Catalog on Two Computers

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Today’s Question: I purchased a new laptop for travel and teaching. I want to use the same Lightroom catalog and images on both machines [laptop and desktop]. What do you recommend?

Tim’s Quick Answer: In this type of situation my recommendation would be to keep both your Lightroom catalog and your photos on the same external hard drive. You can then open the catalog from that external hard drive on whichever computer you’re currently using to work with your images.

More Detail: Lightroom does not offer a native solution for effectively working with your full catalog on more than one computer. That includes the inability to store your catalog on a network storage location, preventing you from being able to access the catalog from multiple computers on a network.

Some photographers have employed an online synchronization service such as Dropbox (https://www.dropbox.com) to make a catalog available on more than one computer. While this can most certainly be a workable solution, I do have concerns about the potential for synchronization failure, and of course this type of approach would require that you have access to an Internet connection in order to synchronize the actual files you’re working with.

As a result of the various limitations related to working with a catalog across two computers, I recommend simply keeping the catalog itself on an external hard drive along with the photos being managed by that catalog. You can then connect the external hard drive to whichever computer you want to work with currently. Within Lightroom, you can then open the catalog directly from the external hard drive, so that you’re always working with the actual catalog files (without the need for synchronization), and you always have your photos readily available as well.

The only potentially significant drawback to this approach of storing the Lightroom catalog on an external hard drive is degradation in performance. Most external hard drives are slower than a comparable internal hard drive, and there are also latency issues that can further degrade performance. For some photographers this reduction in performance is reason enough to work with only a single computer for Lightroom. For example, I keep my Lightroom catalog on my laptop, so that I always have access to the catalog whether I’m at home or traveling with my laptop.