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How To Move Lightroom To Another Computer (and not get burned!)

Hi Gang, and Happy Wednesday! First, I want to give a big thanks and shoutout to all the folks who joined KelbyOne during our Cyber Weekend. It was our biggest Cyber Weekend in years — we smashed our Cyber Day records, so thanks so much for your support, and we’re absolutely delighted to have you on board with us! 🙂

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OK, today’s topic: not getting burned when you move Lightroom to a new computer
I wanted to do this article now that Apple’s new MacBook Pros are shipping, and we’re coming into the Holiday Season where lots of people will be upgrading their computers, laptops and desktops, and I wanted to address one major problem a lot of folks run into when moving Lightroom and their photo library onto their new computer.

That problem is — Lightroom can’t find your photos 

Even though your photos are right there on your new computer, Lightroom has lost track of them.

Exception #1: If you store all your photos on an external drive, rather than directly on your computer, then you sidestep this problem altogether, but unfortunately, not enough people do store their images on external drives, but that’s a problem to tackle another day, but anyway, if you do, you’re off the hook and you can skip this).

Exception #2: If you have a Mac and you used a Time Machine backup or you used the “Migration” feature to move a clone of your old computer (with all its file intact) onto your new computer (or you did something similar on a Windows PC, maybe from a cloud backup), you’re set — everything works like it always did, and you avoided this problem altogether, too.

However, a lot of folks like to start completely from scratch with a new computer, and do new fresh installs of all their applications (so they’re not copying old problems onto their new computer), and then they just move their files over manually, but then Lightroom simply doesn’t see their images.

First, Moving the Lightroom catalog catalog manually to your new computer is easy:

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Just grab your Lightroom folder off your old computer (the one that has your Lightroom catalog, your Previews and any Smart Previews if you use Smart Previews, as seen above) and move it to wherever you want on your new computer. Easy enough.

But here’s where people get stuck, and Lightroom loses track of your photos — everything on the new computer — EVERYTHING has to be named the same, and your photos have to be in the same location on the new computer, that they were on the old computer. For example:

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Above: Here’s the name of your hard drive on your old computer. 

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Above: Here’s the default name of the hard drive on your new computer, and so Lightroom has now lost track of your images. It’s looking for your photos folder (or whatever folder you stored them in) on Scott’s Hard Drive, and if it doesn’t see Scott’s Hard Drive,  Lightroom doesn’t know where they are. 

This is exactly where people get burned. 

If your photos on the old computer were in a folder called “Scott’s Photos” they have to be in a folder called “Scott’s Photos” on the new computer, too. If not, Lightroom doesn’t know where they are. It’s “Path Sensitive.” It’s looking for your photos on the new computer in the same location they were on the old computer. If it doesn’t find them there, it doesn’t know where they are.

Yes, everything is case sensitive, too.

It’s can’t be “Scott’s Hard Drive” on the old computer, and “Scott’s hard drive” on the new one. It’s case sensitive and the names must be exact. That’s why all this works so well if you install from a clone or cloud backup of your old computer — it keeps everything right where it was — it just puts it on the new computer in the exact same order, with all the exact same names, and exact same locations, but that Hard Drive naming thing can still burn ya, so keep an eye out for that.

TIP: If you want to move your photos into a folder that has a different name on your new computer; before you copy your photos over to that new machine, go ahead and change the name of your top level folder now — on your old computer; from right within Lightroom’s Folder Panel. That way, the names will match when you move them over. 

I know all this may seem like a simple thing, or really obvious, but we hear from people all the time who upgraded computers and burned by something simple like a hard drive having a different name, or the main photos folder having an upper case letter where the old one had all lowercase, and it breaks Lightroom’s chain to those images.

Hope you found this helpful. 🙂

Best,

-Scott

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27 comments

  1. Dennis GEller 10 October, 2018 at 16:06 Reply

    Regarding Time machine. I just had an iMac disaster. In upgrading to Mojave, the upgrade failed, leaving the iMac is an unusable state. Under direction of AppleCare I had to do a total restore from the last TimeMachine image. However, Lightroom found the catalog to be corrupt and unrepairable. I tried using Time Machine to replace the catalog (the entire directory, since there are lots of auxiliary files) with the one one-hour previous to the last T-M image, but that also didn’t work. I had to call Adobe and was stepped through using the last backup file (which was 3 days old) and that worked. However, the guy at Adobe said that using the Catalog from Time Machine is not necessarily going to work. I didn’t quire understand why (not sure if he did either, but t his seems to be what he was told officially.) This concerns me because I also use Carbonite to backup my catalog (and the images), and if a T-M restore of the catalog isn’t going to work, what reason is there to suppose that one from Carbonite would either. CAn anyone explain what the story is here regarding restoring the catalog from Time Machine or other backups.

    PS, yes I did chnage the backup within LR to daily, and as I no longer trust the machine will be replacing it tomorrow)

  2. Corina Chan 9 July, 2018 at 17:00 Reply

    Hello Scott, I recently just got a new Mac Book Pro. I was using an Air prior. I have also decided to make the switch from using Lightroom 6 to Lightroom Classic CC. When I open Lightroom Classic CC and try and open my catalog(the one I have been using in lightroom 6) from my external hard rive I get this message.

    The Lightroom catalog cannot be used because the parent folder “/Volumes/Seagate Backup Plus Drive/Corina’s Lightroom” does not allow files to be created within it.

    I am wondering if you know how to fix this so I can continue to use this catalog on my external hard rive on my new computer in Lightroom Classic CC.

    Thanks so much,
    Corina

  3. Lucia Fernandez 9 April, 2018 at 11:54 Reply

    Hi scott, I just bought a new MacBook Pro and at the apple store they migrated all of my old mcbook to the new one, I use LR5 and everything was perfect, catalogues, images all the same… as if I was working on the old mcbook but my LR5 keeps shutting down while working.. any clue of why this happens?

  4. Curtis 1 April, 2018 at 18:03 Reply

    Hey Scott, Transferring vanilla LR is not so bad but what I am scratching my head over is how to get all my plug-ins in some sort of backup and update to the new machine. E.g. WordPress plugins, jpgmini, etc. Any advise on that front?
    Thanks you!

  5. Susan 8 December, 2017 at 22:42 Reply

    Hi Scott!

    First of all, great article! This was very helpful and simple, so thank you.

    I’m not sure if my question is odd so here it goes. I’m moving from a very old and crowded PC where I kept all my images on (I have external and online backups of these files aswell) to a brand new laptop. I now know how to put lightroom on my new pc thanks to you. But this time, I don’t want to have all my sessions saved onto my computer, I want to keep it mostly empty so it runs at optimal speed.
    What does this mean for my lightroom catalog I was hoping to bring over? It obviously won’t find the files anymore as they won’t be on the new computer.
    My plan was to import the session, edit and deliver them, and then delete them from my computer and keep the backups on my externals.
    Does this sound like a lightroom catalog mess? Should I do things differently?
    Sorry this question turned out rather long!

    Susan

  6. Richard Davies 14 October, 2017 at 07:02 Reply

    Ive just set up my Mac and I previously had a windows pc. Ive saved my photos, LR Cat and previews to a hard drive. When I open up the LR Cat all my Albums have the “!” logo. How to I resync my albums as its not giving me the option!!!!! Is it something to do with how I saved on PC to how I’m looking at in on a Mac. I have no  idea and I’m rubbish with computers

    • Rob Sylvan 14 October, 2017 at 10:09 Reply

      Richard, check out this article I wrote here for reconnecting the catalog to missing/offline photos: http://www.peachpit.com/articles/article.aspx?p=2422808

      Keep in mind, that Macs can only read/write to drives formatted for a Mac, and without knowing how that external drive is formatted you may run into a problem if it is formatted for Windows (NTFS). I use a product called NTFS for Mac (on my Mac), which gives it the ability to read/write to NTFS formatted drives. Good luck!

  7. Melisa 5 September, 2017 at 15:00 Reply

    My main laptop has my external hard drive directory as G. I recently got a smaller laptop to carry with me, but when I plug in my external the directory is D on the new laptop. Also all my presets didn’t show up on the new computer. Is there anyway to fix these issues? I want to be able to use both computers.

  8. Paolo 18 May, 2017 at 04:10 Reply

    My problem with the catalog is this. I want to have the catalog on an external HD to use it wherever I want: Home (Windows 10), on the road (Macbook), at the office (Windows 10).

    Since Windows and OSX name the disk differently – Windows with the drive letter in front (e.g. C: F: G:) and OSX with only the name of the drive (Verbatim HD), every time I switch from one system to another I have to relocate the drive.

    Is there a workaround?

  9. Linda Gillespie 24 April, 2017 at 20:27 Reply

    I have all my LR photos on an external hard drive. I am switching from a PC to a MAC and I am having a hard time getting the photos to move over. Should the same procedure above work for switching operating systems as well?

  10. Alex Makowski 25 February, 2017 at 08:27 Reply

    I switched my Lightroom installation from a Mac to a PC this morning, and it was SIMPLE. On the PC, I downloaded and installed Lightroom CC. On the Mac, I had a folder on an external hard drive named Lightroom. The .lrcat catalog was the first item in the folder, and all of my dng and jpeg files were in a folder (and its subfolders) named photos. There was also a folder named Lightroom Settings that contained Presets and Templates. I copied the entire Lightroom folder to the hard drive on my PC, opened the folder, and double-clicked the .lrcat catalog. Lightroom opened up, and EVERYTHING was as I had seen it on my Mac, including the presets. Couldn’t be easier.

  11. jlua 3 December, 2016 at 04:59 Reply

    Is there a problem if we locate the “Images” folder on OneDrive? I use OneDrive on my Mac and MacBook, because I get one “free” TB. with my Office subscription. That should be a close to ideal setup. In theory, I think it should work fine, but I am afraid to go ahead and do it.

  12. Jennifer 1 December, 2016 at 12:11 Reply

    Good news are also that if you have a folder that LR cannot locate anymore, you only have to point to one photo and LR recognizes all other missing photos from the folder. That’s also very easy, if you have renamed your drive for whatever reason.
    You don’t have to stick your whole life with the same structure.

    Best way to reorganize is though if you do it in LR. LR works like a filebrowser (add folder, rename folder, remove folder, … is all possible.

  13. Robert 1 December, 2016 at 07:18 Reply

    This problem should be adressed and Adobe should work on making migrations to a new system a lot easier! It’s actually that a paid service/product is missing such a basic functionality.

  14. Crystal Kovacs 30 November, 2016 at 23:09 Reply

    I just got a new mac…..I have a time machine backup of the old mac but had to set everything up from scratch as the old one had a virus. With the time machine backup can I move LR from one to the other? Thank you!

  15. Phil Maly 30 November, 2016 at 10:20 Reply

    Scott, I can understand that this is potentially a common issue, but I’m surprised about the tip you are proposing, especially as the only way to fix it.
    True you have to keep the internal folder structure of you photo library the same from one computer to the other, but it can be stored on a different drive (eg. you move from a laptop with one HDD to a desktop with one system SSD and one storage HDD like I did a year ago). You can also store your catalog files in a different location.
    The real trick/tip is to then open your catalog on the new computer, right-click on the top-level folder in the LR hierarchy and choose to locate your photo repository on the new computer.
    Automatically the catalog will update the path to all photos and you are good to start with your catalog and resume all your edits, even if you completely change to locations of your pictures and catalogs.

    • Edwin Lewis 30 November, 2017 at 01:36 Reply

      Phil,

      Yea!!!!! Your steps worked perfect for me as I moved to a new iMac over the weekend.

      Also, your procedure seems to be exactly what I want going forward because I want to store my photos on an external hard drive so I can easily add additional and/or larger drives in the future. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your post! I was struggling but all is now good. Again, Yea!

  16. Roger Mason 30 November, 2016 at 08:13 Reply

    Just come across your site. Great.i have just purchased LRcc. Loaded it onto my laptop Windows10.all I get is an error message. I have deleted and reloaded. No progress. I’ve been on the Adobe help site. They took over my computer, and failed to make any progress. It’s obviously a Windows problem. Any ideas?

    • Scott Kelby 30 November, 2016 at 09:46 Reply

      Yeowch! As a Mac user, I have no idea what the Windows problem might be – especially if even Adobe’s tech support can’t fix it. Sorry I couldn’t help more on this one. 🙁

    • sue byrne 30 November, 2016 at 10:18 Reply

      Roger, you might try and call Adobe help line direct. They can “take over” your computer remotely and guide you thru what you need to do. I’ve done this in the past and they couldn’t have been more helpful or nice and they spent a long time helping me above and beyond.

    • Frank Haase 30 November, 2016 at 20:45 Reply

      i installed Photoshop CC 2017 on my friends laptop, then i started PS CC but only thing what i got was an error message. So i started the cmd as an administrator, then type netsh winsock reset –> Enter. Restart the laptop. After restart open Windows explorer und go to the directory: C:\windows\systems32 and rename or delete the file LavasoftTcpService64.dll. After that go to the directory: C:\windows\syswow64 and rename or delete the file LavasoftTcpService.dll. Restart the laptop. After that i can start PS CC without any problems. I hope that will work on your laptop too with LR CC …. 🙂

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