As you get started in Lightroom, many beginners wonder if you can copy an image. Maybe you want to test out some Develop Presets, or perhaps you want to compare two versions of a photo. Whatever the reason, you may have noticed that there seems to be no simple way to create an extra copy of an image.

This tutorial will take an in-depth look at the copy process. But first, to answer the question of how to duplicate photos in Lightroom, we need to address the difference between destructive editors and non-destructive editors.

Destructive vs. Non-destructive Editing

A destructive editor is one that saves changes made to a photo on the original image file. Once you’ve hit the save button, it’s impossible to access the file you started with since the modifications have taken its place. Adobe Photoshop is an example of a destructive editor, and it can be somewhat unwieldy when it comes to processing a large volume of images.

Non-destructive editors, on the other hand, save all the changes you make to an image as separate files. You are left with both the original and edited versions, making it possible to go back if need be. Lightroom is an example of a non-destructive editor.

As you edit and adjust images, the software creates a catalog of those changes and leaves the original file untouched. You can see a preview of what your images will look like once saved in the catalog. You can also reset it if you want and get rid of the whole catalog, leaving you with the original files.

What we’re getting at here is that this process replaces image duplication as you know it in Photoshop with other functionalities that aren’t the strict definition of “copy.” Let’s take a look at what those are.

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What Is Virtual Copy?

The most useful tool to come out of the catalog system is Virtual Copies. As you may guess from the name, an image copy is created virtually (or only in Lightroom) when you use this feature. Virtual Copy stores only the editing information and not the actual source file, saving you valuable disk space.

The main advantage of Virtual Copy is that it allows you to create several versions of one image and post-process them two separate ways. Many photographers find non-destructive editing helpful for comparing different approaches to post-processing their photos.

Another handy feature of Virtual Copy is that you can create one “copy” or as many “copies” as you want of the same image. The only thing you’re changing is the editing instructions, not the original RAW image.

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How to Duplicate Photos Lightroom with Virtual Copy

To duplicate photos using Virtual Copy in Lightroom, select the image, rick click it, and click on Create Virtual Copy. Your new virtual copy will show up next to the original in the filmstrip, and once you’ve completed this easy step, you can edit each version separately.

What Is Snapshot?

Lightroom has a second option for editing multiple versions of your original image, which is Snapshot. Snapshot doesn’t get a ton of love from photographers, but there are a few reasons why you might want to consider using this underrated feature.

At first glance, it may seem like Snapshot does the same thing as Virtual Copy. But it actually makes your life a lot easier during the post-processing phase, as Snapshot helps you keep track of all the different versions of a photo that you create. It allows you to save the work you’ve done at a certain point as a Snapshot, making it easy to go back to that moment.

Snapshot solves a frustrating issue with Virtual Copy in Lightroom, which is that most people end up with tons of Virtual Copies that get scattered across their catalog. You can have lots of iterations of a photo and not be able to find the images you need.

But with Snapshots, the image only ever has one iteration in the catalog. Think of each one as a milestone in your work process that’s easy to find by clicking on the Snapshot name.  

How to Get a Duplicate Photo in Lightroom with Snapshot

There are two methods to creating a Snapshot in Lightroom.

The first is to go to Develop and click on New Snapshot. A Snapshot will be created of whatever you’re working on, and you will be prompted to name it. You can leave the name with the default time and date that appears, or you can create your own name.

The second way is by right clicking on a specific entry in the History panel. When you do, you’ll see an option to create a Snapshot. Whatever settings the photo has at that point in its development history will be saved in a Snapshot.

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Using the Original RAW Image to Get a Lightroom Duplicate Photo

With all that Virtual Copies and Snapshots have to offer, why would you want to create a duplicate photo Lightroom? In case you do want to make a copy of an original photo, we’re going to explain how to do so.

You’ll need to activate the Export Module (under Export command), open File Settings, and select Original under Image Format. Click Export and your photo will be duplicated.


The process for creating duplicate photos looks different in Lightroom than it does in Photoshop. Although it takes some getting used to, many photographers favor non-destructive editing.

Virtual Copy and Snapshots are valuable resources for post-processing because of how easy they are to compare and export different images in Lightroom. They streamline the process of experimenting with lots of image versions, that’s why many photographers prefer Lightroom.

Remember, if Virtual Copies become a bit too unwieldy, you could try using Snapshots to make things easier to find.

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