Today’s Question: I have the problem that my desktop computer (iMac running OS 10.6.8) will only run Lightroom 4 and my Mac laptop will run the newest version. Is there a way that I can work on my images in Lightroom from both computers? Do I need to dedicate all of my image processing to one computer?
Tim’s Quick Answer: There are two issues here. First, more recent versions of Lightroom require a newer version of the Macintosh operating system than you are running on your iMac, so if your iMac doesn’t support an update then you can’t run Lightroom on that computer. Second, Lightroom doesn’t really support a workflow that involves using the same catalog on two computers. Therefore, I generally recommend using a single computer as your “home base” for using Lightroom.
More Detail: The first limitation may be a more significant issue for you. It is not possible to work with a single catalog for both Lightroom 4 and Lightroom 6, for example. So you would need to be using the same version of Lightroom on both computers in order to be able to work with the same catalog across more than one computer.
Once you have two computers running the same version of Lightroom, there are still some challenges involved. Perhaps the simplest solution would be to keep your Lightroom catalog on an external hard drive along with the photos being managed by your catalog. This approach would enable you to move the external hard drive to the computer you want to use at any given moment. You can open the catalog in Lightroom from your external hard drive, and of course access the images that are also stored on that external hard drive.
In theory it is also possible to store your catalog using an online synchronization solution such as DropBox (https://db.tt/AX4h8FwU) to synchronize a catalog that can be accessed across multiple computers. I’m not entirely comfortable with this approach due to the potential risk of getting out of sync on one or more computers. But it is an option that some photographers have successfully implemented.
For most photographers who need to access a Lightroom catalog on more than one computer, I recommend storing the catalog and photos on an external hard drive, and moving that hard drive from one computer to another as needed. However, it is also important to keep in mind that this approach can result in a potentially significant degradation in overall performance within Lightroom. Therefore, you’ll need to weigh the benefits of being able to move among more than one computer with the potential negative consequences, such as reduce performance.
Personally, I’ve opted to consolidate my workflow to a single computer, with my Lightroom catalog stored on my laptop computer and my photos stored on an external hard drive. But, of course, this isn’t necessarily the best solution for all photographers.