First, make sure you’re running the most current version of the application. Speed improvements come with each upgrade, so to ensure you’re state of the art, check for updates by clicking on “Updates” on Lightroom’s Help menu. If your software is up to date it will tell you. If not, you’ll be led through the downloading and installation process courtesy of Adobe’s Creative Cloud desktop app.
While you’re thinking about upgrades, don’t forget that the most fundamental upgrades you can make to improve the performance of your photographic workflow are hardware upgrades to ensure you not just meet but exceed minimum system requirements. In particular, make sure you’ve got at least 12 GB of RAM and fast internal hard drives of 7200 rpm or more. And, if external drives are necessary, ensure they have Thunderbolt, USB 3.0 or eSATA connections for the best data transfer rates. Hard drives should also be large enough to store your catalog and image files without exceeding 80 percent capacity of the drive. That minimum 20 percent of free space is necessary for optimum performance.
Because Lightroom relies heavily on graphics, make sure you’re using a compatible video card and update the graphics driver to its current version. If your card isn’t compatible, go to Lightroom preferences and uncheck the “Use Graphics Processor” checkbox at the top of the Performance tab. This will prevent overtaxing a GPU that can’t keep up. With a compatible graphics card, however, this setting can speed develop adjustments and image rendering, particularly with high-resolution 4k, 5k and Retina displays.
Shrink the window size on high-resolution displays. Really. It takes a lot of processing power to redraw all that detail across a large area of a high-resolution display, and one way to cope with lagging is to reduce the size of the window Lightroom is occupying. A smaller window means less drag on the processor.
Don’t sync while you work. Because syncing images with Lightroom CC takes away from the power available for editing in Lightroom Classic CC, choose to pause the “Sync with Lightroom CC” option by clicking your name in the Identity Plate on the top left of the screen. Sync with Lightroom CC appears atop the drop-down menu there. Turn it off while you work and, if you want to sync to the cloud, turn that option on when your work is complete. It can sync in the background, even while you sleep.
Turn off Autowrite XMP. XMP files store the metadata of all the edits you make in Lightroom. This is helpful if you regularly sync files between Lightroom, Bridge and Camera Raw. Many Lightroom users, though, likely find this one program accomplishes most of what those other two can do, so unless you regularly move between all three applications, turning off Autowrite XMP will save time by saving processing power for something you aren’t likely to use anyway. Find this setting under the Metadata tab in the Catalog Settings and deselect the checkbox.
One of the best performance improvements you can make in Lightroom is to ensure that image previews are rendered appropriately for the way you work.
Smaller previews improve overall performance but might end up slowing you down in a later step depending on how you use Lightroom. For instance, if you tend to browse your library in the filmstrip or thumbnail view, the camera-generated previews will work fine and are fastest to generate. Only when you click on an image to view it close up in the loupe view will the 1:1 preview generate. There’s no reason to generate all those 1:1 previews if you only enlarge a small fraction of the images you import. If, however, you like to quickly scroll through many enlarged images quickly, you’ll find yourself waiting with each image as the preview is generated. In that case, it’s likely more efficient for you to generate all those life-size previews ahead of time so that your workflow won’t be inhibited by constantly waiting for each new image to render. You can do this during import by choosing the size of the previews in the top of the File Handling panel of the Import window. The fastest import will be had from Embedded & Sidecar previews, which were already generated by your camera.
Minimal previews require Lightroom to generate the preview from the RAW image data, but aren’t much better than the previews your camera created, but they do require some processing power. So if you’re going to create previews, Standard or 1:1 are likely the best bet—although they’ll make the import take longer, particularly with life-size 1:1 previews. And once they’re created, make sure Lightroom doesn’t throw them out to save disk space. As long as you’ve got the hard drive room to spare, go into the Catalog Settings and choose Discard 1:1 previews “After 30 Days.” This way, while you’re working on a project you won’t have to rebuild previews every day, eating up processing power while you work. However you choose to do it, as long as you’re deliberate with preview rendering based on how you use Lightroom, you can save time and work more efficiently.
Other helpful options for speeding up Lightroom include limiting the number of presets you install, limiting the number of localized adjustments you make on an individual image (do them in Photoshop instead), optimizing the catalog more frequently (on every exit, for instance, rather than once weekly) and deleting the preview cache if you run out of disk space or start seeing artifacts in your images by going into File Handling in the Catalog Settings and clicking on Purge Cache.