Moving a Lightroom Catalog

Moving a Lightroom Catalog


Helen Bradley explains how to successfully move Lightroom files and a catalog to a new disk.


One issue that stumps many people is how to successfully move a Lightroom catalog from one computer to another or from a local hard drive to a removable one.

Having just faced this situation head on and having made a right royal mess of my first attempt, here’s my take on the smartest way to do this.

The problem in moving the catalog and files for me was that I didn’t want to lose the editing history for any of my files so it was critical that everything moved correctly and, in the end, the ideal method was to make Lightroom responsible for the move so all along it stayed informed about what was happening.

Step 1

Start by backing up your Lightroom catalog and files – if everything goes pear shaped at least you’ll have your backups.

Step 2

Plug in your external drive (or fire up the new computer) and copy one photograph into the root folder on the drive, or if you want your photo folders to be stored inside a folder called Photos, for example, and not in the root folder, create this folder and copy one photo into it. There must be an image in a folder for you to import the image (and the folder) into the Lightroom Folders collection.

Step 3

Now locate your Lightroom folder which contains your catalog and preview images and move it onto the new drive. This has to be done with Lightroom closed.

Step 4

Launch Lightroom and it will report it can’t find the catalog – so far so good. Point Lightroom to the Lightroom folder on your new drive and click the catalog file (it has the lrcat extension) – Lightroom will open the catalog and find everything intact because you haven’t moved anything yet – except its catalog.

Step 5

Inside Lightroom, choose File > Import from Disk and import the single image that you copied into the folder on your new drive. This adds the root folder for your images on the new drive to the Lightroom Folders collection.

Step 6

Make sure the Library is visible and the Folders area opened. Now drag and drop each folder of images from your local disk onto your new drive in the Lightroom folder view. I did this one folder at a time but you can, if you wish, drag the root folder from your old disk and drop the lot into your new folder on the new drive – it depends how you want everything organized. Lightroom works pretty fast when moving the files so it doesn’t take too long. The most inconvenient part of the move for me was that Lightroom can only move one folder at a time so the process had to be supervised manually – when one folder was moved, I dragged and dropped the next one and so on.

If you prefer to do so, you could move all the folders containing your photos outside Lightroom – this would be an easier process than doing it inside Lightroom if you want to retain the same overall folder structure. Then launch Lightroom and, in the Folders list, right click the old root folder and choose Update Folder Location and point to the new location for the files.

Once the Lightroom catalog and all your photo files and folders are on the external drive or on the new computer, your images will be instantly accessible anytime by simply opening Lightroom.

External drive letters issue

If you’re using an external drive to store your Lightroom catalog and files you may encounter problems when attaching the drive to a second computer as it may recognize it as having a different drive letter. If this happens, Lightroom will still show you previews for all your images but you’ll encounter missing file warnings if you try to edit one. The easiest solution at this point is to right click the root folder in the Folders list in Lightroom and choose Update Folder Location. Navigate to find this root folder on your external drive and, when you locate it, all the images in that folder will be immediately found.

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at

Some Older Comments

  • Bob L June 9, 2013 12:01 am

    Adobe Expert Gives Good Advice

    This move and much more is covered simply, clearly, expertly by Adobe Evangelist Julieanne Kost here:

    If you already have the same version of Lr running on the "move to" computer, there are only three items to move. Julienne shows where to find them on the "move from" machine and where to put them on the "move to" machine.
    The original photo files (grab them at the highest "parent" folder level
    The LrCat catalog
    The Lrdata previews

  • Pavol Timko May 26, 2012 04:23 pm

    I don't see any reason why to move photos via some folder on the desktop. I move it directly from Admin>Pictures>2012 to the according Folder on my external hard drive, after it is copied I just enhance the name of particular event folder to remember better what was the content.
    Then I make backup copy of the ext hard drive.
    Then I remove the originals from computer HD.
    Then LR lost the path and shows "?" thus I point the new path to the ext HD.

    No big deal, I just leave catalog on the MacBook Pro HD.

  • Liz Swain May 26, 2012 02:12 am

    I have the Macbook air and the storage fills up quickly. I want to transfer my LR photos with edits to my Ext. Hard drive , but in order to do that, I have to export to my desktop folder, then drag into the hard drive. When I do this the disk utility says its full and won't continue. The photos I just copied into the folder has taken up to much storage space and therefore quits. I empty the trash to make a little room but it just seems too problematic. I believe there has to be a way to transfer LR edited photos to the hard drive directly, but have yet to figure it out.

  • Chris February 8, 2012 12:08 pm

    Thanks for your clear direction, and I was able to do all that you said. But when I started using Lightroom again, importing new photos from my memory card, it started storing them on my computer again, creating a new "2012" folder in "Pictures" rather than adding to the one I had moved onto the external drive. The external drive was plugged in and functioning. How can I get Lightroom to safe and back up new photos on the external drive??? HELP! :D Thanks!

  • Pavol Timko January 11, 2012 09:35 pm

    I am reviving this old thread due to Lightroom 4 Beta. I am rather new Lightroom user and I wonder how to transfer catalog from older version to the new one? Is there any hint from experienced user in regard to something I better watch out? What is the usual procedure by Adobe upgrades? If I compare it with DxO I was rather surprised that DxO7 is completely new app and it left my DxO6 untouched so I can more or less scrap the old version from my computer.
    What would be the workflow in the case of Lightroom upgrade? How to move catalog into new version (I understand that for a while it may be better to have parallel catalogs in LR3 and LR4 Beta.
    Any ideas?

  • mike November 17, 2011 11:58 am

    But what about future saves?

  • Erik September 8, 2011 02:08 pm

    This is the correct solution for certain situations, because exporting as a catalogue and destroying the file structure is not an option for some people. In my case, where I needed to move just the catalogue and not the pictures themselves, this solution was the ticket. Minus the moving of the original pictures of course.

  • chris swaap August 28, 2011 09:26 pm

    Hi a colleague has been having performance problems with Lightroom 3 and as a test decided to try ‘moving’ the Lightroom program files etc to the same drive as the catalogue and picture files (internal to internal). To his and my amazement this resulted in both the program still working, and a performance improvement of an order of magnitude.

    I have sort of done the same on my system. I have just ‘copied’ the entire ‘Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3.4? directory (found under program files/adobe) to the same disc (internal) as the catalogue and files etc. Amazingly Lightroom works when launching from this new location and although I don’t get an order of magnitude improvement there is definitely a margin improvement in performance.

    Any ideas why this should a) work and b) why it should improve performance.

  • Charles March 18, 2011 01:15 pm

    I don’t quite understand the necessity to perform a long list of steps instead of one, just exporting photos as "catalog. The specific of my work presumes that I often edit my shots on two or thre different computers where my flash drive mounts at different letters (at one of them I am not even an amin, so I can’t change the drive leter). All I do is create a catalog at one of them, then export is as catalog either directly to a flash-drive (it should be quite fast, to allow read speed comparable to Lightroom speed), or copy it there after export. Then I use the catalog fole (.lrcat) to open Lightroom, and that’s it. Even with the drive letter change Lightroom finds everything you need, save as for one issue of not finding the original in the beginning, but when you click on a next photo and then back, everything turns ok.

    The same is with copying this catalog to the Desktop or whatever and editing it over there, but much slower. So, youo don’t need this boring stuff described above."

    - Well said uncle Sam. Im doing this right now.

  • Lilian February 25, 2011 03:43 am

    To woots, Jane and Matt. I recommend this video tutorial that explains many aspect of catalog, exporting from laptop to Main computer and vice versa.

  • matt chiang February 8, 2011 03:03 pm

    I moved all my photos to an external hard drive. I've recently upgraded to a Terabyte and want to move it back to the internal with all the edit info and everything. What do I do? I don't know how to search for a question this specific.

  • jane February 7, 2011 10:03 am

    How in the name of heavens do you drag and drop photos - I have tried your process and I am in more of mess than ever. Is there a tech support number for LIghtrooom.

  • woots November 16, 2010 05:18 am

    I am not computer savvy enough to process all this "moving catalog" info. Can someone explain to me how to move all my LR files and catalog from a laptop to the main LR catalog on a desktop? Thanks

  • TheGooch October 24, 2010 12:21 pm

    I just copied my lightroom folder to the a different drive, renamed the old one for testing purposes, and then opned the lrcat file on the copy on the other drive. I have my pictures, collections, tags, as far as I can tell, every thing.

    Also, under "folders" I do not have a top level folder, it only shows the folders underneath the folder that I designated as my catalog. So I cannot do the "right click and update folder" step. Apparently there is no need to, either.

  • german October 20, 2010 03:35 am

    Locate folder... locate folder... it wasn't that difficult... THANKS Helen!!

  • Terry August 23, 2010 11:52 pm

    Thanks for this article. I was having trouble using an external drive when I switched between my Mac desktop and pc laptop. Now all is good!

  • Greg August 20, 2010 07:45 am

    Hey, I have a computer running window 7 and recently it blew up where dell could not repair and just replaced the computer. I have managed to recover all the photos that had been processed in LR but I am unsure if there will be any implications when I load them up into a new LR system? will the metadata be copied also? Do I need to re-associate the metadata information?

    Any help would be great to help ease my current stress levels as I don't want to rework all those many hours :)

  • meagan May 11, 2010 10:49 pm


    I have a macbook and an imac on which i edit my lightroom files. I was using my network to move the files from one computer to the other. I tried the export as catalog function but as soon as i would shut down the macbook, the imac would say that the lightroom could not find the images and that they were offline.
    Will the simple step of clicking "update folder location" fix this? And where do i go to find this option?

    Also, I do not have seperate catalogs currently, just one main catalog. I would really prefer to just copy the files from my macbook to the main catalog on my imac. I tried the "import photos from catalog" AND the "import photos from disk" options. With the import from catalog option, it allowed me to choose which pictures i wanted from that catalog. But i had the same results as above when i shut down lightroom on the macbook.

    Anyone have any ideas?


  • Lightroom King May 9, 2010 01:03 am

    No need for this messy file fiddling. Just go to 'File' > 'Export As Catalog' make sure 'Export negative files' is selected and it's done.

  • Jan Brouckaert February 20, 2010 09:00 am

    Hi, moving a catalogue seems to work but what if you use more then one catalogue (as i am abroad a lot) and want to conderse one MAIN catalogue at my home.
    I can export the images or move them ?
    However i always seem to lose the development history states I uses (the adjustments and presets applied) are not shown any longer. The only thing you see in the development panel under history is IMPORT and the date.
    Thats not very usefull...

    Does anyone know how to export or move or whatever to preserve these history states ?

  • Michael david January 3, 2010 03:42 am


    Awesome post,just found this post from my Yahoo Buzz upcomming blogpost news feed, really interesting post, keep it up.


  • PI October 17, 2009 01:17 am

    I can just second Layo on this.

    I recently moved my entire image collection with the standard Move command in Windows, and also changed the name of the top folder. After opening up the catalog files in Lightroom from the new location, just right click on the top folder, choose "Update folder location" and point it to the new top folder. LR will then find all your subfolders and files, with all data intact.

  • Layo July 22, 2009 11:56 am

    I don't get why it has to be so complicated...I just move the folders to another drive and then use the "Update Folder Location" function.

    It keeps all my edit history an everything. I had to do this when my few hundred gigs of raw files outgrew my computer's internal hard drive and migrated over to my Drobo.

    Am I missing something?

  • vasi July 12, 2009 10:01 am

    it's in work as I type this. One puzzle though, LR shows Storage (E:) and yet the only lists the folder name that has the image files, however, the new Drive, Drobo, although shown, under it is the file entire folder structure. I like to have the structure instead of random folders, but how do I not have it show the entire structure under the new drive?

  • Mark June 4, 2009 03:12 am

    I just returned from a vacation trip and need to transfer my photos from a laptop to my desktop computer. I did not take a separate external hard drive, so my photos are currently on the laptop hard drive. I used Lightroom to process them while away and now want to add to my permanent catalog. Are steps outlined above the ones to follow? Seems pretty cumbersome.

  • Dmitry May 29, 2009 05:01 pm

    I would agree with UncleSam. The only thing he didn't mention that you can move your photos to a new place (really any place, not necessary the same where you put a new catalog) and after opening the new catalog you just need to do 'Update Folder Location'. All your develop history will be there. I did it several times and moved photos from MAC drive to PC drive (external/internal) and vice versa.

  • Eden Connell May 29, 2009 11:09 am

    Hi Guys,

    I'm going o/s and taking a laptop with me with a 160GB drive I want to backup everything from up until the start of my trip and keep this at home.... then want to start a new Lightroom catalogue for my o/s photos... when I come back I want to compile them... Does anyone have any ideas how to do this?

  • JohnC May 28, 2009 07:41 am

    Re: External Drive letters issue
    I get round this problem by assigning a high drive letter to my external drive (say p:) then every time it is plugged in it gets the same drive letter.

  • Fin C May 28, 2009 03:33 am

    Yikes! This is an ugly mess Adobe have left for us, no? You'd think they would have foreseen this eventuality and built it into their program. After all, this program is supposed to specialise in providing a fast workflow.

    Many thanks for this post though, i've saved it in a text file for that dreaded day when I need to move my Lightroom catalogue!

  • Kang May 27, 2009 04:58 pm

    I was just doing a transfer of my LR files from my mac's HD to an external HD for storage. Yeah, I have to agree with Steven that the problem with LR is if you want to to a selective back-up, you need to drag one sub-folder at a time, clearly Adobe still have alot of fine tuning to do with this respect. Though the good thing about LR is that the 'off-line' files can still be accessed and viewed as a lower res photo even when the actual LR database on the external HD is disconnected.

  • UncleSam May 27, 2009 03:34 pm

    I don't quite understand the necessity to perform a long list of steps instead of one, just exporting photos as catalog. The specific of my work presumes that I often edit my shots on two or thre different computers where my flash drive mounts at different letters (at one of them I am not even an amin, so I can't change the drive leter). All I do is create a catalog at one of them, then export is as catalog either directly to a flash-drive (it should be quite fast, to allow read speed comparable to Lightroom speed), or copy it there after export. Then I use the catalog fole (.lrcat) to open Lightroom, and that's it. Even with the drive letter change Lightroom finds everything you need, save as for one issue of not finding the original in the beginning, but when you click on a next photo and then back, everything turns ok.

    The same is with copying this catalog to the Desktop or whatever and editing it over there, but much slower. So, youo don't need this boring stuff described above.

  • Ray Hennessy May 27, 2009 03:06 am

    What about the "File>Export as Catalog" option? As long as you select all images (or the images you want to move) and check the "Export Negative Files" checkbox in the resulting dialog box, Lightroom will handle everything for you. I think you may loose your folder structure and it's condensed into 1 folder though, which I guess would be 1 downside to this method. Other than that Lightroom does everything for you.

  • Steven Mileham May 27, 2009 01:10 am

    I'm kinda dissapointed in Lightroom for this very fact. I don't want a full "back-up" of my library, I just want to bulk move all of my old photos from my laptop to my external harddrive. Each one has to be dragged and dropped one by one. It's a very time consuming process for such a simple operation!

    I always just assumed that I was doing it wrong and somehow missing the "archive" option that would do it for me automagically... looks like I was wrong, oh well.