Nov 172008

You’re on vacation, at a workshop or shooting on location commercially, loading your images onto your laptop and working them in Lightroom. Will you be able to successfully and easily transfer all your Lightroom work to your desktop Lightroom catalog? Absolutely!  This method will transfer everything you may have done — keywords, flags, stars, color labels, other metadata, as well as Develop settings, collections and virtual copies.

Let’s say your folder of images on your laptop is named “Vacation”. In the Library module in Lightroom, right-click on the folder name, and choose Export This Folder as a Catalog. Choose a location to store this temporary catalog. I recommend the desktop because it will be easy for you to find. Another option is to save it directly to an external hard drive that you can then use to transfer the catalog to your desktop. Choose a name for the catalog, like Vacation Catalog. Checking Export Negative Files will bundle a copy of the originals with the catalog so that you don’t have to move them over separately to your desktop and then have to have LR find them. I recommend that you do choose this option. Checking Include Available Previews will save and transfer the jpeg previews that have already been built. If you don’t, LR on your desktop computer will simply regenerate them — it just takes time that you have already spent for them to be generated on your laptop. Finally, click Save.

This process generates a folder called Vacation Catalog that has all the components in it. Move the folder to an external hard drive and connect it to your desktop computer. (Another option is to save the folder to a DVD and then insert this in your desktop computer.) In the Library module of Lightroom, in the menu bar go to File>Import from Catalog. In the dialog box, navigate to the Vacation Catalog folder on the external drive or DVD, double click on it to open it, and select the Vacation Catalog.lrcat file (it will be the only file that is not in a subfolder). Click Choose.

In the Import Dialog that then opens, under File Handling choose Copy Files to a New Location and Import, click Choose and navigate to the folder you want to store the images in permanently (like 20080701 New Mexico Vacation within the folder 2008). Click Import.

Done! Assuming everything went well with the import and your images and LR enhancements are there:

1.  Delete the Vacation Catalog folder that you transfered over.

2. Back on your laptop, remove the Vacation folder of images from the LR catalog and the hard drive. In the LR Library module, right click on the folder and choose Show in Explorer (Finder on a Mac). In Explorer or Finder, delete the folder. Back in Lightroom, right click again on the folder and select Remove, to remove it from the catalog.

Happy travels!


  17 Responses to “Moving Lightroom Work Between Laptop and Desktop Computers”

  1. […] written about moving your Lightroom work from your laptop to your desktop (or any two computers) here. This involves exporting your work on the laptop as a catalog, then importing it into your desktop […]

    • Thank you for your easy to follow instructions.I understand that the “vacation lrcat”file is a seperate catalogue as opposed to the “main” catalogue on the PC.
      Does it remain seperate when imported into LR on the PC or is it integrated into the “main” catalogue ?

  2. […] if you ocassionally work images on your laptop when you are in the field photographing.  See this post for more […]

  3. Wow! This is really helpful. Clear and to the point. Many thanks.

  4. I am a bit confused. I was wondering if this method would work from what I gather with your method:

    using one external drive, one laptop, one desktop
    import images onto laptop with saving them on ext drive
    flag, reject, label images, edit some on laptop
    back-up that catalog by restarting LR
    … home
    load LR on desktop and load the “above” catalog
    import images you want to work on
    edit the images
    back-up catalog by restarting LR on desktop
    …. back to laptop
    open LR and import above catalog
    do what i need to do with images for web, email, etc
    now can i go and delete all previous catalogs except for the most recent one?

    will this method work as well with keeping all up to date edits, flags, etc in the final catalog????

    Thank you so much for your help. I just didn’t get a good understanding of what to do from your post.

    • I am not able to follow all the details of what you wrote, Michelle. Bottom line, if you are asking if you can import your laptop catalog into your desktop catalog (by launching your desktop catalog, and going to File>Import from Catalog and pointing to your laptop catalog, the answer is yes, that would work. And the purpose of all this is to be able to transfer all your work – edits, flags, etc… Once you import one catalog into your master catalog, you can delete the original.

  5. Oh Great Article Thank For your post

  6. I followed your instructions exactly and transferred 3100+ images from an Italy trip perfectly. Not one lost image! Thank you for making the process simpler than my two books detail.

  7. Say your catalog is from “My Pictures”. Can’t you just put the field folder there in your laptop and then “sync” your desktop catalog?

  8. Lightroom 4 has Preferences > Presets for saving presets with your catalog. I haven’t (yet) been able to get that to work for when I create settings on my “vacation” external hard drive to transfer to my main hard drive at home with my exported “vacation” catalog. Has anyone been able to get that to work? Seemingly any presets, User templates, Camera Calibration profiles (created with X-Rite ColorChecker Passport) I have on my “vacation” catalog do not transfer at all (but I’d like them to).

    • Hi Dennis, despite the fact that they can be stored in the catalog folder, presets are not part of the catalog itself. You would have to physically copy them into the preset subfolders on your main drive.


  10. Hi – followed your instructions, and just had a clarifying question – here’s my scenario:

    I have a couple of cameras that I take on vacations. Normally, I return home and import all the photos from a trip to my home iMac. I organize them, and get them all in order. What I’d like to do is transfer them to my Mac laptop, so I can take the collection to a cafe or somewhere else to sift through and mark some for deletion, etc.

    If I export the catalog, and import on my laptop, do I need to delete all the photos from the main computer before re-importing them? Meaning, when I export the catalog, I can still see the photos on my main computer, if I make changes, edits, deletions on the laptop, what will happen when I try to re-import them on the main computer? Will the changes over-write, or is it best just to delete the whole set from Computer A before re-importing from Computer B?


    • Hi Bill,

      You don’t need to delete the original photos – when you import from catalog, LR will detect the originals and ask you if you want to replace them – no, just the metadata.

      You might be better off having your catalog on photos on an external drive, so that you can plug it into either computer and be up and running with no export/import.

  11. Hi – I’m trying to import from a catalog I worked on while traveling. The photos and .lrcat catalog are on my Dropbox, which is shared on the cloud between my desktop and laptop computers.

    The problem? “Add new photos to catalog without moving” is the only option I’m given in the “Import from Catalog” dialogue box, in LR3. I want it to add the new photos to my main catalog on my desktop computer, AND move the photos from Dropbox to the external hard drive connected to my desktop computer. If I add the new photos without moving, then — then what, I have a bunch of photos in all the wrong places.

    Any help would be much appreciated! Thanks for your helpful articles.

    • Tiffy, I would just Add as it allows you, and then use the Folders panel in the Library module to drag your folders to where you want them.

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