Transferring a Catalog


Today’s Question: I am trying to figure out the best way to make the transition from my old computer to my new one. I keep my catalog on the internal hard drive and my photos on an external drive as you have recommended in the past. How do I transfer my catalog to the new computer to be assured that it will be able to access my photos on the external drive?

Tim’s Quick Answer: You can simply copy the entire folder containing your Lightroom Classic catalog to the new computer, then make sure the external hard drive has the same drive letter or volume label as it did on your “old” computer. At that point you can open the Lightroom Classic catalog on your new computer, and everything will be just as you left it on your old computer.

More Detail: Many photographers have this type of situation, where they are storing their Lightroom Classic catalog on an internal hard drive on their computer, and their photos on an external hard drive. This actually makes it quite easy to transition your Lightroom Classic workflow to a new computer.

The first step is to copy your Lightroom Classic catalog to the new computer. This requires, of course, that you know where that catalog is located. You can find this information in the Catalog Settings dialog in Lightroom Classic. Windows users can bring up this dialog by choosing Edit > Catalog Settings from the menu, and Macintosh users can select Lightroom Classic > Catalog Settings from the menu.

In the Catalog Settings dialog go to the General tab. Then click the “Show” button to the right of the Location field, which shows the path to the actual catalog file. Clicking the Show button will bring up a window in your operating system, with the folder containing your catalog highlighted.

Before copying the catalog folder, quit the Lightroom Classic application. You can then use an external hard drive, for example, to transfer the catalog folder. Drag the folder to a connected external hard drive, then switch that external hard drive to your new computer and drag the catalog folder from the external hard drive to the desired location on the internal hard drive on your new computer. Note that by default when you drag-and-drop a folder from one hard drive to another, you will be copying rather than moving the folder. I recommend renaming the folders on your old computer and on the external hard drive to indicate they should no longer be used, such as by putting “BACKUP” at the beginning of the folder name.

Next, connect the hard drive containing your photos to the new computer. For Windows users, you’ll also want to make sure that the drive letter assigned to the external hard drive on the new computer matches the drive letter that had been assigned on the old computer. You can change the drive letter in Windows using the Disk Management console. For Macintosh users you only need to make sure the hard drive name (volume label) is the same, which will be the case as long as you haven’t changed that yourself.

At this point you can open the folder containing the Lightroom Classic catalog on your new computer and double-click the catalog file with the “lrcat” filename extension. That will open the catalog in Lightroom Classic on your new computer (assuming, of course, that you’ve already installed Lightroom Classic on your new computer). Since the external hard drive also matches your setup on the old computer, everything will operate normally at that point on your new computer.