How Many Images Can You Have in One Lightroom Catalog and Have It Still Perform Well?
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!
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.
I find this very hard to believe. I have a Lightroom catalog with almost 75 000 images, almost 1.1GB catalog size, and it is slow as molasses. Especially when switching between having one and multiple images selected, and when opening develop mode.
When going from having one image selected to selecting several ones, Lightroom can easily take 10 seconds to finish updating information on the screen. The metadata panel grows longer and shorter several times, making it hard to click the correct field with the mouse. (It seems there’s an empty row being added and removed in between “File Name” and “Copy Name”.)
Opening Develop Mode can easily take a minute, even for relatively low-res photos (15MP) that only have been cropped.
I regularly see the message that Lightroom has become unresponsive, and I often see “phantom” windows called Bezel and Shadow appearing in my task bar.
And I am not using low-spec equipment. My current laptop is an ASUS Zenbook with Core i5-7200, 8GB memory, 256GB SSD drive, and Lightroom shows the same problems as my previous one.
You might do a test with a smaller catalog and see if there is any difference in performance. 75,000 is not considered a large catalog. Adobe has a good resource on optimizing that you might find helpful: https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/kb/optimize-performance-lightroom.html
Neither this nor the Adobe article mention Solid State Drives. There is nothing that will make a machine perform faster than upgrading the internal drive to a SSD. This is where data management comes into play, where your main SSD drive, plus a second hard drive can work together for much better performance. The second hard drive can be internal or external via USB3.
On the SSD, you’d have your operating system (Windows, Mac, etc) plus programs and your user data (email, documents, small files). Your Lightroom Catalog & preview data would also be on the SSD for maximum performance. Photos can be imported to the SSD for the fastest initial work flow, then moved to the second hard drive post processing.
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…
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.
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.
Are we calling RAM ‘RAW’ now?
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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?
The Mac OS can’t unzip files larger than 4GB natively. You just add such a tool which can and you’re good to go if you ever need to uncompress and restore a catalog.
This is a bug in Lightroom for Mac. See https://forums.adobe.com/thread/2249884
LR backup is useless on Mac : you have already Time Machine
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
It’s not in your head 🙂
This sounds like a great idea to increase speed. What exactly are you deleting? Thanks.
My comment was directed @PaulC.
Paul How do you delete the History for all but your recent jobs?
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Guess what… I ‘only’ have 8 GB of RAW on my system… and LR runs smooooooooooooth 🙂
But what about backup? Wouldn’t a bigger catalog make backup slower?