Catalog Across Two Computers


Today’s Question: I have Lightroom Classic on a desktop and also on a laptop. I have my image files on an external hard drive on the desktop. If I disconnect the external hard drive from my desktop and connect it to the laptop, make changes to the image files then disconnect from the laptop and connect again to the desktop, will Lightroom Classic on the desktop recognize the changes that I made on the laptop?

Tim’s Quick Answer: If the Lightroom Classic catalog is on the external hard drive then you can switch among computers and preserve all updates regardless of which computer you’re working on. If you have a separate catalog on two computers, this workflow will absolutely not work and will likely lead to a significant mess in Lightroom Classic.

More Detail: Lightroom Classic keeps track of the information about your photos through the use of a catalog, which is a database at the core of your Lightroom Classic workflow. I highly recommend using a single catalog to manage all of your photos, rather than multiple catalogs. And when it comes to working on two different computers, it is even more important that you’re using a single catalog whenever you’re using Lightroom Classic.

Normally I recommend having your catalog files on your computer’s internal hard drive in order to maximize performance. However, if you want to be able to work across two computers with the same catalog, I recommend storing the catalog on an external hard drive.

With your Lightroom Classic catalog and all of your photos on an external hard drive, you can move that hard drive between computers. Since you’ll be using the same catalog file with Lightroom Classic on two different computers (but only one computer at a time) all updates you make will be reflected on both computers.

If, on the other hand, you were to maintain individual catalogs on two computers, moving the photos between the two computers, your updates would not be synchronized across the two computers. Both catalogs would remain independent, and you would therefore end up with a significant mess relatively quickly, where different updates have been applied in different catalogs.

It is worth noting, by the way, that this sort of issue is not a factor with the cloud-based version of Lightroom. You can have this version of Lightroom on two computers, and updates from one computer will be reflected on the other, as well as on mobile devices with the Lightroom app installed. That said, I still prefer Lightroom Classic over the cloud-based version of Lightroom for a variety of reasons, including preferring to manage my folder structure locally.