Transporting Photos and Catalog


Today’s Question: I am about to go north and will be running Lightroom on a different desktop up there. Can I use the method to export (Export as Catalog) to an external drive and then connect Lightroom to that catalog, and photos, for use up north? Is this the best approach. Then I’d reverse the process when I return to Florida in the fall.

Tim’s Quick Answer: The “Export as Catalog” command (found on the File menu) can certainly be helpful for this approach, since this command causes both the selected photos and a catalog to be copied to a new location. If you already store your photos on an external hard drive you could also simply copy the catalog to that drive.

More Detail: The “Export as Catalog” command is very convenient, because it creates a copy of your catalog as well as your photos all in one process, copying all files to the destination of your choice. In this case, for example, that destination could be an external hard drive that can then be used to transport the photos where they are needed. The most important thing to keep in mind during this process is that you need to actually select all photos, without any filters applied that would limit which photos are being copied.

You could, for example, choose the “All Photographs” option from the Catalog section of the left panel in the Develop module. Then choose Edit > Select All from the menu (or press Ctrl+A on Windows or Command+A on Macintosh). Then choose File > Export as Catalog from the menu, and specify the destination location where you want to create a new catalog and copy all of the photos. Be sure the “Export negative files” checkbox is turned on so that the photos are actually copied during this process.

You can then simply connect the external hard drive to which you exported the images to the computer at the “other” location, and choose File > Open Catalog from the menu to open the catalog from that drive. You could also copy the files to a different drive as needed, but the point is that you now have a catalog and the photos in the same storage location, so those files can be accessed from another computer.

If the photos are already being stored on an external hard drive, you could also simply copy the catalog to that external hard drive and then open the catalog from that location. You can determine the location of the catalog files by first choosing Catalog Settings from the Edit menu on the Windows version of Lightroom or the Lightroom menu on the Macintosh version of Lightroom. Then go to the General tab and click the Show button to bring up an operating system window showing you the location of the catalog folder, with that folder highlighted.

You can then close Lightroom (so the catalog files won’t be in use) and drag-and-drop to copy the folder containing your catalog to the external hard drive. Just be sure to rename (or delete) the existing catalog folder so you won’t open that copy of the catalog by accident. In other words, if you are going to create multiple copies of a Lightroom catalog, you need to be careful to only use one copy as your “master” catalog, with any other copies becoming backup copies of the catalog.

The key in this case is to make sure that the photos and catalog files are accessible on the other computer. Copying both photos and the catalog to an external hard drive is a convenient approach, but it is also worth noting that this approach results in reduced performance for Lightroom. Therefore, if you’re comfortable with file management tasks, you may want to copy the catalog onto the internal hard drive of the computer, transferring those catalog files (along with the photos) to the computer at your destination whenever you are moving from one location to another.