Since 2012 with Lightroom 4, Adobe has changed how Lightroom treat flags, labels and ratings. Now virtual copies have become much more important.

To create a virtual copy, select a photo, then: Menu > Photo > Create Virtual Copy or Ctrl-L / Option-L

What’s a virtual copy?

It’s an “almost” copy of a photo. It’s not a copy of that photo, it’s a different version of that photo. You can have many virtual copies/versions of the same photograph. Personally, I prefer the term “version” to “virtual copy.”

When to use virtual copies

  • When creating Black & White photos. Even if I have no plan on also having a color version, I often need to refer to the color version to adjust the Black and White version.
  • When needing to create something like Fake HDRs. Even if I have no plan on also having a “regular color” version, I often need to refer to the color version to adjust the Fake HDR version.
  • When printing photographs. The crop for each size is different. A 4 by 6 is a different crop from a 5 by 7 or an 8 by 10.
  • When needing to apply different keywords, labels or ratings in different collection.

How to save virtual copies

Usually, there is no need to do anything to save the virtual copies. But… the famous but, there are times when I want to create an actual photograph of the virtual copy. It’s very simple:

  1. Select the virtual copy
  2. From the library: File > Export... then Export to: Hard Drive

Select either JPEG, just set the Quality to 100, or export to TIFF or to the DNG format. Then it’s possible to re-import that photo in the catalog.

  • It’s a good idea to give a “good” name to the virtual copy to remember what was the purpose of the virtual copy. Select the virtual copy and Menu > Library > Metadata section > Default > select the Copy Name and type the new “meaningful” name instead of Copy 1.