How to sync your Lightroom catalog from your laptop to your desktop

If you are like most people these days, you are surrounded by technology – laptops, desktop computers, smartphones, and tablets. You can’t escape it. For the photographer, that means having photos in multiple locations on more than one device. Getting all your photos synched up and in one location can be a hassle. Or does it have to be?

Adobe Lightroom has made the post-processing process much easier so it’s no surprise that synching its catalog between a laptop and desktop shouldn’t be any different. First things first – what is a catalog? A catalog is nothing more than a database that collects information on where the photos are physically located on your hard drive and information about them. It stores information on what edits you have made to them, any keywords you have added or if you have flagged them as picks or given them a 5-star rating. The actual photos are not touched. The first time you launch Lightroom it will create a catalog for you.

Let’s take a common scenario. You are on a vacation or taking a workshop. You bring your laptop that has Lightroom installed on it. You faithfully import your photos every night in Lightroom. If you are using Windows, the default name and location of the catalog is C:Users[your user name]PicturesLightroomLightroom 5 Catalog.lrcat. For MAC OS users, the file is located:  /Users/[your user name]/Pictures/Lightroom/Lightroom 5 Catalog.lrcat.  But now you are back home, brimming with jaw-dropping photos and you sit down in front of your second computer, let’s say a desktop in your home office which also has Lightroom installed on it. You want to move the photos from your laptop to your desktop and synch everything in Lightroom.

The first key to successfully managing this task is to be organized. If you keep all your photos in one folder, let’s say the Pictures folders on your laptop, and then keep the same folder hierarchy on the desktop. While you can point Lightroom to find the photos and re-link them, if you keep identical file structures, it will save time and extra steps – and simplify the process.

When you browse to the C:UsersUser namePicturesLightroom folder you will see a folder called Backups as well as a folder or folders ending with .lrdata (i.e. Lightroom 5 Catalog Smart Previews.lrdata and Lightroom 5 Catalog Previews.lrdata) which contain the previews and Smart Previews for all your photos. My suggestion, in addition to copying the .lrcat file, is to copy the .lrdata and backups files and folders so Lightroom does not have to regenerate the previews for all your photos. Again, this is another time saver. Copy those files and folders to an external hard drive, and from there, copy them onto the desktop in the same directory structure where they came from on the laptop. You should be prompted to overwrite the existing files. Just say Yes! Also copy any new photos you shot while you were on the road over to the desktop. Now open Lightroom on your desktop and everything should look the same.

Lightroom has another option where you can select your new photos on your laptop and export them as their own catalog. Highlight the photos you want to copy and go to File>Export as Catalog. Pick a destination on your laptop hard drive and select a file name. You can also export the actual photos by checking off the Export negative files and check off the two preview options as well.

Lightroom will create an .lrcat file, a Previews.lrdata and a Smart Previews.lrdata file as well as a Pictures folder with the actual photos.

Now move the top level folder to the hard drive of your desktop. Open Lightroom and go to File>Import from Another Catalog.  Lightroom will launch the import dialog box which will give you a couple of choices of where and how you want to import the photos. Once completed, Lightroom will look like the version of Lightroom on your laptop.




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