One of the best tools in helping you get creative in Lightroom is the ability to create Virtual Copies in Lightroom.  Read on to understand how virtual copies can help you get creative with your images.

What are Virtual Copies in Lightroom?


The virtual copy in Lightroom Classic CC is one of the most underused features of Lightroom, yet it is a feature that so many photographers could benefit by using.  A virtual copy is simply a copy of an already existing image that allows you to edit it completely different without affecting the other edits of that image.

I use virtual copies all of the time, especially when I want to deliver two different edits of the same image.  Take a look at the images below to see what I mean:


image of a engaged couple snuggled together

image of engaged couple snuggling together with edits made using virtual copies in lightroom


The top is the more common edit, while the bottom is a more creative edit.  By using virtual copies, you can get as creative as you want while still retaining the original.

You can take this to the extreme if you want by creating several virtual copies, each with a completely different edit.


image snowing 6 virtual copies of the same image of a couple snuggling all edited differently


Creating virtual copies in Lightroom allows you to have fun experimenting and not worry that you won’t be able to find your way back to the original look that you loved before.


Benefits of using Virtual Copies in Lightroom.


1. Get creative and experiment without affecting the original.

Using virtual copies in Lightroom when you get creative are crucial if you have a client that prefers a traditional look, but you want to try something new and unique.  Have you ever wanted to present the client with a clean, classic edit, and with a version in B&W, or with some fun edit?  Well, Virtual Copies are the way to do that.

2. Show the client the image cropped uniquely.

Ever want to get creative with a crop, but then leave a way for the client to print an 8×10 from a file?  Use a virtual copy to achieve this.

Often I shoot large family groups and dislike the headroom in the image.  With virtual copies in Lightroom, I can show them the original and the cropped version.


a large family group in flowers

The original large family image with a lot of space above and below the family.

a large family group in flowers cropped slim

An image created from virtual copies in Lightroom that shows a different crop to the client.


With the above images, the bottom picture is perfect for hanging on the wall above a couch in a large format that shows the faces of the close-up, while the top is perfect for printing as an 8×10.


3. They don’t take up much disk space.

A virtual copy is not an actual copy of the RAW file, only a new preview created for you to edit.  These previews (virtual copies) allow you to create countless edits, all from one RAW file.

Only when you choose to export a virtual copy is a new image file created from each of the previews.

How to Create Virtual Copies in Lightroom


Creating virtual copies is easy and can be done from either the Library Module or the Develop Module.  Select the image you want and in the menu along the top, select Photo > Create Virtual Copy.

In the library module, if you have multiple images selected, Lightroom will create a virtual copy of each image.  Another easy way to create a virtual copy is to right-click on any image and choose ‘Create Virtual Copy’ from the menu that appears.  Doing this will create a virtual copy of that picture.


image showing Lightroom menu how to create virtual copies


This last method for creating virtual copies is my favorite and most used method.  It is the keyboard shortcut.  Hold the Command/Control key down on the keyboard and hit the ‘ key.

Keeping track of virtual copies.


After creating virtual copies, it is common at times to lose track of them.  There are several ways to lose them and to bring them back.  The first, and most often way of losing virtual copies is stacking.

Often when you create a virtual copy, Lightroom will stack it underneath the original image.  You can see if this has happened by looking at the top left corner of the thumbnail in the grid view of the library. If they are stacked, you will see a number in the top left corner with a stacking icon.


image showing stacking icon in Lightroom


To unstack the images, just right-click on the photo and select Stacking > Unstack or go to the top menu bar and select Photo > Stacking > Unstack.  Your virtual copies will quit hiding and show themselves in the grid view and the filmstrip once again.


Recognizing Virtual Copies in Lightroom.


Now that you are planning to start to use virtual copies in Lightroom let me show you how to tell them apart from the original image.

In the grid view of the library module, look for a bent corner icon in the bottom left of the thumbnail.  This icon denotes that this image is a virtual copy.


The same image twice of a family walking through grasses showing the icon the shows which image is a virtual copy in Lightroom


When in the in the loupe view of the library module or in the develop module, the name will include the word “Copy,” letting you know that this is a copy or virtual copy of the original image.


image of bride and groom in mountains showing the word copy signifying this as a virtual copy in lightroom


If you don’t see the overlay with the name and info for the image on your screen in Lightroom, hit the ‘I’ key to cycle through the overlays options, including turning the overlay on and off.




So there you have it!  Virtual copies are an excellent way to create, edit, and crop an image without affecting what you have already done to the image.  Give it a try; I think you will love having them in your workflow.


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