Over the past 7 weeks, we’ve learned the pros and cons of non-destructive editing, how different computer components affect different areas of the program, and the ways you can adjust your Lightroom workflow to get the best performance.
In the first post, we said simply saying “Lightroom is slow” doesn’t help, because different areas of the program benefit from different optimizations. In this final post, we’ll summarize the main places to look for improvement, based on what specifically is slow.
Loading the Lightroom program is primarily dependent on your drive speeds. This affects both the OS/program files and also the catalog. If you’re finding it slow to load, replacing your spinning drive with an SSD can help, and is a relatively inexpensive upgrade.
Load time is also affected by the size of the catalog. However, we wouldn’t recommend breaking the catalog up into smaller catalogs to solve this, as this causes more problems than it solves for most people.
Importing photos is also primarily limited by file transfer rates. This includes the speed of the source – whether that’s a camera cable, card reader or hard drive – and the speed of the destination drive(s).
For the source, card readers are usually more reliable than direct camera connections, and faster USB card readers (e.g. USB 3) are available to help improve the import speed.
For the destination, there are potentially two drives in play: the main Destination folder and also the Second Copy location. If these are on external drives, the connection speed (USB2 vs USB3, etc.) is usually the main issue. Many photographers send their second copies to a NAS, which can reduce the speed further.
If you choose to add the photos at their current location, this is a lot quicker than moving/copying the files. Just take care that the photos are on a hard drive, not a memory card.
Finally, the additional work you ask Lightroom to do immediately after import can prolong the import time, especially conversion to DNG format or building previews.
The time it takes to build previews is largely dependent on your computer’s processing power, but also the drive speed for the catalog and original images.
Improving preview build times frequently requires a newer CPU, so it’s not an easy fix. If you’re running low on RAM and having to use temp files, this may slow you down further. So, it’s worth keeping an eye on Resource Monitor (Windows) / Activity Monitor (Mac) to see which computer components are reaching their limits.
The simplest solution for building previews is simply to let them build overnight, or at another time when you don’t need the computer. Also, you only need to build the previews you actually use, so if you never zoom in the Library module, there’s no need to build 1:1 previews.
Viewing In Library
You can speed up viewing in the Library module by building the right size previews in advance. If you need to zoom in, you’ll need 1:1 previews. Otherwise, standard sized previews (set to Auto in Catalog Settings) will be plenty. If you’ve made Develop edits since building the previews, don’t forget to rebuild them, otherwise they’ll have to update when you select the photo. A powerful GPU can also help.
Once the previews are built, the drive speed for the catalog/previews is next in line. Putting the catalog/previews on an SSD can make Library browsing smoother.
Applying metadata is mainly limited by the speed of the drive containing the catalog. So again, putting the catalog/previews on an SSD makes a notable difference.
It also helps to minimize the amount of work Lightroom has to do, especially closing the Collections, Metadata and Keyword panels if you’re not using them.
Remember to optimize the catalog regularly, as this saves Lightroom skipping around the catalog to find the information it needs.
Moving or deleting photos is also affected by drive speeds – both for the original images as they’re moved, and also the catalog as the image records are updated.
Lightroom also has to redraw the grid view as photos disappear, so switching to a different folder or collection (e.g. Quick Collection) can speed it up slightly.
Finally, rather than trying to delete one photo at a time, consider marking them as rejects. Then delete the rejects when you’ve finished sorting through the photos.
Loading in Develop
Moving over to the Develop module, let’s talk about loading speed. This is primarily dependent on any data that is already cached, then on a mix of processing power (CPU/GPU), screen resolution, drive speeds, and of course, the size and complexity of the image files too.
The higher the resolution of the image, the more data there is to process, so 50MP images will naturally take longer than 15MP. Some sensors (we’re looking at you, Fuji!) also require more complex calculations. And if you’ve already applied complex edits to the photo, such as lots of spot healing or brush adjustments, this will slow it down too.
If you’re moving through photos sequentially (and not too quickly!) in the Develop module, Lightroom automatically caches the photos either side in the background to improve loading speed. This has been the case since Lightroom 2015.6 / 6.6. Once the image data is read from hard drive, then initial processing has to be applied, which is dependent on the CPU or GPU processing power. A fast GPU with plenty of VRAM can make a big difference here.
If you’re not moving sequentially, additional factors come into play. The full resolution image data has to be read from the hard drive, so hard drive speed is a major factor. Once the image data is read from hard drive, then initial processing has to be applied, so again, the GPU performance comes into play.
Whether you’re moving sequentially or skipping around, building Smart Previews in advance and then checking the Preferences > Performance > Use Smart Previews instead of Originals for image editing checkbox is the greatest potential improvement, simply because there’s less data to read and process. If you’re struggling for loading times in Develop, this is your first place to start.
Editing in Develop
Once the photo is loaded into the Develop module, as long as you have enough RAM, then you’re primarily limited by your processing power – the CPU or GPU, depending on your Use Graphics Processor setting. Auto is a great choice for most systems. If you’re considering upgrading your hardware, a more powerful GPU with plenty of VRAM can be a big help when editing.
The more image data to process, the longer it takes, so you can reduce the preview size to limit the number of pixels Lightroom has to crunch. You can do this by resizing the Lightroom window, enlarging the panels or selecting a smaller zoom ratio (e.g. 1:4 / 25%).
We also learned that the slider order can make a slight performance difference. Some tasks are more processor intensive than others. Using a pixel editor such as Photoshop rather than Lightroom for more complex local adjustments can be a good choice. Temporarily disabling complex calculations such as Lens Corrections can also help with interactive performance.
And finally, like the Develop Loading time, utilizing Smart Previews has the biggest potential gains.
Exporting photos is largely limited by the CPU, where multiple cores can help. The speed of the hard drive containing your original photos and the export destination also affects the export speed. It’s often easiest to leave the exports to run when you’re not using the computer.
Syncing to Lightroom Cloud
Finally, sync speed is largely dependent on the speed of your internet connection, especially the upload speed, which is often around 1/10 of the download speed.
That’s it for our performance series! Here’s full index of posts:
Lightroom Performance – What’s Slow? (this post)
We hope you found some of the tips useful. Let us know which of the tips helped you the most in the comments…
For extensive information on Lightroom Classic, see Adobe Lightroom Classic – The Missing FAQ.
If you have the Photography Plan, then as well as Classic you have access to the Lightroom cloud ecosystem including the mobile apps and web interface. For more information on these apps, see Adobe Lightroom – Edit on the Go.
Note: purchase of these books includes the first year’s Classic or cloud-based Premium Membership (depending on the book purchased), giving access to download the latest eBook (each time Adobe updates the software), email assistance for the applicable Lightroom version if you hit a problem, and other bonuses.
We also have a special bundle offer for the two books. This includes Premium Membership for the first year as described above for the whole Lightroom family!
Originally posted 24 October 2016, updated June 2021.