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. Kristy says:

    Thanks so much for this! I know that this version is outdated, but for me, it is still rocking out the pictures! I have recently moved to an external hard drive and this information was very helpful! Thanks again!

  2. Simon says:

    Does having the catalog you are working from on the external drive slow the running of the software and editing down, as the computer has to access adjustments and editing externally.

    This is something I considered doing when I started using lightroom, but fearing it would be slow, I stuck with the catalog on the hard drive, only storing photos externally.

    Don’t know if these are silly comments, I am no computer wizard…

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Simon,

      The answer is maybe. If you are using an external hard drive with a slower rotation speed, or a slow drive connection, then keeping the Catalog on an external disk will indeed reduce the programs performance. If, on the other hand, you keep the Catalog on a high quality disk connected via a blazing fast data port like Apple’s Thunderbolt connector then there might not be any difference at all. And as your internal hard drive fills it’s performance diminishes so potentially keeping the Catalog and the images on a super high quality external, with a blazing fast data connection, actually improves overall system performance!

      So the answer here depends entirely on your specific hardware.

      David Marx

  3. David Hancock says:

    Hey Dave, First of all thanks for all tha hard work you do with Lightroom Lab… It’s been a great tool in my box of tricks with photography… I have a question that I can’t seem to find a answer to on here… I have recently made the move from LR 2 to LR 4… My problem is I have multiple older external hard drives with photos on them and LR 2 lives on all of them… If I want to put LR 4 on them, do I just trash tha LR 2 and drag LR 4 on there??? Something tells me that’s not tha thing ta do, and it seems confusing to me??? I’ve also been thinkin that since I only work on one computer that I should just have LR 4 live on my MacBook and not have it live on 6 different hard drives??? I think that would fit my work flow better… But, I plan ta soon get a iMac home computer, then I’d have two computers??? I guess what it all boils down to is, I don’t want 6 different catalogs, just one!!! I wanted to consult a Lightroom Wizard before I made a walk in tha dark with no torch…

    Lost and Confused, Tex…

  4. Jerry says:

    Hi David- After some reading of posts here, and a few responses from you, I began the process of importing, first, my iphoto images in to Lightroom 4.3.While not in the best orginizational shape, they did all come over. I then tried to set up LR with a catalog called Jerry’s Lightroom catalog.Inside that I created a destination for the new import called “Israel” (a recent trip).Good so far, but by mistake, I also made a folder called “PHOTOS GO HERE” The memory card imported to the Israel folder in the “Photos go here” folder and the second card to another Israel folder. I don’t know if I should delete all images and start over, or can I drag the full import in to one Israel folder. The camera produces very large (32 mg) files and it looked like I am making two copies during import. I takes forever to finish too. I can take a screen shot if that helps. I guess the basic question is, can I just drag one set in to another folder intact?

  5. Ken says:

    Haha! No apologies needed, David. Ya can’t expect a guy to know everything! Thanks so much for your insight on this site!

  6. Reg Gray says:

    Hello David,

    Hope you had a great time over the holidays and may I wish you all the best for 2013.

    Not sure if I’m posting this in the correct place but you’ve been a great help in the past and I hope you can help me again. [Incidentally I am not able to read the last few letters and some of the words at the extreme right hand edge of any of the posts on your website.]

    I am about to make some changes to my system. I have 2 computers – a desktop and a laptop both running Windows XP with SP3 and I have LR3 on both machines. All my photos and LR catalogs are on an external drive and backed up on a second external drive – more or less as you have recommended. I have a new copy of LR4 but to run this I need to upgrade my OS to Windows 7 and this means a complete fresh install of Win7.

    1] How do I go about accessing all my LR info from my external drive once I have Win7 and LR4 installed?
    2] Are there any special precautions I should take before starting this exercise?
    3] Will all the work I’ve done on my images be retained when I open them in LR4?
    4] If I upgrade my laptop to Win7 and LR4 but not my desktop what issues would that create? [I am going to buy a new desktop in the very near future.]

    Look forward to hearing from you.


    Reg Gray.

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Reg Gray,

      Oh, the complexities of upgrading the operating system and your version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom! Fortunately if you have a good backup of your photos and your Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog you should have no fears.

      1. Installing Windows 7 and installing the Lightroom 4 application are the big steps. After these everything else is fairly easy. Once Lightroom 4 has been installed reconnect your external hard drive and find the Lightroom Catalog that lives on this disk. When you double click on your .lrcat file Lightroom 4 will ask if you want to upgrade a copy of your existing Catalog or create a new (blank) Catalog and start over. The sensible answer for you, of course, is to upgrade the existing Catalog. This may take a few minutes but it should be painless. When the Catalog updater finishes I recommend exiting out of the application and renaming your new Catalog so that it has a meaningful descriptive name. I would also suggest creating a Windows shortcut that leads directly to this file so that you can launch it every single time with no confusion. After those steps I suggest launching Lightroom again and setting all your preferences. Make sure to set you new (upgraded) Catalog as the default. For more help with these steps see:

      2. Assuming that you have up-to-date backups of everything photographic I can not think of any particular causes for concern. I should warn here though that I am not a Windows user so I have no idea about what dangers lurk elsewhere in this operating system transition.

      3. Fortunately all of the work that you have done is saved in your existing Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog, and hopefully in each file’s metadata, so if all goes well you should not loose anything here.

      4. As long as you can run Lightroom 4 on both computers then it does not matter if one machine is using Windows 7 and the other is using Vista or Windows 8. Lightroom 4 is Lightroom 4 regardless of the operating system that launches it. Where you will run into trouble is trying to use your new (upgraded) Lightroom 4 Catalog with Lightroom 3. This is going to fail since Lightroom Catalog formats are not backwards compatible.

      All in all though the Lightroom 3 > Lightroom 4 process is not terribly hard and again with good backups that is one part of the change over that I would not cause me much stress.

      Best of luck,

      David Marx

      • Reg says:

        HI David,
        Once again very many thanks for taking the time to provide a very comprehensive answer to my questions. I am about to upgrade to Win 7 and LR4 once I have all software and hardware in place. Will let you know how it all goes when I’m done – this may be several weeks from now as I’m going to be busy with domestic chores.

        Again many thanks for your help.



  7. Ken says:

    Hi David, Yes I did try that. One thing is that my backups of all the images on the now damaged hard drive were not a mirror copy of the now damaged hard drive. I had been sending backups to a 2nd 1/2 full hard drive when I started with LR almost 1 year ago, and then when that backup drive filled up, I began using another drive for continuing to backup my main (now damaged) drive. But I would manually send every shoot over to the backup drive(s). SO, my backups are on 2 separate drives and weren’t in the same meticulous order as my main (now damaged) drive that the LR Catalog is pointing to. After my main drive fell, I bought a new drive and manually transferred everything from the 2 backup drives onto it following the file tree structure shown in the LR catalog which now is all question marks. However my top level folder “All Photos” isn’t showing up to use the “Find Missing Folder” thing on. I was expecting to be able to have that work to re-connect the catalog to the images on the new hard drive that I re-created the same file tree structure as the old drive on. But it seems there is a snag. My whole catalog PRE hard drive falling appears within LR on the left side of the screen under “Folders” on Drive ‘D’ (the now damaged hard drive, which I don’t even plug in anymore) If I click on ‘D’ under “Folders” in LR, I don’t see my parent level “All Photos”. And when I right click on one of the sub folders that does appear, I don’t have an option to ‘Add Parent Folder’. I only have an option to ‘Find Missing Folder’, ‘Remove’, ‘Promote Sub Folders’ or ‘Export this folder as a Catalog’. My new hard drive which has all the transferred backup photos but ALSO new imports to the same catalog appears in LR on the left side of the screen under “Folders” as drive “F” and I see the new imports there and I can right click them and have a host of options including “Add Parent Folder”. Ahh, So, All I want to do is see the “All Photos” folder with a Question mark in the catalog, and then point it to the “All Photos” folder on my new hard drive to re-connect the catalog with the RAW files at their new location!! But I can’t seem to do that. Am I misunderstanding how to do this?

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Ken,

      I am sorry to hear about your troubles but I want you to feel good about yourself. Yes, things are a mess right now but since you have backups of your photos nothing has truly been lost! You deserve some credit for planning ahead. Your manual backup system–and splitting the backup across multiple drives–was far from the ideal but it worked and for this you should feel proud.

      And the good news is that you are not far from having everything sorted out! Since you have now rebuild the folder older structure outside of Lightroom you should be in good shape once we take a couple of additional steps. If I were in your shoes right now here’s what I would do.

      1. First let’s implement a robust and redundant backup plan using good software that actually mirrors your [new] primary drive to a rotating pair of backup disks. (See Professional-Grade Backup Plans) Let’s build a new backup system now so that if anything else goes wrong at least your images are all safe and are all organized. Plus if my advice ends up to be crappy at least you can return to your present state from one of the backups.
      2. Remove the references to drive F: from your Lightroom Catalog. If these are new images that were not in Lightroom prior to this disaster be sure to save their metadata down to file level. If needed also use features like stars, colored labels, and keywords to record information about these files before you remove their reference points. I say this because features that you might have used with these (the F images only) like pick / reject flags, virtual copies, and collections will be lost once you remove them from the index. So be smart and replace any of these features with something that can be recorded into the file’s metadata first. If needed turn your virtual copies into real files too. (See How To Create A Second Copy of An Image Inside of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
      3. Quit Lightroom
      4. Now take control over the Windows Dynamic Drive Letter Assignment System. (See You need to make assign the same drive letter to the new drive that Lightroom recorded for your old primary [working] disk. If I follow you correctly then this was drive D:\
      5. Now make the new drives name an identical match with the disk that died. The spelling, spacing, and capitalization must match whatever you called the old disk. What these steps are really doing is fooling Lightroom into believing that the old disk is still there. If the disk is there then as far as Lightroom knows nothing has changed and nothing is missing!
      6. Restart Lightroom. All of your folders should now be online and active!
      7. Now you can right-click and Add the top level parent folder for this drive
      8. Reimport the additional images, if they were new, that were listed on the F: disk. You might also want to run the Synchronize Command by right-clicking on that top-level folder to see if there are additional images on the new drive that are not in your Catalog
      9. Back everything up again and begin a backup drive rotation system so that you never have to go through all this again!

      10. David Marx

      • Ken says:

        Hi David,

        So I have a couple new 2 TB Seagate Backup Plus Desktop 7200 RPM Drives that I am importing and keeping All Photos on and auto backing up onto the 2nd one. So the “All Photos” parent folder with all of my photos is being duplicated on the 2nd drive. They’re connected to the computer by USB 3. (Later in the year I plan on getting a new Macbook Pro Retina with SSD inside but until then I went with these Seagate Backup Plus Desktop hard drives which come included with the plug in – Paragon- to talk to and enable Macs to write to the drives easily so when I make the switch to the MBP these drives are still useable until they’re full. At that point I plan on getting a mac specific RAID 1 thunderbolt system)

        My catalog is on my 1 year old Thinkpad PC laptop with Windows 7 running an i7 quad-core 2.2 GHz, with 8 GB 1333 MHz RAM. The catalog and previews are in my Dropbox folder right on my computer on my C drive and get backed up to the cloud Dropbox site continuously. I also, every time I close out of Lightroom, instructed LR to backup my catalog onto the Seagate external hard drives where my photos live. So I have a catalog copy on my laptop (main catalog), synced to a dropbox folder in the cloud (copy #1), and backed up to my externals every time I exit Lightroom (when working at home where those hard drives are. When I’m working away from home I plan to export the job I need to work on as a catalog and keep that exported catalog and it’s images directly on my machine and run everything from the laptop itself). While Away from home my catalog backup, if something were to happen to my laptop, will be the Dropbox Cloud. The images I have on the 2 Seagates at home anyway, so while away from home I’m only concerned about backing up the work I’ve done while away which means the catalog. – What do you think about my hard drive/backup plan set up!?? I know you put a heavy emphasis on this, rightfully, so your thoughts are valued.

        OK, so I also had to upgrade to LR 4 since I also got a 5D MkIII and LR3 couldn’t read the files from it. I planned on doing this anyway. I made a Brand New Catalog for 2013 (I’ll “Import from Catalog” the 2012 catalog which has about 60,000 images to add it into the new catalog) So I have this brand new fresh catalog with only about 1100 images from my first wedding shoot (2nd shooting) of the year that I helped a photo friend with, which lives on my brand new 2 TB hard drive connected to my computer by USB 3, and my catalog now lives directly on my machine. All these things seem like IMPROVEMENTS compared to how I was working all last year, my first year using Lightroom. – Last year I was using the same laptop PC with a Seagate FreeAgent Goflex 1 TB USB 3 portable external drive that was only a 5400 RPM drive! This is the drive that fell off my couch and stopped working and we have written 3 or 4 times in the last couple months about. I had all my photos And catalog on that drive. So it seems like I’m working in a better far more efficient way now.

        Yet, yesterday when editing that wedding, it was the most excruciatingly Slow editing process I have ever had to endure. EVERY action took 2 seconds to register. And yet, last year with LR 3 and my slower external hard drive, except in rare instances, it was at or near real time editing. When I clicked things, they worked immediately, the way you expect. I didn’t have to wait for something in the develop module to react. I mean it was Really prohibitively slow. Added many hours to my editing time.

        A couple other tidbits : This was my first time “Copying as DNG”. i had always just worked on the CR2 files. But that shouldn’t cause this slowness, right?? And I have the “Automatically Write Changes into XMP” box UNchecked. I am rendering Standard previews upon import.

        So, I wanted to run this by you and the readers for your thoughts. I really need to make the program work in a useable fashion! Appreciate anything that comes to mind. Thanks so much.

        • David Marx says:

          Dear Ken,

          I apologize. There is absolutely no way for me to diagnose the slowness that you are experiencing unless I am sitting at your keyboard. Even I were in your office I might still be stumped. Lightroom performance issues are not simple things to diagnose and Windows endless source of mystery for me.

          I would think that using a good computer–the Thinkpad–with fast hard drives should make things zippy. Unchecking the “Automatically Write Changes to XMP” preference switch might make things even faster. Skipping the DNG conversion should speed things up too. Do you see the same troubles if you experiment with a brand new Catalog? Do you get the same troubles when these external drives are connected to another computer? Am I certain that any of these are the source of your trouble? Not in the least bit. Apologies.

          Have you tried contacting Adobe customer service or searching for Windows users with similar troubles on the official Adobe support forums? See Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Forums

          Best of luck,
          David Marx

  8. auctions says:

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  9. Ken says:

    Hi! Thanks David, and everyone for your comments and help on this site. I have a new thing to tackle….I recently had my external catalog where my images and catalog lives slide off the couch, all of 18 inches. And now it’s beeping at me and not recognized by the computer. 1st: Anyone have any experience having the data ifted from the drive in this state? But, most importantly I want to know where to find my Backup Catalog! I know it’s there because it would yell at me every few times closing out of Lightroom to backup the catalog and test the integrity. And I know it’s still on my computer, not on my external because LR wants to put your catalog on your computer when you first start it and I had to re launch the program and catalog from the external how David teaches us when I first started. But I remember I left my backup location on the computer. But I don’t know where it is! What should I look for? And how do I use it? I have all the images backed up to other external hard drives so once I have the catalog in place I’ll plug in the correct hard drive for the job the catalog is pointing to etc… thanks! Look forward to hearing from you!

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Ken,

      I am sorry to hear about the damaged external hard drive. I cannot tell you exactly where you were storing the backup copies of your Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog but I might be able to help you find them. By default Adobe Photoshop Lightroom creates a folder called “Lightroom” inside of your ~user account / Pictures folder. If this folder does indeed exist on your internal disk then odds are that there is a folder inside it called backups and within that folder are subfolders showing the date and time stamp for each catalog backup.

      If you do not have a Lightroom / Backups folder then it is time to do a search. Use your operating system to look for all files then end with the .lrcat extension. .lrcat = Lightroom Catalogs.

      Once you find your most recent backup I suggest copying the .lrcat to a new folder and renaming it to something meaningful. When you double click on this file it will launch Lightroom and you will be back in business. Three things are likely to happen though when you launch this Catalog. 1. You will need to set all your preferences over again. 2. All of your images will be missing / offline until you use the Find Missing Folders Command to connect the Catalog with whatever hard drive is replacing the damaged one. See Using the Find Missing Folders Command in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. 3. All of your 1:1 and standard size previews will be gone but this is nothing to worry about. It will slow Lightroom down a little as this get regenerated but that’s not a big deal.

      Hopefully restoring your catalog and reconnecting your images will be easy. If I may suggest though your life would be a whole lot easier today if you had implement a far more robust and complete backup plan before the drive hit the floor. See Professional-Grade Backup Plans.

      Happy Holidays

      David Marx

      • Ken says:


        Extremely helpful. Thank You very much. I was on the right track and everything but you just helped to confirm what I thought I was doing, and also I was certainly confused about all the file folders in my backup folder. The last one was the most recent one though as you pointed out! Thank you! SO,…while I have been good even before moving to LR last year at backing everything up on other drives, the “mindset” of the Lightroom workflow wasn’t all there. I had never had total mirrors of things on other hard drives and would just make sure everything was there on other drives not necessarily in the same order or file trees and such. I have my recently damaged drive backed up this way on 2 different hard drives. So now, I am trying to recopy them to a new drive in the same file tree the LR catalog shows. Is this necessary? Or will LR be able to find them if I just throw everything on the new drive? i plan on starting a new 2013 catalog and upgrading to LR 4, so this catalog is find of going to be archived. I will take my finished jpegs from all the shoots I need them and the chances of me needing to go back to the digital negative are super slim. But I will have it on this new drive and another drive. And going forward for the new catalog I then want to buy a simple raid system or at least 2 hard drives that auto clone what I’m writing to the 1st one. Little confused on that. Any more recent recommendations than your videos? And, again, this is all great I appreciate it!

  10. Carlos says:

    The beauty of this tutorial is his simplicity, very very clear and direct to the point! Muchas gracias!

  11. Shari says:

    Hi David,
    I currently have My LR catalog and images on an external hard drive. I bought a new external hard drive for back up. I used your video to format the new external hd but am now wondering…do I just copy both the catalog and images to this new ehd? How do I continue to back up new images? Is this the best route to go? Or is there something for Mac that can back up and mirror any edits I do on my main ehd? Is that asking too much? If there is an article or video of yours I have missed please point me that direction. Your help is appreciated! Thanks, Shari

    • Hi Shari, obviously I am not David but I also have all my LR catalog information as well as my actual images on a WD ehd. How I handle backup is that I have another ehd which is connected as a network drive. It is partitioned into 2 drives each 1TB. I also have a 2TB Clickfree C6 which stays connected to my desktop. I backup my LR catalog automatically every time I exit to the network ehd. Whenever I import images I always also import them to the other partition on the network ehd. So every image on my WD ehd is also on my network ehd. The Clickfree drive does automatic backups of my desktop hd (files only) and also backs up the images and LR catalog files from my network hd. Since I backup my LR catalog on every exit I don’t worry about the backup images on the network or Clickfree drives having the latest edits. If for some reason I was to lose my images on the WD ehd the network backup (and Clickfree backup) is exactly the same folder structure so it would just be a matter of copying it to a new WD ehd along with the LR backup from the network hd. Clear as mud? I am sorry. I was trying to help but I am not as articulate or good of a writer as David.

      • David Marx says:

        Dear George E Givens Jr.,

        Thank you for sharing your backup system. We have very different methods but very similar goals. We use different tools but in the end what really matters is that our precious photos are safely stored on multiple drives in multiple places. The peace of mind that comes from knowing that I have multiple copies of my important stuff in multiple places lets me sleep well at night. Thanks again.

        David Marx

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Shari,

      Perhaps my tutorial on Professional-Grade Backup Plans can answer some of these questions!

      David Marx

  12. George Givens Jr says:

    Mr. Marx,

    I have had Lightroom for some time now, well at least since 3.0. I just happenned to stumble on your excellent series of tutorials.

    If you are still monitoring this post I have a couple of questions for you. I moved my Lightroom folder over to my Western Digital portable hard drive and renamed the files lrcat, lrdata, and LR settings folder to a descriptive name (GEGJr’s …). Well now when I launch LR using the lrcat shortcut on my desktop (oh I have PC), LR created a second LR settings folder on the WD drive inside the GEGJr’s Lightroom folder where there is of course the GEGJr’s Lightroom settings folder. Do you know why it has done that? As a result even though the default catalog is GEGJR’s lrcat the preset folders being used are the ones in the new un-named LR settings folder. Do you know why? Oh, I almost forgot, where all my LR stuff used be, on an external networked HD which by the worked for me because I only had one person accessing the catalog at time, all the LR stuff, lrcat, lrdata, LR settings folder was housed inside a folder named Lightroom. I also renamed that folder GEGJR’s Lightroom. Should I had done that?
    My second, well okay, fourth question is do you know how to prevent Windows 7 Professional from giving the HD a different drive letter everytime I plug it in? I know in Windows XP I could establish a permanent drive letter but I haven’t been able to figure out how to do that with Win 7 Pro.
    If you have time could you please help me? I am pretty good with a computer but I can’t figure this out.

    Best Regards

    • David Marx says:

      Dear George Givens Jr,

      Let’s see if I can answer some of these questions but in reverse order.

      1. Taking control over the Windows Dynamic Drive Letter Assignment system remains basically the same in Windows 7 as it was in Xp. You need to find your way into the Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Drive Management. My tutorial on this one is dated but it might still help. See

      2. Your Lightroom Settings folder cannot be renamed. You can change where this folder is stored: in a factory default location or within your catalog’s folder but you cannot change its name. When you renamed your old Lightroom Settings folder it became “lost” to the application so Lightroom automatically created a new one. My advice is to copy anything you need out of the new Lightroom Settings folder and then undo your renaming here.

      David Marx

      • Hi David, I can’t tell you how delighted I am you read my post and took time to respond. Your explanation of the LR settings folder explains why it keeps getting rebuild. DUH, George!!! I feel like an idiot. As for creating an alias to my LR catalog, I understand how to do that however, an alias is only as good as the last location to what it is pointing. Sometimes I will have another device, say a thumb drive or even my iPod connected to my desktop. So when I reconnect the ehd the drive letter it would normally have will already be taken and Windows assigns another drive letter. Therefore the LR alias will be pointing to the wrong location and even though LR will tell me it can’t find it, I have found if wait too long to respond to the message LR will go ahead and build another catalog on the desktop HD. Any suggestions? Once again thank you so much for your help and for the brilliantly done tutorials.
        Happy Holidays,

  13. Karen says:

    I’ve watched several of your videos but am still having a problem. I am using a PC….

    I have all my photos on either my E: or my G: internal HDs. I back up both internal HDs to an external HD. I would like my catalog to be on my G: so that it gets backed up with my photos.

    However, when I pick File, Create new catalog and select my G: nothing happens. It seems to insist I use the default C: folder. I haven’t imported any photos into LR yet, since I don’t have the catalog location where I want it.

    What am I missing?

    Thanks! Karen

    • Karen says:

      Well, I thought LR would create the .lrcat file, but it didn’t. I finally just created it myself. Now I have selected it as my default catalog and will start importing all my images to it.

      Sorry to be such a dunce….


      • David Marx says:

        Dear Karen,

        No need to apologize. Catalog creation is confusing stuff. I am glad to hear that you got it all figured out and that you were able to set your new catalog up as the default.

        David Marx

  14. Stephen says:

    David, I’ve just bought a new MacBook Pro (Retina) and am looking forward to the increase in performance! I’m planning to store my photos on an external drive (since my internal drive is a 256 gig SSD) and have my catalog on the internal drive.

    What I want to know is this: since I will have both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports, is there a sufficient performance advantage on the Thunderbolt connections that would make a difference for my purposes? Will I feel a sluggishness working on my photos on a USB 3.0 drive? Or will any advantage in speed be noticeable only when working with, say, video files? I’ve researched this, and I’m familiar with the different throughputs of the different systems (and RAID 0 systems), but don’t know whether those advantages will be apparent in real life.

    Thanks for your help.

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Stephen,

      Congratulations on the new laptop! I am afraid that you are now ahead of me in the technology. I do not yet have any thunderbolt external drives so I cannot give you a first hand report on how their performance compares to USB 3 devices. My guess is that thunderbolt drives will far outperform USB especially when you are moving or working with multiple files because the port is bidirectional. Perhaps this article will help

      David Marx

      • Stephen says:

        From my research, it appears that in BOTH cases — USB 3.0 and TB — the connections are faster than the drives themselves. With two exceptions — RAID 0 arrays and SSD drives. And only multiple SSD drives in a RAID 0 array can come close to saturating the capacity of the TB. So having a single, non-SSD drive with a TB connection is sort of a waste of money. So I’m leaning toward something like a CalDigit VR2 with USB 3.0. Thanks for your thoughts!

  15. Carl Socolow says:

    Hey David,

    An odd little situation. I presently store my photos on a partitioned second drive in my MacPro. The drive has three partitions: HD2, HD3 and Swap; the latter is space set aside for when I’m using Photoshop. LR3 is installed along with other apps on my main harddrive under Apps. The catalogs are on HD2 in a folder called LightroomCatalogs with a subfolder with the catalog name. Also on this drive is a folder called Photodownloads where I download all my photoshoots. The physical drive is 2TB. HD2 partition is 750GB. Swap is 500GB. HD3 is 750GB. I’m running out of room on my HD2 (32GB left). I want to copy HD2 over to my 2TB boot drive and repartition my three-partition drive to two: 250GB swap and 1.75TB HD2 using the same nomenclature that LR3 recognizes in the catalog. What problems will I create? Will I have to recatalog the drive when I copy everything back from bootdrive to newly repartitioned second drive. Or will LR see this as the previously-named HD2/Photodownloads and HD2/LightroomCatalogs?

    Also, as I’m backing up the LR catalogs folder onto bootdrive I see the folder is humongous (53GB) with a file count of close to 250 items even though the catalogs show about 3GB themselves. Is this the catalogename Previews.lrdata?



  16. Ken says:

    Hi, Great videos. I think I want to have everything (photos AND catalog) live off of my machine on externals, which will then duplicated on a separate drive. (thinking of a Raid system) but was wondering if I can have a mirror copy of my catalog on my laptop disc as well?? – This way I can work on the road. But, the source of the images the catalog points to would be different…I’d probably bring the files for the project with me on the laptops internal drive. How do I get the catalog to point to the new location? Do i need to create a separate catalog? If not, how point it to the different source, then change it back to the externals when I return? Thanks!

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Ken,

      Changing the path that your Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog knows for your source files is easy using the Update Folder Location Command. You will find this option when you right-click on a folder’s name in the Library Module Folders Panel. Likewise, the “Find Missing Folders Command can be used to re-connect your Catalog Reference Points with your image files after the source files have been moved from drive to drive.

      That part of your question is easy. Working with multiple Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog is the tricky part. Unfortunately, Photoshop Lightroom is not a network ready application with an auto-synchronization feature. Each Catalog that you create is a separate entity. If you truly want two mirrored copies of the dame database then you need to use additional software to keep them in sync. Modern cloud synchronization tools like Dropbox can make this easier but there are limits and hurdles. See Gene McCullagh’s excellent “A Catalog in the Cloud” tutorial for more on working with Dropbox.

      My advice- keep it simple. Keep your Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog and all of your images on a single high-speed high-quality external hard drive. If you want to work with Lightroom then travel with the drive. If you need to travel lighter then leave the drive at home and hold off on using Lightroom until you are done travelling. If you need to see your images while you are on the road, or do light edits, then work with non-Catalog based tools like the Adobe Bridge. Save the index stuff until you are working in your one and only complete Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog.

      David Marx

      • Ken says:

        Great, Thanks! I like the idea of working off externals. I was considering getting the Seagate
        FreeAgent GoFlex 1.5TB SuperSpeed USB 3.0 External Portable Hard Drive. It has an array of connection options. I would like eSATA and USB3 so I have high sped connections on both Macbook Pro’s (w/eSATA connector)and my Thinkpad. (my Thinkpad has both eSATA and USB3..and I hope the NEW MBP’s i hope to buy when they come out later this year will have that as well) But this drive only spins at about 5000 rpm. Am I negating the speed of the connections by having a slow spinning drive? Any updated thoughts on good bus powered portable primary drives with these connections or on that drive mentioned above?? Thanks!

  17. Nikki says:

    Hi David
    I am using your method external catalogue and external storage.

    i have used your tip to rename my external with the catalogue as drive z.
    MY problem

    Both of my external hard drives are the same (My Book Western Digital 2tb) They are both coming up as Z drive. I can’t seem to get them to open as separate drives. I changed the new one for back up to drive W and the original catalogue storeage changed itself to drive W.
    It seems that I can’t be working in one and save my back up to the other because when they are both plugged in only one is showing up under MY Computer on my PC?

    Do you have some suggestions??

    Thanks Nikki

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Nikki,

      I suspect that both of your hard drives have the same exact name. Try giving them different names and then assigning them to drive letter Z and drive letter Y. Right now I think that you and the computer are having a hard time telling them apart.

      David Marx

      • Nikki says:

        Thanks David re the reply about the two external hard drives. I think it is a windows 7 problem. I have both drives a different name and tried to re name the drive of the second one to drive W . Well when I put the first one back it that had been changed to Z drive my computer automatically changed it to drive W as well. So it is still seeing the two as one drive and I can not see both at one time to back up. Is it the scrip or signature of the drive. Would I be safe at getting a different brand of drive for my back up one or do u think they would still clash. Nikki

  18. Great site… Please help if you can. My catalogue is sitting on an external drive. But… I can only access previews and images when working on one of the computers and not another.
    Do you have any thoughts.

    • David Marx says:

      Dear David Rogers,

      How is the drive formatted? What operating systems are you using and are both computers capable of reading and writing from that particular drive format? What are the file permissions on the drives? Any one of these and more could be answer!

      David Marx

  19. Timothy Wlodarczyk says:

    How about using dropbox as storage and auto backup of LR catalogues?

    I always import all files into lightroom from my CF card, once its all on my PC, i then export catalogue + RAW files to an external for backup purposes.

  20. Tim Fischer says:


    I’m new to LR3 and have been a religious follower of your blog. It’s been a great source for me. I’ve been going through this post/comments and haven’t found my exact problem. I’ve been running LR and my catalog off an external on my mac book. The other day, I decided to move it to my home office PC since that is always hooked up to my monitor. I already had LR installed on the PC, plugged in the external and the catalog was available and fired right up. I was amazed at how easy it was. I just updated to LR3.6 and now when I import I get the preview not available message for all images. They’re available to import, but not in preview. I purged the cache already and no luck. I tried opening LR from the external and from the PC hd. Any thoughts?

    • David Marx says:

      Dear Tim Fishcer,

      This sounds like a file lock, or Windows permissions, issue. I should ask first though what file format are you using for the External drive? Assuming that the drive format is not the trouble then I would poke around in the Windows permissions for that drive, folder, file, etc.

      David Marx

  21. Sue Anderson says:


    I’m wanting to follow your video and move my lightroom catalog to an external drive, but don’t I have to move my Pictures file there also so when I take the LR catalog to another computer I have the picture files also?



    • David Marx says:

      Dear Sue Anderson,

      If you want to move your work from computer to computer then you do indeed need to move both your images and your Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog to the external drive. This is the technique that I demonstrate in the third video in this post! If you decide to go this route I urge you to use a high-quality high-speed external disk that connects to your computers fastest port. See Recommended External Hard Drives for drive suggestions and don’t forget to also backup the external disk.

      David Marx

  22. Larry Lyons says:


    I made a huge mistake when I purchased Lightroom more than 8 months ago by not obtaining your tutorials particularly in regards to organizing your photos. Instead, I lanuched the program and proceeded to organize my photos into several catalogs. Of course my dilemma now is that I cannot link photos and collections between catalogs.

    I would like to reorganize my entire photo collection into one catalog onto an external drive. Is there a way that I can merge my catalogs into a single catalog and folder without losing all of the metadata and previous organization?

    Thank you,


    • David Marx says:

      Dear Larry Lyons,

      You haven’t done anything wrong or harmful to your images. Some Adobe Photoshop Lightroom users like multiple catalogs. I dislike working with multiple Lightroom Catalogs but that’s just my opinion. Fortunately you can merge catalogs together or you can start over.

      Merging Catalogs using the Import From Catalog Command and then moving your Catalog over to another drive is one option. Another way to solve this problem is to outsmart Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and then build a new Catalog. At first glance this is going to look like a lot of steps but it is not very hard and it maybe a better way to get all of your images and your existing Collections combined together into a new Catalog.

      1. Open your existing Lightroom Catalog.
      2. Turn on the “Automatically Write Changes to XMP” preference switch.
      3. Go into your first Collection. Double-click the Collection’s name so that Lightroom will show you only these images on the grid.
      4. Select them all. (Click here for help with selection methods.)
      5. Add a new keyword to all of these files. Use your current Collection’s name for your new keyword. I sometimes add the letters “T-” before the keyword. “T-” for temporary. This part is not essential but I find it helpful.
      6. Repeat steps 3-5 for each and every Collection. The goal is to mark every file with the appropriate keywords–keywords that mark the image as part of this or that Collection.
      7. Back everything up. See our article on Professional-Grade Backup Plans.
      8. Create a new Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog. This is a great time to think about where to keep your Lightroom Catalog. This is also a good time to give your new Lightroom Catalog a meaningful name and to create a shortcut or alias that leads right to it.
      9. Import all of your existing images into the new Catalog. The Import with Add option is a great choice for this step if you are not needing to move or copy your images from place to place. If that is not your goal then use either the Import with Copy or the Import with Move option.
      10. Now search through your images using each temporary keyword. Search for keywords contains “T-Your old Collection Name. Our tutorial on searching with metadata might help.
      11. Turn each search results back into Collections.
      12. Delete your old Lightroom Catalogs.
      13. Done!

      Hope this helps,

      David Marx