Today’s Question: I keep my main and only catalog on my laptop and my photos on an external hard drive. While traveling I use the main catalog on my laptop and download photos to a folder on [the internal hard drive on] my laptop. When I return home I connect the external hard drive to my laptop and from within Lightroom move the photos from the laptop desktop folder to the external hard drive. I have done this once and it seemed to work out. What are the potential shortcomings of this workflow?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Overall this workflow is perfectly fine in that it enables you to make use of your “master” Lightroom catalog while traveling, without the need to bring your external hard drive with you. The only significant concern I have relates to moving your photos from one drive to another. But as long as you have a backup of the photos before you move them to a different drive, I would say there are no problems with the approach you are taking.
More Detail: Many photographers (myself included) prefer to work with a separate catalog when traveling, just to isolate the photos from that trip in a single “traveling” catalog. The typical workflow for this type of situation involves importing that “traveling” catalog (and thus the photos captured along the way) using the “Import from Another Catalog” command.
However, if you keep your Lightroom catalog on the laptop you travel with, you can most certainly use that “master” catalog while you’re traveling, even if you’ll be downloading your photos to a storage location that differs from your “master” storage location. A common example, as outlined in today’s question, is that you might have your Lightroom catalog on the internal hard drive on your laptop, with your photos stored on an external hard drive you left at home.
In this type of situation, you can most certainly use your master catalog on the internal hard drive, and download photos to a folder on that same internal hard drive. When you return home and connect your external hard drive, you can then move the photos from the internal hard drive to the external hard drive from within Lightroom, simply by dragging the folder from one location to the other.
The only real risk involved with this type of approach relates to the fact that you would be moving the photos from one drive to another. A safer approach would be to copy the photos from one drive to the next, and only delete the photos from the source drive once you know that the files have been moved properly. But, of course, in any event you would always want to be sure that you have a backup copy of your photos.
Of course, if you have a backup copy of your photos before you initiate the move operation, then you don’t really have anything to worry about. If something goes wrong, you can always recover from your backup. In other words, if you have a backup copy of your photos before you move the source images to their final destination, there is really no problem with moving the photos between drives in Lightroom.