7 Things You Can Do to Improve Lightroom’s Speed

Ever found yourself in situations where Lightroom’s being incredibly slow? Adobe has improved speed in the new Lightroom Classic CC, but there are still some complaints about the speed on online forums. Now, some of the speed issues could be a result of the hardware. Maybe your computer doesn’t have enough memory and overall specifications for your machine are slow. We won’t be going into the hardware side of things, but, if you’re someone whose Lightroom is still running slow even after the Classic CC update, make sure you’re doing the things discussed in this blog post. All of these can be done from within Lightroom.

1. Camera RAW Cache Settings

The Camera RAW Cache is some space on your hard drive that temporarily holds the data from your recently accessed files. It does that, so it can load that data quickly. You can decide how much space should be allocated to hold that data. If that space is more, that would mean  that more data would be easily accessible. That will improve speed. You can change the amount of space allocated for Camera RAW Cache from the Lightroom preferences.

You can go to Lightroom Preferences from the Edit menu (on a PC) or the Lightroom menu (on a Mac). In Preferences, go to the File Handling tab. At the bottom, you will find Camera RAW Cache Settings. By default, the value for this is set to 1.0 GB, which is never enough and will make your Lightroom run slower. You can take it as high as you can depending on how much space you have on your hard drive; but usually 5-10GB is good enough for most people.

2. Optimize Catalog

When you come back to your room after a long day at work, you just take your shoes off and throw them in one corner of the room. Your clothes are thrown at the couch, you throw your bag on the bed. If this keeps happening for a few days, your room will start getting messy and you’ll have a hard time finding where certain things are.

In the same way, after some time, as photos are imported into a catalog and many are deleted, the data inside a Lightroom catalog can become disorganized and Lightroom has a hard time looking for information that it needs. And just like you would need to clean up your room and put everything in its place every few days, Lightroom needs to optimize the catalog to tidy things up.

Optimizing the catalog is a pretty simple process. You can go to the File menu and select Optimize Catalog. Once you do that, it’ll ask you for a confirmation. After confirming, depending on the size of your catalog, it’ll take some time to optimize the catalog. Larger catalogs will take longer whereas smaller ones may get done fairly quickly.

3. Graphics Processor

The next thing you can do is go to the Performance tab in Lightroom Preferences; and over there would be a checkbox called Use Graphics Processor. Now, here’s the thing with this checkbox. It won’t always be better having it checked ON. Sometimes when you have it checked on, it makes Lightroom hang and stop working. There are a lot of factors involved, like the model of your graphics card, the drivers installed and other things that Lightroom may not support. So, in the case that Lightroom starts to hang or becomes slower, then keep this off.

On the other hand, if this is off and your Lightroom is becoming sluggish, try switching it on. That may just speed things up. As I said, there are a few factors involved in determining whether this will speed things up or slow them down, so you’ll just have to check which one speeds things up on your computer.

4. Smart Previews

Smart Previews are previews that can be used instead of the original files when the original files are offline. What that means is if you store your photographs on an external hard drive, and you created Smart Previews, even if the external hard drive is not connected to your computer, you can still edit your photos. So, you could be travelling on a plane with your laptop and your hard drive containing your photos is miles away, you can still edit those photos if you’ve created Smart Previews.

You can create Smart Previews while importing your photos by switching on the option from the File Handling panel in the Import dialog.

But, how do Smart Previews affect performance? Well, they make the performance significantly better, since they are much smaller than the original RAW files, so they load much faster. And because of that, they are also fast to process.

To make sure that Lightroom is using the Smart Previews for editing instead of the RAW files, you need to switch on one preference. Go to the Preferences dialog from the Edit menu (on a PC) or Lightroom menu (on a Mac). In the Preferences dialog, go to the Performance tab and check Use Smart Previews instead of Originals for image editing

5. Preview Size & Quality

When you’re viewing a photo in Lightroom, you’re only viewing its preview. Not the actual file in it’s actual size. You select the quality of these previews at the time of import. In the Import dialog, under the File Handling panel, Lightroom asks you to choose from four different kinds of previews. Minimal, Embedded & Sidecar, Standard, 1:1. The most commonly selected option from that is the Standard preview.

Now, you can change the size and quality of the Standard preview to make it load faster. You can do that, by going to the Edit menu (on a PC), or the Lightroom menu (on a Mac) and in that select Catalog Settings. Once you’re in the Catalog Settings dialog, go to the File Handling tab. Over there, you’ll see a dropdown called Standard Preview Size and by default, it would have picked a size according to your screen size. But, if the performance of your Lightroom is slow, you can select a smaller size and that should improve performance.

Then, the dropdown right below will allow you to select the quality of the preview. You can select from High, Medium or Low; and in order to improve speed, you’re better off with Medium or Low. I prefer Medium, as it provides the right balance between quality and speed.

6. Auto-write XMP off

Any adjustments you make to your photos in Lightroom get saved in your catalog. That means that if you open that RAW file in any other software, those changes will not be visible. If you need to make those adjustments available to other software, you will have to export the metadata into what’s known as a sidecar file, also known as the XMP file.

If you’re using only Lightroom to edit your photos, then you don’t need to have your edits saved on XMP files. There are different opinions about it, but if you do have it set up to automatically write the changes on XMP files, it can have an impact on Lightroom’s performance. So, keeping that option off can make Lightroom faster. You can change this preference by going to Edit menu (on a PC) or Lightroom menu (on a Mac) and go to Catalog Settings. In there, go to the Metadata tab and switch off the option for Automatically write changes to XMP. 

A word of warning though: These XMP files can be pretty helpful in some situations. When you accidentally delete images from the catalog, or the entire catalog is deleted without having a backup, these XMP files can save the day since your edits for each image would be saved in the corresponding XMP file. So, since there are different opinions about this, I would recommend testing it on your computer. If switching it off doesn’t have a major improvement in speed for you, you can switch it back on.

7. Clear History

It’s not all that commonly known, but Lightroom keeps a record of each and every adjustment you make to each of your photographs. It doesn’t matter if you close Lightroom and open it again, it’ll keep those steps saved even if you imported your photo years ago. Over time, for the thousands of photos you have in your catalog, that can become a lot. Because, this is all getting saved in the catalog file, it can slow down Lightroom’s performance significantly. So, it’s important that you keep clearing your history every now and then.

Clearing the history does not remove the current edits on your photos. It only clears up all the steps you have taken to get your photo to the current state. If you remove your history, your current edits stay like they are.

So, how can you clear the history on your photos? Simply select the photos you want to clear the History for. Then go to the Develop menu and choose Clear History.

If you want to clear the history for your entire catalog, you can do that too. But, let me give you a word of warning, depending on the size of your catalog, it can take a long time to do that. It can definitely clear a lot of space up in your catalog file, which is definitely going to make things faster in Lightroom. So, if you do decide to go ahead with it, here’s how you would do it: go to the Library module, then in the left panel group, scroll all the way to the top, you’ll see the Catalog panel. In that, choose All Photographs.

It’ll take some time to load all the photos depending on the size of your catalog. Select all the photos using Ctrl-A, once all the photos are loaded. Go back to the Develop module. Once in the Develop module, go to the Develop menu and click on Clear History.

I am hoping that you’ll do these 7 things and it’ll make your Lightroom work faster than it does right now. Let me know in the comments section, some of the methods you have tried to make Lightroom faster

Shajee Aijazi

Shajee Aijazi is the founder of Digital Darkroom Academy. He helps people speed up their post-processing workflow and organize their photos in a way that they don't have to waste time managing it and they can focus on creating great looking images.

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