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Virtual copies are the feature to use when you want to try out different settings on a photo. A virtual copy isn't an actual copy of a photo on your hard drive; it's a virtual instance of that photo-- and importantly, its settings are independent of the master photo. That means that you can apply develop settings and metadata options to a virtual copy with no effect on the master photo, which leaves you free to experiment. And because virtual copies are just instructions and metadata, rather than pixels, they have the advantage of not taking up valuable space on your drive.
You can make a virtual copy as a one-step operation in either the Library module or the Develop module. Here, in the Library module, I've selected this Source folder and I'm going to select a photo in the main window or down in the filmstrip from which to make a virtual copy. Then I'll go up to the Photo menu and I'll choose Create Virtual Copy. Now I have two thumbnails of the same photo. This one is the original, the Master copy, and this is the virtual copy of that master. I know that because it has this turned-up page icon here, which is the symbol for a virtual copy.
I made this virtual copy so I could try out some Develop settings on it without affecting the master. So let's take these into the Develop module. Here in the Develop module, I've got the virtual copy selected and I'm going to make a change over here in the Basic panel. I'll go to the Treatment field and I'm going to click Black & White to convert this colored photo to black and white. Now this isn't necessarily the best way to make a black-and-white conversion, but it'll do for this example. The thing to take note of is that the conversion to black and white is displayed only in the thumbnail of the virtual copy.
That change didn't affect the master copy here at all. And even after I've made the virtual copy, if I make changes to it, those won't affect the master copy. So with the virtual copy selected, for example, I'll go to the Basics panel and I'll drag the Exposure slider to the right, and I'll drag the Blacks slider to the right, and I'll drag the Clarity slider to the right, and that gives more contrast and sets the black and white points. And those changes affected only the virtual copy and not the master photo.
The real power of virtual copies is when you have multiple virtual copies, each with subtly different adjustments, and then you can compare them all to pick the best one. So a couple things to know about that: you can make multiple virtual copies of a master photo, and you can make virtual copies of virtual copies. Let's see how that works. I'll make a second virtual copy of the master photo by selecting the master photo and then again going to the Photo menu and choosing Create Virtual Copy. With that second virtual copy selected in the filmstrip, I'll make a different kind of change this time.
I'm going to apply one of the presets that ship with Lightroom. I'll scroll up here to the top of the Presets panel and you can see that there are a lot of presets that come with the program. These are basically combinations of settings. By the way, you can make your own presets by choosing Settings in the panels on the right and then clicking this Plus sign and making a preset that contains particular settings. So, let me find the preset that I'm going to apply here. There are black-and-white presets and creative color presets. Here's the split-tone preset I'm looking for.
To apply a preset to a selected photo, all I have to do is click the preset in the Presets panel and it's applied to the photo. So, I like this. I think this looks good. The shadows are tinted blue and highlights are tinted a warmer gold color. I'd like to have this as one of my options, but I'd like to modify it a bit and then compare the one that I modify to the other virtual copies and to the master. So with his virtual copy selected, I'm going to make a virtual copy of the virtual copy. To do that, I'll go back to the Photo menu and again choose Create Virtual Copy.
So now I have two of these split-tone photos that right now are exactly the same. I'll go to the last virtual copy that I made, make sure that's selected, and then I am going to come over to the Basics panel, and I'll make a slight change. I am going to drag to Fill Light slider to the right to open up some of the shadows. So, now I want to compare all these different versions of this photo. I could do that down here in the filmstrip, but these thumbnails are pretty hard to see, so I am going to go back over to the Library panel and I'm going to select the three virtual copies and the master photo, clicking on one, holding the Shift key, and clicking on the one on the other side of the filmstrip, and with all four selected, I'll go up to the toolbar and I am going to click on Survey mode.
So there are the four photos, and now I can compare them and pick the one that I want to use for a particular purpose. So let's say that I'd like to make a print of this virtual copy. When I export it out of Lightroom, I'll be converting it from a virtual copy that doesn't yet exist on disk to a regular image file, probably a JPEG. Now if I want to delete the other virtual copies, I can do that. I'll go down and click in the Filmstrip on this blank area to deselect, and then I'll click on the virtual copies that I want to delete. Holding the Command key or Ctrl key, I'll click on these two, and then I'll right-click or Ctrl+Click on either one, and I'll choose Delete Photos.
Lightroom checks that I want to remove the two virtual copies, and I do, so I'll click Remove. And if I click back on the master photo, you can see that after all of that, it remains as it was at the beginning of this exercise, before we made any virtual copies. So as you can see, virtual copies give you a lot of room to experiment with different adjustments and presets in a way that's completely nondestructive of the main photo, and it takes up no extra space on your drive.
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