How to edit images stored offline with smart previews

Lightroom was designed to easily manage thousands of images, but should we be housing thousands of images on our computer hard drives? Most users do not have the space and eventually must move images from their internal drive to an external drive. Some users, like me, cannot even temporarily house the images on their internal drive because they simply don't have the space. Almost every single image I import has to go to an external drive rather than only my internal drive.

What is the point to all this? Well, why it matters is because where the images are housed affects when we can edit them. Before smart previews when I wanted to edit an image that was on an external drive, I had to hook up that particular drive in order to access it. What if I was traveling and didn't have that specific hard drive? Well, then I was out of luck. When I went to edit, I received a message that the image was missing (below).

The Smart Preview

When Lightroom 5 was created they added a new feature called the "smart preview." If the user selected the smart preview option during import, then an editable version of the file is created which can be worked on while the actual file is on an external drive not connected to the computer.

Below is a screen shot showing where to find the smart preview option on the import screen. Don't worry if you missed doing that with previous images because you can make smart previews in the Library module.

If you import images into Lightroom and choose the smart preview option while housing the files on an external drive, you will see "smart preview" in the Develop module.

Some things to know before you start using smart previews:

  • The smart previews do use about 1 MB of space each.
  • You can export smart previews for print without having the original file connected, however you are limited to medium size JPGs. If you want to print large, high resolution files, you will need to connect the drive with the original file.
  • Some processes may require you to have the original connected, like merging files for a panorama.
  • You can delete smart previews once you are finished working on the images. Simply double click on the words "Original + Smart Preview" below the Histogram in the Library module. A menu will open which allows you to delete the smart preview.