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Every edit action in Lightroom is recorded in the History for that photo. If I "try-on" various settings, say changing White Balance through the various modes to find one I like, it creates an entry for every setting I tried. When I finally decide on the setting I like, should I worry about undoing all the previous actions (ie. to simplify/clear the history), or just go with the final setting?

Somehow it bugs me to have all those entries in the History, especially since none of the ones preceding the one I selected have any meaning to me, other than as an experiment. I could see that having the history would be good if the intermediate steps were relevant

I suppose it would be great if Lightroom were smart enough to see that the last N changes were all to the same setting, and then be able to automatically or manually collapse that stack into a single entry in the History.

Ultimately, I can't imagine that having lots of history steps adds much in the way of file size to the catalog, but are there any other issues that I should be concerned about? (ie. slower rendering speed?)

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Great question. It bugs me too, mostly because I do not know the answer nor do I know if there are rounding errors introduced by applying a setting in multiple increments instead of one step. – Itai Oct 17 '11 at 4:17
@Itai: Good point about rounding errors...I am curious if Lightroom has internal optimizations regarding the history stack, wherein it would only take the most recently applied edit for any particular tool, such as White Balance. Stack up enough edits, and there definitely seems to be a slight performance degradation (usually exhibits as a minor stutter in panning curve edits). Additionally, Lightroom only seems to actually render the pixels visible in the viewport (when zoomed out, it seems to do a rather cheap selective pixel rendering, as the result is not that accurate in any case.) – jrista Oct 17 '11 at 4:52
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I think this is ultimately a matter of personal preference, as with a fast, modern computer the difference is unnoticeable. You are correct that each additional step, from a storage space standpoint, is very negligible, and should not be a worrying factor.

To touch on the performance bit a little more...a significant amount of edits can affect the performance of Lightroom. You would need quite a few edits, many dozen at least, before it really exhibits as a problem. Performance degradation will often exhibit when zooming in/out of the work image, when panning quickly, or when trying to make fine adjustments (such as with curves). When processing RAW, the entire history stack must be applied to render the raw image data to the screen.

Additionally, if you keep very large history stacks in place on a lot of photos, I would expect that the filmstrip and the library to exhibit performance degradation as well. Any time lightroom decides to re-render previews (which it seems to do periodically, or if you have chosen to delete them from your hard drive to save space)...the entire history stack for each image will need to be processed.

I think it is generally prudent to keep the history stack to a minimum when possible. I usually follow the same approach...try out a few edits, unroll and reapply the one I prefer to keep. Same thing goes for camera profiles or any other option I can select from a list. In the case of more fine-tuned edits, such as curves...I may tweak with the curves for a while until I like the result...then memorize/write down the current curve settings, delete all my previous fine-tuning, and edit each part of the curve by directly entering the final value. I should not that when tweaking photos that are experimental in the first place, I have built up some fairly large history stacks, with a few dozen edits. I have rarely found noticeable or problematic performance degradation even if I stack up around 50 edits or so, however much more than that and fine-tuning curves or panning while zoomed do tend to develop a bit of a stutter (not much, but enough to be noticeable. It would still take far more edits to actually become a real problem, probably in the area of a couple hundred...which would be kind of insane in and of itself.) (Note: those numbers are on a Core i7 920 @ 3.2Ghz and 12Gb of ram, software on an SSD, catalog and photos on a 7200rpm high density drive.)

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The history stack won't cause problems with performance. It will use some memory (and use some small space in the catalog database file), but if you change a setting like white balance, it's not going to do anything with the previous settings you used. Only the current settings and brush states will be used to render the preview.

I don't find the history stack to be as annoying as you do. It's there so that no matter when you launch Lightroom, you can always go back to a specific state you may have once had it in. Not to mention you can take snapshots of the current state to refer to. I don't want Lightroom to erase or hide historical changes in case I need them and I find this to be beneficial. Photoshop on the other hand, does not save your history once you close the file.

The other thing to take into account is that the changes made to a raw file in Lightroom are fairly trivial in size. Changing the white balance is one row in a database. File X White Balance = Y. Even brushes wouldn't be very big as it would optimised to save only the information painted over, not as entire image mask.

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