Today’s Question: I am a long-time user of Lightroom Classic. I would like to move the image files (catalog as well) to an external hard drive. In the past I have moved folders/files through the operating system and suffered the consequences (missing files in Catalog). I thank you up front for any assistance you can provide in terms of how to approach this task.
Tim’s Quick Answer: In this scenario I would make use of the “Export as Catalog” command, which enables you to effectively copy all of your photos and your catalog to a new storage location.
More Detail: You could certainly use synchronization software to copy the photos to the external hard drive, and then move your existing catalog. But Lightroom Classic includes a feature that can perform this work for you as well.
You’ll first want to select every single image in your Lightroom Classic catalog, which actually requires a few steps to make sure you don’t miss any photos. Start by clicking on “All Photographs” in the Catalog section of the left panel in the Library module.
Switch to the Grid view (“G” on the keyboard) if you aren’t there already, and make sure “None” is selected from the Library Filter bar, so that no photos are hidden based on filters. Then go to the menu and choose Photo > Stacking > Expand All Stacks, so that no images are “hidden” in a collapsed stack.
You can then choose Edit > Select All from the menu to select all photos. Then choose File > Export as Catalog from the menu to initiate the export.
In the Export as Catalog dialog, navigate to the desired location for the catalog and photo storage, which in this case would be your external hard drive. Enter a name for the catalog in the Save As field, which will become the name of the folder containing the new catalog (and your photos) as well as the catalog file itself. Make sure the “Export negative files” checkbox is turned on, which is necessary to ensure the photos are copied along with the new catalog. Click the Export Catalog button to start the export. This will take considerable time, depending on how many photos are involved.
When the process is finished, go to the new catalog folder on the external hard drive, and double-click the catalog file, which will have a filename extension of “.lrcat”. This will open the new catalog in Lightroom Classic, and all of your photos and metadata will be there, including the original folder structure. Note that the new folder structure will now be within the folder that also contains the catalog.
Once you’ve confirmed that everything appears to be in order with your new catalog and photo storage on the external hard drive and made a new backup of that external hard drive, you can of course delete the original photos and catalog from the original location.
Just be very careful that after the export is completed you only use the new catalog, and don’t accidentally open the old version of the catalog.