How To Transfer a Lightroom Catalog and Photo Library to a New Computer

Lightroom Catalog Transfer

If you have been using Adobe Lightroom for very long, you might be in the situation where your image catalog has outlasted your current computer. Accordingly, when you upgrade your computer to something newer and faster, you will want to take advantage of that improved speed and begin using it for your image processing workflow.¬†Of course, you also don’t want to lose access to all of the images you processed on your old computer.

Lightroom works by using catalogs that contain processing info related to the images in your Lightroom library. As such, the Lightroom catalog does not contain the actual photo files, but rather data concerning organizational and processing actions you’ve made while working with your photos inside Lightroom.

And simply plugging in a hard drive that contains all of your photos from your Lightroom library won’t carry over your final edits. As a result, you will want to take your Lightroom catalog along with you to the new computer. But how do you do that?

It’s a fairly straightforward process actually. Follow these steps and you will be able to pick up right where you left off with your old machine.

Step 1. Locate and Copy Your Lightroom Catalog

Copy the Lightroom 5 Catalog.lrcat (or whatever name you’ve given to your particular catalog) file onto a USB thumb drive.

Lightroom Catalog Location

To find your catalog, go to Lightroom > Catalog Settings… > General.

You can then see the file path where your catalog is stored on your computer. Clicking the “Show” button will open that location in Finder (Mac) or Explorer (Windows). Now, copy that file to a USB drive.

Step 2 (Optional). Copy Your Preview Files

Copy your Lightroom 5 Catalog Previews.lrdata and Lightroom 5 Catalog Smart Previews.lrdata (again, or whatever your catalog name is) onto a thumb drive or external drive. You will find these files in the same location as your catalog file from Step 1.

This is an optional step because Lightroom will automatically build preview files when you import your old catalog onto a new machine. (Note that Lightroom will not automatically build Smart Preview files though.) It can be a time saver if you need to get to work right away and don’t want to wait for your entire library to generate preview images. Depending on how many images are in your library, these files could range from hundreds of megabytes to several gigabytes in size.

Step 3. Transfer the Catalog and Preview Files to the New Computer

Now that you have your catalog and (optionally) preview files on thumb drive or external hard drive, connect that drive to your new computer and place them in the same file path as you found them on the old computer. Alternatively, you can put them in a custom location if you have a reason for doing so.

Step 4. Transfer Photos

Assuming you have your actual photos from your Lightroom library on an external drive, transferring those photos is as simple as connecting the external drive to the new computer.

It the photos are on an internal drive of the old computer, you will need to perform a file transfer to an external hard drive (or physically remove the hard drive and install it in the new computer).

Step 5. Open the Catalog on the New Computer

Once you have copied the catalog and preview files to the new computer and connected your hard drive containing the photos from your library (or otherwise transferred them to the new computer), you can open the catalog in Lightroom.

You can open the Lightroom catalog by either going to File > Open… and choosing the location of the *.lrcat file, or your can double-click on the *.lrcat file in Finder (Mac) or Explorer (Windows), which will launch Lightroom and with the catalog opened.

Lightroom Photos Not Found - Find Missing Folder

Note: If your photos don’t connect, you can right-click on the top-level folder and choose “Find Missing Folder…” and then navigate to the location of your photos from Step 4 above.

That’s it. You should have all your images with your edits intact on your new computer. It is a fairly painless process. If you opted to not transfer your preview files, just go find a place to chill for a little while so Lightroom can build your preview files on your new computer. Otherwise, you should be up and running.

Feel free to drop additional tips or troubleshooting pointers in the comments below.



  1. Todd says

    Do you have a preferred system for syncing your library across multiple computers? For example I have a desktop pc with windows 7 and a laptop with windows 8 but if I work on photos on both machines it would be redundant to have to reedit a photo on say the desktop after having already done that on the laptop or vice versa. Currently I am using an external hard drive and swap it between the two computers. Short of having a network drive this (sort of) works as it is can go out the door with the laptop if I need it to. But I am still looking for other options.

  2. PAUL CLARKE says

    Hi. I’m all quite new to this technology and its terminology !! But I have images in Lightroom 4 on a Windows PC. I have just brought an iMac and installed Lightroom 5. Can all of my images on the PC in Lightroom 4 be ‘easily’ transferred to the new Mac and into Lightroom 5 ? I have an external hard drive and I have copied the Lightroom 4 folders from the PC (LR4 Catalog ws.Irdata & LR4 Catalog .Irdata etc and a folder containing all images etc).
    Is it possible to copy and merge these different versions of Lightroom ? I really don’t want to loose or corrupt the images or indeed mess up generally !! Can someone explain, very simply, how this is achieved . Many thanks.

    • says

      Paul: One of the features of Lightroom is that it’s cross platform so it works on both Windows and Mac. As such a LR catalogue on one system can be easily read by the other. Another is that LR never touches your original images unless you specifically tell it to do so, so your files are safe. All of the changes you’ve made to the images are stored as ‘history steps’ in the LR catalogue. You CAN write this information out to the metadata of the image files themselves, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

      Now, you have two issues here. You’re moving your images and catalogue to a new location AND you’re upgrading the catalogue from LR4-5. It’s not a problem, really, but there are a couple of things to be aware of.

      First, back up both your images and your existing catalogue. It sounds like you’ve got two copies, one on your PC and one on an external drive, so you’re good there.

      Second, copy the image files, the LR catalogue and related files to your new computer. Odds are they’ll be ‘lost’ because the way a PC and a Mac talk about file structure are a bit different, but that’s okay, so don’t panic.

      Third, when you open an LR4 catalogue in LR5 for the first time, LR will create a second copy of your LR4 catalogue and use that to create an LR5 catalogue, leaving the original LR4 catalogue untouched. Once the conversion is complete you can keep or delete the secondary LR4 catalogue as you wish.

      Now, as mentioned in the article above, when you move your images to a different drive LR May not know where to find them and you have to relink them. That’s not a problem, but there is an ‘easiest’ way, especially if all of your images are stored under one main folder like the Pictures folder. For example, on my computer I keep all of my images in the Pictures folder, then there are subfolders for each camera, and within those subfolders for year and month. In the Lightroom Library panel, click on Library from the top and make sure ‘Show Images in Subfolders’ is checked. Next, if you can’t see the top-most folder in your left panel list in the Library folder (using the above example, let’s say the ‘Pictures’ folder wasn’t showing), right-click on one of the top-most folders you have and click on ‘Show Parent Folder’. Keep doing this until your top most folder of images is in the list. With ‘Show Images in Subfolders’ checked, you should be able to see All of the images in the subfolders showing. If they need to be re-linked, the folder (Pictures using the above example) will have a ? beside it and each image will have an ! in the top right corner of the preview when looking at the grid of images. In LR4 and previous it was a ? but they changed it for the images for LR5. Go figure. Click on the ? beside the folder and select ‘Find Missing Folder’. This will open Mac Finder and you can navigate to the folder location. Doing so should relink all of the images. If you need to relink individual images, click on the ! on the image preview and select ‘Locate’ then navigate to the image’s new location and click on the image. LR will relink that image and all other images in that folder and subfolders.

      It’s not as complicated as it sounds. If you want to know more about how LR works with metadata, try