Convert Virtual Copy to Primary Photo


Today’s Question: Thank you for the information about virtual copies in Lightroom Classic [in yesterday’s Ask Tim Grey eNewsletter]. I understand it is easy to delete a virtual copy if I decide I don’t like the adjustments applied to that virtual copy, so I still have the original image. But what if I decide I like the virtual copy better than the original? Is there a way to easily copy the adjustments of the virtual copy to the original, so I can then delete the virtual copy without losing the adjustments?

Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can swap the adjustments between a virtual copy and the original photo with the “Set Copy as Master” command in Lightroom Classic.

More Detail: Virtual copies make it easy to create multiple interpretations of the same image. This can be helpful when you actually want more than one version of a photo, or when you’re exploring different possibilities before deciding on the final look for an image.

If you decide a particular virtual copy isn’t working out, you can simply remove that virtual copy by right-clicking on it and choosing Remove Photo from the popup menu that appears. The virtual copy will be removed, but the original image will of course remain.

It might seem tricky, however, if you decide that you like the adjustments represented by the virtual copy more than the version represented by the source image. Fortunately, Lightroom Classic makes it easy to swap the adjustments between a virtual copy and a source photo.

Let’s assume you have a source photo you have optimized as a color version of the image, and a virtual copy that you have converted to black and white. You decide that you want to keep the black and white version of the image, discarding the color version.

However, the color version is the original image, with the black and white image being the virtual copy. You certainly don’t want to delete the source image, since the virtual copy requires that source. Instead, you simply want to swap the adjustments between the source and the virtual copy.

To make that swap, first select the virtual copy rather than the source image. Go to the Library module, and from the menu choose Photo > Set Copy as Master. Note that this command is not available on the menu when you are in the Develop module. When you use this command, the adjustments for the virtual copy will be applied to the source image, and the adjustments that had been applied to the source image will instead by applied to the virtual copy.

At that point you could also delete the virtual copy if you only want the version of the image that is represented by the source photo at that point.

If you will be working with virtual copies in this way, it is important to be aware of which image is a virtual copy and which is a source photo. Virtual copies have a turned page icon at the bottom-left of the thumbnail. Virtual copies also show a name (“Copy 1” by default for the first virtual copy) after the filename of the source image, on the information display for the selected photo on the left side of the filmstrip, above the thumbnail display. Be sure you aren’t deleting a source image when you intend to delete a virtual copy.

Of course, keep in mind that all adjustments in Lightroom Classic are non-destructive, so even if you later decide you really do want to have the image in color, you would still be able to switch your black and white interpretation applied to the source image back to a color version (or even add a new virtual copy for that purpose).