How To Upgrade To Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5

June 28, 2013 | | Comments 34

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 BoxThe Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 upgrade process often frustrates existing Lightroom users. Sadly, the official Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 installer package that you purchased at the store, or downloaded from Adobe online, provides minimal instruction. This lack of guidance often creates confusion because there are multiple steps involved in the Photoshop Lightroom 5 upgrade process and because fairly sophisticated computer skills are required.

Many users do not understand that each version of the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom application is a unique stand-alone entity. Installing Photoshop Lightroom version 5 does not automatically erase, remove, or modify an older version of this software from your computer. Just installing the Lightroom 5 software package is not enough. You need to install the application and then separately upgrade your existing Lightroom Catalog(s) for use with the new Lightroom 5 format. Hopefully, this step-by-step tutorial will take some of the confusion out of the upgrade process for existing Photoshop Lightroom users.

Step 1: Back Everything Up and Save All Of Your Metadata Down To The File Level

Upgrading to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 should not harm your computer or your photographs. The odds that something will go tragically wrong are very slim but it is always a good idea to create a complete backup of your entire system before undertaking any major software change.

Along with creating a robust reliable backup I urge you to take this opportunity to save all of your metadata down to the file level too. Although this step is not technically required by the software it is strongly advised. If there is a disaster, and all of your data has been saved down to the file level xmp metadata block, then recovery is easy. But if your current metadata has not been saved down and disaster strikes then life gets miserable!

Step 2: Acquiring The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Installer Package

There are three ways that you can get the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 installer package.

  • Option 1: If you are an Adobe Creative Cloud member then you can use the Creative Cloud App Control Panel to download and install your Lightroom 5 upgrade. This is the easiest method but it is cost prohibitive unless you are going use multiple Adobe applications on a regular basis.
  • Option 2: You can download the Lightroom 5 Upgrade installer package, or the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Trial Version installer, from Adobe’s website.
  • Option 3: You can purchase the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Upgrade in a box with a DVD from a company like

If you purchased your upgrade software in a box, or via a download, then please save your new Lightroom 5 serial number. Since we are talking about upgrades here you might also need a valid serial number from an older version of Lightroom to complete the activation process. May I strongly suggest that you write both your new Photoshop Lightroom 5 serial number and your older serial number and keep this information someplace safe just in case you ever have to reinstall the application. Better still, use a password and serial number manager like 1Password to store this important information.

Step 3: Install the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 Application

Now it is time to let the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 installer do its thing. During the upgrade process you will need to agree the legalese in the Adobe’s End User Licensing Agreement and you may need to give the installer permission to add new information to your hard drive. If the installer asks for guidance be sure that you install the Lightroom 5 application onto your internal hard drive. Apple users should install the program to their internal Macintosh HD > Applications Folder. Most Windows users will want to install the Lightroom 5.exe into the Programs Folder on their C:\ drive.

Step 4: Upgrade your Older Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalog for use with the new Lightroom 5 Format

Once your new software has been successfully installed you should find a new Photoshop Lightroom 5 alias (Mac), or shortcut (PC), on your desktop. My advice is ignore this icon for now. Ignore this Lightroom 5 program shortcut / alias icon this time because clicking it on does not yet guarantee that the right Catalog gets upgraded. I strongly suggest tracking down your Lightroom Catalog at the operating system level and using the Right Click > Open With > Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 method instead.

Lightroom 5 will begin working on a copy of your existing Lightroom Catalog once you invoke the upgrade process. If you use the right-click trick on your existing Catalog then the program will convert a copy for use with the new Lightroom 5 Catalog format. If you skip this step then you might upgrade the wrong Catalog or worse you might end up creating a blank Lightroom 5 database. Upgrading the wrong Catalog, or creating a blank Catalog by accident, is needless and frustrating if you are already a power Photoshop Lightroom users.

The Adobe engineer’s have been quite careful here. Upgrading an existing Lightroom Catalog does not alter the old .lrcat file in anyway. Lightroom 5 always makes a copy of your older .lrcat file at this phase of the upgrade process so that you can go back to using an older version of the program should any trouble occur.

If you are working with a large Catalog the copy and upgrade process might take a while so please be patient. When the Lightroom 5 Catalog upgrade process completes you will now have two .lrcat files. The new version–the Lightroom 5 version–will either say “5″ somewhere in its filename or it might now have the numbers “-2,” or “-3” etc., appended onto the end of your existing Catalog’s file name.

Once the Catalog upgrade process is complete you could go back and manually delete your older .lrcat files. I would urge you not to delete anything right away though. You are welcome to delete your old Catalog eventually but I suggest waiting until you are completely convinced that Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 is working properly. Leaving a copy of your older Lightroom Catalog on your hard drive for a few extra weeks will do you no harm. Yes, the old Lightroom Catalog files take up a bit of disk space but having your old Catalog around might be useful if you encounter unforeseen troubles.

Step 5: Set Your Lightroom 5 Default Catalog Preference

Once you have successfully upgraded your old Catalog you should immediately visit your Preferences Menus. The upgrade process is not complete until you set a the right default in your Lightroom 5 Preferences. Failure to complete this step often creates confusion. Users who skip this phase of the process are often asked to upgrade their old Lightroom Catalogs again and again. Often those who skip this critical step eventual create a complete mess of needless extra .lrcat files.

To prevent confusion, please visit the Preferences > General Tab and tell the program to load your new upgraded Lightroom 5 Catalog as the default.
While you are in the Preferences Menu look through all the tabs, and the Catalog Settings Menus, to make sure that you have properly configured Lightroom 5 to suit your workflow.

Step 6: Back Everything Up Again

If the upgrade process worked properly then you should now have access to all of the images, collections, etc. that were in your older Lightroom Catalog. If everything worked properly then you should have all of your old information plus the exciting new tools that Lightroom 5 brings to the game. A clever photographer will take this opportunity to make yet another complete system backup at this point so that they are ready if disaster strikes.


That’s the whole process. If all goes well then it generally takes about an hour to move from an older version up to Lightroom 5. It may take considerably longer if you are using a very large Catalog, or working with a slow hard drive, but and the new tools that Lightroom 5 offers are totally worth the effort. Click here to learn more about some of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5′s best new features. Once the upgrade process is complete, and you are confident in your backup plans, the fun of cutting image management and processing begins!


Filed Under: (02) Lightroom SetupAdobe Photoshop Lightroom TutorialsFeatured Articles


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+.