It took me a long time to appreciate the workflow benefits of using Snapshots in Lightroom Classic. I used to use Virtual Copies to create multiple versions of the same photo. But they have an important limitation that makes them impractical to use (more on this later). The solution, I eventually realized, is to use Snapshots.
Why photographers use Snapshots in Lightroom Classic
Before we look at how to use Snapshots in Lightroom Classic (plus older versions such as Lightroom 6, Lightroom 5 etc.) let’s see why they’re a necessary (if often overlooked) part of your Lightroom workflow.
One of the benefits of using Lightroom Classic to develop your Raw files is that you have the option of developing a particular photo in several different ways. This is something you may do a lot, especially with your favorites images.
I think there are several reasons why photographers like to create multiple versions of their favorite photos in Lightroom.
1. Some photos work best in color, others in black and white. Some photos look great in both.
2. Photographers like to experiment (a lot) with Develop Presets and different developing techniques. And that’s not even getting into all the creative stuff you can do with plugins like Exposure X4.
3. You might find it difficult to decide when a photo is finished and that the’s no need to work on it any further.
4. Your taste and style evolve continuously. If you developed a photo two years ago, you may look at it again and decide to develop it at least slightly differently.
5. Adobe adds new tools to Lightroom Classic. For example, you might want to use the new Texture slider on some of your older photos.
6. Developing a photo in isolation is different to developing it as part of a body of work. If you’re putting together a portfolio of images you might adjust the development so they have a similar treatment.
The creative process is messy and these are all good reasons for creating multiple versions of your favorite photos. The question is, how do you keep track of them? You need a good organizational system, and Snapshots gives it to you.
The bottom line is that Snapshots are the easiest way to keep track of all the different versions you make of a photo in Lightroom Classic.
Let’s take a deeper look at this.
What is a Snapshot?
A Snapshot captures all the work you have done on a photo at a particular point in a time. Keeping a record in Snapshot form means you don’t have to use the History panel if you want to revert back to an earlier version of your photo. Snapshots also help you remember completely different versions of the same photo (e.g. one color, one black and white).
Lightroom Classic lists Snapshots alphabetically in the Snapshots panel in the Develop module.
Snapshots vs. Virtual Copies
You can use Virtual Copies to create multiple versions of the same photo. But there’s a major disadvantage – it’s too easy for Virtual Copies of a specific photo to end up scattered around over several Collections and Folders.
That means there’s no easy way to see how many Virtual Copies a particular photo has (a Smart Collection is the only way). Because of this, it’s easy to lose track of the different work you have done on your photos.
Snapshots solve this problem neatly because you can see a list of all Snapshots associated with a photo in the Develop module. This even applies to Virtual Copies of the photo.
Here’s how it works.
Let’s say you have ten Snapshots of a particular photo (let’s call them Snapshot_1, Snapshot_2 etc.) and three Virtual Copies (Copy_1, Copy_2, Copy_3).
If you’re looking at Copy_1, you have no way of knowing how many other Virtual Copies of that photo exist. But you can see instantly how many Snapshots there are by looking at the Snapshots panel in the Develop module.
Even better, you’ll see all those Snapshots regardless of which version of the photo you’ve opened in the Develop module, whether it’s the original file or a Virtual Copy.
The only disadvantage of Snapshots is that, unlike Virtual Copies, there’s no way of viewing them in the Library module.
How to create Snapshots in Lightroom Classic
There are three ways to create a Snapshot in Lightroom Classic. The first two are native to Lightroom Classic, the third uses a plugin created by Jeffrey Friedl called Snapshot on Export.
1. Go to Develop > New Snapshot (or use the Cmd-N [Mac] / Ctrl-N [PC] keyboard shortcut.)
Lightroom creates a Snapshot from the current Develop module settings. You can give it a name or use the default (current date and time).
2. Right-click on an entry in the History panel and choose Create Snapshot. Lightroom creates a Snapshot from the settings applied to the photo at that point in the development history.
3. Use the Snapshot on Export plugin to automatically create a Snapshot whenever you export your photos. Each Snapshot is named using the time and date of export. This is useful if you need to go back to a specific version of a photo that you exported, and is something anybody who sells their photos will find useful.
You can learn more about this super useful plugin here.
How to use Snapshots in Lightroom Classic
These are some of the ways you can use Snapshots in Lightroom Classic.
1. Record where you are in the Develop module
As we’ve already seen you may find yourself arriving at a point in Lightroom’s Develop module where you may want to go off in more than one direction.
For example, you might want to make both a color and a black and white version of the same photo. One approach here is to start by developing the photo in color, then make a Snapshot.
Then, convert the photo to black and white and make another Snapshot when you’ve finished. Click on the appropriate Snapshots to switch between the two versions.
2. Test Develop Presets
Let’s say that you’d like to experiment with applying Develop Presets to your photo. It’s quite likely that you have more than one preset to choose from and that you don’t know in advance which ones will be your favorites.
For example, I often convert photos to black and white using my SuperBlack Presets for Lightroom. There are 30 presets in the pack to choose from, plus toning and grain effects.
In this situation you can go through the presets to see which ones you like. When you find a preset that looks promising, use the keyboard shortcut Cmd-N [Mac] / Ctrl-N [PC] to make a Snapshot.
You’ll end up with several Snapshots. Now you can click on them one by one to see which preset is your favorite.
Tip: Rename the Snapshot you like best to something like “Preset name [final]” so you can remember which one it is. To rename a Snapshot right-click and select Rename from the menu. You can delete unwanted Snapshots by right-clicking and choosing Delete.
3. Make comparisons
There’s an easy way to compare two Snapshots to see which version you like best.
1. Right-click on the first Snapshot and select Copy Snapshot Settings to Before.
2. Click on the second Snapshot to apply it to the photo you are developing.
3. Use the backslash (\) keyboard shortcut to switch between the before and current settings to make the comparison.
Tip: You can cycle between the Before/After views by clicking the Y|Y icon in the Toolbar (use the T keyboard shortcut to display the Toolbar if you can’t see it).
4. Replace Virtual Copies
Snapshots eliminate unnecessary Virtual Copies. Using Snapshots instead means that there’s only one version of your photo in the Catalog. You don’t have to search for missing Virtual Copies. Viewing the different versions of your photo is as simple as clicking on the saved Snapshots.
Tip: If you make a Snapshot then change the settings the Snapshot doesn’t change. But what if you want to update the Snapshot to contain the changes? That’s easy. Just right-click on the Snapshot’s name and choose Update with Current Settings from the menu.
Snapshots and workflow
Hopefully you can now see why Snapshots are such a great tool in the photographer’s workflow. If you keep losing track of your Virtual Copies then use Snapshots instead, it’s much simpler. If you like to experiment with creating different versions of photos then you’ll love Snapshots too.