How to move an Adobe Lightroom catalogue

Moving Lightroom catalogues can seem like a confusing task, but it really is quite easy.

This tutorial will take you through how to move your Lightroom catalogue, which is very useful when you would like to backup your photos or have done some editing while on the road and want to transfer the images to your primary computer without losing any of your develop settings.

Exporting your Lightroom catalogue

The first thing you’ll want to do is decide what folders you want to export. You can do this by navigating to your Library tab on the top-right, then selecting folders on the bottom left. You can choose certain folders, or choose all the folders you have.

Lightroom Catalogue Tutorial

Then go to your navigation pane and click ‘File > Export as Catalogue’

Lightroom Catalogue Tutorial

You will be prompted to enter the details for the catalogue you want to export. The sections you’ll need to enter are:

Save As

Self explanatory, but it’s the name you want to call the catalogue. For example, if you are backing up your photos from the previous year, you may wish to call it ‘Lightroom Catalogue 2014’. Or simply, ‘Lightroom Catalogue backup’


These are optional but help you find details later. This step is only relevant if you are on a Mac.


This is the location where Adobe Lightroom will place the exported catalogue and all reference files. The files will be placed neatly in a parent folder of the same name as what you entered on the top line.

Export selected photos only

Self explanatory, but only relevant if you have chosen selected images within folders.

Exporting negative files, Build/Include Smart Previews and Include available previews

I keep these options selected to save time on my import. If you don’t select these, the catalogue will need to rebuild itself when imported, which I personally find unnecessary.

Lightroom Catalogue Tutorial

And away it goes, exporting your beautiful images!

The exported files

Once the export process has completed, you’ll have a new folder in the location you set in the previous step.

In this folder are two files of metadata, the Lightroom catalogue reference file and the original images folder. All together these files tell Adobe Lightroom where you last left off with the images, what settings and keywords they had applied etc.

If you double click on the ‘*.lrcat’ file, your catalogue will open in Adobe Lightroom, and close your current catalogue. This can be good if you are wanting to work with more than one catalogue and keep them separate, but for the purpose of this tutorial we are going to use the ‘*.lrcat’ file as the reference file to import images to our existing catalogue. Or more simply, add the photos to our new/existing/master catalogue.

Lightroom Catalogue Tutorial

Importing the catalogue

To import the images to our target catalogue with all their settings and metadata in place, we need to do a very similar step to how we exported the catalogue.

This time, go to ‘File > Import from Another Catalogue’.

Lightroom Catalogue Tutorial

Once prompted, navigate to the ‘*.lrcat’ file I mentioned before. All the images in the Pictures folder will be moved or added without moving to the target catalogue, depending on what you choose on the prompt.

Lightroom Catalogue Tutorial

Then, kick back and wait a few minutes for your images to be added to the target catalogue.

Lightroom Catalogue Tutorial

The finished product

That was pretty easy, right? Right! All your folders are now back in place, but if they aren’t, all it takes is a quick drag-and-drop movement to arrange them how you like. You can avoid this step if you have chosen the right settings in the earlier steps of this tutorial, but it ultimately is dependent on how you like your catalogue arranged.

Lightroom Catalogue Tutorial