How to duplicate a photo in Lightroom Classic (virtual copy tips)

In Lightroom duplicate photos are called virtual copies, so when you make a second copy (or third copy etc) of an image you’re creating a virtual copy. As with everything in Lightroom, there’s a long way of duplicating photos and a shortcut way, which is really easy. But first let’s take a look at how to duplicate a photo in Lightroom Classic, as well as when you can do it, why and where to find duplicate images once created.

Plus, I’ve included a great tip for keeping duplicate photos organized.

Can you duplicate an image in Lightroom?

Yes, you can duplicate an image in Lightroom at any stage during post processing once you’ve imported it. You can duplicate photos in both the library module and the develop module:

  • Before you even start the editing process
  • Part way through an edit
  • When you’ve completely finished editing a photo

There are so many great reasons for using Lightroom Classic and I think the easy ability to duplicate images really should be near the top of the list!

How to create a virtual copy in Lightroom Classic
How to create duplicate photos in Lightroom Classic – possible before, during and even after you’ve made edits

4 Benefits of Lightroom virtual copies

1. Existing edits are also copied

When you duplicate a photo (ie create a new virtual copy) all the edits that you’ve made on the original photo up until that point are also carried across to the duplicate file. You can even duplicate a virtual copy to create another virtual copy and the same principle applies – all develop settings already created on the image you duplicated carry across to the new virtual copy.

2. Virtual copies are separate files

The new virtual copy is treated as a completely separate file from the original file. So any changes you make to the duplicate file after you’ve created it affect only that file and not the original file. Likewise, any changes you make to the original file after duplicating it won’t affect any virtual copies already created.

3. You can create an infinite number of duplicate files

Which brings me to my next point… You can create as many virtual copies of the original photo and other virtual copies as you like. When I want to experiment with different edits or to create new Lightroom presets I’ll create several duplicate images. Then, once I’ve worked on each virtual copy, it’s easy to see which edit I like best in the Lightroom library module by viewing them side by side in grid view or survey view, or flicking through them in loupe view.

Create virtual copies to see different edits
Lightroom virtual copies are a great way of experimenting with different edits of the same photo in a photo or collection

4. Virtual copies use virtually no extra space

Duplicate pictures don’t take up any extra space on your hard drive, well so little that’s it’s not worth counting, because they don’t duplicate the original file. Wait. What? Remember that edits you make in Lightroom aren’t actually made on the file itself, even though it looks like it on the screen. Lightroom edits are like writing a recipe of develop settings to apply on exporting from Lightroom. What you see in Lightroom is a preview of what the photo will look like on export with your edits applied. So think of virtual copies as extra recipes for the original image file and don’t worry about hard drive storage space.

While it’s always better to create images using a RAW file format, because RAW files have more data for editing purposes, file format doesn’t make a difference. You can duplicate RAW images just as easily as JPEG images.

How to duplicate a photo in Lightroom Classic – the long way

Follow these simple step by step instructions to duplicate a photo in Lightroom in just three clicks:

1. Click on the photo, or photos, you want to duplicate

If you already have the image open in either the library module or the develop module, it is of course already selected. However, if you’re looking at your photos in grid view, the first step is to select the image to duplicate by clicking on it. Or select several to duplicate at once.

How to create virtual copies in Lightroom Classic with mouse
How to create Lightroom virtual copies using the mouse – the long way

2. Select Create Virtual Copy

  • Right click your mouse
  • Scroll through the dropdown menu
  • Click on “Create Virtual Copy”

That’s it! You’ve added a duplicate image (or images if you selected several). And that’s the long version.

What’s the shortcut to duplicate photos in Lightroom?

I always prefer to use keyboard shortcuts wherever possible in Lightroom, because when working through a large number of photos, the smallest time savers make a big difference.

The Lightroom duplicate photo shortcut keys are: Cmd ‘ (Mac) or Cntrl ‘ (Windows).

In other words…

  • Push the Cmd key and the apostrophe key at the same time if using a Mac computer
  • Or push the Cntrl key and the apostrophe key at the same time if using a Windows computer

And that’s it! You now have a virtual copy, aka a duplicate copy, of your selected image.

Creating duplicate photos of several photos at once
One way to create virtual copies of multiple photos at once is to select the images to copy and create duplicates as part of the process of creating a collection

How to create multiple virtual copies of several images at once

This is not a feature that I use often, but I’m sure there are many reasons why others might find it useful. One might be if you want to create black and white versions, for example, of several images at once. And to take it a step further you can gather them into a separate collection at the same time. So, here’s how to create a collection of duplicates really quickly…

  • Select the photos to duplicate
  • Click the plus sign in the upper right corner of the Collections tab
  • Select “Create Collection” from the drop down menu to open the Create Collection dialog box
  • Name your new collection
  • Check “Include selected photos”
  • This activates the option to “Make new virtual copies” so go ahead and check it
  • Click “Create” button
Steps to duplicate photos in Lightroom
How to create a Lightroom collection of duplicate images at the same time as copying them

Now you have a set of duplicate photos saved to a new collection to work on. They’ll also be visible in the folder alongside the original photos. Read to the end for the best way to organize multiple duplicate images.

However, you don’t have to create a collection to duplicate several photos at once. You can create duplicates of multiple photos at one in the same way you would create a virtual copy of just one image.

How do you know if a photo is a virtual copy?

When you duplicate a photo in Lightroom Classic the duplicate version of your photo automatically appears next to the original image in the grid view of the library module. You’ll also see an additional thumbnail of the photograph in the film strip (also called camera roll) at the bottom of the screen in both the library module and the develop module.

So now you have identical images side by side, but you have four different ways to tell the images apart:

Lightroom photo and duplicate photo with page curl
You can easily see that the virtual copy is the image on the right, because of the small page curl icon in the lower left corner (just 1 of 4 ways to see that a photo is a duplicate)
  • You can see a small page curl icon in the lower left corner of the virtual copy.
  • The file name has copy 1 added to the end of it. If it’s a second virtual copy, it’ll say copy 2 etc etc.
  • Mouse over the duplicate picture in the grid view or film strip of either the library module or develop module to see a label saying “1 of 2” or “1 of 3” if there’s more than one virtual copy of the image. If it’s the second virtual copy the label will say “2 of 3”.
  • In the top left of the original file thumbnail in the film strip there’ll be a number indicating the number of virtual copies of the image. This number will change on the original photo even if you make another copy of one of the virtual copies.

Once you make changes to the virtual copy it will of course be easier to tell them apart as they’ll appear as different versions of the same image.

How do you remove virtual copies in Lightroom?

Removing duplicate images from your Lightroom catalog is almost as easy as creating them. Plus there are few great tricks to help you out.

I say almost as easy, because how you do it depends on whether you’re working in collections or folders. We’ll look at both options. There’s also a long way and a short way to remove duplicate photos.

Remember that what you do to a virtual copy doesn’t affect the original image, which includes deleting them. So when you delete a duplicate photo, the original remains safely in the Lightroom catalog.

Steps to remove duplicate photos from Lightroom catalog
To remove virtual copies in a Lightroom folder, select then right click the mouse and in the drop down menu click on Remove Photos

Remove a virtual copy from a Lightroom folder – long way:

  1. Select the duplicate photo to remove
  2. Right click the mouse
  3. Select “Remove photo”
  4. A dialog box opens asking if you want to “Remove the selected virtual copy”
  5. Click “Remove from Lightroom”
Remove virtual copies from Lightroom folder
Second step to remove virtual copies from a Lightroom folder is to click the Remove from Lightroom button

Remove a virtual copy from a Lightroom folder – short way:

  1. Select the duplicate photo to remove
  2. Hit backspace (Mac) or delete (Windows) key
  3. A dialog box opens asking if you want to “Remove the selected virtual copy”
  4. Click “Remove from Lightroom”

Working in collections is different from folders. When you remove a photo from a collection it’ll still be in the folder, which is also true when removing duplicate photos from collections.

Remove duplicate photos from Lightroom collection
In a Lightroom collection right click on the photo to remove and then in the drop down menu click Remove from Collection, or use the backspace (Mac) or delete button (Windows). It’ll be deleted from the collection, but the virtual copy will still be alongside the original photo in the folder. So if you want to remove it from Lightroom you’ll need to go to the folder and remove it.

Remove a virtual copy from a Lightroom collection – long way:

  1. Select the duplicate photo to remove
  2. Right click the mouse
  3. Select “Remove from collection”

Remove a virtual copy from a Lightroom collection – short way:

  1. Select the duplicate photo to remove
  2. Hit backspace (Mac) or delete (Windows) key
Lightroom virtual copies in film strip and filters
Click the virtual copies icon in the menu bar above the film strip to gather all virtual copies in a folder or collection together

How to delete multiple virtual copies at once

If you’re anything like me, you might sometimes get a bit carried away creating different versions of a photo in different collections and could end up with a lot of duplicate images you don’t need in the folder. Yes, you could delete them easily one at a time from the folder, but there’s a really quick way to view only virtual copies so that you can delete all selected photos at once.

Library filter bar in Lightroom
The icon to gather all virtual copies is also in the filter menu at the top of the Library Module
  1. Gather your virtual copies together by filtering the images in a folder. Click the “virtual copies” button on the right side of the filter bar. This hides the original images so that you can see virtual copies only.
  2. Select all the virtual copies you want to delete
  3. Right click the mouse
  4. Select “Remove photo”
  5. A dialog box opens asking if you want to “Remove the selected virtual copy”
  6. Click “Remove from Lightroom”

Or gather, select and hit backspace or delete as you would when deleting individual virtual copies.

Lightroom stacking icon of virtual copies
This is a stack of 4 photos as you can see from the stacking icon in the top left of the film strip image

How to stack virtual copies

A little housework occasionally is essential for a well organized Lightroom catalog. If you want to keep all your different versions of a photo, a great way to organize multiple virtual copies of one image is to stack them.

Four steps to stack Lightroom virtual copies:

  1. Select virtual copies to stack together
  2. Right click the mouse
  3. Select “Stacking” from the drop down menu
  4. Then “Group into Stack”

The first of your group of photos displayed in the grid view or the film strip will be the top photo of the stack and there’ll be a stack icon in the top left corner with the number of photos in the stack displayed.

To open the stack click on the stack icon and to restack the duplicate photos click on the icon of the first image again.

Leave a comment

I you have any questions about how to duplicate a photo in Lightroom Classic, let me know in the comments. I’d also love to hear if this Lightroom tutorial has helped you to understand how to create duplicate images and keep them organized.

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