Today’s Question: If I store my photos on an external hard drive, do I need to always have that hard drive connected to my computer in order to work with my images in Lightroom [Classic CC]?
Tim’s Quick Answer: No, as long as the Lightroom catalog is available, you don’t need to have your source image files available to perform many tasks in Lightroom Classic CC. However, some tasks require that you first build Smart Previews, and some tasks require that the source images be available.
More Detail: Lightroom Classic CC stores the information about your photos in the Lightroom catalog. That catalog, in turn, references the actual photos being managed by your catalog, wherever those photos might be stored. Because the information about your photos is contained within the catalog, you can perform a variety of tasks in Lightroom even if the source files aren’t currently available (such as when you have disconnected an external hard drive that contains your photos).
As long as your Lightroom catalog is available (such as by being stored on the internal hard drive on your computer) you can perform a variety of tasks without access to the source photos. For example, you can browse your photos based on the previews Lightroom has generated, and even update keywords and other metadata, even if the external hard drive containing your photos is not currently connected to your computer. If you build Smart Previews for your photos, you can even work in the Develop module when the source image files are not available.
Some tasks do require the source images. For example, if you want to export a copy of a photo in the original capture format, the source file must be available. But there are quite a number of tasks you can perform in Lightroom even when the source photos aren’t currently available, thanks to the catalog Lightroom uses to manage the information about your photos.
Note that the GreyLearning library includes a course on “Understanding Lightroom”, to help photographers better understand how Lightroom Classic CC works. The aim of this course is to help ensure you don’t run into challenges based on a lack of understanding of Lightroom. You can get this course for just $10 if you use the coupon code “understand” during checkout. Or, simply follow this link to get started with the discount applied automatically: