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Snapshots vs. Virtual Copies: When and Why to Use Each One

These two things get mixed up in Lightroom all the time.  Today I want to tackle what each of them are why you should use each one. You can watch the video or follow along with the text below!


A Lightroom Snapshot is a way to save a moment in time during editing.  For instance, I might have completed a nice, clean edit of a photo—one that I think I will show to a client—and then save it as a Snapshot. Creating a Snapshot allows you to play around and be creative and still be able to easily go back to a moment in time.

You can do this in Lightroom’s history panel as well.  However, sometimes my history panel gets a bit crazy and it is hard to find the exact moment that I want to go back to.  Snapshots make it easy.  I use Snapshots to play around and create and keep track of fun edits along the way.

To make a Snapshot in Lightroom, you can use the shortcut ctrl+n or click on the “+” icon on the Snapshot panel.

Virtual Copies

A Lightroom Virtual Copy is what I use when I want to show more than one version of a photo to a client OR when I want to export more than one version of a photo.

When you create a Virtual Copy, you are telling Lightroom that you want to see 2 different versions of photo in Lightroom.  Lightroom treats these as if they are 2 different files, but they aren’t. You will still only have one copy of the file on your hard drive, but you will see 2 copies in Lightroom.  They can have different edits and they can be placed in different collections.  They are also exported as two different files.

All the Snapshots you have made of your photos (and any that you make in the future) will be a part of your virtual copy.  You can tell the difference between a Virtual Copy and the original file because the Virtual Copy will have “turned-up page” icon in the lower-left corner.

To create a Virtual Copy, you can use the shortcut ctrl+’, choose “Create Virtual Copy” from the “Photo” dropdown menu, or right-click on your photo in the filmstrip and choose “Create Virtual Copy.”

Some Snapshot Tips

Snapshots can be deleted or updated.  To update, right-click on the snapshot and choose “Update with Current Settings.”  To delete, right-click on the snapshot and choose “Delete” from the menu or click on a Snapshot and click the “-” that displays above.

Any Snapshots you create in your original photo or any of your virtual copies will be automatically available to each other.  For instance, if I created several virtual copies of a photo last year and today I add another snapshot to my original photo, that snapshot will automatically be available to the virtual copies I created a year ago.  It’s like snapshot magic!

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