Today’s Question: I am wondering when you use virtual copies in Lightroom, as I have not found a need for them.
Tim’s Quick Answer: As a general rule I use virtual copies when I want an additional interpretation of a photo, such as producing a color version as well as a black and white version of the same image.
More Detail: For most of my photos, I only want a single version of the image. I want to optimize the image to match what I feel is the best interpretation of the scene. However, every now and then I need or want an additional interpretation of a photo. In those cases, I would create a virtual copy in Lightroom.
A virtual copy provides an additional instance of your image in the Lightroom catalog, and enables you to apply different adjustments to that copy. The source image on your hard drive is not duplicated, so you aren’t consuming additional hard drive space (other than the tiny increase in information included in your Lightroom catalog).
When you initially create a virtual copy (by right-clicking on the image and choosing the “Create Virtual Copy” command), the copy will inherit all of the adjustment settings from the original image you used as the basis of the virtual copy. You can then, however, apply any changes you’d like to the adjustment settings for that virtual copy, without affecting the original interpretation of the photo.
In some cases I might want a virtual copy to produce a completely different creative interpretation of a photo. In other cases I might simply need to export a version of the image cropped to a specific aspect ratio, and I want to preserve my original crop settings without creating any confusion.
While I don’t use virtual copies all that often, it is worth keeping in mind that this feature exists. Whenever you want to have more than one interpretation of an image, a virtual copy provides a simple solution.