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How to Speed Up Performance in Photoshop

Published: 06/03/2020

Jerry, in Pensacola, FL writes:

“My photography business is ramping up nicely but I’m not quite at the point where it makes sense for me, financially, to outsource my editing. I feel that I’m pretty good at the editing side of things but I’ve been finding that Photoshop has been getting slower and slower for me. Any tips you can offer to help with this would be appreciated. Thanks”  

Thanks for writing in Jerry. I’m not a Photoshop (PS) guru, so I’m hoping that others will offer their input in the comments section but for me, the starting point to improve PS “operations” is to tweak its own application settings. To do this, you need to check on your PS “preferences”. To access this, open PS and go to "Edit > Preferences > Performance".  In the top-middle of the dialogue box, you’ll see a section called "Memory Usage". For me, the easiest and simplest way to improve performance is to increase the amount of memory/RAM allocated to Photoshop. The default setting allows PS to use 70% of available RAM. However, you’ll also see in that section, that PS recommends an “ideal range” regarding the use of available RAM. If you’re seeing that you still have some latitude to allow PS to use more than 70% of your system’s available RAM, then this is a good area to start for upping your system's performance.

Other things you can do to improve performance include adjusting your cache levels and reducing the number of “history states” that PS records in your History panel (e.g., limiting the number of times you can go back by clicking "CTRL/CMND + Z"). And of course, don't forget to close unnecessary document windows on your computer.

Anyway Jerry, Adobe has a very thorough resource here that can offer way more examples on how to optimize PS performance. I know that so many people in our community are terrific at PS (and are way better than I’ll ever get!) So, I’m really looking forward to reading their comments. What other easy-to-do fixes can you recommend to Jerry?

Brandon Cooper

13 comments on “How to Speed Up Performance in Photoshop”

  1. All great tips above... i would add that starting with a robust computer is always good... at least 16gb ram - multiple cores and i7 at least but i have worked on an older macbook pro 2013 for yrs and recently had to get a new one due to smashing my screen with my phone on accident... and i ended up going with a slightly newer 2015 macbook pro 15 i7 quad core maxed out ram but it had an updated internal hard drive ... an ssd - super fast from and also updated to a new external ssd - a Crucial internal 1 tb with an enclosure case and everything is so fast i am shocked i didn’t do the upgrade internal sooner! i use large files from my d800 and imports from cars are like 5-8mins for close to 64 gb of data (used to be like 2o or so mins lol) importing raws from external into LR is super fast and exporting as layers - sometimes up to 20 or so images is like a third of the time it used to take ... PS runs smooth and quick with no more random pauses and then saving back to LR is almost instant ... so i think one of the best things you could do even to speed up performance on a i5 dual processor or similar is to update to new solid state drives both internal and external — also a big help is to keep your internal and external drives lean so offload finished and stored files to somewhere else

  2. As with all gear you own, they’re an investment. I view the computer as one of the premier pieces of gear with direct impact on my workload and time. Large file sizes and multiple layers only complicate it so I recently went with an upgraded Mac and its done pretty well.

    If you’re using external hard drives switch to SSD drives. These drives have a remarkable performance improvement over the standard. Make sure the cable you get with those is capable of high speeds too. More RAM is always helpful. Not sure what your workflow is but I also create a separate catalog for each shoot. This prevents LR from the need to sort through thousands of images and when flipping back and forth between PS it’s a bit quicker.

  3. OK here goes....
    Stop using PS and start using Lightroom.
    Yep that's the ticket!
    I have yet to see something that is faster where normal RE photo workflow is concerned.
    LR auto stack by capture time combined with their HDR exposure blending puts everything else to shame. You never have to leave LR to do anything normal.

    Yes of course there are those expert high end users that use PS for some real magic. That is not 95% of the RE photographer out there. LR is an industry workhorse for a reason. It handles large amounts of images like magic and allows for culling of the bad and processing of the good like magic.

    PS I have been a LR use since 1.0 beta (that was free). Even then it was magic compared to PS speed at the time. At that time I was dealing with single images though.

    OK now ready for being blasted about how wonderful PS is. It is wonderful but if you are talking about efficient fast workflow for hundreds of images at days end try LR before you outsource. It's in the BG working as I type this.

  4. The key is to do as few moves as possible in PS. If you shoot brackets, you can process them in LR, and output them as .jpgs into a folder. Use PS to assemble and mask/paint the layers, edit elements (cords, etc), and put on any finishing touches that give it your signature. Most of those things can be sped up using actions. I use an alignment action, an automated mask action, and a finishing action that applies a combination of sharpness, contrast, HSL adjustments, - it gives the final image "bite". The only thing I do by hand is edit cords, and paint in masking corrections. Any given photo is in PS for less then a minute usually. Your goal should be to constantly shave time per image via a smart workflow.

  5. Great tips above. Another thing I do to speed things up is force quit Creative Cloud and Adobe Sync Services, and anything else that starts with "Adobe...". Those are all resource hogs.
    BTW I just realized I've been using Photoshop for so long I remember when the history only went back once, so there was only one undo! In fact I remember when PS didn't even have layers! Anyone else been using PS that long?

  6. @chrisconway - i’m convinced the “new” tech came into the studio with the plan to take out the “old” tech lol! i had just upgraded to a new iphone 11 from an old iphone 6 and had bii ok t found a good case yet... went to sit down and somehow with my usual clumsiness and usually dry hands ... it lept out of my hand and the corner just rapped the screen... i even thought i caught it in the fumble as there was no mark or dent on the screen but once i woke it up ... the screen was going crazy and i noticed a digital looking glass crack from the spot it hit ... then noticed a slight dent but almost undetectable! reminded me if that time years and years ago editing at 4 in the morning trying to stay awake when i literally fell asleep in mid coffee sip and dunked my whole coffee mug right onto the keyboard...

    @aricboyles - that’s a great tip to turn off adobe sync items! hadn’t thought of that but realize that it will sometimes pause- now very non invasively but i noticed the adobe cloud icon in my menu bar flashing with a red light at that same time — will look into doing that!

    @frankgutowski - yes super fast to stay in LR and kids can be done in LR but improving your system will also help LR ... i can photoshop merge or Enfuse a stack in like a quarter the time it would take previously ... Lr is also a processor hog. Also while it is helpful sometimes.. you still lose control of the detailed editing as you are always editing the entire image ... and now days cameras are nearly able to provide the enhanced data range of an hdr or enfused image in one frame... used to do all my images like that and had all kinds of tricks and enhancements using light to add to the bracket woth fairly decent results but now i occasionally go back to give it a test and the result is not any different or an advantage over my exposures around the middle range... and of course i stopped shooting 7 homes a day 7 days a week years ago in lew of raising rates and providing results that get our clients listings above the sea of muddy hdr .. it’s now the way to stand out amongst the same ol thing ... image quality does make a diff on line and it is meant to bring attention to the listing not act as an antiquated matterport tour that takes ten times the work to produce than a matterport ... I am hired to give them marketing photos ... nothing wrong woth what your doing just something to think about - i no longer have hundreds of images to process everyday and don’t have to shoot everyday leaving time for higher end clientele and even higher pay :)) but all in all using an optimized system for editing is as important as your camera gear so it will only help and upgrading both my external and internal drives really changed everything even on an older computer - so all the tricks for checking preferences, turning off this or that etc really only slightly improved performance and almost did nothing compared to the drives upgrade - i’m amazed - also was thinking of going down to like a 20mp or like camera for most work as i was convinced it was my large file sizes that were the problem but the tech world moves fast and i had just not stopped to consider i needed some upgrades (easy to do once you get into a system and process you are comfortable with) so now i am free to use the cameras i want which are definitely in the higher mp range. just love how many options you have to shoot and the control over quality and for RE - it helps me move faster knowing i have tons of crop range and if something’s not balancing correctly on site i have the range to recover or pull up exposures easily... saves time ... but i digress lol!!

  7. SSD's and RAM. If you just have the OS, PS and scratch disk on the SSD and use spinning rust for storage, it can make a big difference. RAM is pretty low hanging fruit and it's not so expensive that it doesn't make sense to not max out the computer unless you have one of the new MacPro's where you can get pretty stupid with the amount of RAM some models will accept.

    I was watching a review pitting an iMac Pro against a new Coarse Cheese Grater MacPro from a videographer. He found that past a certain number of processor cores, Premiere didn't do any better so fewer but faster processor cores was a better way to go. I'm not sure if the same thing holds true for Photoshop, but it's worth doing the research. I seem to max out every core (4-6) when exporting multiple galleries with LightRoom. In that case, both processor speed and number of cores might both contribute.

    Lots of great software set up tips above. I have no interest in the "cloud" so that's off. I have a nominal number of undos. Since I try to work as non-desctructively as possible, I don't need more than a couple for RE work but I think it's set to 10 or 12.

    I use LR for the bulk of what I do. I'm in the camp of getting it right in camera wherever possible and just finishing off the image quickly in LR with some light global adjustments. I do wind up using PS on every job since it can be faster than scrimming windows and I'll sometimes run out of speed lights especially when I'm making an establishing shot and there are several doorways in view with rooms that all need a puff of light.

    Workflow is king. I start with an import preset in LR. Convert to DNG, apply lens correction/reduce chromatic aberration, a bit of Clarity, some sharpening with a mask adjustment and a touch of saturation. Every job gets global keywords; customer, real estate, city, Nice, tbsh, middle of the road, RE office. 1:1 preview generation. Copy to back up drive on import. While that's going on, I'm putting batteries in chargers and resetting my gear so it's ready to go again. If I'm booked for the whole day. I bring my laptop and have it grinding on imports while I'm doing the next job and driving home. All I have to do is import the catalog from the laptop into my main LR catalog on the work desktop which takes very little time. I can be importing the last job from the memory card while I'm working on the first job.

    Actions and presets are a huge timesaver. Anything you do often should have an action. Anything you do occasionally that's complex should have an action. Also think about what you are going to do in post. If you are going to do some TV replacements, select the images you are going to use and have them open and ready to copy. The same goes for sky replacements if you know what you want. When you are done with an image, close the window(s). I don't have a huge number of actions/presets for RE, but I use the ones I have very frequently. You can even have an action that preloads a bunch of adjustment and color layers that exceeds what you normally use. Just have them set to unchecked and get rid of the ones you don't use when you output your final images. It's easier to do that than to always be adding them later. Just don't go too crazy or you layer list will take a lot of scrolling.

    Don't be afraid of spending some real money on a new computer if you need to. Just shaving a few minutes off of editing each image can add up to hours of time savings every day/week/month. When you multiply those savings by your hourly rate, you often find you can "afford" to buy quite a lot of computer. Going cheap is just holding you back. A top of the line computer should also last you much longer as OS updates come along and tie up more processing power with each "update".

    Get under the hood and see what the computer is spending time/RAM doing. Many times it's "apps" connected to social media, shopping and other widgets. Sanitize your work machine to be just a work machine and pick up a laptop/tablet for your other personal stuff. I laugh at training videos where there are constant popups and notifications during the presentation and write those people off as unprofessional. They may have great photo skills but the fist notification drops their presentation skill to zero in my eyes. It's also a key thing to guard against if you do presentations to RE offices. If you need those things on your computer, make sure you can turn them all off and disconnect from the internet for your presentation to avoid distractions. You really don't want to get an IM from your significant other that's NSFW.

  8. @Aric Boyles "In fact I remember when PS didn’t even have layers! Anyone else been using PS that long?"

    Yes, I do remember!

    I learnt on version 2 and got my first copy of version 3 included with the purchase of a scanner in the 90s that was the first version to introduce layers.

    There is this video where Adobe got photographers to use version 1:

  9. You know Jerry, it might not be you but most of the current Adobe software is suffering from a lot of bloatware.

    I recently installed the latest CC2020 versions of software and I am finding I am having some serious memory leak problems with my older 2013 iMac system. I am seriously considering rolling back to the 2019 versions again.

    The first initial versions of the 2020 release had a lot of users complaining about poor performance but there are other issues I am finding. For example, all previous versions prior to 2019 allowed you to customise the default settings in LR and ACR by simply choosing an "Update Default Settings" contextual menu. This setting has now been inexplicably moved to a different section buried deep in the preference dialog menu and it offers less functionality. I used to have specific settings for noise reduction for different ISO settings for individual camera and lens combinations. Now I can only have settings based on camera and lens, I have to remember to go and manually set the noise reduction that used to be applied automatically by default.

    This is a worrying development from Adobe when professional settings are lost in the constant upgrade cycle that we are now in.

    I do love the CC subscription model as it is tremendous value for money compared to what we spent years ago in keeping software current, but back then not every new release of software was always good.

    Adobe Illustrator version 7 was a dog's breakfast as was Macromedia Freehand version 4, you did not want to upgrade to those versions back then.

    One company I used to work for used Quark Xpress version 3 for nearly 15 years -- there was about a dozen seats in the studio and prepress departments and it used to cost about $800 per seat to upgrade back then, so we would get a copy of each new release to evaluate it and see if it was worth upgrading the entire company. For 15 years the verdict was that there was some nice new features, but the old version still did everything perfectly well for what we were doing with it so we didn't bother to upgrade every seat.

    I also remember back in the 90s reading about a matte artist for ILM who still used PS3 for Star Wars backgrounds event though the current version had long since moved up to version 7 by then.

    In fact I have spent my Saturday rescuing old Macromedia Freehand files from my wife's 2009 White MacBook that has just given up the ghost this week. She has a 2017 MacBook Pro with Adobe software and she does draw floor plans for me with Adobe Illustrator, but she has been using Freehand for 25 years for textile designs. Freehand was discontinued in 2003 after Adobe bought Macromedia to get their hands on Flash (ain't it funny how that has worked out for them!) and it won't run on the current Mac OS. She is currently working on the next season of designs for sale so I have had to set up Freehand 10 to run in Snow Leopard Server in Parallels on the 2017 MacBook Pro.

    It really brings it back to you how slow the current Adobe suite is when you see how fast Freehand runs in this emulator software compared to the current version of Adobe Illustrator. The whole virtual OS X system boots up from scratch and launches the Freehand application in less time than it takes the current CC version of Adobe Illustrator to start.

  10. Raise your prices to cover the expense of outsourcing which is a TINY AMOUNT and never look back. When I did edit my own interior images ( I still edit all exterior images) I used Photomatix Pro to batch the brackets with my own preset to help fix the yellow and red hues. While that is working I use PS to edited my flash images for all the usual stuff. By the time the batch hdr is ready so are the flash images to layer in PS. Create CUSTOM ACTIONS for the routines you do most often on each image. Autorun that or those actions. It helps when you take images level and vertical and with correct exposures. Learn some of the short cuts to open the tools in PS. You can edit 25 images that were taken as 5 brackets raw and 1 flash in an hour. If you outsource you can get away with popping one flash aimed at the ceiling with the first bracket of your series of brackets.

  11. I resonate with Charles Lynch as I am on an older 2013 iMac and my photoshop is running SOOOO slow.. I am about to upgrade my computer, but wondering if it is silly and I should go back a version?

    I tend to think Apple puts these bugs in place so we all say... well it has been several years, I should get a new computer.. when in all reality it still works great!


  12. @Dave Clark

    I was going to go to your website and ask who you use for editing but your site is offline? 404

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