Today’s Question: Are virtual copies preserved when you back up the Lightroom Classic catalog? When do you risk losing virtual copies?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, virtual copies are preserved when you back up the Lightroom Classic catalog. You can also export a virtual copy to create an additional image file based on the adjustments you applied to that virtual copy.
More Detail: As the name implies, a virtual copy is a reference to a source image that does not involve creating an additional copy of the source capture. So, for example, you could interpret the original photo in full color, and then create a virtual copy that is a black and white interpretation of the original.
In the context of Lightroom Classic, all adjustments you apply are non-destructive, meaning they are effectively just metadata updates that don’t alter the original pixel values in the source image. So, when you create a virtual copy you simply have two (or more) sets of metadata for the same source image.
While a virtual copy appears as though it were an additional copy of the source image when viewed in your Lightroom Classic catalog, that’s not the case. If you deleted a source image file, the virtual copy based on that source image file would become useless because the virtual copy is only metadata. Without the original image, the metadata is useless.
However, you can export a virtual copy to preserve it as an actual image file. For example, if you create a virtual copy based on a raw capture, you can export with the “Original” option for file format and you’ll get a new copy of the original raw capture along with the applicable metadata (including adjustments) in an XMP sidecar file.
If you don’t export a copy of a virtual copy to preserve a copy of the image and updated metadata, then the virtual copy will only exist as metadata in your Lightroom Classic catalog. That, in turn, means that if you use virtual copies (along with certain other metadata that is only stored in the catalog) that it is especially important to maintain a good workflow for consistently backing up your Lightroom Classic catalog.