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Working on Two or More Computers with One Lightroom Catalog

If you regularly work on two or more computers and carrying an external hard drive is not a problem, then consider putting your images and your Lightroom catalog on the external drive, so that you can move easily between the two.

If your catalog is currently on your internal hard drive, you will need to move it to the external drive:

  • In LR, go to Edit (Lightroom on a Mac) > Catalog Settings, and on the General Tab note the location of your catalog. Then close Lightroom.
Finding Out Where Your Catalog Folder Is

Finding Out Where Your Catalog Folder Is

Now all you have to do is to tell LR to launch this catalog when it starts:

  • With your external drive plugged in,  using Finder or Windows Explorer/My Computer, go into the folder you just moved over onto your external drive and double-click on the .lrcat file to launch Lightroom with this catalog.
  • Next you’ll tell Lightroom to always launch with this catalog: in the menu bar in the top left, go to Lightroom (Mac) or Edit (PC) > Preferences, and on the General tab, click on the dropdown to the right of “When starting up use this catalog:” and choose the catalog on the external drive – it should be listed first. (Don’t choose “load most recent”).  Close Preferences.

On your second computer go through the same process above to tell Lightroom on that computer to launch with this catalog.


That’s it!  When you need to work on your other computer,  plug in the drive, point to the catalog on this drive when you launch LR.


  • Always close Lightroom before disconnecting your external drive.
  • Always plug in your external drive before opening Lightroom. If you forget this you’ll get a message asking you what catalog you want to use – cancel out of the dialog (don’t open Lightroom), plug in the drive and then launch Lightroom again.

I would suggest a different approach if you ocassionally work images on your laptop when you are in the field photographing.  See this post for more information.

2018-05-05T22:03:19+00:00April 3rd, 2009|6 Comments


  1. […] hard drive has the advantage of allowing you to easily move from one computer to another — see my post on this topic.)   On my drive I have a Photo Library folder, and within that is my Lightroom […]

  2. Meelis Veeremets May 16, 2010 at 2:46 am - Reply

    Problem for me is that I keep al my photos on RAID system that stays in the office. Mostly I import photos straight to that drive and edit there. LR catalog file is on that drive.

    But sometimes when on the go, I have to import photos to my laptop and edit there.

    Now when I get back to office and wish to get therese photos and edits to RAID system and LR catalog, I can import photos from my laptop, but I loose all the edits I’ve done on the go.

  3. Tom Robin March 25, 2013 at 8:13 am - Reply

    Hi Laura –
    This article and your one about moving images from a laptop to desktop seem to come closest to addressing the issues I’ve been struggling with. I’ve had Lightroom now for several months, but am still struggling with basic issues. I’m also a procrastinator. I have both LR 3.6 and 4.3. LR 3.6 is on an older desktop running XP Professional. We have a laptop running Windows 7 which has both LR 3 and 4 installed.

    So far most work I’ve done in LR (mainly tagging on only a fraction of the 20,000+ photos I have) has been on the laptop in LR 4. Since LR 4 is the latest it seemed to make the most sense to work in it. Plus, I will replace the older desktop with a newer desktop or more powerful laptop. Unfortunately, being retired and with limited funds, that upgrade may be a ways off.

    Although the desktop is the weakest and by far least stable of the 2 computers, it’s easiest for me to work on the desktop at home since my wife almost always uses the laptop. However, 5 or 6 times a year we travel in our motorhome and only have the laptop with us and I want to be able to import and edit photos on it, as well as keeping the entire library on both computers.

    After reading your articles it seems like either the common external hard drive or transferring from the laptop to the desktop would work. I currently keep the laptop photos on the C drive and the desktop photos on a separate external drive (since it has a small internal hard drive and did corrupt some photos a while back). I also backup the photos to two other portable external drives.

    My confusion is whether I can exchange information between LR 3 and 4 on the 2 computers, or do I have to just work in LR 3 on both computers in order to keep everything in sync (at least until the older desktop is replaced with a Windows 7 or 8 machine). If I have to work exclusively in LR 3 how can I get the tagging that I’ve done on the laptop in LR 4 back into LR 3 on that same laptop.

    Bottom line is I’d like to be able to not worry about which computer I’m editing in and just keep them both in sync. I’ve also been doing LR backups on thumb drives. I guess by now my ignorance is obvious, so I’m hoping you can recommend a solution. Thanks for any help you can give.

    PS Prior to LR I used Picasa for just about everything. I still have it on both computers since my wife finds it easier, and I keep falling back on it when I can’t figure out a solution in LR.

    • Laura Shoe March 25, 2013 at 10:19 pm - Reply

      Hi Tom, I would recommend keeping it simple and working with Lightroom 3 on both computers. You can’t leverage the better LR 4 Develop Basic controls anyway, since LR 3 can’t understand that work. I would select all your photos, then do a Ctl-S, to save the keywords and other metadata to the files (or XMP sidecar files). When you import these photos into your LR 3 catalog, it will read the keywords.

      • Tom Robin March 27, 2013 at 8:34 pm - Reply

        Thanks very much, Laura. I’m slow to acknowledge your response since we’re getting ready to leave on a 2 week trip. I may have some time to try what you suggest while we’re away. Hopefully I can figure it out. I’ve been reading many of your other posts and really appreciate your clear writing style and responses. How do you find time to answer everyone? Thanks again.

  4. Anton Rehrl June 9, 2014 at 8:38 pm - Reply


    I figured out how to have a single catalog on multiple machines with the photos shared on a NAS on my network.

    Ive been using it for a couple of months without problems and it syncs up really quickly. It can even keep the different machines in sync if they are in different locations just over the internet.

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