Today’s Question: As a follow-up, isn’t there a way to make it possible to work in the Develop module in Lightroom Classic even when the external hard drive is disconnected?
Tim’s Quick Answer: There is indeed. You simply need to generate smart previews for the images you want to work with in the Develop module when the source image files are not available.
More Detail: As noted in yesterday’s answer, by default when the source image files are not available in Lightroom Classic, such as when an external hard drive containing photos is disconnected, you can work with those images in the Develop module. However, there is a way to enable working in the Develop module even when the source files are not available.
The solution is to generate smart previews of the photos you want to work with offline. Let’s assume, for example, that you want to be able to work in the Develop module with any of the photos in a single folder. You could start by navigating to that folder in the Library module, making sure no filters are set on the Library Filter bar, and selecting all of the photos. Then go to the menu and choose Library > Previews > Build Smart Previews.
Once the previews have been built, you’ll be able to work with those images in the Develop module even with the external hard drive containing the source images disconnected from the computer.
When the hard drive is connected again, the adjustments you applied will be synchronized based on the source image files. Note that because the smart previews aren’t the exact same as the source images, there may be some variations in the appearance of the photos between the smart preview and the source image file.
Because of the potential for differences in appearance between smart previews and the original image file, I prefer not to work with smart previews in this way. Having said that, this feature can obviously be tremendously helpful when you need to work with images but aren’t able to have the source files available. For example, if you’re trying to travel light, you could generate smart previews and continue working with great flexibility with the applicable images without having to bring an external hard drive with you.