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!