How To Merge Lightroom Classic Catalogs

by Andrew S. Gibson
How To Merge Lightroom Classic Catalogs

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Many photographers use Lightroom on two computers. A typical scenario is the photographer who uses a desktop computer at home, and a laptop while traveling. In this scenario the question most photographers have is what’s the best way to merge their Lightroom Classic Catalogs when they get home?

Merging Catalogs is a two step process.

1. Move the photos from your laptop to your main computer’s hard drive.

2. Import the Catalog used on your laptop into your main Lightroom Classic Catalog.

Here’s how you do it.

Before you go

Set up Lightroom Classic on your laptop. My preference is to start with an empty Catalog (i.e. one with no photos in it). This means you won’t create conflicts caused by duplicate images when you merge it with your main Catalog. Give the Catalog on your laptop a name, something like Temp Catalog or Travel Catalog, whatever works for you.

While you are away

While you are away, import your photos into your travel Catalog. Feel free to develop your photos, add keywords, create Collections and Collections Sets. What ever you do here is carried over to your main Catalog without problems or conflicts.

For organizational purposes, it’s easiest if you create a hierarchical folder and Collections structure. That means you create a single top level folder to contain your photos, and a single top level Collection Set to contain any other Collection Sets, Collections or Smart Collections you may create. This makes things much easier when you merge your Catalogs back home.

For example, when I was in India earlier in the year I created a folder called Rajasthan Photo Tour 2018.

How to merge Lightroom Catalogs

That top level folder contained eight more folders that held all the photos taken during the trip.

Merging Lightroom Catalogs

Similarly, I created a top level Collection Set called Rajasthan Photo Tour 2018 and placed all my other Collection Sets and Collections inside it.

How to merge Catalogs in Lightroom

When you get back home

This is how you merge your Catalogs when you get back home.

1. You have two options , depending on whether you saved your photos on your laptop’s internal hard drive or an external hard drive.

Internal hard drive: Move your photos and travel Catalog from your laptop’s hard drive to the hard drive that you use to save all your photos on (which is usually an external hard drive). When moving your photos place them in the appropriate folder according to the folder structure you use. Use Windows Explorer (PC) or Finder (Mac) to move folders. There’s no need to worry about Lightroom losing track of where your Folders are, we’ll reconnect them later.

External hard drive: If your photos are saved on an external drive all you have to do is copy the travel Catalog to the same external hard drive. If it’s there already there’s nothing else to do at this stage.

Learn more: How To Organize Photos For Lightroom Classic

2. Connect your external hard drive to your main computer. Double-click your travel Catalog to open it. If you use an older version of Lightroom on your laptop you may experience a delay while Lightroom updates the Catalog.

If you copied the photos from your laptop’s internal drive then Lightroom won’t know where they are saved. You can confirm this by looking at the Folders panel.

Here’s an example from another trip away. Macintosh HD is the name of my laptop’s internal hard drive. The question marks next to the folders below indicate that Lightroom can’t find them in the expected location.

How to merge Lightroom Catalogs

To resolve this, right-click on the top Folder and select Find Missing Folder. Navigate to that Folder’s new location and click the Choose button once you’ve found it. Repeat for any other Folders if required.

Merging Lightroom Catalogs

If your photos were originally saved on the external hard drive all you have to do is move the top level folder to the hard drive where the photos in your main Catalog are saved. Do this using the Folders panel so Lightroom knows where the photos are.

3. Close the travel Catalog.

4. Go to File > Open Catalog. You’ll need to navigate to the location where your main Catalog is saved, so it’s helpful if you know where that is (the default location is Pictures/Lightroom on both PC and Mac). As Lightroom can only open one Catalog at a time it automatically saves and closes the current Catalog.

5. Go to File > Import from another Catalog. Find your second Catalog and click Choose.

6. The Import from Catalog window opens. Tick the All Folders box and set File Handling to Add new photos to catalog without moving (see below). Click Import to start the merging process.

How to merge Catalogs in Lightroom

7. Finally, you need to a bit of cleaning up. Any Collections or Collection Sets from the imported imported Catalog are placed at the top level of your Collections structure in your main Catalog. Move the top level Collection Set you created earlier to the appropriate place in your Collections hierarchy.

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Pete DeMarco May 14, 2018 - 2:17 am

Very helpful Andrew! I’ll give it a try. Thanks for the article.

Andrew S. Gibson May 14, 2018 - 2:54 pm

You’re welcome Pete, glad it was helpful!

Chris Hayward May 15, 2018 - 11:20 am

I work differently from this.
I back up my Lightroom Catalog folder (Windows C: drive) and my Pictures (D: drive) to my NAS using Allway Sync. When I want to use Lightroom on my laptop while I am away from home I make sure that the laptop is synchronised with the NAS before I go, and on my return synchronise the laptop with the NAS and then the desktop with the NAS.

When I upgraded to Lightroom Classic CC I did it first on the desktop, and synchronised the resulting new Catalog. On the laptop I pointed Lightroom Classic CC at the new Catalog copied from the desktop, and started working where I had left off on the desktop.

This seems to work fine for me, but is it a valid way of working, or is something I don’t know about going to trip me up in the future? It is unlikely that I will ever use a Mac, so there should be no cross-platform hazards.

Andrew S. Gibson May 16, 2018 - 2:37 am

Hi Chris, it sounds like your system is working fine, and will continue to do so as long as you synchronize Catalogs in the way you described. My feeling is that human error is the biggest risk to your Catalog. It’s a good idea to use Lightroom’s built-in Catalog backup tool to make backups of your Catalog on the computer that you use most.

You might want to consider whether you want to take your entire Catalog with you when you’re away from home. If you do, then you can continue to use your method. The method described in the article is more suited for photographers who don’t take their main Catalog with them.

Doug Goss June 29, 2021 - 2:12 am

I originally imported photos to my PC to the W drive. I then imported them into Lightroom
Location: S:\Lightroom\Working Catalog
File name: Working Catalog-2-v10.lrcat

I needed to be away from home for several days and wanted to work on the photos on my laptop so I copied the photos and catalog to an external SSD
Location D:\Working Catalog
File name: Working Catalog-2-v10.lrcat (the same name as on my pc)

Now that I am home I have a few that need to go to Photoshop but the option was grayed out.
So I tried Show in Explorer and got the message that the file could not be used as the original file could not be found and would I like to locate it. It showed the photos in their Previous Location on the W drive on my pc. I clicked Locate and tried to find them on the external D drive but it only pulled up one file out of 2300 so I assumed I must have been working off of smart previews. But here is where things are weird: if I click the same file on the external D drive in Explorer (vs from Lightroom) all my files show up whereas only one file shows up looking from Lightroom.

At this point I am thinking to just merge the catalog from the external SSD (D drive) back to the original catalog on the pc (on the S drive there). Here is my question: can I merge the two catalogs that have the same name? 99% of the edits were done on the external drive and I don’t want to corrupt those by merging to a catalog with the same name (if that is how it works).

Should I create a new master catalog on my pc with a new name and merge the external drive into that? I could then point to the images on my pc.
If I do that, could I also merge the catalog with the same name from the pc (which has all my prior work on it) to the new catalog?
Or can I just merge both catalogs with the same name (one on external drive, one on pc) together with no issues

Thanks for any advice!!!

Andrew S. Gibson June 29, 2021 - 10:15 am

Hi Doug, I couldn’t quite follow what you are trying to achieve, but here’s what I would do.

I’m not sure if you can merge two Catalogs with the same name. The only way to find out is to give it a try. I can’t think of a reason why it wouldn’t be possible, but you never know. The important thing is this: back up both Catalogs before merging them. All you have to do is make copies of them and save those copies in separate folders. Then, if anything goes wrong (which is unlikely but once again you never know) your Catalogs are secure.

By the way, it’s not a good idea to have Catalogs with the same name as it’s too easy to get confused about which one to open. For most photographers one Catalog is all you need. So yes, merging your Catalogs into one is a good idea.

Hope that helps,

Joe W. November 22, 2023 - 1:27 pm

Thank you Andrew, your a credit to the world of all things photography.


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