This is where Virtual Copies come in. These are like snapshots in that they do not require any additional disk space and can show different settings for the same image. However, they exist in the catalog as independent image entities (with a few exceptions we'll discuss).
To create a virtual copy, select an image. There are three main ways to create the copy. First you can right click on the image and select Create Virtual Copy from the contextual menu.
Lastly, you can use the keyboard shortcut Command ' on a Mac or Control ' on a PC. This creates a virtual copy and stacks it with the original. You can create any number of virtual copies and they will all stack with the original or master image.
At the time you create a virtual copy it inherits everything from the master image. From that point on it is independent. You can add different keywords, include it in collections, export it on its own, perform different develop techniques, and so one. It is a truly flexible way to take an image down radically different artistic paths.
There are three very important things that remain connected between a master image and its virtual copies. First is the file name. If you change it on the master or any of the virtual copies it will change for all the other images derived from the same master image.
The second is our old friend the snapshot. Creating a snapshot on one image creates it for all the others. Lastly, virtual copies rely upon the master image for their existence. If you delete the master image all of its virtual copies are deleted with it.
Virtual copies can be identified in the grid by a small page curl badge in the lower left corner of the thumbnail.
If you don't see the virtual copy badges you can turn them on in view options. They are controlled in the grid and the filmstrip independently. In the grid open the View Options (Command Shift J on a Mac, Control Shift J on a PC) and make sure the thumbnail badges option is checked.
When you create a virtual copy Lightroom automatically populates this field with Copy 1 or Copy 2 and so on for each virtual copy from each master image. You can change this to anything you like to identify the virtual copy. Also, notice the small arrow icon to the right of this field. Click this and you will be taken to the master image this virtual copy came from.
This copy name can be used when exporting virtual copies. It is accessible from the filename template and can be incorporated into your templates.
Click the first to only show master images. The second will only show virtual copies. These two may be active at the same time to show all masters and virtual copies excluding video files (represented by the third icon).
As great as snapshots are, I really find virtual copies to be the best way to explore independent visions of an image. If you haven't yet experimented with them don't wait any longer. They don't use any disk space and you won't lose anything playing with them. Go ahead and play with some virtual images today!