When you’re editing a photo in Lightroom, you may want to create a duplicate version to apply a secondary edit or use it as a reference. There are a few different ways to duplicate images in Lightroom, depending on whether you want to actually create multiple copies of your original file. One of the easiest ways to duplicate a photo in Lightroom is with something called a virtual copy.

To duplicate a photo in Lightroom, right-click on your image and select Create Virtual Copy. This creates a duplicate version of your photo inside of Lightroom without duplicating the original file. You can now create a new edit for the virtual copy without taking up extra space on your computer.

Besides virtual copies, there are a few other options for duplicating your photos in Lightroom. So let’s dive into each of them!

How To Duplicate A Photo In Lightroom

1. With Virtual Copies

To duplicate a photo with a virtual copy is very easy. Just right-click on your photo in the filmstrip or Library Module and select “Create Virtual Copy.”

A virtual copy will then appear directly beside the original inside of your Lightroom library. You can easily tell the difference between the virtual copy and the original file by the dog-ear fold in the bottom corner of the image thumbnail.

You can also note virtual copies from your other files via the file route listed at the top of the filmstrip. In this example, my virtual copy is listed as my RAW file name / Copy 1. As you create more virtual copies, you will see Copy 2, Copy 3, and so on.

What Is A Virtual Copy?

A virtual copy creates a duplicate version of your photo, but only inside of Lightroom. The original image file does not get duplicated on your computer. Instead, Lightroom creates a new set of “instructions” attached to that particular image.

Every time you adjust your photos in Lightroom, you create something known as an XMP file. This file contains all the information for what adjustments you’ve applied to your image. That way, Lightroom can see your original RAW photo, look at the editing instructions from the XMP file, then apply those edits onto your photo for viewing in the program.

When you create a virtual copy, you are creating a fresh XMP file for Lightroom to use. For each virtual copy created, you create a new set of instructions for your photo. For example, you could apply three totally different edits to the same photo using two virtual copies. Your first edit would be saved to the original RAW file, while the remaining two edits would be attached to the virtual copy XMP files linked to the root RAW image.

In short, virtual copies are the best way to duplicate a photo in Lightroom since it gives you the best of everything. You can duplicate your photo to apply new edits, but you don’t need to sacrifice the storage space on your computer.

What About Exporting Virtual Copies?

When you export your virtual copy, Lightroom will apply the edits made to that copy onto your original file. There’s no disadvantage to using virtual copies since everything remains connected to the starting photo. Once exported, the virtual copy XMP file is simply attached to the RAW image and combined as a new file.

2. Duplicating Your Original File & Reimporting

The second option you have is to duplicate your original file on your computer and then reimport it into Lightroom.

To do this, you’ll need to first find the image you want to duplicate on your computer. To create a copy, simply right-click and select Duplicate.

Now you will have an exact copy of your original image. Just remember that you now are taking up twice as much space by duplicating the physical file on your computer. If the original photo is 30MB, duplicating the same image will create a separate 30MB file.

This isn’t a big deal when working with a small number of images, but if you were to duplicate an entire folder, this becomes problematic since it can bog down your computer. For example, a 5GB folder with duplicated images suddenly jumps to 10GB. You can see how this can snowball if you did this for all your photos.

With your duplicate file created, you’ll have to reimport that photo into Lightroom. Inside Lightroom, click on the Import button, then find the folder on your computer with the duplicate file.

By default, Lightroom will have the “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” option checked off inside the File Handling panel. Make sure this option is unchecked to import your recently duplicated photo.

If all the images in your selected folder were previously imported, your duplicate photo will be the only file available to import. With the photo checked off, click Import to bring the duplicate into Lightroom.

Now you will have a duplicate copy of your original photo as a separate file inside of Lightroom. This time there are two different versions of the photo on your computer separately imported into Lightroom.

3. With Lightroom Snapshots

Snapshots are a helpful tool for saving a particular history state in your editing process. For example, if you want to create a duplicate of your photo for a before and after comparison, snapshots are super useful.

You can create a new snapshot in one of two ways. The first one being while you’re editing your photo. Once you have a stage in your edit that you want to save for later, go to your Snapshots Panel, click on the plus icon, give your snapshot a name, and choose “Create.”

Now you’ll have that stage in your edit saved for later use.

If you’re like me and forget to create snapshots while in the middle of an edit, you can also create them from previous history states. First, in the History Panel, select a history state that you want to save. Then, by right-clicking on a state and choosing “Create Snapshot,” you will create a new snapshot based on that stage in your edit.

Using Snapshots In Lightroom

Snapshots don’t create a duplicate version of your photo that you can edit, but it does create a saved version of your photo to use later on. This saved version can be used to remember a certain place in your edit or be used for adjustment comparisons.

For example, I can look at the before and after of my photo, right-click on my snapshot and choose “Copy Snapshot Settings To Before.” Now I can compare my current edit to an alternate version rather than just the RAW photo.

Another way you can use Lightroom snapshots is to save a certain editing style to come back to later. For example, I could edit my photo and give it a brown look, then save a snapshot to come back to it. From there, I could reset my photo and apply an entirely different edit, then save another snapshot for that.

Using two snapshots to save different editing styles on a photo.

With this method, you don’t have to create any virtual copies, but instead, save your different editing adjustments as snapshots to come back to later. By clicking on any snapshot in the Snapshot Panel, you will apply those saved adjustments to your active photo.

Shortcut For Duplicating Photos In Lightroom

To quickly duplicate a photo in Lightroom, select your desired image and press Command + ‘ (Mac) or Control + ‘ (PC) to create a new virtual copy. The virtual copy will appear directly beside the original photo allowing you to apply new editing adjustments non-destructively. 

This keyboard shortcut speeds up the process, so you don’t need to right-click and create a virtual copy manually.

It’s worth remembering that this keyboard shortcut does not work to create virtual copies of multiple photos at once. So even if you have selected a series of photos and use this shortcut, you will only create a virtual copy for your active image.

To create a virtual copy for other photos, you will need to click on your next image, then use the Command + ‘ (Mac) or Control + ‘ (PC) shortcut once again.

Now you know three different ways to duplicate a photo in Lightroom for any occasion. You can use virtual copies to apply new edits without taking up storage space; you can duplicate your original file or use snapshots to keep your edits consolidated in one place. I personally opt for the virtual copies method when duplicating photos. Since it looks and feels like a totally separate file in my Lightroom catalog, I find it easier to organize and manage things. Be sure to try the different options here and see what works best for you!

Happy Editing,

– Brendan 🙂