I finally bit the bullet. I did it. And now, Adobe Lightroom flies.
I reduced my Adobe Lightroom catalog from a substantial 2.45 Gb to a measly 300 Mb, and in doing so I got back all the speed and performance that I remember enjoying on the day I first installed the program. And you can too.
How? Quite easy, if you decide to take the plunge. That choice is yours, and this is my disclaimer: If you do this, it’s easy, and should be entirely harmless, but go forward knowing that this is a one-way trip. No backsies. It should also go without saying that you should make a backup first. So, you know. Backup.
Like many creative types, I’ve worked and reworked each of my images more times than I can remember. Dozens, perhaps. Lightroom records everything we do to every image. Every click, every slider adjustment. Every spot removal. When you edit as often as I have, that really adds up, and rapidly bloats your catalog.
It slows down both the program and your actual computer, because every time you switch from one image to another the program has to load up the history of every change you have ever made to the image now on screen. That could be the equivalent of an old fashioned phone book (remember them?) Even the fastest system can only process this information so fast.
This may explain why some frustrated users have to wait up to 30 seconds before they see an image, as Lightroom has to apply all those changes on the fly to get from the raw original file to wherever you left off on your last edit, and display it on screen with all edits applied. With an extensive photo collection and images that have gone through dozens of variations, this problem is, in hindsight, fairly obvious. So, how is it fixed?
Delete the edit history. Simple. Yes. Drastic? Perhaps. But are you really planning to go back through your collection and undo all those changes to each and every photo? That flexibility is sometimes useful, but I’m going to take an educated guess here that like me you are probably quite happy with how your images look right now, and will never need to go back thirteen steps to revisit that 0.1 exposure adjustment you did two years ago. So bite the bullet.
Deleting the edit history retains all your current edits to this point. Your images will look exactly the same as they do right now. Only the steps you took to get them to that point are removed. So, as I mentioned, it’s a one-way trip. Basically a fresh start with a clean slate for all your images.
By deleting all the edit history, that data is removed from the catalog – in my case, 2.45 Gb down to 300 Mb. You computer does not have to read all that edit data – so your speed comes back. Each image you view has no history to load… so they appear instantly. And I do mean instantly. You find yourself laughing madly while clicking randomly around your photos just trying to make the program slow down. At least, I did.
Did I mention that you can still reset your images, back to original OOC, or out-of-camera? Start again. Still non-destructive. Nice.
I went for the nuclear option and after trying it on a single image first, I chose to clear the edit history for all my photos. Your setup may differ from mine, so you should adjust accordingly. For me, all my photos are inside a single root folder. I simply went to the Library module and selected that folder. With it so selected, I hit CTRL-A to select all, which grabs everything inside it, including sub-folders.
Once you’ve selected all the images you want to, switch to the Develop module (press D). Then take a deep breath, and select Clear History from the Develop menu. Lightroom will prompt you, asking if you are sure you want to do this. The faint of heart can drop out here. But the brave ones will confirm, and shortly thereafter, the deed is done.
The speed increase is instantaneous. I restarted Lightroom, though I don’t think this was necessary. The speed increase was phenomenal. So much so that I was inspired to write this article.
Now, rather than dreading a lengthy session of click-wait click-wait, I can jump around doing the edits I need at the speed my computer is actually capable of. It’s a new lease of life, for both of us. Editing has become fun again.
Will I miss those history states? I don’t think so. With thousands of images in my collection I am sure there may be some that I would want to go back and tweak. I still can,, though I can no longer roll back to previous changes. And I’m fine with that. The speed increase more than pays for any minor inconveniences, for me at least. That’s my choice. For you, that is your determination to make.
All I can say for sure at this point is that after years of slow and inexorable performance degradation, I am once again a happy bunny, and I have some serious fun to go and have. So… here I go. Ciao!