Today’s Question: If you lose the Lightroom Catalog you lose virtual copies even if you are using XMP files, which saves the adjustments made to the original image file. But is there any way to save the virtual copy with all the adjustments made to that virtual copy?
Tim’s Quick Answer: To preserve a virtual copy outside of the Lightroom Classic catalog, you would need to either create a copy of the source raw capture or create a new derivative image. That copy could be added to the catalog alongside the original, providing two copies of the same image rather than using a virtual copy for this purpose.
More Detail: Virtual copies in Lightroom Classic enable you to have more than one interpretation of the same source image. For example, you could apply adjustments to a raw capture with a color interpretation, then make a virtual copy and create a black and white interpretation of that image. Both versions of the image you see in Lightroom Classic would represent a set of adjustments applied to the same source raw capture.
However, virtual copies are only preserved within the Lightroom Classic catalog, so if you lost your catalog you would lose your virtual copies. You could overcome this issue by using an additional copy of the source raw image in place of a virtual copy. This obviously involves consuming more storage on your hard drive, but it also means you would not lose the additional version of the raw capture if you lost your Lightroom Classic catalog.
To create an additional copy of the source raw capture to apply different adjustments to, you could use the Export feature in conjunction with the option to add the exported image to the current Lightroom Classic catalog.
Start by selecting the source raw capture and clicking the Export button at the bottom of the left panel in the Library module. In the Export Location section of the Export dialog, choose “Same folder as original photo” from the Export To popup, and turn on the “Add to This Catalog” checkbox. In the File Settings section, choose Original from the Image Format popup.
Click the Export button to export a copy of the raw capture to the same location, with that copy added to the current catalog. Because you are exporting the image to the same folder location, there will be a filename conflict. In the dialog that appears to indicate this conflict, click the “Use Unique Names” button. This will create a copy of the selected image with the same base filename, but with a number (such as “-2”) appended to that filename.
At this point you would have two copies of the original raw capture in the same folder in your Lightroom Classic catalog. You could then apply unique adjustments to each version of the image. This provides the same basic capability of using virtual copies to create multiple versions of the image, though of course with more hard drive space being consumed in the process. But again, with this approach you would maintain both copies of the image even if you lost your Lightroom Classic catalog, which would not be the case with virtual copies.