Five Reasons Why Lightroom Smart Previews Rock!

Hi gang, and happy Cinco de Mayo.

Today’s post is inspired by a question I get asked a lot when I’m out there teaching, and that is “Should I be using Smart Previews?” or “Why should I be using Smart Previews?” or even “What is a Smart Preview?” So, I thought I’d tackle that today by sharing five reasons why Smart Previews rock! Here we go:

They let you edit images without having your external hard drive of originals with you
One of the big ideas behind Smart Previews is that it would allow you to travel without having to take along all your original files with you on an external hard drive. Normally, without having the high-resolution original image files with you, all you’d be able to do in Lightroom is view your thumbnails in the Library module, and sort them, and stuff like that. If you jumped over to the Develop Module, you’d get a warning that “The file could not be found” (as seen above) and all the sliders would be grayed out. But if you chose to make a Smart Preview for that image, you can still edit those images in the Develop Module even without having the high res originals with you. Better yet — you when get back home and reconnect your external hard drive, it syncs those changes you made to the Smart Preview file to the High-Res original image files. How sweet is that!

They take up a ton less space
Smart Previews only take up around 1-MB of size (versus as much as 50 or 60-MB for a high res RAW image, or more!), so you can have a whole bunch of them on your laptop, and it doesn’t eat up all your hard drive space. For example, 600 RAW photos take up around 16-Gig (depending on your camera’s make and model), but 600 Smart Previews only take up less than 5ooMB.

You can make Panos and HDR images just using the Smart Previews
It wasn’t always that way, but in one of the many CC updates, they added the ability to merge panos and HDR images with nothing more than Smart Preview. Again, it syncs your changes to the high-resolution versions when you plug back in your hard drive.

You can actually make a print or export a JPEG from a Smart Preview
If you need to make a print while you’re on the road, the Smart Preview itself has enough resolution to print around an 8×10″ size photo. You can’t go much bigger, but there’s enough resolution for either a small print, or to make a JPEG to email or post on Facebook, Instagram, etc.. I’ve met people who have somehow lost their originals but were still able to make prints or JPEGs from just the Smart Previews, and that saved them from a total loss.

You can add them anytime, or delete them just as easily
You can create Smart Previews automatically as you import your images (turn on the ‘Build Smart Previews’ checkbox in the File Handling panel on the top right side in the Import window), or if your images are already in Lightroom, just select all the images you want to apply Smart Previews to, then go under Library menu, under Previews, and choose ‘Build Smart Previews‘ (as shown above). You can delete them the same way, but of course, choose “Discard Smart Previews” rather than ‘Build.’

TIP: You can also create Smart Previews by selecting all the images you want to build Smart Previews for, and then click the first icon from the left right under the Histogram (as shown above). That shows you the number of images you have selected that do not already have Smart Previews.

Above: When you click on that icon, it brings up the dialog you see above, and you can click the button on the bottom right to have it build the smart previews for you, without having to go under the menus.

Hope you found that helpful. 🙂

In other news: we opened submissions for your own solo gallery show at ‘The Gallery at KelbyOne”
All the details are all over on my blog today. Here’s the link.

Have a great weekend everybody and a safe Cinco de Mayo! 🙂



Author: Scott Kelby

Scott is the President of KelbyOne, an online educational community for photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. He's editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine, Editor of "Lightroom magazine"; Conference Technical Chair for the Photoshop World Conference & Expo, and the author of a string of bestselling Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography books. You can learn more about Scott at

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  1. This is the information I am looking for. This article is clear and easy to understand. I’m learning more about this. Hope you bring more things related to it. Thanks a lot!

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  2. Two questions come up:
    When you create smart previews for photos already in your catalog, can you discard the old “dumb” previews, to save hard drive space?

    When you import and opt to make smart previews, does LR also make regular previews as well? If so, why?
    I know you can opt to use smart previews for editing (in preferences), so….
    When is Lightroom going to stop using “dumb” previews altogether?

    I guess that’s three question… sorry.

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  3. I have been creating Smart Previews, but only have been able to edit them in the catalog that was open when I disconnect the external drive the original files are saved on. Is this normal?

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    • Hi David: I’m not sure what you mean. The whole idea behind Smart Previews is that you can edit them while the external drive is disconnected. Are you absolutely certain you have Smart Previews create for them? Click on one, and then look in under the Histogram – it should say “Smart Preview.’ If it doesn’t it doesn’t have a Smart Preview. That’s OK – you can create one using the method I showed above.

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  4. If you use your desktop with external drive as your main lightroom computer, how do you take the smart preview on your laptop to work on them on the road? is it done through lightroom mobile? btw using macs

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    • I’d like to know how to do this, too.

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    • The Smart Previews are stored in a separate Smart Previews data file, which is created in the same location as your Main Catalog file on your computer. That’s how they’re already with you.

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  5. Scott, is there enough resolution with smart previews for creating books? My guess is maybe for pages with multiple images but not pages with one full screen image. Any thoughts?

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    • I don’t believe it works with the photo book feature (at least, I haven’t been able to get it to work with just Smart Image preview only images.

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