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Lightroom Secrets: The Power of Snapshots

For ages, I’ve become accustomed to using Lightroom’s Virtual Copy feature. It let me create multiple images and style them based off of the original edit I had made. But it was tedious when dealing with multiple virtual copies.

Since then, I’ve discovered the Snapshots tool — a powerful yet under-utilized feature of Lightroom Classic. Think of this as a combination of the Virtual Copy feature and the History panel. It lets you record different versions of a photograph in one file, which ultimately helps you narrow down the edit you want to go with.

How to Use Snapshots

Snapshots help keep track of different editing possibilities in one file, instead of with multiple virtual copies. They’re easier to track down and compare.

To get started is pretty simple. First, make your edit like you normally would in the Develop module. Then, in the menu bar, go to Develop > New Snapshot. You can give your Snapshot a name (maybe referencing the look you did to the image). This will record your current settings.

Every time you test out a preset, change a color profile or make any other kind of edit, you can make additional snapshots. What’s nice is snapshots can be completely transformed — yes, you can even crop them — without damaging the other snapshots. One snapshot doesn’t affect the other — it acts like its own image, but in reality, it’s recording the data to one, single file.

If you decide to make a subtle change to a snapshot, you don’t have to create a new one — simply right-click on the snapshot’s name and select Update with Current Settings. And if you forget to make a snapshot, you can rely on the History panel, and right-click on a historical element to make a snapshot for you.

Real-World Use

I had a few architectural images from Toronto that I wanted to edit. One, in particular, was looking up at the RBC Royal Bank building downtown. After a tedious edit in Photoshop which involved me getting rid of the power lines, I came out ready to make a final edit in Lightroom.

I ultimately decided on four different looks. One had basic edits, increasing the contrast, taking down the highlights and other minor changes. A second enhanced the blue sky. A third lifted the shadows on the building. And a fourth went in a completely different direction, providing a black and white look with a blue tone.

To compare the different photos, I used Lightroom’s Before & After comparison view, making the basic edit as my primary photo. From there I just clicked on the different snapshots I had made, and the “After” image changed, allowing me to compare my edits.

Being able to compare these allowed me to make subtle edits on the snapshots I had already created, ultimately leading me to my final edit.

Where Snapshots Don’t Work

For me, there’s only one instance where Snapshots don’t work — and that is when I’m dealing with a third-party plugin like Luminar or Perfectly Clear. For peace of mind, I edit photos in these applications as copies with Lightroom adjustments, and because you’re creating a copy of a file, you can’t tie the original Lightroom file with the new file you’re creating with the plugin.

Conclusion

Snapshots are great for when you’re testing out different looks and edits, and they can be used on any number of photographs. It’s a very powerful tool that can help with image selection and finalizing your photographs for yourself or your client.

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