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.
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.
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.