discover that they are visible in the folder and that i can move the copies to the collection. Most odd. So I can now edit a copy as originally could in LR2. All the filters are turned off in Library grid.

  • barbara January 14, 2011 03:02 pm

    Yes, you're right. the sequencing only allows for numbers. sorry 'bout that, i hadn't read your original post thoroughly enough i guess! Are you exporting more than one copy of each image? If yes, I am not sure what to suggest. If not, LR does not append the copy number to the original filename when you export.

  • Carrie January 13, 2011 09:39 pm

    Thanks Barbara, I see the section with the choices, but none of them look like letters, they are all serial numbers. I want to be able to save a virtual copy of CR-1 as CR-1 A instead of CR-1-1. Seems a small difference but easier for the clients to read :)

  • barbara January 13, 2011 07:23 pm

    Hi Carrie, there is a REALLY easy way to do what you want to do. When you have clicked Export, you will get an export dialogue box. After you've chosen your Export Location, see the File Naming section. Put a check in the Rename To checkbox, then use the dropdown to make your naming preferences. there are lots of naming choices, and it's really easy!

  • Carrie January 10, 2011 02:55 am

    Is there a way to change the way LR names the virtual copies when I export? I number my files in the file name, so the original would be CR-1, and the virtual copy with edits would be CR-1-2, which is a little confusing to read the whole file name....can I change it so it names it letters instead of 1, 2, 3?

  • Helen Bradley September 1, 2010 11:58 pm

    @barry there is no reason not to edit the original image. Some folks like to take an image two ways, to black and white and say colour so they like to have two versions of the image. I will often use Virtual Copies when I am taking a very close crop from an image but I'd like the full size image to still be available. While I could get back to the original it's easier to 'see' it in the filmstrip if it is actually there. It's a matter of personal preference and how you typically perform your workflow and what you do with your images.

  • Barry September 1, 2010 04:33 pm

    Is there any harm in just doing the edits on your original file if I don't need to compare two different sets of edits? I mean in DNG I can always reset the edits so I still have the original untouched image right? or am I missing something?

  • Jim June 29, 2010 05:45 am

    Question -- Now V.3 is naming my file plus Copy 1 for the first virtual copy and so on and so forth. But when I upload that to a client file and let them choose between three different post-processing versions of the same file, they all come back with the same filename.

    Earlier, I had it putting a filename-1 but that's illegal on a Unix server. I need an underscore, thank you very much!

    Any advice?

  • barbara December 24, 2009 12:05 pm

    hi david, when you work with virtual copies your original jpeg remains intact, so only the copy is exported.

  • David December 21, 2009 04:30 am

    When you export a virtual copy for printing, are permanent changes made to the original jpeg and then exported, or are changes made to a copy and only the copy is exported, leaving the original untouched?

  • Mickey December 8, 2009 01:39 pm

    Thanks, Barbara. After tech support trying to remove Lightroom plist to no avail, I reinstalled Lightroom 2.5 and all works well. Something was corrupted - but downloading again solved the problem. All is working well.

  • barbara December 7, 2009 01:15 am

    Hey Mickey, there are a couple of ways you can identify virtual copies. the best and most obvious is to show the copy number on the Info Overlay, as Helen Bradley noted in her instructions above, the final point which I have copied here for you: choose View > View Options and click Show Info Overlay. Reconfigure one of the info sets to include not only the File Name but also the Copy Name. The original image will display the filename only and virtual copies will display the filename and Copy 1 (or Copy 2).

    Alternately, if you view your images in the Library in grid format, you will notice a little "upturned corner" on the virtual copies. Not as noticable. I use the Info Overlay almost exclusively, especially because quite often i make more than one virtual copy.

    hope this helps!

  • Mickey December 6, 2009 02:28 pm

    I am trying to do virtual copies. I highlight the picture, right click, create virtual copy and it has a quick 'loading' pop up - but do not see a virtual copy. I have tried from the 'photo' up top, the grip picture,and in library and develop to no avail. Any thoughts?

  • Bob Baker June 8, 2009 10:46 am

    Would like to see more information like this posted.
    Thanks for the tip.

  • Marcy June 6, 2009 06:40 am


    LR keeps the changes in its catalog memory. If you were to export either the original or one of the virtual copies, it would then create a new file of that print with its edits.


    That's why back-up copies of your catalog should be made and updated often. ;)

  • barbara June 6, 2009 12:29 am

    I work with VC's a lot and really appreciate the "info overlay" tip. that makes my life much easier! yes, you can see a page curl in library view but in any other module you can't tell which is the original and which is the VC. i rarely change my original, always doing edits on vc's. so now i can tell in the develop module which version i am working on. bravo!

  • Reznor June 4, 2009 02:36 am


    Lightroom doesn't create XMP-files, all the edits are saved in the catalog which means that you lose them if your system crashes and you have to reinstall your OS and LR.

  • Brandon Oelling June 3, 2009 10:44 am


    Give this a shot ... will help you understand DNG capabilities/differences from XMP without much complexity:

  • patrick h. lauke June 3, 2009 03:23 am

    so when working with DNGs does this create a separate XMP file to hold the edits applied to the virtual copy? or are all copies stored somehow inside the one single DNG?

  • Nick Potter June 3, 2009 01:01 am

    I just wanted to point out that if you're unsure which is the virtual copy there's actually a far easy method that you don't mention.

    Just switch tot he Library Grid view (press "G"). Your virtual copies will have a small page curl showing in the bottom left corner. Originals don't have this.

  • Brandon Oelling June 3, 2009 01:00 am

    GREAT primer on VC's ... armed with this knowledge, things get VERY interesting!

    We leverage virtual copies to create gallery proofs for clients at lightning speed:

    ... and once we like what we see ... commit those virtual copies to individual files for archival and print: