Six ways to speed up Lightroom

It seems many people are finding Lightroom to be a bit slow, which I find rather curious since I have had the opposite experience, especially when I compare my current Lightroom workflow to my older Adobe Camera Raw workflow which seemed glacial by comparison. In Lightroom 3, the Adobe engineers have really worked hard on make the software run faster than ever before and I can see it. Even so, here I’ll offer up a few insider tricks, tips and techniques that will enable Lightroom to run as fast as possible.

1. Hard Drive and Scratch Disk Space

First off, check to see that you have at least 50% of the hard drive space on your computer available. If you are working with a hard drive that is more than 75% full (i.e. you only have 25% or less of your hard drive memory left) that can slow down all applications and especially Lightroom. And of course a fast computer is also a major factor, but Lightroom will work on any computer with Mac OS X 10.4 or later.

2. RAM and 64-bit processing

Also, increasing the amount of Random Access Memory (RAM) on your computer will greatly help as well. Lightroom is a RAM hog and even 10 GB or more is not too much. With Lightroom 3 you can also take advantage of 64-bit processing if you have more than 4 GB of RAM and both your computer and operating system support 64-bit. For Mac users, you’ll need to have an Intel-based computer and you’ll need to be running OS 10.6 (Snow Leopard). Lightroom now runs natively in 64-bit mode so there is no need to turn this feature on. It is on all the time. And I’d bet this is in large part an explanation as to why Lightroom 3 runs a fair bit faster than older versions of the software. This feature alone might be worth the upgrade. For PC users you’ll need to have a 64-bit compatible machine for Lightroom to run natively at 64-bit. .

Ultimately the faster your computer, the faster Lightroom will function. If Lightroom seems like it is dragging and you have a computer that is three years or older then it might not have anything to do with the software.

3. Render 1:1 Previews on Import

Make sure that you render the 1:1 previews either during the import phase or after importing images into Lightroom. It doesn’t happen automatically and this will greatly speed up everything in Lightroom. This is a little known key point to a fast workflow in Lightroom and I suspect it is also the most common reason why many folks find Lightroom slow. Building 1:1 previews isn’t as fast as any of us would like it to be but with a little patience the rest of the workflow will be a lot smoother.

There are three different types of preview images built within Lightroom. The Minimal previews are the thumbnails in the filmstrip and grid mode. The Standard previews are the screen size images. And the 1:1 previews are the full size images at 100% which are basically the same thing as zooming to 100% into an image in Photoshop

The easiest method to render the 1:1 previews is to choose 1:1 in the Initial Previews toggle in the import box as above so that the previews are created during the import stage. By choosing 1:1 the Minimal and Standard previews will also be made. Hence, all of the previews will be ready to roll once the import process is finished. If you don’t want to render the 1:1 previews for all of the images I’d suggest rendering the Standard previews on import then after you have done an initial edit (with the Standard – i.e. screen size previews) you can render the 1:1 previews of your select images for the final edit.

To render the 1:1 previews after the import process first select all of the images in the folder (in the Library module) or the group of images that you would like to render the 1:1 previews for and then go to Library > Previews > Render 1:1 Previews.

4. Set Your Preferences

In the Catalog Settings preferences (Lightroom > Catalog Settings), you can adjust what size standard previews Lightroom builds from 1,024 pixels to 2,048 pixels depending on your monitor size. You can also adjust the Preview Quality (High, Medium and Low).

By adjusting these toggle boxes you can optimize Lightroom for your computer and monitor. I have Lightroom set to create standard sized previews that are 2,048 pixels wide for my Eizo ColorEdge CG243W display because it has a screen resolution of 1,920 x 1200 pixels. I also set the Preview Quality to High so that I can see the best quality preview as I edit images. Since I have my preferences set to the higher settings it slows Lightroom down just a little, but with 6 GB of RAM in my Apple MacPro it is a small difference and I prefer the higher quality previews. On my laptop, I set the previews to 1,440 pixels wide as that is the closest setting to match the width of my Apple Macbook Pro’s 13-inch monitor.

5. Optimizing the Lightroom Catalog and Connection Speeds

If you have your images or the Lightroom catalog on an external hard drive (USB or Firewire) this can massively slow down everything in Lightroom as it is limited by the connection speed of the hard drive. I would suggest putting the main Lightroom catalog on a faster drive with a SATA connection if need be or better yet leave it on the computers internal drive. This is one of the major factors in how fast Lightroom can perform.

Also, one can optimize the Lightroom catalog if things seem to be running a little slow. Optimize the Catalog by going to File > Optimize Catalog, which in theory should make everything run faster. Selecting this option will close Lightroom so the catalog can be worked on and then it will reopen it when it is finished.

6. Embed Metadata and Keywords on Import (Bonus)

In my workflow, I have found that Lightroom works very well with Metadata and Keywording but if you need to alter large groups of images the software can drag a bit as you try to type into the metadata fields. This is less of an issue with Lightroom 3 but the fastest method I have found for importing metadata and keywords is still to do it as you import the images.

In the import dialog box there is a field for typing in keywords and the toggle just above allows you to create custom metadata templates which can be edited. I have several metadata templates I use. If all of the images are of the same person, scene, location and sport then I create a custom metadata template (Figure 3.14) with all of the metadata in it so once the images are imported the metadata and keywording is finished. If I am importing a group of images with different people, locations or sports then I will just use my basic copyright template during import – along with generic keywords. Once the images are imported I’ll select groups of similar images and type in the metadata for each group or create metadata presets to apply to groups of images. I’ll offer up more information on metadata presets and the details on how this works exactly when we discuss metadata and keywords.


If you don’t render the standard-sized or 1:1 previews then Lightroom is constantly trying to build them as you edit your images resulting in very slow performance. And if your Lightroom Catalog is on an external USB or Firewire hard drive this to will handcuff Lightroom and impact it’s performance greatly. In a similar manner, if you are working with an internal drive that is almost full Lightroom’s performance will be hindered because the scratch disks that are needed when the RAM is maxed out are virtually non-existent. I would also advise having at least 4 GB of RAM in your imaging computer which will allow for access to Lightroom’s built-in 64 bit processing. Lastly, don’t forget to optimize the Lightroom catalog every so often to keep things humming. Adapt these tips to your Lightroom workflow and you will be amazed at how efficient and fast Lightroom can be. And if that isn’t enough, buy yourself a serious amount of RAM and then Lightroom with really start to motor. I recently worked on a friends brand new 12-core Apple MacPro with 12 GB of RAM and Lightroom never hesitated for anything. Even exporting 100 images took very little time.


This article is an excerpt from my digital workflow e-book. If you are interested in developing a complete workflow of your own using Lightroom, I would recommend checking out my Lightroom Workflow e-book Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: A Professional Photographers Workflow. You can purchase that eBook for the low price of 24.95 on my website.

This e-book presents a complete workflow which includes my in-camera settings, how to determining the optimum white balance and exposure, color management, working with Lightroom and Photoshop, creating web galleries, Noise Ninja and much, much more. A sample table of contents is available for download on my website if you want to see exactly what is covered. The e-books is also up to date and covers the latest versions of Lightroom and Photoshop.

Michael Clark is an internationally published photographer specializing in adventure sports, travel, and landscape photography. He produces intense, raw images of athletes pushing their sports to the limit and has risked life and limb on a variety of assignments to bring back stunning images from remote locations around the world. A sampling of his clients include: Apple, Nikon, Red Bull, National Geographic, Outside and Outdoor Photographer.