Storing Virtual Copies In Your Sidecar XMP File
July 29, 2014
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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!

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