How to Merge Lightroom Catalogs

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Having multiple Lightroom catalogs can make accessing photos time-consuming, especially when you can’t remember in which catalog the photos are located. Learning how to merge Lightroom catalogs will help you organize your photos, free-up space, and avoid duplicates.

How to Merge Lightroom Catalogs

Many photographers tend to create different Lightroom catalogs for different photography jobs. Since the number of catalogs can build up over time and lead to organizational issues and confusion, it’s advisable to merge the catalogs and work with a master catalog that will help you manage your collection of photos.

When merging catalogs, you essentially import photographs from one catalog to another. After merging, all the ratings, edits, collections, keywords, flags, and everything connected to each picture in that catalog gets imported to the new catalog.

Usually, this makes it easier to move the catalog from one drive to another. Regardless of the version of Lightroom, you can use the following steps to merge the catalogs.

Identify the Catalogs

Open Lightroom and go to the Edit menu if you are using a Windows PC or the Lightroom menu if using a Mac. Navigate to the Catalog Settings and then choose the General tab.

Identify the catalogs

Usually, the general panel will help you identify the name, location, file size, and the date you created the catalog you are currently working in. Since you might not want to merge all the catalogs, you can use the following steps to locate the catalogs you want to merge.

  1. If you have already identified the catalogs you want to merge, note their names and locations.
  2. Use Spotlight on Mac or Search on Windows to check for additional catalogs with an LRCAT file extension. Keeping in mind that this search may give you lots of results, it is advisable to look at LRCAT files with similar names and without number extensions such as -2, -3, and -4.
  3. Check the date the file was modified. If two files have similar dates of modification and one has a number extension, you should ignore the file with the number extension as it is probably a backup catalog.
  4. Make notes of your catalogs, such as how many are missing, how many you have edited, the number of photographs in each catalog, and whether they are duplicated in other catalogs. Although it is useful to list what every catalog contains, it is not necessary to note down every image.
  5. Decide which catalogs feature the information you want to transfer into your master catalog and which ones to ignore.

Prepare the Catalogs for Merging

Open the catalogs you want to import to the master catalog to find out what is included. This step is important as it helps you identify and reconnect any missing images and folders. In most cases, the missing photos in Lightroom bear an exclamation mark.

Preparing the Catalogs for merging

The exclamation mark means you moved a file to an external hard drive and did not relink it with Lightroom, and Lightroom cannot find it. To find the missing photos, navigate through the Library menu to identify the photos missing.

Preparing the Catalog for Merging

However, if you find that many photos are missing, you may reconnect the photos you have edited and do away with the unedited ones to reduce the workload. You should also decide whether to keep or delete the images duplicated in multiple catalogs.



After identifying the catalogs and reconnecting the missing folders and photos, you can now go ahead and merge the catalogs. If you do not have a master catalog, create one by navigating through the File menu and then choosing New Catalog.


A dialogue box will appear showing Create Folder With New Catalog. Type in Master Catalog on the Save As option and then press on Create. You can start importing the catalogs by navigating to File and then choosing Import From Another Catalog.


When importing a catalog, you probably won’t want your photos to change their location, whether on an internal or external hard drive. Therefore, under the File handling option, choose the Add new photos to catalog without moving option. Repeat this step with all the catalogs you want to import to the master catalog.


Back Up

It is advisable to create a backup of your master catalog every time you import a catalog. Typically, this is to avoid starting again from scratch in case of an error or issue during the merging process.


After importing all the catalogs, it is advisable to set up a periodic backup schedule. Under the Lightroom tab, choose Catalog Settings, select Backup Catalog, and then set how often you would want your catalogs to back up.

Backing up ensures your files are safe, and in case of catalog crashes, you can restore your files from the most recent backup. However, backing up in the same computer is not fireproof as you can’t restore the files in case of a hard drive failure or the computer getting lost.

Clean Up

After importing all the catalogs to the master catalog, the only remaining task is cleaning up the leftovers before deleting the old catalogs and their preview files. However, it is advisable to use the following tips to avoid losing your photos or files during the clean-up phase.

Add the Missing Images

There might be other images in your photo folders that are not included in your current catalog. These might be the unedited images you ignored while preparing catalogs for merging or images you may have placed in the folders using other photo-editing applications.

Add the missing images

To add those photos, open the Import Dialogue box and highlight your photo folder and its subfolders, and then use the Add option highlighted on top of the import dialog box.

Fix the Missing Link Issues

If you still have photos with exclamation marks or missing photos, it’s time to reconnect them with the originals before importing other images that are on your computer storage. Failure to do this makes relinking them with their originals challenging.

Fixing the missing link issues

If you cannot access the originals on your backup drives or the computer storage, you can use the JPEG previews in Lightroom and then get rid of the missing images that have exclamation marks.

Tidy up the Duplicates

If you have duplicate photos on your catalog, either real files or virtual copies with varying file names or folder paths, you will fix and clean them up. Although you can manually scroll through all the pictures searching for duplicates, it can take a lot of time if you have a large collection of photos.

Tidy up the duplicates

Fortunately, you can use third-party plugins such as the Duplicate Finder and the Teekesselchen to speed up the process. If you find a photo duplicate that contains all the metadata and edits, then you can go ahead and delete it.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Does a Catalog Differ From a Folder?

A catalog is a Lightroom database where you can store all the information about photos imported to Lightroom. On the other hand, Folders are stored on an internal or external hard drive and not directly related to Lightroom.

Can I Unmerge Catalogs in Lightroom?

You can split a master Lightroom catalog into two or more catalogs. Simply select all the folders you want to split and keep as separate catalogs, then click on the Export as Catalog command. This will result in two separate catalogs without losing information from the original catalog.

Final Thoughts

Learning how to merge Lightroom catalogs will help you identify the right ones to merge, create a master catalog, clean up the catalogs and improve the overall Lightroom organization. Remember to backup your catalogs frequently to avoid starting from scratch if something goes wrong.