Save HOURS in Lightroom With This ONE Simple Thing!

Hi photographer friends! 

I can BARELY contain my excitement because I just discovered the greatest thing that Lightroom has ever offered!  I'm actually BEYOND excited because I know that this one thing is going to save me HOURS of time, will add CONVENIENCE to my editing workflow, and will benefit ANY photographer who doesn't love spending their days and nights in Lightroom (because who does?!)

As a professional photo editor for wedding photographers, I have been working with Smart Previews for the past 12 months and they are an absolute must in my line of work.  

how to use smart previews in Lightroom

First, if you've never heard of Smart Previews :

Smart Previews are a very compressed DNG file of the original RAW file that you Import into Lightroom.  They allow you to work on an "offline" version of your original file, saving you time while you edit, and saving your Lightroom storage space as the Smart Preview is in Lightroom and your can store your RAW files on an external HD.

Second, if you're wondering why they are so important to me let me start by giving you a little bit of background:

I'm a professional photo editor for wedding photographers which means I edit A LOT of images in the spring and fall.  Of course, I edit part time throughout the entire year, but spring and fall is peak wedding season and I have to be able to complete my work quickly1

Currently, I edit for 11 wedding photographers and so far this year I have edited approximately 170 weddings (not including the portrait sessions!)  If you figure an average of 700 images per wedding that's approximately 119,000 images.  So yea, I'm working in Lightroom A LOT!

The problem is, I also take my own personal images as I still have a deep love for photography and originally started by capturing memories of my daughter and our family.  While I edit Smart Previews for my wedding photographer clients, I had not yet figured out a way to streamline this process and add it to my own workflow.

For clients - the process is rather simple.  They are creating a catalog of smart previews on export, transferring the catalog to me, then I edit the Smart Previews and send it back.  For my own workflow however, it seemed tedious to be creating catalogs for all of my own galleries.  This would require me to Import the RAW files, export as a catalog with Smart Preivews, then either remove the RAW files and re-import the Smart Previews OR re-open a new catalog and edit the Smart Previews only.  I could create Smart Previews on import, but I would still be editing the original RAW file so it is just as time consuming as before.

Then today, a fellow editor clued me in a fantastic little setting that the newest addition of Lightroom has to offer.  You can create Smart Previews on Import and TELL Lightroom that while you are in the "Develop" Module you want it to act as if it is ONLY editing the Smart Preview.

All editing changes are made to both the Smart Preview and the RAW file, but the Speed and Performance of Lightroom is enhanced significantly.  How significantly?  We're talking 2x as fast saving you hours of time editing just as you would have any other time!

Want another awesome bonus of this feature?  If you store your RAW files on an external hard drive (which I hope that you do!) when you select this feature and edit the Smart Previews, you can go completely mobile.  Meaning if you need to disconnect your external then go for it.   From here, you'll simply be working off the Smart Previews alone and all changes will be implemented to the RAW file when the hard drive is reconnected.

YOU GUYS!  Are you jumping up and down with me yet?!  Have a just totally and completely confused you instead?  Let me walk you through it in a step-by-step process because this is simply amazing!

The Smart Preview Process:

1) In the most recent version of Lightroom 6 or Lightroom CC go to Lightroom > Preferences > Performance > Then select "Use Smart Previews instead of Originals for image editing"

how to use smart previews in Lightroom

2) I cull images before bringing them into Lightroom (THIS alone can save you a lot of time!)  Upon import, select "Build Smart Previews" and across the top, select ADD - Add photos to catalog without moving them.  This leaves your RAW files in their original location, your external hard drive.

how to build smart previews in Lightroom

3) This is the most time consuming part of the entire process.  Now you simply find a 20-ish minute task that you can accomplish as you wait for your files to load, render, and build the Smart Previews.  

Once your smart previews are loaded you will know that they are available by checking directly under the Histogram where it should look like this:

how to edit smart previews

If at any point your disconnect your external hard drive and are editing on the Smart Preview alone then it will instead look like this:

how to edit smart previews

If you're already asking "how is this going to save me time when it TAKES more time to build the Smart Previews?"

I promise, it will!  

Remember how I said I have edited approximately 170 weddings so far this year?   On average, most of those weddings include approximately 700 images for me to edit.  And I have it down to a science that I can edit  (depending on the photographer, style, and wedding) at a speed of approximately 0.17 seconds to 0.30 seconds per image.  

Want to know what that looks like compared to editing my OWN images when I'm not using Smart Previews and editing the original RAW file instead?  My editing speed then is much closer to 0.40 seconds to 0.60 seconds per image - spinning rainbow wheel of death, anyone?  That's almost HALF the time.  

Sounds pretty good to me, how about you?