Multiple Catalog Versions


Today’s Question: I recently attended a workshop that included an impromptu portfolio review. To gather the images for the review, I did an “Export as Catalog” from a Collection that I had created, and then copied the new catalog and the images to an external hard drive to use with my travel laptop. So far, so good. The review went well, and I made some changes to some of the images based on recommendations by the reviewer. Now, I’m home and want to merge the new changes with the previously modified images on my home computer. Since these are not new images, it’s not as simple as merging catalogs, or is it?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The solution here could be a bit challenging, depending on the specific details of what has been done. The task would have been remarkably simpler if you had employed Lightroom Mobile (perhaps even through the Lightroom website interface) for purposes of your portfolio review.

More Detail: This scenario is actually a lot more complicated than it might seem on the surface, in part because you used a collection that presumably contained photos from a variety of different folders. Lightroom does not enable you to simply “synchronize” multiple versions of a catalog in this way, so that you can update metadata or adjustments for photos across multiple catalogs.

In concept, there is a not-too-difficult solution here. First, you could make sure that the “Automatically write changes into XMP” checkbox is enabled on the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings dialog (found from the Edit menu on Windows or the Lightroom menu on Macintosh) for both of your catalogs. Then copy the XMP files for the images from your portfolio review catalog to the appropriate folder for the source images based on your master catalog. Then use the “Synchronize Folder” command (found by right-clicking on the applicable folder within the master catalog) to synchronize metadata (including adjustments) into your master catalog based on the XMP files on the hard drive.

If all of the photos were in the same folder, this process is not especially difficult. You essentially ensure that XMP files are created for all photos in the applicable folder, copy those XMP files to the “master” folder, and then synchronize the folder to update metadata in the Lightroom catalog. But when photos are spread across multiple folders, this process can obviously be rather complicated.

As noted above, the overall workflow would have been greatly streamlined if you had used Lightroom mobile for this purpose, rather than exporting a new catalog. The collection you created for the portfolio review could have been enabled for synchronization. You could then use Lightroom Mobile on a mobile device (such as an Appl iPad) or through the Lightroom web interface ( to update the adjustment settings for the photo. To be sure, not all adjustments available in Lightroom on the desktop are available for Lightroom mobile, but those adjustments that were updated would have then synchronized automatically back to your master catalog.