How to Add an External Hard Drive to Lightroom

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You might want to add an external drive to Lightroom because you might be running out of space, your computer might have less memory, or just to back things up. Either way, learning how to add an external hard drive to Lightroom will allow you to do all that.

How to Add an External Hard Drive to Lightroom

You can add an external hard drive to Lightroom by either using the “Import” photos or “Add New Folder” buttons in the Library Module of Lightroom. You might need this to use the app on multiple computers or transfer data.

A close-up image of an external hard drie connected to a laptop

Method 1: Use Import Photos

You can use the “Import” button to add the drive to Lightroom by  following these steps:

  1. Connect the hard drive to your computer. Make sure that you name it something unique, so it does not change every time you connect it, and you do not confuse it with your other storage options. 
  2. Open the Lightroom App and go to the Library Module. 
  3. Make sure your drive has an image inside it. If not, add one photo to it.
  4. On the bottom left, click on ”Import.” Now at the top, click on “Add.”
  5. Link it to the photo located on that drive and click import.
  6. The drive will now show on the left. The Lightroom App now recognizes the drive. You can now add a folder by right-clicking the drive and clicking “Add New Folder.”
  7. You can copy or move folders from Lightroom into your drive too.

Method 2: Use Add New Folder

Another way you can achieve this using Lightroom is by simply following these steps: 

  1. Connect the drive to your computer.
  2. Open Lightroom and now open the Library Module. 
  3. On the left, under folders, press the “+” key.
  4. A window will open, guide it to your drive and choose one of the folders there.

You can transfer photos, however, do not transfer the Lightroom catalog into your hard drive if you want to continue working on your photos. If you do this, you would have to connect your drive to the computer every time you want to work on your photos.

Transfer Data to the External Drive

Once you have added a drive connected to your Lightroom app, you can easily transfer your catalog and photos into it. This allows you to transfer data between computers or back it up. Follow these steps to do so:

  1. Open the Lightroom app and connect the drive to your computer.
  2. Go to the Library module.
  3. Press Alt/ Options, and at the bottom right, click on the export catalog.
  4. Guide it to the drive that you just connected and save it there.  
  5. You will get an option to save previews, make sure it is checked.
  6. Click on export, and you will be done.

If the drive is already connected to the app, on the left, just drag the photos folder to the drive’s folder. This will move all the files into that drive. Another method you can use is to find out where Lightroom is saving your photos and directly copy and paste the photos to your drive.

Editing Photos on a Disconnected Drive

After adding the drive to Lightroom and then exporting the catalog and photos into it, you can also edit photos on a disconnected drive. When you move the photos to the drive and disconnect it, you might notice small question marks on them.

An image of an external hard drive connected to a laptop

However, you can still edit these if you created smart previews of your photos. You just need to edit Lightroom’s ability to edit using the smart previews of the said photos. To enable this setting, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Lightroom app.
  2. Go to the “Performances” tab. You will find this under “Preferences.” 
  3. In the Develop section, tick “Use Smart Previews instead of Originals for image editing.” 

Although editing with your drive disconnected is possible, it might cause problems when you want to export those photos. Photos in Smart Previews have lower resolution and smaller sizes. If you do not resize them before exporting, your exported photos will have a lower resolution. Therefore, when the time comes to export your photos, connect your hard drive.

Reasons for Connecting a Hard Drive to Lightroom

There are many reasons why someone would want to connect a drive to Lightroom. Some reasons include:

  • You might want to use the same catalog on different computers. In this case, you can save the catalog on your drive and then import the catalog on the other computer’s Lightroom.
  • You might want to connect a drive to backup your progress. This is a good idea to counter corruption of data or accidentally delete it.
  • Connecting a drive would also help you move the data to another computer. This might be the case when you are changing computers because of any reason.
  • When a computer has less memory and is running out of space, it is a good idea to connect the drive and transfer Lightroom data to it. When making sure to transfer preview edits too.

Choosing the Right External Hard Drive

In any method you choose, you will need to connect a hard drive to your computer. However, it is a good idea to have two drives, one as a backup for the other. There is a saying, ‘one drive means you have no drive, and two means you have one.’ Choosing a good external drive means taking care of the following features:

  • Space: Space or storage capacity in a drive is its most important aspect. There are drives with 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB available. Get one that will suit your preferences.
  • SSD: While HDD might be priced lower, an SSD should be your go-to drive. SSDs are way faster than HDDs, and are durable too.
  • Transfer Speed: this depends on the storage technology and the connector being used. While an SSD is a better storage technology, you should also choose a good transfer wire. The latest USB 3.2 can offer up to 10GB/s of transfer speed.
An image of how to add an external hard drive to Lightroom

Related Questions

Why Is My External Drive Not Showing In Lightroom?

Your external drive is not showing in Lightroom because Lightroom is not a browser app. On the contrary, it is a catalog app. This simply means that to show your drive in Lightroom, you will have to import at least one photo from that drive.

Also, it could happen when you edit photos without the external drive plugged in. Lightroom just creates an alternate catalog. Therefore, connect the drive before you start Lightroom. Then double-click on the drive catalog so Lightroom knows which to work on.

Can I Run Lightroom From an External SSD?

You can run Lightroom from an external SSD. You have to make sure that the SSD has enough space to handle all of your photos and your edits. Therefore, having a drive of at least 512 GB is recommended. Moreover, make sure that the external SSD has a good transfer speed to ensure a smooth process.

You will have to save your catalog in that drive, and whenever you want to edit, you will have to connect to the drive before opening the app. Moreover, you can edit photos while the drive is disconnected too.


To add an external hard drive to Lightroom, you must import a photo. You can do this by importing or adding a new folder (with photos) into the app in the Library module. When the drive is connected, you can transfer data to it or run Lightroom from the external drive directly.