lightroom smart previews tutorial

Photographer Education

October 28, 2016

Smart Previews: The Lightroom Feature That Will Change Your Life!

Earlier this week I announced the exciting launch of my brand new YouTube channel. There, I’ll post tutorials all about editing and Adobe Lightroom, to help beginner photographers take their editing to new levels! Albeit, it’s not as beautiful and professional as I want it to be, due to lack of equipment and a tiny space I have to work in right now. But it’s something. And so far, I’ve gotten a lot of excited feedback, so I feel encouraged!

But back to business…

The first Lightroom tutorial is up and ready to view! Yay!

Watch the video HERE or where I’ve posted it down below.
Or, keep reading for a breakdown of what I cover in the tutorial.


The Lightroom Feature That Will Change Your Life

Okay, so one of the biggest issues that a lot of people have with Lightroom is the load time. Often, we get our photos loaded into the Library of Lightroom, but then as we’re editing, it takes each photo a couple seconds to render a sharp image. This can be super frustrating when you’re trying to get work done quickly. Especially when each time you zoom in to adjust your subject’s face, you have to wait “forever!

Enter: Smart Previews

This is where Lightroom’s life-saving feature comes into play. It’s called “Smart Previews,” and here’s how it works:
Lightroom traditionally renders a preview for you to edit from that is reading off of the original image wherever it’s located. Since some photos are so large, this can cause longer load times as you click through each photo to edit. A Smart Preview is like a crushed version of the original. Lightroom takes that original image and creates a small “snapshot” of it. Now you can edit 1,000 times faster off of the smaller file. All you need to do is disconnect the original folder from Lightroom so that it doesn’t keep reading off the large images.

Here’s a more thorough breakdown:

  1. When you import photos into the Library using “add,” Lightroom takes a copy of the original photo and renders a preview for you to edit from. Basically, it’s reading off of the location of the photo, whichever folder you have it in. By default, it renders the largest preview possible, as big as the photo itself. If your photos were taken in Camera RAW, then you know these files are huge! It’s why Lightroom can take so long to render each photo, because of how much information it’s trying to process for you.
  2. All you have to do is go into the top menu to Library, click Previews, and click “Build Smart Previews.” Lightroom will generate a much smaller, “crunched” version of the preview for you to edit with. You can do one photo at a time if you only have a few, or hit COMMAND + A on a Mac to select all the photos together. Now, build those previews!
  3. Next, disconnect the original images from Lightroom. You can do this a couple ways. If you’re storing the photos on an external drive that you’re hooking up, just simply eject the disk. If the photos are on your computer, one simple way to disconnect them is to simply rename the folder they’re in. So if your images are in a folder titled October10-FamilyPhotos, you could change the name to something like October10-EDITING or October10-FamilyPhotosTEMP. Just something to indicate that you’re temporarily working on them.
  4. Now in Lightroom, normally you would see that exclamation point show up on each photo, telling you that the images cannot be found. But since you’ve created Smart Previews, the images will still be fully intact, just in smaller preview sizes! Don’t worry, the quality doesn’t change, and you can still zoom in as much as possible to get those small areas. You’ll notice the difference immediately, I promise you!
  5. When you finish editing, simply hook your external drive up or change the folder name back to the original. VUAL-AHH! Now you can export and deliver those images to happy clients. 🙂


lightroom tutorial smart previews


And that’s it!

Of course, I outline ALLL of this in the video above. So if you’re a visual learner (like me), you can skip ahead to about 1:30 and watch me walk through all the steps!

Was that confusing?
Or super easy?

I’d love to know your thoughts, so please let me know in the comments section what you thought! If you didn’t know about this feature before, I guarantee it will completely boost your productivity!!

Happy editing! 🙂


  1. Lori Phillips says:

    Charity! Thank you so much. Wish I would have known this last month, when out of frustration I forked out $150 for Photo Mechanic, to do essentially the same thing. I have thousands of sports images that require fast culling, and it was just a nightmare waiting for LR to load. Can’t wait to see what other tricks you have for us! BTW, I see you relocated to Murrieta. Wish we could have met up when you were still near Cypress. Hope we can meet in person some day. I have family in Riverside and San Bern counties, so who knows. Anyway, God Bless you, your family, and this new adventure! Blessings, Lori

    • Charity says:

      Hey Lori! I’m so glad it helped! Actually my next tutorial will be all about sorting images in Lightroom, and culling fast.
      That’s right, now I remember your messages and how we were so closed to meeting up! Bummer! We moved a few months ago, in a better situation and nearer family. I already love it a lot more, so spacious and pretty. 😉
      Oh, and I would also be happy to consider coaching lessons, either in person or via video call, if that’s something you would ever find helpful. I’ve had a few people ask me and I’m happy to squeeze it in where I can!

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