How to Move the Lightroom Catalog to Another Drive

As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

Catalogs are an ideal way of organizing images based on the project or location. A Lightroom catalog carries file information only and not the actual image file. Knowing how to move the Lightroom catalog to another drive can help you enjoy the same organizational structures from a different computer.

How to Move the Lightroom Catalog to Another Drive

A catalog is a database that Lightroom uses to manage your image information. Every catalog you create tracks the location, image adjustment, keywords, ratings, and other information about the images added.

A white Intenso external hard drive is connected to a silver laptop on a brown wooden table

Although modern desktops and laptops come with a fairly large space, at some point, you may run out of space and need to move your catalog to another drive to free up some space. Even if you can move the catalogs manually from your hard drive, the process works best within Lightroom.

Since Lightroom is a non-destructive photo editor that stores the edits such as white balance, exposure, and color adjustments, without affecting the image files, you can use the following steps to move the catalogs without affecting your image files.

Backup Your Lightroom Files and Catalogs

Backing up data refers to making duplicates of files or catalogs on your system so you can use them as recovery in the event of original data loss or computer crash. Usually, it is advisable to set Lightroom to periodically backup your catalogs and other documents.

However, if you have not set Lightroom to backup your catalogs, you can do it manually before trying to move them. Open Lightroom and the catalog you want to backup. Choose Edit then Catalog settings if you are using a Windows PC or Lightroom Settings, then Catalog Settings if using a Mac.

Select When Lightroom Next Exits in the backup dialogue box at the bottom and then double click OK. Typically, this tells Lightroom to backup the catalogs when you exit it. Close the window and then quit Lightroom.

Locate the Catalogs

The first step is identifying and locating the catalog you want to move. You can easily locate and access your catalog through the Lightroom interface instead of digging through the files on your computer. Open Lightroom, navigate to the menu bar and click on Lightroom and then choose Catalog settings if you are using a Mac.

If you are using a Windows PC, go to Edit and then choose Catalog settings. Click the Show button under the General panel of your catalog settings to open up the file that contains your catalog on your laptop or computer.

Move or Copy the Catalogs to the New Location

Plug in the external drive you want to move your new Lightroom catalog to in one of your computer’s USB ports. You can know the connection is successful if your machine’s operating system automatically detects it.

Highlight all the folders or files in your Lightroom catalog that bear the name of your catalog. You can then move them to the new hard drive by clicking and dragging the files to the new drive.

However, if you want to duplicate, select the related files, right-click and choose Copy. Open the new location using the file explorer if you are using a Windows PC or the mac finder if using a mac. You can then right-click and choose Paste to create the duplicates.

A woman using a silver laptop with a white external hard drive connected to it with a backpack and coffee on a brown wooden table

Open the Catalog to Confirm Its New Location

Keep in mind that the transfer times will depend on the file sizes and your computer specifications. After your laptop or computer is through with moving and copying the catalog, find the new catalog LRCAT file on your external hard drive and double-click on it.

Make sure the new catalog appears the same as the original one. You can also confirm by going through the Lightroom Catalog Settings. Usually, you should locate the new catalog on the external drive on the Lightroom general panel.

Reconnect the Images and Catalogs

Lightroom can behave abnormally after opening it up through another drive. Usually, it’s because Lightroom does not know where to locate your images and catalogs, and will normally put a question mark near your folders in the Library Module.

You can solve this issue by right-clicking the folder with the question mark and selecting Find Missing Folder. This opens up Finder on Mac OS or Explorer in Windows. Find the folder with your actual images and highlight it.

However, if you moved all the photos to your other drive, you have to connect the new folder on your drive. Repeat the procedure with all the folders bearing the question marks till all question marks disappear. Keep in mind that you should also solve the exclamation marks as they also indicate an issue.

Do Away With the Initial Catalog

If you are sure that you have successfully moved your catalogs to another drive, you can now delete the initial catalog in the internal drive of your laptop or computer if your aim is to free up space.

Without the catalogs in the old drive, you can as well delete the images as they will only pose organizational issues.

Solving External Drive Letter Problems

When you use an external drive to store your Lightroom catalogs and files, you might encounter issues connecting it to another computer. Typically, it’s because the operating system might recognize the drive with a different drive letter.

For instance, the main computer might recognize the external drive as J: My photos and F: My Photos on another computer. Lightroom will still bring up the exclamation marks and question marks if this occurs.

The easiest way to solve this issue is to right-click on your original folder in the list of folders in Lightroom and click on Update Folder Location. Go to the new folder on your external drive and highlight it. Lightroom will immediately locate and reconnect everything.

Benefits of Changing the Location of Your Lightroom Catalogs

Although moving and changing the location of Lightroom catalogs can be tedious and time-consuming, the following are some of the reasons you might need to move or copy the catalogs to another drive:

  • Freeing up storage space: Moving the catalogs can help free up space from your current drive and eliminate the issues of running low on memory.
  • Exporting catalogs to edit from another machine: If you are working on the laptop and desktop, the two catalogs are not linked, so making changes to one machine does not reflect on the other. Moving the catalogs can solve the issue.
  • Creating a backup: Lightroom itself creates a backup. However, it stores the backup files in the same location as the catalog. The best way to create a safer backup is to copy the catalog to another drive.
A woman using a silver laptop with a black external hard drive connected to it and a DSLR camera and smartphone on top of a white bed in the room

Frequently Asked Questions

How Does Copying a Lightroom Catalog Differ From Moving?

Moving a Lightroom catalog takes the catalog from one location and puts it in another, meaning you can only access the new saved location and not the original one. Copying a catalog, on the other hand, copies the catalog from one location and creates a duplicate in another location.

How Can I Open the Recent Lightroom Catalogs?

The quickest way to locate your previously used catalogs is by navigating to File and then choosing Open Recent. This provides you with a list of all catalogs you recently accessed on your machine. If you cannot locate the catalog you want on the list, go to File and then the Open Catalog option to manually highlight it.

Final Thoughts

Knowing how to move the Lightroom catalog to another drive can help you create a safer backup or even free up space. Whether you are moving the catalogs to a different location on the same computer or external hard drive, remember to reconnect the images with the catalogs.