Best Practice Settings for Lightroom Classic — Part I

Lightroom Classic Preference Settings

I was configuring the Preferences and Catalog Settings for a new Lightroom Classic catalog the other week and I realized that there isn’t a lot of good information about which settings are the most important to pay attention to. So, I conferred with D.A. Wagner and we came up with a list of the most important settings that need attention for running Lightroom Classic.

Lightroom Classic has a lot of settings to control how the program itself works as well as the behavior of individual catalogs. In fact, there are so many it would be too much to try and cover them all in a single blog post! So, in this post I will cover just the Lightroom Preference settings that matter most. And, in a subsequent post, I will cover which Catalog Settings you should take a look at.

Lightroom Preferences vs. Catalog Settings

Catalog Settings are different from Preferences settings. The Preferences affect Lightroom as a whole. They control how Lightroom looks, how it behaves on your system and even how it interacts with other programs, like Adobe Photoshop. In short, they affect how Lightroom operates regardless of the catalog.

The “catalog” is the database file that tracks all the changes made to your photos. The catalog stores information about where photos are stored, metadata (keywords, stars and flags, etc.) as well as any develop changes made and much more. See our previous post about backing up your catalog for more information.

So, Catalog Settings are individually applied to each instance of a catalog. Lightroom is designed to run a single catalog to organize all your images in one place. However, some users run multiple catalogs. That’s OK for users who understand the implications since running more than one catalog can become problematic when it comes to keeping everything organized.

To access your Preferences, from the pulldown menu at the top of the screen, choose …

  • Windows: Edit > Preferences
  • MacOS: Lightroom Classic > Preferences

Preference Settings

A few notes before we get into the various settings …

  • Lightroom Classic version 9.x has nine different tabs of settings. 
  • Our recommendations are scattered across these titles. 
  • Each of the key settings will be listed by its corresponding tab title below. If we haven’t discussed a particular tab, we leave the default settings unchanged. 
  • These are “Best Practice” suggestions for the average user and your individual needs may differ (see the note at the end of the post).
  • Each setting has a short explanation. For readability, we have kept these short.
  • For more info about individual settings, consult the manual:
    Where’s the PDF Lightroom Classic Manual?


Default Catalog > When starting up use this catalog:

Default Catalog

If you happen to use more than one catalog, set this to:
Prompt me when starting Lightroom.

This will open up a list of known catalogs to allow you to choose the one you want. Otherwise, leave this set to: Load most recent catalog.

Import Options > Replace embedded previews with standard previews during idle time

Replace embedded previews with standard previews during idle time

Turn this feature ON

This feature will have Lightroom swap out any Embedded and Sidecar previews when the program is open and the computer is sitting idle for more than 5 minutes.

This is an optional setting. Some users may want to use Embedded Previews and Laptop users may want to keep this off to save on battery power. Look for a future post which will go into more depth about Previews.


Location > Store Presets with this Catalog

Store Presets with this Catalog

Turn this feature ON

Throughout Lightroom Classic, users can create any number of presets to add functionality to their workflows. These presets can be stored with the catalog file. We recommend doing this so that all of the customized options can be easily moved with the catalog files, if needed. This is helpful in cases of upgrading new computers or recovering/preventing catastrophic events, such as a disk failure or damage to a computer.


Camera Raw > Use Graphics Processor

Use Graphics Processor

Set this feature to AUTO

Lightroom has the ability to use graphics processors, which are CPU’s dedicated to processing visual information. These specialized units can be temperamental and Lightroom may not be able to use some models. Best to let Lightroom make the choice.

If you experience Lightroom crashing frequently, try setting this feature to OFF to see if that solves the problem. See our previous post on the topic for more information.

Camera Raw Cache Settings > Maximum Size

Camera Raw Cache Maximum Size

Set to anywhere between 20 to 50GB

Lightroom uses a set of hidden files to help handle complex data, especially for developing work. This cache file is usually kept on the internal hard drive of the computer. Increasing the size of this file should provide a bit of a performance boost.

Develop > Use Smart Previews instead of Originals for image editing 

Use Smart Previews instead of Originals for image editing

Set this feature ON

Lightroom can generate something called a “Smart Preview” as it imports new photos. Using these can help speed up the processing of images. You can learn more about Smart Previews here: How to use Smart Previews.

Lightroom will use standard previews if Smart Previews have not been generated Lightroom for any given image.

Preview Generation Settings > Generate Previews in parallel

Generate Previews in parallel

Set this feature ON

By setting this feature to ON you can speed up the processing of previews during the import process. In this case, Lightroom will attempt to generate more than one preview at a time. In other words, it will try and process multiple previews in parallel rather than sequentially.

This feature works better with computers with more processing cores. Laptop users may want to keep this turned off, especially if the computer starts to really slows down and/or starts to get very hot.

Best Practice vs. Absolute Answers

It’s important to note that these are our “Best Practice” recommendations. In our experience, no two Lightroom users have the same needs or workflows. So, these suggestions might now work for you! 

While researching for this post, I was overwhelmed by all of the options and implications … and I’m a professional! The point here is that Lightroom is a program for a wide audience of users and Adobe has done its best to meet the needs of many people.

Additionally, these are our recommendations as of Lightroom Classic version 9.2. Adobe is regularly releasing updates to Lightroom Classic. When/if new, relevant things are added we will update the post.

Feel free to let us know your preferences or ideas on how best to configure Lightroom in the comments section below!