Adobe Lightroom offers plenty of flexibility when it comes to saving various versions of one image which often generates some confusion among its users. So, I wanted to take a moment to offer a little review on Snapshots vs. Virtual Copies.

Snapshots in Lightroom:

If you are familiar with Photoshop, the term Snapshots should be very familiar to you. In fact, Snapshots in Lightroom and Snapshots in Photoshop are very similar in concept. Snapshots keep a record of what your image looks like in a particular state allowing you to revert back to a previously saved version of your image. The advantage to Snapshots in Lightroom is that they are saved indefinitely unless you choose to delete them. So, you can log out of Lightroom and whenever you log back in, they will always be there.

The snapshots panel is located on the left hand side of the Develop Module. You can create a new snapshot by clicking on the “+” icon to the right of the header and following the prompts. Snapshots exist as metadata saved to the image file (or the sidecar file) and require very little space on your hard drive since Lightroom does not actually make any changes to an image until you export them.

snapshots vs virtual copies in lightroom tutorial by Jamie Rubeis

Virtual copies in Lightroom:

Virtual copies are similar in concept. Although, rather than saving various versions of an image in a list format, Virtual Copies show up as if they are separate images in Lightroom. Adjustments made to a virtual copy are maintained completely separate from the original file without actually creating an additional file on your hard drive. They are simply additional metadata for the original file.

To create a Virtual Copy, you can either right click on the image and select “Create Virtual Copy” or go to Photo > Create Virtual Copy.

snapshots vs virtual copies in lightroom tutorial by Jamie Rubeis

Once a Virtual Copy is created, you will notice an additional thumbnail appear in the Filmstrip with a page curl in the lower left hand corner indicating it is a Virtual Copy.

snapshots vs virtual copies in lightroom tutorial by Jamie Rubeis

You can create multiple Virtual Copies from your Original Image, or you can create Virtual Copies of your Virtual Copy. You can also create a unique series of snapshots for each Virtual Copy.


There are advantages and disadvantages to using either. With Snapshots, you can easily save your progress as you work in-depth on an image without having multiple versions saved in your grid view. In addition, you can also open your image in Photoshop as a Smart Object, keeping your Snapshots intact making them accessible in Adobe Camera Raw. Virtual copies make it easier to quickly view side by side comparisons of various versions of one image. You can also add Virtual Copies to a Collection separate from their original files.

Knowing which method to use really depends on what you plan on doing with your image. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with both Snapshots and Virtual Copies to keep your workflow as efficient and effective as possible, to your own editing needs.