Virtual Images Part 2: Virtual Copies

By Gene McCullagh
September 9, 2010

In Part 1 we took a look at Snapshots, a way to experiment with your images without the need to create multiple copies of the original file and use up more disk space in the process. Before we talk about the other virtual image feature of Lightroom I need to point out a correction to the Snapshots article. One of our readers, Thomas, pointed out that Lightroom no longer creates a snapshot on import. That, unfortunately, is true. Since version 3 the automatic snapshot on import feature has been removed. The consensus was that you can get to the original import state via the History panel or the Reset button. I think the removal of this feature is a mistake. Personally I found it useful to have that snapshot created. This would have been a great option to put in preferences so that those who use it can enable it. Anyway...on to our task at hand. While snapshots are very useful they remain encapsulated within the image. They don't appear in the grid and do not have any independent existence of their own. You can flip back and forth between snapshots but it isn't easy to compare two of them side by side.

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.

Or you can go to the Photo menu and select Create Virtual Copy from there.

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.

These same badges appear in the filmstrip.

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.

For the filmstrip, right click on an image and choose view options then show badges from the contextual menu.

When you look in the Metadata panel you may have noticed a field called Copy Name. This is great when dealing with virtual copies.

Remember that changing the filename on any virtual copy changes it for all copies and the master. So the copy name field is a place where you can give each virtual copy its own name.

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.

Lightroom also provides you a way to find all of your virtual copies or all of your master images via the filter bar. Select Attribute and you will see two small icons to the right.

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!



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