April 21, 2021

How to Use Lightroom Smart Previews

How Lightroom’s Smart Previews Feature Can Make Editing Easy

RAW files are massive. If you outsource your editing it can be a huge pain to send your culled gallery of hundreds of images, which is why I don’t send my RAWs to editors anymore!

Instead, I send Lightroom’s “Smart Previews” of my images.

Smart Previews are smaller file “copies” of your RAWs, which remain linked to your RAW files wherever they are stored. You can then send the Smart Previews separately to an editor, and once the files are returned with edits those edits will be automatically applied to the full-resolution RAW files. In layman’s terms, Smart Previews allow you to send all the images you want edited using a lot less memory than if you sent the full RAW files, without adding any time-sucking steps to your workflow!

Smart Previews are one of my favorite things about Lightroom—your Lightroom catalogue gets linked to your RAWs, without needing to actually access the files while editing. This results in the 14gb of 500 RAW photos being condensed down to 400mb using Smart Previews (and that’s a heck of a lot easier to send to an editor).

The best part is that once your Smart Previews are edited & linked back to the original RAW files, the edits are automatically applied!

Are you still with me? I don’t want to bog you down with tech talk, so let me show you the step-by-step way I use Smart Previews so you can too!

First, Create Your Smart Previews

Option 1: → Creating Smart Previews While Importing ←

When you are importing photos into Lightroom, turn your attention to the file handling sidebar to the right and make sure that you have checked ☑︎ Build Smart Previews. This does make the uploading process take a bit longer, but once the Smart Previews are built it’s as easy as your normal routine!

Option 2: → Creating Smart Previews For a Pre-Existing Catalogue ←

Select all of your photos in the catalogue, go to the menu bar, and click: Library > Previews > Build Smart Previews. There isn’t a “best” way to do this—it’s simply your preference if you build Smart Previews while importing or wait until after importing to build them. What is easiest might come down to your culling routine.

Next, Send Smart Previews to Your Editor

Go to the menu bar and click: Export > Export as Catalogue. You don’t need to check □ Export negative files—but you will need to check ☑︎ Build / Include Smart Previews. 

After exporting, this file should be less than a gigabyte and can be sent to your editor (I usually zip the folder to get it even smaller).

This should go without saying, but this process will only work if your editor uses Lightroom!

Finally, Reconnect Edited Smart Previews to RAW Files

When you open up the edited catalogue from your editor, you’ll want to make sure that Lightroom detects the RAW files before you export the finalized gallery—and in the event that they get disconnected, you can reconnect them by right-clicking on the image in Lightroom and selecting ‘Show in Finder.’

When you try to export, Lightroom will actually warn you if the Smart Previews aren’t connected to their RAW counterparts, so that can save you the worry of accidentally exporting a low-resolution gallery!

It’s really THAT simple! If you are outsourcing your editing or edit on multiple stations (like a laptop when traveling and a desktop at home), Smart Previews can save you a TON of time and memory! If you’re looking to begin outsourcing your editing, I crafted a tool to help you get a visual for how much time (and money) you can SAVE by outsourcing certain parts of your business—and share some advice on the best ways to get started!

Written by

Maddie Mae

Award-winning Destination Elopement Photographer + Business & Marketing Coach

Founder of @adventureinstead

I help wedding and elopement photographers discover what sets them apart—and make that their “secret sauce” to building a thriving business.

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