Today’s Question: I have a full hard drive and am getting a new one. I always use Lightroom Classic. What is the best way to move my pictures (all under Pictures) to a new external hard drive?
Tim’s Quick Answer: I recommend using the “Export as Catalog” command in this case, because doing so will help minimize confusion or errors in the overall process of this migration.
More Detail: There are, of course, a variety of approaches you could take when upgrading your photo storage to a new and larger hard drive. You could create a new empty folder on the new drive from within Lightroom Classic, for example, and then move photos and folders to that new folder. However, this can sometimes be problematic, especially if there are any issues moving any of the photos.
Instead, the “Export as Catalog” command can help streamline this process. This command enables you to copy all photos in your entire catalog to a new storage location. It also results in a new catalog, which isn’t really necessary, but can be helpful in terms of transferring photos to a different storage location without the risk of any photos or folders becoming disconnected from the catalog.
To use the “Export as Catalog” approach, start by going to the menu and choosing Edit > Select None, so that no photos are selected. With the “Export as Catalog” command you need to either select all photos or no photos in order to export all. Selecting all images can be problematic because you might, for example, have a filter set that causes only a portion of your photos to be displayed.
With none of your photos selected, you can then go to the File menu and choose the “Export as Catalog” command. In the dialog that appears, navigate to the external hard drive that you want to migrate your photos to. In the Save As field at the top of the dialog, enter a name for the new storage structure. The name you enter will be used as a main parent folder for all of the folders containing your photos and catalog. That name will also be used for the new catalog being created as part of this process.
The key to getting your photos copied to the new hard drive is to turn on the “Export negative files” checkbox. This is perhaps the most poorly named checkbox in any Adobe software application (and one of these days I would love to meet the person who decided on this name). The “Export negative files” checkbox actually means “Export source photos”. In other words, this is what enables you to copy your photos to the new location along with the new catalog. Click the Export Catalog button to initiate the process.
When the export is complete, quit Lightroom Classic and navigate to the external hard drive through your operating system. If you prefer to have the catalog on an internal hard drive, you can locate the folder that contains the “LRCAT” catalog file as well as all of the supporting files, and move the folder containing the catalog files to the desired location on your internal hard drive.
You can double-click the “LRCAT” file (the file with the “.lrcat” filename extension) to launch Lightroom Classic with that catalog. Once you have confirmed that everything is in order and have backed up the external hard drive that now contains your photos, you can delete the original photos on your internal hard drive.
From that point forward, just be sure to only use the new catalog that was created as part of this process, treating any copies of your prior catalog as purely a backup copy.