Need for Speed – Lightroom Workflows

The need for speed

I have heard some photographers claim that Lightroom either slow or getting slower. The reality is that Lightroom has been getting faster with each new version, but not all computer platforms are created equal, set up appropriately or maintained properly to implement a fast and efficient Lightroom Workflow. Before you accept it is the software that is slow, rather than the system, preferences or settings you have chosen to use, it is worth spending some time checking a few settings. Photographers who jumped ship to other software systems may not realise that Lightroom CC has become a lot faster in recent versions and now uses the GPU/Graphics Processor to leverage speed and also provides the option to use Smart Previews instead of Originals when editing. This greatly reduced the time it takes for your computer to redraw the screen when making global changes to tone and or colour.

Other factors that will impact on the speed of Lightroom include the following:

  • Old or ‘Low Spec’ computer: Use a computer with optimum specifications. e.g. quad core i7 and a minimum of 8GB RAM, SSD or ‘Fusion’ Drive and at least 50 GB Free space on your Hard Drive.  Lightroom will, of course, work on computers with much lower specs, but for those who need a fast workflow, you should invest in a computer with higher specifications than those listed as the minimum. Mac computers purchased from Apple stores tend to have the minimum specifications rather than the maximum. If you purchase online you can usually upgrade the Processor, Graphics Processor, RAM and Hard Drive capacity. Purchasing a laptop with a 15 inch Retina Screen and not upgrading your Graphics Card is not recommended if you intend to use the laptop for gaming or Lightroom.
  • Lightroom not restarted any time this week: If you notice Lightroom running slower than usual restart the Software (it takes just a few seconds on a computer with an SSD drive). If that does not help then try restarting the computer. Note > If the above does not restore Lightroom’s speed then try holding down the Alt/Option + Shift keys when starting Lightroom and Reset the Preferences.
  • Processor busy doing other things: Close Software not currently being used and disable ‘Background Activities’ such as file syncing, cloud services and virus protection software.


  • Small Cache: Increase the Cache (Lightroom Preferences > File Handling > Camera Raw Cache Settings). The Cache
  • Slow Connection to External Drive: If the images in your Catalog are being stored on an external drive, make sure the connection (I/O) is USB 3, USB C or Thunderbolt (not USB 2).
  • Slow Connection to Camera: Import images via a USB 3 card reader and not the USB 2 port on your camera.
  • Proprietary Raw File Formats: Convert the proprietary Raw files of your camera (.NEF, .CR2, ORF, .ARW) to DNG files
  • Processor tied up on background activities: If speed of initial review is important then postpone the conversion to DNG and set the Build Preview option on Import size to Minimal. If you are happy to leave the computer for several minutes during the Import Process then set the Import Options to Convert to DNG and the Build previews option to Standard.
  • Not using the Standard Previews: Rate the images after import using the Standard Previews that have been built on import prior to fine-tuning/optimising the appearance of the images.

Smart preview Workflow

  • Smart preview Workflow not implemented: Implement a Smart Preview workflow – especially for screens lower than 2,560 pixels wide (use a top of the line graphics card for screens higher than 2560 pixels – This includes 15inch MacBook Pro laptops with Retina screens).

When I am on the road I use a MacBook Air running a dual i7 processor and LaCie RAID Rugged Thunderbolt drive and I have activated the Smart Preview workflow in Lightroom’s Preferences. I enjoy fast efficient workflows when importing and working with images from my Sony A7RII withe a 42.2 megapixel sensor. When comparing the speed of my workflow with some frustrated users it turns out that on paper their computer should be faster. This means the performance of their computer has been compromised – as the software being run on their computer and mine is identical. The problem often comes down to another piece of software being run on their computer that is stealing the available RAM or keeping their processor busy on background activities not related to the task in hand – imaging workflow.

One of the topics I can cover during my one-on-one training sessions and workshops is how to optimise and automate Lightroom in order to create fast and efficient editing workflows.

Lightroom Speed
Lightroom Speed