Catalog on External Drive


Today’s Question: My Lightroom catalog is on my external drive, and you say it should be in the computer’s internal drive. What is the downside of having the catalog on an external drive? Or how I can move it to the internal drive?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The only real disadvantage of having the Lightroom catalog on an external hard drive is that you will likely experience slower overall performance in Lightroom. However, having the catalog on an external hard drive also helps to streamline a workflow for being able to access that catalog on multiple computers easily.

More Detail: For optimal performance, I do recommend keeping your Lightroom catalog on an internal hard drive. In most cases this will ensure the fastest access to the catalog and other related files, so that Lightroom can perform at its best. In most cases an external hard drive will result in degraded performance, and with some hardware configurations that performance degradation can be significant.

However, if you need to access your Lightroom catalog on multiple computers, keeping the catalog on an external hard drive can be a good solution. With this approach you can switch to using Lightroom on a different computer by simply connecting the external hard drive to that computer and opening the Lightroom catalog that is stored on the external hard drive.

By keeping the Lightroom catalog on the external hard drive, you are minimizing the risks associated with other potential solutions. For example, if you copy the Lightroom catalog from one computer to another as you switch locations, there is the risk of losing track of which copy of your Lightroom catalog is truly the latest version.

Many photographers have employed online synchronization solutions such as DropBox ( to enable them to access their Lightroom catalog across multiple computers. I have tested this solution myself and found that it can work very well. However, this approach also makes me nervous about the potential for files to get out of synch, especially if you use Lightroom on a computer that isn’t always connected to the Internet.

As a result of all of these considerations, I recommend keeping the Lightroom catalog on your computer’s internal hard drive for optimal performance. If you need to share the catalog across multiple computers, then I recommend keeping the catalog on an external hard drive instead.

If you want to move the Lightroom catalog to a different location, that process is relatively straightforward. First, within Lightroom you can determine where the current catalog is located. To do so, choose “Catalog Settings” from the Lightroom menu on Macintosh or the Edit menu on Windows. Then go to the General tab and click the Show button to bring up a window in your operating system showing where the Lightroom catalog is stored.

Next, quit Lightroom so the catalog files will not be in use. Then copy the entire folder containing your Lightroom catalog to the preferred location. As a precaution, I then recommend renaming the “old” catalog folder to indicate it is no longer in use, such as by adding the word “BACKUP” to the beginning of the folder name. You can then double-click on the “lrcat” file (the actual catalog) in the “new” catalog location to open that Catalog in Lightroom and continue working.

For more detail on the options for where to store your Lightroom catalog, you may be interested in the article “Location, Location, Location”, which appeared in the August 2013 issue of Pixology magazine. For photographers who have subscribed to the GreyLearning “Everything” Bundle, you can find all of the back issues of Pixology magazine in the “Pixology Magazine” course in the GreyLearning library. And if you aren’t a subscriber you can sign up here: