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Optimizing Lightroom for Best Performance: Top Ten Lightroom Speed Tips

July 15, 2009 | | Comments 68

Speeding up Lightroom

It seems like all the talk online this morning is about the CNET article Adobe: Lightroom slows photo export on purpose. Stephen Shankland refers to a fairly technical article by Lloyd Chambers on Optimizing Adobe Lightroom.

Chambers discovered through a series of tests (which he details in the article) that Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (version 2.3) was not utilizing all of the computer’s available cores. Read the article if you want the dirty details, but in layman’s terms, he’s saying that Lightroom isn’t taking full advantage of your computer’s potential when exporting (and importing) images. He identified a way to trick Lightroom into using more of your computer’s potential when exporting images. Scott Kelby detailed the trick on his blog, as well.

When exporting a large batch of images, just select half of the group you intend to export and start the process of exporting. As soon as they begin exporting, and you see the progress bar in the upper-left of the Lightroom interface, start your second export with the last half of the images. It seems that two smaller exports will finish quicker than one large one.

Kudos to Lloyd Chambers for his research on the subject (and to Scott Kelby and Stephen Shankland for bringing it to the mainstream).

So…what else can you do to speed up Lightroom? Here are my top ten tips for speeding up Lightroom (in no particular order):


Lightroom Speed Tip #1: Optimize your Catalog

Lightroom’s Catalog is a database. Without getting into the boring geekiness of it, I’ll just tell you that, over time, all that data in databases can get a little…well…discombobulated. Lightroom has a built-in feature that allows you to try to get things sorted out in the database (Catalog).

Optimizing your catalog is something you should do occasionally. How often depends on how you use Lightroom. The more you’re using Lightroom and moving files around, importing, deleting, etc, the more often you may have to optimize your catalog. Just to be sure, I’d make sure you’ve backed up the Lightroom Catalog before optimizing. To optimize your catalog:

  1. Back up your Catalog.
  2. Choose Catalog Settings from the Lightroom menu on a Mac or the Edit menu on a PC.
  3. Under the General tab, click the Relaunch and Optimize button.
  4. Click the Relaunch and Optimize button to start the process.

    Click the Relaunch and Optimize button to start the process.

  5. Lightroom will quit and restart automatically, and you should see a progress bar letting you know that your catalog is being optimized. If you have a large catalog, the process could take a while, so sit back and relax.
  6. Now Optimizing Lightroom Catalog

  7. Once the process is complete, you’ll see a dialog box telling you that Lightroom has finished optimizing your catalog. Click OK to open Lightroom and enjoy your (hopefully speedier) Catalog.
  8. Finished Optimizing Lightroom Catalog


Lightroom Speed Tip #2: Get a Better Computer

No matter what you do, there are times when you just have to bite the bullet and spend some money. You spent lots of cash on that fancy new camera…just scraped and saved for a pro lens…well, guess what? If you’re processing your images yourself, a computer is a vital piece of photo equipment. Here are some articles with recommendations for computers.

If you can’t afford a new computer, why not check out Lightroom Speed Tip #7: Tweak Your Machine?


Lightroom Speed Tip #3: Don’t Automatically Write Changes into XMP

This one can be a bit tricky. My good friend and colleague, David Marx, wrote an article entitled The Mega-Important Automatically Write Changes into XMP Switch in which he recommended that most users leave this preference setting checked.

Lightroom Catalog Settings Metadata Dialogue

Lightroom Catalog Settings Metadata Dialogue

Please read his article and watch his video before following my advice to uncheck that preference. In practice, I leave the box unchecked, but I’m well aware of the consequences of not saving out my metadata to my files.


Lightroom Speed Tip #4: Close Other Programs

For seasoned computer users, this may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve had many students and clients who complain about their slow computer and don’t realize they have 10-20 programs actively running at one.

I find this most often in those that switch from a PC to Mac. They click the pretty, red circle in the upper-left of an application window and assume they’ve quit the program. Take a look at your Dock. Any program with a little, blue orb below it is still technically running.

The Mac OSX Dock - Programs with a blue dot under them are open...even if you think they aren't.

The Mac OSX Dock - Programs with a blue dot under them are open...even if you think they aren't.

Right-click (or Ctrl-click) on the application’s icon and choose Quit from the contextual menu.

To make sure a program quits when you’re done with it, my recommendation is to avoid using the red circle in the application window. Just choose Quit from the menu item with the application’s name or use the Cmd-Q shortcut. For example, to quit Safari, you should choose Quit Safari under the Safari menu.


Lightroom Speed Tip #5: Restart Occasionally

All computers can benefit from being started every now and then. I’m quite guilty of leaving my computer on all the time, so I have to remind myself to give a full restart once a week or so (more often if I’m encountering sluggishness).

Sometimes just restarting a program can give you a boost in speed. Lightroom has been accused of having a few memory leaks, so quitting and restarting Lightroom every now and then can help you out quite a bit.
Update: There is now a wonderfully handy free script that lets you quit and relaunch Lightroom just by clicking a single button. Click here for more on this excellent little utility from the Photo Geek.


Lightroom Speed Tip #6: Build Previews Before You Need Them

When you view an image in the Lightroom Library Module, Lightroom either needs to create a visual preview of the photo for you or call up an existing preview that has already been created. Calling up a pre-created preview is much faster.

When importing images, you can ask Lightroom to build previews for the imported images. [Here's an article on Using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to Copy New Images in from a Memory Card.] I prefer to have Lightroom build 1:1 Previews when I import my photos so that my editing process goes much faster. That, of course, means that Lightroom has to take the time to build those previews when I import, but that’s ok with me. I can take a break to grab a cup of coffee while those previews are being created and zip through the culling process when I return. [Here's an article on my culling process using Pick and Reject Flags in Lightroom.].

You have some say in how large Lightrooms previews are and how long they are kept. Under Lightroom’s Catalog Settings -> File Handling tab, you can set the size and quality of the standard previews and how long 1:1 Previews are stored before they are automatically deleted. If you’re low on space, set the Automatically Discard 1:1 Previews drop-down to After One Day or After One Week. That way, you’ll have 1:1 Previews waiting for you on import (f you choose to have them built from the Import dialog) and they’ll disappear from each photo you don’t touch for one day or one week.

Lightroom Catalog Settings - File Handling

Don’t worry. Once 1:1 Previews are discarded, Lightroom will rebuild them on the fly whenever you need them.

If you already have images in Lightroom for which you’d like 1:1 Previews created, simply select those images in the Library Module Grid View and choose Previews -> Render 1:1 Previews from the Library menu.


Lightroom Speed Tip #7: Tweak Your Machine

If you can’t afford a new computer, there are still lots of things you can do to make your computer faster. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Keep it up to date. The latest operating system updates not only improve the security of your machine, but (usually) have slight improvements in the underlying code which can make things a bit speedier.
  • Keep space on your hard drive. Your computer’s primary startup drive (typically the C: drive on a PC or the Macintosh HD on a Mac) should be no more than 60% full at any time. Filling that drive up until it’s almost full brings on a world on instability in all programs, and Lightroom is no exception.
  • Avoid unnecessary bells and whistles. Now I love a sparkly Hello Kitty wallpaper on my desktop as much as the next guy, but did you realize that things like wallpapers, screen savers, gadgets, widgets, transparent window effects, reflective docks, etc can eat away at your computer’s processing capabilities? If you’re serious about performance from your machine, turn those niceties off.
  • Choose your virus protection wisely. Virus protection is important, particularly if you’re using a PC (I’m on a Mac, and I don’t use it. Come and get me!), but virus programs are terrible resource hogs. Make sure you choose your virus program wisely, and make sure it’s not trying to scan all of your files while you’re trying to edit in Lightroom.
  • Complete routine maintenance tasks. As a start, on a PC, this means defragmenting your hard drive. On a Mac, it means repairing permissions. There are lots of other things that can be done, but that’s probably another post.


Lightroom Speed Tip #8: Enlarge the Camera Raw Cache

The Adobe Camera Raw Cache file stores the file previews used in the Develop Module in Lightroom. By default, the size of this cache is limited to 1GB, but I understand that it can be increased up to 200GB! Go into the File Handling tab of Lightroom’s Preferences to make that change. For more on the Develop Module performance benefits that you can get from using a larger cache read this interesting article from Lighroom expert Sean McCormack.

The File Handling pane of the Lightroom preferences dialog.

The File Handling pane of the Lightroom preferences dialog.



Lightroom Speed Tip #9: Watch your Catalog Size

I hesitate to use this tip because Lightroom 2 has shown great improvement over Lightroom 1 in its handling of large catalogs. However, it is possible to have too many images in a catalog.

I’m not sure what the number would be, but I would not want to have more than about 90,000 images in a catalog. If you choose to split up your collection into multiple catalogs, my advice would be to store images in catalogs based on how you’d need to find those images.

I’ve heard of the “one catalog per year” theory, but that doesn’t make sense to me. If I have a pretty picture of a flower, I’d like to be able to find it whether I took the photo in 2006 or 2010. But, for example, if I’m shooting images for an assignment (like a wedding or portrait shoot), I rarely need to see photos from more than one client at once. Something to think about…


Lightroom Speed Tip #10: Embed Metadata When Importing

Metadata such as copyright, keywords, and location information can be added at anytime to a photo. Whenever possible, however, I try to add as much of this information as I can on import. If you select a large group of files later on and start keywording them, there can sometimes be a bit of a lag in performance.

Here’s an article on working with metadata presets in Lightroom and here’s an article I wrote about keywording in Lightroom.

This won’t work all the time, and you’ll definitely still need to add more metadata after photos are imported, but doing what you can on import can save you some time.

As always, I welcome your comments/complaints/compliments/suggestions. Let me know what you do to speed up Lightroom.

2011-06-20 Update

The good folks at Adobe have released their own Guide to Lightroom Performance Optimization.

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About the Author: Scott Rouse is an Adobe Certified Expert (ACE), photographer, teacher, and graphic- and web-designer in Missoula, MT. His photography focuses on wildlife and adventure sports and can be viewed at ScottRousePhotography.com. His design and consulting work can be seen at ScottRouseDigital.com.