Updated: May 11
My top tips for improving performance for Adobe Lightroom Classic
I spend a fair bit of time perusing the Lightroom subreddit as it's an opportunity to help others and share some of my knowledge I've gained over the past 5+ years, and one of the most common topics I see is around performance issues with Lightroom Classic. For instance, here are some recent post titles from Reddit:
"Lightroom Classic running slow"
"Lightroom Classic suddenly got slow"
"Lens profile slowing things down"
"LR running slow"
"Laughably slow Lightroom Classic"
"My LR is SLOW!"
Reddit is hardly the only place you see this trend. A quick internet search for "slow Lightroom" comes back with over 6.5 million hits, and when I searched for "how to speed up Lightroom" I got a whopping 32 million results.
Now, I'm not here to tell you I never encounter any performance issues, nor am I going to claim I have "one weird trick" to solve your problems, but I have done several things to keep Lightroom Classic running - for the most part - pretty smoothly.
Other blog posts/videos you may enjoy:
I'm also not running on a crazy powerhouse desktop PC or anything. I do all my editing on a Microsoft Surface Book 2. 16GB of RAM, an 8th generation Intel Core i7, and it has the decent but far from top of the line Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics card.
And here's my dirty little secret… for the most part, I'm simply doing what Adobe themselves recommend. If you go into the Performance settings within Lightroom, there's a link for More Performance Tips. Clicking on that takes you to their Optimize Performance page. I've linked it here so you can check it out if you're not in front of Lightroom right now but my goal here isn't to just read that web page to you.
I'm going to share with you what has worked best for me.
I'm covering a fair bit in this post so here's a quick summary, and you can click on any topic in the summary list below to jump ahead or jump around if you want but, if you're struggling with performance issues, I really recommend you read all the way through.
Here's a quick rundown of the topics I cover in this post:
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Storage & Connections
My Surface Book has an internal Solid State Drive, or SSD. If you're not up to speed on your storage technology, the simplest way to break this down is an SSD doesn't have any moving parts, making it far more durable than a traditional hard drive that uses spinning platters to store and access data. Along with durability you also get exponentially faster performance:
• Virtually instant access times
• Input/output performance that's roughly 15x better than a hard disk drive
There is a caveat, though… if you're using an SSD, that's great, but it's only going to be a good as it's connection speed. That's not really a concern for an internal SSD but I also use an external SSD to store all my actual RAW image files. So, I have my Lightroom Classic catalog on the internal drive, along with the Lightroom preview files and whatnot, and then my image files - which are NOT stored in Lightroom, by the way… more on that in an upcoming video - are stored externally.
The key for that external drive is not only that it's an SSD but that it's also connected using the fastest option I have available on my Surface Book: USB 3.1. This gives me a max throughput speed for data transfers of 10 Gbps. That's twice as fast as USB 3.0, and roughly 25 times faster than USB 2.0.
The fast SSD coupled with the fast USB 3.1 connection means when I'm moving between Library and Develop, or between images in Develop, I'm less likely to encounter significant lag when Lightroom needs to access the full image file. Which leads to…
Use the Right Previews
In my Importing tutorial I walked you through the different preview options in Lightroom, and the benefits of each. If you opt to use one of the smaller preview options, however, Lightroom will have to generate Standard or 1:1 previews when you decide to actually start editing an image. If you don't already have one or the other created, it will have to be created on the fly, which will slow things down.
For this reason, I always create Standard previews as I import. If you decide to create 1:1 previews, doing so will also create Minimal and Standard previews, so they'll be ready to go.
If you need to create previews after you've already imported, simply go to the Library module, open the Library menu, and look for the Previews option. You can create previews one image at a time or in bulk by highlighting multiple images before you go into the menu.
Use Smart Previews for Editing
The next piece of the puzzle that has one of the largest impacts on performance is using Smart Previews in the Develop module. Smart Previews are very efficient in terms of quality vs. file size; they even allow me to perform at least basic editing without my external SSD attached. Using them in the Develop module can significantly improve performance, just be aware they do impact the display quality of your images slightly (but I can't say I really notice it). When you export an image, as long as you have your original image files accessible, you'll retain the full image quality.
To enable this feature, simply go to the Performance tab in Lightroom Classic and check the box.
Screen Resolution Matters
In 2020 I bought a monitor to use as my primary editing screen (I went with the BenQ 270C, for what it's worth). I intentionally did NOT go with a 4K monitor as working on a screen with that high of a resolution
can cause a few issues, one of them being decreased performance as your computer has to "push" that many more pixels on-screen. The 270C monitor is 1440p, so basically in between 1080p and 4K. If you're going to be using a 4K monitor, you want to make sure you have a decent graphics card as Adobe has put a fair bit of work into leveraging the graphics processor, or GPU, to help with performance on higher resolution screens.
There's also some who argue using a 4K or higher screen can also cause issues with editing, specifically when working on sharpening details… but that's not what this post is about so I'm not going to go down that rabbit hole.
Turn Off Sync
Even though I don't edit images on my phone or on an iPad or anything I do sync Smart Previews to the
Adobe Creative Cloud so I can view and share images when I'm away from my computer… but leaving Sync turned on while you're editing can really bog things down as Lightroom is going to be processing every. single. change as you work and syncing it up to the cloud. More often than not, if I'm suddenly running into performance issues, it's because I had turned Sync on to push Smart Previews and editing updates to the Creative Cloud and forgot to turn it back off.
Because of this, I usually just turn Sync back on when I'm done working for the day and let things sync up overnight, turning it back off when I come back to continue working. To turn Sync off and on, simply click on the cloud icon in the upper right corner of Lightroom Classic.
Optimize the Catalog
Here's another biggie… optimize your stinking catalog!! Adobe recommends doing so after importing new images into Lightroom, or after making a significant number of edits to an image or several images. You can do this when you close Lightroom and it - hopefully - asks if you want to backup your catalog (you can set it to do so in your Preferences). As part of that backup process, it optimizes the catalog and checks for errors. I do this at least once a week so I have plenty of backups but you can also optimize on the fly via the menu, without having to close down Lightroom completely.
Additionally, you can optimize your catalog at any time by heading to the file menu for Lightroom Classic. There, you'll see the option. It will take several minutes to complete but I can almost guarantee you'll see a performance gain afterwards.
Please Note - Creating backups of your catalog does not upload your catalog to the Creative Cloud; it is still stored locally so you are still at risk of losing all your edits and other critical Lightroom data if you don't have a true backup process in place. And Lightroom Classic never copies or backs up your original image files… so if you're not using a proper backup process, start doing so. It's easy, and dirt cheap. If you're not sure where to start with creating a backup process, check out my video covering this topic, and you can also get a free trial for BackBlaze - the backup solution I use and recommend - by clicking here.
Seriously… if you're not backing up properly, stop reading and go take care of that. This post will be here… if you have a catastrophic failure of a drive or something, all your images and edit info won't be unless you're backing up.
Adjust the Camera Raw Cache
This is one of the first tips I came across before I even tried the Adobe performance tips link, and it did make a difference. By default, this is set to only 1GB but, per Adobe, some users see significant performance improvements by bumping this to 20GB or more. Me? I have it set to 70GB. How large you go will obviously depend on how much free space you have but give it a try. The value can be changed within the Performance settings for Lightroom Classic.
Order of Develop Steps
If you've watched my Customizing Lightroom tutorial, you've seen how I reordered the Develop panels to match my personal workflow. Well, guess what? That order was largely determined by Adobe's recommendations for how to process your images without negatively impacting your system performance. While these aren't all the steps I follow in my workflow, I do the following steps in this order:
1) Spot healing - Also provides the best accuracy for spot healing corrections
2) Lens Corrections
3) Global adjustments - Exposure, white balance, aka the Basic panel
4) Local adjustments - Graduated and radial filters, brush adjustments
5) Detail corrections - I always, always, always do this last as it can SIGNIFICANTLY slow things down; sometimes, I'll even disable this panel entirely if I'm working on a complex edit… by default there are some minor adjustments already applied.
General Housekeeping Tips
This applies to your system in general. Don't go running around complaining of poor Lightroom performance if you're running 3 versions behind, or haven't updated your operating system in 9 months. Yes, some updates can cause issues so I (some times) wait a few weeks before updating Lightroom but, for the most part, the sooner you update the better off you'll be.
Adobe keeps making performance improvements with each major release and, as I mentioned before, one of the areas of focus is leveraging the GPU more and more instead of relying solely on your computer's CPU. Local adjustments, high resolution displays, and more all use the GPU far more than they ever did in the past. If you're not using the latest version of Lightroom, you probably aren't getting the full benefits of that GPU utilization.
Speaking of the GPU… keep that sucker updated, too. Now, I'm a Windows user and I think Mac users are dependent upon Apple for this one but I can go to Nvidia's software and manually update to their latest and greatest drivers without having to wait for Microsoft to include them in a future Windows update. The nice thing is, for Nvidia at least, you'll usually see updated drivers at almost the same time Adobe pushes updates out to their Creative Cloud apps, including Lightroom Classic.
Another tip for those of you with Nvidia GPUs: Use their Studio driver. It's specifically designed to optimize performance for Adobe's entire suite of Creative Cloud apps.
Close Other Apps
This one should be pretty obvious but make sure you're not running other applications unless they are absolutely needed while you're working in Lightroom. This includes your browser! One of the big reasons I've been using Microsoft Edge is because Chrome became such a resource hog, using a bunch of RAM and not letting go; the more recent versions of Edge even put unused tabs into a Suspend mode so they're not pulling any resources in the background. If I have Photoshop open, or Premiere Pro, etc., you're only going to have those other applications fighting with Lightroom for system resources. I even go so far as to disable OneDrive sync on my computer as I'm working. Similarly to the Lightroom sync process, if you have something like that running in the background it's going to be using resources to constantly monitor your system for changes.
Thanks to Adobe and their terrible, horrible, no good, very bad naming convention for Lightroom there's a ton of confusion out there - especially for new users - over the differences between Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, Lightroom CC, etc. (pro tip: there is no such thing as Lightroom CC anymore but you'll still see it referenced all the time).
So, you have choices, and they are:
• Lightroom Classic (my personal recommendation; see why here)
• Lightroom (the new cloud-centric version of Lightroom)
• Lightroom mobile / iPad
Now let me be clear: for my use cases, I recommend Lightroom Classic before any of the other versions. I don't edit on multiple devices, I do a lot of file management that's only available in Classic, and there are several editing tools that just aren't available in any of the other versions (see: Range Masking). I just cannot recommend one of the others if you have a similar workflow with similar requirements.
I spend a fair bit of time perusing the Lightroom subreddit as it's an opportunity to help others and share some of my knowledge I've gained over the past 5+ years, and one of the most common topics I see is around performance issues with Lightroom Classic. For instance, here are some recent post titles from Reddit:asdfasdfasdfasdfasdfasdasdfasdfasasdfasdfaasdfasdfasdfasdasdfasasdfaasdffasd:as:aasically the whole point of the new Lightroom is its integration with the Adobe Creative Cloud. You may run into storage issues and end up having to pay a premium for extra storage. If you have a slow or unreliable internet connection, you're going to have issues.
However, from what I've seen, it does tend to perform consistently better than Classic. I assume it's a combination of the newer underlying code as well as it just not having all the bells and whistles so there's less processing going on in general (to an extent). So, if you just cannot get Lightroom Classic performing acceptably, it may be worth trying what I call Lightroom Cloud. It doesn't meet my personal needs but it may meet yours.
Also, one more side note regarding the different versions of Lightroom: Classic does NOT equal outdated or abandoned! A lot of new users see the "classic" naming convention and assume it's an older version that's on the way out the door or already abandoned. Nothing could be further from the truth. Classic is still fully supported, and continues to get updated just as often as the other versions. Bottom line? It's just a silly, confusing name.
I saved the biggest one for last… enable GPU acceleration. Over the past 18-24 months this has made the single biggest difference in getting Lightroom Classic running well on my computer. As with anything in this list, it may not be the magic trick for you but if I turn it off my Lightroom just starts crawling. Several months ago I was having some issues with an Nvidia driver update and I had to disable GPU acceleration for like 10 days or so and I wanted to weep. If you don't have this enabled, definitely give it a try.
Bottom line here is check out Adobe's own performance recommendations; although several are included here, there are quite a few more they suggest. Click here to review them, or you can get to the page from within the Performance settings in Lightroom Classic. As long as you meet or exceed the recommended computer specs, odds are you can gain some improvements by following those recommendations.
Have some other tricks that have worked well? Drop them in the comments below for others to see! I'll also do my best to answer any related questions in the comments.