Lightroom Speed Settings

I bet you are thinking that I am NOW taking LSD. Preach my love for Capture One Pro then start writing about Lightroom again? I know. It can get confusing. I actually use both platforms at this point. People send me emails about how to accomplish certain tasks all the time. These systems are complex and not easy to digest. That is why I am going to talk about Lightroom speed settings today.

Lightroom Speed Settings 101

When I disavowed Lightroom altogether, it was for speed. Lightroom was a pig. A greaseless pig. Slow was an understatement. While the software was given a few doses of cocaine speed when Adobe marketers dropped tabs of LSD releasing two versions of Lightroom, I saw a glimmer of hope. When I started to really focus on creating and promoting a new stock photo site, Lightroom re-entered my daily workflow to further help with the construction of my new online platform.

The latest version of Lightroom is now running pretty efficiently, however, my computer is entering the geriatric years of its life. I have a first generation Apple iMac Retina 5K display which was maxed out for every option when purchased. That was in 2014 though and the times, plus technology have yet again changed. I need to pay close attention to how I am operating to save as much time and energy as possible within my daily routine. These Lightroom speed settings are my favorite choices to help with the struggle.

Lightroom Speed Settings Hardware

Soon I will need to update my aging Retina display iMac. If you are at the point of needing an upgrade, here are some hardware specs to focus on when purchasing a new machine. I am not even going to go down the road of Apple vs. PC here. PCs suck. Get the fuck over it. Move on with life.

I have decided to eliminate a laptop from my travel life, however, many people still need and want to travel with one. The downside to a laptop-only photo editing solution is that laptops still don’t possess the hardware options of a desktop machine.

So if you can only afford one computer, you travel a ton and have decided that a laptop is it, you will sacrifice speed with either Lightroom or Capture One Pro because both platforms are catalog driven solutions – more on this concept in future articles.

Whether you are purchasing a desktop or laptop, there are 3 important options to consider when buying a new computer intended to run Adobe Lightroom Classic CC.

Lightroom Speed Settings Processor

Upgrade from the base processor one option step. Lightroom really speeds up with a 6-core processor. Recent tests using the iMac Pro point to the 10-Core processor accelerating Lightroom the most. These tests also highlight that there is little, to no gain, in value if you purchase a 14-Core or 18-Core model. Remember that we are shooting at a moving target here. There are so many variables to take into account when using Lightroom. Some of which are dictated by the camera you are shooting as well.

The bigger the RAW file you shoot, the more of EVERYTHING you are going to need to have a satisfactory editing experience in Lightroom. That is one of the main reasons that Phase One developed Capture One Pro in the first place – to accommodate their 100MP camera in a very special way. Other photographers benefitted from this R & D and Capture One Pro is a solid Lightroom competitor because of it.

Lightroom Speed Settings RAM

Adobe Lightroom Classic CC needs a minimum of 4GB of RAM to run. Adobe recommends 12GB of RAM. RAM helps your Lightroom speed settings during Import, Export, editing photos within the Loupe View, and creating HDR and Panoramic composites. If you use these four Lightroom features a lot, you should increase the base RAM in your next hardware upgrade.

I run 32GB of RAM on my current iMac and plan to run 64GB on the future iMac Pro. Here is where a laptop will kind of hinder you. A brand new MacBook Pro only offers a 32GB RAM option. The current MacBook RAM is also a bit limited in its speed transfer rates compared to the iMac Pro. So for computer longevity, spend the money to upgrade your laptop’s RAM.

The iMac Pro is probably going to see an update soon and I suspect the RAM may change as well. If so, this would make this computer even faster. The iMac Pro already ships with 32GB of RAM and it is upgradable to 128GB. 64GB feels like a good forward thinking upgrade, without completely draining the bank account.

Lightroom Speed Settings Hard Drive

The hard drive is where you can really help yourself out. Most Apple computers are using Thunderbolt 3 at this point. Thunderbolt 3 runs through a USB-C connector, but is significantly faster due to Thunderbolt’s active cable transfer rates. To put it into perspective, USB-C will yield 5Gbits/sec transfer speeds while a Thunderbolt 3 device across USB-C will yield a whopping 40Gbits/sec. That’s basically 8 times faster. You have to also couple drive speed into this. While I wish I could afford an SSD Array with a 10TB capacity, I cannot. So spinning drives are going to have to do for now.

I am using Lacie d2 10TB hard drives that run at 7200RPM. Connected to Thunderbolt 3, these compact, Enterprise-Class drives will transfer 240MB/sec. If you went with a RAID array of drives in a RAID 0 configuration across Thunderbolt 3, the speeds could reach 2600MB/sec! This is a simple cost analysis to what camera you are shooting. Smaller files need less room, less room dictates smaller hard drive, smaller hard drive costs less, but is slower. If your camera is shooting 24MP files though, do you really need that much speed? No. BUT… A Phase One is shooting a file 3 times the size of 24MP! Now you would need larger storage and faster speeds to move the larger amounts of data.

Lightroom Speed Settings Lightroom

Now what if you have a 4 year old computer like me and use it everyday to edit. How do you keep your sanity by balancing software functionality with photographer functionality?

Step One – ALWAYS and I mean always stay on top of updates. This doesn’t only hold true for Lightroom though. Stay on top of firmware updates for your camera and for your 4 year old computer. In fact, as I was writing this article Adobe released an update to Lightroom that included 4 more performance enhancements for this year.

Step Two – Have a defined workflow. I am working on a future article about this. In the meantime though, you should think about how you work on photos and how you can best migrate through potentially thousands of photos in an organized way. Then, here’s the kicker, FOLLOW IT!

Step Three – Make Lightroom speed settings tweaks within the software itself.

Lightroom Speed Settings Develop Workflow

There is a simple processing order in the Develop Module that will keep things running faster and smoother for you. Make your processing adjustments in the following order maximize performance.

  1. Spot healing. (Note: Spot healing is not designed to eliminate hundreds of spots in Lr. If you rarely clean your sensor, you should use Photoshop to clone out dust. OR Clean your sensor before every shooting session. I quickly run over my sensor with eyelead’s sensor gel stick before every shoot.)
  2. Adjust Geometry corrections, such as Lens Correction profiles and Manual Lens corrections, including keystone corrections using the Vertical slider.
  3. Global non-detail corrections, such as Exposure and White Balance.
  4. Local corrections, such as the Gradient Filter and Adjustment Brush strokes next.
  5. Finally, Detail corrections, such as Noise Reduction and Sharpening.

Lightroom Speed Settings Lr Sync

Turn off ‘Sync with Lightroom CC’. Unless you absolutely love having your photos from Lightroom Classic CC on and editable in Lightroom CC. It is a cool feature, but honestly I conduct all of my editing from my desktop iMac so I turn this feature off. Syncing your photos across the interwebs with Lightroom CC does use a ton of processing resources and will consequently slow down editing functionality. You can read this tutorial by Adobe that shows you how to turn it off.

Optimize Your Catalog

Optimizing your Lightroom Catalog can help with performance. Especially, if you make a lot of changes and updates to your photos. I will typically Optimize my Lightroom Catalog once every week. If you have Lightroom set to back up your Catalog, Lightroom also provides an option to Optimize the Catalog while backing it up. I personally do not have Lightroom make a back up copy of my Catalog. I am writing my metadata to my files as I make changes to it and I have an automated back up happening every hour on my iMac.

This means that I have to manually Optimize my Catalog. To Optimize your Catalog in Lightroom goto File > Optimize Catalog… and grab a cup of coffee. When you get back your Catalog should be completely optimized and performing better.

Increase Camera Raw cache

The Camera Raw cache is a holding zone for Lightroom. Every time you make adjustments to a photo those instructions are cached for the specific photo. By caching the changes Lightroom can speed up the redraw of the preview the next time that you go into that photo. Out of the box the Camera Raw cache is set to 1GB. Once the 1GB is full, Lightroom starts deleting older image instructions. If you make the cache larger, there is more room before it is full. I have increased mine to 99GB. To change your cache:

In the upper menu bar of Lightroom goto: Lightroom > Preferences… Performance. Look for Camera Raw Cache Settings and increase the default amount. You do not need to go as far as 99GB. I am dealing with a Catalog of over 250,000 photos so I went to an extreme. Adobe recommends raising it to 10GB or higher.

History Panel Lightroom Speed Settings

If you have a made a ton of adjustments to a single image in Lightroom, you may want to clear the history panel. Unlike Photoshop, Lightroom keeps a rolling tally of every adjustment that you apply to a photo. By clearing the history, those adjustments stay attached to the photo, but Lightroom doesn’t read through them when loading the preview when you come back.

The downside to clearing the history is that you couldn’t then remove a specific adjustment line item. However, you could alway reset that specific setting in the Develop Module.

Eliminate Unwanted Adjustments

If you batch process your photos by copying settings from one photo and then pasting them to another, you could have active settings that aren’t needed on the secondary photo. I find that it’s best to only apply batch settings if the photos are a sequence or the photos in question would benefit from a group of specific adjustments. Copying settings from other images can create unwanted or unnoticed corrections. Verify that the adjustments you want are the only adjustments within a photo help speed up your Lightroom experience.

Process Version

New Process Versions typically introduce new features to Lightroom. These features will use more computing power. If you choose to update a photo’s Process Version it could slow Lightroom down. If I processed a previous photo and like the way it looks, I typically don’t revisit that photo. In other words, I leave the Process Version alone.

If I feel that the latest and greatest Process Version will better a photo, then I update that photo.

Number of Develop Presets

Do you have a more than a thousand presets in your Develop Module? If so, you may want to remove some. Lightroom generates previews in the Navigator for each Develop Preset that you save in Lightroom. You are probably wondering how someone could have that many presets, but it is pretty easy to obtain a number like this with all the Develop Presets that are being sold and distributed freely today.

1:1 Previews

Generating 1:1 Previews is the number one Lightroom speed setting that I have discovered for my 4 year old computer at this point. 1:1 Previews do have a down side though, they take up a lot of space. So I wouldn’t just select all of the photos in your Catalog and generate 1:1 Previews for everything at once.

I used to build 1:1 Previews on import, however, I found that this method just used excess hard disk space as I didn’t always get to editing those imported photos immediately. My workflow fix for this issue is to generate Minimal Previews on Import – they take up the least amount of hard drive space. Then, before I head into a folder to edit, I manually chose Library > Previews > Build 1:1 Previews. Lightroom will then prompt you to build previews for all photos or just one in the folder and I choose Build All.

Dependent upon how large the folder of photos is, this could take Lightroom some time to churn through all of the previews. This is a great time to go have more coffee, grab some dinner or head to bed and edit tomorrow, but when complete, you will be able to move through photos rather quickly in the Library and Develop Modules.

Smart Previews

One last Lightroom speed setting for you. You could generate and process your photos from Smart Previews as well. This allows you to work on photos with or without an external hard drive attached. When that drive is plugged in to your computer Lightroom will automatically sync your metadata and develop adjustment changes. The benefit to working on your photos using Smart Previews is that Lightroom is using a smaller Jpeg file for your visual edits, thus it runs extremely fast.

The downside to this technique is that the files you see are not the native resolution of your RAW files. You may see artifacts and pixel aberrations within  your photos that aren’t actually there. If you use a laptop to edit your photos though, this technique is a no brainer in my opinion because you can work on photos while traveling and leave the large hard drive RAID array safely at home.

Final Thoughts

I have given Lightroom and Adobe some shit in my day. I am a speed junkie though. If you think about how Lightroom works, that every single adjustment added to a photo needs to be written to the Catalog (database), then read from the Catalog to be displayed correctly, Lightroom is pretty amazing. Adobe has really focused on Lightroom speed settings with recent updates to the software as well. Something that I felt they were ignoring in previous years.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still really enamored by Capture One Pro, I just have clients and workflows in place that aren’t that compatible to Phase One’s editing system. Digital photography is a changing landscape though. Let’s see where it takes us.

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