Moving Your Lightroom Classic Edits From Your Laptop to Your Home Computer

Also, I just shared my favorite shots from my recent workshop in rural China

Hope you’ll have a chance to check them out: here’s the link.

And, if you participated in the Worldwide Photo Walk last week, Monday is the deadline to enter the photo contest

The prizes this year are pretty amazing (including a Canon EOS RP Mirrorless Camera with a 24-105mm lens, and the Adobe Creative Suite, and a B&H Gift Card, a whole bunch more!). Even the finalist prizes are crazy good, so make sure you enter your best shot from the walk. Hey, ya never know, right?

Now let’s hit that Laptop to Desktop Tutorial:

If you travel with your laptop (like I do), you want to be able to sort and edit on that laptop, but then when you get back home, you want to have all those edits and sorting to somehow move those images and edits over to Lightroom on your main home computer.

I took my laptop to China with me and did my sorting and editing there.

This process is way easier than you might think, and on Monday one of our readers here asked how it’s done since they were struggling with it, so today I’ll take you step-by-step through the process (again, much easier than you’d think). Here goes:

STEP ONE: Once you’ve finished sorting and editing your images on your laptop, right-click (Mac: Ctrl-click) on your Collection or in my case, Collection Set and from the pop-up menu that appears, choose “Export this Collection Set as a Catalog” as shown above (of course, if you clicked on a Collection, rather than a Collection Set, it would read “Export this Collection as a Catalog” instead. If you work in Folders, rather than Collections, it would say “Export this Folder…”.

STEP TWO: This brings up a dialog box asking you where you want to save this newly exported catalog. I would plug-in an external hard drive at this point and save this exported catalog to that hard drive. If you don’t have an external hard drive, you could save it to Dropbox or iCloud or a cloud-based storage service instead.

At the bottom of the window are checkboxes for some options and the most important one being “Export negative files.” Turn that on! By turning on that checkbox, it includes a copy of your actual images, which is important — otherwise, all you’d be moving over to your home computer would be thumbnail previews. You want the RAW (or JPEG) files to be copied over to your home computer as well. Now click the Export Catalog button (as shown here).

STEP THREE: Here’s a look inside the folder that was created when you exported that Collection Set as a Catalog. It’s the Preview file, the Catalog file itself, and a folder named “Pictures” with all the Images that were in that Collection Set you edited on your laptop. These are all saved to your external hard drive (or cloud service if you chose to go that route instead).

STEP FOUR: Now eject that external hard drive from your laptop and plug it into your home computer (in my case, it’s an iMac). Then go under Lightroom’s File Menu and choose Import from Another Catalog (as shown here).

STEP FIVE: This brings up a standard “open” dialog, so navigate your way to have that folder on your external hard drive with your exported catalog. Now choose that Catalog file (not the previews; not the Pictures folder; the one that ends with the file extension .lrcat), and open that catalog. That brings up the Import window and the important thing to do here is to go to the File Handling pop-up menu (seen above). Choose ‘Copy new photos to a new location and import’ then click the Choose button right below that and choose where you want these images from your laptop to be stored (in my case, they are photos from China so they’d go inside my Travel Folder on y Drobo.

Now those images from my laptop are merged with Lightroom on my iMac

Now click the Import button and you’re done. Your images will copy to wherever you chose, and this Collection Set (or Collection or Folder depending on what you chose) will now appear in your Collections panel (or Folder panel), just as if you had created it there from the start, and all the sorting and editing you did on your laptop will still be intact.

NOTE: If instead of a hard drive, you used Dropbox or iCloud or whatever; the process is the same; just choose to import the catalog from Dropbox or iCloud, etc., instead of from your External Hard Drive.

UPDATE: Rudi left such a great comment this morning, that I wanted to add it to the post. He wrote: “And sometimes after you created the catalog for your desktop and for some reason you edited (or have to) again on your laptop you can can just make again a catalog with only the metadata and development settings so you can update your desktop catalog with any changes.” He’s spot on — you don’t have to copy the same photos over again — just that one time. From then on, you can turn off the “Export Negative Files” checkbox and just move the catalog and previews file.

There ya have it. Basically, you’re just exporting a collection from your laptop and then reimporting it on your home computer, and it adds it there as if you created it there in the first place.

I hope you found that helpful, and hopefully we’ll see ya back here on Monday as our Lightroom love-fest continues. 🙂




  1. Sarah 26 December, 2020 at 21:35 Reply

    I have one master catalog and it killed editing when I had it on the Ext drive. Do you have a catalog for every shoot? I didn’t want to do that because I often refer to other shoots to see how I edited them and copy settings, I can’t flip back and forth between catalogs Iike I can with collections and folders within one catalog because only one catalog can be open at a time.

  2. marc labro 13 October, 2019 at 23:46 Reply

    Thank you Scott,
    The most comprehensive tuto on that topic I have seen !

    just to understand, what is the difference with copying raw on desktop with their xmp (no catalog) ?
    what is missing in xmp ?
    By the way, do you use xmp ? it seems to make develop slower. I have the feeling xmp is refreshed on hard disk at eack local brush stroke instead of once at the end.

    best regards

  3. craig 13 October, 2019 at 07:34 Reply

    I have a laptop and a desktop. I am trying to get the SAME catalog on both machines so that I can sync travel photos to the cloud while I sleep in a hotel. They both have the same name, but Adobe says: You are syncing “xxx-lrcat” you can only sync one catalog.

    How do I put the same catalog on the laptop without all the photos showing up to fill the drive? Basically I only want them uploading from the laptop.

    • Mike Worley 13 October, 2019 at 09:48 Reply

      Craig, rather than putting your catalog on your laptop AND your desktop, put the catalog on an external drive. Then, point both installations of Lightroom to the lrcat file on the external drive. Also store your photos on the external drive. That way, you can access everything from either the laptop or desktop and both computers will see it as the same. Plus, you don’t take up any space storing photos on your laptop drive. Some articles will tell you that Lightroom isn’t as fast if the catalog is on an external drive, and that’s true. However, I’ve done it this way for a couple of years and frankly, I don’t see a significant difference – at least one one that out-weighs the convenience of being able to seamlessly swap between the laptop and desktop.

      And if for some reason you’re out with your laptop and don’t have your external drive, that’s not a problem. Just use the local catalog on your laptop and as soon as you get a chance, use the procedure in this article to move the photos and catalog entries to the master external drive.

      While I don’t back up photos to iCloud, I do a continuous backup of the external drive (whenever it’s connected to my desktop) using BackBlaze. At the same time, I do a continuous backup to another SSD drive using TimeMachine. And finally, every morning at 2:00 AM, I use Carbon Copy Cloner to make an exact duplicate of my external drive to another SSD drive. The advantage to this is that if the external drive crashes, I can immediately switch to the cloned copy, which Lightroom will recognize just as it did the original external drive.

  4. Mike Worley 11 October, 2019 at 21:11 Reply

    I do this slightly differently, but the result is same although with less copying. Since I have an external hard drive for my MacBook – in my case a Samsung T5 – I use it as my all-purpose drive. I have not only my photos on the T5 but my Lr catalog as well. Lightroom Classic on both my iMac and Macbook point to the catalog on the external drive. So once I import photos from my SD card into Lr on the Macbook, everything is done as far as collection creation and photo storage. (Yes, Lr is slightly slower if the catalog is on an external drive, but not noticably so to me.) I also have a ‘local’ catalog on the Macbook for use when I might not have the T5 available or I just don’t want to mess with it … a common scenario is doing a tethered shoot at a remote location. Then I pretty much use the procedure Scott outlines to move everything from the internal SSD on the Macbook to the T5.

    • marc labro 13 October, 2019 at 23:50 Reply

      Hello Mike,
      on my old pc with sata mechanical hard disk i did lot of trials between local, external ssd and local ssd and the fastest way remains on local ssd drive.
      now i have a M2 NVME local hard disk and it is fluent now, especially launching luminar from lightroom.
      most obvious change is wacom tablet, not fluent when we use a external or slow hard disk.

      • Mike Worley 15 October, 2019 at 07:14 Reply

        I completely agree that keeping everything on your local hard drive is the fastest way to use Lightroom. However, the essence of my discussion was handling photos from one computer to another. I use my iMac probably 70% of the time and my MacBook about 30%, so the way I use an external drive, while causing Lightroom to run a bit slower than if the catalog is on a local hard drive, overall works better for my application.

  5. Laurent DELPLANQUE 11 October, 2019 at 04:07 Reply

    Indeed very convenient, I use this a lot but it points out another issue I have: how to maintain the same Lightroom configuration/presets list from the desktop instance to the laptop instance ?
    Do you have a trick or a plugin to recommend?

  6. Rudi 11 October, 2019 at 03:43 Reply

    And sometimes after you created the catalog for your desktop and for some reason you edited (or have to) again on your laptop you can can just make again a catalog with only the metadata and development settings so you can update your desktop catalog with any changes. I often do it this way if I have saved the catalog with all images before and don’t want to copy all images again with a catalog.

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