Combining Lightroom Catalogs

This past week I was going through some old photos that happened to be in a separate Lightroom catalog from my usual photos. When I got my Macbook Pro I decided to just start fresh and make a brand new Lightroom catalog and keep all the old photos in my previous catalog. I decided to combine both catalogs this week because all the photographs are all on the same hard drive now and have been for over a year.

If you don’t know, a Lightroom catalog is essentially just the file used to store the data that references the images you can look at in Lightroom. The catalog saves the paths to all the files you’ve added and records all the edits you make to them, it doesn’t overwrite the edits onto the originals or make a new file with the edits you made unless you tell it to.

When I started using Lightroom I was a little nervous about learning the ins and outs of the interface. I found editing in Camera Raw very straightforward but it took me a bit longer to get used to navigating and creating folder hierarchies within Lightroom. What’s bad about not using Lightroom for moving files around is that they don’t get moved from their current location in the catalog. When you open the catalog afterwards you’ll get a ton of apostrophes and missing file indications throughout your library from where the catalog thinks the files should be. Of course, if you moved the files they won’t be there anymore. Moving and organizing thousands and thousands of files is what Lightroom was built to do. It ranks among the cheapest of Adobe software and is completely invaluable to any photographer.

The other day I was watching Jeremy Cowart’s Lightroom video, which you can download by signing up for his newsletter, and he mentions saving all the images he takes. External hard drives don’t cost that much anymore so why not, I completely agree. However, I was curious about how exactly to go about saving pictures in the same catalog across multiple hard drives without having them all connected at the same time. The answer of course is obvious.

In the Library module in Lightroom, on the lefthand side is a view of your folders where you have pictures imported and referenced by the catalog. Smartly, Lightroom greys out the hard drives that are not connected so that you don’t get confused and try to edit or find files that are simply not there right now.

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 8.43.48 PM

Notice how “My Book 1” is greyed out because it is a hard drive I do not have connected to my computer at the moment. I can still keep the files in the catalog though, and they will still be there for me to view and edit when I connect it again. I don’t know why I just noticed this this week but that means you can have as many pictures as you want referenced on as many different hard drives as you want, and you don’t need them all connected at the same time. You really only need the hard drive connected that has pictures you’re working on or that you’re importing new photographs into.

This essentially solves my apparent dilemma of “what to do when my hard drive fills up with pictures” the answer being “buy another external hard drive” because Lightroom has apparently got everything under control. Another 5 points to you, Adobe, you really have thought of everything.

So to get back to my original point, there’s no purpose in having separate catalogs in Lightroom because one catalog can reference as many hard drives with as many pictures as you can take and about as much storage space as you’re ever going to need. If you still feel weary about combining your catalogs, after you click File>Import From Another Catalog, your old catalog will stay perfectly intact, but all the data will be copied over to the new catalog. But not the actual files if you don’t want to copy those as well, you can just copy the catalog data that references the files, which is what I did this week.

Anyway, this one was kind of a long glass of water and I kind of got off topic a little bit but I think it’s all good information. Definitely go subscribe to Jeremy Cowart’s emailing list and download his Lightroom video because that’s what reminded me about writing this post.

Until next week,




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: