Getting Started: Where Should I Keep My Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog?

March 15, 2011 | | Comments 137

Updated Version of This Article

Please click here to read the new expanding series of articles on Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Setup and Catalog Fundamentals at


Filed Under: (02) Lightroom Setup(04) Organizing with Lightroom(11) FAQAdobe Photoshop Lightroom Tutorials


About the Author: David Marx teaches digital photography workshops and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom training classes. David is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop Lightroom and in Adobe Photoshop. David has lead workshops and seminars for the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, the American Society of Media Photographers, FirstLight Photography Workshops, and he teaches annually at the world-famous Blackberry Farm Resort. For more information on his Photoshop Lightroom training seminars and digital photography field workshops please visit You can also follow daily updates and see new images from David on Google+.

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  1. Thanks David. Yes, I’m comfortable using actions so I’ll go back and re-save all of those files with the above switch turned to Always.

    Many thanks


  2. I am a real Lightroom newbie here and I have two problems already. The first is that many of my .psds have the message Preview Unavailable For This File and won’t open. The second is that some files don’t even make it this far as there’s a backwards incompatibility issue with importing them. All of these files open fine in Bridge and Photoshop.

    I’ve put all my Photoshop files in one folder on the EHD as suggested. The catalog is in a separate folder on the EHD.

    Can anyone shed any light on the matter?

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Graham Kerridge,

      At some point you chose to save your Photoshop files with the “Maximize PSD and PSB Compatibility” switch turned off. This did you no harm in Photoshop but unfortunately it created files that are not compatible with other programs like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. To solve this problem you should a: change this preference to “Always” inside of Photoshop’s preferences menu and b: re-save all of your old Photoshop files and then c: import them into Lightroom. The most efficient way to accomplish the second step is with an action or a droplet if you are comfortable working with these tools in Photoshop.

      David Marx

  3. Meredith says:

    That’s fantastic Dave, thank you very much. Unfortunately we’re limited by USB 2.0 by the Macbook itself, so I figured I would wait until we get a new iMac (presumably with Thunderbolt) and get a fast external at that point, using this one as a backup. For now I’ve got two slow externals plus CrashPlan as online backup, so it’s slow but at least I shouldn’t lose anything. So many people recommend multiple Catalogs to speed up performance, but I’m going with your recommendation. I’d imagine the relative slow-ness of LR has more to do with equipment and setup than the number of images in the catalog?

    Curious – how would I know what rpm my internal disk has? I looked at “about this mac” and all I see is 200 GB SATA disk. Just want to make sure I’m maxing out my given equipment setup b/c I can easily move the cache back to the HD, although it would need to be small.

    Awesome site!!!!!!!! Will recommend it to my Lightroom friends. :)

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Meredith,

      If I were you I would leave things as they currently are arranged. I think that creating multiple Catalogs is counterproductive. It makes Lightroom less useful and more confusing. It sounds to me like you are using your existing resources well and that you know where to put your money next. If you were to moving anything back to the internal drive I would advise moving the Lightroom Catalog files.

      You can find your drives rotational speed in the About This Mac panel under the Hardware > Serial ATA tab. Rotational speed is a minor factor compared to storage space so again I would advise leaving things like the Catalog on your external disk until that new iMac arrives.

      David Marx

  4. Meredith says:

    Hi David,

    This site is FABULOUS! I just installed Lightroom for the first time this week, and I am glad I found your site before I started importing images! I have a question regarding the best location for my images, catalog and camera raw cache.

    Right now we have a Macbook Pro from 2009 with 200 GB internal storage, about 60 GB of which is free. I also have a 2TB external hard drive, which is unfortunately limited to USB 2.0. We are holding out until the next generation of iMacs are released, at which time we will upgrade to an iMac and a fast EHD, but for now this is what I’ve got.

    After reading all your articles, I’ve put my images, catalog and Camera Raw Cache all on the EHD (with the cache upped to 50 GB). My images have to be there because of space restrictions on the internal, but the catalog and cache could go in either place. I read that it is better to have the cache and the catalog on separate drives if possible? So now I’m not sure what is best.

    Also, is there an article on your site that I should read about actually importing my images for the first time (from the EHD, not a card?)

    Thank you!

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Meredith,

      Thanks for the kind words about the site. I am going to answer your questions in reverse order. We have two tutorial that might help you with the importing files from an external hard drive process:

      Importing and Moving Files to an External Drive with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3
      Using Add to Import Files into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom without Moving or Copying

      I think that storing all of your images, your Lightroom Catalog, and the Camera Raw Cache on the external disk makes good sense. Storing the Catalog and the Cache on different drives theoretically makes the program perform faster but it is not going to produce night / day speed improvements for you. When you are working on a raw file in Lightroom’s Develop Module the program needs to read and write to both the ACR Cache and the Catalog at the same time. Dispersing these tasks onto separate drives means that both tasks can happen simultaneously so the program’s performance climbs. With the right hardware this setup can really make the program zippy but with your equipment– a USB 2.0 external and I am guessing a 5400rpm internal disk–there will be minimal performance difference.

      If you have the spare drive space too you could increase the Camera Raw Cache up to 200GB. Theoretically this should make the program even quicker than your current 50GB setting but in the reality that USB 2.0 connector is going to slow things down no matter what you do. My advice would be to get a fast external hard drive for your primary image storage and to use the 2TB USB disk that you currently have to backup everything up.

      Without buying any new toys though it sounds like you have a great setup in place using your existing equipment and you are certainly asking the right questions! Just don’t forget to religiously make backups of every drive.

      David Marx

  5. Enrico says:

    Hi David

    I now got an very extended and helpful answer from Matt. But as I feared it is quite complicated to “restore” the preferences from the backup, made by his plugin. Therefor for me the better and easier option is to use bootable copies of my OS-drive with all programs included.
    Your completely right, I had already some disk failure and therefore I copy or backup very often using time machine on a RAID 1 and Super Duper on ext. drives – could be, that this is too much? who knows – better one time too much, then one time too little.

    Best regards

  6. Enrico says:

    Hi David

    Thank you for your answer. I see, with your strategy you get a bootable copy of your internal drive (preferences of LR included) – that’s also a good idea. I was only thinking to get all on the ext. drive – but if that would work after a crash – I do not know…
    I had read the site, you set the link to – but I was not quite sure if this plugin would do what I thought it would (saving the preferences in a way, that they could be restored from that backup). I thought this would be an advantage, when I would be not at home for some days. I had tried to contact Matt, but until now I did not get an answer. I will probably adapt your strategy, since I do also regularly bootable backups of my system drive with all the programs, using Super Duper.

    Best regards and thank you again

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Enrico,

      These are all good options and I am delighted that you are planning ahead. No matter which method you choose the important part is to plan and prepare for the inevitable hard drive failure. Clearly you have learned that lesson! Props.

      David Marx

  7. Enrico says:

    Hi David

    May I ask you, do you know the plug in “TPG LR Backup”, created by Matt Dawson (Photographer’s Toolbox)? Could this plugin solve this problem and get all preferences to the ext. drive, together with the catalog and the photos? If so, then that would be a great solution, because if I would do backups of this ext. drive with e.g. SuperDuper, then I could restore LR if the internal drive in my MBP or my MP with the installed LR software would crash.
    I am looking forward to hear what do you think.

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Enrico,

      I have not used this plugin but it looks like a great help for some photographers. You will find more advice on how to use it here I haven’t messed with this one because I make backups of my image storage hard drive, and my computer’s internal disk, every day using Carbon Copy Cloner. Backing up both my storage drive, and my internal drive, using separate Carbon Copy tasks and disks accomplishes the same result. I know that if either primary drive fails that I have an up-to-date backup on a second disk. This plugin might make that simpler, and compressing those Catalog backups if you make them might be a big help, but just backing up both drives accomplishes similar results.

      The important part to me is not how we backup. Yes, this system vs. that system has advantages and everyone has to work out their own plan. The really important part to me is not how we backup but that we do indeed make a backup and repeat this process regularly!

      David Marx

  8. Enrico says:

    Hi David

    Thank you again for your answers. I thought that the preference settings are also saved together with the catalog file.
    I will do a separate partition for the, so the the backup becomes easier to handle.


  9. Enrico says:

    Hi David

    Thank you very much for your appreciated answers. On your video (in the link in your answer), the cache folder is not shown or not visible. Did you make a partition for the cache? As far as I understood the informations on the net, this could help to speed up, if this would be on the fist part of the drive.
    You wrote, that I would have to set the preferences for cache storage on each computer – but if I have all the catalog settings and the photos on the same ext. drive and I start from the dock alias, as shown in one of your video – what could then influence the behavior of LR3? Did I miss something – I am new to LR.


    • David Marx says:

      Dear Enrico,

      I didn’t make a separate partition just for the cache files but I think that makes sense and it might make excluding them from a backup easier. It makes sense to me that this would give you slightly more performance but I don’t think the difference will be all that dramatic.

      The cache files location is controlled in the preferences. Preferences > File Handling > Camera Raw Cache Settings > Location. Our tutorials on optimizing Lightroom for top performance or our tutorial on the Lightroom 3 preference menus might help you locate this switch. If you were only using one computer then you could just set this once but the preference file is computer specific. If you are using two machines and want each to use the cache files on the external drive then you need to set this preference on both machines.

      David Marx

  10. Martin Dallison says:

    I am sure this question has been asked a thousand times but I’ve searched your site and can’t find the answer. I’ve also seen it asked on many other sites but again, never answered…so I suspect the worst!

    I use a MacBook Pro and a Windows XP desktop. Lightroom is installed on each machine. I want to put all my photos and my Lightroom catalogue on one external RAID 0 drive. I will format the drive in the Mac format and use MacDrive on the PC so it can read/write to the Mac format. But, can it be done? My concern is that PC’s look for drives, i.e. G://, whilst Macs look for “volumes”. Therefore, if my Lightroom catalogue is being swapped, albeit on the same drive, between a Mac and a PC, will the computer and/or Lightroom know where to look?

    Your comments would be much appreciated.

    Martin Dallison

  11. Enrico says:

    Hi David

    Thank for all your very helpful instructions. You have your LR catalog and your photos on one ext. drive, so that you can work on your laptop or on your desktop. But where do you have your cache? I can imagine, that for speed it would not be the best to have it also on the same ext. drive but otherwise LR has to rebuild every time the previews. Therefore how do you manage that?


    • David Marx says:

      Dear Enrico,

      You are very observant! I keep the cache files on my external drive so that I can allocate 200GB of free space to it. I believe that allocating this much space to the cache makes the develop module work faster and since I am using a RAID 0 external hard drive and a firewire 800 connector there is minimal performance loss as the cache is read / written to the external drive. I set things up this way because my laptop does not have 200GB of free space total!

      If you are going to follow my cache storage system then a: make sure you are using a fast external hard drive and your fast drive connector, b: make sure that the external drive has sufficient free space, and c:
      set the preferences for cache storage on each computer . I should add too that 200GB is currently the maximum cache size so there is no need to allocate even more room. That may change in the future, but so far as I know, designating even more space does not improve the programs performance.

      I will also add that I have told my backup utility, Carbon Copy Cloner to skip the cache when it makes my daily backups. This speeds up the backup process and these files are not irreplaceable.

      David Marx

  12. HDD says:

    I’m like a packrat when it comes to files. If I might need to delete something I make at least one copy on an external hard drive as a ‘just in case’ but that tends to stack up.

  13. Jon says:

    I wanted to thank you for the great information. I just got my external hard drive set up. Going to purchase a second one this weekend. I have one question about File Handling. What’s the difference between “Copy photos to a new location and import” and “Copy photos as a digital negative (DNG) and import”? Thank you!

  14. Kurt says:


    Thanks for all the great info you post. After much thought I have taken an approach just as your external/external storage. Now have filled the drive and am starting a new drive. What approach have you taken or do you recommend?

    I now have a new cat on the new drive (Oct2011-) with new photos stored on this drive. Also have a Master Cat which merges the original Jan2011-Sept2011 cat and the Oct 2011 cat for searching, collections . . .

    After starting am wondering if this is best?



    • David Marx says:

      Dear Kurt,

      My advice is to keep life simple. Use a single Lightroom Catalog to index both drives. Making multiple Lightroom Catalogs adds needless complexity when you want to pull together a slideshow, for example, that includes all of your best images from any year. Remember though to include each new drive in your backup plan.

      David Marx

  15. Gordon Brown says:

    Per your recommendation, I’ve been using an external drive for Lightroom. Today, I’ve been unable to import new photos into the photos go here folder. I get an error message that says the import failed: “Could not copy a file to the requested location. (21)

    The photos already in the folder still open so that I can work on them.

    Any suggestions to solve the problem?

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Gordon Brown,

      I need more information to tackle this problem. First, what operating system are you using? How is the external drive formatted? How is it connected to the computer? Do you get the same error message when copying files to that disk outside of Lightroom? Is your “Photos Go Here” folder locked or set to restricted permissions? Do you encounter the same error if you try importing files to a folder on your internal drive? Are you sure that there is enough free space on the external drive to hold the new files?

      Hopefully one of these questions will lead us in the right direction.

      David Marx

  16. Kate Arding says:

    Dear David,

    I recently bought Lightroom 3 and am wanting to transfer my images over from iPhoto in order to utilize one of your suggested methods of Lightroom Catalog.

    Is there a way of extracting or copying these images easily from iPhoto or do I just have to create new folders manually under my Pictures folder and go from there.

    Any advice would be most apprecaited.



  17. Barbara R. says:

    Hi, David,

    I think that some of your always-great articles are written form only, or in addition to video form.

    If that is the case, could you tell me how to search to get access to the only-written-out articles?

    I’m about to go all-external Lightroom 3 as you suggest (apx. 35,000 pics). Do other people get terrified too?

    Thank you!


    • David Marx says:

      Dear Barbara Reed,

      I don’t think our sites search engine has the ability to distinguish between articles with videos and those without. Sorry. In the early days, before I built the necessary screencasting skills, I wrote long essays. Once my video recording skills matured I tried to record more. Now I am beginning to realize that there are some topics that work better as an essay and some that work better as a movie….

      As long as you start with everything backed up– meaning a reliable copy of your existing files and Lightroom Catalog–you have nothing to worry about in moving to an external drive. Moving 35,000 images from drive to drive is going to take a while but its not hard and it is not irreversible. Make a backup first. Now feel confident that if anything goes wrong that you can always restore all your files to their original locations.

      Best regards,

      David Marx

  18. Ellis says:

    So with option 2, (catalog intrnal & photos external) how do you suggest backing up? a 2nd external such as a Time machine backup?

  19. Aimee says:

    Hello David,

    I am so happy that you updated your post and added these 3 new videos. They completely cleared everything up for me.
    Thank-you so very much. :)

  20. Aimee says:

    Hello David,

    I am just curious as to why not save my Digital Images and Lightroom catalog to my computer’s harddrive. I just purchased a 2TB iMac because my mac mini ran out of space due mostly in part to the amount of pictures I have. I am getting ready to begin digital scrapbooking and will be getting more digital images for my new hobby. Is it harder to transfer files from computer to computer as they fill up than it is from external Hd to external HD? What do I do about space issues? Please forgive me if you already answered this question. And thank-you for your help.

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Aimee,

      I get so many questions about where to store my Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog and where to store my images that I finally made three videos. As you can see, I revised this post to include them. Each video explains the advantages and disadvantages to each storage system.

      Transferring files from computer to computer is no different than transferring them from drive to drive except that the machines need to be connected via a network. Good luck with the digital scrapbooking projects!

      David Marx

  21. Liz Haslam says:


    I am technologically challenged but I know what I want to accomplish. A few years ago I transferred my LR catalog to an external hard drive. Frankly I don’t remember how I accomplished it, but I did. I have been successfully editing my photos from external drive. Now my external drive is acting a little squirrelly and I would like to COPY everything from my first external hard drive to a new one. I would rather not MOVE everything so I have my photos, and edits, etc. as a back up as of the date of the copy from old external to new. Is it possible to copy and not move and still operate from external all functions of LR. If so how do I do it? I know I need to copy/move within LR. But I don’t remember how. Do I go to finder and drag and drop in new external hd and then do something in LR to cause it to recognize? Thanks for your plain English help in advance. Liz

  22. Don says:

    David, I apologize for this cumbersome method, but apparently, there was no other way to get the system to accept the upload. When it was accepted, the input appeared immediately. When there was too much data, the page then showed the very beginning of this web site, and I had to scroll down to see my input had not been accepted. Apparently, the system has an approximate 9-10 line limit.

    Thanks again,


    • davem says:

      Dear Don,

      I am sorry that you had such trouble getting your questions posted and I fear that my answers are going to be a let down for you. I think this is a going to be a let down for you because I do not see the point in your current storage system. No offense intended.. You seem like a man who is doing a lot of reading and searching for answers. I fundamentally respect your goals– redundant backups and piece of mind–but I question your methods.

      In my humble opinion, there is no reason why you need to store both RAW and DNG copies of the same image. Either make the choice to convert or don’t. There is no ticking clock on DNG conversion and there is no reason why you can’t store the original file’s in their original formats safely for many years to come. As time passes it may make more sense to store, or convert old files, so that only a DNG copy remains but having both right now does you absolutely no good. I does you absolutely no good because only one of the two files is being updated with your improvements and metadata by Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Returning to other file literally means returning to ground zero. Every dust spot that you have removed and every bit of information that you have added would be lost! (I personally keep only DNG copies of my original captures. Is this right for everyone? Absolutely not but having both is just tying up useful hard drive space with no benefit.)

      Second fundamental disagreement– I think USB is a disaster for someone like you. USB drive hubs are only going to compound your misery especially since you are a Windows user. No matter what storage system you move to next you have got to get rid of the weakest link in the chain and that link is the USB drive connection.

      Third issue, Peter Krogh is a very wise man and I have tons of respect for goals. But his needs and your needs are different. Likewise, his book is tragically out of date. The idea that we can protect our files–archiving our original captures for the long haul–with optical media is no longer a valid concept. Neither DVD nor Blu-Ray is a cost-effective long-term archiving media. You would be better off investigating the unlimited storage potential available with cloud storage. An Amazon S3 account, or similar service, is far more cost effective, far more reliable, and it frees you from the Krogh’s “bucket division” mess. I don’t mean to say that burning a backup disk is a bad idea. It’s a wonderful idea but it is no longer the best method available and I don’t see why you need this extra layer of security….

      Finally, I would say that there are lots of DAM programs out there. I worked with iView–now Microsoft’s Expression Media–before there was Lightroom. Each system has some advantages. The question though is not what they can offer. The question I would ask is what do you need to keep track of your images and to get your work done in an efficient manner that Lightroom lacks? If you can identify a hole, or a weakness, in your current routine then it’s worth exploring other options. Lightroom is not perfect and it is not the right tool for everyone but what I would like to know is where does it fail you?

      Again, I apologize for the difficulty getting your questions into our comments and I hope that you found some of my answers thought provoking.

      Best regards,

      David Marx

  23. Don says:

    Part 7 of 7
    I’ll also be purchasing a 14”-15.6” LT (Windows), but probably not a DT replacement. It will have to be able to access a Pri and Sec external HD in the field. The LT should have two HD, in order to accommodate PS CS5 & LR3. Suggestions would be appreciated.
    Lastly, please comment about utilizing Microsoft’s Expression Media’s advanced DAM capabilities to coordinate with LR3’s DAM abilities. Martin Evening mentioned it on page 214 of his book “The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book”, but didn’t go into more detail.

  24. Don says:

    Part 6
    What I would like to accomplish is to set up a metadata selection on the DT to create a Collection, and have LR tell me on which of the various HD sets the pertinent images are located.
    Any issues using the “Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media” icon would be appreciated.
    The size of the folders on the HD need to be sized for copying to DVD and Blu-Ray, also. (Per the suggestion of Krogh’s “The DAM Book”.

  25. Don says:

    Part 5

    I’m uncertain about RAID 5 or 6. The problem is setting up an expensive system with two controllers, as the whole setup is rendered inoperative if a system with just one controller has its controller go down. Plus, external HD’s are a much cheaper alternative.

    I looked at your suggested Mercury Elite Pro If I understand correctly, the only way to obtain a full 6 TB of storage is to eliminate the stripe. Speed is much less of a concern to me than safe storage. What would be the advantage, therefore, of this system over two of the Seagate 3 TB HD, which also have usb 3.0 or eSATA?

  26. Don says:

    Part 4
    (I finally found a 10 port usb hub which works: Pluggable Technology.)
    In any event, I wouldn’t want the HD’s running unnecessarily and eating up their MTF hours. Some of the older HD’s would spin down because of inactivity, but the new ones, apparently, do not. Because of other issues with the DT, I’m forced to keep it running. (*Everything* is powered off of APC UPS’s.)

  27. Don says:

    Part 3
    I’m sure I could use enough multiple port powered hubs to keep all of the HD’s connected with usb 2.0 and Firewire 400. The earlier externals had two FW 400 ports, so they were easy to daisy chain, but the newer ones only have one FW. Additionally, the 2TB HD’s (Seagate GoFlex Desk) only have the option of one usb (2.0 or 3.0), or a FW 800 (not 400), but, apparently, not both.

  28. Don says:

    Part 2
    A “set” of HD’s would consist of four HD’s: RAW Pri (Primary) & RAW Sec BAK (Secondary), and DNG Pri & DNG Sec BAK.

  29. Don says:

    Part 1/4 (I’ll try it in 4 short parts.)
    July 5, 2011 8:47 PM PDT


    Thanks for replying. Apparently I’ve sacrificed to Murphy, so perhaps he’ll let it go through this time. :-)
    June 27, 2011 12:30 AM PDT

    Please excuse the length of my message. Thanks in advance!

    LR3 is installed on my DT (HP Pavilion Elite M915y, Quad-core, 64-bit, 8 GB, two 2TB HD, Windows 7 Home Premium). Additional programs include Adobe CS 5.5 Master Collection, Office 2010 Pro, and other image manipulation programs (Nik, etc). I’ve used LR, LR2&3, to load images onto a variety of external HD, ranging from 300 MB – 2 TB. In the beginning, some images were uploaded just to back up the RAW files. Eventually, I started using LR, and then LR2 to upload flash cards. The upload is done twice during LR’s import process: (1) RAW to one HD & a backup HD, and (2) DNG to a second HD & a second backup HD. I intend to always keep my RAW images unchanged, and want a backup of them, and of course, an original and back up of the DNG files as well.

  30. Don says:

    7-5-2011 8:58 PM PDT

    Unfortunately, the same thing happened again. Perhaps there is a size limit on these messages?

    When I attempted to submit this, Firefox said it was taking too long to connect to your site, so I’ll try again later.

  31. David Marx says:

    Dear Don,

    You left a message on this article? Apologies but I do not see your question listed in the recent comments here? Was it on another topic or in the forums?

    Happy 4th of July,

    David Marx

  32. Don says:

    July 3, 2011 11:15 PM PDT


    Last June 26th I sent you a message/request, but haven’t seen it addressed. Please let me know if (1) you actually received it, and (2) do I need to rewrite it for some reason?



  33. Roberta says:

    David – love your tutorials. They are the best. Thanks. So here is my question.
    I understand what you’ve described re: external drives hosting photos and the LR Cat and having a 2nd external drive as a back up and (in a Mac World) using Carbon Copy cloner.

    My question is – with all the above – in a Mac world, do you use Time Machine? If so, how does it tie into this back up configuration? I’m trying to figure that out since I also run other applications on my Mac (word, excel, etc) and create documents that I need to have backed up, but don’t want them to be part of the Lightroom /Catalog /photo back up external drive.

    Suggestions? Thanks!!!

    • davem says:

      Dear Roberta,

      Good question. I like Time Machine very much on my Mac and I use it too. The more backups the better when something tragic happens to the primary storage drive! But you need to understand that Time Machine is a little cumbersome. Time Machine makes a single backup file each time it runs and within that file are the contents of your Mac’s internal hard drive and the contents of any external hard drives that you have told it to protect.

      There is nothing wrong with this but it does make restoring file’s from the external disk a bit more complicated. By cloning one disk to another via Carbon Copy Cloner I make life easier for myself when I need to restore a single file or a single folder from the backup disk. With a Carbon Copy Cloner backup I can quickly find the most recent version of my damaged / destroyed file and drag it right back over to my primary storage disk.

      Again, each system has its strengths and weaknesses. If you have the drive space why not use them both?

      David Marx

  34. Vedran says:

    Hi David,
    If you have photos and catalog on external hard drive, Is it possible to use lightroom 3 on Mac and PC, example imac as desktop and Laptop PC. Or do both have to be mac or pc.

  35. Daniel Jones says:


    I watched 1 of Daves other videos and found that I didn’t have the catalog file on the external hard drive so I actually had 2 different catalogs on 2 different computers but with the same photos. Once I put the Lightroom catalog File on the external hard drive it has all worked out for me. Just make sure that you have the hard drive plugged in before you start lightroom and can find the catalog on start up.

  36. Mat says:

    Aha, I found the problem! The label data was still there, however each of my copies of lightroom had different names for the labels. Thus, on the second catalog, they all “show up” (actually hard to see) as white “custom” labels. Manually rename all the colours to match on both libraries, and you’re away.

    In order to automate these settings, copy lightroom’s presets between machines:
    Mac: [user]/library/application support/adobe/lightroom/[everything in this folder]
    Windows: C:\Documents and Settings\[user]\Application Data\Adobe\Lightroom\

    • davem says:

      Dear Mat,

      Glad you found a solution and thank you so much for sharing. There is an alternative, and perhaps easier way, too. Within your Adobe Bridge Preferences Menu go to Labels and type in the name for each color– red, yellow, blue, etc. Colored label is a metadata text field. Lightroom and Bridge infer the color to display from the text string within that box. When the words are the color’s name in both programs then everything works right. When the words differ though you get the flat white / gray label.

      David Marx

  37. Mat says:

    Hi Daniel

    I have been having the same problem—when either copying a catalogue from laptop to my desktop machine, or opening the same catalogue on an external drive, the desktop machine doesn’t show edits (such as labels).

    When opening the same images in Bridge, those labels and edits are visible. To me, this suggest the images are fine, and the problem is in settings on the desktop version of lightroom—or a catalogue setting perhaps. I’ll post more if I get anywhere with it.

  38. Daniel Jones says:

    Yes its on an external hard drive and its the same file of photos but maybe its not the same catalog. Can you tell how to open the same catalog on both computers? Where would the catalog file be kept if not on the external hard drive if that’s where my photos are? I have found that if I save the Metadata it brings over a few changes but not when I’ve flagged a photo.


  39. Daniel Jones says:


    Great advice on the external hard drive system but when I go from my laptop to my desktop the work I’ve done on the photos isn’t there, the photos show up in the catalog but without any previous edits. Is there something I should be doing before changing computers?

    • davem says:

      Dear Daniel Jones,

      Hmmm….. Are you sure that you are launching the same Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog on both computers? Is this catalog stored on your external hard drive? These are the most likely causes but please let us know if both guesses are wrong.

      David Marx

  40. Nanette says:

    I just got Lightroom 3 and have not imported any images yet. I have been getting all of my images copied to external hard drives in an effort to have adequate back-ups. I was planning to have 2 working drives, one at home and one stored somewhere else. I would periodically sync and rotate them. I would also like to have 2 external drives that back up everything else from each of our computers. I had renamed the drives and drive letters just so I would know which was which. But will that confuse Lightroom so that it can’t find the files when I switch drives?

    I had previously started to organize some of my photos in Photoshop Elements and in another photo-organizing program. I am wondering if there will be any problems with the metadata that may already be attached to some files from other programs and what happens when I start adding metadata in Lightroom. Can all these programs still find what they need?

    Thank you.

    • davem says:

      Dear Nanette,

      You have nothing to worry about in terms of metadata. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom can read and understand any metadata that you added in Elements. I like your thinking too and really appreciate the thought that you are putting into protecting your files. My advice though is to stick to one primary external drive. Backing this disk up to multiple externals is a great idea but swapping another primary in and out only adds needless complexity to your life. Plus, the idle primary disk does not contain as much information as your most recent backup disk. I am a big believer in simplicity. Use one drive– the highest performance disk with the fastest drive connections–for the primary. Religiously back this disk up to one other within your office and another drive that lives off-site and you should be all set.

      David Marx

  41. Barney says:

    Hi David

    I’ve been using Lightroom for some time but just discovered your site. I’ve got quite a bit of catching up to do. I was working on moving my catalogue to an external drive but have run into a snag. I use a PC with LR 3. My file names do not match what is on your video. I have files named Light Room Settings, Light Room 3 Catalogue-3, Lightroom Settings, Light Room-3 Previews.lrdata, and Temporary Import Data-3. Are these the files I need to move?

    • davem says:

      Dear Barney,

      If you are looking to move your Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog to an external drive then you must move the .lrcat file, the previews .lrdata file, and you should also move that Lightroom Settings folder. Don’t worry about the Temporary files. The easiest way to make sure that you get everything is to move the folder–the whole folder–that contains all these files over to your external. Be sure to launch this catalog file after the move and to set your preferences so that this becomes the new default on startup.

      David Marx

  42. Peggy says:

    For Maggie McCain

    In Windows 7 (and I think in prior versions) the administrator can go into managing hard drives and assign drive letters. That worked for me with 2000, XP and now Windows 7. It makes naming my Sync Back profiles easy.

  43. James says:

    Hi David;

    Loving the site and advice here!

    I have recently joined the photography team here and we are trying to find a way to simultaneously work on the same light room catalog but on two different macs…

    The master catalog on my colleague’s mac has thousands of stock shots and images linked to the hard drive we share here.

    However – I now need to be able to see the flagged and edited shots somehow…Is there anyway I can load his catalog on my mac if we share the folder from his computer?

    Sorry I am new to light room (Camera RAW user/Capture One) but it would be awesome if we can both make changes and alterations to the images and they be updated to the same library…

    Thanks in advance!



    • davem says:

      Dear James,

      I hate to say this but I don’t think that Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is the right program for you and your colleague. Lightroom is not a network ready program. It is not designed to be shared across a network nor is it ready for multiple users working simultaneously You could synchronize your catalog from machine to machine using a server syncro program like Dropbox but you absolutely cannot work simultaneously. Sorry.

      David Marx

  44. john dufton says:

    You say that that you can’t use E-SATA on your Mac laptop.
    If I remember correctly, you have a Mac Book pro.
    I think that the E-Sata card port was removed from the 2010 models. Before then there was a port for Sata cards.
    My 2006 MBP’s performance was significantly improved with using the OWC $49.00 E-Sata card.

    • davem says:

      Dear John Dufton,

      How are things up in Canada? We are both partially correct. Apple removed the Express Port from all but the 17″ MacBookPro models a few years ago. If I had the ability to plugin an eSATA adapter I definitely would but sadly that’s not an option with a 2009 15″ MacBookPro.

      David Marx

  45. Fred says:

    If I put my lightroom catalog and images as you say on one external hdd, do you then suggest when that one is full, I will again make a new lightroom catalog and image source disk on the new one.. on and on…?
    What then if I have five 1TB disks and want to search for a specific image or images? Do I then need to open and search through each hdd. I don’t get it please guide me think right from the beginning

    • davem says:

      Dear Fred,

      Good questions. If you follow my madness then moving from one external hard drive to a larger one is easy. It takes just a few steps steps:

      1. Format the new drive.
      2. Clone everything from your current primary photo storage drive onto the new larger model.
      3. Change the old primary storage drives name and then disconnect this disk.
      4. Change the new drives name so that it matches the old primary disk’s name!

      With Windows you may also need to change the drive letter assignment but that’s the whole process. The old disk and it’s replacement are now exactly the same except that the new disk now has plenty of free space!

      The answer to your second question is no. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom can index files on multiple drives at once. Lightroom is happy to search for an image, or a metadata field like a keyword, on all of your indexed drives at once. Lightroom has no problem with you spreading your files out over four disks but you need to be sure that each drive gets backed up on a regular schedule. Spreading your files around is no substitute for a rock-solid backup system.

      David Marx

  46. Maggie McCain says:

    I have been working from an old desktop and my hard drive was rapidly filled with Lightroom’s preview and catalog files, all of which were kept on the C: drive. I had been backing up photos and Lightroom to an external USB hard drive, so I was very happy to find your solution would probably work for me. So I have tried to set this system up with the desktop, external USB hard drive, and a new laptop. However, when I move the external hard drive from one computer to another the systems assign a new drive letter to the external drive, so Lightroom still cannot find the files… Any suggestions? Is there a way to assign a permanent drive letter to the USB external drive that will stay with it no matter which computer or port it is plugged into? Other suggestions?

    • davem says:

      Dear Maggie McCain,

      Ah, the classic Windows dynamic drive letter assignment scheme problem! There are a couple of ways you can solve this needless hurdle: 1. Take charge of the Windows drive letter assignment system and give your drive the same letter each time. 2. Use a third-party utility to force consistency. 3. Turn the computer off and unplug everything. Turn it back on and wait for Windows to start up then shut it down. Wait for it to stop then start up Windows again. This time plug your devices in exactly the right order. Follow the same order each and every time and you get the same letters each time :>

      This seems like a lot of work, and its one of those things that Mac users can gloat about not needing to master, but the truth is that assigning drive letters yourself is really easy once you find the right buttons.

      David Marx

  47. Jeremy says:

    Hey David,

    When I first got Lightroom 3 installed on my macbook pro I was thrilled to read your posts and get a better understanding of the catalogs and optimizing my workflow. Sadly to say, as of lately, my external hard drive (a 1tb freeagent go flex) seems to freeze my Lightroom constantly. i grey opaque screen rolls down and tells me a need to hold down my restart button in 4 different languages. I am relatively certain it is a problem with the cheaply priced hard drive. So I am looking to buy a new external hard drive and move all my pictures and my catalog to it. I was just wondering what drive you use. I know you were talking about a Raid 0 but I just wanted a better understanding of what that is. I would like someone’s advice that actually understands macs and lightroom. Any information would be greatly appreciated.



    • davem says:

      Dear Jeremy,

      Your disk trouble doesn’t sound good. Please backup everything on that external disk up asap just in case it completely fails. We have an article on our recommended external hard drives that might help you with your purchasing decisions. In a nutshell though a RAID 0 (stripped) external disk is a case with a fancy circuit board and two external hard drives. The RAID controller board splits every file in two and send half to each platter simultaneously. I am fudging the numbers slightly but basically a RAID 0 drive reads and writes at twice the speed of a single disk.

      I am a big fan of the OWC Mercury Elite-AL Performance RAID disk. This is the drive that I use for my primary photo storage. There are similar models from other brands including LaCie that are very fast and reliable too. Check out our article for more details.

      David Marx

  48. How about using a PogoPlug with HDs connected to that for your external storage? Would you be able to access the dame catalogues and images via a browser?

    • davem says:

      Dear Laurence Hartwell,

      I have never seen a PogoPlug before. I watched their promo and it looks very interesting. My guess is that you could use one with your Lightroom catalog and your images but performance may lag substantially. First, you are going to loose a lot of performance because every command must be transmitted across the web. Second, as far as I can tell PogoPlugs only connect to external hard drives via USB. USB is a fine connector for peripherals like a keyboard or a mouse but it is my least favorite data port for external hard drives. FireWire or eSATA is a far better choice for a non-networked external drive.

      Still, I am intrigued by this idea. Please let us know if you go this route and it works well.

      David Marx

  49. ton says:

    I keep my Lightroom catalogue and all my images on my hard drive.
    But I have two copies of all of my files on 2 external drives.
    I ones lost stuff by a crashed external drive, now I know better.
    Better keep your stuff on different places and sync them.

    regards, Ton

  50. Matt Leidemer says:

    Hi David –

    Thanks for the advice on setting up the LRCAT on an external drive. I recently installed LR3.3 and set up my photos that way (LRCAT and images on an external drive, primary computer is a desktop PC, secondary is a laptop). There are times that I want to work on keywording my photos, but not drag along the external drive, in addition to my laptop. If I copy the catalog files and folders from the external drive to my laptop (but not the DNGs), can I safely edit the keywords in LR, then copy the catalog files and folders back to the external drive? I know it’s a few extra steps as opposed to working off the EDD, but there are times when using an EDD are impractical (e.g., road trips) or impossible (e.g., working in the local coffee shop).

    Thanks for all your advice.

    Best regards,
    – M

    • davem says:

      Dear Matt Leidemer,

      Clever idea! Your system will work but let me make some suggestions. If you are going to follow your plan then I would urge you to turn on the “Automatically Write Changes to XMP” preference switch so that Adobe Photoshop Lightroom background saves your keywords, colored labels, develop settings, etc down to each file’s metadata block whenever possible. Turning on this switch, and backing everything up on a regular schedule, will be real important for you just in case something goes wrong when you are moving the catalog folder from drive to drive.

      Copying your Lightroom Catalog folder from drive to drive is not hard but moving it back and forth before every trip to the coffee shop seems like a lot of work. You could easily improve this process by storing your Lightroom Catalog in a shared server synchronized folder. This sounds complicated but it is absolutely painless thanks the Dropbox synchronization system. Gene McCullagh has a great article on Lightroom and Dropbox integration on his Web site.

      David Marx