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Moving Your Classic Catalog to a Different Drive

Last week I wrote about how to point the Lightroom Classic catalog to a new drive for your photos, and someone asked about moving the catalog and previews too. I thought that would make a great post for this week. Thanks, Stephanie!

Now, don’t go moving your catalog around just for fun. This would only be if you had a pressing need, such as you need to replace the drive it is currently on, or maybe you had the catalog on an external drive, but now you want to move it onto your internal drive. All things being equal, you will always get better performance from the catalog when it is stored on an internal drive versus an external drive (especially if that internal drive is SSD).

Ok, here’s how to make the move simply and safely:

Step One: Go to Lightroom  > Catalog Settings > General (under Edit menu on Windows).

Step Two: Click the Show button on the General tab of the Catalog Settings to open the folder containing your catalog in your file browser.

Step Three: Quit Lightroom. If prompted to backup, click skip for now (unless you haven’t backed up for a while, in which case you might want to run that backup).

Step Four: Copy the entire folder containing the Lightroom catalog (.LRCAT) and its associated preview caches to the location you want it to be stored (pick a locally connected internal or external drive).

Step Five: Once the copy operation is complete, double-click the catalog file to open it back into Lightroom. This way you can make sure all is working fine, and the new location will be included in the preferences. Then update your Default Catalog preferences.

Once you are 100% certain the copy of the drive is secure and functioning correctly you can go back and safely delete the original catalog (and its associated preview cache) from the original location. You will then move forward with the catalog in the new location.

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12 comments

  1. Rick 22 April, 2020 at 14:07 Reply

    I am trying to merge two catalogs from two different HD’s. I would like to put the new catalog on a new HD and move all the images in the process. I am not having any luck.
    I created a new catalog on the new HD, tried importing a catalog and move the images from one HD, but all I get is the new catalog without the images. I am missing something. Any suggestions… Thank you.

  2. Ann Marie 16 April, 2020 at 12:57 Reply

    Hello Rob,

    Thanks for putting this article together. I followed the instructions, but when I re-launched Lightroom on my new drive, I lost all my “.dng” files from previous edits made using the “photo merge” option in Lightroom. Is there a way to move the files and keep all edits made?

    Thank you,
    Ann Marie

    • Rob Sylvan 16 April, 2020 at 13:36 Reply

      Hi Ann Marie,

      If you opened the catalog and did not find what you expected, then it suggests that you opened the wrong catalog file. Copying the catalog file to a new location and then opening that same catalog does not result in losing anything that was in the original catalog file. Just like copying a Microsoft Word document from one place to another does not lose a paragraph of text, but if you open a Word doc and find content is missing that you thought was there, it is likely due to the fact that the wrong doc file was opened.

      So, you need to go back to where the original catalog was located, open that, and see if it contains everything you expect it to contain.

  3. Sarah MacDonald 11 March, 2020 at 10:46 Reply

    Hey there,
    I am wanting to move my LR catalog to an External HD because I want to be able to switch to my laptop for editing and back to my desktop for editing and vise versa. I am doing a big trip for 3 weeks (we leave tomorrow) so I will edit in LR on my laptop.
    But when we are back I will edit a bit on my desktop. Any suggestions?

  4. Regan Neale 12 December, 2019 at 20:00 Reply

    Question, I want to ONLY move my LightRoom Catalogue to a SSD and keep all my photos on external HDDs, is that possible? Reason being is that I want to edit the Previews which are stored on the SSD and then update the HDD when I plug it in.

  5. Alex Nicholson 4 December, 2019 at 17:23 Reply

    I read your article with interest and growing excitement!! See, I have a problem and its that I use OneDrive to back up my photos but they appear as icons and not images. In digging down I find I have the catalog stored on OneDrive and the catalog previews on my harddrive. Logic says I should have these in the same folder on the same drive in order to view images. Would this be correct? Appreciate any advice to solve this headache.

  6. Rusty Brown 3 June, 2019 at 21:28 Reply

    Great article – thanks! My issue is that the C drive on my desktop, albeit SSD, is only 250GB (whereas my traditional hard drive – the “D” Drive, is 3TB) and I’ve got a ton of photos in LR, so the catalog keeps growing to the point I’m searching for what’s filling up the C drive.

    Followed your tip, after I’d copied the entire catalog to a dedicated space on the D drive. Relaunched from the lcat and she came up just fine. Next, I went with your suggestion of modifying the default catalog preferences where it now says the actual new location on the D drive. Was able to free up 57GB. Much-appreciated.

  7. Dan Roeder 9 January, 2019 at 07:57 Reply

    Hi Rob
    I really enjoy all your tips; I find them very informative, and I’ve been using Lightroom since version 3.

    You wrote, “All things being equal, you will always get better performance from the catalog when it is stored on an internal drive versus an external drive (especially if that drive is SSD).” I assume you were meaning especially if the internal drive was an SSD. What if the internal drive is a spinning drive and the external drive is an SSD? Do you think that would that speed up Lightroom? With external SSDs getting cheaper, could I get a “cheap” performance boost that way?

    Thanks for your insight.

    • Rob Sylvan 9 January, 2019 at 07:59 Reply

      Right, sorry, I meant internal SSD. I haven’t done the comparison you state, but I’d imagine the speed of the port the external was attached to would be the deciding factor. That would have to be as fast or faster than the internal drive.

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