I’ve been using the desktop version of Lightroom for a few years now as the centre of my photography editing workflow. I love the way it handles pretty much everything I need in terms of managing my photos and editing them, and I use it for 95% of all my photography post-processing.
As a travel photographer, I find Lightroom to be the best photo editing software, and an indispensable tool. The monthly subscription is a price well worth paying, and I recommend it to all my students on my travel photography course.
One thing I don’t love about Lightroom though is how slow and painful it sometimes can be to use, which seems to have gotten worse over the years. Every release seems to exacerbate the problems, especially on larger monitors, despite having a fast desktop machine with all the bells and whistle.
Because of this, I’ve become slightly obsessed with optimizing Lightroom so it runs as well as is possible.
In 2017, Adobe released a major update to its photography toolkit, and in particular, it re-branded the desktop version of Lightroom into Lightroom Classic CC.
One of the major, and most exciting announcements with this release was that Adobe had finally done something about Lightroom’s performance issues, and this release would harken me back to the days of yore, when Lightroom was nimble and responsive.
I’ve been using the latest version of Lightroom since it was released, as well as the subsequent updates, and whilst it has continued to improve over time, there are still a few ways to improve performance.
Based on my background as a software developer and as a regular user of Lightroom, I’ve put a lot of work into figuring out the ways to make Lightroom as fast as is possible. Read on to find out my top tips for improving Lightroom performance!
Improving Lightroom Classic CC Performance
1. Put your Catalog File on an SSD
If you have a computer with different hard drives inside, and some of those are the older spinning mechanical style hard drives, and some are the newer, faster style SSD hard drives, then you will want to put your catalog file onto the SSD hard drives.
The fast speeds of an SSD means that Lightroom can get image information much faster. In addition, Lightroom stores all its preview files in the same place as the Lightroom Catalog, and the preview file is what Lightroom renders. So you want that to be somewhere that Lightroom can access it as quickly as possible.
Personally, I have an SSD just for my Lightroom Catalog. This isn’t a must, but as I have a large catalog and I like to generate a lot of previews, it takes up a lot of space. So a dedicated SSD makes that easier to manage. I then have an SSD for my WIndows and program install files, and the rest of my hard drives are larger and slower mechanical hard drives.
Storing photos on a mechanical hard drive is perfectly fine, because you’ll mostly be working from the previews that Lightroom is pulling off the SSD.
If you need to figure out the kind of hard drive in your computer, here are instructions for Windows and Mac. Moving your catalog file is just a question of locating its current location and then moving it in either Windows Explore or Finder. Full instructions on this page.
2. Make your Camera RAW cache bigger
Lightroom has two places where it caches image data. One is the preview cache as mentioned above, which is stored with your catalog file and used for the library view, and the other is the Camera RAW cache.
When you switch to the Develop view, Lightroom loads the image data into its “Camera RAW cache”. This defaults to a size of 1GB, which is pitiful, and means that Lightroom is often having to swap images in and out of its cache when developing, resulting in a slower Lightroom experience.
I’d suggest setting this to a number more like 20GB. I’d also recommend putting the camera RAW cache on an SSD drive so as to get maximum performance out of it. I’ve personally found that Lightroom appears to run faster when this RAW cache is on a separate drive to my system files, but I have no hard evidence to back this claim up. Still, worth a try.
You can set your Camera RAW size and location from the Edit->Preferences menu, and then choosing the “Performance” tab.
3. Toggle using your System Graphics Card
A few releases ago, Adobe announced that they had optimised Lightroom to take advantage of the graphics processing chip (GPU) inside a computer. These capabilities were improved upon in the August 2019 Lightroom update.
A graphics chip is a part of your computer that is responsible for handling video related functions, and the theory is that these dedicated chips are faster at specific image rendering logic.
Whilst this all sounds good in theory, the reality is that the practice is not quite so simple. First, Lightroom only uses the graphics chip for some specific tasks, so not everything is accelerated. You can see what it can use it for here.
Second, the performance benefits are only usually apparent in specific situations. There is an overhead associated with using the graphics chip, as data has to be offloaded from the CPU to the graphics chip, processed, and then sent back again.
Different computer configurations, operating systems, and different graphics cards mean that sometimes there’s a noticeable performance improvement from enabling the GPU, and sometimes it either does nothing, or even reduces performance.
In my experience, larger, higher resolution monitors tend to benefit the most from using the graphics chip, although with the trade-off that there will be a slight delay in the image appearing on screen as the data shuffles between the CPU and the graphics chip. Lower resolution monitors see less benefit, and may even be slower with the graphics chip enabled.
To be honest, there is no right answer to whether or not you should use the graphics chip.
Personally, with a large high resolution monitor and fast graphics chip, I find the performance enhancements in both the library and the develop module are noticeable with my graphics processor enabled, and I don’t mind the trade-off that images take a fraction longer to load as I switch between them.
For users with smaller screens and less capable graphics chips, such as those often found in laptops, you might find that Lightroom performs noticeably worse with graphics acceleration enabled.
Adobe has more detailed information here on supported graphics chips and how to identify your graphics processor. My advice is to try the various settings, and see which works faster for you.
The easiest thing test to see if there is a difference with the GPU on and off are how fast the global adjustment sliders impact the image and how fast you can switch between images.
Just try it out, and see what works best for your setup.
The image below shows how to toggle the GPU in the pre-August 2019 version of Lightroom Classic.
As of the August 2019 update of Lightroom Classic, Adobe has further improved GPU usage in Lightroom, and the menu for toggling the GPU has changed slightly.
Instead of a simple on-off checkbox, you now have a drop down with three options, “Auto”, “Custom”, and “Off”.
The default setting is Auto, where Lightroom detects the capabilities of your graphics card, and then decides what to accelerate. In theory it should decide between basic acceleration and full acceleration.
In my experience on all my computers so far however, Lightroom in the Auto mode has just enabled basic acceleration, despite my computers having powerful graphics cards.
The good news is that you can use the “Custom” setting in the drop down. When you select this, you then get the option to enable the GPU for image processing as well.
If you enable this, Lightroom will use the GPU for a range of image editing tasks. I would highly recommend trying out the custom mode and enabling the “Use GPU for image processing” checkbox.
When you enable this, you should see the text “Full graphics acceleration is enabled”, as underlined in green in the image above. Again, try it out in the Develop module and move the sliders up and down quickly to see what difference having the GPU enabled or disabled makes.
It’s also worth mentioning that there is a note by the “use GPU for image processing” checkbox that this only works for images using Process Version 5 or higher.
Process Version 5 was released in the October 2018 edition of Lightroom Classic. So if you have photos from prior to that time, they will likely still be at an older process version as they do not automatically update.
You will want to migrate your images to Process Version 5 in order to take full advantage of the GPU across your whole image library.
To update to Process Version 5, first backup your catalog. Then, go to your library view, and the “all photographs” option in your catalog. From the grid, select all the photos (Ctrl+A). Once they are all selected, right click, choose develop settings, and choose “Update to Current Process Version”.
Note that changing process version can affect how your images look, so you might want to test it out on a few images individually before batch applying it to all your images. This is also why a catalog backup is essential, so you can roll the change back.
4. Disable XMP writing
As you make edits to your photos in the Lightroom Develop module, Lightroom keeps track of them in the Lightroom catalog, which is essentially a database that has information on all your images.
This information is only available to Lightroom, so if you lose your catalog file, or want to edit your images in another application, you’ll essentially have to start over from scratch.
Lightroom has a feature to help you get around this. It can be configured to write all the develop settings data into a small file called an “XMP” file, which basically just contains the edit information. This file is written to your computer hard drive in the same place as your original RAW file. So for example, if your RAW file is called IMG_8032.CR2, a new file called IMG_8032.xmp will appear next to it. This is just a text file containing edit information.
Whilst this sounds great in principle, the issue is that writing changes into this file can slow Lightroom down, particularly as the files are usually being written to the hard drive that your photo is on, which will in most cases be a slower, mechanical drive.
The solution is to disable “automatically write changes into XMP” from your catalog settings, and instead, if you wish to save XMP files, to do it manually from the “Metadata” menu, where you have the option to disable “save metadata to files”.
Also, backup your Lightroom catalog regularly, and keep a copy of the backup somewhere safe! It won’t make Lightroom faster, but it will save you a lot of heartache if your catalog ever become corrupt. You can set your backup settings in the Lightroom Catalog settings in the “general” tab.
5. Pause address and face lookup
Lightroom has some fun/useful features, such as being able to search for faces in photos and match them to people, as well as looking up image addresses based on the GPS data your images may have.
Unfortunately, these tasks default to run in the background, and they can slow you down whilst you’re editing. So the best option is to pause them whilst you’re actively using Lightroom, and if you want to take advantage of them, just start them up again when you’re done editing.
To pause them, you’ll need to click on your name in the top left corner of lightroom, and a drop down menu will appear showing you currently active tasks. Just hit the pause button on those you want to pause.
6. Build Standard size previews on import
When you import your photos into Lightroom, you have a number of preview settings you can choose. Lightroom Classic CC has a new feature, where you can build “embedded & sidecar previews”.
My suggestion is to build standard previews on import. This will slow down the import process, but it will make the Library module far more responsive when you come to review your imported images as Lightroom will be rendering the previews from your SSD rather than building them from the RAW files.
I don’t use the new “embedded & sidecar previews”. These are the preview files that are embedded in the RAW file, but in my experience, these look quite different to the previews that Lightroom develops, simply because the RAW processor in Lightroom renders images differently to my camera RAW previews. I want to see the images the way Lightroom does, so I build standard previews.
It’s important to set the size of your standard previews correctly for your setup. The size of your standard preview should be as close to your screen width as possible, but not smaller. So if you have a 1920×1080 monitor for example,. that’s 1920 pixels wide. Pick a standard size preview size of 2048 pixels. You can set the Lightroom preview size in the file handling section of the Catalog settings dialog box.
7. Smart Previews – To Use or Not to Use?
Smart previews are a tool that Adobe introduced to help photographers manage large image libraries even when travelling. The theory was that rather than bring your whole image catalogue with you, you could generate “smart previews” of your images, and take those with you. Smart previews are significantly smaller than the original RAW files, and you can edit them in the Develop module without needing the original file. When you return home, the edits are then linked with the original RAW file.
Adobe realised that this could be used as a performance workaround, because editing these small files was much quicker than loading up the full RAW file in the Develop module. So in a bit of a hack, Adobe let people choose to edit the smart previews instead of the originals as a performance option.
These are definitely faster for quick edits in the Develop module, although as you are working with a lower resolution file, as soon as you zoom to 1:1, you end up back on the original file. In addition, since Lightroom Classic CC’s performance improvements, tests have shown that in the Library module, using smart previews can actually reduce the performance of tasks like scrolling through images.
So now you have a decision to make. Personally, I find that using smart previews in the Develop module was never hugely effective, because as soon as I zoom to a 1:1 size, Lightroom had to render the image anyway, as the smart preview wasn’t full size. Plus, those smart previews can take up a fair amount of space on my SSD.
So unless you see a significant performance increase in the Develop module from using smart previews, and you’re not often editing at a 1:1 zoom, my suggestion is to disable them for developing. You can set your smart previews develop preferences from the Edit->Preferences menu, and then choosing the “Performance” tab.
8. Edit Images Sequentially
Since Lightroom CC 2015.6 (& Lightroom 6.6), Lightroom has implemented a feature to intelligently cache images for faster performance when you are in the Develop module.
What this means is that when you are in the Develop module, Lightroom will automatically load the next and previous images in the filmstrip below your photos into memory. In the below image you can see my filmstrip below the actively edited image. The actively edited image is highlighted with a lighter grey background, and the images on either side of it will have been loaded into memory for faster access.
The tip here therefore is to adjust your workflow to be sure that you are editing images sequentially, rather than hopping around all over the place. What I do is use the library to filter the images I am going to work on using the various tools (flags, star ratings etc), and I only load them into the Develop module when I have a series of images that all require editing.
I then work through them sequentially one by one, which means the image data is loading from system memory, resulting in much more responsive Develop module performance.
9. Apply Develop Edits in an Optimal Order
When using the Develop module, the order in which you apply image corrections can have a significant impact on the performance of the Develop module. Every time you make a new edit, it has to apply it and calculate all the previous adjustments you make. This is why the deeper you get into editing an image in Lightroom and the more effects you apply, the slower the Develop module can seem to become.
Some filters can really slow down the Develop module from the off. Filters like noise reduction for example, can really impact the Develop module.
This approach by Lightroom keeps file sizes low, lets you easily keep track of edits, and results in higher quality export images. The downside is that it results in a slower system after you’ve applied a lot of edits to an image as Lightroom has to keep calculating the edits as you go.
Personally, I just work from top to bottom in the Develop module, but according to Adobe, the best order for editing your photo to maximise performance is as follows:
- Spot healing.
- Geometry corrections, such as Lens Correction profiles and Manual corrections, including keystone corrections using the Vertical slider.
- Global non-detail corrections, such as Exposure and White Balance. These corrections can also be done first if desired.
- Local corrections, such as Gradient Filter and Adjustment Brush strokes.
- Detail corrections, such as Noise Reduction and Sharpening.
If you want to do a lot of really detailed edits to a particular image, you might find that Adobe Photoshop is a better option.
10. Optimize your Catalog
This one won’t change your world, but certainly, if you’ve not done this for a while (or ever), then you should definitely optimise your catalog file. As you use Lightroom, it is constantly updating the catalog file and over time, the structure of the data can become less optimal.
To resolve this, Lightroom has a one-click “optimise catalog” option, which you can use to improve performance. My suggestion is to set up Lightroom to back up your catalog on a regular schedule, such as weekly, and set it to optimise the catalog following the backup.
11. Use a Desktop or upgrade your computer for Lightroom Use
In an ideal world, all these performance tips would magically solve any performance issues you might have with Adobe Lightroom Classic CC. However, there is only so much you can do with the hardware you have. Lightroom is a complicated tool, and needs a relatively high specification machine to run well.
It may be that your computer isn’t up to the task, especially if you’re running an older laptop. In which case, an upgrade is likely going to be on the cards.
If possible, I’d suggest investing in a desktop, as these have much greater expansion options, including bays for additional hard drives, as well as higher powered processors and graphics cards. A laptop is of course an option, just make sure you get a relatively high specification machine like this.
For more tips, see our full guide to the best laptops for photo editing.
12. Update Lightroom
Last but not least on my series of tips for optimising Lightroom Classic CC, is to make sure that you update Lightroom regularly!
Adobe regularly push out updates to the software, and with their recent focus on performance, it seems likely that future updates will further improve the performance. For example, the August 2019 update made some real improvements to both library navigation and GPU acceleration.
Checking for updates is easy, just press “Help –> Updates”, and if there are updates available, Lightroom will prompt you to download and install them.
This guide to improving Lightroom performance is just one of our photography guides. Here are some more which we think you’ll find helpful for improving your photography.
- We have a complete guide to the best photo editing software, if you’d prefer not to use Lightroom, as well as a guide to the best laptops for photo editing.
- Our guide to picking the best travel camera, which features a range of cameras at various price points. We also have a dedicated guide to picking a compact camera for travel, a guide to picking a mirrorless travel camera, a guide to the best action cameras, and a guide to picking a DSLR travel camera.
- If you need a new lens, we have a guide to the best travel camera lenses which covers the majority of camera types available today
- Our detailed guide to gifts for photographers, if you’re looking for something to buy for a photographer in your life (or to send to friends and family as a hint!)
- We have a guide to taking better pictures of yourself, how and why to use back button focus, how to take pictures of stars, an overview of Neutral Density filters and a guide to shooting in RAW – just some of our photography posts!
- We also have an always expanding series of Photography Location Guides, to help you get the best shot in locations around the world.
- A Beginners’ Guide to Improving your Travel Photos for those starting out in travel photography
- Our reasons why you need a travel tripod
- And, if you’re serious about improving your photography, I run an incredibly comprehensive online travel photography course, which will teach you everything you need to know about photography. Check that out here.
And that’s it for my post on improving Lightroom Classic CC performance for organizing and editing your photos! Do you have any tips on improving Lightroom performance? Let me know in the comments below!