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Making Virtual Copies With Lightroom

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Want to experiment with a photo in Lightroom, but without messing up your original? Matt Kloskowski suggests creating another version of the original (Lightroom calls these "virtual copies") that you can treat just like you would a "real" photo: crop, color, fade, view - even save to disk.
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Version Versus "Virtual Copy"

Let’s cut right to the chase. The feature in Lightroom for creating different versions of your photos doesn’t actually have anything to do with versions; instead, they’re called virtual copies. Here’s a quick Q&A to get your basic questions out of the way.

  • What’s a virtual copy? It’s a "fake" copy of your photo. It isn’t actually a duplicate of the original, but rather a preview of the original, with various instructions applied to it that allow you to change it and keep it separate from the original—creating different "versions," if you will.
  • What can I do to a virtual copy? For all intents and purposes, you can do whatever you’re used to doing to your regular photos in Lightroom. You can crop, develop, convert to black-and-white, change the white balance, apply presets, edit in Photoshop, and all of that other fun stuff. Even though it’s "virtual," it behaves exactly like a real photo.
  • If I make five virtual copies of one photo, does that mean that I take up five times the space on my hard drive? Nope. That’s where the word virtual comes in. They don’t really exist other than to look at. It’s quite mysterious, isn’t it?
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