How Many Images Can You Have in One Lightroom Catalog and Have It Still Perform Well?

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Last week when we were hosting our live KelbyOne member Q&A webcast about my Simplified Lightroom Image Management (SLIM) System online course, one of our viewers asked that question, and I was stumped.

So, I went to my friends at Adobe and asked that same question. I knew that “back in the day” (when Lightroom first shipped around 10-years ago), catalogs could start to get sluggish when they hit around 50,000 or 60,000 images, but I also know that since then Adobe has made great advancements in the backend of Lightroom and that catalogs could now be really big, but I was never sure “how big” and if there was a number where even Adobe would say, “OK, that’s too much.”

Here’s what I learned:
You can put an insane amount of images in your catalog. In fact, Adobe knows of users that have single Lightroom catalogs with literally millions of images, including one that has over six million images and it still runs like a champ, so I guess at this point nobody knows exactly what the limit is (or if there even is one), but we know this — the roof isn’t six million. 🙂

There are a lot of things that determine how zippy Lightroom is, so it’s possible to have a much smaller catalog that still feels sluggish, because there are so many things  that affect Lightroom’s performance, including your hardware configuration (everything from how much RAW you have, to how fast the hard drive is that you’ve got your catalog installed on, and there’s graphics cards issues, and workflow issues, and well…you get the idea).

How to tune Lightroom for peak performance
Here’s a link to a really eye-opening article from Adobe , on how to set your system, and Lightroom, to run its fastest on your particular system. I have to tell you, there were definitely some things in there that I did not know when it comes to tuning your system. Well worth the read (and thanks to Adobe’s Jeff Tranberry for turning me on to this info, and letting me share it with you).

Hope you found that helpful, and here’s wishing you a zippy Lightroom weekend!

Best,

-Scott

P.S. If you’re looking for a fun Lightroom course to watch this weekend, check out my class named after this very site — Lightroom Killer Tips. Here’s the link.

Author: Scott Kelby

Scott is the President of KelbyOne, an online educational community for photographers, Photoshop and Lightroom users. He's editor and publisher of Photoshop User Magazine, Editor of "Lightroom magazine"; Conference Technical Chair for the Photoshop World Conference & Expo, and the author of a string of bestselling Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography books. You can learn more about Scott at http://scottkelby.com

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15 Comments

  1. I’ll have to check that article from Adobe. I have significantly fewer files, my machine is pretty fast and to me, lightroom is turtle slow… especially in the catalog/grid view, starting up, importing, etc…

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  2. I believe that the hardware configuration and how you use your laptop/desktop sets the number. If you’re a professional, you can keep a device especially for using Lightroom and you will reach 6M+. If you’re doing it at amateur level or just as a side hustle I don’t think you’re going to reach that number. Anyway, this is just an assumption. The real number when you should start cleaning your catalog is when you feel it doesn’t work properly.

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  3. HI Scott – I just started to get this error message that says my catalog doesn’t compress because its larger than 4 GB. Not sure what the heck that means. Here’s what Adobe says. Are you familiar?

    When backing up your catalogs on macOS, Lightroom CC 2015.1/Lighroom 6.1 and later versions don’t compress catalogs that are larger than 4 GB.

    Thanks,

    f

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  4. Are we calling RAM ‘RAW’ now?

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  5. When closing LR and backing up I am now seeing a message about the size of the backup on my Mac is over 4GB and if I want to open I need some form of zip reader to open the file. What is causing this to occur?

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  6. I find that deleting the History for all but my most recent job keeps the Catalog file small and improves startup, backup & cleaning. Or maybe that is all in my mind

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    • This sounds like a great idea to increase speed. What exactly are you deleting? Thanks.

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      • My comment was directed @PaulC.

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    • Paul How do you delete the History for all but your recent jobs?

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  7. Guess what… I ‘only’ have 8 GB of RAW on my system… and LR runs smooooooooooooth 🙂

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    • But what about backup? Wouldn’t a bigger catalog make backup slower?

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