Five Ways to Speed Up Lightroom

by Michael Clark

This past week I have participated in several forums and speed issues with Adobe Lightroom was a hot topic. It seems many are finding Lightroom to be very slow which I found rather curious since I have had the opposite experience. So for this weeks blog post I thought I'd offer up a few insider tricks that will help speed up Lightroom.

1. Hard Drive and Scratch Disk Space
First off, check to see that you have at least 50% of your 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 25-25% 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. Also, increasing the amount of RAM on your computer will greatly help out as well.

2. Render 1:1 Previews After Import
Make sure that you render the 1:1 previews 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 the major cause of many folks finding Lightroom slow.


To render the 1:1 previews first select all of the images in the folder, then go to Library > Previews > Render 1:1 Previews. Of course you should also check the Render Standard-Sized Previews in the import box so that those are created as you import images.

3. Set Your Preferences
In the preferences panel (Lightroom > Preferences), under File Management, 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. As you can see below, I have Lightroom set to create 2,048 pixels for my large Apple Cinema Display and I've 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 4.5 GB of RAM in my Apple G5 it is a small difference and I prefer the higher quality previews.


4. Optimizing the Lightroom Cache
If you have your Lightroom cache 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 cache on a faster drive with a SATA connection if need be or better yet leave it on the computers internal drive.

5. Embed Metadata and Keywords on Import
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. The fastest method I have found for importing metadata and keywords is 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. 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 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 similars and type in the metadata for each group.


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 cache is on an external USB (1.0 or 2.0) or Firewire hard drive this to will handcuff Lightroom - just as working with an internal drive that is almost full will. 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 Apple MacPro with 9 GB of RAM and Lightroom never hesitated for anything. Even exporting 100 images took very little time.

That's it for this Monday. I look forward to hearing your comments...

Adios, Michael Clark


2007-03-26 01:55:23
And how does one set the location for the cache? I was actually thinking of creating a ramdisk for this?
2007-03-26 07:22:17
Thanks for the tips. Unfortunately my demo licensed is already expired.

1) Requirement for 50% free hard disk is ridiculous. Keeping 100 gigabytes free on a system disk is pretty hefty price for running one piece of software.

2) Rendering 1:1 previews is the main reason for bad Lightroom experience. The problem is that building previews can take several hours. Basically you have two choices: let LR build previews in background and suffer or wait for several hour. Either way the software is slow. Most times adding several hours of waiting on workflow is not even an option.

I tried LR with archive of 8000+ photos. Even with pre-build previews I found it unusable. For example: After selecting several photos, 'accumulating metadata' takes way too long. Maybe the problem is that my photos are in DNG format. With fullsize previews already included.

My hardware: Mac G5 Dual 2 gigahertz with 8 megabytes of RAM. Not the latest, but still plenty.

Michael Clark
2007-03-26 08:26:12
JK -

I hope that is 8 GB not, 8 MB of RAM. 8 GB is a lot and Lightroom should run really fast on that machine. Most photographers I know have a computer that is solely for processing images and they keep the hard drive as clean as possible so that it can run efficiently. It's also a good practice to keep the hard drives from getting too full in general as this can cause many problems with a computer if it gets to 85% or up to 95% full. Especially if you are working on huge images in Photoshop - you will need some serious scratch disk space - or another hard drive as a scratch disk.

Several hours to render 1:1 previews? When I import a shoot of 1,000 images it takes maybe 30 minutes max for it to create the 1:1 previews. I would not recommend that anyone import their entire library of images into Lightroom - say like 8,000+ images - then try to render all of the 1:1 previews for those images at one time. First that is going to suck up a ton of hard drive space in the cache when the previews are created and second do you really need 1:1 previews of all those images?

I don't recommend Lightroom as an image browser. Bridge or Photo Mechanic are much faster and easier to use. At some point it will become a great cataloging and archiving tool but it isn't there yet. Sorry you had a bad experience...

2007-03-26 15:12:02
Michael, I'm curious how long it took to export those 100 images on a friend's machine. I have a Dell XPS (Gen 1 - almost 4 years old but still fast) with a 3GHz P4 and 2GB of RAM, and I find my Lightroom not slow, but often slower than desired. Especially on export or building web galleries. On another (much newer) Dell XPS 400 with Core 2 Duo, I found the experience much faster. I always thought my computer was fine (and I'm a computer freak, but it seemed good enough for a bit longer), but it seems that I'll be needing an upgrade sooner than I thought.
Michael Clark
2007-03-26 15:23:03
Scott -

Hello. I didn't time it on his machine with 9 GB. I just noticed it was half or more what it took my G5 with 4.5 GB of Ram. If you only have 2 GB of RAM on your computer using Lightroom I would suggest adding more RAM if you can. That might help out a lot. And as I am on Mac I don't know how the PC's fare with Lightroom. Hope this helps.

2007-03-27 08:15:03
Hi Michael, for #1 you mention hard drive and scratch disk, which implies, to me, the scratch disk can be on a separate hard drive than where lightroom is installed. How does one tell lightroom where to place the scratch disk. (e.g., in photoshop you can explicity tell it to use D:, E:, F:, etc.)


Pat Gilmour
2007-04-06 14:36:26
Any feedback on how to set the cache location would be really appreciated!! Was this a Beta feature?
Michael Clark
2007-04-06 15:24:23
Rodney - Hello. Yes the scratch disk can be on a seperate hard drive but I would make sure it is a very fast hard drive meaning connected to your computer via a SATA connection or another internal hard drive. Sadly, I don't know how to make one Hard Drive a scratch disk. You might night need to call an IT person, especially if you are on PC as I don't know much about using PCs. Sorry I don't have a better answer....
Michael Clark
2007-04-06 15:27:18
Pat - Setting the cache location is very easy. First make sure Lightroom is closed, then find your cache - on a Mac it is by default located in the Pictures folder. All you have to do is move your cache to a new loaction - wherever you want it to be - then when you re-open Lightroom it will ask "what happened to the cahce" and you point it to the new location.
2007-04-22 08:54:08
Where do you find the Lightroom scratch disk setting? I can find it easily enough in PS but not in LR. Thanks.
2007-04-24 13:58:44
There is no scratch disk setting in Lightroom as there is in Photoshop that I know of. Where ever the Lightroom cache is or whatever is your main hard drive on your computer - just make sure to leave plenty of room on that - that is your scratch disk unless you have it set up otherwise on your computer.
Michael Clark
2007-04-24 13:59:37
Whoops, put your name Sam as the sender on that last email - sorry, i am a bit scattered today.
Don Nausbaum
2007-05-04 13:10:10
Any ideas why entering keywords is not just frquently slow, but goes to 'not responding'. If I wait, maybe 30 seconds, it clears to repeat this process all over again. But the wrench in the works here is that sometimes I can enter keywords without slow downs.
2007-07-03 15:02:02
Great tips. What would be cooler is if a photo library app would use Sea Dragon technology. then we wouldn't need to optimize anything.
2007-07-18 21:36:16
Hey Michael! Thanks for the tip! I have a 1.67Ghz Powerbook with 1.5GB RAM and I am thinking of upgrading it to 2GB to improve the speed of Ligthroom. Will that have an impact?
Michael Clark
2007-07-18 22:01:58
Mike -

I don't think you'll see a huge imporvement - it will help but not a whole lot. You are handcuffed with the processing speed of that chip I think - my personal opinion. You'd see a huge difference with a MacBook Pro with 2 GB of RAM in it.

2007-08-18 01:05:47
Wow! Thanks for the tips. I selected all my photos in Lightroom and rendered 1:1 previews. My scratch disk is a sata internal dedicated to just scratch and bu. Came back in the morning after rendering and LR is much quicker. It was lurching every time I tried to do anything. Now it is definitely usable.
Rand McNatt
2007-09-29 08:22:24
"I would suggest putting the cache on a faster drive..."

Ok, we're up to LR 1.2 and I still can't find a way to set scratch or cache locations. 'Help' doesn't even mention 'scratch' and the only 'cache' is 'preview cache'. Is there really any way to control those settings?

2007-11-03 01:41:34
I print proof from lightroom to files jpg.. with zan printer. I have test many software for this propose and i find it better
2007-11-27 06:08:33
My preview file (LR 1.3) is growing and growing and growing. It's over one gig for about a 1000 pics (half jpeg, half raw).
Is there a way to size down this preview file ? thanks