a14 March 2013

Tip: Lightroom's Virtual Copy

HDR photo of sunset in the mountains
Today daily photo was capture in Tatra mountains during evening golden hour. I used 3 exposures only and tone-mapped them in Photomatix Pro. Fine-tuning was done in Lightroom and Photoshop CS using luminosity masks technique.
Amongst many, one of the very useful features of Lightroom is so called Virtual Copy. A simple feature that will make your life easier if you experiment with different settings on your images.

What is a Virtual Copy? As the name implies it's a virtual copy :) "Regular" copies occupy the same amount of space on disk as the original image (and you can create them by copying and pasting). For large RAW or TIFF files it can be from 20 even to few hundred megabytes. Virtual Copy instead occupies just a few bytes. How? It's easy - it doesn't contain any image data at all, only metadata (like eg. Clarity, White Balance or Exposure settings). Then when developing a Virtual Copy in Lightroom it uses image data from the original image but applies metadata from your Virtual Copy.

To create a Virtual Copy you need to:
  1. Right-click on your image in Filmstrip .
  2. Click on the Create Virtual Copy item in the contextual menu.
Creating Virtual Copy in Lightroom
To create Virtual Copy right-click on your image and select Create Virtual Copy menu item.

If you have both Virtual Copy and the original image developed using the same settings it's quite difficult to tell which is which in Lightroom. Luckily there is one subtle difference - Virtual Copy has "page" symbol in the left bottom corner - take a look at the screenshot below:

Virtual Copies are useful for many reasons but here are the two most important in my opinion:
  1. You can easily develop the same photo with different settings (eg. in colour and in black & white). You could of course duplicate file on disk (by copying and pasting) but this would be very memory inefficient. It makes experimenting easier and more efficient.
  2. It's easier to derive fake bracketed photos from a single exposure (you can read more about this technique here) what is useful if you want to create fake HDR image from a single file. Let's say you need to create 3 images out of your single RAW. Using this feature you can simply create 3 Virtual Copies, set different exposure setting to each of them (eg. -2, 0, +2) and export them to Photomatix Pro.

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