How To Upgrade To Lightroom Classic

by Andrew S. Gibson
How To Upgrade To Lightroom Classic

Editor's note: This month only – 50% off five classic photography ebooks! Click here to get the deal. Thanks for reading, Andrew.

Now that Adobe is no longer developing Lightroom 6 users of older versions of the software have to upgrade to Lightroom Classic if they want to use the latest and most advanced edition of Lightroom.

If this applies to you then I’m sure you have plenty of questions about the upgrade process. Let’s take a look at what it involves and what you need to know in order for the update to run smoothly.

By the way, if you’re not sure what the differences are between the various versions of Lightroom then I suggest you read our tutorial Which Lightroom Version Do I Need?

What to do before the Lightroom Classic upgrade

Now that you’ve decided to upgrade to Lightroom Classic you’re probably eager to get on with it. But there are several things you should do first to make sure the process runs smoothly.

  • Check your computer meets the minimum system requirements to run Lightroom Classic. The first step, as with any new software, is to check that your computer’s hardware specification is good enough to run Lightroom Classic. If you’re using an older version of Lightroom because you have an older computer, you may have to buy a new machine before you upgrade. This Adobe help page lists the requirements for Windows and Mac OS computers.
  • Check Lightroom Classic works with your operating system. With the November 2019 update if you’re a Mac User, you need El Capitan (OS X 10.13 High Sierra) or later. If you’re a Windows PC user then you need Microsoft Windows 7 with Service Pack 1 (64-bit) at the very minimum, and preferably Windows 10 Version 1809 or later. Note that Lightroom Classic doesn’t work with 32-bit versions of Windows.
  • Make a backup copy of your Lightroom Catalog. This is a precaution in case anything goes wrong during the Catalog upgrade process. It’s unlikely, but you never know what might happen. Lightroom makes a copy of your Catalog when you upgrade to Lightroom Classic, but it never hurts to be over-cautious when it comes to your important data!
  • Make a note of the location and name of your Lightroom Catalog. Lightroom Classic should be able to find your Catalog automatically. But just in case it doesn’t it’s helpful to know where your Catalog is saved and what it’s called. You’ll find the location under the General tab in Catalog Settings.
Lightroom upgrade

How to buy the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan

The next step is to go to the Adobe website to sign up for the Creative Cloud Photography Plan (click the link to go to the Adobe website). You’ll have to log into your Adobe account (or create one) to complete the buying process.

Before October 2017 there was only one subscription plan. Now there are three! So it’s important to make sure that you select the right one. These are your options.

  • Lightroom (1TB): This gives you Lightroom (the desktop version of the mobile app), but not Lightroom Classic or Adobe Photoshop, and 1TB of storage space.
  • Photography (20GB): With this you get Lightroom Classic, Lightroom, Adobe Photoshop and 20GB storage space (best option for most photographers).
  • Photography (1TB): Gives you everything in the other two plans, but combined.

Important: The best option for most photographers is the Photography (20GB) plan (the option on the left, marked below). Only select one of the other plans if you know what you are doing and are prepared to pay extra for online storage of your photos.

Adobe Lightroom plans

Note that Adobe is continually tweaking its website, so you may see something different on your screen. If you see the prices in US dollars on your visit, and you don’t live in the United States, it’s converted to your local currency when you click the Buy Now button.

How to install Lightroom Classic

Make sure you’re logged into your Adobe account. You need the Desktop Downloads link (marked below). Bear in mind the Adobe website may look different in your country, or that Adobe may change the design after I write this!

Lightroom Classic CC upgrade

Click the link and go to the Creative Cloud app (marked below). You need to install this on your computer first in order to download and install Lightroom Classic (not to mention Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop).

Lightroom Classic CC upgrade

Open the Creative Cloud app and go to the Apps tab. Below you’ll see a list of available Adobe apps. Look for Lightroom Classic. If you haven’t installed it yet you’ll see a blue Install button. Otherwise the button will say Update (if you don’t have the latest version installed) or Open. Click the Install button to download and install Lightroom Classic.

Install Lightroom Classic

Repeat with Lightroom and Photoshop CC, if you want to install them as well.

Old versions of Lightroom

If you’re upgrading from Lightroom 6 or earlier then the Creative Cloud app should automatically uninstall the older version (I’m not sure if this works with all older versions of Lightroom). To change this, after you click on Install in the Creative Cloud app click on Advanced Options and untick the Remove Old Versions box.

It’s a good idea to delete your older version of Lightroom if you’re running short of hard drive space. Otherwise, you may feel more comfortable keeping it in case you ever need to use it – an option if you decide to cancel your Lightroom Classic subscription.

Another option is to let another family member use your standalone version of Lightroom. For example, my wife uses Lightroom 5 on her computer, and I use Lightroom Classic on mine. Lightroom 5 does everything she needs and it’s nice to see the software still being used.

Opening Lightroom Classic for the first time

When you open Lightroom Classic for the first time it searches your computer for your Catalog. It should find it automatically. If it doesn’t, just click the Choose A Different Catalog buttons until the name of your Catalog appears, or Lightroom lets you search for it on your computer (that’s where knowing where it’s saved and what it’s called helps).

Lightroom needs to upgrade the Catalog for it to work in Lightroom Classic Before it starts it displays the window below to let you know what’s about to happen. Click the Upgrade button to begin.

Upgrade Lightroom Classic Catalog

If you have multiple Catalogs, you can convert the others to work in Lightroom Classic by going to File > Open Catalog and upgrading them one at a time. Make backups first just in case.

Rename your Lightroom Catalog

When the Lightroom Classic Catalog upgrade process is finished you will have at least two separate .lrcat files. The new version has a number appended onto the end of your old Catalog’s file name.

Lightroom changes the file name so that your new Catalog doesn’t overwrite the older one. Unfortunately the similarity in Catalog names means that it’s easy to get the two Catalogs confused.

It’s a good idea to rename your new .lrcat file to something like “Lightroom Classic Catalog”. You have to rename your previews and Smart Previews files as well, otherwise they won’t work. They share the same name as the Catalog file, with the extensions “Previews” or “Smart Previews” added on at the end. They also have a .lrdata extension rather than the .lrcat extension the Catalog uses.

You’ll end up with something like this.

Lightroom Classic Catalog.lrcat
Lightroom Classic Catalog Previews.lrdata
Lightroom Classic Catalog Smart Previews.lrdata

I suggest you hold onto your old Catalog for at least a few weeks until you are sure the upgrade has gone according to plan.

Now, double-click on the renamed Catalog file to open it in Lightroom. To make sure Lightroom opens this Catalog automatically in the future, go to the General tab in Preferences and set When starting up use this Catalog to Load most recent Catalog.

Lightroom Classic CC upgrade

New process version

Lightroom Classic has a new process version. The older process versions have been given new names (see table below) but are otherwise unchanged.

Lightroom Classic Process Versions

The new process version (PV5) is similar to the one used in Lightroom 4, 5 and 6 (Process 2012). The main difference is that it enables the new Range Masking tool and more accurate masking from the Auto Mask tool.

This is what you need to know about the new process version.

  • New photos imported into Lightroom Classic have Process Version 5 applied automatically.
  • Photos previously developed with older process versions are opened using that process version.
  • If you open a photo with Process 2012 in the Develop module and make changes to any of the settings or apply a local adjustment Lightroom automatically updates the photo to Process Version 5, unless…
  • …You have used Auto Mask on that photo, in which case it stays at the earlier Process Version until you update it yourself.
  • Any Develop Presets you have created or bought that work in Lightroom 6 or Lightroom CC (2015) will work in Lightroom Classic.
  • If you update from Process 2012 to Process Version 5 you won’t see any changes to the tonal values of your photos, despite the warning given by Lightroom.

Other questions about the Lightroom upgrade

Q. Should I clean up Collections and Presets first?

A. No, there’s no need to bother with this. You can clean up your Collections and Presets any time.

Q. Is there a way to open my Lightroom Classic Catalog with Lightroom 5 or Lightroom 6?

A. The short answer is no, there isn’t. The main reason is that Lightroom Classic has tools that earlier versions don’t. Photos developed using these tools won’t be recognized by earlier versions of Lightroom.

The only way around it is to re-import your photos into the older version of Lightroom. Here’s how you prepare for it.

1. Go to the All Photographs Collection in the Catalog panel in the Library module.

2. Select all the photos in that Collection (which contains all the photos you’ve imported into your Catalog).

3. Go to Metadata > Save Metadata to Files. That tells Lightroom to save your edits (both metadata and Develop module related) in a sidecar .xmp file (or within the file itself if you use DNG, JPG or TIFF).

Now your photos are ready to import. But bear in mind that your earlier version of Lightroom won’t recognize any Develop module edits made using Lightroom Classic tools or sliders that it doesn’t have. There are also some things that won’t be saved, such as Collections, Flags, edit history, stacks and Virtual Copies.

Upgrading to Lightroom Classic

Don’t forget that if you want to upgrade to Lightroom Classic then you can sign up for the Adobe Creative Photography Plan here. Remember that the Photography (20GB) plan is the best option for most photographers.

Introducing Lightroom Classic ebookThanks for reading. You can get more great articles and tips about Lightroom Classic and photography in my popular Mastering Photography email newsletter. Join today and I’ll send you my ebook Introducing Lightroom Classic and 47 PhotoTips cards. Over 30,000 photographers subscribe. Enter your email now and join us.

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Marie Byrne November 2, 2018 - 1:11 pm

Thank you for this very informative and comprehensive guide to upgrading to LR Classic. I am considering upgrading to Classic in the near future and am so pleased to have your instructions to hand.

Kind regards.

(I am not ticking the boxes below as I am already on your emailing list)

Andrew S. Gibson November 2, 2018 - 7:25 pm

You’re welcome Marie, glad it’s helpful!

Bill April 14, 2019 - 5:35 am

Good Day Mr. Gibson,

Just a quick question to which, I have been unable to find an answer.
I currently own a perpetual license for Lightroom 6. Due to a new camera purchase, I would like to try -as you suggest- the Photography Plan.
While I try the ‘new’ software I would like to continue using Lr6 on existing catalogues. Could you inform me if both Lr6 and LrCC Photography can coexist on the same computer?
If so, any special instructions?
Many thanks in advance and thank you for your informative tutorials.

Andrew S. Gibson April 14, 2019 - 2:16 pm

Hi Bill, you can use Lightroom 6 and the Lightroom Classic trial on the same computer. But you need to know that Lightroom Classic will update your Catalog when you run it. If you update your Catalog, then decide not to buy the photography plan, you can’t use the updated Catalog in Lightroom 6. I think the best course of action is for you to make a duplicate of your Catalog (or one of your Catalogs, it sounds like you have more than one), rename it so you know that it’s the one you’re using with Lightroom Classic, then let Lightroom Classic update the duplicated Catalog. That way you still have the Lightroom 6 version. Hope that makes sense.

Bill April 15, 2019 - 1:03 pm

Good Day Mr. Gibson,

Vey clear explanation and solution path. When combined with your “How to…” article above it provided me with the solutions I needed.
I am still debating whether I should embark on a ‘software rental’ plan with Adobe or use one of the many options available, although that is grist for a different mill.

Many thanks for your reply and clear explanation,

Colin September 15, 2019 - 7:44 pm

Thank you for this introduction. Before I decide please will you tell me if CC photographs are only stored in the cloud or also on my local drives.

Andrew S. Gibson September 15, 2019 - 8:07 pm

Hi Colin, Lightroom CC saves your photos in the cloud (after being saved initially and temporarily to your hard drive until the app has uploaded them to Adobe´s servers). Please also note that Adobe has dropped the CC from the names of both Lightroom versions, which are now known simply as Lightroom Classic and Lightroom. I´ll update the article shortly!

Richard November 14, 2019 - 12:03 pm

Good day Mr Gibson,

Thank you for the above introduction to Lightroom Classic, I have the Nik Collection, which I obtained as free software some years ago. will this still work as a plugin with Lightroom Classic?

Andrew S. Gibson November 17, 2019 - 7:06 am

Hi Richard, yes it will, no problem at all.

Jessie January 1, 2020 - 6:05 am

Hi Andrew,
I have Lightroom 5 and just subscribed for Lightroom classic. I would like to install it on my new MacBook Pro using MacOS Catalina. I have downloaded the installer but it didn’t launch. How I can launch the installer?

Andrew S. Gibson January 1, 2020 - 9:13 am

Hi Jessie, go to your Applications folder. You’ll find a folder inside called Adobe Creative Cloud. Double-click to open then doubl-click the Adobe Creative Cloud icon inside to launch the app.

Sohrab Banker May 6, 2020 - 9:51 pm

I use Lightroom 6 for the desktop in Windows 10 along with Photoshop Elements 2018. 95% of my processing is done in Lightroom and sometimes tweaked in PSE. I was wondering if I would be better off choosing the first plan and then maybe a few years later upgrading the Photoshop Elements. I think the full-blown Photoshop with the layers is way too much for me. What would happen to the plug-ins like Focus Assist and Topaz Denoise AI which I use right now in Lightroom 6?

Andrew S. Gibson May 7, 2020 - 1:28 pm

Hi Sohrab, you should still pick the Creative Cloud Photography Plan that I recommend as that gives you the best options. Then you’ll get Photoshop which you can use or not use, it’s up to you. You can still upgrade Photoshop Elements and use that. Your plugins will still work in Lightroom Classic.

Mary January 19, 2021 - 12:18 am

Hi Andrew – Thank you for this great guide to upgrading to Lightroom Classic. I own a perpetual license to Lightroom 6. I’m considering upgrading to Lightroom Classic. I recently had to reinstall Windows 10 due to some problems I was having with it and will now have to reinstall all of the software programs that I use. Do I have to reinstall Lightroom 6 in order to proceed with the upgrade to Lightroom Classic? Or can I bypass reinstalling Lightroom 6 and just subscribe to Lightroom Classic and proceed with installing that on my computer?

Andrew S. Gibson January 19, 2021 - 3:21 pm

Hi Mary, you don’t need to reinstall Lightroom 6. Just make sure you back up the Catalog first in case something goes wrong when Lightroom Classic upgrades the Catalog.

Kerry Glasier February 5, 2021 - 11:49 am

Hi Andrew,
I have Lightroom 6 on an iMac, it, Lightroom, has been unstable for years, refusing to load multiple times, it got better ( gave it a shot of Penicillin!) last year, now it is back to refusing to load. Should I delete it before down loading Lightroom Classic to prevent infecting the new one? As I can’t access it to back anything up I am resigned to starting afresh with Classic.

Andrew S. Gibson February 7, 2021 - 12:28 pm

Hi Kerry, there’s no need to uninstall Lightroom 6 (although you can if you want to as there’s no point in keeping it) as it can’t “infect” Lightroom Classic in any way. The important thing is to keep your Lightroom 6 Catalog and previews files. That’s because Lightroom Classic is going to upgrade them so that it can read them. As long as you have the Catalog file you won’t lose any of your work that you did in Lightroom 6.

Frank Uh June 15, 2021 - 2:53 am

I want to convert from LR 6.14 to use LR Classic completely on my laptop (MacBook Pro) and nothing of the cloud or on the cloud. How can that be achieved? I need no extra storage, just updates of the LRCC when they become available.

Andrew S. Gibson June 15, 2021 - 7:53 am

Hi Frank, all you need to do is subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Photography Plan and install Lightroom Classic on your laptop. Lightroom Classic saves all your photos on your hard drives, not on Adobe’s servers (the cloud). Avoid the Lightroom desktop app as that’s the one that uses cloud storage.

Bob Ulious August 7, 2023 - 4:16 pm

Thanks for this. But I stil am just a “little” confused before I take the plunge.

I use LR6. I imprt this catalog into LR Classic. I KEEP LR 6 and its catalog.

I edit an image in Classic and save.

I open LR 6 and the SAME image. I “assume” that is the image as edited and left in LR 6 and has not been changed at all by Classic and I can edit, save, etc as I choose without affecting anything in Classic.



This is what has me a bit baffled. I would assume each has its own catalog and xmp and do not interact. But….



Andrew S. Gibson August 8, 2023 - 9:57 am

Hi Bob, yes you are right, both Lightroom 6 and Lightroom Classic have their own Catalog and any edits you do in one won’t show up in the other. When you update to Lightroom Classic it automatically updates your Lightroom 6 Catalog and creates a new Catalog file that can only be read in Lightroom Classic (not Lightroom 6). The idea is that once you start using Lightroom Classic you no longer have any reason to use Lightroom 6. I definitely don’t recommend using both due to the confusion it will create. Hope that’s helpful.


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