5 Tips to Optimize Lightroom's Performance

lightroom post-production May 15, 2020

Adobe Lightroom has been the source of frustration for many professional photographers over the years.  It’s the not program in general that bothers photographers, but more Adobe’s unwillingness to fully optimize the software to take advantage of the powerful hardware available these days for those that wish to invest in it.  Over the last two years, Adobe has listened to photographer’s calls to update their software and has begun to take steps to remedy the issues by introducing new performance-related features.

Even though they have begun development on some key improvements, sometimes it seems like Adobe is not putting much effort into them, especially considering the fact that they definitely have the resources to do so with their stock at near-record highs and an upward trajectory over the last 5 years.

For instance, a couple of years ago they introduced GPU accelerating image processing to Lightroom.  This dramatically sped up the processing time, however, it has only been limited to very specific functions within the develop module, rather than to some of the biggest bottlenecks like local adjustments. 

Local adjustments are the largest culprit to slow performance speeds in Lightroom, and Adobe has not publicly claimed that GPU acceleration supports local adjustments.  This means it’s likely that it does not, as they proudly claimed in the latest update support for lens corrections…..I mean did anyone seriously experience slowdowns when applying lens corrections?  This is what I mean when I say they don’t seem to be making Lightroom Classic a priority.  Now to be clear, I think this is intentional as I believe the designation of Lightroom Classic as “Classic” shows that they believe the future is Lightroom CC, and that is where they will continue to make key developments.  This is just my opinion, but I am pretty sure it’s an accurate one.  Time will tell in a few years and when it does I will update this article.

So that being said, while photographers continue to patiently wait for Adobe to address some of Lightroom’s shortfalls, there are some things that you can do to improve Lightroom performance today.

Here are my top 5 tips for speeding up Lightroom’s Performance

Choose the Right Hardware.

This goes without saying, but I don’t want you to overspend on your hardware because Lightroom will not use all of it’s potential. Lightroom export speeds on a fully specced Mac Pro will be similar to a lesser expensive iMac.  Lightroom does not make good use of multiple cores in a system.  In our testing, we actually found that using a computer with fewer cores, but a higher clock speed you are able to get faster export times as well as image to image render time while in the develop module.

While I realize that the majority of the people reading this are likely Apple users, I’m a big fan of building a custom PC as my main production computer. This allows me to update individual parts every couple of years as opposed to having to buy a completely new computer. While I prefer the Apple ecosystem, a custom-built PC is a better choice for my business.

But no matter which way you go, you will have a choice of processor power. Try to find at the minimum an i-7 processor and opt for the highest clock speed that you can get.

Lightroom is said to take advantage of the new AMD-Ryzen CPU’s, which I haven’t had the opportunity to test yet, however, the results look very promising.

If you are a videographer, then the software that you use will benefit from multiple cores, however, if you are shooting only stills, then try to prioritize clock speed over the number of cores.

Now, before you read too far into this please understand that Lightroom is not going to make use of all of your RAM. But during editing, there is a lot of what I refer to as passive time. This is time that your computer will spend performing tasks or you might be doing other things outside of Lightroom. This typically happens during exporting or preview rendering.

By having at least 32 GB of RAM you will be able to make sure that you’re able to multitask outside of Lightroom while it’s completing resource-intensive tasks without slowing down your computer.

Invest in a good GPU.

While Lightroom doesn’t maximize the potential of a high-end gaming GPU, in our test having a decent GPU verse using the onboard graphics found in your processor is a night and day difference. The GPU significantly decreases preview rendering time as well as image to image render time in the develop module. This can translate to literally hundreds of hours saved per year if you are a busy wedding photographer.

If you are working on an Apple system, I recommend investing in a higher-end GPU. The exception to this is with the new Mac Pro, in which I would recommend just a modest upgrade as it can get quite expensive.

If you are processing hundreds of thousands of images per year, this will be a very worthwhile investment in your system.

Edit using smart previews.

This is an incredibly powerful tool for cutting down on your editing time. By pushing control (command) + comma (,) you can bring up your preferences panel. From there click on the Performance tab, and make sure the box edit using smart previews is checked. Of course, you will have to render smart previews however you can do this on import. If you followed the above advice, the time it takes to render smart previews for the entire wedding shouldn’t take more than eight minutes.

A smart preview is a miniature digital negative file that Lightroom creates. It’s similar to using proxies if you are editing video. Basically you will see the edits done to the lower resolution digital negative, however, when you are ready to export, Lightroom will apply those edits to the larger file automatically. This can cut down your image the image render time to nearly instantaneous, which was one of the biggest time sucks about Lightroom over the last couple of years.

I recommend editing using smart previews for all photographers, however, if you are working on a laptop or an older device, this becomes even more crucial in order to make your editing process go a lot smoother.

Get rid of all storage bottlenecks.

One of the ways you can significantly increase performance and Lightroom is to use a solid-state drive to do your editing on. What our studio does is utilize solid-state drives for processing, and spinning drives for storage. So when we finish a job we download our files to both drives, complete the processing on the working drive, and then upload the finished files back to the storage drive.

An SSD can be up to 10 times faster than a spinning drive, so start processing your images on an SSD to significantly reduce your editing time. This will also speed up importing and exporting as well.

Another storage bottleneck that people can sometimes run into is the location where they store their Lightroom catalog. You will want to store your Lightroom catalog somewhere that it can be accessed quickly by your computer. I recommend your main working drive or your operating system drive, which should also be on an SSD.

SSD’s come in different shapes and sizes, and I’m not going to get into that here, but you will want to get the fastest one that you can afford. I have found that most solid-state drives are efficient enough to maximize Lightroom’s software.

The last thing you can do when it comes to storage is to have a separate drive for your cache. Now, this isn’t something I would recommend that every user do, however, if you built a custom PC, and you have an extra drive bay, then you can store your cash files on that separate drive so they don’t clutter in slow down your main operating system drive. You can do this in the same place that you used to turn on smart preview editing.

You will see minuscule performance enhancements from this, but every little bit is something.

Save your local adjustments for last.

Local adjustments are a severe bottleneck for Lightroom. If you are applying many of them at a time, it will significantly slow down your editing process. I highly recommend finishing all of your color correction and cropping before you go back to add local adjustments to your images. The smaller the local adjustment, the slower it will perform in Lightroom. While I don’t use the spot healing tool often, this tool can significantly slow down Lightroom’s performance.

Plus from an organizational standpoint once you have all of your color correction done, going back to add local adjustments can help keep your images consistent from photo to photo.

Thank you guys for checking out these tips, if you have any other tips that can help speed up light rooms performance, please leave them down in the comments below.


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