Today’s Question: You answered a question from a photographer about switching from Lightroom Classic to Bridge, and you said that one of the information losses would be “virtual copies”. I routinely make one or more virtual copies for different processing decisions. Will those virtual copies and all the processing information be lost if I for some reason stop using Lightroom Classic? Is that information not saved in metadata somehow attached to the original file? Would I have to, in effect, export every one of my virtual copies to retain that processing data? If so, yikes!
Tim’s Quick Answer: You would indeed need to export your virtual copies if you were going to stop using Lightroom Classic and wanted to preserve those versions of your photos.
More Detail: A virtual copy in Lightroom Classic enables you to create more than one interpretation of a photo in terms of adjustments in the Develop module or metadata for the image. For example, you can optimize a color photo, then make a virtual copy and create a black and white interpretation of the same capture.
If you enable the option to automatically write changes to metadata for your photos (found on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog), an XMP sidecar file will be created or updated for raw captures that you apply changes to within Lightroom Classic. However, that metadata is not saved outside of the catalog for virtual copies.
If you wanted to preserve the virtual copy version of the photo in the same way as the original raw capture with a sidecar file, you would need to export the virtual copy. In the case of a raw capture, if you export with the “Original” option selected from the Image Format popup, the original raw file will be exported along with an XMP sidecar file containing the metadata updates and adjustment settings.
In other words, you can create multiple copies of the same raw capture file (each with a unique filename of course) and you can have different XMP sidecar files for each, containing different adjustment settings.
Keep in mind that the adjustment settings included in the XMP sidecar file from Lightroom Classic are only usable in Lightroom or via Camera Raw in Photoshop. Other software tools would not be able to interpret those adjustment settings. So, if you were going to stop using Lightroom Classic as well as Photoshop, you would want to export your raw captures to TIFF files to preserve the appearance of the photos with a format that other software could make use of.