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How to Move Your Lightroom Catalog

I have 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 catalog.

Sometimes though you may want to simply move your catalog. Mine was initially on an external hard drive; I then decided to move it to my internal C: drive because it would read and write faster.

The first step in doing this is finding out where it is stored currently.

  • In Lightroom go to Edit>Catalog Settings on the PC, or Lightroom>Catalog Settings on the Mac.
  • In the General Tab, the location of your catalog is shown.
  • Click on the Show button to open up a Mac Finder or Windows Explorer window with this catalog folder highlighted.

Finding Your Catalog Using the Catalog Settings Dialog

  • Close Lightroom.
  • Next, open up a second Windows Explorer or Finder window (Mac: File>New Finder Window; Windows 7: right-click on the folder icon in your task bar, choose Windows Explorer) ; navigate to where you want to put your catalog folder, and then drag the Lightroom Catalog folder from its current location in the first window to its new location in the second window.
  • Double-click on the .lrcat file within this catalog folder, to launch Lightroom with this catalog.
  • Lightroom will open, recognizing the new location of your catalog.
  • Go to Edit (Lightroom on the Mac)>Preferences, General tab, and where it says “When starting up use this catalog”, choose this one.



2017-07-09T15:16:29+00:00 December 10th, 2008|35 Comments


  1. […] If you are not sure where your catalog is, or you know where it is and you want to move it, see this post on how to do […]

  2. William Weaver June 1, 2010 at 1:22 am - Reply

    Great tip. I didn’t know I had my catalogue in a stupid place…and with a stupid name!
    Now I have catalogue and photos in one place, easy to understand, easy to copy to laptop, easy to backup.
    Sorted – many thanks.

  3. David Trubridge September 14, 2010 at 6:51 pm - Reply

    hi laura
    i have tried this, copying the catalog file from the external hard drive where it was, onto my laptop hard drive. i can open the catalog file which is on the laptop and see all the previews, etc fine. but if i go to develop, say, it says that the image file is missing. so the new catalog file is not seeing all the original images that are still on the external drive. how do i get round this?

  4. Laura Shoe September 18, 2010 at 8:33 pm - Reply

    Hi David, I’m not sure why LR lost the connection to the images, but see this post for how to reestablish it:

  5. David Trubridge September 23, 2010 at 1:05 am - Reply

    Thanks very much Laura – that has solved it! Knowing to right click on a question mark and click ‘find missing file’ is great to know.

    • Michael Cox November 3, 2012 at 12:01 pm - Reply

      Except if you don’t know where the image is, or your dealing with LOTs of question marks. But I haven’t read the link yet, so maybe that will be addressed.

      I’m think Lr should, somehow, be able to find images that got disconnected.

  6. Rob Coulter January 8, 2012 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    I am switching from a PC to a Mac. I need to switch everything over to the new computer. At first I was thinking I could just copy my Lightroom File to the new computer along with all of the photo files, load the photos into Lightroom, double click on the LRCAT file and I would be in business. Now I don’t think so. Can you help?

    • Laura Shoe January 16, 2012 at 4:33 pm - Reply

      Hi Rob, I apologize that I didn’t see this question sooner. This is on my list of blog posts to do soon, but basically, that is almost it. As you have probably discovered though, moving the catalog and launching it worked perfectly, but moving your photos probably resulted in Lightroom losing track of them. If so, right-click on your highest level folder and choose Find Missing Folder, and show Lightroom where it now exists.

      Because I will be writing a post, do let me know how your experience went.

      • Laura Shoe January 16, 2012 at 4:34 pm - Reply

        Of course then there is copying over preferences and presets … stay tuned for my post.

  7. Drew January 16, 2012 at 5:05 pm - Reply

    Hello Laura,

    Love your site, just came apon this discussion and thought Id give it a shot asking on here..
    I have just installed a NAS RAID server to backup my Lightroom photos and archive my RAW files. Problem is, I havent found a way (if there is one) to make Lightroom pull the LRCAT from a network device. When I follow your steps (of which I tried similarly before) It tells me;

    “Lightroom cannot open the catolog named ‘Lightroom 3 Catalog’ located on network volume \Myserverexample’ Lightroom catalogs can not be opened on network volumes, removable storage or read only volumes.”

    I have tried for a while to make a workaround, like mirroring the My Pictures on my main workstation, but if I could have my catalog on my NAS Server I could use my MacBook Pro with the same catalog.

    Thanks for your time, and your site


    • Laura Shoe January 16, 2012 at 5:08 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Drew. Unfortunately this is an easy one to answer — your catalog can’t go on a network drive. I haven’t followed work-arounds, but the moderators over at know everything. 🙂

  8. Michele Goebel March 30, 2013 at 6:31 am - Reply

    I moved my photos to an external hard drive as I was out of space on my laptop. Now the name of the catalog appears at the top of the Lightroom display. How do I remove it or is it okay?

    • Laura Shoe March 31, 2013 at 5:46 pm - Reply

      Hi Michele, the catalog name will always show there, unless you hit “F” for full screen to hide it. Hit “F” a couple more times to get it back.

  9. Jeri April 26, 2015 at 8:03 pm - Reply

    I love your clear and concise instructions Laura. You have been the most help of all the places I have searched for help with Lightroom. Thanks for being there for us.

  10. John DeWeale June 1, 2015 at 6:52 pm - Reply

    I still cannot get the picture folders to drop in under catalog. I an transferring everything to a new laptop.

    Thanks Laura!

    • Laura Shoe June 3, 2015 at 3:01 pm - Reply

      Hi John, I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean – please elaborate.

      • John DeWaele June 3, 2015 at 6:09 pm - Reply

        Hi Laura,
        I installed LR in a new laptop. I transferred my folders; LR5 Catalog, LR Previews, Images and back ups to “My Pictures” on the new laptop. I go to Edit – Catalog Settings, hit show, and see all the folders.

        When I launch LR on the new machine, nothing is transferring – next to All Photographs is 0.

        I did the same thing with a image folder that had older pictures originally (my original question), Under Catalogs, it showed the number of photographs but the separate folders would not drop in under the Folder heading. I am baffled.

        I installed LR and transferred images on my old computer years ago with no issues at all. I am baffled here. I have Windows 8.1, could that be a problem? Hope I am making sense.

        • Laura Shoe July 17, 2015 at 1:49 pm - Reply

          Hi John,

          You have most likely figured this out by now, but for anyone else, transferring your catalog is only the first step. Next you need to tell Lightroom to launch with this catalog by double-clicking on it, and then going into Preferences to set this catalog as the one to always launch.

  11. Dolores Wiens August 11, 2015 at 1:18 pm - Reply

    I have moved LR to an external hard drive and want to download my photos to that drive as well. However , they are still downloading to my internal drive. How do I fix this?

    • Dolores Wiens August 11, 2015 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      To clarify, I have moved my LR catalog files to an external drive . . .

    • Laura Shoe August 13, 2015 at 11:54 am - Reply

      Hi Dolores, you will use the Destination panel in the Import dialog to specify where new photos go. For more information, if you have my Fundamentals & Beyond series, watch the video on importing from memory cards. Otherwise, watch the same video on this page.

  12. Andy October 7, 2015 at 5:56 pm - Reply

    Laura- thank you so much for all your comments and advice that have helped so many of us. I’m looking for reassurance that I’m not going to do something crazy while moving my catalog. My LR5.7 catalog is now too big to fit on my iMac 2TB HD. The plan is to export the catalog through LR to an 8TB RAID. Then attach this RAID to a new iMac, just for photography, and install LR and CS6 there. That should work, shouldn’t it?

    Many thanks for any comments.


    • Laura Shoe October 8, 2015 at 12:16 pm - Reply

      Hi Andy,

      I would keep the software itself installed on your Mac HD. I don’t see a reason to export the catalog – you can move it, with Lightroom closed, using the instructions in this post.

  13. Katy February 24, 2016 at 10:20 am - Reply

    Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!

  14. Mackenzie June 23, 2016 at 5:43 pm - Reply

    Hi Laura,

    You have helped me SO many times. Thank you so much. I have transferred my LR catalog to a new external hard drive to clear up space on my computer’s hard drive. Should I delete the old catalog where it was first located (on my actual computer hard drive) to do that?


    • Laura Shoe July 2, 2016 at 12:26 pm - Reply

      I can’t see why not – but hard drive backups are great insurance.

  15. Christy November 11, 2016 at 2:06 pm - Reply

    HI! I followed the instructions above; however, when I import files they are still importing in the previous location. How do I transfer the import files to the new catalog location? Thanks!

    • Laura Shoe November 11, 2016 at 10:44 pm - Reply

      Hi Christy, the catalog and your photos are two independent pieces of your photo library, just like the stacks of books and catalog in a public library are independent pieces. Moving the catalog has no impact on where your photo files are located. To change where new photo files are copied to when you import, select the new location in the Destination panel of the Import dialog (as explained in my Fundamentals & Beyond video on importing from memory cards.

  16. Vicky December 13, 2016 at 9:42 am - Reply

    Hi Laura! I’ve followed both of your instructions for moving all of my images located on my Mac HD to a new empty External HD and also moving the catalog over to said new HD. (I have also cloned the new HD onto a second new HD to have two copies of these images and catalogs.) My question is, once Lightroom backs up the catalog going forward will it know to backup onto the first new HD and will this mean I will have to keep the External HD plugged in every time I exit LR (as I have backups set on ‘every exit’), which is almost daily? Oh, and if you were me would you delete the catalog from your Mac HD now that it is on two external HDs?

    • Laura Shoe December 13, 2016 at 6:08 pm - Reply

      Hi Vicky,

      In the backup prompt you’ll see a Choose button so that you can choose where the backups are stored. I usually recommend accepting the default of storing them in a subfolder of your catalog folder, and then having a backup program back up all your user files to a backup hard drive. This way you have redundancy. You say that your catalog is on the external – so you’ll have to have the external plugged in anytime you use Lightroom.

      If you’re actually using the catalog on the external, and this is backed up to another external, then I’d delete the version on your Mac HD. You wouldn’t be keeping this up to date anyway, so it would become obsolete quickly. Note that further backup redundancy is a good idea – check out an online backup service such as Backblaze – cheap, automatic.

      • Vicky December 13, 2016 at 9:13 pm - Reply

        Thank you Laura.

        From what I am understanding– If I do not actually want to keep my external hard drive plugged in at all times, then I should refrain from having my catalog on the externals. And instead, keep it on the Mac HD. Which I will assume would work better/faster if I were to have it on the HD. Am I right in any of this?

        Will having the Catalog on the Mac HD, but RAW files on the External cause an issue?

        I currently use TimeMachine on a separate External HD for continuous backups of the Mac HD itself. But, have completely intended to purchase a Backblaze membership as well to back up all the the externals and Mac HD into a cloud based system.

        • Laura Shoe December 14, 2016 at 1:54 pm - Reply

          That’s correct, Vicky, it should reside on your internal drive. This is discussed in depth in my videos on Organizing and Backing Up in my Lightroom CC/6 and 5: The Fundamentals & Beyond video series.

          You’ll need smart previews if you want to edit without the external drive plugged in. (Also covered in the video series.)

          Note that you can set Time Machine to also back up your external drive(s).

          • Vicky December 14, 2016 at 8:13 pm

            Awesome! Thanks for all your help, Laura!

  17. Jeff Vogan January 2, 2017 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    Just started following you after somebody pointed me to this article. Embarrassed to say that I had been running my catalogue off an external hard disk until now. I moved it to my internal SSD and it is so much faster. Thank you!

    • Laura Shoe January 5, 2017 at 7:30 pm - Reply

      Welcome, Jeff! Nothing to be embarrassed about. There are good reasons for some people to store their catalog on an external drive – so that it can be moved from one computer to another, for example. I’m glad you are experiencing faster performance though.

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