Today’s Question: I’ve put my Lightroom Classic catalog and images all on an external hard drive. Can I move my catalog to my laptop [internal hard drive] without messing everything up?
Tim’s Quick Answer: Yes, you can move your Lightroom Classic catalog to an internal hard drive from the external hard drive. This will likely help improve overall performance and will also enable you to work with your catalog even if the external hard drive is not connected to the computer.
More Detail: The Lightroom Classic catalog contains the information about your photos, such as metadata and adjustments you have applied. Even if the source image is not available, such as when an external hard drive is disconnected, you can still review the information about your photos. You can even update information about photos with the source files unavailable, such as to assign keywords or other metadata updates to the photos.
You may therefore want to keep your Lightroom Classic catalog on an internal hard drive so you can review the information in the catalog even when you have not connected the external hard drive that contains the actual images.
Before getting started I do recommend backing up your catalog, just to ensure you can recover if anything goes wrong as part of this process. Then you’ll need to be sure you know where your catalog is currently stored. You can get this information in the Catalog Settings dialog, which you can access by choosing Edit > Catalog Settings from the menu on Windows or Lightroom Classic > Catalog Settings on Macintosh. In the Catalog Settings dialog go to the General tab and click the Show button to the right of the Location field. This will bring up a window in your operating system for the location where the folder containing your catalog is located, with the folder selected.
Next, quit Lightroom Classic to make sure you don’t move the catalog while it is in use. You can then move the entire folder containing your catalog to the preferred location. Note that you may also prefer to copy the folder to the new location, and then rename the existing folder to make it clear that this is now a backup copy of your catalog.
You can then navigate to the folder containing the catalog in the new location you have placed it. Inside that folder you can double-click the catalog file, which is the file with the “LRCAT” filename extension. This will launch Lightroom Classic and open the catalog. Because your photos will still be stored in the location they are expected, everything in Lightroom Classic will look exactly the same as it did before.