5 Things You Need To Know About Lightroom Catalogs

I always hear Lightroom catalog questions so I thought I’d tackle 5 things you need to know, or may not have known about catalogs in Lightroom.

1. The Lightroom catalog file is a physical file on your computer
If you ever want to find it, just go to your Catalog Settings (under the Lightroom menu on a Mac, or the Edit menu on a PC). Then look at the Location section. It’ll tell you right where your catalog is stored on your drive. There’s even a Show button that’ll show you right where the catalog is located.


1a. You can double-click a catalog to open it
Here’s a little bonus tip. Building off of the first tip above, your catalog is just a regular file on your computer. Just like when you double click a .PSD file it automatically opens in Photoshop, or word docs open in Word, .LRCAT files automatically open in Lightroom. So if you ever wanted to move a catalog from one computer to another, once you get it to the new computer just double click it to open.

2. Catalogs are cross-platform
Yup, the same catalog will work just fine on a Mac or PC. You could find your catalog (using #1 above) and move it between platforms and it’ll work the same on both.

3. You can store your catalog on an external drive if you use multiple computers.
If you work on a laptop and a desktop, you can always just store your catalog on an external drive and move that drive back and forth. Then use Tip 1a above, when you attach it to a new computer and just double-click the catalog to re-open it. Now, you’ll probably want a slightly fast drive for this. If you’re going to pull out your old USB 2.0 drive, then expect a sluggish experience.

4. If you use multiple catalogs, you can tell Lightroom which one to automatically open.
If you’re the multiple catalog type, and you have several catalogs, Lightroom will let you set up which one it opens automatically. Just go to your Preferences (under the Lightroom menu on a Mac, or the Edit menu on a PC). Then go under the General tab to the Default Catalog section. There’s a drop-down menu that let’s you choose exactly which catalog you want to open when you launch Lightroom.


5. There’s an Optimize Catalog feature in the File menu
This one sneaks by a lot of people. As time goes on, your catalog can become, for lack of a better word, less-optimized. That means things can slow down a little as you use Lightroom more. So it’s a good idea, that every couple of weeks you go to the File > Optimize Catalog menu and let Lightroom optimize itself to help keep things moving along.

So there ya’ go. 5 random catalog things that you may not have known (or, if you’re like me, sometimes forget about) 🙂 Have a great day!


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  1. Great tip! This is what i’m looking for! Lightroom power! 🙂

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  2. Isn’t it perverse that instead of Adobe standing behind their product and offering real genuine customer support we have to resort to this waste of time! Oh but thats right we don’t need consumer protection laws that’s right. Give me a break please!

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  3. I want to transfer my Lightroom files to a new computer, and am going from Vista to Windows 10. I recently moved, packed everything up, and now cannot locate my Lightroom 4 disk (I have LR 4.4). Do I need to install the old LR disk before moving files? If so, and I can’t find it, can I buy LR 6 and install that first, or rather than the disk, subscribe to the online (Cloud) version? After doing one of those would I then be able to transfer my files? Thanks for your help.

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    • Get a cloud subscription as this will give you the latest Lightroom and Photoshop applications. I run these on Mac and Windows machines. You can copy all the files (including the catalogue and images) onto a usb drive to move them from one machine to the other except for the application itself. Download the subscription version of Lightroom onto your Windows 10 machine. Copy the folders containing the catalogue and master photos from your Vista machine onto your usb drive and then plug this into your new Windows 10 machine. Start Lightroom on the new machine and select File/New Catalog. This will generate an empty Lightroom catalogue. Now select File/Import from catalogue and navigate to the old version of the catalogue you copied onto the usb drive. You will need to decide if you want to copy the master photos to another location or leave them where they are. Either way, this is part of the import process setup and is similar in all other respects to importing images from your camera. For more help see the Lightroom Lab group on Facebook.

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  4. Hi
    I am new to Mac and Lightroom and am totally confused when it comes to catalogues. I was told to have all my photo’s on a hard drive which I have categorised but now I have read that you should have your catalogue on your hard drive on your computer. Could you please give me a step by step of how to setup a catalogue on my computer hard drive if thats what i need to do.

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    • Please see the Facebook group Lightroom Lab for extensive help on catalogues and every other aspect of Lightroom by an Adobe certified expert.

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  5. Hi,
    I created a new catalog and it works just fine but I want to open the catalog that I had just before the new one where I have all my old collections, I tried file> open cataloge > and then I have a lot of pictures (dis functional) and a lot of LR catalogs but none of them are my previous catalog


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  6. Hi whats the main difference between lightroom and catalog? Im new to all this and am unsure, Thanks!!

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  7. When I did my lightroom upgrade from LR3 to LR5, the catalog is still LR 2 vs LR 5. Is there a difference between the two? mainly in “number” of images they can handle? Seems that the LR 2 catalogs just are not that compatible in the LR 5 environment. Especially when dealing with over 40K images in a single year.


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  8. Hi Matt:
    I understand that you store your Photos on an external hard drive. Could you please share your recommended strategy for creating and maintaining multiple backup copies of your photos, LR catalogs and backups? Do you simply copy the entire contents of your Photos hard drive to multiple external hard drives? How do you ensure that only changes are copied to the backup drives rather than duplicating the master external hard drive repeatedly after each editing session? Would greatly appreciate any advice.

    Regards, Rory

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  9. I now have several gigs of old lrcat files. How can I most safely remove all but the most recent few?

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  10. I am an amateur photographer. I have my photos on an external drive. I would like to have the same catalog on my macbook pro and my iMac, so that when I plug in the external drive, I see the same photos in both places. I did put the LR catalog on my external drive, but I could not see smart previews when it was not attached, so I switched back to using the catalogs on the computers.

    How do I keep the photos on my external drive synced, with keywords and favs etc, on both computers?


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  11. Hi Matt, can you tell me why my Collections folder has emptied itself?
    I can physically re enter all the files, but I am confused as to why this has happened.

    (Alan from West Yorkshire in the UK)

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    • Alan – the only reason I can think is if you created a new catalog.

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  12. Hey, Matt, could you do us a demo video of the new Graduated Filter adjustment brush in ACR 8.5 so we’re ready for it when it hits Lightroom??

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  13. I’m an amateur photographer (mostly travel) and have used Photoshop CS3 and Bridge to manage and edit thousands of photos. Typically what I have on my hard drive for each photo I keep is the Nikon NEF, an associated XMP file, a PSD version with some of my editing layers, and a final JPG with the finished product. The PSD and JPG have slightly different file names although they do seem to have a reference to the original NEF file name in their metadata.

    If I add all of these files to the LR catalog, I’m not sure what I get. Each of these files have keywords, ratings, labels, and GPS coordinates. What I can’t figure out is what goes into the catalog after the add. Will I see three versions NEF, PSD, JPG, each with the same metadata taken from the XMP file? Or am I going to lose that metadata on all or some of the files.

    My intention is to add everything into LR and then never use Bridge again – it appears I can continue to use CS3 from LR when needed.

    I would appreciate any help you can give me or a reference to where I can find this kind of technical detail.

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  14. I am fairly new to all this computer related stuff however, I have 27 inch Monitor & 17 inch laptop. Question: Can I also have a compatable keyboard which sits flat in front of my monitor which will allow to view my monitor freely and improve my workflow.

    Best regards,

    Allan Davies, Portstewart, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland ( Near the Giant’s Causeway )

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    • Yes you can:

      1) Buy a keyboard.
      2) Connect the keyboard to the computer.
      3) Use it.

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  15. Thanks for this information. Do you know where the “side car” files for the photo edits are located? I thought they stayed with the original photo files, but I don’t see them there. Are they stored in the catalog file instead? I’ve added a new hard drive to my computer and want to make sure the side cars don’t get separated from their source images if I move photo files from one drive to the other. So far, I’m only using one catalog though.

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    • They do stay with the originals. But you’ll only see them if you go to the Photo menu and choose Save Metadata to File.

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  16. How can I remove the catalog names from the most recently open list when LR starts up? I basically work w/ two catalogs, but will occasionally export files from one setup to another w/ a different catalog name(s)…and import them. I never use them again and yet, they still persist in the dialog box.

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    • I don’t know of an “official” way to clear the list. But I did try this and it worked. Just delete the catalog, and restart Lightroom. I deleted 2 “test” catalogs I created and they were both removed from the list when I restarted Lightroom. Good luck!

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