Speeding up your Lightroom Experience

by George Mann

I hadn't checked the digital workflow forums in a while and thought I better check to see what is giving Lightroom users problems these days. To my surprise I saw that the biggest issue still seems to be performance related, with various posters complaining about how slow the application was on their computers.

Since I don't really have too much of a problem myself and I do not use the newest and fastest computer, I tend to ignore most of these posts and usually figure that it is just operator error. I mean we all know how messed up some our friends computers are and no matter how much we try to help them, they refuse to change their bad habits. To them it is always the newest program they have jammed into their computer that is at fault, not their own bad habits.

I'm admittedly kind of a Mac snob and I can't help telling people to switch to Mac to solve their problems, but this is not completely right, so I thought I should at least try to understand what is going on. One thing I noticed right away is that most of the people with performance problems tend to complain about how long it takes to do some simple thing to thousands of images at the same time. Now I don't know about you but I never really have the need to do something to thousands of images at the same time. I guess it could happen but it makes me wonder whether these people are just experimenting with the limits of the program, or do they really need to process that many images at one time.

The other problem is that they have multiple external hard disk drives, CD-ROM/DVD drives, and Flash memory readers attached to their computers with image files on all of them and all of them hooked up to one catalog in Lightroom. I do understand why some people need this, but they are usually working for large corporations or image banks of some sort and they have other image management solutions available to them. For me Lightroom is a perfect image management application for handling small to medium sized projects, it is not yet ready to handle the image management needs for the Olympic Games or a major publication, maybe in the future yes, but not now.

I have very few performance issues because I work only with current project files and leave the rest of my images off line. When I am finished with that particular project, I export the catalog and also store it off line. This way everything seems to work much faster and smoother than when I was cataloging and trying to manage way too many images at the same time.


Realizing that some people do need to have all their images available at all times, I decided to dig a little further and found that quite a few people were finding significant speed increases by turning the auto-write XMP files function off in the Catalog Settings dialog. Turning this setting off in effect saves your metadata changes to the Lightroom Catalog and not to a separate XMP file that can be transported easily to another application or back to Lightroom from deep storage. The effect is most pronounced when large numbers of images are scattered over a number of different devices, especially so when the catalog was searching for images that were at that moment off line.

Here is a more in depth acknowledgment and explanation of the problem, by Lightroom Engineer Dustin Bruzenak, and an indication that things will probably get better in the near future.

Performance & Auto-write XMP


2007-09-07 10:53:16
Don't you think this article is showing the increasing futility of postings at this blog? Rather than accept people adjust thousands of images at once, you impugn their reasons for doing so! It's a straw man argument anyway - hundreds are reasonable, thousands close making it absurd. Multiple drives? Same thing - apparently they're working for big corporations. Really? And "other image management solutions available to them." Oh yeah? "For me Lightroom is a perfect image management application". Well isn't that helpful? And insinuating at switching to Mac is no more useful than switching to AOL's equally-shrinkwrapped offerings to cure a troublesome internet connection.

Your last point about auto writing XMP is spot on though. It is by far the biggest reason for degraded performance.

But my general point is that these blog posts are getting rather repetitive. Here your main point is good - but it's about as new as saying motherhood's good for everyone. It's an FAQ answer. No doubt you're drafting an article on the use of the P U X shortcuts - don't, Ken did that the other day. But this isn't directed at you - it applies to the blog.

Sure, I don't need to read. And it's marginal why one should. But let's have something a bit juicier!

George Mann
2007-09-07 17:29:05
As always I appreciate the feedback. I was not really intending to write about this subject this week but found that it is a hot topic on the internet and obviously I have touched a raw nerve.

In regards to multiple external drives, that is just my opinion and personal method. Years ago I used to leave them all on and attached to my computer, now I keep them in my equipment closet and only hook them up and use them when I need them.

My experience tells me that I can get more out of Lightroom by accepting it's current limitations and working within their boundaries, rather than trying to make it do something that it can not.

I really do appreciate the comment though and sorry about the Mac jab, as I stated above I just can't help myself.