Why Resetting Your Images Should Be The First Step In Your Lightroom HDR Workflow

The Jersey Shore has a bad rap. It’s not all about foul mouths, spray tans, and whatever a Shnookie is. It’s actually pretty. And, as the word “shore” implies, it’s also on the water, which makes me very happy. I had occasion to visit the J.S. (I don’t think anyone calls it that) recently, so I brought the camera and fired off a few bracketed frames to merge in Photomatix.

You can download a free trail of Photomatix on the Photomatix Download page. The trial of Photomatix Pro is fully functional and never expires, but adds a watermark to final images. When you’re ready to purchase Photomatix, head here and use the coupon code ‘LightroomFanatic’ to get 15% off!


When I got home, I imported the images in to Lightroom. The memory card had a mix of single and bracketed images, so I applied my “standard” preset that, in addition to some camera-specific adjustments and personal preferences, also adds a vignette. After I ran the bracketed images through Photomatix, the resulting composite had a heavy vignette that didn’t come from Photomatix. After a bit of poking around, I figured out that the vignette came from the adjustments that were made back in Lightroom.

Normally, I don’t apply any presets to the images that I want to tone map, so I hadn’t thought about what Lightroom actually sends to Photomatix. For all I knew, it was sending a TIFF version of the raw, unprocessed image. But, in fact, it’s rendering a TIFF that includes the Lightroom adjustments and sending those over instead.

To illustrate an extreme case, I took the three images in my set and I added a heavy vignette to the first one, overexposed the second image, and severely underexposed the third image.

wpid2728-Stone-Harbor-NJ-SIP-51.jpg wpid2726-Stone-Harbor-NJ-SIP-50.jpg wpid2724-Stone-Harbor-NJ-SIP-49.jpg

I sent the images in to Photomatix, and this was the result.


Not pretty, and not Photomatix’s fault. It can only work with what I give it. Fortunately, unlike a bad spray tan, Lightroom makes it easy to clean up adjustments with the Reset button. I went in and reset the same three images and sent them to Photomatix. The result was a much pleasant image.

lightroom fanatic stone harbor HDR

Lightroom Fanatic – Stone Harbor HDR

There may be situations where you want to make adjustments in Lightroom before you send your images to Photomatix or any other third-party tool, but I feel like those cases are rare and that the better result will come from processing in the external tool and then doing your finishing touches back in Lightroom. So if you’re seeing unexpected results with third-party tools, try doing a reset on your images first. Reset it and fuggedaboutit!

Go ahead and grab the free Photomatix trial and try it out yourself!

Slim Down – 5 Ways To Reclaim Space From Adobe Lightroom

Many new computers are coming with blazing fast solid state drive (SSD) that are great for speed and durability. Their smaller size compared to traditional hard drives make your laptop lighter and less of a battery drain, but they are also more expensive, particularly at the larger sizes. An SSD in a laptop is often not upgradeable, which means unless you want to fork over the dough for a new laptop, you’re stuck with the space that you have. Bulky applications and huge catalogs of images can quickly eat away at the precious space on a hard drive, which is why one of the most common questions that I am asked about Lightroom is how to reduce the size of the Lightroom footprint.

Here are 5 tips for reclaiming space on your hard drive from Lightroom. Enjoy!

light room data erase save space hard drive

#1 – Archive Final Projects

The most straight forward way to free up space from your hard drive is to archive images that you no longer need regular access to off to an external or network attached drive. Before you start removing images, though, make sure you have a solid, redundant backup solution. Once I have completed a project, I copy it to my external hard drive. My external hard drive is included in my Backblaze backup since it’s physically attached to my main computer. An automated task also keeps my external hard drive synchronized with a network attached drive inside my home. That keeps my images in multiple locations inside my home and one offsite location, so I feel confident deleting the images from my computer.

My solution allows me to edit images right on my external hard drive in the event that I need to do a quick edit on an archived project, or easily copy a project back over to my computer for local access. Newer technologies like Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 provide adequate speed to work with decent sized catalogs on external media, so if you are looking for an external hard drive, be sure to pick one with one of those technologies. Western Digital provides a few inexpensive options. For an attached drive, I’ve been using the WD My Book 4 TB USB 3.0 Hard Drive. For my network attached drive, I’m using the WD My Cloud Mirror 8TB 2-bay Personal Cloud Storage.

#2 – Delete Rejected Or Unusable Images

Lightroom makes it easy to import your images from your camera. Sometimes, too easy. Often, I find that I’ll import everything from my memory card, especially for larger projects. That means that, in addition to my keepers, I’m import a lot of garbage. Not me, of course, but I have a friend that sometimes imports images taken with the lens cap on, or accidental misfires of a camera bag or a blurry ground. Ideally, my friend should have not imported these images from their camera card, but now he has large, raw, unusable images taking up space on his hard drive.

Fortunately for my friend, his selection process flags those images as “rejects”, so it’s easy for him to go to his library, find all the rejected photos, and delete them from both the catalog and the hard drive from within Lightroom. By maintaining good workflow practices, you can delete those images from your catalog that have no potential use or value, just like my friend does.

(Ok, it was me.)

#3 – Delete Unneeded Smart Previews

Check the size of your Smart Previews file. Lightroom has a nasty habit of remembering whether or not you used smart previews during your last import. This can lead to the inadvertent creation of smart previews during your next import. Similar to tip #5 above, you can also select folders and images and navigate to Library > Previews > Discard Smart Previews to remove any smart previews that are lurking beneath the surface.

#4 – Clear Your Cache

Lightroom uses cache to make things faster. But sometimes, it holds on to its cache a little too long and retains cache for things you may no longer need. Clearing your cache can free up extra space, so check out this post on When And How To Clear Your Lightroom Cache.

#5 – Delete Your 1:1 Previews

Lightroom generates 1:1 (full-sized) previews for images that is uses in the develop module and for zooming in on an image. For speeding up your workflow, it is often recommended to keep the 1:1 previews for as long as possible so that Lightroom doesn’t need to generate one when you start to edit an image. The drawback is that you’re using up a lot of space to keep these previews even for images that you may not intend to work on again. If you need to free up space, you can change the length of time that Lightroom keeps previews for images in your preferences. You can also delete the full-sized previews by selecting folders or images and navigating to Library > Previews > Discard 1:1 Previews. Or you can nuke your Previews file. Lightroom will regenerate the file and any previews that it needs along the way, though that will slow down your workflow a bit, so use with caution! Also, be sure to read this post about Why Discarding 1:1 Previews Doesn’t Reduce The Preview File Size.

But wait! There’s more!

Bonus Tip #1 – Remove Duplicates

Duplicates are another artifact that can take up space on your hard drive. Whether it’s because of a reused memory card with an unchecked Do Not Import Suspected Duplicates option, or an inadvertent import to a different directory, I’ve previously posted tutorials on how to find and remove duplicate images from your catalog and computer.

Bonus Tip #2 – Clear Your Lightroom History

As I mentioned in a previous post, in certain situations you may not need to retain your develop history for all of your images. Maintaining all that data can bloat the size of your catalog. Read more about it and How To Clear Your Lightroom Develop History.

How To Clear Your Lightroom Develop History

Retaining every action performed on an image is a powerful feature in Lightroom. With a complete history, you can go back to any step in your editing process and see exactly how your image went from import to the final version. However, I think it was Voltaire that said “With great power comes great big file sizes.”

Obviously, there are many reasons to keep the full history for your images, especially those that are in progress or ones that you might want to go back to. However, there are also many times where you may no longer need the entire history and simply want the final state of the image, particularly if you’re trying to save every inch of space on your hard drive. In my case, I depend on XMP files to keep the final state of my image for my archive catalog. I don’t need the full history for my images, and I’d rather keep the catalog file size small. Fortunately, Lightroom provides a way to remove any unwanted history in one fell swoop.

Disclaimer: My attorneys said I should provide a disclaimer before we move forward, so here goes! This tutorial will remove the history for every image from your Lightroom catalog. There are other ways to free up space on your hard drive that you might want to try first. Proceed at your own risk!

Ok, now that the formalities are out of the way, on with the tutorial!

Clear History For One Image

Clearing the develop history happens, appropriately enough, in the Develop module. For deleting the history for one image, simply navigate to the Develop \ Clear History menu item while in the Develop module.

Lightroom Fanatic - Clear History

Lightroom Fanatic – Clear History

Clear History For Multiple Images

To delete the history for multiple images, it’s easiest to start in the Library module. Click the Library link, or use the shortcut key G to go to Grid View.

Next, select the images that you want to clear the history from. You can select folders or individual images, or hit Control-A to select all images.

Once your images are selected, hit D to go to the Develop module and navigate to Develop \ Clear History.

Lightroom Fanatic - Clear History

Lightroom Fanatic – Clear History

Since you have multiple images selected, Lightroom will prompt you to ask if you want to remove the history from the active photo or from all selected photos. Click Selected Photos to clear it for all the selected images.

Adobe Lightroom Clear Catalog History

Lightroom Fanatic – Clear History

I did a few tests on my end to see how much space I could save. Your mileage may vary, with how much historical information is in your catalog being one of the big factors, but my catalog was 423 MB before I cleared the history. I also needed to close Lightroom to see a change in the catalog size, but clearing the history took my catalog down to 303MB.


Recreating Your Virtual Copies From An XMP

In my last post, I showed you a way to store your virtual copy edits in your XMP file using snapshots. In this post, I will show you how to easily recreate your virtual copies in your Lightroom catalog after you reimport an image with a sidecar file.

Step 1 – Let’s Create Some Snapshots!

The key to this Lightroom hack is to store your final versions of your virtual copies as snapshots, which is what gets stored with the sidecar XMP. You can easily create a snapshot by pulling up each virtual copy and using the shortcut  + NControl + N.

lightroom snapshots xmp virtual copy

Lightroom Fanatic – Snapshots

Step 2 – Save Your Metadata To An XMP File

To force Lightroom to write your metadata changes, which includes the associated snapshots, to a sidecar file, use the shortcut  + S / Control + S.

Lightroom Fanatic - Save Metadata

Lightroom Fanatic – Save Metadata

Step 3 – Archive Your Original And XMP File

Now that you have everything tucked away inside the XMP file, you can archive your files as you normally would in your workflow. In my case, I copy the Originals folder that has my raw images and the sidecar XMP files to my NAS drive, and then I remove the folder from my Lightroom catalog.

Step 4 – Enter: The Universe

As some point, the Universe is going to create a situation where you will need to recreate or make a modification to an image that you processed years ago. Maybe your final images were on a hard drive that crashed. Maybe a gallery wants to pay you a billion dollars for one of the alternate versions of an image. Whatever the reason, because you have every version final version of an image stored as a snapshot in the XMP file, you will be able to access the processed images and collect your fortune.

Step 5 – Import Your Original Image And XMP Files In To Lightroom

In order to get access to the image and processing data stored in the XMP file, add the image or folder in to Lightroom by adding the folder or by using the Import dialog. Lightroom will add the image in to the catalog and bring in the metadata stored in the XMP file.

Step 6 – Create Virtual Copies Of The Original Image

Now that your image is back in Lightroom, go ahead and create some virtual copies of the image by using the shortcut  + ‘ / Control + ‘.


Lightroom Fanatic – Create Virtual Copies

Step 7 – Apply Snapshots To New Virtual Copies

Navigate to one of your virtual copies, and click on the snapshot that you want to recreate.


Lightroom Fanatic – Recreated Virtual Copy From XMP

Step 8 – Rejoice!

That’s it! You’ve recreated virtual copies from your XMP file by cleverly using Lightroom snapshots! Just remember, if you made changes to your image and you plan on archiving it again, create new snapshots and save those to your XMP, as well. Because the Universe has a funny way of repeating Step 4.

Storing Virtual Copies In Your Sidecar XMP File

One of the downsides of relying on the XMP sidecar files is that they don’t store virtual copies. That means that if you archive your files outside of a Lightroom catalog and rely on an XMP file to store your changes to an image, when you bring an image back in to Lightroom, the XMP only enables Lightroom to recreate the last state of the original image. If you had processed virtual copies of the image, those virtual copies are not recreated. They’re gone. Lost forever as soon as you removed the original image from the catalog.

Wait, what kind of trick is this? The title of the post says that you can store virtual copies in your sidecar file. What gives?

Hang tight, Fanatic. Technically, it’s true. Lightroom does not store the virtual copies in the XMP file. Virtual copies are just that…virtual. They don’t exist anywhere except in the Lightroom catalog. However, Lightroom does store snapshots in the XMP file, and you can take advantage of the way that Lightroom does that to store the state of your virtual copies in the XMP file associated with the original image.

In Lightroom, each virtual copy is tethered to the original image.  While it might feel like you’re editing distinct copies of an image, it’s all smoke and mirrors. Lightroom still references the original image to find its base upon which to apply any modifications you are making to the virtual copy.  When you create a snapshot of a virtual copy, the snapshot gets associated with all the virtual copies and the original image. Go ahead. Try it. Create a snapshot on one of your virtual copies, and then run through the original and all the copies, and you’ll see that snapshot gets listed in the Snapshots panel for all of them. A side effect of this behavior, though, is that means that the snapshot also gets stored in the XMP file for the original image.

See where I’m headed?

If you have an image and create virtual copies and process them differently, when you’re ready to archive your file you can create snapshots of each of the virtual copies and store the processing data for each copy in the original file’s XMP sidecar, which will allow you to recreate those virtual copies should you need to down the road.

The Example…

In this example, I’ve taken an image and processed it in color and processed a virtual copy of the image in black and white.


Lightroom Fanatic – Create Color Snapshot

lightroom virtual copy xmp sidecar snapshot

Lightroom Fanatic – Snapshot Created From Virtual Copy

As you can see, both snapshots are visible when you look at either the original or the virtual copy. Next, I saved the changes to the sidecar XMP file (Command-S).

With the XMP file saved, I removed the image and virtual copies from my catalog. I then copied the raw file in to one folder without an XMP, and in to another folder with the XMP file and added both folders back in to my Lightroom catalog.


Lightroom Fanatic – Test Folders


Lightroom Fanatic – Test Folder Images

With the image that had no XMP file, as expected there were no changes made to the original image, and no snapshots.

On the copy of the image that did have the XMP file, navigating to it in Lightroom showed that there were two snapshots already associated with the image. When I clicked on the black and white snapshot, which again was created from the virtual copy, I was able to reproduce the changes made to the copy.

recreate virtual copy xmp snapshot

Lightroom Fanatic – Restored Edits Made To Virtual Copy From Snapshot

There you go! Now, each snapshot I have stored in the XMP represents the changes I made to the original and any virtual copies!

I’d like to thank Stephen for posting a comment that inspired the creation of this post. If you have any questions about Lightroom or are struggling with how to bend it to your will, please comment or shoot me a tweet to @lrfanatic and you, too, might see a post on Lightroom Fanatic!